Part 3 out of 5
dreadfully ugly that I cannot bear to have anyone look at me."
"What a silly little girl! You are not like your mother, but you are not
at all plain-looking. Harold says you are the best style of girl he has
seen yet, and sing beautifully. He got a tuner up from Sydney last week,
so we will expect you to entertain us every night."
I learnt that what Harold pronounced good no one dared gainsay at
We proceeded direct to the dining-room, and had not been there long when
Mr Beecham entered with the little girl on his shoulder. Miss Beecham had
told me she was Minnie Benson, daughter of Harold's married overseer on
Wyambeet, his adjoining station. Miss Beecham considered it would have
been more seemly for her nephew to have selected a little boy as a
play-thing, but his sentiments regarding boys were that they were
machines invented for the torment of adults.
"Well, O'Doolan, what sort of a day has it been?" Harold inquired,
setting his human toy upon the floor.
"Fine wezzer for yim duts," she promptly replied.
"Harold, it is shameful to teach a little innocent child such abominable
slang; and you might give her a decent nickname," said Miss Beecham.
"O'Doolan, this is Miss Melvyn, and you have to do the same to her as you
do to me."
The little thing held out her arms to me. I took her up, and she hugged
and kissed me, saying:
"I luz oo, I luz oo," and turning to Mr Beecham, "zat anuff?
"Yes, that will do," he said; and she struggled to be put down.
Three jackeroos, an overseer, and two other young men came in, were
introduced to me, and then we began dinner.
O'Doolan sat on a high chair beside Mr Beecham, and he attended to all
her wants. She did everything he did, even taking mustard, and was very
brave at quelling the tears that rose to the doll-like blue eyes. When Mr
Beecham wiped his moustache, it was amusing to see her also wipe an
After dinner the jackeroos and the three other men repaired to a
sitting-room in the backyard, which was specially set apart for them, and
where they amused themselves as they liked. My host and hostess, myself,
and the child, spent the evening in a tiny sitting-room adjoining the
dining-room. Miss Beecham entertained me with conversation and the family
albums, and Harold amused himself entirely with the child.
Once when they were absent for a few minutes, Miss Beecham told me it was
ridiculous the way he fussed with the child, and that he had her with him
more than half his time. She also asked me what I thought of her nephew.
I evaded the question by querying if he was always so quiet and
"Oh dear, no. He is considered a particularly bad-tempered man. Not one
of the snarling nasty tempers, but--"
Here the re-entry of the owner of the temper put a stop to this
Harold gave O'Doolan rides on his back, going on all-fours. She shouted
in childish glee, and wound up by curling her small proportions on his
broad chest, and going to sleep there.
Mrs Benson had sent for little O'Doolan, and Harold took her home next
day. He invited me to accompany him, so we set out in the sulky with
O'Doolan on my lap. It was a pleasant drive of twelve miles to and from
Wyambeet. O'Doolan was much distressed at parting from Mr Beecham, but he
promised to come for her again shortly.
"One little girl at a time is enough for me to care for properly," he
said to me in the winning manner with which, and his wealth,
unintentionally and unconsciously made slaughter among the hearts of the
When Fortune Smiles
"Now, Harold, you have compelled Sybylla to come here, you must not
let the time drag with her," said Miss Beecham.
It was the second day after my arrival at Five-Bob. Lunch was over, and
we had adjourned to the veranda. Miss Beecham. was busy at her
work-table; I was ensconced on a mat on the floor reading a book; Harold
was stretched in a squatter's chair some distance away. His big brown
hands were clasped behind his head, his chin rested on his broad chest,
his eyes were closed, he occasionally thrust his lower lip forward and
sent a puff of breath upwards to scatter the flies from his face; he
looked a big monument of comfort, and answered his aunt's remarks lazily:
"Yes, aunt, I'll do my best;" and to me, "Miss Melvyn, while here, please
bear in mind that it will be no end of pleasure to me to do anything for
your enjoyment. Don't fail to command me in any way."
"Thank you, Mr Beecham. I will not fail to avail myself of your offer."
"The absurdity of you two children addressing each other so formally,"
said Miss Beecham. "Why, you are a sort of cousins almost, by right of
old friendship between the families. You must call me aunt."
After this Mr Beecham and I called each other nothing when in Miss
Beecham's hearing, but adhered to formality on other occasions.
Harold looked so comfortable and lazy that I longed to test how far he
meant the offer he had made me.
"I'm just dying for a row on the river. Would you oblige me?" I said.
"Just look at the thermometer!" exclaimed Miss Augusta. "Wait till it
gets cooler, child."
"Oh, I love the heat!" I replied. "And I am sure it won't hurt his
lordship. He's used to the sun, to judge from all appearances."
"Yes, I don't think it can destroy my complexion," he said
good-humouredly, rubbing his finger and thumb along his stubble-covered
chin. The bushmen up-country shaved regularly every Sunday morning, but
never during the week for anything less than a ball. They did this to
obviate the blue--what they termed "scraped pig"--appearance of the faces
of city men in the habit of using the razor daily, and to which they
preferred the stubble of a seven-days' beard. "I'll take you to the river
in half an hour," he said, rising from his seat. "First I must stick on
one of Warrigal's shoes that he's flung. I want him tomorrow, and must do
it at once, as he always goes lame if ridden immediately after shoeing."
"Shall I blow the bellows?" I volunteered.
"Oh no, thanks. I can manage myself. It would be better though if I had
some one. But I can get one of the girls."
"Can't you get one of the boys?" said his aunt.
"There's not one in. I sent every one off to the Triangle paddock today
to do some drafting. They all took their quart pots and a snack in their
saddle-bags, and won't be home till dark."
"Let me go," I persisted; "I often blow the bellows for uncle Jay-Jay, and
think it great fun."
The offer of my services being accepted, we set out.
Harold took his favourite horse, Warrigal, from the stable, and led him
to the blacksmith's forge under an open, stringybark-roofed shed, nearly
covered with creepers. He lit a fire and put a shoe in it. Doffing his
coat and hat, rolling up his shirt-sleeves, and donning a leather apron,
he began preparing the horse's hoof.
When an emergency arose that necessitated uncle Jay-Jay shoeing his
horses himself. I always manipulated the bellows, and did so with great
decorum, as he was very exacting and I feared his displeasure. In this
case it was different. I worked the pole with such energy that it almost
blew the whole fire out of the pan, and sent the ashes and sparks in a
whirlwind around Harold. The horse--a touchy beast--snorted and dragged his
foot from his master's grasp.
"That the way to blow?" I inquired demurely.
"Take things a little easier," he replied.
I took them so very easily that the fire was on the last gasp and the
shoe nearly cold when it was required.
"This won't do," said Beecham.
I recommenced blowing with such force that he had to retreat.
"Steady I steady!" he shouted.
"Sure O'i can't plaze yez anyhows," I replied.
"If you don't try to plaze me directly I'll punish you in a way you won't
relish," he said laughingly. But I knew he was thinking of a punishment
which I would have secretly enjoyed.
"If you don't let me finish this work I'll make one of the men do it
tonight by candle-light when they come home tired. I know you wouldn't
like them to do that," he continued.
"Arrah, go on, ye're only tazin'!" I retorted. "Don't you remember
telling me that Warrigal was such a nasty-tempered brute that he allowed
no one but yourself to touch him?"
"Oh well, then, I'm floored, and will have to put up with the
consequences," he good-humouredly made answer.
Seeing that my efforts to annoy him failed, I gave in, and we were soon
done, and then started for the river--Mr Beecham clad in a khaki suit and
I in a dainty white wrapper and flyaway sort of hat. In one hand my host
held a big white umbrella, with which he shaded me from the hot rays
of the October sun, and in the other was a small basket containing cake
and lollies for our delectation.
Having traversed the half-mile between the house and river, we pushed off
from the bank in a tiny boat just big enough for two. In the teeth of
Harold's remonstrance I persisted in dangling over the boat-side to
dabble in the clear, deep, running water. In a few minutes we were in it.
Being unable to swim, but for my companion it would have been all up with
me. When I rose to the surface he promptly seized me, and without much
effort, clothes and all, swam with me to the bank, where we landed--a pair
of sorry figures. Harold had mud all over his nose, and in general looked
very ludicrous. As soon as I could stand I laughed.
"Oh, for a snapshot of you!" I said.
"We might have both been drowned," he said sternly.
"Mights don't fly," I returned. "And it was worth the dip to see you
looking such a comical article." We were both minus our hats.
His expression relaxed.
"I believe you would laugh at your own funeral. If I look queer, you look
forty times worse. Run for your life and get a hot bath and a drop of
spirits or you'll catch your death of cold. Aunt Augusta will take a fit
and tie you up for the rest of the time in case something more will
happen to you."
"Catch a death of cold!" I ejaculated. "It is only good, pretty little
girls, who are a blessing to everyone, who die for such trifles; girls
like I am always live till nearly ninety, to plague themselves and
everybody else. I'll sneak home so that your aunt won't see me, and no
one need be a bit the wiser."
"You'll be sun-struck!" he said in dismay.
"Take care you don't get daughter-struck," I said perkily, turning
to flee, for it had suddenly dawned upon me that my thin wet clothing was
outlining my figure rather too clearly for propriety.
By a circuitous way I managed to reach my bedroom unseen. It did not take
me long to change my clothes, hang them to dry, and appear on the main
veranda where Miss Augusta was still sewing. I picked up the book I had
left on the mat, and, taking up a position in a hammock near her, I
commenced to read.
"You did not stay long at the river," she remarked. "Have you been
washing your head? I never saw the like of it. Such a mass of it. It will
take all day to dry."
Half an hour later Harold appeared dressed in a warm suit of tweed. He
was looking pale and languid, as though he had caught a chill, and
shivered as he threw himself on a lounge. I was feeling none the worse
for my immersion.
"Why did you change your clothes, Harold? You surely weren't cold on a
day like this. Sybylla has changed hers too, when I come to notice it,
and her hair is wet. Have you had an accident?" said Miss Augusta, rising
from her chair in a startled manner.
"Rubbish!" ejaculated Harold in a tone which forbade further questioning,
and the matter dropped.
She presently left the veranda, and I took the opportunity to say, "It is
yourself that requires the hot bath and a drop of spirits, Mr Beecham."
"Yes; I think I'll take a good stiff nobbler. I feel a trifle squeamish.
It gave me a bit of a turn when I rose to the top and could not see you.
I was afraid the boat might have stunned you in capsizing, and you would
be drowned before I could find you."
"Yes; I would have been such a loss to the world in general if I had been
drowned," I said satirically.
Several jackeroos, a neighbouring squatter, and a couple of bicycle
tourists turned up at Five-Bob that evening, and we had a jovial night.
The great, richly furnished drawing-room was brilliantly lighted, and the
magnificent Erard grand piano sang and rang again with music, now martial
and loud, now soft and solemn, now gay and sparkling. I made the very
pleasant discovery that Harold Beecham. was an excellent pianist, a
gifted player on the violin, and sang with a strong, clear, well-trained
tenor, which penetrated far into the night. How many, many times I have
lived those nights over again! The great room with its rich appointments,
the superb piano, the lights, the merriment, the breeze from the east,
rich with the heavy intoxicating perfume of countless flowers; the tall
perfect figure, holding the violin with a master hand, making it speak
the same language as I read in the dark eyes of the musician, while above
and around was the soft warmth of an Australian summer night.
Ah, health and wealth, happiness and youth, joy and light, life and love!
What a warm-hearted place is the world, how full of pleasure, good, and
beauty, when fortune smiles! _When fortune smiles!_
Fortune did smile, and broadly, in those days. We played tricks on one
another, and had a deal of innocent fun and frolic. I was a little
startled one night on retiring to find a huge goanna near the head of my
bed. I called Harold to dislodge the creature, when it came to light that
it was roped to the bedpost. Great was the laughter at my expense. Who
tethered the goanna I never discovered, but I suspected Harold. In return
for this joke, I collected all the portable docks in the house--about
twenty--and arrayed them on his bedroom table. The majority of them were
Waterburys for common use, so I set each alarm for a different hour.
Inscribing a placard "Hospital for Insane", I erected it above his door.
Next morning I was awakened at three o'clock by fifteen alarms in concert
outside my door. When an hour or two later I emerged I found a notice on
my door, "This way to the Zoo".
It was a very busy time for the men at Five-Bob. Waggons were arriving
with &hearing supplies, for it was drawing nigh unto the great event of
the year. In another week's time the bleat of thousands of sheep, and the
incense of much tar and wool, would be ascending to the heavens from the
vicinity of Five-Bob Downs. I was looking forward to the shearing. There
never was any at Caddagat. Uncle did not keep many sheep, and always sold
them long-woolled and rebought after shearing.
I had not much opportunity of persecuting Harold during the daytime. He
and all his subordinates were away all day, busy drafting, sorting, and
otherwise pottering with sheep. But I always, and Miss Augusta sometimes,
went to meet them coming home in the evening. It was great fun. The dogs
yelped and jumped about. The men were dirty with much dust, and smelt
powerfully of sheep, and had worked hard all day in the blazing sun, but
they were never too tired for fun, or at night to dance, after they had
bathed and dressed. We all had splendid horses. They reared and pranced;
we galloped and jumped every log which came in our path. Jokes, repartee,
and nonsense rattled off our tongues. We did not worry about thousands of
our fellows--starving and reeking with disease in city slums. We were
selfish. We were heedless. We were happy. We were young.
Harold Beecham was a splendid host. Anyone possessed of the least talent
for enjoyment had a pleasant time as his guest. He was hospitable in a
quiet unostentatious manner. His overseer, jackeroos, and other employees
were all allowed the freedom of home, and could invite whom they pleased
to Five-Bob Downs. It is all very well to talk of good hosts. Bah, I
could be a good hostess myself if I had Harold Beecham's superior
implements of the art! With an immense station, plenty of house-room,
tennis courts, musical instruments; a river wherein to fish, swim, and
boat; any number of horses, vehicles, orchards, gardens, guns, and
ammunition no object, it is easy to be a good host.
I had been just a week at Five-Bob when uncle Julius came to take me
home, so I missed the shearing. Caddagat had been a dull hole without me,
he averred, and I must return with him that very day. Mr and Miss Beecham
remonstrated. Could I not be spared at least a fortnight longer? It
would be lonely without me. Thereupon uncle Jay-Jay volunteered to
procure Miss Benson from Wyambeet as a substitute. Harold declined the
offer with thanks.
"The schemes of youngsters are very transparent," said uncle Jay-Jay and
Miss Augusta, smiling significantly at us. I feigned to be dense, but
Harold smiled as though the insinuation was not only known, but also
agreeable to him.
Uncle was inexorable, so home I had to go. It was sweet to me to hear
from the lips of my grandmother and aunt that my absence had been felt.
As a confidante aunt Helen was the pink of perfection--tactful and
sympathetic. My feather-brained chatter must often have bored her, but
she apparently was ever interested in it.
I told her long yarns of how I had spent my time at the Beechams; of the
deafening ducts Harold and I had played on the piano; and how he would
persist in dancing with me, and he being so tall and broad, and I so
small, it was like being stretched on a hay-rack, and very fatiguing. I
gave a graphic account of the arguments--tough ones they were too--that
Miss Augusta had with the overseer on religion, and many other subjects;
of one jackeroo who gabbed never-endingly about his great relations at
home; another who incessantly clattered about spurs, whips, horses, and
sport; and the third one--Joe Archer--who talked literature and trash with
"What was Harry doing all this time?" asked auntie. "What did he say?"
Harold had been present all the while, yet I could not call to mind one
thing he had said. I cannot remember him ever holding forth on a subject
or cause, as most people do at one time or another.
Idylls of Youth
In pursuance of his duty a government mail-contractor passed Caddagat
every Monday, dropping the Bossier mail as he went. On Thursday we also
got the post, but had to depend partly on our own exertions.
A selector at Dogtrap, on the Wyambeet run, at a point of the compass ten
miles down the road from Caddagat, kept a hooded van. Every Thursday he
ran this to and from Gool-Gool for the purpose of taking to market
vegetables and other farm produce. He also took parcels and passengers,
both ways, if called upon to do so. Caddagat and Five-Bob gave him a
great deal of carrying, and he brought the mail for these and two or
three other places. It was one of my duties, or rather privileges, to
ride thither on Thursday afternoon for the post, a leather bag slung
round my shoulders for the purpose. I always had a splendid mount, and
the weather being beautifully hot, it was a jaunt which I never failed to
enjoy. Frank Hawden went with me once or twice--not because grannie or I
thought his escort necessary. The idea was his own; but I gave him such a
time that he was forced to relinquish accompanying me as a bad job.
Harold Beecham kept a snivelling little Queensland black boy as a sort of
black-your-boots, odd-jobs slavey or factotum, and he came to Dogtrap for
the mail, but after I started to ride for it Harold came regularly for
his mail himself. Our homeward way lay together for two miles, but he
always came with me till nearly in sight of home. Some days we raced till
our horses were white with lather; and once or twice mine was in such a
state that we dismounted, and Harold unsaddled him and wiped the sweat
off with his towel saddle-cloth, to remove the evidence of hard riding,
so that I would not get into a scrape with uncle Jay-Jay. Other times we
dawdled, so that when we parted the last rays of sunset would be laughing
at us between the white trunks of the tall gum-trees, the kookaburras
would be making the echoes ring with their mocking good-night, and scores
of wild duck would be flying quickly roostward. As I passed through the
angle formed by the creek and the river, about half a mile from home,
there came to my cars the cheery clink-clink of hobble-chains, the jangle
of horse-bells, and the gleam of a dozen camp-fires. The shearing was
done out in Riverina now, and the men were all going home. Day after day
dozens of them passed along the long white road, bound for Monaro and the
cool country beyond the blue peaks to the southeast, where the shearing
was about to begin. When I had come to Caddagat the last of them had gone
"down" with horses poor; now they were travelling "up" with their
horses--some of them thoroughbreds--rolling fat, and a cheque for their
weeks of back-bending labour in their pockets. But whether coming or going
they always made to Caddagat to camp. That camping-ground was renowned as
the best from Monaro, to Riverina. It was a well-watered and sheltered
nook, and the ground was so rich that there was always a mouthful of
grass to be had there. It was a rare thing to see it without a fire; and
the empty jam-tins, bottles, bits of bag, paper, tent-pegs, and fish-tins
to be found there would have loaded a dozen waggons.
Thursday evening was always spent in going to Dogtrap, and all the other
days had their pleasant tasks and were full of wholesome enjoyment. The
blue senna flowers along the river gave place to the white bloom of the
tea-tree. Grannie, uncle, and aunt Helen filled the house with girl
visitors for my pleasure. In the late afternoon, as the weather got hot,
we went for bogeys in a part of the river two miles distant. Some of the
girls from neighbouring runs brought their saddles, others from town had
to be provided therewith, which produced a dearth in sidesaddles, and it
was necessary for me to take a man's. With a rollicking gallop and a
bogey ahead, that did not trouble me. Aunt Helen always accompanied us on
our bathing expeditions to keep us in check. She was the only one who
bothered with a bathing-dress. The rest of us reefed off our clothing, in
our hurry sending buttons in all directions, and plunged into the
pleasant water. Then--such water-fights, frolic, laughter, shouting and
roaring fun as a dozen strong healthy girls can make when enjoying
themselves. Aunt Helen generally called time before we were half inclined
to leave. We would linger too long, then there would be a great scramble
for clothes, next for horses, and with wet hair streaming on our towels,
we would go home full belt, twelve sets of galloping hoofs making a royal
clatter on the hard dusty road. Grannie made a rule that when we arrived
late we had to unsaddle our horses ourselves, and not disturb the working
men from their meal for our pleasure. We mostly were late, and so there
would be a tight race to see who would arrive at table first. A dozen
heated horses were turned out unceremoniously, a dozen saddles and
bridles dumped down anywhere anyhow, and their occupants, with wet
dishevelled hair and clothing in glorious disarray, would appear at table
averring that they were starving.
The Caddagat folk were enthusiastic anglers. Fishing was a favourite and
often enjoyed amusement of the household. In the afternoon a tinful of
worms would be dug out of one of the water-races, tackle collected,
horses saddled, and grannie, uncle, aunt, Frank Hawden, myself, and any
one else who had happened to drop in, would repair to the fish-holes
three miles distant. I hate fishing. Ugh! The hideous barbarity of
shoving a hook through a living worm, and the cruelty of taking the fish
off the hook! Uncle allowed no idlers at the river--all had to manipulate
a rod and line. Indulging in pleasant air-castles, I generally forgot my
cork till the rod would be jerked in my hand, when I would pull--too late!
the fish would be gone. Uncle would lecture me for being a jackdaw, so
next time I would glare at the cork unwinkingly, and pull at the first
signs of it bobbing--too soon! the fish would escape again, and I would
again be in disgrace. After a little experience I found it was a good
plan to be civil to Frank Hawden when the prospect of fishing hung
around, and then he would attend to my line as well as his own, while I
read a book which I smuggled with me. The fish-hole was such a
shrub-hidden nook that, though the main road passed within two hundred
yards, neither we nor our horses could be seen by the travellers thereon.
I lay on the soft moss and leaves and drank deeply of the beauties of
nature. The soft rush of the river, the scent of the shrubs, the golden
sunset, occasionally the musical clatter of hoofs on the road, the gentle
noises of the fishers fishing, the plop, plop of a platypus disporting
itself mid stream, came to me as sweetest elixir in my ideal,
dream-of-a-poet nook among the pink-based, grey-topped, moss-carpeted
I was a creature of joy in those days. Life is made up of little things.
It was a small thing to have a little pocket-money to spend on anything
that took my fancy--a very small thing, and yet how much pleasure it gave
me. Though eating is not one of the great aims of my life, yet it was
nice to have enough of any delicacy one fancied. Not that we ever went
hungry at home, but when one has nothing to cat in the hot weather but
bread and beef it gives them tendency to dream of fruit and cool
dainties. When one thinks of the countless army of one's fellows who are
daily selling their very souls for the barest necessaries of life, I
suppose we--irresponsible beings--should be thankful to God for allowing
us, by scratching and scraping all our lives, to keep a crust in our
mouth and a rag on our back. I am not thankful, I have been guilty of
what Pat would term a "digresshion"--I started about going for the mail
at Dogtrap. Harold Beecham never once missed taking me home on Thursdays,
even when his shearing was in full swing and he must have been very busy.
He never once uttered a word of love to me--not so much as one of the
soft nothings in which young people of opposite sexes often deal without
any particular significance. Whether he went to all the bother and waste
of time accruing from escorting me home out of gentlemanliness alone, was
a mystery to me. I desired to find out, and resolved to drive instead of
ride to Dogtrap one day to see what he would say.
Grannie assented to the project. Of course I could drive for once if I
didn't feel able to ride, but the horses had been spelling for a long
time and were very frisky. I must take Frank with me or I might get my
I flatly opposed the idea of Frank Hawden going with me. He would make a
mull of the whole thing. It was no use arguing with grannie and
impressing upon her the fact that I was not the least nervous concerning
the horses. I could take Frank with me in the buggy, ride, or stay at
home. I preferred driving. Accordingly the fat horses were harnessed to
the buggy, and with many injunctions to be careful and not forget the
parcels, we set out. Frank Hawden's presence spoilt it all, but I
determined to soon make short work of him.
There was one gate to go through, about four miles from the house. Frank
Hawden got out to open it. I drove through, and while he was pushing it
to, laid the whip on the horses and went off full tilt. He ran after me
shouting all manner of things that I could not hear on account of the
rattle of the buggy. One horse began kicking up, so, to give him no time
for further pranks, I drove at a good round gallop, which quickly left
the lovable jackeroo a speck in the distance. The dust rose in thick
clouds, the stones rattled from the whirling wheels, the chirr! chirr! of
a myriad cicadas filled the air, and the white road glistened in the
dazzling sunlight. I was enjoying myself tip-top, and chuckled to think
of the way I had euchred Frank Hawden. It was such a good joke that I
considered it worth two of the blowings-up I was sure of getting from
grannie for my conduct.
It was not long before I fetched up at Dogtrap homestead, where, tethered
to the "six-foot" paling fence which surrounded the flower-garden, was
Harold Beecham's favourite, great, black, saddle-horse Warrigal. The
vicious brute turned his beautiful head, displaying a white star on the
forehead, and snorted as I approached. His master appeared on the veranda
raising his soft panama hat, and remarking, "Well I never! You're not by
yourself, are you?"
"I am. Would you please tell Mrs Butler to bring out grannie's parcels
and post at once. I'm afraid to dawdle, it's getting late."
He disappeared to execute my request and reappeared in less than a
"Mr Beecham, please would you examine Barney's harness. Something must be
hurting him. He has been kicking up all the way."
Examining the harness and noticing the sweat that was dripping from the
animals, panting from their run, he said:
"It looks as though you've been making the pace a cracker. There is
nothing that is irritating Barney in the least. If he's putting on any
airs it is because he is frisky and not safe for you to drive. How did
Julius happen to let you away by yourself?"
"I'm not frightened," I replied.
"I see you're not. You'd be game to tackle a pair of wild elephants, I
know, but you must remember you're not much bigger than a sparrow sitting
up there, and I won't let you go back by yourself."
"You cannot stop me."
"I'm going with you," he said.
"You ar-r-re not."
"You are, ar-r-re not."
"We'll see whether I will or not in a minute or two," he said with
"But, Mr Betcham, I object to your company. I am quite capable of taking
care of myself; besides, if you come home with me I will not be allowed
out alone again--it will be altogether unpleasant for me."
Mrs Butler now appeared with the mail and some parcels, and Harold stowed
them in the buggy.
"You'd better come in an' 'ave a drop of tay-warter, miss, the kittle's
bilin'; and I have the table laid out for both of yez."
"No, thank you, Mrs Butler. I can't possibly stay today, it's getting
late. I must hurry off. Good-bye! Good afternoon, Mr Beecham."
I turned my buggy and pair smartly round and was swooping oil. Without a
word Harold was at their heads and seized the reins. He seized his
horse's bridle, where it was over the paling, and in a moment had him
tied on the off-side of Barney, then stepping quietly into the buggy he
put me away from the driver's seat as though I were a baby, quietly took
the reins and whip, raised his hat to Mrs Butler, who was smiling
knowingly, and drove off.
I was highly delighted with his action, as I would have despised him as a
booby had he given in to me, but I did not let my satisfaction appear. I
sat as far away from him as possible, and pretended to be in a great
huff. For a while he was too fully occupied in making Barney "sit up" to
notice me, but after a few minutes he looked round, smiling a most
annoying and pleasant smile.
"I'd advise you to straighten out your chin. It is too round and soft to
look well screwed up that way," he said provokingly.
I tried to extinguish him with a look, but it had not the desired effect.
"Now you had better be civil, for I have got the big end of the whip," he
"I reserve to myself the right of behaving as I think fit in my own
uncle's buggy. You are an intruder; it is yourself that should be civil."
I erected my parasol and held it so as to tease Harold. I put it down so
that he could not see the horses. He quietly seized my wrist and held it
out of his way for a time, and then loosing me said, "Now, behave."
I flouted it now, so that his cars and eyes were endangered, and he was
forced to hold his hat on.
"I'll give you three minutes to behave, or I'll put you out," he said
with mock severity.
"Shure it's me wot's behavin' beautiful," I replied, continuing my
He pulled rein, seized me in one arm, and lifted me lightly to the
"Now, you can walk till you promise to conduct yourself like a
Christian!" he said, driving at a walk.
If you wait till I promise anything, you'll wait till the end of the
century. I'm quite capable of walking home."
"You'll soon get tired of walking in this heat, and your feet will he
blistered in a mile with those bits of paper."
The bits of paper to which he alluded were a pair of thin-soled white
canvas slippers--not at all fitted for walking the eight miles on the hard
hot road ahead of me. I walked resolutely on, without deigning a glance
at Harold, who had slowed down to a crawling walk.
"Aren't you ready to get up now?" he inquired presently.
I did not reply. At the end of a quarter of a mile he jumped out of the
buggy, seized upon me, lifted me in, and laughed, saying, "You're a very
slashing little concern, but you are not big enough to do much damage."
We were about half-way home when Barney gave a tremendous lurch, breaking
a trace and some other straps. Mr Beecham was at the head of the plunging
horse in a twinkling. The harness seemed to be scattered everywhere.
"I expect I had better walk on now," I remarked.
"Walk, be grannied! With two fat lazy horses to draw you?" returned Mr
Men are clumsy, stupid creatures regarding little things, but in their
right place they are wonderful animals. If a buggy was smashed to
smithereens, from one of their many mysterious pockets they would produce
a knife and some string, and put the wreck into working order in no time.
Harold was as clever in this way as any other man with as much bushman
ability as he had, so it was not long ere we were bowling along as
merrily as ever.
Just before we came in sight of Caddagat he came to a standstill, jumped
to the ground, untied Warrigal, and put the reins in my hand, saying:
I think you can get home safely from here. Don't be in such a huff--I was
afraid something might happen you if alone. You needn't mention that I
came with you unless you like. Goodbye."
"Good-bye, Mr Beecham. Thank you for being so officious," I said by way
of a parting shot.
"Old Nick will run away with you for being so ungrateful," he returned.
"Old Nick will have me anyhow," I thought to myself as I drove home amid
the shadows. The hum of the cicadas was still, and dozens of rabbits,
tempted out by the cool of the twilight, scuttled across my path and hid
in the ferns.
I wished the harness had not broken, as I feared it would put a clincher
on my being allowed out driving alone in future.
Joe Slocombe, the man who acted as groom and rouseabout, was waiting for
me at the entrance gate.
"I'm glad you come at last, Miss Sybyller. The missus has been in a
dreadful stoo for fear something had happened yuz. She's been runnin' in
an' out like a gurrl on the look-out fer her lover, and was torkin' of
sendin' me after yuz, but she went to her tea soon as she see the buggy
come in sight. I'll put all the parcels on the back veranda, and yuz can
go in at woncest or yuz'll be late fer yer tea."
"Joe, the harness broke and had to be tied up. That is what kept me so
late," I explained.
"The harness broke!" he exclaimed. "How the doose is that! Broke here in
the trace, and that strap! Well, I'll be hanged! I thought them straps
couldn't break only onder a tremenjous strain. The boss is so dashed
partickler too. I believe he'll sool me off the place; and I looked at
that harness only yesterday. I can't make out how it come to break so
simple. The boss will rise the devil of a shine, and say you might have
This put a different complexion on things. I knew Joe Slocombe could mend
the harness with little trouble, as it was because he was what uncle
Jay-Jay termed a "handy divil" at saddlery that he was retained at
Caddagat. I said carelessly:
"If you mend the harness at once, Joe, uncle Julius need not be bothered
about it. As it happened, there is no harm done, and I won't mention the
"Thank you, miss," he said eagerly. "I'll mend it at once."
Now that I had that piece of business so luckily disposed of, I did not
feel the least nervous about meeting grannie. I took the mail in my arms
and entered the dining-room, chirping pleasantly:
"Grannie, I'm such a good mail-boy. I have heaps of letters, and did not
forget one of your commissions."
"I don't want to hear that now," she said, drawing her dear old mouth into
a straight line, which told me I was not going to palm things off as
easily as I thought. "I want a reason for your conduct this afternoon."
"Explain what, grannie?" I inquired.
"None of that pretence! Not only have you been most outrageously
insulting to Mr Hawden when I sent him with you, but you also
deliberately and wilfully disobeyed me."
Uncle Julius listened attentively, and Hawden looked at me with such a
leer of triumph that my fingers tingled to smack his cars. Turning to my
grandmother, I said distinctly and cuttingly:
"Grannie, I did not intentionally disobey you. Disobedience never entered
my head. I hate that thing. His presence was detestable to me. When he
got out at the gate I could not resist the impulse to drive off and leave
him there. He looked such a complete jackdaw that you would have laughed
yourself to see him."
"Dear, oh dear! You wicked hussy, what will become of you!" And grannie
shook her head, trying to look stern, and hiding a smile in her
"Your manners are not improving, Sybylla. I fear you must be
incorrigible," said aunt Helen.
When uncle Jay-Jay heard the whole particulars of the affair, he lay back
in his chair and laughed fit to kill himself.
"You ought to be ashamed to always encourage her in her tomboyish ways,
Julius. It grieves me to see she makes no effort to acquire a ladylike
demeanour," said grannie.
Mr Hawden had come off second-best, so he arose from his half-finished
meal and stamped out, banging the door after him, and muttering something
about "a disgustingly spoilt and petted tomboy", "a hideous barbarian",
and so forth.
Uncle Jay-Jay related that story to everyone, dwelling with great delight
upon the fact that Frank Hawden was forced to walk four miles in the heat
As Short as I Wish had been the Majority of Sermons to which
I have been Forced to give Ear
When alone I confessed to aunt Helen that Harold had accompanied me to
within a short distance of home. She did not smile as usual, but looked
very grave, and, drawing me in front of her, said:
"Sybylla, do you know what you are doing? Do you love Harry Beecham? Do
you mean to marry him?"
"Aunt Helen, what a question to ask! I never dreamt of such a thing. He
has never spoken a word of love to me. Marriage! I am sure he does not
for an instant think of me in that light. I'm not seventeen."
"Yes, you are young, but some people's age cannot be reckoned by years. I
am glad to see you have developed a certain amount of half-real and
half-assumed youthfulness lately, but when the novelty of your present
life wears away, your old mature nature will be there, so it is of no use
feigning childishness. Harold Beecham is not given to speech--action with
him is the same thing. Can you look at me straight, Sybylla, and say that
Harold has not extended you something more than common politeness?"
Had aunt Helen put that question to me a day before, I would have blushed
and felt guilty. But today not so. The words of the jackeroo the night
before had struck home. "A hideous barbarian", he had called me, and it
seemed to me he had spoken the truth. My life had been so pleasant lately
that I had overlooked this fact, but now it returned to sting with
redoubled bitterness. I had no lovable qualities to win for me the love
of my fellows, which I so much desired.
I returned aunt Helen a gaze as steady as her own, and said bitterly:
"Aunt Helen, I can truly say he has never, and will never extend to me
more than common politeness. Neither will any other man. Surely you know
enough of masculine human nature to see there is no danger of a man
losing his heart to a plain woman like me. Love in fancy and song is a
pretty myth, embracing unity of souls, congeniality of tastes, and such
like commodities. In workaday reality it is the lowest of passions, which
is set alight by the most artistic nose and mouth, and it matters not if
its object is vile, low, or brainless to idiocy, so long as it has these
"Sybylla, Sybylla," said auntie sadly, as if to herself. In the first
flush of girlhood, and so bitter. Why is this?"
"Because I have been cursed with the power of seeing, thinking, and,
worse than all, feeling, and branded with the stinging affliction of
ugliness," I replied.
"Now, Sybylla, you are going to think of yourself again. Something has
put you out. Be sensible for once in a way. What you have said of men's
love may be true in a sense, but it is not always so, and Harry is not
that kind of man. I have known him all his life, and understand him, and
feel sure he loves you truly. Tell me plainly, do you intend to accept
"Intend to accept him!" I echoed. I haven't once thought of such a
possibility. I never mean to marry anyone."
"Don't you care for Harold? Just a little? Think."
"How could I care for him?"
"For many, many reasons. He is young, and very kind and gentle. He is one
of the biggest and finest-looking men you could find. He is a man whom no
one could despise, for he has nothing despicable about him. But, best of
all, he is true, and that, I think, is the bedrock of all virtues."
"But he is so conceited," I remarked.
"That does not make him any the less lovable. I know another young person
very conceited, and it does not prevent me from loving her dearly," here
aunt Helen smiled affectionately at me. "What you complain of in Harold
will wear off presently--life has been very easy for him so far, you see."
"But, auntie, I'm sure he thinks he could have any girl for the asking."
"Well, he has a great number to choose from, for they all like him."
"Yes, just for his money," I said scornfully. "But I'll surprise him if
he thinks he can get me for the asking."
"Sybylla, never flirt. To play with a man's heart, I think, is one of the
most horribly unwomanly actions our sex can be guilty of."
"I would scorn to flirt with any man," I returned with vigour. "Play with
a man's heart! You'd really think they had such a thing, aunt Helen, to
hear you talk. Hurt their vanity for a few days is the most a woman could
do with any of them. I am sick of this preach, preach about playing with
men's hearts. It is an old fable which should have been abolished long
ago. It does not matter how a woman is played with."
"Sybylla, you talk at random. The shortcomings of men are no excuse for
you to be unwomanly," said aunt Helen.
The 9th of November 1896
The Prince of Wales's birthday up the country was celebrated as usual
thereaway by the annual horse-races on the Wyambeet course, about
fourteen miles from Caddagat.
The holding of these races was an elderly institution, and was followed
at night by a servants' ball given by one of the squatters. Last year it
had been Beecham's ball, the year before Bossier's, and this year it was
to take place in the woolshed of James Grant of Yabtree. Our two girls,
the gardener, and Joe Slocombe the groom, were to be present, as also
were all the other employees about. Nearly every one in the
district--masters and men--attended the races. We were going, Frank Hawden
volunteering to stay and mind the house.
We started at nine o'clock. Grannie and uncle Boss sat in the front scat
of the buggy, and aunt Helen and I occupied the back. Uncle always drove
at a good round gallop. His idea was to have good horses, not donkeys,
and not to spare them, as there were plenty more to be had any day. On
this morning he went off at his usual pace. Grannie urged as remonstrance
that the dust was fearful when going at that rate. I clapped my hands and
exclaimed, "Go it, Mr Bossier! Well done, uncle Jay-Jay! Hurrah for
Uncle first said he was glad to see I had the spirit of an Australian,
and then threatened to put my nose above my chin if I failed to behave
properly. Grannie remarked that I might have the spirit of an Australian,
but I had by no means the manners of a lady; while aunt Helen ventured a
wish that I might expend all my superfluous spirits on the way, so that I
would be enabled to deport myself with a little decorum when arrived at
We went at a great pace; lizards and goannas scampered out of the way in
dozens, and, clambering trees, eyed us unblinkingly as we passed. Did we
see a person or vehicle a tiny speck ahead of us--in a short time they
were as far away in the background.
"Please, uncle, let me drive," I requested.
"Couldn't now. Your grannie can't sit in the back-seat--neither could
I--and look like a tame cockatoo while you sat in front. You ask Harry to
let you drive him. I bet he'll consent; he's sure to be in a sulky with a
spare scat on spec. We're sure to overtake him in a few minutes."
There was a vehicle in the distance which proved to be from Five-Bob
Downs, but as we overhauled it, it was the drag, and not a sulky. Harold
occupied the driver's seat, and the other occupants were all ladies. I
noticed the one beside him was wearing a very big hat, all ruffles,
flowers, and plumes.
"Shall I pull up and get you a seat?" inquired uncle Jay-Jay.
"No, no, no."
The boss of Five-Bob drew to his side of the road, and when we had passed
uncle began to tease:
"Got faint-hearted, did you? The flower-garden on that woman's hat corked
your chances altogether. Never mind, don't you funk; I'll see that you
have a fair show. I'll get you a regular cart-wheel next time I go to
town, and we'll trim it up with some of old Barney's tail. If that won't
fetch him, I'm sure nothing will."
Before we got to the racecourse Barney went lame through getting a stone
in his hoof; this caused a delay which enabled the Five-Bob trap to catch
us, and we pulled rein a little distance apart at the same time, to
Mr Beecham's groom went to his horses' heads while Harold himself
assisted his carriageful of ladies to set foot on the ground. Aunt Helen
and grannie went to talk to them, but I stayed with uncle Jay-Jay while
he took the horses out. Somehow I was feeling very disappointed. I had
expected Harold Beecham to be alone. He had attended on me so absolutely
everywhere I had met him lately, that I had unconsciously grown to look
upon him as mine exclusively; and now, seeing he would belong to his own
party of ladies for the day, things promised to be somewhat flat
"I told that devil of a Joe to be sure and turn up as soon as I arrived. I
wanted him to water the horses, but I can't see him anywhere--the
infernal, crawling, doosed idiot!" ejaculated uncle Julius.
"Never mind, uncle, let him have his holiday. I suppose he'd like to have
time to spoon with his girl. I can easily water the horses."
"That would suit Joe, I have no doubt; but I don't pay him to let you
water the horses. I'll water 'em myself."
He led one animal, I took the other, and we went in the direction of
water a few hundred yards away.
"You run along to your grannie and the rest of them, and I'll go by
myself," said uncle, but I kept on with the horse.
"You mustn't let a five-guinea hat destroy your hopes altogether," he
continued, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "If you stick to your
guns you have a better show than anyone to bag the boss of Five-Bob."
"I am at a loss to interpret your innuendo, Mr Bossier," I said stiffly.
"Now, little woman, you think you are very smart, but you can't deceive
me. I've seen the game you and Harry have been up to this last month. If
it had been any other man, I would have restricted your capers long ago."
"Uncle--" I began.
"Now, Sybylla, none of your crammers. There is no harm in being a bit
gone on Harry. It's only natural, and just what I'd expect. I've known
him since he was born, and he's a good all-round fellow. His head is
screwed on the right way, his heart is in the right place, and his
principles are tip-top. He could give you fal-de-rals and rubbish to no
end, and wouldn't be stingy either. You'll never get a better man. Don't
you be put out of the running so cheaply: hold your own and win, that's
my advice to you. There is nothing against him, only temper--old Nick
himself isn't a patch on him for temper."
"Temper!" I exclaimed. "He is always so quiet and pleasant."
"Yes, he controls it well. He's a fellow with a will like iron, and that
is what you want, as I find you have none of your own. But be careful of
Harry Beecham in a temper. He is like a raging lion, and when his temper
dies away is a sulking brute, which is the vilest of all tempers. But he
is not vindictive, and is easy managed, if you don't mind giving in and
coaxing a little."
"Now, uncle, you have had your say, I will have mine. You seem to think I
have more than a friendly regard for Mr Beecham, but I have not. I would
not marry him even if I could. I am so sick of every one thinking I would
marry any man for his possessions. I would not stoop to marry a king if I
did not love him. As for trying to win a man, I would scorn any action
that way; I never intend to marry. Instead of wasting so much money on me
in presents and other ways, I wish you would get me something to do, a
profession that will last me all my life, so that I may be independent."
"No mistake, you're a rum youngster. You can be my companion till further
orders. That's a profession that will last you a goodish while."
With this I had to be contented, as I saw he considered what I had said
as a joke.
I left uncle and went in quest of grannie, who, by this, was beyond the
other side of the course, fully a quarter of a mile away. Going in her
direction I met Joe Archer, one of the Five-Bob jackeroos, and a great
chum of mine. He had a taste for literature, and we got on together like
one o'clock. We sat on a log under a stringybark-tree and discussed the
books we had read since last we met, and enjoyed ourselves so much that
we quite forgot about the races or the flight of time until recalled from
book-land by Harold Beecham's voice.
"Excuse me, Miss Melvyn, but your grannie has commissioned me to find you
as we want to have lunch, and it appears you are the only one who knows
the run of some of the tucker bags."
"How do you do, Mr Beecham? Where are they going to have lunch?"
"Over in that clump of box-trees," he replied, pointing in the direction
of a little rise at a good distance.
"How are you enjoying yourself?" he asked, looking straight at me.
"Treminjous intoirely, sor," I replied.
"I suppose you know the winner of every race," he remarked, quizzically
watching Joe Archer, who was blushing and as uneasy as a schoolgirl when
nabbed in the enjoyment of an illicit love-letter.
"Really, Mr Beecham, Mr Archer and I have been so interested in ourselves
that we quite forgot there was such a thing as a race at all," I
"You'd better see where old Boxer is. He might kick some of the other
horses if you don't keep a sharp look-out," he said, turning to his
"Ladies before gentlemen," I interposed. I want Mr Archer to take me to
grannie, then he can go and look after old Boxer."
"I'll escort you," said Beecham.
"Thank you, but I have requested Mr Archer to do so."
"In that case, I beg your pardon, and will attend to Boxer while Joe does
as you request."
Raising his hat he walked swiftly away with a curious expression on his
usually pleasant face.
"By Jove, I'm in for it!" ejaculated my escort. "The boss doesn't get
that expression on his face for nothing. You take my tip for it, he felt
inclined to seize me by the scruff of the neck and kick me from here to
"It's a fact. He did not believe in me not going to do his bidding
immediately. He has a roaring derry on disobedience. Everyone has to obey
him like winkie or they can take their beds up and trot off quick and
"Mr Beecham has sufficient sense to see I was the cause of your
disobedience," I replied.
"That's where it is. He would not have cared had it been some other lady,
but he gets mad if any one dares to monopolize you. I don't know how you
are going to manage him. He is a pretty hot member sometimes."
"Mr Archer, you presume! But throwing such empty banter aside, is Mr
Beecham really bad-tempered?"
"Bad-tempered is a tame name for it. You should have seen the dust he
raised the other day with old Benson. He just did perform."
I was always hearing of Harold Beecham's temper, and wished I could see a
little of it. He was always so imperturbably calm, and unfailingly
good-tempered under the most trying circumstances, that I feared he had
no emotions in him, and longed to stir him up.
Grannie greeted me with, "Sybylla, you are such a tiresome girl. I don't
know how you have packed these hampers, and we want to have lunch. Where
on earth have you been?"
Miss Augusta Beecham saluted me warmly with a kiss, and presented me to
her sister Sarah, who also embraced me. I went through an introduction to
several ladies and gentlemen, greeted my acquaintances, and then set to
work in dead earnest to get our provisions laid out--the Five-Bob Downs
party had theirs in readiness. Needless to say, we were combining forces.
I had my work completed when Mr Beecham appeared upon the scene with two
young ladies. One was a bright-faced little brunette, and the other a
tall light blonde, whom, on account of her much trimmed hat, I recognized
as the lady who had been sitting on the box-scat of the Beecham drag that
Joe Archer informed me in a whisper that she was Miss Blanche Derrick
from Melbourne, and was considered one of the greatest beauties of that
This made me anxious to examine her carefully, but I did not get an
opportunity of doing so. In the hurry to attend on the party, I missed
the honour of an introduction, and when I was at leisure she was sitting
at some distance on a log, Harold Beecham shading her in a most religious
manner with a dainty parasol. In the afternoon she strolled away with
him, and after I had attended to the remains of the feast, I took Joe
Archer in tow. He informed me that Miss Derrick had arrived at Five-Bob
three days before, and was setting her cap determinedly at his boss.
"Was she really very handsome?" I inquired.
"By Jove, yes!" he replied. "But one of your disdainful haughty beauties,
who wouldn't deign to say good-day to a chap with less than six or seven
thousand a year."
I don't know why I took no interest in the races. I knew nearly all the
horses running. Some of them were uncle's; though he never raced horses
himself, he kept some swift stock which he lent to his men for the
Of more interest to me than the races was the pair strolling at a
distance. They were fit for an artist's models. The tall, broad,
independent figure of the bushman with his easy gentlemanliness, his
jockey costume enhancing his size. The equally tall majestic form of the
city belle, whose self-confident fashionable style spoke of nothing
appertaining to girlhood, but of the full-blown rose--indeed, a splendid
Then I thought of my lack of beauty, my miserable five-feet-one-inch
stature, and I looked at the man beside me, small and round-shouldered,
and we were both dependent children of indigence. The contrast we
presented to the other pair struck me hard, and I laughed a short bitter
I excused myself to my companion, and acceded to the request of several
children to go on a flower- and gum-hunting expedition. We were a long
time absent, and returning, the little ones scampered ahead and left me
alone. Harold Beecham came to meet me, looking as pleasant as ever.
"Am I keeping grannie and uncle waiting?" I inquired.
"No. They have gone over an hour," he replied.
"Gone! How am I to get home? She must have been very angry to go and
leave me. What did she say?"
"On the contrary, she was in great fiddle. She said to tell you not to
kill yourself with fun, and as you are not going home, she left me to say
good night. I suppose she kisses you when performing that ceremony," he
"Where am I going tonight?"
"To Five-Bob Downs, the camp of yours truly," he replied.
"I haven't got a dinner dress, and am not prepared. I will go home."
"We have plenty dinner dresses at Five-Bob without any more. It is Miss
Melvyn we want," he said.
"Oh, bother you!" I retorted. 'Wen are such stupid creatures, and never
understand about dress or anything. They think you could go to a ball in
"At all events, they are cute enough to know when they want a young lady
at their place, no matter how she's dressed," he said good-humouredly.
On reaching the racecourse I was surprised to see aunt Helen there. From
her I learnt that grannie and uncle Jay-Jay had really gone home, but Mr
Beecham had persuaded them to allow aunt Helen and me to spend the night
at Five-Bob Downs, our host promising to send or take us home on the
morrow. Now that I was to have aunt Helen with me I was delighted at the
prospect, otherwise I would have felt a little out of it. With aunt
Helen, however, I was content anywhere, and built a castle in the air,
wherein one day she and I were always to live together--for ever! Till
Going home aunt Helen occupied a front seat with Harold and Miss Derrick,
and I was crammed in at the back beside Miss Augusta, who patted my hand
and said she was delighted to see me.
A great concourse of young men and women in vehicles and on horseback,
and in expectation of great fun, were wending their way to Yabtree--nearly
every trap containing a fiddle, concertina, flute, or accordion in
readiness for the fray.
Every station hand from Five-Bob, male and female, had gone to the ball
at Yabtree. Harold and his overseer had to attend to the horses, while
the jackeroos started a fire in the kitchen, opened windows and doors
which had been locked all day, and saw to the comfort of the gentlemen
Aunt Helen and I shared the one bedroom. As we had not fresh dresses to
put on we had to make the best of our present toilet.
I unplaited my hair (shook the dust out of it) and wore it flowing. We
washed and dusted ourselves, and wore as adornment--roses. Crimson and
cream roses paid the penalty of peeping in the window. Aunt Helen plucked
some of them, which she put in my hair and belt, and pinned carefully at
my throat, and then we were ready. Miss Beecham assured us there was
nothing to be done, as the maids had set the table and prepared the
viands for a cold meal before leaving in the morning, so we proceeded to
the drawing-room to await the arrival of the other visitors. They soon
made their appearance. First, two stout old squatters with big laughs and
bigger corporations, then Miss Augusta Beecham, next Joe Archer the
overseer, and the two other jackeroos. After these appeared a couple of
governesses, Mr, Mrs, and Miss Benson, a clergyman, an auctioneer, a
young friend of Harold's from Cootamundra, a horse-buyer, a wooll-classer,
Miss Sarah Beecham, and then Miss Derrick brought herself and her dress
in with great style and airs. She was garbed in a sea-green silk, and had
jewellery on her neck, arms, and hair. Her self-confident mien was
suggestive of the conquest of many masculine hearts. She was a big
handsome woman. Beside her, I in my crushed white muslin dress was as
overshadowed as a little white handkerchief would he in comparison to a
gorgeous shawl heavily wrought in silks and velvet. She was given the
best scat as though she were a princess. She sat down with great
indifference, twirled a bracelet round her wrist, languidly opened her
fan, and closed her eyes as she wafted it slowly to and fro.
"By Jove, isn't she a splendid creature?" enthusiastically whispered a
gentleman sitting beside me.
I looked at her critically. She was very big, and in a bony stiff way was
much developed in figure. She had a nice big nose, and a long well-shaped
face, a thin straight mouth, and empty light eyes. If my attention had
not been called to her I would not have noticed her one way or the other,
but being pointed to as a beauty, I weighed her according to my idea of
facial charm, and pronounced her one of the most insipid-looking people I
had set eyes upon.
She was the kind of woman with whom men become much infatuated. She would
never make a fool of herself by letting her emotions run away with her,
because she had no emotions, but lived in a sea of unruffled
self-consciousness and self-confidence. Any man would be proud to
introduce her as his wife to his friends whom he had brought home to
dinner. She would adorn the head of his table. She would never worry him
with silly ideas. She would never act with impropriety. She would never
become a companion to her husband. Bah, a man does not want his wife to
be a companion! There were myths and fables in the old day; so there are
now. The story that men like a companion as well as a wife is an
This train of thought was interrupted by our host, who appeared in the
doorway, clad from sole to neck in white. We steered for the
dining-room--twenty-two all told--thirteen men and nine representatives of
the other sex.
Aunt Helen got one scat of honour near the head of the table and Miss
Derrick another. I drifted to the foot among the unimportant younger fry,
where we had no end of fun and idle chatter. We had to wait on ourselves,
and as all formality was dispensed with, it was something like a picnic.
The heat was excessive. Every window and door were open, and the balmy,
almost imperceptible, zephyrs which faintly rustled the curtains and
kissed our perspiration-beaded brows were rich with many scents from the
wide old flower-garden, which, despite the drought, brought forth a
wealth of blossom.
When done eating we had to wash the dishes. Such a scamper ensued back
and forwards to the kitchen, which rang with noise, and merriment.
Everyone was helping, hindering, laughing, joking, teasing, and brimming
over with fun and enjoyment. When we had completed this task, dancing was
proposed. Some of the elderly and more sensible people said it was too
hot, but all the young folks did not care a rap for the temperature.
Harold had no objections, Miss Derrick was agreeable, Miss Benson
announced herself ready and willing, and Joe Archer said he was "leppin'"
to begin, so we adjourned to the dancing-room and commenced operations.
I played the piano for the first quadrille, and aunt Helen for the second
dance. It was most enjoyable. There was a table at one end of the room on
which was any amount of cherries, lollies, cake, dainties, beers, syrups,
and glasses, where all could regale themselves without ceremony or bother
every time the inclination seized them. Several doors and windows of the
long room opened into the garden, and, provided one had no fear of
snakes, it was delightful to walk amid the flowers and cool oneself
A little exertion on such a night made us very hot. After the third dance
the two old squatters, the horse-buyer, the clergyman, and Mr Benson
disappeared. Judging from the hilarity of their demeanour and the killing
odour of their breaths when they returned an hour or so later, during
their absence they must have conscientiously sampled the contents of
every whisky decanter on the dining-room sideboard.
I could not dance, but had no lack of partners, as, ladies being in the
minority, the gentlemen had to occasionally put up with their own sex in
"Let's take a breeze now and have a song or two, but no more dancing for
a while," said some of them; but Harold Beecham said, "One more turn, and
then we will have a long spell and a change of programme."
He ordered Joe Archer to play a waltz, and the floor soon held several
whirling couples. Harold "requested the pleasure" of me--the first time
that night. I demurred. He would not take a refusal.
"Believe me, if I felt competent, Mr Beecham, I would not refuse. I
cannot dance. It will be no pleasure to you."
"Allow me to be the best judge of what is a pleasure to me," he said,
quietly placing me in position.
He swung me once round the room, and then through an open window into the
"I am sorry that I haven't had more time to look after you today. Come
round into my room. I want to strike a bargain with you," were his words.
I followed him in the direction of a detached building in the garden.
This was Harold's particular domain. It contained three rooms--one a
library and office, another an arsenal and deed-room, and the third, into
which he led me, was a sort of sitting-room, containing a piano,
facilities for washing, a table, easy-chairs, and other things. As we
entered I noticed the lamp, burning brightly on the table, gleamed on the
face of a clock on the wall, which pointed to half past ten.
We stood beside the table, some distance apart, and, facing me, he said:
"It is no use of me making a long yarn about nothing. I'm sure you know
what I want to say better than I do myself. You always are wonderfully
smart at seeing through a fellow. Tell me, will it be yes or no?"
This was an experience in love. He did not turn red or white, or yellow
or green, nor did he tremble or stammer, or cry or laugh, or become
fierce or passionate, or tender or anything but just himself, as I had
always known him. He displayed no more emotion than had he been inviting
me to a picnic. This was not as I had pictured a man would tell his love,
or as I had read of it, heard of it, or wished it should be. A curious
feeling--disappointment, perhaps--stole over me. His matter-of-fact
coolness flabbergasted me.
"Is this not rather sudden? You have given me no intimation of your
intentions," I stammered.
"I didn't think it wise to dawdle any longer," he replied. "Surely you
have known what I've been driving at ever since I first clapped eyes on
you. There's plenty of time. I don't want to hurry you, only I want you
to be engaged to me for safety."
He spoke as usual in his slow twangy drawl, which would have proclaimed
his Colonial nationality anywhere. No word of love was uttered to me and
none requested from me.
I put it down to his conceit. I thought that he fancied he could win any
woman, and me without the least palaver or trouble. I felt annoyed. I
said aloud, "I will become engaged to you;" to myself I added, "Just for a
little while, the more to surprise and take the conceit out of you when
the time comes."
Now that I understand his character I know that it was not conceit, but
just his quiet unpretending way. He had meant all his actions towards me,
and had taken mine in return.
"Thank you, Sybylla, that is all I want. We will talk about the matter
more some other time. I will go up to Caddagat next Sunday. You have
surprised me nearly out of my wits," here he laughed. "I never dreamt you
would say yes so easily, just like any other girl. I thought I would have
a lot of trouble with you."
He approached me and was stooping to kiss me. I cannot account for my
action or condemn it sufficiently. It was hysterical--the outcome of an
overstrung, highly excitable, and nervous temperament. Perhaps my vanity
was wounded, and my tendency to strike when touched was up in arms. The
calm air of ownership with which Harold drew near annoyed me, or, as
Sunday-school teachers would explain it, Satan got hold of me. He
certainly placed a long strong riding-whip on the table beneath my hand!
As Harold stooped with the intention of pressing his lips to mine, I
quickly raised the whip and brought it with all my strength right across
his face. The instant the whip had descended I would have smashed my arm
on the door-post to recall that blow. But that was impossible. It had
left a great weal on the healthy sun-tanned skin. His moustache had saved
his lips, but it had caught his nose, the left cheek, had blinded the
left eye, and had left a cut on the temple from which drops of blood were
rolling down his cheek and staining his white coat. A momentary gleam of
anger shot into his eyes and he gave a gasp, whether of surprise, pain,
or annoyance, I know not. He made a gesture towards me. I half expected
and fervently wished he would strike. The enormity of what I had done
paralysed me. The whip fell from my fingers and I dropped on to a low
lounge behind me, and placing my elbows on my knees crouchingly buried my
face in my hands; my hair tumbled softly over my shoulders and reached
the floor, as though to sympathetically curtain my humiliation. Oh, that
Harold would thrash me severely! It would have infinitely relieved me. I
had done a mean unwomanly thing in thus striking a man, who by his great
strength and sex was debarred retaliation. I had committed a violation of
self-respect and common decency; I had given a man an ignominious blow in
the face with a riding-whip. And that man was Harold Beecham, who with
all his strength and great stature was so wondrously gentle--who had
always treated my whims and nonsense with something like the amused
tolerance held by a great Newfoundland for the pranks of a kitten.
The clock struck eleven.
"A less stinging rebuke would have served your purpose. I had no idea
that a simple caress from the man whose proposal of marriage you had just
accepted would be considered such an unpardonable familiarity."
Harold's voice fell clearly, calmly, cuttingly on the silence. He moved
away to the other end of the room and I heard the sound of water.
A desire filled me to tell him that I did not think he had attempted a
familiarity, but that I had been mad. I wished to say I could not account
for my action, but I was dumb. My tongue refused to work, and I felt as
though I would choke. The splash of the water came from the other end of
the room. I knew he must be suffering acute pain in his eye. A far
lighter blow had kept me sleepless a whole night. A fear possessed me
that I might have permanently injured his sight. The splash of water
ceased. His footfall stopped beside me. I could feel he was within
touching distance, but I did not move.
Oh, the horrible stillness! Why did he not speak? He placed his hand
lightly on my head.
"It doesn't matter, Syb. I know you didn't mean to hurt me. I suppose you
thought you couldn't affect my dark, old, saddle-flap-looking phiz. That
is one of the disadvantages of being a big lumbering concern like I am.
Jump up. That's the girl."
I arose. I was giddy, and would have fallen but for Harold steadying me
by the shoulder. I looked up at him nervously and tried to ask his
forgiveness, but I failed.
"Good heavens, child, you are as white as a sheet! I was a beast to speak
harshly to you." He held a glass of water to my lips and I drank.
"Great Jupiter, there's nothing to worry about! I know you hadn't the
slightest intention of hurting me. It's nothing--I'll be right in a few
moments. I've often been amused at and have admired your touch-me-not
style. You only forgot you had something in your hand."
He had taken it quite as a matter of fact, and was excusing me in the
kindest possible terms.
"Good gracious, you mustn't stew over such a trifling accident! It's
nothing. Just tie this handkerchief on for me, please, and then we'll go
back to the others or there will be a search-party after us."
He could have tied the handkerchief just as well himself--it was only out
of kindly tact he requested my services. I accepted his kindness
gratefully. He sank on his knee so that I could reach him, and I tied a
large white handkerchief across the injured part. He could not open his
eye, and hot water poured from it, but he made light of the idea of it
paining. I was feeling better now, so we returned to the ballroom. The
clock struck the half-hour after eleven as we left the room. Harold
entered by one door and, I by another, and I slipped into a seat as
though I had been there some time.
There were only a few people in the room. The majority were absent--some
love-making, others playing cards. Miss Beecham. was one who was not thus
engaged. She exclaimed at once:
"Good gracious, boy, what have you done to yourself?"
"Looks as if he had been interviewing a belligerent tramp," said aunt
"He's run into the clothes-line, that's what he's done," said Miss
Augusta confidently, after she had peeped beneath the bandage.
"You ought to get a bun for guessing, aunt Gus," said Harold laughing.
I told them to put the clothes-lines up when they had done with them. I
knew there would be an accident."
"Perhaps they were put up high enough for ordinary purposes," remarked
"Let me do something for you, dear."
"No, thank you, aunt Gus. It is nothing," he said carelessly, and the
Harold Beecham. was not a man to invite inquiry concerning himself.
Seeing I was unobserved by the company, I slipped away to indulge in my
foolish habit of asking the why and the wherefore of things. Why had
Harold Beecham (who was a sort of young sultan who could throw the
handkerchief where he liked) chosen me of all women? I had no charms to
recommend me--none of the virtues which men demand of the woman they wish
to make their wife. To begin with, I was small, I was erratic and
unorthodox, I was nothing but a tomboy--and, cardinal disqualification, I
was ugly. Why, then, had he proposed matrimony to me? Was it merely a
whim? Was he really in earnest?
The night was soft and dark; after being out in it for a time I could
discern the shrubs dimly silhouetted against the light. The music struck
up inside again. A step approached me on the gravelled walk among the
flowers, and Harold called me softly by name. I answered him.
"Come," he said, "we are going to dance; will you be my partner?"
We danced, and then followed songs and parlour games, and it was in the
small hours when the merry goodnights were all said and we had retired to
rest. Aunt Helen dropped to sleep in a short time; but I lay awake
listening to the soft distant call of the mopokes in the scrub beyond the
My Unladylike Behaviour Again
Joe Archer was appointed to take us home on the morrow. When our host
was seeing us off--still with his eye covered--he took opportunity of
whispering to me his intention of coming to Caddagat on the following
Early in the afternoon of that day I took a book, and, going down the
road some distance, climbed up a broad-branched willow-tree to wait for
It was not long before he appeared at a smart canter. He did not see me
in the tree, but his horse did, and propping, snorted wildly, and gave a
backward run. Harold spurred him, he bucked spiritedly. Harold now saw me
and sang out:
"I say, don't frighten him any more or he'll fling me, saddle and all. I
haven't got a crupper or a breastplate."
"Why haven't you, then? Hang on to him. I do like the look of you while
the horse is going on like that."
He had dismounted, and had thrown the bridle rein over a post of the
"I came with nothing but a girth, and that loose, as it was so hot; and I
was as near as twopence to being off, saddle and all. You might have been
the death of me," he said good-humouredly.
"Had I been, my fortune would have been made," I replied.
"How do you make that out? You're as complimentary as ever."
"Everyone would be wanting to engage me as the great noxious weed-killer
and poisonous insect exterminator if I made away with you," I answered. I
gave him an invitation to take a scat with me, and accepting, he swung up
with easy grace. There was any amount of accommodation for the two of us
on the good-natured branches of the old willow-tree.
When he had settled himself, my companion said, "Now, Syb, I'm ready for
you. Fire away. But wait a minute, I've got something here for you which
I hope you'll like."
As he searched in his pockets, I noticed that his eye had quite
recovered, though there was still a slight mark on his cheek. He handed
me a tiny morocco case, which on being opened disclosed a costly ring. I
have about as much idea of the prices of things as a turkey would have.
Perhaps that ring cost thirty pounds or possibly fifty guineas, for all I
know. It was very heavy, and had a big diamond supported on either side
by a large sapphire, and had many small gems surrounding it.
"Let me see if it fits," he said, taking my hand; but I drew it away.
"No; don't you put it on. That would make us irrevocably engaged."
"Isn't that what we intend to be?" he said in a tone of surprise.
"Not just yet; that is what I want to say to you. We will have three
months' probation to see how we get on. At the end of that time, if we
manage to sail along smoothly, we'll have the real thing; until then we
will not be any more than we have been to each other."
"But what am I to do in the meantime?" he asked, with amusement curving
the corners of his mouth.
"Do! Do the usual thing, of course; but don't pay me any special
attentions, or I'll be done with you at once."
"What's your idea for this?"
"It is no use making fools of ourselves; we might change our minds."
"Very well; so be it," he said laughing. I might have known you would
have things arranged different from any other girl. But you'll take the
ring and wear it, won't you? Let me put it on."
"No; I won't let you put a finger on me till the three months are up.
Then, if we definitely make up our minds, you can put it on; but till
then, don't for the life of you hint by word or sign that we have any
sort of an arrangement between us. Give me the ring and I'll wear it
He handed it to me again, and I tried it on. It was a little large.
Harold took it, and tried to put it on one of his fingers. It would fit
on none but the very top of his little finger. We laughed heartily at the
disparity in the size of our hands.
"I'll agree to your bargain," he said. "But you'll be really engaged to
me all the same.`
"Yes; under those conditions. Then it will not matter if we have a tiff.
We can part, and no one will be the wiser."
On my suggesting that it was now time to go to the house, he swung
himself down by a branch and turned to assist me. Descending from that
tree was a feat which presented no difficulties to me when no one was by,
but now it seemed an awkward performance.
"Just lead your horse underneath, so that I can get on to his back,
thence to the ground quite easily," I said.
"No fear! Warrigal wouldn't stand that kind of dodge. Won't I do? I don't
think your weight will quite squash me," he returned, placing himself in
leap-frog position, and I stepped on to his back and slid from there to
the ground quite easily.
That afternoon, when leaving the house, I had been followed by one of the
dogs, which, when I went up the willow-tree, amused himself chasing water
lizards along the bank of the creek. He treed one, and kept up a furious
barking at the base of its refuge. The yelping had disturbed grannie
where she was reading on the veranda, and coming down the road under a
big umbrella to see what the noise was about, as luck would have it she
was in the nick of time to catch me standing on Harold Beecham's back.
Grannie frequently showed marked displeasure regarding what she termed my
larrikinism, but never before had I seen her so thoroughly angry.
Shutting her umbrella, she thrust at me with it, saying, "shame! shame!
You'll come to some harm yet, you immodest, bold, bad hussy! I will write
to your mother about you. Go home at once, miss, and confine yourself in
your room for the remainder of the day, and don't dare eat anything until
tomorrow. Spend the time in fasting, and pray to God to make you better.
I don't know what makes you so forward with men. Your mother and aunt
never gave me the slightest trouble in that way."
She pushed me from her in anger, and I turned and strode housewards
without a word or glancing behind. I could hear grannie deprecating my
conduct as I departed, and Harold quietly and decidedly differing from
From the time of my infancy punishment of any description never had a
beneficial effect upon me. But dear old grannie was acting according to
her principles in putting me through a term of penance, so I shut myself
in my room as directed, with goodwill towards her at my heart. I was
burning with shame. Was I bold and immodest with men, as accused of
being? It was the last indiscretion I would intentionally have been
guilty of. In associating with men I never realize that the trifling
difference of sex is sufficient to be a great wall between us. The fact
of sex never for an instant enters my head, and I find it as easy to be
chummy with men as with girls: men in return have always been very good,
and have treated me in the same way.
On returning from her walk grannie came to my room, brought me some
preachy books to read, and held out to me the privilege of saying I was
sorry, and being restored to my usual place in the society of the
"Grannie, I cannot say I am sorry and promise to reform, for my
conscience does not reproach me in the least. I had no evil--not even a
violation of manners--in my intentions; but I am sorry that I vexed you,"
"Vexing me is not the sinful part of it. It is your unrepentant heart
that fills me with fears for your future. I will leave you here to think
by yourself. The only redeeming point about you is, you do not pretend to
be sorry when you are not."
The dear old lady shook her head sorrowfully as she departed.
The afternoon soon ran away, as I turned to my bookcase for entertainment
and had that beautiful ring to admire.
I heard them come in to tea, and I thought Harold had gone till I heard
uncle Jay-Jay address him:
"Joe Archer told me you ran into a clothes-line on race-night, and ever
since then mother has kept up a daddy of a fuss about ours. We've got
props about a hundred feet long, and if you weren't in the know you'd
think we had a telegraph wire to old St Peter up above."
I wondered what Harold thought of the woman he had selected as his future
wife being shut up for being a "naughty girl". The situation amused me
About nine o'clock he knocked at my window and said:
"Never mind, Syb. I tried to get you off, but it was no go. Old people
often have troublesome straitlaced ideas. It will blow over by tomorrow."
I did not answer; so he passed on with firm regular footfall, and
presently I heard his horse's hoof-beats dying away in the darkness, and
the closing and locking of doors around me as the household retired for
During the following fortnight I saw Harold a good many times at
cricket-matches' hare-drives, and so forth, but he did not take any
particular notice of me. I flirted and frolicked with my other young men
friends, but he did not care. I did not find him an ardent or a jealous
lover. He was so irritatingly cool and matter-of-fact that I wished for
the three months to pass so that I might be done with him, as I had come
to the conclusion that he was barren of emotion or passion of any kind.
Monday arrived--last day of November and seventeenth anniversary of my
birth--and I celebrated it in a manner which I capitally enjoyed.
It was the time of the annual muster at Cummabella--a cattle-station
seventeen miles eastward from Caddagat--and all our men were there
assisting. Word had been sent that a considerable number of beasts among
those yarded bore the impress of the Bossier brand on their hides; so on
Sunday afternoon uncle Jay-Jay had also proceeded thither to be in
readiness for the final drafting early on Monday morning. This left us
manless, as Frank Hawden, being incapacitated with a dislocated wrist,
was spending a few weeks in Gool-Gool until he should be fit for work
Uncle had not been gone an hour when a drover appeared to report that
twenty thousand sheep would pass through on the morrow. Grass was
precious. It would not do to let the sheep spread and dawdle at their
drovers' pleasure. There was not a man on the place; grannie was in a
great stew; so I volunteered my services. At first she would not hear of
such a thing, but eventually consented. With many injunctions to conduct
myself with proper stiffness, I started early on Monday morning. I was
clad in a cool blouse, a holland riding-skirt, and a big straw hat; was
seated on a big bay horse, was accompanied by a wonderful sheep-dog, and
carried a long heavy stock-whip. I sang and cracked my stock-whip as I
cantered along, quite forgetting to be reserved and proper. Presently I
came upon the sheep just setting out for their day's tramp, with a black
boy ahead of them, of whom I inquired which was the boss. He pointed
towards a man at the rear wearing a donkey-supper hat. I made my way
through the sheep in his direction, and asked if he were in charge of
them. On being answered in the affirmative, I informed him that I was Mr
Bossier's niece, and, as the men were otherwise engaged, I would see the
"That's all right, miss. I will look out that you don't have much
trouble," he replied, politely raising his hat, while a look of amusement
played on his face.
He rode away, and shouted to his men to keep the flock strictly within
bounds and make good travelling.
"Right you are, boss," they answered; and returning to my side he told me
his name was George Ledwood, and made some remarks about the great
drought and so on, while we rode in the best places to keep out of the
dust and in the shade. I asked questions such as whence came the sheep?
whither were they bound? and how long had they been on the road? And
having exhausted these orthodox remarks, we fell a-talking in dead
earnest without the least restraint. I listened with interest to stories
of weeks and weeks spent beneath the sun and stars while crossing widths
of saltbush country, mulga and myall scrubs, of encounters with blacks in
Queensland, and was favoured with a graphic description of a big strike
among the shearers when the narrator had been boss-of-the-board out
beyond Bourke. He spoke as though well educated, and a gentleman--as
drovers often are. Why, then, was he on the road? I put him down as a
scapegrace, for he had all the winning pleasant manner of a
At noon--a nice, blazing, dusty noon--we halted within a mile of Caddagat
for lunch. I could have easily ridden home for mine, but preferred to
have it with the drovers for fun. The men boiled the billy and made the
tea, which we drank out of tin pots, with tinned fish and damper off tin
plates as the completion of the menu, Mr Ledwood and I at a little
distance from the men. Tea boiled in a billy at a bush fire has a
deliciously aromatic flavour, and I enjoyed my birthday lunch immensely.
Leaving the cook to collect the things and put them in the spring-cart,
we continued on our way, lazily lolling on our horses and chewing
gum-leaves as we went.
When the last of the sheep got off the Caddagat run it was nearing two
Mr Ledwood and I shook hands at parting, each expressing a wish that we
might meet again some day.
I turned and rode homewards. I looked back and saw the drover gazing
after me. I waved my hand; he raised his hat and smiled, displaying his
teeth, a gleam of white in his sun-browned face. I kissed my hand to him;
he bowed low; I whistled to my dog; he resumed his way behind the
crawling sheep; I cantered home quickly and dismounted at the front gate
at 2.30 p.m., a dusty, heated, tired girl.
Grannie came out to question me regarding the sex, age, condition, and
species of the sheep, what was their destination, whether they were in
search of grass or were for sale, had they spread or eaten much grass,
and had the men been civil?
When I had satisfactorily informed her on all these points, she bade me
have something to cat, to bathe and dress, and gave me a holiday for the
remainder of the day.
My hair was grey with dust, so I washed all over, arrayed myself in a
cool white dress, and throwing myself in a squatter's chair in the
veranda, spread my hair over the back of it to dry. Copies of Gordon,
Kendall, and Lawson were on my lap, but I was too physically content and
comfortable to indulge in even these, my sworn friends and companions. I
surrendered myself to the mere joy of being alive. How the sunlight
blazed and danced in the roadway--the leaves of the gum-trees gleaming in
it like a myriad gems! A cloud of white, which I knew to be cockatoos,
circled over the distant hilltop. Nearer they wheeled until I could hear
their discordant screech. The thermometer on the wall rested at 104
degrees despite the dense shade thrown on the broad old veranda by the
foliage of creepers, shrubs, and trees. The gurgling rush of the creek,
the scent of the flower-laden garden, and the stamp, stamp of a horse in
the orchard as he attempted to rid himself of tormenting flies, filled my
senses. The warmth was delightful. Summer is heavenly, I said--life is a
Aunt Helen's slender fingers looked artistic among some pretty fancy-work
upon which she was engaged. Bright butterflies flitted round the garden,
and thousands of bees droned lazily among the flowers. I closed my
eyes--my being filled with the beauty of it all.
I could hear grannie's pen fly over the paper as she made out a list of
Christmas supplies on a table near me.
"Helen, I suppose a hundredweight of currants will he sufficient ?"
"Yes; I should think so."
"Seven dozen yards of unbleached calico be enough?"
"Which tea-service did you order?"
"Do you or Sybylla want anything extra?"
"Yes; parasols, gloves, and some books."
"Books! Can I get them at Hordern's?"
Grannie's voice faded on my ears, my thoughts ran on uncle Jay-Jay. He
had promised to be home in time for my birthday spread, and I was sure he
had a present for me. What would it be?--something nice. He would be
nearly sure to bring someone home with him from Cummabella, and we would
have games and fun to no end. I was just seventeen, only seventeen, and
had a long, long life before me wherein to enjoy myself. Oh, it was good
to be alive! What a delightful place the world was!--so accommodating, I
felt complete mistress of it. It was like an orange--I merely had to
squeeze it and it gave forth sweets plenteously. The stream sounded far
away, the sunlight blazed and danced, grannie's voice was a pleasant
murmur in my ear, the cockatoos screamed over the house and passed away
to the west. Summer is heavenly and life is a joy, I reiterated. Joy!
Joy! There was joy in the quit! quit! of the green-and-crimson parrots,
which swung for a moment in the rose-bush over the gate, and then whizzed
on into the summer day. There was joy in the gleam of the sun and in the
hum of the bees, and it throbbed in my heart. Joy! Joy! A jackass laughed
his joy as he perched on the telegraph wire out in the road. joy! joy!
Summer is a dream of delight and life is a joy, I said in my heart. I was
repeating the one thing over and over--but ah! it was a measure of
happiness which allowed of much repetition. The cool murmur of the creek
grew far away, I felt my poetry books slip off my knees and fall to the
floor, but I was too content to bother about them--too happy to need their
consolation, which I had previously so often and so hungrily sought.
Youth! Joy! Warmth!
The clack of the garden gate, as it swung to, awoke me from a pleasant
sleep. Grannie had left the veranda, and on the table where she had been
writing aunt Helen was filling many vases with maidenhair fern and La
France roses. A pleasant clatter from the dining-room announced that my
birthday tea was in active preparation. The position of the yellow
sunbeams at the far end of the wide veranda told that the dense shadows
were lengthening, and that the last of the afternoon was wheeling
westward. Taking this in, in an instant I straightened the piece of
mosquito-netting, which, to protect me from the flies, someone--auntie
probably--had spread across my face, and feigned to be yet asleep. By the
footsteps which sounded on the stoned garden walk, I knew that Harold
Beecham was one of the individuals approaching.
"How do you do, Mrs Bell? Allow me to introduce my friend, Archie
Goodchum. Mrs Bell, Mr Goodchum. Hasn't it been a roaster today?
Considerably over 100 degrees in the shade. Terribly hot!"
Aunt Helen acknowledged the introduction, and seated her guests, saying:
"Harry, have you got an artistic eye? If so, you can assist me with these
flowers. So might Mr Goodchum, if he feels disposed."
Harold accepted the proposal, and remarked:
"What is the matter with your niece? It is the first time I ever saw her
"Yes; she is a noisy little article--a perfect whirlwind in the house--but
she is a little tired this afternoon; she has been seeing those sheep
"Don't you think it would be a good lark if I get something and tickle
her?" said Goodchum.
"Yes, do," said Harold; "but look out for squalls. She is a great little
"Then she might be insulted."
"Not she," interposed auntie. "No one will enjoy the fun more than
I had my eyes half open beneath the net, so saw him cautiously approach
with a rose-stem between his fingers. Being extremely sensitive to
tickling, so soon as touched under the ear I took a flying leap from the
chair somewhat disconcerting my tormentor.
He was a pleasant-looking young fellow somewhere about twenty, whose face
was quite familiar to me.
He smiled so good-humouredly at me that I widely did the same in return,
and he came forward with extended hand, exclaiming, "At last!"
The others looked on in surprise, Harold remarking suspiciously, "You
said you were unacquainted with Miss Melvyn, but an introduction does
not seem necessary."
"Oh, yes it is," chirped Mr Goodchum. I haven't the slightest idea of the
young lady's name."
"Don't know each other!" ejaculated Harold; and grannie, who had appeared
upon the scene, inquired stiffly what we meant by such capers if
Mr Goodchum hastened to explain.
"I have seen the young lady on several occasions in the bank where I am
employed, and I had the good fortune to be of a little service to her one
day when I was out biking. Her harness, or at least the harness on the
horse she was driving, broke, and I came to the rescue with my
pocket-knife and some string, thereby proving, if not ornamental, I was
useful. After that I tried hard to find out who she was, but my inquiries
always came to nothing. I little dreamt who Miss Melvyn was when Harry,
telling me she was a Goulburn girl, asked if I knew her."