Part 7 out of 9
"But he has gone to buy some new sheep, I hear," said Phillips. "Have
they been delivered at Wiriwilta?"
"No, not yet," said Grant; "and I think that was the most insane part
of the business. I am sure our Victorian flock-masters have always kept
ahead of the Adelaide lot; and to go to the Adelaide side for sheep
would be the last speculation I should care to enter into for
myself, not to speak of implicating you in such a thing. The long
overland journey will pull them down so much that you are likely to
lose a third of them on the road, and what you do save will be in
wretched order. Brandon was fairly ruined by going home to England."
"Ruined!" said Harriett Phillips. "He said he was ruined, or something
like it, before he left. Are his affairs really in such a bad state?"
"Oh, it's not exactly his affairs, but he got unsettled and would not
work as he used to do. He overturned most of my arrangements at
Wiriwilta; and I am sure Mr. Phillips will not find himself any the
better for his alterations. He is so foolishly confiding. Now, I like
to look sharply after my people, and then I see what work I get out of
"I think you are quite right, Dr. Grant. I have remarked the want of
that prudence in both Mr. Brandon and my brother. They think it
proceeds from benevolence, but I attribute it more to indolence and the
dislike to give themselves any trouble they can avoid," said
Dr. Grant was piqued at being deprived of Mr. Phillips's agency, for
though he had protested against taking it, he had found it very
lucrative; he was also piqued at Mrs. Phillips staying in town for her
confinement, though he always declared that he detested practising, and
only did it as an accommodation to his neighbours; but both things had
added alike to his emolument and his importance, and he was extremely
jealous of any slight being cast either on his business knowledge or
his professional skill.
On this occasion he offered to stay in Melbourne for a week or so after
Phillips left, merely as a friend, to see how Mrs. Phillips was going
on, and to take up a full and satisfactory account to the station.
Though he was not her medical attendant, he was as much in the house,
and far more than he had ever been before. When the week was over, he
appeared to be in no hurry to go away, but wrote to Phillips instead;
and hung about the house, went errands for her or her
sister-in-law, took Harriett out for walks and drives, brought all his
Melbourne acquaintances to call on her, and to inquire for Mrs.
Phillips and the baby, and was himself engaged for several hours of
every day in conversation with Harriett.
He had come to Melbourne determined to fall in love with Miss Phillips,
whose likeness he had seen and admired at Wiriwilta years ago, and
whose face and figure, when seen in reality quite came up to his
expectations, while her air and manners were exactly suited to his
taste. He knew that she had a fortune--not large, certainly, but
tempting to a man who was not exactly poor, but always more or less
embarrassed. Her perfect self-possession, her good education, her
musical talents, her excellent connections, her stylish way of
dressing, her very egotism, were all charming to a man who wanted a
wife who would do him credit.
His Scotch family was a good one; he was connected with many noble
houses; he could tell long traditional stories of the feats of
the Grants and the Gillespies, his father's and mother's ancestors; and
it was wonderful how much the history of Scotland, and indeed that of
the world generally, seemed to hang on the exploits of those ancient
clans. Though Harriett was not a Scotchwoman (it was the only drawback
to their perfect suitability), she appreciated these anecdotes
wonderfully well. Dr. Grant laid himself out to please her in a much
more marked manner than Brandon had ever done, and his success was much
greater. He had a subdued feeling that his neighbour at Barragong was
his rival, as he had seen so much of Harriett in England, so he lost no
opportunity of mentioning anything that would tell against him.
Then he was of the same profession as her father and brother Vivian,
and liked to hear her talk of them. Indeed, provided he got time and
opportunity to speak about his own relations, connections, and friends--to
give anecdotes of his schoolboy and college days, more interesting
to his mother than to any one else heretofore--to describe how he had
felt the colonial hardships at first, and how he had gradually
made himself very comfortable at Ben More (which was the name he had
given to his station, so much more suitable for a Scottish squatter
than such native names as Brandon and Phillips had retained for
theirs);--he would allow Harriett to give her school and society
reminiscences too, to describe her home in Derbyshire--the furniture,
the ornaments, the lawn, and the greenhouse--the county Stanleys, and
the county balls. As they were generally TETE-A-TETE four or five hours
a day, they had ample time for descanting on all these interesting
topics. Any visitors who might drop in, or any visit that they might
pay together only gave fresh food for further comparison of their own
personal tastes and predilections. Miss Phillips's avowed contemptuous
compassion for everything colonial did not at all offend Dr. Grant. He
had never been thoroughly acclimatized himself, and he had vowed never
to marry any of the second-rate colonial girls, who, as he thought, had
no manner and no style. It was surprising how well these two new
friends agreed about everything and everybody.
Dr. Grant, from his education and his habits, considered himself a
reading man, and a very well informed one. Miss Phillips, too, had
thought Brandon greatly her inferior in literary acquirements, as in
all other things; but it was singular to observe how little these two
people, who were so congenial to each other, and who enjoyed each
other's company so much, and had so much of it, talked about the many
books they must have read. As for religion, politics, or any other of
the great concerns of life, they never seemed to rise even on the
surface of conversation; and when a book happened to be mentioned, it
was dismissed with a casual remark, such as "I read it," or "I did not
read it," or "I liked it," or "I thought it stupid," and then they
turned to things which more nearly interested them, and these were
things in which they themselves or some one related to them made some
figure. If any of Miss Phillips's, or any of Dr. Grant's relations had
published a book, that would have been mentioned and extolled,
but they had not. Vivian's scientific attainments, which Harriett had
thought rather a bore at home, were however something to boast of here;
and Dr. Grant had an uncle who had made some improvements in
agriculture in the north of Scotland, of whom he was never tired of
Miss Phillips had remained in Melbourne to be with her sister-in-law,
but she was very little beside her. Besides Dr. Grant, there were
fellow-passengers who visited at the house, and whose visits Miss
Phillips was bound to return, and there were also public places to go
to with them; for she wished to see all that was to be seen in
Melbourne while she was there; and though she generally criticised all
the Melbourne concerts, and theatres, and balls, and private parties
very severely, she accepted every invitation and joined every party
that was made up for the theatre.
Elsie and the nurse had the care of Mrs. Phillips and the baby, though
Elsie would have preferred being at Wiriwilta, with Jane and the
elder children, for she missed their cheerful society, but she could
not be spared. Miss Phillips was in exceedingly good-humour at this
time, and did not exact so much from Elsie as she had expected; but
Mrs. Phillips missed her husband, and was rather petulant and
capricious. She had been considerably kinder to Elsie since the death
of her little girl. This first sorrow had done her good; but now, in
her husband's absence, a good deal of the old spirit returned,
particularly as she was much offended at the little attention which
Harriett paid to her. Elsie was the real housekeeper, though Miss
Phillips had the credit of it, and she was delighted to find how well
she could manage. Her old experiences at Cross Hall had not been
altogether thrown away; she had grown more thoughtful, and she felt she
must depend on herself, for there was no Jane now to fall back upon.
Elsie was apprehensive that the coolness between the sisters-in-law
would lead to an open rupture, for Mrs. Phillips had not been
accustomed to be considered as nobody in her own house; but there
appeared hope for peace in the fact that Dr. Grant must leave
Melbourne; and then those long conversations must have an end, and at
least three-fourths of the rides and gaieties which served as an excuse
for her neglect. During the short absences from day to day which
necessarily took place, and during the few angel's visits, 'short, and
far between,' which were paid to her sister-in-law's sick room, Dr.
Grant's sayings and doings, his compliments to herself, and his
criticisms of other people, were the staple of Harriett's conversation
to the invalid. If the absence of the one and the visits to the other
were prolonged, it was just possible that Mrs. Phillips might be more
fatigued; but she could not be so much ignored as she was at present.
Dr. Grant Prosecutes His Suit With Caution And Success, And Brandon Finds
His Love-Making All To Do Over Again
Harriett Phillips could not come out quite so strong in her contempt
for colonial ways and colonial people, arriving when she did, as if she
had landed ten or a dozen years before, but still there was a great
deal that was open to criticism. Mr. Phillips and Mr. Brandon thought
the colony had made rapid strides towards civilization and comfort
since the great influx of wealth consequent on the gold discoveries had
attracted to Victoria much that was unattainable before. Even during
their absence in England there had been a great deal of building going
on in Melbourne, and many other improvements had been
introduced. The houses were better, and better furnished; the shops
seemed to contain everything that enterprise could import or money
procure; the ladies were handsomely and expensively dressed, and there
were public amusements such as were never heard of in the early
But still there was much even in Melbourne that was un-English and
strange to a new comer.
Melbourne did not at all come up to Harriett's expectations, though
what she had expected it would have been difficult to tell. She had
wished to go to Victoria because it would be a novelty to her--it
would be so different from England that it would be amusing--but every
difference that she observed, and she was very quick in observing such
things, was always for the worse. There was, of course, the difference
of climate, which led to many alterations in dress and manner of
living, and which would reasonably lead to more if the English colonist
was not so much wedded to old customs and costumes. The heat and
dust Harriett found to be insupportable, and the dress which was most
suited to it was so unbecoming, particularly the gentlemen's dress,
with the endless variety of hats for head-covering. Dr. Grant, who
stood a good deal on the dignity of his profession, when in Melbourne
wore dark clothes and a black hat even in the heat of summer, and that
weighed in his favour with Harriett. The noise and bustle of Melbourne
was so different from what she had been accustomed to in
Derbyshire--indeed it was more like Liverpool than any part of London she
had seen--a poor edition of Liverpool; and that was the city of which the
Victorians were so proud. She could not enter into the natural liking
of a people for a town that they have seen with their own eyes grow
from a mere hamlet of rude huts to a handsome, paved, lighted,
commercial city like Melbourne--who identify themselves with its
progress, having watched the growth of every improvement. They wonder
that it does not strike strangers as being as astonishing as it appears
to be to themselves.
Mrs. Phillips had no acquaintances in Melbourne; but Mr.
Phillips and Dr. Grant knew a good many people, who were disposed to be
very friendly to Harriett, but she did not feel very grateful for such
kindness. She fancied that her position and education, and her being
recently out from England ought to give her an overpowering prestige in
these half-savage lands, and though she lost no chance of laughing or
censuring anything which she thought colonial, she could not bear being
talked of as a new chum, whose opinions should be kept for two years at
least before they were worth anything, and whose advice was probably
worth nothing at any time.
Amongst other subjects for censure, the great freedom of manners,
particularly amongst young people of different sexes towards each
other, struck Miss Phillips forcibly. She had observed at evening
parties, at picnics, and at places of public amusement, the very
unrestrained way in which they talked and behaved, and she thought the
colonial girls were badly trained, and that they ought to be more
carefully watched by mothers and chaperones. At the same time
she took full latitude herself, and did many things on the strength of
her being in Australia, where people might do as they liked, that
surprised even the colonial girls themselves.
If she remarked on their flirtations with their old friends, they could
not help observing Miss Phillips's prepossession towards her new
acquaintance, and laughing at the manner in which the two seemed
wrapped up in each other. How could she endure his returning to Ben
More, and leaving her, perhaps, for another month in Melbourne without
his society, was a question which they frequently put to each other;
but she solved that difficulty to her own satisfaction and as much to
"I am very sorry to leave you," said Dr. Grant one day to the object of
his attentions, "but I must go. Business must not be neglected. I
cannot be flying about like Brandon, letting my affairs go to ruin. I
hope you will not be long in coming to Wiriwilta, Miss Phillips."
"Not very long I suppose," said Harriett. "Indeed, I think there
is nothing to prevent Mrs. Phillips from going home now, if she would
only believe so."
"Nothing whatever," said Grant.
"I am quite wearying to see Wiriwilta," said Harriett: "the children's
letters are quite rapturous about its beauties, and Miss Melville, too,
seems very much pleased. You will like Miss Melville, I am sure. You
like Scotch people, I know."
"If I do not like Miss Melville better than her sister, my liking will
not go very far," said Grant.
"Do you know Stanley thought Alice quite pretty at first--I don't see
it. Miss Melville is what people call plain, but I prefer her
appearance to Alice's, and she is very clever and strong-minded. I
quite expect you to fall in love with Miss Melville," said Harriett,
with a little laugh.
"No fear of that. I have no fancy for strong-minded women. Not but what
I like a good understanding and good sense in a lady, but let each sex
keep to its own department. But, Miss Phillips, if you really
want to go to Wiriwilta, I can drive you up--or, better still, you
could ride. You are an admirable horsewoman, as I know, and I have an
excellent horse in town that would carry you easily that distance
without fatiguing you. It would be a beautiful ride. You would see the
country so well as you go along."
"I should like to go, of all things," said Harriett; "but what would
"Oh, I will tell him it was quite unnecessary for you to stay with Mrs.
Phillips, and it will be the easier for his horses to bring up the rest
of them, if you have gone before," said Grant.
"Well, I am really tired of Melbourne; I think I have seen all that is
to be seen, and I dare say there are some preparations and arrangements
I could make before Mrs. Phillips comes up, so as to make her more
comfortable, though I dare say Miss Melville has done her best. Still,
there are things that one of the family can do which strangers cannot
be expected to attend to."
"Certainly," said Dr. Grant; "I can imagine your presence at
Wiriwilta will make things more comfortable for all parties."
"And, by-the-by, Emily and Harriett will be neglecting their music, and
I engaged to see to that so long as I remained in Victoria, as Miss
Melville knows no music."
"No music!" said Dr. Grant; "that is a singular sort of governess to
engage for young ladies up the country."
"She is wonderfully clever about other things, and brings on the
children very nicely. When I compare them with the girls of their own
age whom I have seen in Melbourne, I cannot help congratulating my
brother on having brought out a governess with him. It would have been
better, of course, if she had been English, but Miss Melville is not
"I hope you have no dislike to Scotch people," said Grant. "I myself
glory in my country."
"Oh, I quite understand your feelings. If I had been born in Scotland,
I should have felt the same, I dare say," said Harriett.
"But, with regard to this drive or ride to Wiriwilta?" said
"How long should we be on the road?" asked Harriett.
"Two days, I think. We would stay all night at Mrs. Ballantyne's, a
very old friend of mine, and an acquaintance of your brother.
Ballantyne and I were fellow-passengers when we first came out. They
will receive you with bush hospitality. I should like to introduce you
to Scotch bush hospitality, and it is a pretty place, too; rather
"I should really like to see it, for I want to study Australian scenery
and Australian manners during my short stay in the colony, to see as
much as I can while I am among you savages."
"Then, shall it be a ride or a drive?" asked Dr. Grant.
"I think I should prefer driving," said Harriett; "but I must first
consult Mrs. Phillips. I do not suppose that she can enlighten me much,
but as Stanley's wife I owe her that courtesy." So Harriett,
with a condescending smile, took leave of her admirer.
Mrs. Phillips was in an exceedingly bad humour, but she made no
objection to Harriett's going away. She did not quite believe in the
zeal for the children's music or for her comfort, which Miss Phillips
professed, but she was tired of having the name of her society without
the reality of it. As for the impropriety of her sister-in-law's
travelling all that distance with a single gentleman, either riding or
driving, Mrs. Phillips had never decided any question of the kind for
herself or others since she had been married. She had always acted as
her husband thought proper, that is to say, she might often have made
mistakes or done wrong if he had not prevented her, and the proposition
did not strike her as at all objectionable. Elsie wondered if there was
an engagement between her and Dr. Grant, when a young lady of such
strict principles proposed so singular an expedition. Harriett was not
at all quick at reading countenances, and was particularly dull in the
interpretation of Elsie's; but as some idea of the kind had
dimly occurred to herself, she gave it voice and explained her views on
the subject, in Elsie's hearing, to Mrs. Phillips.
"Of course I should never think of such an adventurous journey in
England, but here it seems the fashion to do just as is most convenient
to ourselves; and for your sake and that of the children, I think it is
better that I should go first. Dr. Grant being a professional man, and
such an old friend of my brother's, will be an excellent escort, and I
am really desirous of seeing a little of the roughness of colonial
life. We will stay all night at Mr. Ballantyne's, and reach Wiriwilta
in good time the second day. I will see to have everything comfortable
for you, Lily, my dear, before you come up. I wish you could accompany
me. Dr. Grant says you could go up now, if you were disposed."
"I am not going to Wiriwilta till Stanley comes himself to fetch me,
for I am so timid with any one else driving on these dreadful roads;
and as for what Dr. Grant says about my being fit for the
journey, he is not my medical man this time, so I won't go by his
advice. Besides, he don't understand my constitution as Dr. M---- does,"
said Mrs. Phillips.
"I feel very sorry to leave you, Lily," said Harriett.
"Oh, I dare say I'll get on very well, even without you. Alice and
nurse will do for me until Stanley comes. Tell him how I weary to see
him the very first thing you say when you see him. Whenever he's done
with going over the stations, beg him to come down. Alice has written
for me to tell him to make haste. I am not strong enough yet to sit up
The idea that Harriett might hasten her husband's return to her, helped
to reconcile Mrs. Phillips to the very cavalier treatment she received
from that young lady.
Harriett enjoyed her drive exceedingly. Dr. Grant knew who lived in a
great many houses that they passed, and they carried with them the
great subject of agreeable conversation in themselves. The Derbyshire
country and the Highland scenery was compared and contrasted
with the Victorian, very much to the disadvantage of the latter, which,
indeed, did not look its best, but its very worst at this time. Mr.
Ballantyne's station Harriett confessed to be rather prettily situated;
but things in the house were much rougher than she had expected, and
the house itself was of a very irregular and primitive style of
architecture--the slab hut enlarged so as to be tolerably commodious;
yet, still, the very house that the squatter had built, partly with his
own hands, in the early days of the colony. He had not been a fortunate
man, but he had got his head above water since the gold discoveries;
and he was not so imprudent as to involve himself again by building a
handsome house so long as the old one would do. Mrs. Ballantyne had an
overweening opinion of the advantages of English society and English
education, and received Miss Phillips with an amount of adulation quite
beyond anything she had ever met with in her life; which was all the
more effective from its being perfectly sincere. Her own children
were but half educated, and very deficient in acquired manner;
and they too looked with awe on Mr. Phillips's English sister, who was
so self-possessed and so fashionably dressed. To a person less
conscious of her own superiority, Mrs. Ballantyne's profuse apologies
for everything and everybody would have been rather painful; but
Harriett received them graciously, and told Dr. Grant that she felt
quite delighted with this first specimen of bush hospitality, and with
his Scotch friends.
Dr. Grant on his side was exceedingly proud of his companion, and felt
quite sure of his success with her; he never had been so agreeable as
during this long drive, and when they appeared at Wiriwilta, on the
second day, in time for an early tea, both travellers were full of
spirits, and not at all tired. Mr. Phillips was not at home, and not
expected for some days. Jane was somewhat surprised by the appearance
of Miss Phillips under such care, but received her politely and kindly.
Dr. Grant had to go home to attend to business, but promised to
ride across to Wiriwilta, as soon as possible, to see if Miss Phillips
had not suffered any fatigue from the long journey over such rough
It was rather flat at the station for Harriett on the following day.
She was disappointed with the house, for though it was a great deal
better than Mrs. Ballantyne's, it was not so large or so convenient as
she had expected. She could not take any interest in the many things
which the children showed her, which they thought so beautiful--their
pet animals, the few wild flowers they could find at this season of the
year, their. dear old trees, their pretty walks, the native boy Jim,
Mrs. Bennett's baby, and the curious windmill that Mr. Tuck had made
for them with his clasp knife and some twigs. She could not be troubled
with such childish talk; she wanted rational conversation; but when
Jane Melville sat beside her, and conversed in her own quiet sensible
way, she felt even that to be unsatisfactory.
A new element had entered into Miss Phillips's life. She was,
after her fashion, in love; and she was restless and dissatisfied
without the presence of the beloved object. Dr. Grant was just long
enough away to be very welcome when he came; and Jane was a little
amused at the manner in which Harriett threw off her languid air of
indifference, and talked to this (to Jane) most uninteresting
Scotchman, who was so full of national pride and personal vanity. Jane
was very cosmopolitan in her ideas, both by nature and by education.
Her uncle had always had more pride in being a Briton than a North
Briton, and never had fired up with indignation at Scotland being
included or merged in England. She did not think Scotchmen
intrinsically more capable than English; there was a greater diffusion
of elementary knowledge in the northern part of the island, but she
thought that in society Englishmen were more agreeable than Scotch, as
a general rule, because they were more certain of their own position.
Scotch and Irish people are apt to be afraid that they are looked down
upon, and are too often on the look-out for slights to be
resented, whereas Englishmen, who do not know much of continental
feelings and habits of thought, have a comfortable conviction that the
greatest country in the world belongs to them, and that nobody can
dispute it. Dr. Grant was surprised at Jane's want of nationality, and
confided to Harriett that he was greatly disappointed in her; and in
spite of Harriett's professed regard for Jane, she could not help
seeing the faults which this keen-sighted observer pointed our.
One day when Dr. Grant and Harriett were in the enjoyment of each
other's company, and flirting in their own interesting manner, and Jane
was sitting beside them with the children, Mr. Brandon and Edgar made
their appearance. Emily and little Harriett met Brandon with
acclamations, and the little ones rejoiced over him in a very noisy
manner, too. Jane gave him a hearty welcome, for she was really
delighted to see his face again, but Miss Phillips and Dr. Grant were
scarcely so affectionate.
"Well, here comes the recreant knight," said Miss Phillips.
"What have you got to say for yourself, Mr. Brandon?"
"To say for myself! Oh! I have a great deal to say for myself. I have
seen a great deal since we parted in London."
"But why have you left your own business and my brother's, and gone
wool-gathering in South Australia?"
"I have just gone wool-gathering, and that must be my excuse. Phillips
will admire the sheep, I am sure. They have just got home in first-rate
condition; easy travelling and plenty of time. But where is Mr.
Phillips and Mrs. Phillips?"
"Oh, mamma is in Melbourne, and we have got a new little brother, and
his name is to be Vivian, after uncle Vivian, you know; and papa is out
over the runs, and will be back on Saturday; and I am sure he will be
very glad to see you, and Edgar too, I dare say," said Emily.
"And where is your sister, Miss Melville? Has she come out to Australia
with you? Is she quite well?" asked Brandon.
"Quite well," said Harriett; "she is in Melbourne with Mrs.
Phillips. We expect them out in a week or two, or perhaps as much as
three weeks, for Mrs. Phillips fancies she cannot stand the journey for
"Alice has not seen Wiriwilta yet," said Emily. "I know she will think
it very pretty; Miss Melville likes it very much."
"And you have got quite strong, Emily?" said Brandon.
"Quite strong again. I can walk to the water-holes near the grove of
young gum-trees and back again without being a hit tired. We have such
lovely walks every day with Miss Melville. And do you know Mr. Brandon,
my dear old Cockey died just after you and Edgar went away to Adelaide;
but I have got another--such a beauty--and two such lovely parrots.
Jim got them for me. You can't think how glad Harriett and I were to
see Jim. And Mrs. Bennett has got another baby, and I'm to be
godmother, and it's to be called Emily; and Mrs. Tuck has got another
too, ever so fat. We have not seen our own baby brother yet."
"But how does it happen that you did not write to me? I got one letter
telling me little Eva was dead, and that you were getting better; but
next month I did not hear a syllable, good or bad, from any of you."
"Because we were on board ship by that time, before the mail from
Australia came in. Papa thought we would be all here sooner than we
were--but it was a delightful voyage. We had Mr. Dempster--you know
Mr. Dempster--and such a lot of nice Adelaide children. I was so sorry
to bid good-bye to Rose; she was my friend all the voyage; and there
were some very nice gentlemen, too. It was quite as nice a voyage as
the last, only that Miss Melville made us do lessons all the time; and
perhaps after all it was as well that she did."
"I never heard such a chatterbox as you are, Emily," said her aunt.
"Did you find the voyage pleasant, Miss Phillips?" asked Brandon.
"Oh, yes, very pleasant indeed."
"I did not think you would condescend to visit our rude latitudes,"
"Oh, I am really quite enjoying my visit. Stanley was greatly pleased
at my proposal to come out, for he thought it such an excellent thing
for the family. I am only on a visit, you know. I cannot say how I
should like Victoria for a permanence, but I like the novelty for the
"And your cousin is in Parliament, I hear, and likely to distinguish
himself, Miss Melville," said Brandon. "I hope that you and your sister
do not despise us poor colonial people."
"Certainly not," said Jane; "indeed, Francis says that he got most of
his best ideas from Mr. Sinclair, who had been in Canada and the United
States, and from a conversation between you and Mr. Phillips and Mr.
Dempster the first day he dined with us in London. He says nothing
sharpens an Englishman up like intercourse with such pushing,
energetic, straightforward people as colonists."
"That is high praise from a British member of Parliament. I owe
him something for that. But did you see Peggy before you left?"
"Yes; we went up to bid her good-bye. I think she will not be long in
joining us," said Jane.
"Well," said Grant, who, as well as Harriett, felt that Miss Melville
was receiving more than her fair share of Brandon's conversation, "you
have not given at all a satisfactory account of yourself. You have been
figuring away in Adelaide, I suppose, and enjoying yourself, and
leaving your own affairs and Mr. Phillips's affairs to mind
"And you have been figuring away in Melbourne, Dr. Grant," said Emily--she
could not bear any aspersion to be cast on her friend, Brandon--"and
then you brought Aunt Harriett away; so you leave no one with poor
mamma but Alice. I am wearying so to see mamma and the baby boy."
"Suppose you go with me," said Brandon; "for I am going to Melbourne
to-morrow to see them, and I have some business there besides."
"Oh! that would be delightful. Miss Melville, may I go?"
"I think not, Emily," said Jane. "Your mamma will be soon here, and
your papa will be disappointed to find you gone when he comes here. I
should not wonder that he will take you with him when he goes himself,
and that would be better, I think."
"Much better," said Miss Phillips. "I wonder that you could think of
such a thing as troubling Mr. Brandon to take care of you all that long
Emily made rather a pertinent remark as to her aunt showing her the
example, at which Miss Phillips blushed, and Grant looked conscious but
delighted. He could not conceive what was taking Brandon to Melbourne
immediately on his return from Adelaide; he did not believe his
assertion that he had business to attend to there. It was another sign
of his being spoiled by his visit to England--it had completely
Now that Brandon had heard that his letter had never reached
Elsie, and consequently that he had not been treated by her with
discourtesy or unkindness, he felt relieved; but, at the same time, a
little sorry that all his trouble had been wasted, and that it was all
to do over again. A few months ago he had lamented that he could not
have it out by word of mouth; but now he regretted this letter had not,
at least, broken the ice, and inclined her to listen to his suit.
However, things had come to such a pass that he could not wait an
indefinite time; he must go to Melbourne and learn his fate without
delay. He left Edgar at Wiriwilta, where Emily thought him very much
improved, and where the boy was exceedingly happy. He took a great
fancy to Miss Melville, who was very different from the fond anxious
women who had brought him up, but whose experiences with the Lowries
had given her great interest in boys of that age, and who knew so much
on all subjects that she never failed to win upon them, if they were
tolerably intelligent and well disposed.
Mrs. Peck's Progress
All things continued favourable to Mrs. Peck's plans--she met with no
disaster by sea in her voyage from Adelaide to Melbourne; the 'Havilah'
brought her to her destination in three days, and she landed on the
familiar shores with a light and hopeful heart. She was not long in
discovering where Mrs. Phillips lived, which was in East Melbourne; and
as no time was to be lost, she repaired to the house on the very day on
which she landed, dressed decently and respectably, like the wife of an
artisan, or perhaps with more of the appearance of a monthly nurse.
The girl who opened the door asked her name when she requested
to see Mrs. Phillips, and she announced herself, not as Mrs. Peck, but
as Mrs. Mahoney, under which name she had taken out her passage, and
begged to see the missis by herself for a few minutes. Mrs. Phillips
was then sitting in an easy-chair in the drawing-room, the nurse was
engaged with the baby, and Elsie busy in Mrs. Phillips's room; so the
stranger was introduced to have a quiet interview with her daughter.
"Well, Betsy, do you not recollect me?" said Mrs. Peck, in a subdued
but intensely earnest voice, whenever the girl was out of hearing.
"Have you forgotten your own mother?"
Mrs. Phillips grew deadly pale, and was about to scream.
"Hush! Betsy, be quiet," said her mother. "I've only come to pay you a
friendly visit. I've longed so to see you again all these years, and
now I heard you was by yourself, I thought I must run all risks to get
a look at you. Why, how handsome you've grown, and everything handsome
about you, too;" and Mrs. Peck gazed with wondering admiration
at the beautiful, well-dressed, queen-like woman whom she had parted
with when a mere girl, and had never seen since her marriage. "Rings on
your fingers, and a gold chain round your neck, and everything you can
wish for. Oh, Betsy, I made your fortune, and you never take a thought
for me. I might be dead and buried, and you'd never care a straw. I
have had a hard life, a very hard life--tossed about from place to
place, and often in want of many things that at my time of life I need
to get--and you in such luxury. My pretty girl, my beautiful
Whatever might have been the resemblance between mother and daughter,
there were but slight traces of it now. Mrs. Peck might have been
beautiful at sixteen, but her life had not been so conservative of her
charms as Mrs. Phillips's was; besides, Mrs. Phillips resembled her
father much more than her mother, and he had been of a much more
lymphatic temperament, and was at the same time a remarkably
handsome man. Mrs. Peck was not yet sixty, but she looked old for her
years, and more like the grandmother than the mother of Mrs. Phillips,
whose easy circumstances, indulgent husband, and indolent,
self-regarding life, with no emotion and little excitement, had kept
her face free from a single line of care or anxiety. Her mother's face
was ploughed up with innumerable lines, and her features seemed to work
with every varying passion, while her expression was hungry, eager, and
wolf-like, without showing anything more intellectual than cunning,
even in its calmest moments.
"Oh!" said Mrs. Phillips, "if Stanley was to find you here, he would
never forgive me."
"Is it your fault that I could not rest till I saw you again? I never
thought he'd be so cruel and unreasonable as to blame you for what I'd
"But I heard you was in Adelaide, and Mr. Phillips says that, as long
as you stay in Adelaide, he will see that you know no want. Oh,
mother, you had better go back to Adelaide!" said Mrs. Phillips.
"Is that my girl as is talking?" said Mrs. Peck, disdainfully,--"my
girl as I loved so dear, and was so proud of--that now, when I've come
all the way from Adelaide, and risked all I've got to depend upon, just
to please my old eyes with the sight of her handsome face, and my poor
old ears with the sound of her voice, would banish me the minute I
come! That's a pretty husband you've got--that you're so afeard of
him. You deserve that your children should turn against you when they
grow up. Oh, Betsy, how can you talk so cruel?" and the old woman
caught her daughter's hand, and kissed it with much apparent, and no
doubt some real feeling. "You're not expecting of him home for a while;
let me come and let me go while he is away--my name is Mrs. Mahoney.
Say as how I am an old servant of your mother's, or an old servant you
had at Wiriwilta, or the mother of some one you know--call me what you
like, but let me just have the liberty to come and see you and
the baby, and then I will go back to Adelaide, and Mr. Phillips need
never know nothing about it?"
Invention was not one of Mrs. Phillips's talents, but her mother
revelled in it, as I have said before. She delighted to go amongst
people who did not know her, where she could give out an entirely
fictitious history of herself quite new. Even to her intimate
acquaintances her narrations were singularly inconsistent. When her
interest demanded that she should speak the truth she did so, but it
was with an effort; when the balance lay the other way she had no
hesitation and no scruple.
"I ain't good at these stories, mother," said Mrs. Phillips, "and I
don't just see what good it will do me to get into trouble with Stanley
on your account. It is just the one thing he is unreasonable about.
When he married me he said he made only one stipulation, and that was,
that I should have nothing to do with you or with Peck, and I said I
Mrs. Peck here began to sob, and Elsie who was sewing in the
next room, hearing a little noise, and afraid that Mrs. Phillips was
not well, came in at this moment. Mrs. Phillips was quite at a loss to
account for the emotion of her visitor, but her mother was equal to the
"I am sure, Mrs. Phillips, I cannot say what I feel," said she, "but
your goodness really overpowers me. To think as the little girl as I
knowed when she played with my poor Susan as is now no more should
recollect me now she's growed up so beautiful, and had such a fine
house of her own, and should help me in my troubles! It is quite too
much for me. But all I want is just a little to start me in a way of
business, and I'll be sure to pay it back again if I get on--and I
have got a good connection, a capital connection--your liberality I
can never forget;" and Mrs. Peck fumbled with her purse, and looked
very hard at Elsie. This was the person whom she wished to see, even
more than her ungrateful daughter, from whom she had expected a kinder
reception. Elsie looked simple-minded enough--there was no
doubt she would be easily dealt with, and much better by speech than by
"This is your maid, I suppose?"
Mrs. Phillips assented.
Mrs. Peck turned to Elsie and said, "I think as how the missis wants
some sal volatile; she looks a bit faint--she don't seem to be strong
Elsie fetched the sal volatile, and gave Mrs. Phillips a little of it,
and then returned to her work. She was puzzled at the stranger's
speaking of Mrs. Phillips's liberality--for she was not generally
liberal--and at her fumbling at her purse as if she had received
money, for she knew that Mrs. Phillips had left her purse in her
"You must let me come and go for the few days I am to stay in
Melbourne, Betsy," said her mother.
"Oh, I'd rather give you money, if you need it--at least, all I've
"I fear I will need money to take me back, for I made such an
effort to get across, but I could not help it. But I won't hurt you,
Betsy, and I may do you good. What sort of girl is it that you've got?"
"Oh, a very clever milliner, and a handy girl enough. Stanley says he
thinks her pretty, but I don't see it. He makes a great fuss over both
her and her sister, but Jane is plain."
"If he says he thinks her pretty, I'd not keep her in the house if I
was you. I know what men are," said Mrs. Peck.
"I don't think you know what Stanley is," said Mrs. Phillips, with some
dignity. "I did not like it at first, but I ain't frightened now; and
besides, they are both so badly off it's quite a charity to keep them."
"If she is a milliner, I know of a capital situation," said Mrs. Peck.
"Stanley would be in a pretty state if I let her go to a situation of
your recommending," said Mrs. Phillips.
"Oh, I don't mean to meddle with your affairs; but young people are
very unwary. You think as how you're too handsome for your
husband to think of looking at another woman; but I know the world
better nor that. Howsomever, that is neither here nor there. But you
know I am risking my annuity from Mr. Phillips by coming here to see
you; but I heard in Adelaide that for the first time since you was
married I might have the chance of seeing you, without making dispeace,
which is the last thing I would wish to do. So, Betsy, if you will be
reasonable, and let me come again, as Mrs. Mahoney (an old neighbour in
New South Wales), and help me, as you say, with money to take me away,
I will be as quiet as a mouse. It is a pleasure to see you, and to
speak to you. Give me a little needlework, and let me sit with your
maid, and just have a look at you now and then, and at the baby. I
ain't seen none of your children, Betsy. Because you've been so well
off, and had no cares, you shouldn't turn off your mother in that
"Oh, I wish I dare do it. But if Stanley was to come--he may
come suddenly. I've sent him a message to hurry home. You can't think
what a good, kind husband he is to me, mother. But he'd be furious if
he found you here."
"Oh, if he comes home you do not need me to work any longer; and you
can give the girl that message; and you can drop me a hint if I happen
to be in the house. Even if he was to see me here, I know I could find
some reason. I am never without an excuse."
Mrs. Phillips was not particularly fond of her mother, who had been
very harsh and violent-tempered to her in her childish days, while she
was as fond of her husband as she could be of any one but herself, and
she knew with what abhorrence he regarded this fierce, cunning old
woman. She wished Mrs. Peck to be satisfied with this one visit and to
come back no more, for she feared that Alice and the other servants
might suspect something, and she had no confidence in her own powers of
concealment. But Mrs. Peck had more ammunition in her chest; she again
began to sob, and showed symptoms of going into violent hysterics, and
bewailed her own hard lot and the cruelty of her ungrateful daughter so
loudly, that she was glad to agree to her demands to make her keep
quiet for the present.
Mrs. Peck then saw the baby, which she admired exceedingly, and
accepted of some refreshments. Mrs. Phillips got her purse, and really
gave her some money; and shortly after, her mother took leave, engaging
to come back on the following morning to do some needlework, and
uttering many blessings on Mrs. Phillips for her kindness and
generosity in Alice's hearing. Mrs. Phillips looked greatly relieved
when she was out of the house, but the apprehension of her return
weighed considerably on her mind.
Business Interrupted By Love
Mrs. Peck appeared on the following day, according to promise, carrying
a little black bag, containing scissors, yard-measure, and a few other
implements of needlework, all perfectly new; and after a short
conversation with Mrs. Phillips and a little refreshment, she sat down
beside Elsie to ingratiate herself with that young lady. Elsie thought
she had never seen any one so ignorant of the work she had set about as
Mrs. Mahoney appeared to be. She confessed that she was not skilful,
and it showed all the more kindness in Mrs. Phillips to give her work
when she had had so little practice, and did it so badly. She had been
accustomed to go out as a nurse, she said; but she had got too
old for that, and could not stand the sitting up of nights; and then
she branched off into accounts of dreadful experiences in nursing, and
deathbeds, and awful operations, that were enough to make Elsie's hair
stand on end. She found fault with Mrs. Phillips's nurse as being too
much of the fine lady, and told Elsie what she considered to be a
nurse's duties, which she would like to do if she was only fit for it.
Then she threw herself on Elsie's good nature for a little lesson in
needlework, admired her quickness and taste and skill, wished she could
do anything half as well, and asked her to be good enough to cut out
and place her work for her, and to lend her patterns, and altogether
behaved with the most insinuating affability.
Although Elsie Melville looked simple-minded, she was by no means
wanting in observation, and her situation with Mrs. Phillips and her
sister-in-law had taught her a wonderful amount of prudence. She
thought there was some inconsistency in Mrs. Mahoney's fluent
narratives, and something very peculiar in her relations with
Mrs. Phillips, who appeared to be restless and uncomfortable whenever
she was in the house. Elsie was, however, good-natured enough to give
her some instruction, for which great gratitude was expressed. On the
third day of her visits, when apparently occupied in learning how to do
featherstitch for trimming baby's pinafores, Mrs. Peck looked up from
her work, and asked Elsie if she did not come from-----shire.
"That was my native county," said Elsie.
"Do you know Cross Hall at all?" asked Mrs. Peck.
"I was brought up there," said Elsie.
"I come from that county, too," said Mrs. Peck.
"I did not think you had been Scotch," said Elsie.
"I have been in these colonies for thirty-four years, and seen but few
of my own country folks; but the English say they'd know me to be
Scotch by my accent."
"Well, perhaps your accent is a little like that of-----shire,
when I come to think of it; but the turn of your expressions is not
Scotch at all," said Elsie. "Thirty-four years is a long time, however;
I may, perhaps, get rid of some of my own Scotticisms by that time."
"I knew Hogarth of Cross Hall, very well, when I was young," said Mrs.
Peck. "Do you mean to say you was brought up there?"
"Mr. Hogarth was my uncle," said Elsie.
"Oh, you must be a daughter of his sister Mary's; I fancy there was
only the one daughter that lived to grow up. But if Cross Hall was your
uncle, how came you to be in this situation?" said Mrs. Peck, with
"My sister and I were educated by him; he was exceedingly kind to us as
long as he lived."
"But his property did not come to you;--the heir-at-law swallowed up
all," said Mrs. Peck, with a fierce glare in her eyes that she could
not quite subdue. "It is very hard on you."
"We have felt it rather hard," said Elsie; "but still things have been
worse for us at one time than they are now. Jane and I can earn
our own living, and that is the position of most people in the world."
"What would you give now," said Mrs. Peck, "if you could get back to
Cross Hall, and be just as you used to be?"
"I cannot say what I would give," said Elsie. "But it is impossible.
Unless we could restore my poor uncle to life, things could never be
again as they used to be."
"And the new man might have helped you, and not have driven you to seek
service at the ends of the earth. Would you not like to serve him out?"
said Mrs. Peck with the same subdued fierceness as before.
Elsie's instinctive sincerity would have led her to justify Francis, by
explaining about the will, but she felt reluctant to say anything to
this strange woman that she could help. Besides, though she knew
nothing of the letter that had been sent by Mrs. Peck to her cousin,
and left unanswered, at Mr. Phillips's earnest request, she was
beginning to suspect something of the truth. Mrs. Peck's
courting her so assiduously had puzzled her; and now the interest she
felt in this story, which was all the more apparent to a keen observer
from the efforts she made to conceal it, showed that she knew more
about the matter than she liked at once to disclose.
Elsie had a good eye for likenesses, and could see family resemblances
where no one else could; and it had always struck her as very
remarkable that there was not the slightest resemblance between Francis
and her uncle, nor between him and any other member of the family whom
she had seen or whose portraits had been preserved. Not merely were the
features and complexion unlike, but there was not a trick of the
countenance or of the gait reproduced, as is generally the case with
the sons of fathers who had such marked characteristics as Henry
Hogarth. Though she had not heard of Mrs. Peck's letter, Jane had told
her about Madame de Vericourt's to her uncle, and in her own heart she
had fancied that the reason why he had been so cold to Francis was,
that he had been doubtful of the paternity; the very
indifferent character of the woman he had married was not calculated to
inspire him with confidence, and the absolute absence of all family
likeness was an additional cause of distrust. He must have been
satisfied on that point, however, in later years, or he would not have
been so strong in his prohibition of his marriage with Jane or Elsie on
account of his cousinship; but, in early life, he must, in Elsie's
opinion, have had grave doubts on the subject.
She looked again more careful than before at Mrs. Peck. She was of the
age to be Francis's mother, but otherwise she was quite at fault; there
was not any likeness there either. A conformation of the little finger
was rather peculiar, but it was an exaggeration of a little defect on
Mrs. Phillips's otherwise very handsome hand, but not of Francis
"If Francis has no right to the property, and we have, of course we
should like to have our rights," said Elsie.
"It was a Scotch marriage, you know," said Mrs. Peck.
"Yes, but a binding one; he is received everywhere as my
uncle's lawful son."
"Yes, as his lawful son, no doubt. Do you know if he has brought
forward his mother at all?" said Mrs. Peck.
"No; I suppose she is dead, or we should certainly have heard of her."
"Dead, you suppose!" said Mrs. Peck, indignantly; "that is the easy way
of getting quit of relations that has got claims on you--just Suppose
"I do not know anything of the matter, except that she has not been
heard of. If she were alive and heard of his inheriting this property,
she would be sure to write claiming him, and probably asking for
assistance, which I have no doubt she would at once receive, for he has
ample means, and has the character of being both just and liberal."
"And you think she would apply; and you have no doubt that she ought to
have got it? Any one would have thought that," said Mrs. Peck, between
her set teeth.
"Yes, certainly," said Elsie; "but perhaps she did not go the
right way to work?"
"She did," said Mrs. Peck, indignantly. "I knowed her well, and heard
all about it."
This was to throw Elsie off her guard, for she did not wish to be
identified at once; but it had not the effect desired, for Elsie felt
convinced that this was the person who claimed to be Francis's mother.
Mrs. Phillips came in at this interesting poise in the conversation,
and began to give Elsie directions as to some alterations in a dress.
"There's some buttons and trimmings to get to make it up with. Alice,
you had better go to town and get them for me. You need a walk, at any
rate; I do not think you've had your walk at all regularly of late,"
said Mrs. Phillips.
"Indeed," said Mrs. Peck, "she has had no walk since here I've been,
whatever she might have had before. It's trying work sitting still all
day; I feel it myself, and all the more that I'm not used to it. If
you'd be so good as excuse me for a hour or two; I'd take it as a great
kindness if you'd let me go with Alice for a walk to do her bit
of shopping, and to show her round Melbourne a bit. If I don't know
Melbourne well, I ought to. I don't think I ever saw so good a hand as
Alice has. I think I could make her fortune, if she'd only give me a
"Oh, I don't think Alice is inclined to leave me," said Mrs. Phillips;
"and, indeed, I am very well satisfied with her."
"But this ain't exactly her sphere. She was a telling me as she was
brought up with great expectations," said Mrs. Peck.
"She has got over her disappointment about that, I think," said Mrs.
"I dare say you think it shabby in me to try to entice your maid from
you; and really, after all, a comfortable home with a lady, as it must
be a pleasure to serve and to wait upon, is perhaps the best thing
after all. But as I was saying, Mrs. Phillips, I would be glad to get
out for an hour or two with Alice. I'll not do much work without her,
for I'm sure to go wrong if she is not at my elbow. There's not
many ladies so generous as you, to pay me for my blundering work; and
Alice is wonderful patient too. I don't know how to thank her for the
pains she takes with me, and I can't help being very stupid. After
being used to active life, one don't take well to this sitting still.
So I'll just put on my bonnet and shawl and go out a bit with Alice."
Mrs. Phillips did not at all like this proposal, for she had an idea
that her husband would very much disapprove of it, and would be still
more angry at that than at her having her mother in her house; but then
Mr. Phillips was away, and her mother was there, and the present terror
conquered the distant one. She never knew what her mother might or
might not say, if she thwarted her in anything: she had distant
recollections of terrible punishments that always followed the
slightest act of disobedience, or even carelessness, in her childish
days; and though now she knew her mother would not strike her with her
hands, she was in constant dread of her tongue. So that now Mrs. Peck
took it for granted that she would be allowed to accompany her
daughter's maid--she dared not refuse it. Alice scarcely liked the
idea of going to walk to town with this strange woman; but at the same
time her curiosity as to what she might have to say was very great. She
felt that this Mrs. Mahoney had intelligence to give that was of great
importance, and that she wished to be secure from interruption. Mrs.
Phillips was constantly going in and out, for she was afraid to leave
her mother long with any one, and always looked suspicious of what they
might be talking about. Mary, the housemaid, and the nurse, too, seemed
to be curious about this old needlewoman, and were often coming in
When Mrs. Peck had put on her bonnet and shawl, and dropped her veil
over her face, she looked sufficiently respectable for a companion to
one so little known in Melbourne as Alice Melville, so she thought
there could be no harm in going out for an hour or two with her for the
sake of ascertaining if she had any light to throw on the dark subject
of Francis's birth.
When they got out of doors, Mrs. Peck appeared at first to be
rather anxious to resume the conversation which her daughter had
interrupted; but as they were pretty closely followed by two other
pedestrians all the way into town, she made up her mind to attend to
Mrs. Phillips's business first, so they went to Collins Street and
bought the trimmings. Then Mrs. Peck went to a bookseller's shop and
purchased a shilling novel that she said she had been told was very
interesting, but she appeared scarcely to know the name of it, and took
the first one the shopman gave to her.
Elsie thought she was a good deal more stared at than was agreeable,
and also that the shopmen in both establishments addressed her with a
good deal of familiarity. She had heard Miss Phillips complain of the
great freedom and the want of politeness of Melbourne tradespeople and
the inhabitants generally; but this was her first personal experience
of anything of the kind, and she rightly attributed it to the company
she was in. She felt, now, that she had made a great mistake in
going out with this Mrs. Mahoney, whose rather loud remarks and vulgar
appearance seemed to attract general attention, and she could only wish
fervently that, with or without her secret, she could get back safely
to East Melbourne. As they returned, Mrs. Peck proposed a detour by the
Botanic Gardens, which Elsie had never seen. Mrs. Phillips would not
expect them home soon, for she had proposed to show Miss Melville all
about Melbourne; and the gardens were well worth seeing. On a week day
they were quiet, and one could get a seat to have a little comfortable
talk. Much as Elsie wished for the talk, she would not on any account
lengthen her walk for it, so she declined the proposal.
"Then," said Mrs. Peck, "let us go out of the regular road we came by,
and go round Fitzroy Square, and have a look round at all the churches
and chapels that are built on the Eastern Hill."
Fitzroy Square was not at that time enclosed or planted. It was merely
a vacant space, intersected by numerous footpaths in various
directions, and covered where there was no beaten path with very dusty
withered-looking grass. Elsie had no objection to go out of the
thoroughfare; but, instead of pointing out the churches or anything
else, as soon as Mrs. Peck had got safe out of any third party's
hearing, she slackened her pace, and eagerly opened the subject which
was nearest to her heart.
"I said, Miss Melville, that I could make your fortune if you'd only
give me a handsome commission. Are you willing to drive a bargain?"
said Mrs. Peck.
"If I can see my way clear to the fortune, I should, of course, be glad
to pay you for the information; but I must know what you have got to
say before I can guess what it is worth," said Elsie.
"And I must know what you are willing to give, before I can tell what I
know," said Mrs. Peck.
"But I have really got nothing to offer," said Elsie; "you know how
poor I am."
"But suppose you and your sister was to get Cross Hall through
means of me, what would you give me for that?" asked Mrs. Peck.
Elsie felt sure that this woman could not give the property to Jane and
herself, for it had been left to Francis distinctly by will, by name
and description; but yet she wanted very much to find out if he was
really their cousin or not, so she said----
"I must consult with my sister on this matter, for it concerns her as
much as myself, and also with Mr. Phillips, who has been to both of us
the kindest and best of friends, before I could make you any definite
"No, no," said Mrs. Peck; "I want no interference of strangers, and I
ain't got no time to waste here while you write up the country to
anybody. I must go back to Adelaide in a few days, and surely your
sister will see the advantages of your acting for her. What do you say
to 2,000 pounds."
To be asked 2,000 pounds for what Elsie knew to be worth nothing, in a
money point of view, appeared to her rather absurd. "That is a very
large sum," said she.
"A year's income is not too much for such a secret as I've got. Cross
Hall must be worth 2,000 pounds a year now, and more than that, and I must
have something handsome to cover my risk."
"Then you put yourself under the grasp of the law by what you have to
reveal?" said Elsie.
"You must let me get clear off before you publish it," said Mrs. Peck.
"I have been treated with the greatest ingratitude by Frank, and I'd
like a little revenge. I'd like to pull him down from his high horse,
and set him working for his bread as you have had to do; but at the
same time I am a poor woman, and I must live."
"I cannot tell what we would give you," said Elsie, "until I have
something more distinct than these vague threats; but you may be sure
that we will give you as much as it is worth. Trust to our honour for
"Trust to a fiddlestick's end! I am too old a bird to be caught
with such chaff as that. No, I must have it down in black and white.
See, here is a paper that I want you to fill up and sign before I'll
open my mouth on the subject." So Mrs. Peck drew out of her black bag a
paper containing an agreement to pay her 2,000 pounds on condition that
the estate of Cross Hall should be recovered for her and her sister
through Mrs. Peck's information. She laid the paper open on the book she
had bought, then she took a pen and a portable ink-bottle from the same
repository, dipped the pen in the ink, and demanded Elsie's signature
then and there.
Her eager eyes watched the girl's countenance as she read the agreement
and weighed the pros and cons of the bargain she was making, and
neither of them were aware, in their preoccupation, that they were
observed. When Elsie looked up, puzzled as to what she was to do, and
Mrs. Peck was putting her pen into her hand, she saw the figure of
Walter Brandon approaching her with the appearance of haste and
agitation. Mrs. Peck snatched the paper from Elsie's hand, and
replaced it in the black bag, along with the other writing materials
and the extempore desk.
"Alice Melville!" said Brandon, "what in Heaven's name are you doing
here in such company as this?"
Elsie turned as pale as death; she could not utter a syllable.
"Come with me--let me take you home. I heard from Mrs. Phillips that
you had gone out; but I could not have imagined you to have such a
"Such a companion, indeed!" said Mrs. Peck, indignantly. "I have been
in these colonies more nor thirty years, and I'm good enough company
for any fine lady's-maid as ever walked on shoe leather."
"Oh, Mr. Brandon!" said Elsie, who had recovered her powers of speech;
"she was doing needlework at Mrs. Phillips's, and I was sent out on an
errand, and she would come with me."
"And we was just a looking over the bill, and seeing as our
money was all right," said Mrs. Peck, in the most plausible manner.
"No; it was not a bill," said Elsie, who hated the idea of this woman
telling lies for her.
"Did Mrs. Phillips actually send you out walking with this person?"
said Brandon, with a look of the most intense contempt and disgust at
"She said nothing against it; but she did not send me; it was all my
own fault," said Elsie, weeping bitterly. "I rather wished to go with
"My dear Miss Alice, you must have seen that this was no fit person for
you to associate with. You are an innocent girl, ignorant of the world,
as all girls ought to be; but you are not so easily deceived in
character as not to see in this woman's face, language, and manners,
that she is to be avoided as you would avoid death and destruction,"
Elsie only wept more bitterly than before. Brandon must despise her for
ever now. She had been glad to come out to Victoria, because
she thought if he still loved or cared for her she should hear of it.
She had treasured his parting words and his parting looks in her heart;
and now to meet him again in this way--to feel that he must look down
on her as in the old days of his pity he never could have done--was
dreadful. How was he to guess at the almost irresistible temptation
that had led her to compromise herself so far?
"You had better go home now to your own dwelling, Mrs. Peck," said
Brandon; "for if Mr. Phillips were to know that you had been visiting
his wife in his absence you would come by the worst of it. Needlework,
indeed! Mrs. Phillips is a fool, certainly; but the idea of your doing
needlework for her is very absurd. So you had better never show face
"Perhaps you'd like to know where I live, Miss Melville," said Mrs.
Peck, glaring angrily at Brandon. "I lodge at No.--, Little Bourke
Street, and can be heard of there, either as Mrs. Mahoney or Mrs. Peck.
You can come there to see me."
"Like to know where YOU live--go to see YOU!" said Brandon, in
towering indignation. "Now Miss Melville knows your real character she
will keep away from you for ever. So now go off with you, as quickly as
"Good-bye, Miss Melville," said Mrs. Peck, as she slowly went on her
way to her own lodgings. She found she must go, but she would not be
hurried by Brandon's wrath.
He waited till she was out of hearing before he tried to soothe the
feelings of the agitated girl she had left under his care.
"Now where can I take you to? If Mrs. Phillips allowed you to do such a
thing as walk through Melbourne with Mrs. Peck, she is not to be
trusted with you. Oh, if Peggy were only here--but she is not: your
sister told me she had not left Edinburgh."
"Take me back to Mrs. Phillips; she will be as glad to get rid of this
woman as you can possibly be," said Elsie.
"But she must have known there was something wrong, for she looked
confused and ashamed when I asked for you, and when I settled
down to wait till your return, she seemed quite restless till I went
away. Indeed, she sent me on an errand in quite a different direction;
but I wished to come this way, and thought there was no hurry about her
commission. I always knew her to be a fool, but not so wicked and false
as this proves her to be."
"I think this woman frightens her," said Elsie.
"She has some hold on her, no doubt. Poor Phillips! we had better say
nothing to him about it. So you would really prefer going home to her,"
"Yes, certainly," said Elsie; and she paused for a little. "But, Mr.
Brandon, I am in want of advice and assistance more than I ever was in
my life. I must have it, and have it immediately. Can I rely on you as
"Yes, as a friend;--certainly, as a friend," said Brandon, who
wondered what revelation was about to be made. Surely no love affair
with some one else!
"I believe this woman is the person who calls herself my cousin
Francis's mother," said Elsie. "I think she came to Mrs. Phillips's for
the express purpose of ingratiating herself with me, in hopes of
selling me a secret which she knows, and which she declares will give
to Jane and myself the possession of Cross Hall."
"Ah!" said Brandon, slowly; "and is this her little game at present?"
"Now, I have often thought that Francis was not my uncle's son--there
is not the slightest family likeness; and she is capable of any fraud
or deception. I really knew she was not good when I went out with her,
but we had no chance to speak without interruption in the house, and I
did not think she was so well known in Melbourne as she appears to be.
I know I have done very wrong, but I really had some excuse. If she can
prove this-----" and Elsie paused, in hopes that Brandon would say
something to show that he felt for the greatness of her temptation.
"But, my dear Miss Alice," said Brandon, "she cannot take the
property from your cousin. Was it not left to him by will, and left to
him because he had proved himself worthy of it?--at least, I believe
that is what your sister and Peggy have told me. She tries this game of
hers with a girl who knows nothing about business. It is of no use
"She has no idea about the will, and thinks that Francis got the estate
as heir-at-law. But my view of the matter is this, that if Francis is
proved not to be our cousin, he might marry Jane, and not lose the
property. That is what I aim at, for they love each other, I am quite
"If they do, I wonder he did not throw up the fortune, and set about
earning one for himself. It was a good deal to give up, too--a seat in
parliament, and such a career as appears before him. But what are
wealth and fame compared to love?" said Brandon, who had got rather
"I do not like to say much to Jane about it, for it only
distresses her; but I think--I am almost sure--that he offered to
make the sacrifice, but that Jane would not accept of it. She rejoiced
in his useful and honourable life. She would not consent to be his drag
and stumbling-block. She must have felt it very hard, too; for I feel
she loves him dearly. It was for their sakes that I was so anxious to
discover this woman's secret. She wants to be revenged on Francis, who
has not answered her letters, and has sent her no money. I am a little
surprised at that; but yet I believe that he must have had good reasons
for his conduct, for there never was any one more thoroughly
conscientious and liberal than the cousin I want to lose--the brother
I wish to gain. Would it not be a glorious revenge if this Mrs. Peck,
in her spite, were to give him all he wants--the only thing missing in
his cup of happiness?"
"Perhaps, then, it is a pity I interrupted you so soon," said Brandon,
admiring the generous enthusiasm of the girl; "but you were too dear to
me, too precious, to be left in such suspicious company a
moment longer than I could help. I came to Melbourne with one purpose--and
that was, to entreat you to reconsider the answer you gave to me in
the railway carriage."
"I did not know you so well then," said Elsie. "I thought you only
pitied me; and now I fear I have given you cause to despise me."
"Nothing of the kind," said Brandon; "nothing of the kind. I love you
far more now than I did then; and though I was so stupid and idiotic as
to fancy that Miss Phillips would suit me as well, whenever I saw you
together her faults came out, and your virtues. I do not wish to take
you at a disadvantage. Do not think it ungenerous in me to ask so much
just when you are in trouble and perplexity, and need advice and
"And just when I have appeared in such an unfavourable light," said
Elsie, in her low, sweet voice, a little tremulous with the excitement
of the scene.
"But I will give you the best help I can, and the best advice
my poor head can supply, whether you return my love or not. Do not let
that weigh with you for a moment. Nothing I can do can make me deserve
you. If I am not bodily on my knees before you--for in a public place
like this it would be absurd, and you would not like it--I am mentally
on my knees, willing to accept whatever you may choose to give me--love,
if possible; but if your heart is otherwise engaged, or if you
cannot love such a commonplace fellow as myself, then I will TRY to be
contented with friendship. Which shall it be, my dearest Alice?"
"Will you have any objection to accepting of both?" said Alice, in the
same tremulous tone.
"None," said Brandon, delighted, "none whatever; indeed, one implies
the other, though the other does not imply the one. I cannot express
myself distinctly, you see, but you know what I mean. I am not at all a
genius, and even this happiness cannot inspire me with fine language.
But what can I DO for you?--there is where I hope to show my
sense of what I owe to you."
"First, then, we must leave this place and walk home, for I think
people are looking at us," said Elsie, trying to collect her thoughts;
"and then you must tell me what I am to do with Mrs. Peck, if that is
her name. Mrs. Phillips calls her Mrs. Mahoney. The paper you saw in my
hand, which she snatched away, was an agreement to pay a sum of money
if we were put in possession of Cross Hall. If I had signed it, it
would have been of no value to her; but I hesitated about it, for I did
not like cheating even her, and making her risk bringing herself to
justice for nothing."
"I will go to see her myself, and negotiate for you. I do not think I
should have much scruple in outwitting her, for she really deserves it,
and it is only letting her over reach herself. Will you give me full
powers to act for you?"
"Oh, yes," said Elsie; "if she will only deal with you it will be so
"Upon the footing on which we stand together at present it is
quite right and proper that I should do so," said Brandon, accepting
the responsibilities of his position with great satisfaction. "You did
not get my letter. Emily and your sister told me you sailed before the
mail come in, which contained that painful work of composition. I wrote
to you whenever I got out to Barragong, and saw that I really had not
been so nearly ruined as I thought. I determined to do it on the
occasion when I parted with you in the nursery."
"Shall I say, like Miss Harriett Phillips, that I conquered you by
making a ballad in your praise? for these men can be led by nothing so
well as by vanity and selfishness. No, I will not say it, for I do not
think you are either vain or selfish. I should not like you if you
were," said Elsie.
"Say LOVE, Alice, it sounds much sweeter, and goes more to my heart.
You like your cousin, or no-cousin Francis, but you must LOVE me."
"Well, love be it," said Alice; "but I really love Francis a
good deal, too--not as I love you, or as I intend to love you, for I
really don't know how I feel just yet, but still not mere liking."
"I am not at all jealous," said Brandon, "though all his literary
talents and tastes should make me feel my own inferiority."
"Even Jane never would allow me to say that you were inferior to
Francis; she said your talents lay in a different direction. She was
sorry that I refused you, and when I came to know you better I was very
"When did you begin to soften to me?" asked Brandon.
"When you said Peggy had taught you so much--when you expressed
yourself so warmly and so truly about her."
"Had she not prejudiced you against me in the first place?" said
"Yes, she had," said Elsie, with still greater hesitation.
"By something that she said of me? It was too true I deserved it; but
the lesson she taught me has never been forgotten. I do not say
that I deserve you, but I mean to try my best to deserve you. But was
that your only reason for refusing me?"
"No; I had several. I thought myself a very unfit wife for you, and
that you would be cruelly disappointed to get a low-spirited, sickly,
useless girl who did not love or esteem you. I really thought I was
dying, and it would have been wrong to have thought of marrying under
such circumstances; and besides, you could not have cared much about
me, or you would not have transferred your affection so easily to a
woman so very different in every way."
"Well, it does appear very inconsistent," said Brandon. "When my letter
is returned from England, you will see two pages of apologies, and
reasons why I was so foolish; but I really thought there was somebody
whom you liked better, until that very moment when I caught your eye
and your expression when I praised our excellent old friend. Your
glance at that time restored me to my allegiance; but the bad
news of my affairs next day put love and marriage out of my head, till
I came to part from you, and I felt how hard it was. But I am glad to
see that I have not seriously injured Miss Phillips by trifling with
her affections. She has met with her match at last. I never thought she
could have been so well suited."
"I really think they will get on very comfortably."
"How could I ever fancy that woman amiable?" said Brandon. "I thought
her really an exceedingly agreeable and clever woman in Derbyshire:
when I went out shopping with her on that memorable day, I saw spots on
the sun; and the day before yesterday, at Wiriwilta, she appeared to be
quite insufferable. I Cannot think enough of my own good luck; I might
have been her husband by this time instead of being your lover, which
is much pleasanter. What an insipid slow life it would have been,
though Grant, I dare say, looks forward to it with complacency. He
always used to look down on the colonial girls that our neighbours
married, and threatened to go home for a thoroughly
accomplished wife; and now one of that stamp has come out to him, and
saved him time and money. And Miss Phillips looks far more kindly on
him than she ever did on me."
"I do not call it merely good luck," said Elsie; "I think our affairs
are in wiser hands than our own."
"And that I should be grateful for that wise guidance, instead of idly
congratulating myself that things have turned out so well," said
Brandon. "I only know that I feel grateful, though I am in want of
words to express it. A man living alone, as I have done for so many
years, feels at a loss to speak about these matters. I need a dear good
woman like you by my side to teach me to open my heart, for I know I
never will be ashamed to speak to you as I feel--though I might stand
in some awe of a poetess, too."
"Don't speak about my poetry," said Elsie.
"Am I never to hear that song of Wiriwilta, in which I play
such a conspicuous part?" said Brandon.
"Oh, I have forgotten it, for the children got tired of it, and asked
for new songs and stories; it was never written down, and I never can
recollect my own verses. It shows that they are not genuine poetry, for
I have a tenacious memory for anything good of other people's. So, as
it is lost for ever, you may imagine it to have been as beautiful as
Mrs. Phillips Is Relieved
Mrs. Phillips had been much alarmed at the sight of Mr. Brandon almost
immediately after Elsie and Mrs. Peck had gone out. He asked for Miss
Alice Melville as soon as he entered, saying he had a letter from her
sister and messages from the children for her, so that he would stay
with Mrs. Phillips till she returned, and sat down before the window
looking steadily out to catch the first sight of her. Not having her
mother's inventive turn, she was at a loss how to get rid of him.
Brandon must not see Mrs. Peck, and Elsie must be warned to say nothing
about her to him. She sat in torture for some time, and at last in
despair she asked him in an awkward embarrassed way to be good
enough to go for a nosegay for her, that she had been promised by a
mutual friend at Richmond, that she wished very much to have. He could
not help thinking something was wrong. Mrs. Phillips had always been
very inconsiderate to Alice, and no doubt she had been sent to town on
some errand that she was ashamed he should know about--probably to
fetch a heavy parcel. So, instead of going to Richmond, he took the
road on which he would be most likely to meet her, so as to assist her
if possible, and as he came up to the square where Mrs. Peck and Elsie
were talking, he met with a bush acquaintance, who, after the usual
greetings to the returned Brandon, pointed to the two female figures,
and remarked--"There's Mrs. Peck back again to Melbourne, and a very
pretty girl with her. I wonder if she brought her from Adelaide. I
thought Melbourne had lost that ornament for ever, but here she is as
large as life again."
Something in the attitude and form of the girl in the distance reminded
him of a person he had seen. He was sorry for the poor thing,
and walked quickly towards the place where they were standing engrossed
with their important business. To his surprise and horror he found she
was really the person he thought she slightly resembled, and he lost no
time in coming forward to stop the conversation.
Mrs. Phillips was astonished and distressed to see Elsie return with
Brandon without Mrs. Peck. Where they had met, and how they had got rid
of her, she could not imagine. Elsie went to take off her bonnet and
return to her work, and Mrs. Phillips was left alone with Brandon. At
his first word, his first question, how could she let Alice Melville go
out of her house with a woman so well known in Melbourne as Mrs. Peck,
Mrs. Phillips burst into tears.
"I could not help it; indeed, I could not help it. Stanley will be so
angry if you tell him, and I am sure I did all I could to keep her
away, but she would come, and she would take a fancy to Alice, and sit
with her, and then when I sent Alice out for the buttons, she
would go with her."
"But why have you her here at all, Mrs. Phillips?" said Brandon,
gravely. "You must know that she is no fit person to be in your house,
particularly in Mr. Phillips's absence. Confide in your good husband.
If there is any part of your past life that you are afraid of her
telling, believe me you will not better yourself by keeping in her
power--tell your husband everything, and shake yourself free of this
"Stanley knows everything--everything about me--but he said I never
was to speak to her again; and I am sure I never wished to; but how can
I help it when she will come--and she is my own mother? But don't tell
anybody, for Stanley would be so vexed. I don't keep anything from him;
don't blame me with that, Mr. Brandon."
"Your mother?" said Brandon. "Oh, that alters the case."
"I know that she is not good, and not respectable, and all
that; but she went on so that I was terrified to refuse her leave to
come here to do some sewing. If Stanley had not thought she was in
Adelaide, he would never have left me here. Everything goes wrong when
he leaves me. There, when he went to America, we had the scarlet fever,
and I lost my dear little Eva, and now there is all this trouble. Oh! I
wish I had gone up to Wiriwilta--I would have done just as well there.
But don't tell Mr. Phillips about this; I would rather tell him myself.
He has been good to me--so very good to me;--you cannot think how
good he has always been to me;--I do not keep things from him--indeed
I don't, Mr. Brandon."
Brandon felt more liking to poor Mrs. Phillips in her distress and in
her tears than he had ever felt before. With such a mother, and such
training as she had had in her early years, much could not be expected
from her, and now her expressions of gratitude to her good husband
touched him greatly. He had always thought her too insensible of her
extraordinary good fortune--and in a general way, so she was;
but during these last few days, seeing her mother, and shrinking from
her, had made Mrs. Phillips have some idea of what her life might have
been if Stanley had not been so fond of her, and so generous as to
marry her, and take her away from what was likely to be her fate in
such hands as those of her mother and Peck, and keep her so quiet and
comfortable, and give her every luxury he could afford, and bear with
her temper, her ignorance, and her stupidity; for in a vague way she
knew that she had these faults. Was there ever a wish of hers that he
could grant that he had refused? Even this unlucky stay in Melbourne
had been at her own earnest request, and it had turned out so
miserably, just because he was away. Never had she loved her husband so
much as at this time when she had been displeasing him so grievously;
how she had longed for courage to drive away the invader!--and now,
though humbled before Mr. Brandon, she was grateful to him when she
thought that he could stay with her till her husband came, and
that, so protected, her mother could not again visit her.
"No doubt Phillips will forgive you readily when you tell him the
truth; and I forgive you too, under the very distressing circumstances
in which Mrs. Peck placed you, though I did feel very indignant at your
allowing the girl whom I love, and whom I mean to marry, to go to
Melbourne with such a person," said Brandon.
"You mean to marry Alice?" said Mrs. Phillips.
"Yes, and she has consented to have me."
"Well, she is a good girl," said Mrs. Phillips, "and I am sure I wish
you happy with her. I know you will get on better with her than with
Harriett, for she is always so much taken up with herself, and never
thinks about other people. The way she treated me when I was left here
with her was shameful; but I'll not tell Stanley about it if I can help
it, for I have got enough to vex him about without grumbling at his
sister that he thinks so much of. But I like both of the Melvilles, and
they were both very good to my poor little baby as died in
scarlet fever, you know. We'll never get a husband for Miss Melville,
for the gentlemen are all frightened of her; but it is just as well,
for she is a capital governess, Stanley says, and the children like
her--but they like Alice best."
"And Miss Phillips and Dr. Grant appear to be making it up as fast as
possible," said Brandon, "if I may judge from what I saw and heard at
"I am sure, Mr. Brandon, you never saw such goings on all the time he
was in town. They were together continually, and when he left
Melbourne, she said she would like to go up the country too. I really
don't think Stanley would have liked it."
"Perhaps they are engaged," suggested Brandon.
"Perhaps they were; but I think Harriett would have told me that, for
she'd have been so proud of it, and I really think it was my dues to
hear the first thing besides."
"I have told you the first thing," said Brandon. "I have not
been more than half an hour accepted."
"Well, I am glad you have told me. I will miss Alice dreadfully,
though. I suppose it will be soon?" said Mrs. Phillips.
"As soon as I can persuade her to take me for better for worse," said
"Oh, she won't need much persuading, such a good marriage for her as it
is," said Mrs. Phillips, who fancied she knew something of human
nature. "Emily will want to be bridesmaid, she is so fond of both Alice
"Of course she will wish it, and of course she will have her own way,
as usual; but with regard to Mrs. Peck, will you or shall I tell Alice
the relation between you and her? I should like you to be justified to
"Oh, I'll tell her: I must wish her joy, and then I will tell her. And,
Mr. Brandon, will you be good enough to stay in the house as much as
you can till Stanley comes down from Wiriwilta, and then you will be
able to send Mrs. Peck away, for I am too frightened of her to
do it myself. I'll go and speak to Alice now."
"Do; and send her in to speak to me, for I have got some business of
hers that I must attend to, and I must have some directions from her."
"Business!" said Mrs. Phillips, incredulously; "I dare say you have got
plenty to say to her, but I don't think as it's business."
At the sight of Alice, Mrs. Phillips's tears burst forth afresh, and
for the second time in her life (the first was on the occasion of Eva's
death, when she had felt Alice so very kind), she threw her arms round
one of her own sex for sympathy and consolation.
"My dear Alice, forgive me--I could not help it, I was so frightened.
You must not tell anybody, not even your sister, about it; but that
woman is my own mother, and I could not get her to go away. I did not
like your being so much with her, but I could not help it, for she
would do it. Do forgive me."
"Certainly, I forgive you from my heart," said Elsie.
"And Mr. Brandon has told me all about you and him, and I
really wish you joy. You are going to have a good husband--not so good
a one as mine, but still a very good one."
"Thank you, Mrs. Phillips. I hope to be able to make him happy--at
least I will try my very best to do so." said Elsie.
"And you must make allowances for me, for you can see how I was brought
up. I know I have been very often cross with you, but you must forgive
all these old things; and I suppose it had better be before we leave
Melbourne. We must write for Emily to come down, for she will want to
be bridesmaid, and Mr. Brandon says she shall, and we must set to get
your things all in a hurry."
"There's time enough to talk of all these matters," said Elsie. "I have
scarcely begun to believe that I am engaged yet."
"Oh, but Mr. Brandon wants to speak to you on business, and what other
business can there be? So go into the drawing-room, and he will
perhaps show you that there is some need to think of these things."
But Mr. Brandon did not bewilder Elsie with asking her to fix any time,
though he was determined to be married before going out of town, if
possible; but he had to get from her extracts from her uncle's will,
which she recollected nearly word for word, and instructions as to how
to proceed with Mrs. Peck; also, as much as she knew of Mr. Hogarth's
letters to Madame de Vericourt, to show the relations between him and
Elizabeth Ormistown, so far as she knew of them. There was also a good
deal of other talk to go through on subjects personal to themselves,
which they both thought exceedingly interesting, and Brandon would not
believe till he looked at his watch that he had kept Mrs. Phillips out
of her own drawing-room for two hours.
Mrs. Peck's Communication
Mrs. Peck was surprised and a little disconcerted when, on the evening
of the day on which she had so nearly confided her secret to Elsie, Mr.
Brandon walked into her lodgings unannounced; but she concealed her
chagrin with her usual duplicity. Though she was desirous of further
communication with Elsie, she preferred it to be with herself, and not
through a person who had spoken so uncivilly to her.
"You did not think it worth while for me to give Miss Melville and you
my address, but I see that you are making use of it without delay,"
"Yes, I am, for I want to know if I cannot transact the
business which I interrupted," said Brandon.
"You! No; certainly not. I only deal with principals."
"Miss Alice Melville empowers me to act for her in this matter, and
this letter from her to me should satisfy you of that. It will not do
for a girl to treat personally with a woman who compromises her by her
"Oh, is that it?" said Mrs. Peck, who disliked the exchange of a simple
young girl for a man of the world in the bargain she wished to make.
"Well, if I must deal with you, what do you offer?"
"If you can give the inheritance of Cross Hall to Jane and Alice
Melville, a thousand pounds," said Brandon.
"Say two thousand," said Mrs. Peck; "I will not take less than that.
Are you a sweetheart of that girl's--or of her sister's? If you are,
you can easily see that Cross Hall is worth far more than that."
"I do not think you can give information that will be worth the
money I offer," said Brandon. "Even supposing you were married before
your irregular marriage with Mr. Hogarth, you will have difficulty in
proving that marriage; and after so many years spent in New South Wales
and Victoria under another name, it will be almost impossible to prove
"I can prove that," said Mrs. Peck, taking out of her black bag several
letters of old date, generally with remittances, signed "H. Hogarth."
There had been an annuity paid regularly after she had gone to
Australia; but the last payment had been of a large sum 1,500 pounds which
she had accepted in lieu of all future annual remittances, and that had
been sent more than thirteen years before.
"I was a fool and a idiot to take the money, for it went as fast as my
money always did; but Peck wanted to start in the public line, and
persuaded me to ask for that sum, and then in a year and a half it was
all gone, and I had no annuity to fall back on," said Mrs. Peck.
"Were you married to Peck or to Mrs. Phillips's father?" asked
"No, not exactly married. I kept out of bigamy. I always kept that hold
on Cross Hall; I would not marry any one right out, you know."
"He might have had a divorce from you," said Brandon.
"If he had known, perhaps he might; but nobody made it none of their
business to tell him, and I said nothing about it."
"It is rather difficult to tell when you are speaking the truth, and
when you are not," said Brandon; "but I believe that you really are
Elizabeth Ormistown, and I believe also that Francis Hogarth is not the
son of old Cross Hall, as you call him; but I fear you cannot prove it,
and without that the information is of no use to us, and worth no
"If I can prove it, how much is it worth?"
"How much have you had already on the strength of it? You are first
handsomely paid for the lie, and now you want to be bribed into
telling the truth. I myself think 1,000 pounds far too much, for if the
case were taken to court, there would be very heavy law expenses before
possession could be obtained. I offer, on Miss Melville's behalf, a
thousand whenever they get the property."
"Far too little. I'll not speak a word for the chance of a sum like
that; I must have 2,000 pounds. What is 1,000 pounds?"
"Why, at your years, it would buy you a very handsome annuity, or you
could lend it out at interest, and get ten per cent. for it, and have
the principal to leave to any one you liked; or you might start in
business with such a capital. Many handsome fortunes have been made in
Melbourne on a smaller beginning; but if you think it insufficient, I
can go away. My clients are not so very anxious about the property as
to accede to such a demand as yours, and Francis Hogarth may be left in
peaceable possession of the estate," said Brandon, coolly.
"He must not be left with it. I must not let him sit there in the place
he ain't got no rights to, after the way he has served me,"
said Mrs. Peck.
"I believe it is more a piece of spite than anything else," said
Brandon. "Well, here is the agreement for the payment of a thousand
pounds. Will you accept of that, or shall I go?"
"You are too sharp for with me, a great deal too sharp on a poor old
woman like me, but I'll take your offer in the meantime. Miss Melville
said I was to trust to her honour to pay me as much as it is worth, and
if she finds out as it's worth more, I expect she'll keep that saying
of hers in mind, and act accordingly."
Mrs. Peck signed the paper, and Brandon signed it also, as agent for
Jane and Alice Melville.
"Now for your part of the bargain, Mrs. Peck, and stick to the truth if
you can. I know that your imagination is apt to run away with you; but
here it will be a disadvantage to have any flights of fancy," said
Mrs. Peck had for more than a week thought of nothing but this
disclosure of her past life, and now that the opportunity had arrived,
she really enjoyed telling it as much as if it had been wholly
fictitious. It was quite as romantic as any of her fabrications, and it
was a subject on which her lips had been sealed for thirty-four years,
except to give vent to some occasional allusions, to Peck. It was
interesting in itself, it was damaging to Francis, and it was likely to
be lucrative to herself, for she hoped for a further reward from the
grateful nieces, in addition to the thousand pounds which their agent
offered on their behalf. She had thought a good deal over the story she
had to tell, and gave a more consecutive and consistent narrative than
was usual with her, for she felt the importance of making it appear to
be a perfectly true story.
"Well," said she, "it's an old story and a queer one, but I do keep it
in mind, and I will tell you the truth; for as you say, it is what will
answer us both best. My name, as you know, was Elizabeth Ormistown, and
I was born in the next county to-----shire, where Cross Hall is.
I have never seen Cross Hall myself, but I have heard of it. We
had seen better days, for my father was a small shopkeeper, and my
mother was a schoolmaster's daughter; but my father was the simple man,
who is the beggar's brother, and he was caution or security (as they
call it here) for a brother of his own, for two hundred pounds, and
lost it, and then we went all down hill together. Mother was always
very furious at him for his being such a fool, and even on his
death-bed she never forgave him for bringing her down so low. She was
very greedy of money, was mother, and never forgot any ill she had had
done her. We was living in the country very poor, for I could not bear
to go to service among folk that knew about us, when I fell in with a
young man as I liked better than most; but as he was as poor as a rat,
and only a working joiner, mother would have nothing to say to him, and
she made up her mind to take me to Edinburgh, where she lived with a
cousin, and I was to go to service. I had wanted to go before, but it
was all mother's pride as kept me at home; I wanted to be well
dressed, as all girls do, and I liked to be seen and to be talked to. I
had grown up handsome enough. You have seen Mrs. Phillips--she is the
very moral of what I was, and I didn't like to be always wearing old
things. And mother, she wanted Jamie Stevenson driven out of my head,
so she made no objections to my going to a house where they took
lodgers, mostly young men, in for the college. The work was hard, and
the wages no great matter; but the chance was worth twice as much as
the wages, for the lads was free--handed, particular if you would
stand any daffing, as we called it then. Harry Hogarth was there the
second winter I was in Edinburgh, and, though he was not like to have
Cross Hall then, for he had two brothers older than him, he was just as
free of his money as if he was a young laird. He had been in Paris
before that, but his father had grumbled at his spending so much there,
and said he must hold with Edinburgh for the future; and Harry was
maybe trying to show the old man that as much might go in Auld Reekie
as in France. He was said to be the cleverest of the family,
and the old man was fond of him, and proud of him too, but he was very
hard to part with the gear. Harry was my favourite of all the lads in
the house, for he had most fun about him, and was the softest-hearted
too. The old laird changed his mind in the middle of the winter. I mind
well his coming to our place one day, and he gave me a very sour look
when I opened the door, as if my cap and my clothes was too good for my
station, and my looks, too, maybe; but he said that Harry had better go
to Paris, as his heart was set on it; and he gave Harry a sum of money
that made him think his father was not long for this world, though he
looked all right. So he behoved to have a splore, as they called it: he
entertained all his friends at a hotel to a supper, where they had a
night of it, drinking, and singing, and laughing, to bid him farewell.
When he came back it was grey daylight, and I was up to my work; and
when he went past me, he saw me crying, as he thought, for grief at the
thought of his going away. And really I was sorry, for I liked
him the best of the lot, but my greeting was more with the thought of
his giving me something handsome at parting than that he should take it
up so serious. But he, in his conceit, thought I was breaking my heart
for the love of him, and he tried to dry my tears. So, instead of going
away that day, he stopped another week; and then when he went to Paris,
I said I would go with him; and he would refuse me nothing. So we went
in separate ships, and met together in Paris; and I stopped with him at
his lodgings, as is common
enough in that queer town; and well I liked the place, and the sights,
and the presents he gave me, and the clothes I had to put on; and he
was good enough to me, though he laughed at me whiles; and many a day
he called me greedy, but I aye got what I wanted out of him.
"Well, we had been three months in Paris, when he got word that his
eldest brother had broke his neck when he was hunting, and that his
father had taken the news so sore to heart that he was ill and not like
to recover, so Harry had to go home with all speed. I would not
stop in France without him, so we both came back again, and Harry went
to Cross Hall and me to my mother's. I was not over willing to go to
her, for I knew how angry she would be at me; but Harry said it was the
best place for me for the meantime, and he promised to send me money,
so that I would be no burden.
"As I dreaded, my mother was terrible angry at me; but when I told her
how soft Harry was, she thought he might be brought to marry me, and
she set her heart on managing that by hook or by cook. Her contrivance
was, that I should pretend to be very ill, and send for him to bid me
good-bye, and then she would manage the rest. So by her advice I took
to my bed and coughed very bad, and she made my cheeks look deadly
white, and my lips too; and when Harry came he was shocked to see me.
His father was dead by this time, as well as his eldest brother, so his
heart was especial soft, and he looked sore distressed at my being in
such a bad way.
"'Oh! Bessie,' says he, 'what can I do for you? What can I get
"''Deed it's no much that she wants now in this world; I'm thinking
we'll lose her soon,' said mother.
"'No, no,' says Harry eagerly. 'Let me feel your pulse, Bessie,' says
he. Mother forgot about his being a doctor, and did not like his going
about in such a skilful way; but I was so roused and excited myself
that my pulse was at the gallop. 'Quick, but strong,' says he; 'not the
least like death. Cheer up, Bessie,' said he, 'it's just a bad turn
you've got--a chill, perhaps, but you'll very soon get over it. You
ought to know that you're safe against fever at the present time.'
"'It's on her mind,' said mother. 'It's her mind as is so disturbed.
She eats nothing, and she sleeps none for coughing, and takes such
spasms at the heart. I know she'll never get better, and she thinks
just the same; and for my part I'd rather have laid her head in the
grave than let her live to be such a disgrace to us all. To
think of such a thing happening to a daughter of mine, and all through
"'Well, Mrs. Ormistown, it is a pity, but it was quite as much her
doing as mine, and maybe a little more,' says he, looking at me with a
half-laugh; but I only sighed and groaned, and would not speak to him.
"'I'm sure, Bessie, when we were in Paris,' says he, 'you did not take
it much to heart; and I'll do what I can to make you comfortable.'
"'Don't mock us with talking about comfort,' said mother, sternly. 'If
Bessie did not feel her sin and her shame when she was in that sink of
iniquity with you, I trust I have been able to convince her of her
position since she returned to me.'
"'Indeed, Harry,' says I, 'morning, noon, and night, mother is
preaching to me, and I really wish I was dead, to have a little quiet.'
"'Tut, tut,' says he, 'if you were really ill, you would not speak so
briskly about dying;' and he tried to soothe me down, but I kept very
sulky--but yet when he went away he did not believe there was much the
matter with me.
"'We must make you really ill,' says my mother, when he was
gone; so she got some stuff for me to take, and I swallowed it, and I
really did think as I was dying. I never felt as bad before or since,
and even mother was frightened that she had made it too strong, but she
sent for Harry, and he was frightened too. She said that I had poisoned
myself, and was going to die with the scorn of every one.
"'Oh, if you would but acknowledge yourself her husband, it would be
enough, quite enough, to let her die with her mind easy and her name