Part 2 out of 5
this home, her youth had been spent.
I thought of a man and his wife at Possum Gully. The man was blear-eyed,
disreputable in appearance, and failed to fulfil his duties as a father
and a citizen. The woman was work-roughened and temper-soured by endless
care and an unavailing struggle against poverty. Could that pair possibly
be identical with this?
This was life as proved by my parents! What right had I to expect any
better yield from it? I shut my eyes and shuddered at the possibilities
and probabilities of my future. It was for this that my mother had
yielded up her youth, freedom, strength; for this she had sacrificed the
greatest possession of woman.
Here I made my way to the dining-room, where grannie was waiting for me
and gave me another hug.
"Come here, child, and sit beside me near the fire; but first let me have
a look at you," and she held me at arm's length.
"Dear, oh, dear, what a little thing you are, and not a bit like any of
your relations! I am glad your skin is so nice and clear; all my children
had beautiful complexions. Goodness me, I never saw such hair! A plait
thicker than my arm and almost to your knees! It is that beautiful bright
brown like your aunt's. Your mother's was flaxen. I must see your hair
loose when you are going to bed. There is nothing I admire so much as a
beautiful head of hair."
The maid announced that dinner was ready, grannie vigorously rang a
little bell, aunt Helen, a lady, and a gentleman appeared from the
drawing-room, and Mr Hawden came in from the back. I discovered that the
lady and gentleman were a neighbouring squatter and a new governess he
was taking home. Grannie, seeing them pass that afternoon in the rain,
had gone out and prevailed upon them to spend the night at Caddagat.
Mr Hawden took no notice of me now, but showed off to the others for my
benefit. After dinner we had music and singing in the drawing-room. I was
enjoying it immensely, but grannie thought I had better go to bed, as I
had been travelling since about midnight last night. I was neither tired
nor sleepy, but knew it useless to protest, so bade every one good night
and marched off. Mr Hawden acknowledged my salute with great airs and
stiffness, and aunt Helen whispered that she would come and see me by and
by, if I was awake.
Grannie escorted me to my room, and examined my hair. I shook it out for
her inspection. It met with her approval in every way. She pronounced it
beautifully fine, silky, and wavy, and the most wonderful head of hair
she had seen out of a picture.
A noise arose somewhere out in the back premises. Grannie went out to
ascertain the cause of it and did not return to me, so I extinguished my
lamp and sat thinking in the glow of the firelight.
For the first time my thoughts reverted to my leave-taking from home. My
father had kissed me with no more warmth than if I had been leaving for
a day only; my mother had kissed me very coldly, saying shortly, "It is
to be hoped, Sybylla, that your behaviour to your grandmother will be an
improvement upon what it has ever been to me." Gertie was the only one
who had felt any sorrow at parting with me, and I knew that she was of
such a disposition that I would be forgotten in a day or two. They would
never miss me, for I had no place in their affections. True, I was an
undutiful child, and deserved none. I possessed no qualities that would
win either their pride or love, but my heart cried out in love for them.
Would Gertie miss me tonight, as I would have missed her had our
positions been reversed? Not she. Would my absence from the noisy
tea-table cause a blank? I feared not.
I thought of poor mother left toiling at home, and my heart grew heavy; I
failed to remember my father's faults, but thought of his great patience
with me in the years agone, and all my old-time love for him renewed
itself. Why, oh, why, would they not love me a little in return!
Certainly I had never striven to be lovable. But see the love some have
lavished upon them without striving for it! Why was I ugly and nasty and
miserable and useless--without a place in the world?
Aunt Helen's Recipe
"Dear me, Sybylla, not in bed yet, and tears, great big tears! Tell me
what is the cause of them."
It was aunt Helen's voice; she had entered and lit the lamp.
There was something beautifully sincere and real about aunt Helen. She
never fussed over any one or pretended to sympathize just to make out how
nice she was. She was real, and you felt that no matter what wild or
awful rubbish you talked to her it would never be retailed for any one's
amusement--and, better than all, she never lectured.
She sat down beside me, and I impulsively threw my arms around her neck
and sobbed forth my troubles in a string. How there was no good in the
world, no use for me there, no one loved me or ever could on account of
She heard me to the end and then said quietly, "When you are fit to
listen I will talk to you."
I controlled myself instantly and waited expectantly. What would she say?
Surely not that tame old yarn anent this world being merely a place of
probation, wherein we were allowed time to fit ourselves for a beautiful
world to come. That old tune may be all very well for old codgers
tottering on the brink of the grave, but to young persons with youth and
romance and good health surging through their veins, it is most boresome.
Would she preach that it was flying in the face of providence to moan
about my appearance? it being one of the greatest blessings I had, as it
would save me from countless temptations to which pretty girls are born.
That was another piece of old croaking of the job's comforter order, of
which I was sick unto death, as I am sure there is not an ugly person in
the world who thinks her lack of beauty a blessing to her. I need not
have feared aunt Helen holding forth in that strain. She always said
something brave and comforting which made me ashamed of myself and my
selfish conceited egotism.
"I understand you, Sybylla," she said slowly and distinctly, "but you must
not be a coward. There is any amount of love and good in the world, but
you must search for it. Being misunderstood is one of the trials we all
must bear. I think that even the most common-minded person in the land
has inner thoughts and feelings which no one can share with him, and the
higher one's organization the more one must suffer in that respect. I am
acquainted with a great number of young girls, some of them good and
true, but you have a character containing more than any three of them put
together. With this power, if properly managed, you can gain the almost
universal love of your fellows. But you are wild and wayward, you must
curb and strain your spirit and bring it into subjection, else you will
be worse than a person with the emptiest of characters. You will find
that plain looks will not prevent you from gaining the _friendship_ love of
your fellows--the only real love there is. As for the hot fleeting passion
of the man for the maid, which is wrongfully designated love, I will not
tell you not to think of it, knowing that it is human nature to demand it
when arriving at a certain age; but take this comfort: it as frequently
passes by on the other side of those with well-chiselled features as
those with faces of plainer mould."
She turned her face away, sighed, and forgetful of my presence lapsed
into silence. I knew she was thinking of herself.
Love, not _friendship_ love, for anyone knowing her must give her love and
respect, but the other sort of love had passed her by.
Twelve years before I went to Caddagat, when Helen Bossier had been
eighteen and one of the most beautiful and lovable girls in Australia,
there had come to Caddagat on a visit a dashing colonel of the name of
Bell, in the enjoyment of a most extended furlough for the benefit of his
health. He married aunt Helen and took her to some part of America where
his regiment was stationed. I have heard them say she worshipped Colonel
Bell, but in less than a twelvemonth he tired of his lovely bride, and
becoming enamoured of another woman, he tried to obtain a divorce. On
account of his wife's spotless character he was unable to do this; he
therefore deserted her and openly lived with the other woman as his
mistress. This forced aunt Helen to return to Caddagat, and her mother
had induced her to sue for a judicial separation, which was easily
When a woman is separated from her husband it is the religion of the
world at large to cast the whole blame on the wife. By reason of her
youth and purity Mrs Bell had not as much to suffer in this way as some
others. But, comparatively speaking, her life was wrecked. She had been
humiliated and outraged in the cruellest way by the man whom she loved
and trusted. He had turned her adrift, neither a wife, widow, nor maid,
and here she was, one of the most estimably lovable and noble women I
have ever met.
"Come, Sybylla," she said, starting up brightly, "I have a plan--will you
agree to it? Come and take one good long look at yourself in the glass,
then I will turn it to the wall, and you must promise me that for three
or four weeks you will not look in a mirror. I will put as many as I can
out of your way, and you must avoid the remainder. During this time I
will take you in hand, and you must follow my directions implicitly. Will
you agree? You will be surprised what a nice-looking little girl I will
make of you."
Of course I agreed. I took a long and critical survey of myself in the
glass. There was reflected a pair of hands, red and coarsened with rough
work, a round face, shiny and swollen with crying, and a small round
figure enshrouded in masses of hair falling in thick waves to within an
inch or two of the knees. A very ugly spectacle, I thought. Aunt Helen
turned the face of the large mirror flat against the wall, while I
remarked despondently, "you can make me only middling ugly, you must be a
"Come now, part of my recipe is that you must not think of yourself at
all. I'll take you in hand in the morning. I hope you will like your
room; I have arranged it on purpose to suit you. And now good night, and
I awoke next morning in very fine spirits, and slithering out of my bed
with alacrity, revelled--literally wallowed--in the appointments of my
room. My poor old room at Possum Gully was lacking in barest necessaries.
We could not afford even a wash-hand basin and jug; Gertie, the boys, and
myself had to perform our morning ablutions in a leaky tin dish on a
stool outside the kitchen door, which on cold frosty mornings was a
pretty peppery performance: but this room contained everything dear to
the heart of girlhood. A lovely bed, pretty slippers, dainty white
China-matting and many soft skins on the floor, and in one corner a most
artistic toilet set, and a wash-stand liberally supplied with a great
variety of soap--some of it so exquisitely perfumed that I felt tempted to
taste it. There were pretty pictures on the walls, and on a commodious
dressing-table a big mirror and large hand-glasses, with their faces to
the wall at present. Hairpins, fancy combs, ribbons galore, and a pretty
work-basket greeted my sight, and with delight I swooped down upon the
most excruciatingly lovely little writing-desk. It was stuffed full with
all kinds of paper of good quality--fancy, all colours, sizes, and shapes,
plain, foreign note, pens, ink, and a generous supply of stamps. I felt
like writing a dozen letters there and then, and was on the point of
giving way to my inclination, when my attention was arrested by what I
considered the gem of the whole turn-out. I refer to a nice little
bookcase containing copies of all our Australian poets, and two or three
dozen novels which I had often longed to read. I read the first chapters
of four of them, and then lost myself in Gordon, and sat on my
dressing-table in my nightgown, regardless of cold, until brought to my
senses by the breakfast-bell. I made great pace, scrambled into my
clothes helter-skelter, and appeared at table when the others had been
seated and unfolded their serviettes.
Aunt Helen's treatment for making me presentable was the wearing of
gloves and a shady hat every time I went outside; and she insisted upon
me spending a proper time over my toilet, and would not allow me to
encroach upon it with the contents of my bookshelf.
"Rub off some of your gloomy pessimism and cultivate a little more
healthy girlish vanity, and you will do very well," she would say.
I observed these rites most religiously for three days. Then I contracted
a slight attack of influenza, and in poking around the kitchen, doing one
of the things I oughtn't at the time I shouldn't, a servant-girl tipped a
pot of boiling pot-liquor over my right foot, scalding it rather
severely. Aunt Helen and grannie put me to bed, where I yelled with pain
for hours like a mad Red Indian, despite their applying every alleviative
possible. The combined forces of the burn and influenza made me a trifle
dicky, so a decree went forth that I was to stay in bed until recovered
from both complaints. This effectually prevented me from running in the
way of any looking-glasses.
I was not sufficiently ill to be miserable, and being a pampered invalid
was therefore fine fun. Aunt Helen was a wonderful nurse. She dressed my
foot splendidly every morning, and put it in a comfortable position many
times throughout the day. Grannie brought me every dainty in the house,
and sent special messengers to Gool-Gool for more. Had I been a
professional glutton I would have been in paradise. Even Mr Hawden
condescended so far as to express his regret concerning the accident, and
favoured me with visits throughout each day; and one Sunday his gallantry
carried him to a gully where he plucked a bouquet of maidenhair fern--the
first of the season--and put them in a bowl beside my bed. My uncle
Julius, the only other member of the family besides the servants, was
away "up the country" on some business or another, and was not expected
home for a month or so.
The Bossiers and Beechams were leaders of swelldom among the squattocracy
up the country, and firm and intimate friends. The Beechams resided at
Five-Bob Downs, twelve miles from Caddagat, and were a family composed of
two maiden ladies and their nephew, Harold. One of these ladies was aunt
Helen's particular friend, and the other had stood in the same capacity
to my mother in days gone by, but of late years, on account of her
poverty, mother had been too proud to keep up communication with her. As
for Harold Beecham, he was nearly as much at home at Caddagat as at
Five-Bob Downs. He came and went with that pleasant familiarity practised
between congenial spirits among squatterdom. The Bossiers and Beechams
were congenial spirits in every way--they lived in the one sphere and held
the one set of ideas, the only difference between them, and that an
unnoticeable one, being that the Bossiers, though in comfortable
circumstances, were not at all rich, while Harold Beecham was immensely
wealthy. When my installation in the role of invalid took place, one Miss
Beecham was away in Melbourne, and the other not well enough to come and
see me, but Harold came regularly to inquire how I was progressing. He
always brought me a number of beautiful apples. This kindness was because
the Caddagat orchard had been too infested with codlin moth for grannie
to save any last season.
Aunt Helen used to mischievously tease me about this attention.
"Here comes Harry Beecham with some more apples," she would say. "No
doubt he is far more calculating and artful than I thought he was capable
of being. He is taking time by the forelock and wooing you ere he sees
you, and so will take the lead. Young ladies are in the minority up this
way, and every one is snapped up as soon as she arrives."
"You'd better tell him how ugly I am, auntie, so that he will carry
apples twelve miles on his own responsibility, and when he sees me won't
he vexed that all his work has been for nothing. Perhaps, though, it
would be better not to describe me, or I will get no more apples," I
Aunt Helen was a clever needlewoman. She made all grannie's dresses and
her own. Now she was making some for me, which, however, I was not to see
until I wore them. Aunt Helen had this as a pleasant surprise, and went
to the trouble of blindfolding me while I was being fitted. While in bed,
grannie and auntie being busy, I was often left hours alone, and during
that time devoured the contents of my bookshelf.
The pleasure, so exquisite as to be almost pain, which I derived from the
books, and especially the Australian poets, is beyond description. In the
narrow peasant life of Possum Gully I had been deprived of companionship
with people of refinement and education who would talk of the things I
loved; but, at last here was congeniality, here was companionship.
The weird witchery of mighty bush, the breath of wide sunlit plains, the
sound of camp-bells and jingle of hobble chains, floating on the soft
twilight breezes, had come to these men and had written a tale on their
hearts as had been written on mine. The glory of the starlit heavens, the
mighty wonder of the sea, and the majesty of thunder had come home to
them, and the breathless fulness of the sunset hour had whispered of
something more than the humour of tomorrow's weather. The wind and rain
had a voice which spoke to Kendall, and he too had endured the misery of
lack of companionship. Gordon, with his sad, sad humanism and bitter
disappointment, held out his hand and took me with him. The regret of it
all was I could never meet them--Byron, Thackeray, Dickens, Longfellow,
Gordon, Kendall, the men I loved, all were dead; but, blissful thought!
Caine, Paterson, and Lawson were still living, breathing human beings--two
of them actually countrymen, fellow Australians!
I pored with renewed zeal over the terse realism and pathos of Lawson,
and enjoyed Paterson's redolence of the rollicking side of the wholesome
life beneath these sunny skies, which he depicted with grand touches of
power flashing here and there. I learnt them by heart, and in that
gloriously blue receptacle, by and by, where many pleasant youthful
dreams are stowed, I put the hope that one day I would clasp hands with
them, and feel and know the unspeakable comfort and heart-rest of
Uncle Julius had taken a run down to Sydney before returning to Caddagat,
and was to be home during the first week in September, bringing with him
Everard Grey. This young gentleman always spent Christmas at Caddagat,
but as he had just recovered from an illness he was coming up for a
change now instead. Having heard much of him, I was curious to see him.
He was grandmamma's adopted son, and was the orphan of very aristocratic
English parents who had left him to the guardianship of distant
relatives. They had proved criminally unscrupulous. By finding a flaw in
deeds, or something which none but lawyers understand, they had deprived
him of all his property and left him to sink or swim. Grannie had
discovered, reared, and educated him. Among professions he had chosen the
bar, and was now one of Sydney's most promising young barristers. His
foster-mother was no end proud of him, and loved him as her own son.
In due time a telegram arrived from uncle Julius, containing instructions
for the buggy to be sent to Gool-Gool to meet him and Everard Grey.
By this time I had quite recovered from influenza and my accident, and as
they would not arrive till near nightfall, for their edification I was to
be dressed in full-blown dinner costume, also I was to be favoured with a
look at my reflection in a mirror for the first time since my arrival.
During the afternoon I was dispatched by grannie on a message some miles
away, and meeting Mr Hawden some distance from the house, he took it upon
himself to accompany me. Everywhere I went he followed after, much to my
annoyance, because grannie gave me many and serious talkings-to about the
crime of encouraging young men.
Frank Hawden had changed his tune, and told me now that it mattered not
that I was not pretty, as pretty or not I was the greatest brick of a
girl he had met. His idea for this opinion was that I was able to talk
theatres with him, and was the only girl there, and because he had
arrived at that overflowing age when young men have to be partial to some
female whether she be ugly or pretty, fat or lean, old or young. That I
should be the object of these puerile emotions in a fellow like Frank
Hawden, filled me with loathing and disgust.
It was late in the afternoon when Hawden and I returned, and the buggy
was to be seen a long way down the road, approaching at the
going-for-the-doctor pace at which uncle Julius always drove.
Aunt Helen hustled me off to dress, but I was only half-rigged when they
arrived, and so was unable to go out and meet them. Uncle Julius inquired
for that youngster of Lucy's, and aunt Helen replied that she would be
forthcoming when they were dressed for dinner. The two gentlemen took a
nip, to put a little heart in them uncle Julius said, and auntie Helen
came to finish my toilet while they were making theirs.
"There now, you have nothing to complain of in the way of looks," she
remarked at the completion of the ceremony. "Come and have a good look at
I was decked in my first evening dress, as it was a great occasion. It
was only on the rarest occasion that we donned full war-paint at
Caddagat. I think that evening dress is one of the prettiest and most
idiotic customs extant. What can be more foolish than to endanger one's
health by exposing at night the chest and arms--two of the most vital
spots of the body--which have been covered all day? On the other hand,
what can be more beautiful than a soft white bosom rising and falling
amid a dainty nest of silk and lace? Every woman looks more soft and
feminine in a _decollete_ gown. And is there any of the animal lines known
pleasanter to the eye than the contour of shapely arms? Some there are
who cry down evening dress as being immodest and indecent. These will be
found among those whose chest and arms will not admit of being displayed,
or among those who, not having been reared to the custom, dislike it with
many other things from want of use.
Aunt Helen took me into the wide old drawing-room, now brilliantly
lighted. A heavy lamp was on each of the four brackets in the corners,
and another swung from the centre of the ceiling, and candelabra threw
many lights from the piano. Never before had I seen this room in such a
blaze of light. During the last week or two aunt Helen and I had occupied
it every night, but we never lighted more than a single candle on the
piano. This had been ample light for our purpose. Aunt Helen would sing
in her sweet sad voice all the beautiful old songs I loved, while I
curled myself on a mat at her side and read books--the music often
compelling me to forget the reading, and the reading occasionally
rendering me deaf to the music; but through both ever came the solemn
rush of the stream outside in its weird melancholy, like a wind
ceaselessly endeavouring to outstrip a wild vain regret which
"Your uncle Julius always has the drawing-room lighted like this; he does
not believe in shadowy half light--calls it sentimental bosh," said aunt
Helen in explanation.
"Is uncle like that?" I remarked, but my question remained unanswered.
Leaving a hand-mirror with me, aunt Helen had slipped away.
One wall of the drawing-room was monopolized by a door, a big bookcase,
and a heavy bevelled-edged old-fashioned mirror--the two last-mentioned
articles reaching from floor to ceiling. Since my arrival the face of the
mirror had been covered, but this evening the blue silken curtains were
looped up, and it was before this that I stood.
I looked, and looked again in pleased surprise. I beheld a young girl
with eyes and skin of the clearest and brightest, and lips of brilliant
scarlet, and a chest and pair of arms which would pass muster with the
best. If Nature had been in bad humour when moulding my face, she had
used her tools craftily in forming my figure. Aunt Helen had proved a
clever maid and dressmaker. My pale blue cashmere dress fitted my fully
developed yet girlish figure to perfection. Some of my hair fell in
cunning little curls on my forehead; the remainder, tied simply with a
piece of ribbon, hung in thick waves nearly to my knees. My toilet had
altered me almost beyond recognition. It made me look my age--sixteen
years and ten months--whereas before, when dressed carelessly and with my
hair plastered in a tight coil, people not knowing me would not believe
that I was under twenty. Joy and merriment lit up my face, which glowed
with youth, health, and happiness, which rippled my lips in smiles, which
displayed a splendid set of teeth, and I really believe that on that
night I did not look out of the way ugly.
I was still admiring my reflection when aunt Helen returned to say that
Everard and uncle Julius were smoking on the veranda and asking for me.
"What do you think of yourself, Sybylla?"
"Oh, aunt Helen, tell me that there is something about me not completely
She took my face between her hands, saying:
"Silly child, there are some faces with faultless features, which would
receive nothing more than an indifferent glance while beside other faces
which might have few if any pretensions to beauty. Yours is one of those
"But that does not say I am not ugly."
"No one would dream of calling you plain, let alone ugly; brilliant is
the word which best describes you."
Uncle Julius had the upper part of his ponderous figure arrayed in a
frock-coat. He did not take kindly to what he termed "those skittish
sparrow-tailed affairs". Frock-coats suited him, but I am not partial to
them on every one. They look well enough on a podgy, fat, or broad man,
but on a skinny one they hang with such a forlorn, dying-duck expression,
that they invariably make me laugh.
Julius John Bossier, better known as J. J. Bossier, and better still as
Jay-Jay--big, fat, burly, broad, a jovial bachelor of forty, too fond of
all the opposite sex ever to have settled his affections on one in
particular--was well known, respected, and liked from Wagga Wagga to
Albury, Forbes to Dandaloo, Bourke to Hay, from Tumut to Monaro, and back
again to Peak Hill, as a generous man, a straight goer in business
matters, and a jolly good fellow all round.
I was very proud to call him uncle.
"So this is yourself, is it!" he exclaimed, giving me a tremendous hug.
"Oh, uncle," I expostulated, ?? wipe your old kisses off Your breath
smells horribly of whisky and tobacco."
"Gammon, that's what makes my kisses so nice!" he answered; and, after
holding me at arm's-length for inspection, "By George, you're a
wonderful-looking girl! You're surely not done growing yet, though! You
are such a little nipper. I could put you in my pocket with ease. You
aren't a scrap like your mother. I'll give the next shearer who passes a
shilling to cut that hair off. It would kill a dog in the hot weather."
"Everard, this is my niece, Sybylla" (aunt Helen was introducing us).
"You will have to arrange yourselves--what relation you are, and how to
address each other."
The admiration expressed in his clear sharp eyes gave me a sensation
different to any I had ever experienced previously.
"I suppose I'm a kind of uncle and brother in one, and as either
relationship entitles me to a kiss, I'm going to take one," he said in a
very gallant manner.
"You may take one if you can," I said with mischievous defiance,
springing off the veranda into the flower-garden. He accepted my
challenge, and, being lithe as a cat, a tremendous scamper ensued. Round
and round the flower-beds we ran. Uncle Jay-Jay's beard opened in a broad
smile, which ended in a loud laugh. Everard Grey's coat-tails flew in the
breeze he made, and his collar was too high for athletic purposes. I
laughed too, and was lost, and we returned to the veranda--Everard in
triumph, and I feeling very red and uncomfortable.
Grannie had arrived upon the scene, looking the essence of brisk
respectability in a black silk gown and a white lace cap. She cast on me
a glance of severe disapproval, and denounced my conduct as shameful; but
uncle Jay-Jay's eyes twinkled as he dexterously turned the subject.
"Gammon, mother! I bet you were often kissed when that youngster's age. I
bet my boots now that you can't count the times you did the same thing
yourself. Now, confess."
Grannie's face melted in a smile as she commenced a little anecdote, with
that pathetic beginning, "When I was young."
Aunt Helen sent me inside lest I should catch cold, and I stationed
myself immediately inside the window so that I should not miss the
conversation. "I should think your niece is very excitable," Mr Grey was
saying to aunt Helen.
"Yes; I have never seen any but very highly strung temperaments have that
transparent brilliance of expression."
"She is very variable--one moment all joy, and the next the reverse."
"She has a very striking face. I don't know what it is that makes it so."
"It may be her complexion," said aunt Helen; "her skin is whiter than the
fairest blonde, and her eyebrows and lashes very dark. Be very careful
you do not say anything that would let her know you think her not nice
looking. She broods over her appearance in such a morbid manner. It is a
weak point with her, so be careful not to sting her sensitiveness in that
"Plain-looking! Why, I think she has one of the most fascinating faces
I've seen for some time, and her eyes are simply magnificent. What colour
"The grass is not bad about Sydney. I think I will send a truck Of fat
wethers away next week," said uncle Jay-Jay to grannie.
"It is getting quite dark. Let's get in to dinner at once," said grannie.
During the meal I took an opportunity of studying the appearance of
Everard Grey. He had a typically aristocratic English face, even to the
cold rather heartless expression, which is as established a point of an
English blue blood as an arched neck is of a thoroughbred horse.
A ringer, whose wife had been unexpectedly confined, came for grannie
when dinner was over, and the rest of us had a delightful musical
evening. Uncle Jay-Jay bawled "The Vicar of Bray" and "Drink, Puppy,
Drink" in a stentorian bass voice, holding me on his knee, pinching,
tickling, pulling my hair, and shaking me up and down between whiles. Mr
Hawden favoured us by rendering "The Holy City". Everard Grey sang
several new songs, which was a great treat, as he had a well-trained and
musical baritone voice. He was a veritable carpet knight, and though not
a fop, was exquisitely dressed in full evening costume, and showed his
long pedigreed blood in every line of his clean-shaven face and tall
slight figure. He was quite a champion on the piano, and played aunt
Helen's accompaniments while he made her sing song after song. When she
was weary uncle Jay-Jay said to me, "Now it's your turn, me fine lady.
We've all done something to keep things rolling but you. Can you sing?"
"Can this youngster sing, Helen?"
"She sings very nicely to herself sometimes, but I do not know how she
would manage before company. Will you try something, Sybylla?"
Uncle Jay-Jay waited to hear no more, but carrying me to the music-stool,
and depositing me thereon, warned me not to attempt to leave it before
To get away to myself, where I was sure no one could bear me, and sing
and sing till I made the echoes ring, was one of the chief joys of my
existence, but I had never made a success in singing to company. Besides
losing all nerve, I had a very queer voice, which every one remarked.
However, tonight I made an effort in my old favourite, "Three Fishers
Went Sailing". The beauty of the full-toned Ronisch piano, and Everard's
clever and sympathetic accompanying, caused me to forget my audience, and
sing as though to myself alone, forgetting that my voice was odd.
When the song ceased Mr Grey wheeled abruptly on the stool and said, "Do
you know that you have one of the most wonderful natural voices I have
heard. Why, there is a fortune in such a voice if it were, trained! Such
chest-notes, such feeling, such rarity of tone!"
"Don't be sarcastic, Mr Grey," I said shortly.
"Upon my word as a man, I mean every word I say," he returned
Everard Grey's opinion on artistic matters was considered worth having.
He dabbled in all the arts--writing, music, acting, and sketching, and
went to every good concert and play in Sydney. Though he was clever at
law, it was whispered by some that he would wind up on the stage, as he
had a great leaning that way.
I walked away from the piano treading on air. Would I really make a
singer? I with the voice which had often been ridiculed; I who had often
blasphemously said that I would sell my soul to be able to sing just
passably. Everard Grey's opinion gave me an intoxicated sensation of joy.
"Can you recite?" he inquired.
"Yes," I answered firmly.
"Give us something," said uncle Jay-Jay.
I recited Longfellow's "The Slave's Dream". Everard Grey was quite as
enthusiastic over this as he had been about my singing.
"Such a voice! Such depth and width! Why, she could fill the Centennial
Hall without an effort. All she requires is training."
"By George, she's a regular dab! But I wish she would give us something
not quite so glum," said uncle Jay-Jay.
I let myself go. Carried away by I don't know what sort of a spirit, I
exclaimed, "Very well, I will, if you will wait till I make up, and will
I disappeared for a few minutes, and returned made up as a fat old Irish
woman, with a smudge of dirt on my face. There was a general laugh.
Would Mr Hawden assist me? Of course he was only too delighted, and
flattered that I had called upon him in preference to the others. What
would he do?
I sat him on a footstool, so that I might with facility put my hand on
his sandy hair, and turning to uncle, commenced:
"Shure, sir, seeing it was a good bhoy yez were afther to run errants,
it's meself that has brought this youngsther for yer inspection. It's a
jool ye'll have in him. Shure I rared him meself, and he says his prayers
every morning. Kape sthill, honey! Faith, ye're not afraid of yer poor
old mammy pullin' yer beautiful cur-r-rls?"
Uncle Jay-Jay was laughing like fun; even aunt Helen deigned to smile;
and Everard was looking on with critical interest.
"Go on," said uncle. But Mr Hawden got huffy at the ridicule which he
suspected I was calling down upon him, and jumped up looking fit to eat
I acted several more impromptu scenes with the other occupants of the
drawing-room. Mr Hawden emitted "Humph!" from the corner where he
grumpily sat, but Mr Grey was full of praise.
"Splendid! splendid!" he exclaimed. "You say you have not had an hour's
training, and never saw a play. Such versatility. Your fortune would be
made on the stage. It is a sin to have such exceptional talent wasting in
the bush. I must take her to Sydney and put her under a good master."
"Indeed, you'll do no such thing," said uncle. "I'll keep her here to
liven up the old barracks. You've got enough puppets on the stage without
a niece of mine ever being there."
I went to bed that night greatly elated. Flattery is sweet to youth. I
felt pleased with myself, and imagined, as I peeped in the looking-glass,
that I was not half bad-looking after all.
"Bah, you hideous animal! Ha ha! Your peerless conceit does you credit.
So you actually imagined that by one or two out of every hundred you
might he considered passable. You are the most uninteresting person in
the world. You are small and nasty and bad, and every other thing that's
abominable. That's what you are."
This address I delivered to my reflection in the glass next morning. My
elation of the previous night was as flat as a pancake. Dear, oh dear,
what a fool I had been to softly swallow the flattery of Mr Grey without
a single snub in return! To make up for my laxity, if he continued to
amuse himself by plastering my vanity with the ointment of flattery, I
determined to serve up my replies to him red-hot and well seasoned with
I finished my toilet, and in a very what's-the-good-o'-anything mood took
a last glance in the glass to say, "You're ugly, you're ugly and useless;
so don't forget that and make a fool of yourself again."
I was in the habit of doing this; it had long ago taken the place of a
morning prayer. I said this, that by familiarity it might lose a little
of its sting when I heard it from other lips, but somehow it failed in
I was late for breakfast that morning. All the others were half through
the meal when I sat down.
Grannie had not come home till after twelve, but was looking as brisk as
"Come, Sybylla, I suppose this comes of sitting up too late, as I was not
here to hunt you to bed. You are always very lively at night, but it's a
different tune in the morning," she said, when giving me the usual
"When I was a nipper of your age, if I didn't turn out like greased
lightning every morning, I was assisted by a little strap oil," remarked
"Sybylla should be excused this morning," interposed Mr Grey. "She
entertained us for hours last night. Little wonder if she feels languid
"Entertained you I What did she do?" queried grannie.
"Many things. Do you know, gran, that you are robbing the world of an
artist by keeping Sybylla hidden away in the bush? I must persuade you to
let me take her to Sydney and have her put under the best masters in
"Under masters for what?"
"Elocution and singing."
"I couldn't afford it."
"But I'd bear the expense myself. It would only be returning a trifle of
all you have done for me."
"What nonsense! What would you have her do when she was taught?"
"Go on the stage, of course. With her talent and hair she would cause
quite a sensation."
Now grannie's notions re the stage were very tightly laced. All actors
and actresses, from the lowest circus man up to the most glorious
cantatrice, were people defiled in the sight of God, and utterly outside
the pale of all respectability, when measured with her code of morals.
She turned energetically in her chair, and her keen eyes flashed with
scorn and anger as she spoke.
"Go on the stage! A grand-daughter of mine! Lucy's eldest child! An
actress--a vile, low, brazen hussy! Use the gifts God has given her with
which to do good in showing off to a crowd of vile bad men! I would
rather see her struck dead at my feet this instant! I would rather see
her shear off her hair and enter a convent this very hour. Child, promise
you will never be a bold bad actress."
"I will never be a _bold bad_ actress, grannie," I said, putting great
stress on the adjectives, and bringing out the actress very faintly.
"Yes," she continued, calming down, "I'm sure you have not enough bad in
you. You may he boisterous, and not behave with sufficient propriety
sometimes, but I don't think you are wicked enough to ever make an
Everard attempted to defend his case.
"Look here, gran, that's a very exploded old notion about the stage being
a low profession. It might have been once, but it is quite the reverse
nowadays. There are, of course, low people on the stage, as there are in
all walks of life. I grant you that; but if people are good they can be
good on the stage as well as anywhere else. On account of a little
prejudice it would be a sin to rob Sybylla of the brilliant career she
"Career!" exclaimed his foster-mother, catching at the word. "Career!
That is all girls think of now, instead of being good wives and mothers
and attending to their homes and doing what God intended. All they think
of is gadding about and being fast, and ruining themselves body and soul.
And the men are as bad to encourage them," looking severely at Everard.
"There is a great deal of truth in what you say, gran, I admit. You can
apply it to many of our girls, I am sorry to confess, but Sybylla could
not be brought under that classification. You must look at her in a
different way. If--"
"I look at her as the child of respectable people, and will not have the
stage mentioned in connection with her." Here Grannie thumped her fist
down on the table and there was silence, complete, profound. Few dared
argue with Mrs Bossier.
Dear old lady, she was never angry long, and in a minute or two she
proceeded with her breakfast, saying quite pleasantly:
"Never mention such a subject to me again; but I'll tell you what you can
do. Next autumn, some time in March or April, when the fruit-preserving
and jam-making are done with, Helen can take the child to Sydney for a
month or so, and you can show them round. It will be a great treat for
Sybylla as she has never been in Sydney."
"That's right, let's strike a bargain on that, gran." said Everard.
"Yes; it's a bargain, if I hear no more about the stage. God intends His
creatures for a better life than that."
After breakfast I was left to entertain Everard for some while. We had a
fine time. He was a perfect gentleman and a clever conversationalist.
I was always desirous of enjoying the company of society people who were
well bred and lived according to etiquette, and possessed of leisure and
culture sufficient to fill their minds with something more than the price
of farm produce and a hard struggle for existence. Hitherto I had only
read of such or seen them in pictures, but here was a real live one, and
I seized my opportunity with vim. At my questioning and evident interest
in his talk he told me of all the latest plays, actors, and actresses
with whom he was acquainted, and described the fashionable balls,
dinners, and garden-parties he attended. Having exhausted this subject,
we fell to discussing books, and I recited snatches of poems dear to me.
Everard placed his hands upon my shoulders and said:
"Sybylla, do you know you are a most wonderful girl? Your figure is
perfect, your style refreshing, and you have a most interesting face. It
is as ever-changing as a kaleidoscope--sometimes merry, then stern, often
sympathetic, and always sad when at rest. One would think you had had
some sorrow in your life."
Lifting my skirt at either side, I bowed several times very low in what I
called my stage bow, and called into requisition my stage smile, which
displayed two rows of teeth as white and perfect as any twenty-guinea set
turned out on a gold plate by a fashionable dentist.
"The handsome gentleman is very kind to amuse himself at the expense of a
little country bumpkin, but he would do well to ascertain if his flattery
would go down before administering it next time," I said sarcastically,
and I heard him calling to me as I abruptly went off to shut myself in my
"How dare anyone ridicule me by paying idle brainless compliments! I knew
I was ugly, and did not want any one to perjure his soul pretending they
thought differently. What right had I to be small? Why wasn't I possessed
of a big aquiline nose and a tall commanding figure?" Thus I sat in
burning discontent and ill-humour until soothed by the scent of roses and
the gleam of soft spring sunshine which streamed in through my open
window. Some of the flower-beds in the garden were completely carpeted
with pansy blossoms, all colours, and violets-blue and white, single and
double. The scent of mignonette, jonquils, and narcissi filled the air. I
revelled in rich perfumes, and these tempted me forth. My ruffled
feelings gave way before the delights of the old garden. I collected a
number of vases, and, filling them with water, set them on a table in the
veranda near one of the drawing-room windows. I gathered lapfuls of the
lovely blossoms, and commenced arranging them in the vases.
Part of the old Caddagat house was built of slabs, and one of the wooden
walls ran along the veranda side of the drawing-room, so the songs aunt
Helen and Everard Grey were trying to the piano came as a sweet
accompaniment to my congenial task.
Presently they left off singing and commenced talking. Under the same
circumstances a heroine of a story would have slipped away; or, if that
were impossible without discovery, she would have put her fingers in her
ears, and would have been in a terrible state of agitation lest she
should hear something not intended for her. I did not come there with a
view to eavesdropping. It is a degradation to which I never stoop. I
thought they were aware of my presence on the veranda; but it appears
they were not, as they began to discuss me (wonderfully interesting
subject to myself), and I stayed there, without one word of disapproval
from my conscience, to listen to their conversation.
"My word, didn't gran make a to-do this morning when I proposed
to train Sybylla for the stage! Do you know that girl is simply
reeking with talent; I must have her trained. I will keep bringing
the idea before gran until she gets used to it. I'll work the
we-should-use-the-gifts-God-has-given-us racket for all it is worth,
and you might use your influence too, Helen."
"No, Everard; there are very few who succeed on the stage. I would not
use my influence, as it is a life of which I do not approve."
"But Sybylla _would_ succeed. I am a personal friend of the leading
managers, and my influence would help her greatly."
"Yes; but what would you do with her? A young gentleman couldn't take
charge of a girl and bring her out without ruining her reputation. There
would be no end of scandal, as the sister theory would only he nonsense."
"There is another way; I could easily stop scandal."
"Everard, what do you mean!"
"I mean marriage," he replied deliberately.
"Surely, boy, you must be dreaming! You have only seen her for an hour or
two. I don't believe in these sudden attachments."
Perhaps she here thought of one (her own) as sudden, which had not ended
"Everard, don't do anything rashly. You know you are very fickle and
considered a lady-killer--be merciful to my poor little Sybylla, I pray.
It is just one of your passing fancies. Don't wile her passionate young
heart away and then leave her to pine and die."
"I don't think she is that sort," he replied laughingly.
"No, she would not die, but would grow into a cynic and sceptic, which is
the worst of fates. Let her alone. Flirt as much as you will with society
belles who understand the game, but leave my country maiden alone. I hope
to mould her into a splendid character yet."
"But, Helen, supposing I am in earnest at last, you don't think I'd make
her a bad old hubby, do you?"
"She is not the girl for you. You are not the man who could ever control
her. What I say may not be complimentary but it is true. Besides, she is
not seventeen yet, and I do not approve of romantic young girls throwing
themselves into matrimony. Let them develop their womanhood first."
"Then I expect I had better hide my attractions under a bushel during the
remainder of my stay at Caddagat?"
"Yes. Be as nice to the child as you like, but mind, none of those little
ladies'-man attentions with which it is so easy to steal--"
I waited to hear no more, but, brimming over with a mixture of emotions,
tore through the garden and into the old orchard. Bees were busy, and
countless bright-coloured butterflies flitted hither and thither, sipping
from hundreds of trees, white or pink with bloom--their beauty was lost
upon me. I stood ankle-deep in violets, where they had run wild under a
gnarled old apple-tree, and gave way to my wounded vanity.
"Little country maiden, indeed! There's no need for him to bag his
attractions up. If he exerted himself to the utmost of his ability, he
could not make me love him. I'm not a child. I saw through him in the
first hour. There's not enough in him to win my love. I'll show him I
think no more of him than of the caterpillars on the old tree there. I'm
not a booby that will fall in love with every gussie I see. Bah, there's
no fear of that! I hate and detest men!"
"I suppose you are rehearsing some more airs to show off with tonight,"
sneered a voice behind me.
"No, I'm realisticing; and how _dare_ you thrust your obnoxious presence
before me when I wish to be alone! Haven't I often shown--"
"While a girl is disengaged, any man who is her equal has the right to
pay his addresses to her if he is in earnest," interrupted Mr Hawden. It
was he who stood before me.
"I am well aware of that," I replied. "But it is a woman's privilege to
repel those attentions if distasteful to her. You seem disinclined to
accord me that privilege."
Having delivered this retort, I returned to the house, leaving him
standing there looking the fool he was.
I do not believe in spurning the love of a blackfellow if he behaves in a
manly way; but Frank Hawden was such a drivelling mawkish style of
sweetheart that I had no patience with him.
Aunt Helen and Everard had vacated the drawing-room, so I plumped down on
the piano-stool and dashed into Kowalski's galop, from that into "Gaite
de Coeur" until I made the piano dance and tremble like a thing
possessed. My annoyance faded, and I slowly played that saddest of
waltzes, "Weber's Last". I became aware of a presence in the room, and,
facing about, confronted Everard Grey.
"How long have you been here?" I demanded sharply.
"Since you began to play. Where on earth did you learn to play? Your
execution is splendid. Do sing 'Three Fishers', please."
"Excuse me; I haven't time now. Besides I am not competent to sing to
you," I said brusquely, and made my exit.
"Mr Hawden wants you, Sybylla," called aunt Helen. "See what he wants and
let him get away to his work, or your grannie will be vexed to see him
loitering about all the morning."
"Miss Sybylla," he began, when we were left alone, I want to apologize to
you. I had no right to plague you, but it all comes of the way I love
you. A fellow gets jealous at the least little thing, you know."
"Bore me with no more such trash," I said, turning away in disgust.
"But, Miss Sybylla, what am I to do with it?"
"Do with what?"
"Love!" I retorted scornfully. "There is no such thing."
"But there is, and I have found it."
"Well, you stick to it--that's my advice to you. It will be a treasure.
If you send it to my father he will get it bottled up and put it in the
Goulburn museum. He has sent several things there already."
"Don't make such a game of a poor devil. You know I can't do that."
"Bag it up, then; put a big stone to make it sink, and pitch it in the
"You'll rue this," he said savagely.
"I may or may not," I sang over my shoulder as I departed.
One Grand Passion
I had not the opportunity of any more private interviews with Everard
Grey till one morning near his departure, when we happened to be alone on
"Well, Miss Sybylla," he began, "when I arrived I thought you and I would
have been great friends; but we have not progressed at all. How do you
account for that?"
As he spoke he laid his slender shapely hand kindly upon my head. He was
very handsome and winning, and moved in literary, musical, and artistic
society--a man from my world, a world away.
Oh, what pleasure I might have derived from companionship with him! I bit
my lip to keep back the tears. Why did not social arrangements allow a
man and a maid to be chums--chums as two men or two maids may be to each
other, enjoying each other without thought beyond pure platonic
friendship? But no; it could not be. I understood the conceit of men.
Should I be very affable, I feared Everard Grey would imagine he had made
a conquest of me. On the other hand, were I glum he would think the same,
and that I was trying to hide my feelings behind a mask of brusquerie. I
therefore steered in a bee-line between the two manners, and remarked
with the greatest of indifference:
"I was not aware that you expected us to be such cronies--in fact, I have
never given the matter a thought."
He turned away in a piqued style. Such a beau of beaux, no doubt he was
annoyed that an insignificant little country bumpkin should not be
flattered by his patronage, or probably he thought me rude or
Two mornings later uncle Jay-Jay took him to Gool-Gool EN ROUTE for
Sydney. When departing he bade me a kindly good-bye, made me promise to
write to him, and announced his intention of obtaining the opinion of
some good masters re my dramatic talent and voice, when I came to Sydney
as promised by my grandmother. I stood on the garden fence waving my
handkerchief until the buggy passed out of sight among the messmate-trees
about half a mile from the house.
"Well I hope, as that dandified ape has gone--and good riddance to
him--that you will pay more heed to my attentions now," said Mr Hawden's
voice, as I was in the act of descending from the fence.
"What do you mean by your attentions?" I demanded.
"What do I mean! That is something like coming to business. I'll soon
explain. You know what my intentions are very well. When I am
twenty-four, I will come into my property in England. It is considerable,
and at the end of that time I want to marry you and take you home. By
Jove! I would just like to take you home. You'd surprise some English
girls I know."
"There would be more than one person surprised if I married you," I
thought to myself, and laughed till I ached with the motion.
"You infernal little vixen! What are you laughing at? You've got no more
sense than a bat if such a solemn thing only provokes your mirth."
"Solemn--why, it's a screaming farce!" I laughed more and more.
"What's a farce?" he demanded fiercely.
"The bare idea of you proposing to me."
"Why? Have I not as much right to propose as any other man?"
"Man!" I laughed. "That's where the absurdity arises. My child, if you
were a man, certainly you could propose, but do you think I'd look at a
boy, a child! If ever I perpetrate matrimony the participant in my
degradation will be a fully developed man--not a hobbledehoy who falls in
love, as he terms it, on an average about twice a week. Love! Ho!"
I moved in the direction of the house. He barred my path.
"You are not going to escape me like that, my fine lady. I will make you
listen to me this time or you will hear more about it," and he seized me
angrily by the wrist.
I cannot bear the touch of any one--it is one of my idiosyncrasies. With
my disengaged hand I struck him a vigorous blow on the nose, and
wrenching myself free sprang away, saying, "How dare you lay a finger on
me! If you attempt such a thing again I'll make short work of you. Mark
my words, or you'll get something more than a bleeding nose next time, I
"You'll hear more of this! You'll hear more of this! You fierce, wild,
touch-me-not thing," he roared.
"Yes; my motto with men is touch-me-not, and it is your own fault if I'm
fierce. If children attempt to act the role of a man with adult tools,
they are sure to cut themselves. Hold hard a bit, honey, till your
whiskers grow," I retorted as I departed, taking flying leaps over the
At tea that night, after gazing interestedly at Mr Hawden's nose for some
time, uncle Julius inquired, "in the name of all that's mysterious, what
the devil have you been doing to your nose? You look as though you had
been on the spree."
I was quaking lest he would get me into a fine scrape, but he only
muttered, "By Jove!" with great energy, and glowered menacingly across
the table at me.
After tea he requested an interview with grannie, which aroused my
curiosity greatly. I was destined to hear all about it next morning. When
breakfast was over grannie called me into her room and interviewed me
about Mr Hawden's interview. She began without any preliminaries:
"Mr Hawden has complained of your conduct. It grieves me that any young
man should have to speak to me of the behaviour of my own grand-daughter.
He says you have been flirting with him. Sybylla, I scarcely thought you
would be so immodest and unwomanly."
On hearing this my thoughts of Frank Hawden were the reverse of
flattering. He had persecuted me beyond measure, yet I had not deigned to
complain of him to either uncle, grannie, or auntie, as I might
reasonably have done, and have obtained immediate redress. He had been
the one to blame in the case, yet for the rebuffs he had brought upon
himself, went tattling to my grandmother.
Is that all you have to say, grannie?"
"No. He wants to marry you, and has asked my consent. I told him it all
rested with yourself and parents. What do you say?"
"Say," I exclaimed, "grannie, you are only joking, are you not?"
"No, my child, this is not a matter to joke about."
"Marry that creature! A boy!" I uttered in consternation.
"He is no boy. He has attained his majority some months. He is as old as
your grandfather was when we married. In three years you will be almost
twenty, and by that time he will be in possession of his property which
is very good--in fact, he will be quite rich. If you care for him there is
nothing against him as I can see. He is healthy, has a good character,
and comes of a high family. Being a bit wild won't matter. Very often,
after they sow their wild oats, some of those scampy young fellows settle
down and marry a nice young girl and turn out very good husbands."
"It is disgusting, and you ought to be downright ashamed of yourself,
grannie! A man can live a life of bestiality and then be considered a fit
husband for the youngest and purest girl! It is shameful! Frank Hawden is
not wild, he hasn't got enough in him to be so. I hate him. No, he hasn't
enough in him to hate. I loathe and despise him. I would not marry him or
any one like him though he were King of England. The idea of marriage
even with the best man in the world seems to me a lowering thing," I
raged; "but with him it would be pollution--the lowest degradation that
could be heaped upon me! I will never come down to marry any one--" here I
fell a victim to a flood of excited tears.
I felt there was no good in the world, especially in men--the hateful
creatures!--and never would be while it was not expected of them, even by
rigidly pure, true Christians such as my grandmother. Grannie, dear old
grannie, thought I should marry any man who, from a financial point of
view, was a good match for me. That is where the sting came in. No, I
would never marry. I would procure some occupation in which I could tread
my life out, independent of the degradation of marriage.
"Dear me, child," said grannie, concernedly, "there is no need to
distress yourself so. I remember you were always fearfully passionate.
When I had you with me as a tiny toddler, you would fret a whole day
about a thing an ordinary child would forget inside an hour. I will tell
Hawden to go about his business. I would not want you to consider
marriage for an instant with anyone distasteful to you. But tell me
truly, have you ever flirted with him? I will take your word, for I thank
God you have never yet told me a falsehood!"
"Grannie," I exclaimed emphatically, "I have discouraged him all I could.
I would scorn to flirt with any man."
"Well, well, that is all I want to hear about it. Wash your eyes, and we
will get our horses and go over to see Mrs Hickey and her baby, and take
her something good to eat."
I did not encounter Frank Hawden again till the afternoon, when he leered
at me in a very triumphant manner. I stiffened myself and drew out of his
way as though he had been some vile animal. At this treatment he whined,
so I agreed to talk the matter over with him and have done with it once
and for all.
He was on his way to water some dogs, so I accompanied him out to the
stables near the kennels, to be out of hearing of the household.
I opened fire without any beating about the bush.
"I ask you, Mr Hawden, if you have any sense of manliness, from this hour
to cease persecuting me with your idiotic professions of love. I have two
sentiments regarding it, and in either you disgust me. Sometimes I don't
believe there is such a thing as love at all--that is, love between men
and women. While in this frame of mind I would not listen to professions
of love from an angel. Other times I believe in love, and look upon it as
a sacred and solemn thing. When in that humour, it seems to me a
desecration to hear you twaddling about the holy theme, for you are only
a boy, and don't know how to feel. I would not have spoken thus harshly
to you, but by your unmanly conduct you have brought it upon yourself. I
have told you straight all that I will ever deign to tell you on the
subject, and take much pleasure in wishing you good afternoon."
I walked away quickly, heedless of his expostulations.
My appeal to his manliness had no effect. Did I go for a ride, or a walk
in the afternoon to enjoy the glory of the sunset, or a stroll to drink
in the pleasures of the old garden, there would I find Frank Hawden by my
side, yah, yah, yahing about the way I treated him, until I wished him at
the bottom of the Red Sea.
However, in those glorious spring days the sense of life was too pleasant
to he much clouded by the trifling annoyance Frank Hawden occasioned me.
The graceful wild clematis festooned the shrubbery along the creeks with
great wreaths of magnificent white bloom, which loaded every breeze with
perfume; the pretty bright green senna shrubs along the river-banks were
decked in blossoms which rivalled the deep blue of the sky in
brilliance; the magpies built their nests in the tall gum-trees, and
savagely attacked unwary travellers who ventured too near their domain;
the horses were rolling fat, and invited one to get on their satin backs
and have a gallop; the cry of the leather-heads was heard in the orchard
as the cherry season approached. Oh, it was good to be alive!
At Caddagat I was as much out of the full flood of life for which I
craved as at Possum Gully, but here there were sufficient pleasant little
ripples on the stream of existence to act as a stop-gap for the present.
Here goes for a full account of my first, my last, my only _real_
sweetheart, for I considered the professions of that pestiferous jackeroo
as merely a grotesque caricature on the genuine article.
On making my first appearance before my lover, I looked quite the reverse
of a heroine. My lovely hair was not conveniently escaping from the comb
at the right moment to catch him hard in the eye, neither was my
thrillingly low sweet voice floating out on the scented air in a manner
which went straight to his heart, like the girls I had read of. On the
contrary, I much resembled a female clown. It was on a day towards the
end of September, and I had been up the creek making a collection of
ferns. I had on a pair of men's boots with which to walk in the water,
and was garbed in a most dilapidated old dress, which I had borrowed from
one of the servants for the purpose. A pair of gloves made of basil, and
a big hat, much torn in struggling through the undergrowth, completed my
make-up. My hair was most unbecomingly screwed up, the short ends
sticking out like a hurrah's nest.
It was late in the day when, returning from my ramble, I was met on the
doorstep by aunt Helen.
"While you are in that trim, I wish you would pluck some lemons for me.
I'm sure there is no danger of you ruining your turn-out. A sketch of you
would make a good item for the _Bulletin_," she said.
I went readily to do her bidding, and fetching a ladder with rungs about
two feet six apart, placed it against a lemon-tree at the back of the
house, and climbed up.
Holding a number of lemons in my skirt, I was making a most ungraceful
descent, when I heard an unknown footstep approaching towards my back.
People came to Caddagat at all hours of the day, so I was not in the
least disconcerted. Only a tramp, an agent, or a hawker, I bet, I
thought, as I reached my big boot down for another rung of the ladder
without turning my head to see whom it might be.
A pair of strong brown hands encircled my waist, I was tossed up a foot
or so and then deposited lightly on the ground, a masculine voice saying,
"You're a mighty well-shaped young filly--'a waist rather small, but a
"How dare anyone speak to me like that," I thought, as I faced about to
see who was parodying Gordon. There stood a man I had never before set
eyes on, smiling mischievously at me. He was a young man--a very young
man, a bushman tremendously tall and big and sunburnt, with an open
pleasant face and chestnut moustache--not at all an awe-inspiring fellow,
in spite of his unusual, though well-proportioned and carried, height. I
knew it must be Harold Beecham, of Five-Bob Downs, as I had heard he
stood six feet three and a half in his socks.
I hurriedly let down my dress, the lemons rolling in a dozen directions,
and turned to flee, but that well-formed figure bounded before me with
the agility of a cat and barred my way.
"Now, not a step do you go, my fine young blood, until you pick up every
jolly lemon and put them away tidily, or I'll tell the missus on you as
sure as eggs."
It dawned on me that he had mistaken me for one of the servant-girls. That
wasn't bad fun. I determined not to undeceive but to have a lark with him.
I summed him up as conceited, but not with the disgusting conceit with
which some are afflicted, or perhaps blessed. It was rather an air of
their-own-fault, which surrounded him.
"If you please, sir," I said humbly, "I've gathered them all up, will you
let me go now."
"Yes, when you've given me a kiss."
"Oh, sir, I couldn't do that!"
"Go on, I won't poison you. Come now, I'll make you."
"Oh, the missus might catch me."
"No jolly fear; I'll take all the blame if she does."
"Oh don't, sir; let me go, please," I said in such unfeigned distress,
for I feared he was going to execute his threat, that he laughed and
"Don't be frightened, sissy, I never kiss girls, and I'm not going to
start at this time of day, and against their will to boot. You haven't
been long here, have you? I haven't seen you before. Stand out there till
I see if you've got any grit in you, and then I am done with you."
I stood in the middle of the yard, the spot he indicated, while he
uncurled his long heavy stock-whip with its big lash and scented myall
handle. He cracked it round and round my head and arms, but I did not
feel the least afraid, as I saw at a glance that he was exceedingly
dexterous in the bushman's art of handling a stock-whip, and knew, if I
kept perfectly still, I was quite safe. It was thanks to uncle Jay-Jay
that I was able to bear the operation with unruffled equanimity, as he
was in the habit of testing my nerves in this way.
"Well, I never! Not so much as blinked an eyelash! Thoroughbred!" He said
after a minute or so, "Where's the boss?"
"In Gool-Gool. He won't be home till late."
"Is Mrs Bossier in?"
"No, she's not, but Mrs Bell is somewhere around in front."
I watched him as he walked away with an easy swinging stride, which spoke
of many long, long days in the saddle. I felt certain as I watched him
that he had quite forgotten the incident of the little girl with the
"Sybylla, hurry up and get dressed. Put on your best bib and tucker, and
I will leave Harry Beecham in your charge, as I want to superintend the
making of some of the dishes myself this evening."
"It's too early to put on my evening dress, isn't it, auntie?
"It is rather early; but you can't spare time to change twice. Dress
yourself completely; you don't know what minute your uncle and his
worship will arrive."
I had taken a dip in the creek, so had not to bathe, and it took me but a
short time to don full war-paint--blue evening dress, satin slippers, and
all. I wore my hair flowing, simply tied with a ribbon. I slipped out
into the passage and called aunt Helen. She came.
"I'm ready, auntie. Where is he?"
"In the dining-room."
"Come into the drawing-room and call him. I will take charge of him till
you are at leisure. But, auntie, it will be a long time till dinner--how
on earth will I manage him?"
"Manage him!" she laughed; "he is not at all an obstreperous character."
We had reached the drawing-room by this, and I looked at myself in the
looking-glass while aunt Helen went to summon Harold Augustus Beecham,
bachelor, owner of Five-Bob Downs, Wyambeet, Wallerawang West,
Quat-Quatta, and a couple more stations in New South Wales, besides an
extensive one in Queensland.
I noticed as he entered the door that since I had seen him he had washed,
combed his stiff black hair, and divested himself of his hat, spurs, and
whip--his leggings had perforce to remain, as his nether garment was a
pair of closely fitting grey cloth riding-breeches, which clearly defined
the shapely contour of his lower limbs.
"Harry, this is Sybylla. I'm sure you need no further introduction. Excuse
me, I have something on the fire which is likely to burn." And aunt Helen
hurried off leaving us facing each other.
He stared down at me with undisguised surprise. I looked up at him and
laughed merrily. The fun was all on my side. He was a great big man--rich
and important. I was a chit--an insignificant nonentity--yet, despite his
sex, size, and importance, I was complete master of that situation, and
knew it: thus I laughed.
I saw that he recognized me again by the dusky red he flushed beneath his
sun-darkened skin. No doubt he regretted having called me a filly above
all things. He bowed stiffly, but I held out my hand, saying:
"Do shake hands. When introduced I always shake hands with anyone I think
I'll like. Besides, I seem to know you well. Just think of all the apples
you brought me!"
He acceded to my request, holding my hand a deal longer than necessary,
and looking at me helplessly. It amused me greatly, for I saw that it was
he who did not know how to manage me, and not I that couldn't manage him.
"'Pon my honour, Miss Melvyn, I had no idea it was you, when I said--"
Here he boggled completely, which had the effect of reviving my laughter.
"You had no right to be dressed like that--deceiving a fellow. It wasn't
"That's the best of it. It shows what a larrikin Don Juan sort of
character you are. You can't deceive me now if you pretend to be a
virtuous well-behaved member of society."
"That is the first time I've ever meddled with any of the kitchen fry,
and, by Jove, it will be the last!" he said energetically. "I've got
myself into a pretty mess."
"What nonsense you talk," I replied. "If you say another word about it,
I'll write a full account of it and paste it in my scrapbook. But if
you don't worry about it, neither will I. You said nothing very
uncomplimentary; in fact, I was quite flattered."
I was perched on the high end of a couch, and he was leaning with big
careless ease on the piano. Had grannie seen me, I would have been
lectured about unladylike behaviour.
"What is your uncle at today?" he inquired.
"He's not at anything. He went to Gool-Gool yesterday on the jury. Court
finishes up today, and he is going to bring the judge home tonight.
That's why I am dressed so carefully," I answered.
"Good gracious! I never thought of court this time as I wasn't called on
the jury, and for a wonder hadn't so much as a case against a Chinaman. I
was going to stay tonight, but can't if his worship is going to dine
"Why? You're surely not afraid of Judge Fossilt? He's a very simple old
"Imagine dining with a judge in this toggery!" and he glanced down his
great figure at his riding gear.
"That doesn't matter; he's near-sighted. I'll get you put at the far end
of the table under my wing. Men don't notice dress. If you weren't so big
uncle or Frank Hawden could oblige you."
"Do you think I could pass muster?"
"Yes; after I brush you down you'll look as spruce as a brass penny.
"I did brush myself," he answered.
"You brush yourself!" I retorted. "There's a big splash of mud on your
shoulder. You couldn't expect to do anything decently, for you're only a
man, and men are the uselessest, good-for-nothingest, clumsiest animals in
the world. All they're good for is to smoke and swear."
I fetched a clothes brush.
"You'll have to stand on the table to reach me," he said, looking down
with amused indulgence.
"As you are so impertinent you can go dusty," and I tossed the brush
The evening was balmy, so I invited him into the garden. He threw his
handkerchief over my chest, saying I might catch cold, but I scouted the
We wandered into an arbour covered with wistaria, banksia, and Marechal
Niel roses, and I made him a buttonhole.
A traveller pulled rein in the roadway, and, dismounting, threw his
bridle over a paling of the garden fence while he went inside to try and
buy a loaf of bread.
I jumped up, frightening the horse so that it broke away, pulling off the
paling in the bridle-rein. I ran to bring a hammer to repair the damage.
Mr Beecham caught the horse while I attempted to drive the nail into--the
fence. It was a futile attempt. I bruised my fingers. He took the hammer
from me, and fixing the paling in its place with a couple of well-aimed
blows, said laughingly:
"You drive a nail! You couldn't expect to do anything. You're only a
girl. Girls are the helplessest, uselessest, troublesomest little
creatures in the world. All they're good for is to torment and pester a
I had to laugh.
At this juncture we heard uncle Jay-Jay's voice, so Mr Beecham went
towards the back, whence it proceeded, after he left me at the front
"Oh, auntie, we got on splendidly! He's not a bit of trouble. We're as
chummy as though we had been reared together," I exclaimed.
"Did you get him to talk?"
"Did you really?" in surprise.
When I came to review the matter I was forced to confess that I had done
all the talking, and young Beecham the listening; moreover I described
him as the quietest man I had ever seen or heard of.
The judge did not come home with uncle Jay-Jay as expected so it was not
necessary for me to shelter Harold Beecham under my wing. Grannie greeted
him cordially as "Harold, my boy", he was a great favourite with her. She
and uncle Julius monopolized him for the evening. There was great talk of
trucking sheep, the bad outlook as regarded the season, the state of the
grass in the triangle, the Leigh Spring, the Bimbalong, and several other
paddocks, and of the condition of the London wool market. It did not
interest me, so I dived into a book, only occasionally emerging therefrom
to smile at Mr Beecham.
He had come to Caddagat for a pair of bullocks which had been fattening
in grannie's home paddock. Uncle gave him a start with them next morning.
When they came out on the road I was standing in a bed of violets in a
tangled corner of the garden, where roses climbed to kiss the lilacs, and
spiraea stooped to rest upon the wallflowers, and where two tall
kurrajongs stood like sentries over all. Harold Beecham dismounted, and,
leaning over the fence, lingered with me, leaving the bullocks to uncle
Jay-Jay. Uncle raved vigorously. Women, he asserted, were the bane of
society and the ruination Of all men; but he had always considered Harold
as too sensible to neglect his business to stand grinning at a pesky
youngster in short skirts and a pigtail. Which was the greatest idiot of
the two he didn't know.
His grumbling did not affect Harold in the least.
"Complimentary to both of us," he remarked as he leisurely threw himself
across his great horse, and smiled his pleasant quiet smile, disclosing
two rows of magnificent teeth, untainted by contamination with beer or
tobacco. Raising his panama hat with the green fly-veil around it, he
cantered off. I wondered as I watched him if anything ever disturbed his
serenity, and desired to try. He looked too big and quiet to be ruffled
by such emotions as rage, worry, jealousy, or even love. Returning to the
house, I put aunt Helen through an exhaustive catechism concerning him.
Question. Auntie, what age is Harold Beecham?
Answer. Twenty-five last December.
Q. Did he ever have any brothers or sisters? A. No. His birth caused his
mother's death. Q. How long has his father been dead?
A. Since Harold could crawl.
Q. Who reared him?
A. His aunts.
Q. Does he ever talk any more than that? A. Often a great deal less.
Q. Is he really very rich?
A. If he manages to pull through these seasons he will be second to none
but Tyson in point of wealth.
Q. Is Five-Bob a very pretty place?
A. Yes; one of the show places of the district. Q. Does he often come to
A. Yes, he often drops in.
Q. What makes his hair so black and his moustache that light colour?
A. You'll have to study science to find that out. I'm sure I can't tell
Q. Does he--?
"Now, Sybylla," said auntie, laughing, "you are taking a suspicious
interest in my sunburnt young giant. Did I not tell you he was taking
time by the forelock when he brought the apples?"
"Oh, auntie, I am only asking questions because--"
"Yes, because, because, I understand perfectly. Because you are a girl,
and all the girls fall a victim to Harry's charms at once. If you don't
want to succumb meekly to your fate, 'Heed the spark or you may dread the
fire.' That is the only advice I can tender you."
This was a Thursday, and on the following Sunday Harold Beecham
reappeared at Caddagat and remained from three in the afternoon until
nine at night. Uncle Julius and Frank Hawden were absent. The weather had
taken a sudden backward lurch into winter again, so we had a fire. Harold
sat beside it all the time, and interposed yes and no at the proper
intervals in grannie's brisk business conversation, but he never
addressed one word to me beyond "Good afternoon, Miss Melvyn," on his
arrival, and "Good night, Miss Melvyn," when leaving.
I studied him attentively all the while. What were his ideas and
sentiments it were hard to tell: he never expressed any. He was fearfully
and wonderfully quiet. Yet his was an intelligent silence, not of that
wooden brainless description which casts a damper on company, neither was
it of the morose or dreaming order.
Caddagat, 29th Sept., 1896
My dearest Gertie,
I have started to write no less than seven letters to you, but something
always interrupted me and I did not finish them. However, I'll finish
this one in the teeth of Father Peter himself. I will parenthesize all
the interruptions. (A traveller just asked me for a rose. I had to get up
and give him one.) Living here is lovely. (Another man inquired the way
to Somingley Gap, and I've just finished directing him.) Grannie is
terribly nice. You could not believe. She is always giving me something,
and takes me wherever she goes. Auntie is an angel. I wish you could hear
the piano. It is a beauty. There are dozens of papers and books to read.
Uncle is a dear old fellow. You should hear him rave and swear sometimes
when he gets in a rage. It is great fun. He brings me lollies, gloves,
ribbons, or something every time he comes from town. (Two Indian hawkers
have arrived, and I am going out to see their goods. There were nineteen
hawkers here last week. I am sitting on a squatter's chair and writing on
a table in the veranda, and the road goes right by the flower-garden.
That is how I see everyone.) Have you had rain down there this week? They
have great squawking about the drought up here. I wish they could see
Goulburn, and then they'd know what drought means. I don't know what sort
of a bobberie they would kick up. It's pretty dry out on the run, but
everyone calls the paddocks about the house an oasis. You see there are
such splendid facilities for irrigation here. Uncle has put on a lot of
men. They have cut races between the two creeks between which the house
is situated. Every now and again they let the water from these over the
orchard gardens and about a hundred acres of paddock land around the
house. The grass therein is up to the horses' fetlocks. There is any
amount of rhubarb and early vegetables in the garden. Grannie says there
is a splendid promise of fruit in the orchard, and the flower-garden is a
perfect dream. This is the dearest old place in the world. Dozens of
people plague grannie to be let put their horses in the grass--especially
shearers, there are droves of them going home now--but she won't let them;
wants all the grass for her own stock. Uncle has had to put another man
on to mind it, or at night all the wires are cut and the horses put in.
(An agent, I think by the cut of him, is asking for grannie. I'll have to
run and find her.) It is very lively here. Never a night but we have the
house full of agents or travellers of one sort or another, and there are
often a dozen swaggies in the one day.
Harold Beecham is my favourite of all the men hereaway. He is
delightfully big and quiet. He isn't good-looking, but I like his face.
(Been attending to the demands of a couple of impudent swaggies. Being
off the road at Possum Gully, you escape them.) For the love of life,
next time you write, fire into the news at once and don't half-fill your
letter telling me about the pen and your bad writing. I am scribbling at
the rate Of 365 miles an hour, and don't care a jot whether it is good
writing or not.
Auntie, uncle, Frank Hawden and I, are going to ride to Yabtree church
next Sunday. It is four miles beyond Five-Bob Downs, so that is sixteen
miles. It is the nearest church. I expect it will be rare fun. There will
be such a crowd coming home, and that always makes the horses
delightfully frisky. (A man wants to put his horses in the paddock for
the night, so I will have to find uncle.) I never saw such a place for
men. It is all men, men, men. You cannot go anywhere outside the house
but you see men coming and going in all directions. It wouldn't do to
undress without bothering to drop the window-blind like we used at Possum
Gully. Grannie and uncle say it is a curse to be living beside the road,
as it costs them a tremendous lot a year. There are seven lemon-trees
here, loaded (another hawker). I hope you think of me sometimes. I am
just as ugly as ever. (A traveller wants to buy a loaf of bread.)
With stacks of love to all at home, and a whole dray-load for yourself,
from your loving sister,
Remember me to Goulburn, drowsing lazily in its dreamy graceful hollow in
the blue distance.
Caddagat, 29th Sept., 1896
Thank you very much for the magazines and "An Australian Bush Track". I
suppose you have quite forgotten us and Caddagat by this time. The sun
has sunk behind the gum-trees, and the blue evening mists are hanging
lazily in the hollows of the hills. I expect you are donning your
"swallow-tail" preparatory to leading some be-satined "faire ladye" in to
a gorgeous dinner, thence to the play, then to a dance probably. No doubt
all around you is bustle, glare of lights, noise, and fun. It is such a
different scene here. From down the road comes the tinkle of camp-bells
and jingle of hobble-chains. From down in that sheltered angle where the
creek meets the river comes the gleam of camp-fires through the gathering
twilight, and I can see several tents rigged for the night, looking like
white specks in the distance.
I long for the time to come when I shall get to Sydney. I'm going to lead
you and aunt Helen a pretty dance. You'll have to keep going night and
day. It will be great. I must get up and dance a jig on the veranda when
I think of it. You'll have to show me everything--slums and all. I want to
find out the truth of heaps of things for myself.
Save for the weird rush of the stream and the kookaburras' goodnight, all
is still, with a mighty far-reaching stillness which can be felt. Now the
curlews are beginning their wild moaning cry. From the rifts in the dark
lone ranges, far down the river, it comes like a hunted spirit until it
makes me feel--
At this point I said, "Bah! I'm mad to write to Everard Grey like this.
He would laugh and call me a poor little fool." I tore the half-finished
letter to shreds, and consigned it to the kitchen fire. I substituted a
prim formal note, merely thanking him for the books and magazine he had
sent me. To this I never received an answer. I heard through his letters
to grannie that he was much occupied. Had been to Brisbane and Melbourne
on important cases, so very likely had not time to be bothered with me;
or, he might have been like the majority of his fellows who make a great
parade of friendship while with one, then go away and forget one's
existence in an hour.
While at Caddagat there were a few duties allotted to me. One of these
was to attend to the drawing-room; another was to find uncle Jay-Jay's
hat when he mislaid it--often ten times per day. I assisted my grandmother
to make up her accounts and write business letters, and I attended to
tramps. A man was never refused a bit to cat at Caddagat. This
necessitated the purchase of an extra ton of flour per year, also nearly
a ton of sugar, to say nothing of tea, potatoes, beef, and all broken
meats which went thus. This was not reckoning the consumption of victuals
by the other class of travellers with which the house was generally full
year in and year out. Had there been any charge for their board and
lodging, the Bossiers would surely have made a fortune. I interviewed on
an average fifty tramps a week, and seldom saw the same man twice. What a
great army they were! Hopeless, homeless, aimless, shameless souls,
tramping on from north to south, and east to west, never relinquishing
their heart-sickening, futile quest for work--some of them so long on the
tramp that the ambitions of manhood had been ground out of them, and they
wished for nothing more than this.
There were all shapes, sizes, ages, kinds, and conditions of men--the
shamefaced boy in the bud of his youth, showing by the way he begged that
the humiliation of the situation had not yet worn off, and poor old
creatures tottering on the brink of the grave, with nothing left in life
but the enjoyment of beer and tobacco. There were strong men in their
prime who really desired work when they asked for it, and skulking
cowards who hoped they would not get it. There were the diseased, the
educated, the ignorant, the deformed, the blind, the evil, the honest,
the mad, and the sane. Some in real professional beggars' style called
down blessings on me; others were morose and glum, while some were
impudent and thankless, and said to supply them with food was just what I
should do, for the swagmen kept the squatters--as, had the squatters not
monopolized the land, the swagmen would have had plenty. A moiety of the
last-mentioned--dirty, besotted, ragged creatures--had a glare in their
eyes which made one shudder to look at them, and, while spasmodically
twirling their billies or clenching their fists, talked wildly of making
one to "bust up the damn banks", or to drive all the present squatters
out of the country and put the people on the land--clearly showing that,
because they had failed for one reason or another, it had maddened them
to see others succeed.
In a wide young country of boundless resources, why is this thing? This
question worried me. Our legislators are unable or unwilling to cope with
it. They trouble not to be patriots and statesmen. Australia can bring
forth writers, orators, financiers, singers, musicians, actors, and
athletes which are second to none of any nation under the sun. Why can
she not bear sons, men of soul, mind, truth, godliness, and patriotism
sufficient to rise and cast off the grim shackles which widen round us
day by day?
I was the only one at Caddagat who held these silly ideas.
Harold Beecham, uncle Julius, grannie, and Frank Hawden did not worry
about the cause of tramps. They simply termed them a lazy lot of
sneaking creatures, fed them, and thought no more of the matter.
I broached the subject to uncle Jay-Jay once, simply to discover his
I was sitting on a chair in the veranda sewing; he, with his head on a
cushion, was comfortably stretched on a rug on the floor.
"Uncle Boss, why can't something be done for tramps?"
"How done for 'em?"
"Couldn't some means of employing them be arrived at?"
"Work!" he ejaculated. "That's the very thing the crawling divils are
terrified they might get."
"Yes; but couldn't some law be made to help them?"
"A law to make me cut up Caddagat and give ten of 'em each a piece, and
go on the wallaby myself, I suppose?"
"No, uncle; but there was a poor young fellow here this morning who, I
feel sure, was in earnest when he asked for work."
"Helen!" bawled uncle Jay-Jay.
"Well, what is it?" she inquired, appearing in the doorway.
"Next time Sybylla is giving a tramp some tucker, you keep a sharp eye on
her or she will be sloping one of these days. There was a young fellow
here today with a scarlet moustache and green eyes, and she's dean gone
on him, and has been bullying me to give him half Caddagat."
"What a disgusting thing to say! Uncle, you ought to be ashamed of
yourself," I exclaimed.
"Very well, I'll be careful," said aunt Helen, departing.
"What with the damned flies, and the tramps, and a pesky thing called
Sybylla, a man's life ain't worth a penny to him," said uncle.
We fell into silence, which was broken presently by a dirty red-bearded
face appearing over the garden gate, and a man's voice:
"Good day, boss! Give us a chew of tobaccer?"
"I'm not the boss," said uncle with assumed fierceness.
"Then who is?" inquired the man.
Uncle pointed his thumb at me, and, rolling out on the floor again as
though very sleepy, began to snore. The tramp grinned, and made his
request of me. I took him round to the back, served him with flour, beef,
and an inch or two of rank tobacco out of a keg which had been bought for
the purpose. Refusing a drink of milk which I offered, he resumed his
endless tramp with a "So long, little missy. God bless your pleasant
I watched him out of sight. One of my brothers--one of God's children
under the Southern Cross. Did these old fellows really believe in the God
whose name they mentioned so glibly? I wondered. But I am thankful that
while at Caddagat it was only rarely that my old top-heavy thoughts
troubled me. Life was so pleasant that I was content merely to be young--a
chit in the first flush of teens, health, hope, happiness, youth--a
heedless creature recking not for the morrow.
When the Heart is Young
About a week or so after I first met Harold Beecham, aunt I V Helen
allowed me to read a letter she had received from the elder of the two
Misses Beecham. It ran as follows:
"My dearest Helen,
"This is a begging letter, and I am writing another to your mother at the
same time. I am asking her to allow her grand-daughter to spend a few
weeks with me, and I want you to use your influence in the matter. Sarah
has not been well lately, and is going to Melbourne for a change, and as
I will be lonely while she is away Harold insists upon me having someone
to keep me company--you know how considerate the dear boy is. I hardly
like to ask you to spare your little girl to me. It must be a great
comfort to have her. I could have got Miss Benson to stay with me, but
Harold will not hear of her. He says she is too slow, and would give us
both the mopes. But he says your little niece will keep us all alive.
Julius was telling me the other day that he could not part with her, as
she makes 'the old barracks', as he always calls Caddagat, echo with fun
and noise. I am so looking forward to seeing her, as she is dear Lucy's
child. Give her my love, etc., etc."
and as a postscript the letter had--"Harold will go up for Sybylla on
Wednesday afternoon. I do hope you will be able to spare her to me for a
"Oh, auntie, how lovely!" I exclaimed. "What are you laughing at?"
"For whom do you think Harry wants the companion? It is nice to have an
old auntie, as a blind, is it not? Well, all is fair in love and war. You
have permission to use me in any way you like."
I pretended to miss her meaning.
Grannie consented to Miss Beecham's proposal, and ere the day arrived I
had a trunk packed with some lovely new dresses, and was looking forward
with great glee to my visit to Five-Bob Downs.
One o'clock on Wednesday afternoon arrived; two o'clock struck, and I was
beginning to fear no one was coming for me, when, turning to look out the
window for the eighteenth time, I saw the straight blunt nose of Harold
Beecham passing. Grannie was serving afternoon tea on the veranda. I did
not want any, so got ready while my escort was having his.
It was rather late when we bowled away at a tremendous pace in a red
sulky, my portmanteau strapped on at the back, and a thoroughbred
American trotter, which had taken prizes at Sydney shows, harnessed to
the front. We just whizzed! It was splendid! The stones and dust rose in
a thick cloud from the whirling wheels and flying hoofs, and the posts of
the wire fence on our left passed like magic as we went. Mr Beecham
allowed me to drive after a time while he sat ready to take the reins
should an emergency arise.
It was sunset--most majestic hour of the twenty-four--when we drove up to
the great white gates which opened into the avenue leading to the main
homestead of Five-Bob Downs station--beautiful far-reaching Five-Bob
Downs! Dreamy blue hills rose behind, and wide rich flats stretched
before, through which the Yarrangung river, glazed with sunset, could be
seen like a silver snake winding between shrubberied banks. The odour
from the six-acred flower-garden was overpowering and delightful. A
breeze gently swayed the crowd of trees amid the houses, and swept over
the great orchard which sloped down from the south side of the houses. In
the fading sunlight thirty iron roofs gleamed and glared, and seemed like
a little town; and the yelp of many dogs went up at the sound of our
wheels. Ah! beautiful, beautiful Five-Bob Downs!
It seemed as though a hundred dogs leapt forth to greet us when that gate
flew open, but I subsequently discovered there were but twenty-three.
Two female figures came out to meet us--one nearly six feet high, the
other, a tiny creature, seemed about eighteen inches, though, of course,
was more than that.
"I've brought her, aunt Gussie," said Harold, jumping out of the sulky,
though not relinquishing the reins, while he kissed the taller figure,
and the small one attached itself to his leg saying, "Dimme wide."
"Hullo! Possum, why wasn't old Spanker let go? I see he's not among the
dogs," and my host picked the tiny individual up in his arms and got into
the sulky to give her the desired ride, while after being embraced by
Miss Beecham and lifted to the ground by her nephew, I went with the
former over an asphalted tennis-court, through the wide garden, then
across a broad veranda into the great, spreading, one-storeyed house from
which gleamed many lights.
"I am so glad you have come, my dear. I must have a good look at you when
we get into the light. I hope you are like your mother."
This prospect discomfited me. I knew she would find a very ugly girl with
not the least resemblance to her pretty mother, and I cursed my
appearance under my breath.
"Your name is Sybylla," Miss Beecham continued, "Sybylla Penelope. Your
mother used to be very dear to me, but I don't know why she doesn't write
to me now. I have never seen her since her marriage. It seems strange to
think of her as the mother of eight-five boys and three girls, is it
Miss Beecham had piloted me through a wide hall and along an extended
passage out of which a row of bedrooms opened, into one of which we went.
"I hope you will he comfortable here, child. You need not dress for
dinner while you are here; we never do, only on very special occasions."
"Neither do we at Caddagat," I replied.
"Now, child, let me have a good look at you without your hat."
"Oh, please don't!" I exclaimed, covering my face with my hands. I am so