Part 2 out of 3
"What is the matter with your father? He is not dead, is he?" cried
the young men in one breath.
"No, it is not so bad as that," said Jasmine, "but a great and bitter
misfortune has come upon us. As you know, some time ago my father had
a quarrel with the military intendant, and that horrid man has, out of
spite, brought charges against him for which he was carried off this
morning to prison."
The statement of her misery and the shame involved in it completely
unnerved poor Jasmine, who, true to her inner sex, burst into tears
and rocked herself to and fro in her grief. Tu and Wei, on their knees
before her, tried to pour in words of consolation. With a lack of
reason which might be excused under the circumstances, they vowed that
her father was innocent before they knew the nature of the charges
against him, and they pledged themselves to rest neither day nor night
until they had rescued him from his difficulty. When, under the
influence of their genuine sympathy, Jasmine recovered some composure,
Tu begged her to tell him of what her father was accused.
"The villain," said Jasmine, through her tears, "has dared to say that
my father has made use of government taxes, has taken bribes for
recommending men for promotion, has appropriated the soldiers' ration-
money, and has been in league with highwaymen."
"Is it possible?" said Tu, who was rather staggered by this long
catalogue of crimes. "I should not have believed that any one could
have ventured to have charged your honoured father with such things,
least of all the intendant, who is notoriously possessed of an itching
palm. But I tell you what we can do at once. Wei and I, being M.A.'s,
have a right to call on the prefect, and it will be a real pleasure to
us to exercise our new privilege for the first time in your service.
We will urge him to inquire into the matter, and I cannot doubt that
he will at once quash the proceedings."
Unhappily, Tu's hopes were not realised. The prefect was very civil,
but pointed out that, since a higher court had ordered the arrest of
the colonel, he was powerless to interfere in the matter. Many were
the consultations held by the three friends, and much personal relief
Jasmine got from the support and sympathy of the young men. One hope
yet remained to her: Tu and Wei were about to go to Peking for their
doctor's degrees, and if they passed they might be able to bring such
influence to bear as would secure the release of her father.
"Let not the 'young noble' distress himself overmuch," said Wei to
her, with some importance. "This affair will be engraven on our hearts
and minds, and if we take our degrees we will use our utmost exertions
to wipe away the injustice which has been done your father."
"Unhappily," said the more practical Tu, "it is too plain that the
examining magistrates are all in league to ruin him. But let our elder
brother remain quietly at home, doing all he can to collect evidence
in the colonel's favour, while we will do our best at the capital. If
things turn out well with us there, our elder brother had better
follow at once to assist us with his advice."
Before the friends parted, Wei, whose own affairs were always his
first consideration, took an opportunity of whispering to Jasmine,
"Don't forget your honoured sister's promise, I beseech you. Whether
we succeed or not, I shall ask for her in marriage on my return."
"Under present circumstances, we must no longer consider the
engagement," said Jasmine, shocked at his introducing the subject at
such a moment," and the best thing that you can do is to forget all
The moment for the departure of the young men had come, and they had
no time to say more. With bitter tears, the two youths took leave of
the weeping Jasmine, who, as their carts disappeared in the distance,
felt for the first time what it was to be alone in misery. She saw
little of her stepmother in those days. That poor lady made herself so
ill with unrestrained grief that she was quite incapable of rendering
either help or advice. Fortunately the officials showed no disposition
to proceed with the indictment, and by the judicious use of the money
at her command Jasmine induced the prison authorities to make her
father's confinement as little irksome as possible. She was allowed to
see him at almost any time, and on one occasion, when he was enjoying
her presence as in his prosperous days he had never expected to do, he
"Since the officials are not proceeding with the business, I think my
best plan will be to send a petition to Peking asking the Board of War
to acquit me. But my difficulty is that I have no one whom I can send
to look after the business."
"Let /me/ go," said Jasmine. "When Tu and Wei were leaving, they
begged me to follow them to consult as to the best means of helping
you, and with them to depend on I have nothing to fear."
"I quite believe that you are as capable of managing the matter as
anybody," said her father, admiringly; "but Peking is a long way off,
and I cannot bear to think of the things which might happen to you on
"From all time," answered Jasmine, "it has been considered the duty of
a daughter to risk anything in the service of her father; and though
the way is long, I shall have weapons to defend myself with against
injury, and a clear conscience with which to answer any
interrogatories which may be put to me. Besides, I will take our
messenger, 'The Dragon,' and his wife with me. I will make her dress
as a man--what fun it will be to see Mrs. Dragon's portly form in
trousers, and gabardine! When that transformation is made, we shall be
a party of three men. So, you see, she and I will have a man to
protect us, and I shall have a woman to wait upon me; and if such a
gallant company cannot travel from this to Peking in safety, I'll
forswear boots and trousers and will retire into the harem for ever."
"Well," said her father, laughing, "if you can arrange in that way, go
by all means, and the sooner you start the sooner I hope you will be
Delighted at having gained the approval of her father to her scheme,
Jasmine quickly made the arrangements for her journey. On the morning
of the day on which she was to start, the results of the doctors'
examination at Peking reached Mienchu, and, to Jasmine's infinite
delight, she found the names of Tu and Wei among the successful
candidates. Armed with this good news, she hurried to the prison. All
difficulties seemed to disappear like mist before the sun as she
thought of the powerful advocates she now had at Peking.
"Tu and Wei have passed," she said, as she rushed into her father's
presence, "and now the end of our troubles is approaching."
With impatient hope Jasmine took leave of her father, and started on
her eventful journey. As evening drew on she entered the suburbs of
Ch'engtu, the provincial capital, and sent "The Dragon" on to find a
suitable inn for the couple of nights which she knew she would be
compelled to spend in the city. "The Dragon" was successful in his
search, and conducted Jasmine and his wife to a comfortable hostelry
in one of the busiest parts of the town. Having refreshed herself with
an excellent dinner, Jasmine was glad to rest from the fatigues and
heat of the day in the cool courtyard into which her room opened.
Fortune and builders had so arranged that a neighbouring house,
towering above the inn, overlooked this restful spot, and one of the
higher windows faced exactly the position which Jasmine had taken up.
Such a fact would not, in ordinary circumstances, have troubled her in
the least; but she had not been sitting long before she began to feel
an extraordinary attraction toward the window. She did her best to
look the other way, but she was often unconsciously impelled to glance
up at the lattice. Once she fancied she saw the curtain move.
Determined to verify her impression, she suddenly raised her eyes,
after a prolonged contemplation of the pavement, and caught a
momentary sight of a girl's face, which as instantly disappeared, but
not before Jasmine had been able to recognise that it was one of
"Now, if I were a young man," said she to herself, "I ought to feel my
heart beat at the sight of such loveliness, and it would be my bounden
duty to swear that I would win the owner of it in the teeth of
dragons. But as my manhood goes no deeper than my outer garments, I
can afford to sit here with a quiet pulse and a whole skin."
The next day Jasmine was busily engaged in interviewing some officials
in the interest of her father, and only reached the shelter of her inn
toward evening. As she passed through the courtyard she instinctively
looked up at the window, and again caught a glimpse of the vision of
beauty which she had seen the evening before. "If she only knew,"
thought Jasmine, "that I was such a one as herself, she would be less
anxious to see me, and more likely to avoid me."
While amusing herself at the thought of the fair watcher, the inn door
opened, and a waiting-woman entered carrying a small box. As she
approached Jasmine she bowed low, and with bated breath thus addressed
"May every happiness be yours, sir. My young lady, Miss King, whose
humble dwelling is the adjoining house, seeing that you are living in
solitude, has sent me with this fruit and tea as a complimentary
So saying, she presented to Jasmine the box, which contained pears and
a packet of scented tea.
"To what am I indebted for this honour?" replied Jasmine; "I can claim
no relationship with your lady, nor have I the honour of her
"My young lady says," answered the waiting-woman, "that, among the
myriads who come to this inn and the thousands who go from it, she has
seen no one to equal your Excellency in form and feature. At sight of
you she was confident that you came from a lofty and noble family, and
having learned from your attendants that you are the son of a colonel,
she ventured to send you these trifles to supplement the needy fare of
this rude inn."
"Tell me something about your young lady," said Jasmine, in a moment
of idle curiosity.
"My young lady," said the woman, "is the daughter of Mr. King, who was
a vice-president of a lower court. Her father and mother having both
visited the 'Yellow Springs' [Hades], she is now living with an aunt,
who has been blessed by the God of Wealth, and whose main object in
life is to find a husband whom her niece may be willing to marry. The
young gentleman, my young lady's cousin, is one of the richest men in
Ch'engtu. All the larger inns belong to him, and his profits are as
boundless as the four seas. He is as anxious as his mother to find a
suitable match for the young lady, and has promised that so soon as
she can make a choice he will arrange the wedding."
"I should have thought," said Jasmine, "that, being the owner of so
much wealth and beauty, the young lady would have been besieged by
suitors from all parts of the empire."
"So she is," said the woman, "and from her window yonder she espies
them, for they all put up at this inn. Hitherto she has made fun of
them all, and describes their appearance and habits in the most
amusing way. 'See this one,' says she, 'with his bachelor cap on and
his new official clothes and awkward gait, looking for all the world
like a barn-door fowl dressed up as a stork; or that one, with his
round shoulders, monkey-face, and crooked legs;' and so she tells them
"What does she say of me, I wonder?" said Jasmine, amused.
"Of your Excellency she says that her comparisons fail her, and that
she can only hope that the Fates who guided your jewelled chariot
hitherward will not tantalise her by an empty vision, but will bind
your ankles to hers with the red matrimonial cords."
"How can I hope for such happiness?" said Jasmine, smiling. "But
please to tell your young lady that, being only a guest at this inn, I
have nothing worthy of her acceptance to offer in return for her
bounteous gifts, and that I can only assure her of my boundless
With many bows, and with reiterated wishes for Jasmine's happiness and
endless longevity, the woman took her leave.
"Truly this young lady has formed a most perverted attachment," said
Jasmine to herself. "She reminds me of the man in the fairy tale who
fell in love with a shadow, and, so far as I can see, she is not
likely to get any more satisfaction out of it than he did." So saying,
she took up a pencil and scribbled the following lines on a scrap of
"With thoughts as ardent as a quenchless thirst,
She sends me fragrant and most luscious fruit;
Without a blush she seeks a phenix guest [a bachelor]
Who dwells alone like case-enveloped lute."
After this mental effort Jasmine went to bed. Nor had her interview
with the waiting-woman made a sufficient impression on her mind to
interfere in any way with her sleep. She was surprised, however, on
coming into her sitting-room in the morning, to meet the same
messenger, who, laden with a dish of hot eggs and a brew of tea,
begged Jasmine to "deign to look down upon her offerings."
"Many thanks," said Jasmine, "for your kind attention."
"You are putting the saddle on the wrong horse," replied the woman.
"In bringing you these I am but obeying the orders of Miss King, who
herself made the tea of leaves from Pu-erh in Yunnan, and who with her
own fair hands shelled the eggs."
"Your young lady," answered Jasmine, "is as bountiful as she is kind.
What return can I make her for her kindness to a stranger? Stay," she
said, as the thought crossed her mind that the verses she had written
the night before might prove a wholesome tonic for this effusive young
lady, "I have a few verses which I will venture to ask her to accept."
So saying, she took a piece of peach-blossom paper, on which she
carefully copied the quatrain and handed it to the woman. "May I
trouble you," said she, "to take this to your mistress?"
"If," said Jasmine to herself as the woman took her departure, "Miss
King is able to penetrate the meaning of my verses, she won't like
them. Without saying so in so many words, I have told her with
sufficient plainness that I will have nothing to say to her. But
stupidity is a shield sent by Providence to protect the greater part
of mankind from many evils; so perhaps she will escape."
It certainly in this case served to shield Miss King from Jasmine's
shafts. She was delighted at receiving the verses, and at once sat
down to compose a quatrain to match Jasmine's in reply. With infinite
labour she elaborated the following:
"Sung Yuh on th' eastern wall sat deep in thought,
And longed with P'e to pluck the fragrant fruit.
If all the well-known tunes be newly set,
What use to take again the half-burnt lute?"
Having copied these on a piece of silk-woven paper, she sent them to
Jasmine by her faithful attendant. On looking over the paper, Jasmine
said, smiling, "What a clever young lady your mistress must be! These
lines, though somewhat inconsequential, are incomparable."
But, though Jasmine was partly inclined to treat the matter as a joke,
she saw that there was a serious side to the affair, more especially
as the colours under which she was sailing were so undeniably false.
She knew well that for Sung Yuh should be read Miss King, and for P'e
her own name; and she determined, therefore, to put an end to the
philandering of Miss King, which, in her present state of mind, was
doubly annoying to her.
"I am deeply indebted to your young lady," she said, and then, being
determined to make a plunge into the morass of untruthfulness, for a
good end as she believed, added, "and, if I had love at my disposal, I
should possibly venture to make advances toward the feathery peach [a
nuptial emblem]; but let me confess to you that I have already taken
to myself a wife. Had I the felicity of meeting Miss King before I
committed myself in another direction, I might perhaps have been a
happier man. But, after all, if this were so, my position is no worse
than that of most other married men, for I never met one who was not
occasionally inclined to cry, like the boys at 'toss cash,' 'Hark back
and try again.' "
"This will be sad news for my lady, for she has set her heart upon you
ever since you first came to the inn; and when young misses take that
sort of fancy and lose the objects of their love, they are as bad as
children when forbidden their sugar-plums. But what's the use of
talking to you about a young lady's feelings!" said the woman, with a
vexed toss of her head; "I never knew a man who understood a woman
"I am extremely sorry for Miss King," said Jasmine, trying to suppress
a smile. "As you wisely remark, a young lady is a sealed book to me,
but I have always been told that their fancies are as variable as the
shadow of the bamboo; and probably, therefore, though Miss King's sky
may be overcast just now, the gloom will only make her enjoy
to-morrow's sunshine all the more."
The woman, who was evidently in a hurry to convey the news to her
mistress, returned no answer to this last sally, but, with curtailed
obeisance, took her departure.
Her non-appearance the next morning confirmed Jasmine in the belief
that her bold departure from truth on the previous evening had had its
curative effect. The relief was great, for she had felt that these
complications were becoming too frequent to be pleasant, and,
reprehensible though it may appear, her relief was mingled with no
sort of compassion for Miss King. Hers was not a nature to sympathise
with such sudden and fierce attachments. Her affection for Tu had been
the growth of many months, and she had no feeling in common with a
young lady who could take a violent liking for a young man simply from
seeing him taking his post-prandial ease. It was therefore with
complete satisfaction that she left the inn in the course of the
morning to pay her farewell visits to the governor and the judge of
the province, who had taken an unusual interest in Colonel Wen's case
since Jasmine had become his personal advocate. Both officials had
promised to do all they could for the prisoner, and had loaded Jasmine
with tokens of good will in the shape of strange and rare fruits and
culinary delicacies. On this particular day the governor had invited
her to the midday meal, and it was late in the afternoon before she
found her way back to the inn.
The following morning she rose early, intending to start before noon,
and was stepping into the courtyard to give directions to "The
Dragon," when, to her surprise, she was accosted by Miss King's
servant, who, with a waggish smile and a cunning shake of the head,
"How can one so young as your Excellency be such a proficient in the
art of inventing flowers of the imagination?"
"What do you mean?" said Jasmine.
"Why, last night you told me you were married, and my poor young lady
when she heard it was wrung with grief. But, recovering somewhat, she
sent me to ask your servants whether what you had said was true or
not, for she knows what she's about as well as most people, and they
both with one voice assured me that, far from being married you had
not even exchanged nuptial presents with anybody. You may imagine Miss
King's delight when I took her this news. She at once asked her cousin
to call upon you to make a formal offer of marriage, and she has now
sent me to tell you that he will be here anon."
Every one knows what it is to pass suddenly from a state of
pleasurable high spirits into deep despondency, to exchange in an
instant bright mental sunshine for cloud and gloom. All, therefore,
must sympathise with poor Jasmine, who believing the road before her
to be smooth and clear, on a sudden became thus aware of a most
troublesome and difficult obstruction. She had scarcely finished
calling down anathemas on the heads of "The Dragon" and his wife, and
cursing her own folly for bringing them with her, than the inn doors
were thrown open, and a servant appeared carrying a long red visiting-
card inscribed with the name of the wealthy inn-proprietor. On the
heels of this forerunner followed young Mr. King, who, with effusive
bows, said, "I have ventured to pay my respects to your Excellency."
Poor Jasmine was so upset by the whole affair that she lacked some of
the courtesy that was habitual to her, and in her confusion very
nearly seated her guest on her right hand. Fortunately this outrageous
breach of etiquette was avoided, and the pair eventually arranged
themselves in the canonical order.
"This old son of Han," began Mr. King, "would not have dared to
intrude himself upon your Excellency if it were not that he has a
matter of great delicacy to discuss with you. He has a cousin, the
daughter of Vice-President King, for whom for years he has been trying
to find a suitable match. The position is peculiar, for the lady
declares positively that she will not marry any one she has not seen
and approved of. Until now she has not been able to find any one whom
she would care to marry. But the presence of your Excellency has
thrown a light across her path which has shown her the way to the
plum-groves of matrimonial felicity."
Here King paused, expecting some reply; but Jasmine was too absorbed
in thought to speak, so Mr. King went on:
"This old son of Han, hearing that your Excellency is still unmarried,
has taken it upon himself to make a proposal of marriage to you, and
to offer his cousin as your 'basket and broom.' [wife] His interview
with you has, he may say, shown him the wisdom of his cousin's choice,
and he cannot imagine a pair better suited for one another, or more
likely to be happy, than your Excellency and his cousin."
"I dare not be anything but straightforward with your worship," said
Jasmine, "and I am grateful for the extraordinary affection your
cousin has been pleased to bestow upon me; but I cannot forget that
she belongs to a family which is entitled to pass through the gate of
the palace [a family of distinction], and I fear that my rank is not
sufficient for her. Besides, my father is at present under a cloud,
and I am now on my way to Peking to try to release him from his
difficulties. It is no time, therefore, for me to be binding myself
"As to your Excellency's first objection," replied King, "you are
already the wearer of a hat with a silken tassel, and a man need not
be a prophet to foretell that in time to come any office, either civil
or military, will be within your reach. No doubt, also, your business
in Peking will be quickly brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and
there can be no objection, therefore, to our settling the
preliminaries now, and then, on your return from the capital, we can
celebrate the wedding. This will give rest and composure to my
cousin's mind, which is now like a disturbed sea, and will not
interfere, I venture to think, with the affair which calls you to
As King proceeded, Jasmine felt that her difficulties were on the
increase. It was impossible that she should explain her position in
full, and she had no sufficient reason at hand to give for rejecting
the proposal made her, though, as the same time, her annoyance was not
small at having such a matter forced upon her at a moment when her
mind was filled with anxieties. "Then," she thought to herself, "there
is ahead of me that explanation which must inevitably come with Wei;
so that, altogether, if it were not for the deeply rooted conviction
which I have that Tu will be mine at last, when he knows what I really
am, life would not be worth having. As for this inn-proprietor, if he
has so little delicacy as to push his cousin upon me at this crisis, I
need not have any compunction regarding him; so perhaps my easiest way
of getting out of the present hobble will be to accept his proposal
and to present the box of precious ointment handed me by Wei for my
sister to this ogling love-sick girl." So turning to King, she said:
"Since you, sir, and your cousin have honoured me with your regard, I
dare not altogether decline your proposal, and I would therefore beg
you, sir, to hand this," she added, producing the box of ointment, "to
your honourable cousin, as a token of the bond between us, and to
convey to her my promise that, if I don't marry her, I will never
marry another lady."
Mr. King, with the greatest delight, received the box, and handing it
to the waiting-woman, who stood expectant by, bade her carry it to her
mistress, with the news of the engagement. Jasmine now hoped that her
immediate troubles were over, but King insisted on celebrating the
event by a feast, and it was not until late in the afternoon that she
succeeded in making a start. Once on the road, her anxiety to reach
Peking was such that she travelled night and day, "feeding on wind and
lodging in water." Nor did she rest until she reached a hotel within
the Hata Gate of the capital.
Jasmine's solitary journey had given her abundant time for reflection,
and for the first time she had set herself seriously to consider her
position. She recognised that she had hitherto followed only the
impulses of the moment, of which the main one had been the desire to
escape complications by the wholesale sacrifice of truth; and she
acknowledged to herself that, if justice were evenly dealt out, there
must be a Nemesis in store for her which would bring distress and
possibly disaster upon her. In her calmer moments she felt an
instinctive foreboding that she was approaching a crisis in her fate,
and it was with mixed feelings, therefore, that on the morning after
her arrival she prepared to visit Tu and Wei, who were as yet ignorant
of her presence.
She dressed herself with more than usual care for the occasion,
choosing to attire herself in a blue silk robe and a mauve satin
jacket which Tu had once admired, topped by a brand-new cap.
Altogether her appearance as she passed through the streets justified
the remark made by a passerby: "A pretty youngster, and more like a
maiden of eighteen than a man."
The hostelry at which Tu and Wei had taken up their abode was an inn
befitting the dignity of such distinguished scholars. On inquiring at
the door, Jasmine was ushered by a servant through a courtyard to an
inner enclosure, where, under the grateful shade of a wide-spreading
cotton-tree, Tu was reclining at his ease. Jasmine's delight at
meeting her friend was only equalled by the pleasure with which Tu
greeted her. In his strong and gracious presence she became conscious
that she was released from the absorbing care which had haunted her,
and her soul leaped out in new freedom as she asked and answered
questions of her friend. Each had much to say, and it was not for some
time, when an occasional reference brought his name forward that
Jasmine noticed the absence of Wei. When she did, she asked after him.
"He left this some days ago," said Tu, "having some special business
which called for his presence at home. He did not tell me what it was,
but doubtless it was something of importance." Jasmine said nothing,
but felt pretty certain in her mind as to the object of his hasty
Tu, attributing her silence to a reflection on Wei for having left the
capital before her father's affair was settled, hastened to add:
"He was very helpful in the matter of your honoured father's
difficulty, and only left when he thought he could not do any more."
"How do matters stand now?" asked Jasmine, eagerly.
"We have posted a memorial at the palace gate," said Tu, "and have
arranged that it shall reach the right quarter. Fortunately, also, I
have an acquaintance in the Board of War who has undertaken to do all
he can in that direction, and promises an answer in a few days."
"I have brought with me," said Jasmine, "a petition prepared by my
father. What do you think about presenting it?"
"At present I believe that it would only do harm. A superabundance of
memorials is as bad as none at all. Beyond a certain point, they only
"Very well," said Jasmine; "I am quite content to leave the conduct of
affairs in your hands."
"Well then," said Tu, "that being understood, I propose that you
should move your things over to this inn. There is Wei's room at your
disposal, and your constant presence here will be balm to my lonely
spirit. At the Hata Gate you are almost as remote as if you were in
our study at Mienchu."
Jasmine was at first startled by this proposal. Though she had been
constantly in the company of Tu, she had never lived under the same
roof with him, and she at once recognised that there might be
difficulties in the way of her keeping her secret if she were to be
constantly under the eyes of her friend. But she had been so long
accustomed to yield to the present circumstances, and was so confident
that Fortune, which, with some slight irregularities, had always stood
her friend, would not desert her on the present occasion, that she
"By all means," she said. "I will go back to my inn, and bring my
things at once. This writing-case I will leave here. I brought it
because it contains my father's petition."
So saying, she took her leave, and Tu retired to his easy-chair under
the cotton-tree. But the demon of curiosity was abroad, and alighting
on the arm of Tu's chair, whispered in his ear that it might be well
if he ran his eye over Colonel Wen's petition to see if there was any
argument in it which he had omitted in his statement to the Board of
War. At first, Tu, whose nature was the reverse of inquisitive,
declined to listen to these promptings, but so persistent did they
become that he at last put down his book--"The Spring and Autumn
Annals"--and, seating himself, at the sitting-room table, opened the
writing-case so innocently left by Jasmine. On the top were a number
of red visiting-cards bearing the inscription, in black, of Wen
Tsunk'ing, and beneath these was the petition. Carefully Tu read it
through, and passed mental eulogies on it as he proceeded. The colonel
had put his case skilfully, but Tu had no difficulty in recognising
Jasmine's hand, both in the composition of the document and in the
penmanship. "If my attempt," he thought, "does not succeed, we will
try what this will do." He was on the point of returning it to its
resting-place, when he saw another document in Jasmine's handwriting
lying by it. This was evidently a formal document, probably connected,
as he thought, with the colonel's case, and he therefore unfolded it
and read as follows:
"The faithful maiden, Miss Wen of Mienchu Hien, with burning incense
reverently prays the God of War to release her father from his present
difficulties, and speedily to restore peace to her own soul by
nullifying, in accordance with her desire, the engagement of the
bamboo arrow and the contract of the box of precious ointment. A
As Tu read on, surprise and astonishment took possession of his
countenance. A second time he read it through, and then, throwing
himself back in his chair, broke out into a fit of laughter.
"So," he said to himself, "I have allowed myself to be deceived by a
young girl all these years. And yet not altogether deceived," he
added, trying to find an excuse for himself; "for I have often fancied
that there was the savour of a woman about the 'young noble.' I hope
she is not one of those heaven-born genii who appear on earth to
plague men, and who, just when they have aroused the affections they
wished to excite, ascend through the air and leave their lovers
Just at this moment the door opened, and Jasmine entered, looking more
lovely than ever, with the flush begotten by exercise on her
beautifully moulded cheeks. At sight of her Tu again burst out
laughing, to Jasmine's not unnatural surprise, who, thinking that
there must be something wrong with her dress, looked herself up and
down, to the increasing amusement of Tu.
"So," said he at last, "you deceitful little hussy, you have been
deceiving me all these years by passing yourself off as a man, when in
reality you are a girl."
Overcome with confusion, Jasmine hung her head, and murmured:
"Who has betrayed me?"
"You have betrayed yourself," said Tu, holding up the incriminating
document; "and here we have the story of the arrow with which you shot
the hawk, but what the box of precious ointment means I don't know."
Confronted with this overwhelming evidence, poor Jasmine remained
speechless, and dared not even lift her eyes to glance at Tu. That
young man, seeing her distress, and being in no wise possessed by the
scorn which he had put into his tone, crossed over to her and gently
led her to a seat by him.
"Do you remember," he said, in so altered a voice that Jasmine's heart
ceased to throb as if it wished to force an opening through the finely
formed bosom which enclosed it, "on one occasion in our study at home
I wished that you were a woman that you might become my wife? Little
did I think that my wish might be gratified. Now it is, and I beseech
you to let us join our lives in one, and seek the happiness of the
gods in each other's perpetual presence."
But, as if suddenly recollecting herself, Jasmine withdrew her hand
from his, and, standing up before him with quivering lip and eyes full
of tears, said:
"No. It can never be."
"Why not?" said Tu, in alarmed surprise.
"Because I am bound to Wei."
"What! Does Wei know your secret?"
"No. But do you remember when I shot that arrow in front of your
"Perfectly," said Tu. "But what has that to do with it?"
"Why, Wei discovered my name on the shaft, and I, to keep my secret,
told him that it was my sister's name. He then wanted to marry my
sister, and I undertook, fool that I was, to arrange it for him. Now I
shall be obliged to confess the truth, and he will have a right to
claim me instead of my supposed sister."
"But," said Tu, "I have a prior right to that of Wei, for it was I who
found the arrow. And in this matter I shall be ready to outface him at
all hazards. But," he added, "Wei, I am sure, is not the man to take
an unfair advantage of you."
"Do you really think so?" asked Jasmine.
"Certainly I do," said Tu.
"Then--then--I shall be--very glad," said poor Jasmine, hesitatingly,
overcome with bashfulness, but full of joy.
At which gracious consent Tu recovered the hand which had been
withdrawn from his, and Jasmine sank again into the chair at his side.
"But, Tu, dear," she said, after a pause, "there is something else
that I must tell you before I can feel that my confessions are over."
"What! You have not engaged yourself to any one else, have you?" said
"Yes, I have," she replied, with a smile; and she then gave her lover
a full and particular account of how Mr. King had proposed to her on
behalf of his cousin, and how she had accepted her.
"How could you frame your lips to utter such untruths?" said Tu, half
laughing and half in earnest.
"O Tu, falsehood is so easy and truth so difficult sometimes. But I
feel that I have been very, very wicked," said poor Jasmine, covering
her face with her hands.
"Well, you certainly have got yourself into a pretty hobble. So far as
I can make out, you are at the present moment engaged to one young
lady and two young men."
The situation, thus expressed, was so comical that Jasmine could not
refrain from laughing through her tears; but, after a somewhat
lengthened consultation with her lover, her face recovered its wonted
serenity, and round it hovered a halo of happiness which added light
and beauty to every feature. There is something particularly
entrancing in receiving the first confidences of a pure and loving
soul. So Tu thought on this occasion, and while Jasmine was pouring
the most secret workings of her inmost being into his ear, those lines
of the poet of the Sung dynasty came irresistibly into his mind:
'T is sweet to see the flowers woo the sun,
To watch the quaint wiles of the cooing dove,
But sweeter far to hear the dulcet tones
Of her one loves confessing her great love.
But there is an end to everything, even to the "Confucian Analects,"
and so there was also to this lovers' colloquy. For just as Jasmine
was explaining, for the twentieth time, the origin and basis of her
love for Tu, a waiter entered to announce the arrival of her luggage.
"I don't know quite," said Tu, "where we are to put your two men. But,
by-the-bye," he added, as the thought struck him, "did you really
travel all the way in the company of these two men only?"
"O Tu," said Jasmine, laughing, "I have something else to confess to
"What! another lover?" said Tu, affecting horror and surprise.
"No; not another lover, but another woman. The short, stout one is a
woman, and came as my maid. She is the wife of 'The Dragon.' "
"Well, now have you told me all? For I am getting so confused about
the people you have transformed from women to men, that I shall have
doubts about my own sex next."
"Yes, Tu, dear; now you know all," said Jasmine, laughing. But not all
the good news which was in store for him, for scarcely had Jasmine
done speaking when a letter arrived from his friend in the Board of
War, who wrote to say that he had succeeded in getting the military
intendant of Mienchu transferred to a post in the province of Kwangsi,
and that the departure of this noxious official would mean the release
of the colonel, as he alone was the colonel's accuser. This news added
one more chord of joy which had been making harmony in Jasmine's heart
for some hours, and readily she agreed with Tu that they should set
off homeward on the following morning.
With no such adventure as that which had attended Jasmine's journey to
the capital, they reached Mienchu, and, to their delight, were
received by the colonel in his own yamun. After congratulating him on
his release, which Jasmine took care he should understand was due
entirely to Tu's exertions, she gave him a full account of her various
experiences on the road and at the capital.
"It is like a story out of a book of marvels," said her father, "and
even now you have not exhausted all the necessary explanations. For,
since my release, your friend Wei has been here to ask for my daughter
in marriage. From some questions I put to him, he is evidently unaware
that you are my only daughter, and I therefore put him off and told
him to wait until you returned. He is in a very impatient state, and,
no doubt, will be over shortly."
Nor was the colonel wrong, for almost immediately Wei was announced,
who, after expressing the genuine pleasure he felt at seeing Jasmine
again, began at once on the subject which filled his mind.
"I am so glad," he said, "to have this opportunity of asking you to
explain matters. At present I am completely nonplussed. On my return
from Peking I inquired of one of your father's servants about his
daughter. 'He has not got one,' quoth the man. I went to another, and
he said, 'You mean the "young noble," I suppose.' 'No, I don't,' I
said; 'I mean his sister.' 'Well, that is the only daughter I know
of,' said he. Then I went to your father, and all I could get out of
him was, 'Wait until the "young noble" comes home.' Please tell me
what all this means."
"Your great desire is to marry a beautiful and accomplished girl, is
it not?" said Jasmine.
"That certainly is my wish," said Wei.
"Well then," said Jasmine, "I can assure you that your betrothal
present is in the hand of such a one, and a girl whom to look at is to
"That may be," said Wei, "But my wish is to marry your sister."
"Will you go and talk to Tu about it?" said Jasmine, who felt that the
subject was becoming too difficult for her, and whose confidence in
Tu's wisdom was unbounded, "and he will explain it all to you."
Even Tu, however, found it somewhat difficult to explain Jasmine's
sphinx-like mysteries, and on certain points Wei showed a disposition
to be anything but satisfied. Jasmine's engagement to Tu implied his
rejection, and he was disposed to be splenetic and disagreeable about
it. His pride was touched, and in his irritation he was inclined to
impute treachery to his friend and deceit to Jasmine. To the first
charge Tu had a ready answer, but the second was all the more annoying
because there was some truth in it. However, Tu was not in the humour
to quarrel, and being determined to seek peace and ensue it, he
overlooked Wei's innuendos and made out the best case he could for his
bride. On Miss King's beauty, virtues, and ability he enlarged with a
wealth of diction and power of imagination which astonished himself,
and Jasmine also, to whom he afterward repeated the conversation.
"Why, Tu, dear," said that artless maiden, "how can you know all this
about Miss King? You have never seen her, and I am sure I never told
you half of all this."
"Don't ask questions," said the enraptured Tu. "Let it be enough for
you to know that Wei is as eager for the possession of Miss King as he
was for your sister, and that he has promised to be my best man at our
And Wei was as good as his word. With every regard to ceremony and
ancient usage, the marriage of Tu and Jasmine was celebrated in the
presence of relatives and friends, who, attracted by the novelty of
the antecedent circumstances, came from all parts of the country to
witness the nuptials. By Tu's especial instructions also a prominence
was allowed to Wei, which gratified his vanity and smoothed down the
ruffled feathers of his conceit.
Jasmine thought that no time should be lost in reducing Miss King to
the same spirit of acquiescence to which Wei had been brought, and on
the evening of her wedding-day she broached the subject to Tu.
"I shall not feel, Tu, dear," she said, "that I have gained absolution
for my many deceptions until that very forward Miss King has been
talked over into marrying Wei; and I insist, therefore," she added,
with an amount of hesitancy which reduced the demand to the level of a
plaintive appeal, "that we start to-morrow for Ch'engtu to see the
"Ho! ho!" replied Tu, intensely amused at her attempted bravado.
"These are brave words, and I suppose that I must humbly register your
"O Tu, you know what I mean. You know that, like a child who takes a
delight in conquering toy armies, I love to fancy that I can command
so strong a man as you are. But, Tu, if you knew how absolutely I rely
on your judgment, you would humour my folly and say yes."
There was a subtle incense of love and flattery about this appeal
which, backed as it was by a look of tenderness and beauty, made it
irresistible; and the arrangements for the journey were made in strict
accordance with Jasmine's wishes.
On arriving at the inn which was so full of chastening memories to
Jasmine, Tu sent his card to Mr. King, who, flattered by the attention
paid him by so eminent a scholar, cordially invited Tu to his house.
"To what," he said, as Tu, responding to his invitation, entered his
reception-hall, "am I to attribute the honour of receiving your
illustrious steps in my mean apartments?"
"I have heard," said Tu, "that the beautiful Miss King is your
Excellency's cousin, and having a friend who is desirous of gaining
her hand, I have come to plead on his behalf."
"I regret to say," replied King, "that your Excellency has come too
late, as she has already received an engagement token from a Mr. Wen,
who passed here lately on his way to Peking."
"Mr. Wen is a friend of mine also," said Tu, "and it was because I
knew that his troth was already plighted that I ventured to come on
behalf of him of whom I have spoken."
"Mr. Wen," said King, "is a gentleman and a scholar, and having given
a betrothal present, he is certain to communicate with us direct in
case of any difficulty."
"Will you, old gentleman," [a term of respect] said Tu, producing the
lines which Miss King had sent Jasmine, "just cast your eyes over
these verses, written to Wen by your cousin? Feeling most regretfully
that he was unable to fulfil his engagement, Wen gave these to me as a
testimony of the truth of what I now tell you."
King took the paper handed him by Tu, and recognised at a glance his
"Alas!" he said, "Mr Wen told us he was engaged, but, not believing
him, I urged him to consent to marry my cousin. If you will excuse me,
sir," he added, "I will consult with the lady as to what should be
After a short absence he returned.
"My cousin is of the opinion," he said, "that she cannot enter into
any new engagement until Mr. Wen has come here himself and received
back the betrothal present which he gave her on parting."
"I dare not deceive you, old gentleman, and will tell you at once that
that betrothal present was not Wen's but was my unworthy friend Wei's,
and came into Wen's possession in a way that I need not now explain."
"Still," said King, "my cousin thinks Mr. Wen should present himself
here in person and tell his own story; and I must say that I am of her
"It is quite impossible that Mr. Wen should return here," replied Tu;
"but my 'stupid thorn' [wife] is in the adjoining hostelry, and would
be most happy to explain fully to Miss King Wen's entire inability to
play the part of a husband to her."
"If your honourable consort would meet my cousin, she, I am sure, will
be glad to talk the matter over with her."
With Tu's permission, Miss King's maid was sent to the inn to invite
Jasmine to call on her mistress. The maid, who was the same who had
acted as Miss King's messenger on the former occasion, glanced long
and earnestly at Jasmine. Her features were familiar to her, but she
could not associate them with any lady of her acquaintance. As she
conducted her to Miss King's apartments, she watched her stealthily,
and became more and more puzzled by her appearance. Miss King received
her with civility, and after exchanging wishes that each might be
granted ten thousand blessings, Jasmine said, smiling:
"Do you recognise Mr. Wen?"
Miss King looked at her, and seeing in her a likeness to her beloved,
"What relation are you to him, lady?"
"I am his very self!" said Jasmine.
Miss King opened her eyes wide at this startling announcement, and
gazed earnestly at her.
"/Haiyah!/" cried her maid, clapping her hands, "I thought there was a
wonderful likeness between the lady and Mr. Wen. But who would have
thought that she was he?"
"But what made you disguise yourself in that fashion?" asked Miss
King, in an abashed and somewhat vexed tone.
"My father was in difficulties," said Jasmine, "and as it was
necessary that I should go to Peking to plead for him, I dressed as a
man for the convenience of travel. You will remember that in the first
instance I declined your flattering overtures, but when I found that
you persisted in your proposal, not being able to explain the truth, I
thought the best thing to do was to hand you my friend's betrothal
present which I had with me, intending to return and explain matters.
And you will admit that in one thing I was truthful."
"What was that?" asked the maid.
"Why," answered Jasmine, "I said that if I did not marry your lady I
would never marry any woman."
"Well, yes," said the maid, laughing, "you have kept your faith
"The friend I speak of," continued Jasmine, "has now taken his
doctor's degree, and this stupid husband and wife have come from
Mienchu to make you a proposal on his behalf."
Miss King was not one who could readily take in an entirely new and
startling idea, and she sat with a half-dazed look, staring at Jasmine
without uttering a word. If it had not been for the maid, the
conversation would have ceased; but that young woman was determined to
probe the matter to the bottom.
"You have not told us," she said, "the gentleman's name. And will you
explain why you call him your friend? How could you be on terms of
friendship with him?"
"From my childhood," said Jasmine, "I have always dressed as a boy. I
went to a boy's school--"
"/Haiyah!/" interjected the maid.
"And afterward I joined my husband and this gentleman, Mr. Wei, in a
"Didn't they discover your secret?"
"That's odd," said the maid. "But will you tell us something about
this Mr. Wei?"
Upon this, Jasmine launched out in a glowing eulogy upon her friend.
She expatiated with fervour on his youth, good looks, learning, and
prospects, and with such effect did she speak that Miss King, who
began to take in the situation, ended by accepting cordially Jasmine's
"And now, lady, you must stay and dine with me," said Miss King, when
the bargain was struck, "while my cousin entertains your husband in
At this meal the beginning of a friendship was formed between the two
ladies which lasted ever afterward, though it was somewhat unevenly
balanced. Jasmine's stronger nature felt compassion mingled with
liking for the pretty doll-like Miss King, while the young lady
entertained the profoundest admiration for her guest.
There was nothing to delay the fulfilment of the engagement thus
happily arranged, and at the next full moon Miss King had an
opportunity of comparing her bridegroom with the picture which Jasmine
had drawn of him.
Scholars are plentiful in China, but it was plainly impossible that
men of such distinguished learning as Tu and Wei should be left among
the unemployed, and almost immediately after their marriage they were
appointed to important posts in the empire. Tu rose rapidly to the
highest rank, and died, at a good old age, viceroy of the metropolitan
province and senior guardian to the heir apparent. Wei was not so
supremely fortunate, but then, as Tu used to say, "he had not a
Jasmine to help him."
THE REVENGE OF HER RACE
The low hedge, where the creepers climbed, divided the lawn and its
magnificent Wellingtonias from the meadow. There was little grass to
be seen, for it was at this time one vast profusion of delicate ixias
of every bright and tender shade.
The evening was still, and the air heavy with scent. In a room opening
upon the veranda wreathed with white-and-scarlet passion-flowers,
where she could see the garden and the meadow, and, beyond all, the
Mountain Beautiful, lay a sick woman. Her dark face was lovely as an
autumn leaf is lovely--hectic with the passing life. Her eyes wandered
to the upper snows of the mountain, from time to time resting upon the
brown-haired English girl who sat on a low stool by her side, holding
the frail hand in her cool, firm clasp.
The invalid was speaking; her voice was curiously sweet, and there was
a peculiarity about the "s," and an occasional turn of the sentence,
which told the listener that her English was an acquired language.
"I am glad he is not here," she said slowly. "I do not want him to
"But perhaps, Mrs. Denison, you will be much better in a day or two,
and able to welcome him when he comes back."
"No, I shall not be here when he comes back, and it is just as it
should be. I asked him to turn round as he left the garden, and I
could see him, oh, so well! He looked kind and so beautiful, and he
waved to me his hand. Now he will come back, and he will be sad. He
did not want to leave me, but the governor sent for him. He will be
sad, and he will remember that I loved him, and some day he will be
glad again." She smiled into the troubled face near her.
The girl stroked the thick dark hair lovingly.
"Don't," she implored; "it hurts me. You are better to-night, and the
children are coming in." Mrs. Denison closed her eyes, and with her
left hand she covered her face.
"No, not the children," she whispered, "not my darlings. I cannot bear
it. I must see them no more." She pressed her companion's hand with a
sudden close pressure. "But you will help them, Alice; you will make
them English like you--like him. We will not pretend to-night; it is
not long that I shall speak to you. I ask you to promise me to help
them to be English."
"Dear," the girl urged, "they are such a delicious mixture of England
and New Zealand--prettier, sweeter than any mere English child could
ever be. They are enchanting."
But into the dying woman's eyes leaped an eager flame.
"They must all be English, no Maori!" she cried. A violent fit of
coughing interrupted her, and when the paroxysm was over she was too
exhausted to speak. The English nurse, Mrs. Bentley, an elderly
Yorkshire woman, who had been with Mrs. Denison since her first baby
came six years ago, and who had, in fact, been Horace Denison's own
nurse-maid, came in and sent the agitated girl into the garden. "For
you haven't had a breath of fresh air to-day," she said.
At the door Alice turned. The large eyes were resting upon her with an
intent and solemn regard, in which lay a message. "What was it?" she
thought, as she passed through the wide hall sweet with flowers. "She
wanted to say something; I am sure she did. To-morrow I will ask her."
But before the morrow came she knew. Mrs. Dennison had said /good-
The funeral was over. Mr. Denison, who had looked unaccountably ill
and weary for months, had been sent home by Mr. Danby for at least a
year's change and rest, and the doctor's young sister had yielded to
various pressure, and promised to stay with the children until he
returned. There was every reason for it. She had loved and been loved
by the gentle Maori mother; she delighted in the dark beauty and
sweetness of the children. And they, on their side, clung to her as to
an adorable fairy relative, dowered with love and the fruits of love--
tales and new games and tender ways. Best reason of all, in a sense,
Mrs. Bentley, that kind autocrat, entreated her to stay, "as the
happiest thing for the children, and to please that poor lamb we laid
yonder, who fair longed that you should! She was mightily taken up
with you, Miss Danby, and you've your brother and his wife near, so
that you won't be lonesome, and if there's aught I can do to make you
comfortable, you've only to speak, miss." As for Mr. Denison, he was
pathetically grateful and relieved when Alice promised to remain.
After the evening romp and the last good-night, when the two elder
children, Ben and Marie, called after her mother, Maritana, had given
her their last injunctions to be sure and come for them "her very own
self" on her way down to breakfast in the morning, she usually rode
down between the cabbage-trees, down by the old rata, fired last
autumn, away through the grasslands to the doctor's house, a few miles
nearer Rochester; or he and his wife would ride out to chat with her.
But there were many evenings when she preferred the quiet of the airy
house and the garden. The colonial life was new to her, everything had
its charm, and in the colonies there is always a letter to write to
those at home--the mail-bag is never satisfied. On such evenings it
was her custom to cross the meadow to the copse of feathery trees
beyond, where, sung to by the brook and the Tui, the children's mother
slept. And from the high presence of the Mountain Beautiful there fell
a dew of peace.
She would often ask Mrs. Bentley to sit with her until bedtime, and
revel in the shrewd north-country woman's experiences, and her
impressions of the new land to which love had brought her. Both women
grew to have a sincere and trustful affection for each other, and one
night, seven or eight months after Mrs. Denison's death, Mrs. Bentley
told a story which explained what had frequently puzzled Alice--the
patient sorrow in Mrs. Denison's eyes, and Mr. Denison's harassed and
dejected manner. "But for your goodness to the children," said the old
woman, "and the way that precious baby takes to you, I don't think I
should be willing to say what I am going to do, miss. Though my dear
mistress wished it, and said, the very last night, 'You must tell her
all about it, some day, Nana,'--and I promised, to quiet her,--I don't
think I could bring myself to it if I hadn't lived with you and known
you." And then the good nurse told her strange and moving tale.
She described how her master had come out young and careless-hearted
to New Zealand in the service of the government, and how scandalised
and angry his father and mother, the old Tory squire and his wife, had
been to receive from him, after a year or two, letters brimming with a
boyish love for his "beautiful Maori princess," whom he described as
having "the sweetest heart and the loveliest eyes in the world." It
gave them little comfort to hear that her father was one of the
wealthiest Maoris in the island, and that, though but half civilised
himself, he had had his daughter well educated in the "bishop's" and
other English schools. To them she was a savage. There was no threat
of disinheritance, for there was nothing for him to inherit. There was
little money, and the estate was entailed on the elder brother. But
all that could be done to intimidate him was done, and in vain. Then
silence fell between the parents and the son.
But one spring day came the news of a grandson, called Benjamin after
his grandfather, and an urgent letter from their boy himself,
enclosing a prettily and humbly worded note from the new strange
daughter, begging for an English nurse. She told them that she had now
no father and no mother, for they had died before the baby came, and
if she might love her husband's parents a little she would be glad.
"My lady read the letters to me herself," Mrs. Bentley said; "I'd
taken the housekeeper's place a bit before, and she asked me to find
her a sensible young woman. Well, I tried, but there wasn't a girl in
the place that was fit to nurse Master Horace's child. And the end of
it was, I came myself, for Master Horace had been like my own when he
was a little lad. My lady pretended to be vexed with me, but the day I
sailed she thanked me in words I never thought to hear from her, for
she was a bit proud always." The faithful servant's voice trembled.
She leaned back in her chair, and forgot for the moment the new house
and the new duties. She was back again in the old nursery with the
fair-haired child playing about her knees. But Alice's face recalled
her, and she continued the story. She had, she said, dreaded the
meeting with her new mistress, and was prepared to find her "a sort of
a heathen woman, who'd pull down Master Horace till he couldn't call
himself a gentleman."
But when she saw the graceful creature who received her with gentle
words and gestures of kindliness, and when she found her young master
not only content, but happy, and when she took in her arms the
laughing healthy baby, she felt--though she regretted its dark eyes
and hair--more at home than she could have believed possible. The
nurseries were so large and comfortable, and so much consideration was
shown to her, that she confessed, "I should have been more ungrateful
than a cat if I hadn't settled comfortable."
Then came nearly five happy years, during which time her young
mistress had found a warm and secure place in the good Yorkshire
heart. "She was that loving and that kind that Dick Burdas, the groom,
used to say that he believed she was an angel as had took up with them
dark folks, to show 'em what an angel was like." Mrs. Bentley went on:
"She wasn't always quite happy, and I wondered what brought the shadow
into her face, and why she would at times sigh that deep that I could
have cried. After a bit I knew what it was. It was the Maori in her.
She told me one night that she was a wicked woman, and ought never to
have married Master Horace, for she got tired sometimes of the English
house and its ways, and longed for her father's /whare/; (that's a
native hut, miss). She grieved something awful one day when she had
been to see old Tim, the Maori who lives behind the stables. She
called herself a bad and ungrateful woman, and thought there must be
some evil spirit in her tempting her into the old ways, because, when
she saw Tim eating, and you know what bad stuff they eat, she had fair
longed to join him. She gave me a fright I didn't get over for nigh a
week. She leaned her bonny head against my knee, and I stroked her
cheek and hummed some silly nursery tune,--for she was all of a
tremble and like a child,--and she fell asleep just where she was."
"Poor thing!" said Alice, softly.
"Eh, but it's what's coming that upsets me, ma'am. Eh, what suffering
for my pretty lamb, and her that wouldn't have hurt a worm! Baby would
be about six months old when she came in one day with him in her arms,
and they /were/ a picture. His little hand was fast in her hair. She
always walked as if she'd wheels on her feet, that gliding and
graceful. She had on a sort of sheeny yellow silk, and her cheeks were
like them damask roses at home, and her eyes fair shone like stars.
'Isn't he a beauty, Nana?' she asked me. 'If only he had blue eyes,
and that hair of gold like my husband's, and not these ugly eyes of
mine!' And as she spoke she sighed as I dreaded to hear. Then she told
me to help her to unpack her new dress from Paris, which she was to
wear at the Rochester races the next day. Master Horace always chose
her dresses, and he was right proud of her in them. And next morning
he came into the nursery with her, and she was all in pale red, and
that beautiful! 'Isn't she scrumptious, Nana?' he said, in his boyish
way. 'Don't spoil her dress, children. How like her Marie grows!'
Those two little ones they had got her on her knees on the ground, and
were hugging her as if they couldn't let her go. But when he said
that, she got up very still and white.
" 'I am sorry,' she said; 'they must never be like me.'
" 'They can't be any one better, can they, baby?' he answered her, and
he tossed the child nearly up to the ceiling. But he looked worried as
he went out. I saw them drive away, and they looked happy enough. And
oh, miss, I saw them come back. We were in the porch, me and the
children. Master Horace lifted her down, and I heard him say, 'Never
mind, Marie.' But she never looked his way nor ours; she walked
straight in and upstairs to her room, past my bonny darling with his
arm stretched out to her, and past Miss Marie, who was jumping up and
down, and shouting 'Muvver'; and I heard her door shut. Then Master
Horace took baby from me.
" 'Go up to her,' he said, and I could scarce hear him. His face was
all drawn like, but I felt that silly and stupid that I could say
nothing, and just went upstairs." Mrs. Bentley put her knitting down,
and throwing her apron over her head sobbed aloud.
"O nurse, what was it?" cried Alice, and the colour left her cheeks.
"Do tell me. I am so sorry for them. What was it?" It was several
minutes before the good woman could recover herself; then she began:
"She told me, and Dick Burdas he told me, and it was like this. When
they got to the race-course,--it was the first races they'd had in
Rochester,--all the gentry was there, and those that knew her always
made a deal of her, she had such half-shy, winning ways. And she
seemed very bright, Dick said, talking with the governor's lady, who
is full of fun and sparkle. The carriages were all together, and Major
Beaumont, a kind old gentleman who's always been a good friend to
Master Horace, would have them in his carriage for luncheon, or
whatever it was. Dick says he was thinking that she was the prettiest
lady there, when his eye was caught by two or three parties of Maoris
setting themselves right in front of the carriages. There were four or
five in each lot, and they were mostly old. They got out their sharks'
flesh and that bad corn they eat, and began to make their meal of
them. Near Mrs. Denison there was one old man with a better sort of
face, and Dick heard her say to master, 'Isn't he like my father?'
What Master Horace answered he didn't hear; he says he never saw
anything like her face, so sad and wild, and working for all the world
as if something were fighting her within. Then all in a minute she ran
out and slipped down in her beautiful dress close by the old Maori in
his dirty rags, and was rubbing her face against his, as them folks do
when they meet. She had just taken a mouthful of the raw fish when
Master Horace missed her. He hadn't noticed her slip away. But in a
moment he seemed to understand what it meant. He saw the Maori come
out strong in her face, and he knew the Maori had got the better of
everything, husband and friends and all. He gave a little cry, and in
a minute he had her on her feet and was bringing her back to the
carriage. Some folks thought Dick Burdas a rough hard man, and I know
he was a shocker of a lad (he was fra Whitby), but that night he cried
like a baby when he tell 't me," and Mrs. Bentley fell for a moment
into the dialect of her youth.
"He said," she continued, "that she looked like a poor stricken thing
condemned, and let herself be led back as submissive as a child, and
Master Horace's face was like the dead. He didn't think any one but
the major and Dr. Danby saw her go, all was done in a minute. But it
was done, and some few had seen, and it got out, and things were said
that wasn't true. Not the doctor! No, miss, you needn't tell me that;
he's told none, that I'll warrant. He's faithful and he's close."
"O Mrs. Bentley, how dreadful for her, how dreadful!" and the girl
went down on her knees by the old woman, her tears flowing fast.
"That's it, miss, you understand. I feel like that. It was bad enough
for Master Horace with the future before him, and his children to
think of, but for her it was desperate cruel. Eh, ma'am, what she went
through! She loved more than you'd have thought us poor human beings
could. And, after all, the nature was in her; she didn't put it there.
I've had a deal to do to keep down sinful thoughts since then; there's
a lot of things that's wrong in this world, ma'am."
"What did she do?" Alice whispered.
"She! She was for going away and leaving everything; she felt herself
the worst woman in the world. It was only by begging and praying of
her on my knees that I got her to stay in the house that night, for
she was so far English, and had such a fancy, that she saw everything
blacker than any Englishwoman would, even the partick'lerest.
Afterward Master Horace was that good and gentle, and she loved him so
much, that he persuaded her to say nothing more about it, and to try
to live as if it hadn't been. And so she seemed to do, outward like,
to other people. But it wasn't ever the same again. Something had
broken in them both; with him it was his trust and his pride, but in
her it was her heart."
"But the children--surely they comforted her."
"Eh, miss, that was the worst. Poor lamb, poor lamb! Never after that
day, though they were more to her nor children ever were to a mother
before, would she have them with her. Just a morning and a good-night
kiss, and a quarter of an hour at most, and I must take them away. She
watched them play in the garden from her window or the little hill
there, and when they were asleep she would sit by them for hours,
saying how bonny they were and how good they were growing. And she
looked after their clothes and their food and every little toy and
pleasure, but never came in for a romp and a chat any more."
"Dear, brave heart!" murmured the girl.
"Yes, ma'am, you feel for her, I know. She was fair terrified of them
turning Maori and shaming their father. That was it. You didn't
notice? No; after you came she was too ill to bear them about, and it
seemed natural, I dare say. The Maoris are a fearful delicate set of
folks. A bad cold takes them off into consumption directly. And with
her there was the sorrow as well as the cold. It was wonderful that
she lived so long."
Alice threw her arms round Mrs. Bentley's neck.
"O nurse, it is all so dreadful and sad. Couldn't we have somehow kept
her with us and made her happy?"
The old woman held her close. "Nay, my dear bairn, never after that
happened. It, or worse, might have come again. It's something stronger
in them than we know; it's the very blood, I'm thinking. But she's
gone to be the angel that Dick always said she was."
Alice looked away over the starlit garden to where the plumy trees
stirred in the night wind. "No," she said, fervently, "not 'gone to
be,' nurse dear; she was an angel always. Dick was right."
KING BILLY OF BALLARAT
King Billy was given to strolling up and down the streets of Ballarat
when that eviscerated city was merely in process of disembowelment,
before alluvial mining gave way to quartz-crushing, when the
individual had a chance, if a very vague one, of sudden and delightful
fortune. The Ballarat blacks were a scaly lot, to talk of them like
ill-fed hogs, as men were wont to do. They dwined and dwindled, as
natives will before the resources of civilisation: the bloodthirsty
ones got killed out; the rumthirsty ones died out; the wild corroboree
was reduced to a poverty-stricken imitation of its former glory. King
Billy's authority grew less with the increase of his clothes. The
brass plate with his name on it was about the last relic of his
precarious power, and was chiefly valued as a means of notifying the
public generally that they might stand drinks to a monarch if they saw
fit and were not too humble. He was not haughty, and never presumed on
his plate, as parvenus will. He came of an ancient stock, and could
afford to condescend, even if he could not afford to pay for drinks.
He was very kind to children,--white children, of course,--and was
hale-fellow-well-met with many of them.
He was particularly fond of Annie Colborn, whose father was a
magistrate and a gold commissioner, and a person of very great
importance. Whether or not King Billy was wise in his generation, and
out of the unwritten Scriptures of the somber bush had culled a maxim
inculcating the wisdom of making friends of the sons of Mammon, I
cannot say, but he was always good to Annie. For my own part, I do not
believe the simple-hearted old king had any such notion inside his
thick antipodean skull. He was good because he was not bad, which is
the very best morality after all, and a great advance on much we hear
of. And, besides, he was sometimes hungry, and Mr. Colborn's Chinese
cook was very haughty, and not to be approached except through an
intermediary. And who so capable of conciliating Wong as Annie? Wong
would make her cakes even when his pigtail hung despondently from his
aching head after an opium debauch, and his cheeks were shining with
anything but gladness; for if you get drunk very often on opium you
Old Billy was mostly to be found where there was a chance of a drink;
but if the fountains were dried up, or he had been insulted by some
democratic, revolutionary, king-hating miner knocking his high hat
down over his eyes, he usually went up to Mr. Colborn's place, and sat
on the fence, or on a log outside the gate. So he was often very
melancholy when Annie came out. One day his hat was very, very badly
"Your hat is very bad to-day, King Billy," said six-year-old Annie, as
she stood in front of him critically, with her head on one side.
Without knowing it, the child had come to look upon the state of the
poor king's hat as emblematical of his state of mind. When it shut up
like a closed concertina his barometer was low.
"Yes, missy," said the king; "white man knock 'um over eyes, and"--
with a rub down his face--"skin 'um nose."
She inspected his nose carefully--though from a certain distance,
because her own nose was very good, both inside and out, and she knew
the king never got washed unless it rained when he was very drunk. And
this was the end of summer. It had not rained since November.
"There is not very much skin off," said Annie. "You had better wash
The king made a wry face and changed the conversation.
"You got 'um hat, Missy Annie? One hat baal brokum, allasame white
fellow hat. Bad hat, King Billy bad; black fellow, white fellow
He peered into his hat, and, trying to straighten it out, put his fist
through the side. Poor Billy looked as if he could cry.
"You stop a minute," said Annie, and, flying indoors, she brought out
a very good high hat indeed. "Budgeree!" thought the king, that was a
good hat. He could go down the streets like a king indeed, able to
hold up his head with any rich man in Ballarat. He tried it on, and
though it was much too big, he knew it shone. And the glory of a hat
is in its shining as much as its shape; even a black fellow knows
But that hat very nearly led to serious trouble. For one thing, Mr.
Colborn missed it; and never thinking Annie had given it away, when he
saw the king sitting on the fence decorated with it, he stopped and
"Where did you get that hat, you old thief?" asked the magistrate,
without any politeness to him who ruled the land before white men
broke into the country. Some in authority are polite to those they
dispossess; the Prussians, for instance, to the miserable King Billys
who strut about the empire. But the Anglo-Saxon only respects himself,
and even that to a limited extent, in new conquests.
The question troubled King Billy greatly. He did not know that Mr.
Colborn would as soon have thought of murdering Annie as of bullying
her; so he lied promptly: "Me buy 'um, Mistah Cobon!"
Mr. Colborn took it off of his head, and saw that it was his, as he
had thought. What he would have said I do not know, for just then he
heard a voice behind him:
"Papa, it is my fault; I gave it to King Billy."
Colborn turned round and took her up, letting fall the hat as he did
so. Billy made a jump, picked it up, and, in his agitation, brushed it
carefully the wrong way.
"My dear, if you gave it to him it's all right. But why didn't the old
fool tell me?"
"He's not an old fool, papa, and you must not say so. He's a good man,
and I think he thought you would be angry with me. Didn't you, King
Billy?" And the king, with a smile of conscious rectitude, admitted it
Mr. Colborn gave him sixpence; and he gave Annie a great many kisses,
declaring, with uncommon thoughtlessness, that whatever she did was
right, and that she could give the king all his house, and Australia
to boot. Whereon King Billy smiled a smile that was portentous, and
showed his teeth to the uttermost recesses of his ample mouth. Looking
down, he surveyed the rest of his clothes, which in parts resembled
the child's definition of a net as a lot of holes tied together with
string, and, looking up, he inspected Mr. Colborn as if estimating the
resources of his wardrobe. But being urgently smitten with the
necessity of getting rid of his sixpence, he shambled off into the
town. Other matters might wait; that admitted of no delay.
The mind of King Billy was not a big mind; it would no more have taken
in an abstract idea than his /gunyah/ would have accommodated a grand
piano. He was as simple as sunlight, and to resolve his intellect into
seven colours would want the most ingenious spectroscope. But he could
make an inference from a positive fact, and, having made it, he did
not allow more remote deductions to trouble his legitimate conclusion.
He ceased to fear Mr. Colborn, and began to look upon the magistrate's
property as if it were at least half his own. So he got very drunk on
the hospitality of a new chum miner who had been successful, and
presently, presuming on his new possessions, got into a fight with his
entertainer and a disrespectful subking of his own blacks, and was
reduced to worse rags than ever.
Next morning he sat outside the magistrate's house, on the lowest log
he could find, and when Mr. Colborn came out he tackled him with the
air of a subject king demanding redress of his suzerain.
"Well, Billy, what is it?" asked the suzerain.
"You belong gublement?" said Billy the king, with a question, an
implied doubt, and a great complaint in his voice. Colborn laughed.
"Why, yes, Billy; I belong to the government, I suppose."
"Then," said Billy, "what you say to white fellow make 'um black
fellow drunk, knock 'um all about? Call you that gublement?" And he
showed his kingly robe, which had once been a frock-coat, with great
However, he met with no favour, and was told that he should not get
drunk--that it served him right; with which magisterial decision
Colborn got on his horse and rode off to the flat.
The king sat down sadly and considered thickly in his slow brain.
Annie did not come out, and he knew better than to ask for her, for
Mr. Colborn's niece, who kept house for him, was but newly come from
home, and thought all black fellows congenital murderers, which indeed
they are in some parts of the north. So Billy sat and waited, for he
wanted a new coat. How could he be respected in one whose natural
divisions were unnaturally extended to the very neck? It was obviously
necessary to get a new garment at once, and the best chance of a good
one lay in little Annie's kindness. But in order to obviate the
slightest chance of his girl patron's refusing, he must bring her some
offering. He went off into the bush at the back of the town, and,
coming to where three or four black fellows were camped, he sat down
and talked with them. In spite of the heat, a wretched old gin,
muffled up in her one garment, a ragged blanket, held her hands over
the few burning sticks which represent an Australian native's idea of
a fire. Presently King Billy rose, and, taking a tomahawk, went
farther into the bush. He looked about, and at last came to a tree,
which he climbed native fashion, first discarding his clothes. When
near the first big branches he came to a hole, and, putting in his
hand, he extracted a lively young possum by the tail.
Next morning he was sitting on the Colborns' fence as usual. At his
feet was a little box with two or three slats nailed roughly across
it. Inside was the possum. King Billy wondered what kind of a coat he
could get. He liked a frock-coat; there was something majestic about
it, something fine and ample. Common morning coats would not do; no
one would insult a king by offering him tweed; even little Annie knew
better than that, especially if he gave her a live possum he had
caught himself. And when Annie did come out, she was in the seventh
heaven of delight with the possum, and ready to bestow anything in the
world on King Billy.
"You give poor Billy one fellow coat, missy, and he go down along
street like a king."
Annie flew into the house and seized the first garment she laid her
little hands on. It was her father's dress-coat. She rolled it up,
and, running out, thrust it excitedly into the king's black paw. As he
went off, she carried the possum indoors, and was deliriously happy
King Billy hurried into the bush till he came to a water-hole, and,
stripping off his rags, he held up the coat. His jaw fell; there was a
remarkable exiguity about the coat which was inexplicable. He had
never observed such in his life. He put it on, and, bending over the
surface of the still pool, took a good look at the general effect. It
was not bad from some points of view, but Billy had his doubts as to
whether he would be received with the respect due to his title if he
went into Ballarat clothed thus. He tried to button it, but discovered
that, if it had ever been intended for buttoning, he could not get it
to meet across his chest. He picked up his discarded frock-coat, which
was held together by the collar; then he felt the stuff of which the
dress-coat was made, and the material pleased him. "Oh, why," asked
Billy, "had it not been made with front tails?" He saw at last that
this coat and his high hat alone were insufficient for civilisation.
For full dress in a corroboree it might do. Unconsciously, he was so
wrought upon by the purpose for which the coat had been built that he
determined to reserve it for parties in the seclusion of the bush,
where any merriment could be rightly checked by a crack from his
waddy. He planted it carefully in a hollow log, and, having inserted
himself with as much care into his discarded rags, he wondered off
into the town. He got very intoxicated that night, and determined to
have a party all by himself.
Now it may seem very annoying, and I confess I find it so myself; but,
having got so far, I don't see my way to tell the rest, even if Annie
Colborn told me the story herself. For after her father's death she
married a man who had a small sheep-station and a hotel not forty
miles from Carabobla, in New South Wales. I stayed there a couple of
days when I was going north to the Murrumbidgee. But though she told
me, I cannot tell it again, at least not in bold, bad print. Still, it
will occur to most that a man of King Billy's sweet and innocent
disposition might very likely create a sensation, when his natural
discretion was drowned in bad whisky, if he ended his solitary
corroboree in the moonlight by going up to Colborn's house in order to
deliver a speech of gratitude through the French windows.
So Colborn and the king had a corroboree all to themselves in the open
space before the house, while the gold commissioner's guests roared
with laughter to find out where the missing dress-coat was. Next day
King Billy resumed the split frock-coat.
THY HEART'S DESIRE
The tents were pitched in the little plain surrounded by hills. Right
and left there were stretches of tender, vivid green where the young
corn was springing; farther still, on either hand, the plain was
yellow with mustard-flower; but in the immediate foreground it was
bare and stony. A few thorny bushes pushed their straggling way
through the dry soil, ineffectively as far as the grace of the
landscape was concerned, for they merely served to emphasise the
barren aridness of the land that stretched before the tents, sloping
gradually to the distant hills.
The hills were uninteresting enough in themselves; they had no
grandeur of outline, no picturesqueness even, though at morning and
evening the sun, like a great magician, clothed them with beauty at a
They had begun to change, to soften, to blush rose red in the evening
light, when a woman came to the entrance of the largest of the tents
and looked toward them. She leaned against the support on one side of
the canvas flap, and, putting back her head, rested that, too, against
it, while her eyes wandered over the plain and over the distant hills.
She was bareheaded, for the covering of the tent projected a few feet
to form an awning overhead. The gentle breeze which had risen with
sundown stirred the soft brown tendrils of hair on her temples, and
fluttered her pink cotton gown a little. She stood very still, with
her arms hanging and her hands clasped loosely in front of her. There
was about her whole attitude an air of studied quiet which in some
vague fashion the slight clasp of her hands accentuated. Her face,
with its tightly, almost rigidly closed lips, would have been quite in
keeping with the impression of conscious calm which her entire
presence suggested, had it not been that when she raised her eyes a
strange contradiction to this idea was afforded. They were large gray
eyes, unusually bright and rather startling in effect, for they seemed
the only live thing about her. Gleaming from her still, set face,
there was something almost alarming in their brilliancy. They softened
with a sudden glow of pleasure as they rested on the translucent green
of the wheat-fields under the broad generous sunlight, and then
wandered to where the pure vivid yellow of the mustard-flower spread
in waves to the base of the hills, now mystically veiled in radiance.
She stood motionless, watching their melting, elusive changes from
palpitating rose to the transparent purple of amethyst. The stillness
of evening was broken by the monotonous, not unmusical creaking of a
Persian wheel at some little distance to the left of the tent. The
well stood in a little grove of trees; between their branches she
could see, when she turned her head, the coloured saris of the village
women, where they stood in groups chattering as they drew the water,
and the little naked brown babies that toddled beside them or sprawled
on the hard ground beneath the trees. From the village of flat-roofed
mud houses under the low hill at the back of the tents, other women
were crossing the plain toward the well, their terra-cotta water-jars
poised easily on their heads, casting long shadows on the sun-baked
ground as they came.
Presently, in the distance, from the direction of the sunlit hills
opposite a little group of men came into sight. Far off, the mustard-
coloured jackets and the red turbans of the orderlies made vivid
splashes of colour on the dull plain. As they came nearer, the guns
slung across their shoulders, the cases of mathematical instruments,
the hammers, and other heavy baggage they carried for the sahib,
became visible. A little in front, at walking pace rode the sahib
himself, making notes as he came in a book he held before him. The
girl at the tent entrance watched the advance of the little company
indifferently, it seemed; except for a slight tightening of the
muscles about her mouth, her face remained unchanged. While he was
still some little distance away, the man with the notebook raised his
head and smiled awkwardly as he saw her standing there. Awkwardness,
perhaps, best describes the whole man. He was badly put together,
loose-jointed, ungainly. The fact that he was tall profited him
nothing, for it merely emphasised the extreme ungracefulness of his
figure. His long pale face was made paler by the shock of coarse, tow-
coloured hair; his eyes, even, looked colourless, though they were
certainly the least uninteresting feature of his face, for they were
not devoid of expression. He had a way of slouching when he moved that
singularly intensified the general uncouthness of his appearance. "Are
you very tired?" asked his wife, gently, when he had dismounted close
to the tent. The question would have been an unnecessary one had it
been put to her instead of to her husband, for her voice had that
peculiar flat toneless sound for which extreme weariness is
"Well, no, my dear, not very," he replied, drawling out the words with
an exasperating air of delivering a final verdict, after deep
reflection on the subject.
The girl glanced once more at the fading colours on the hills. "Come
in and rest," she said, moving aside a little to let him pass.
She stood lingering a moment after he had entered the tent, as though
unwilling to leave the outer air; and before she turned to follow him
she drew a deep breath, and her hand went for one swift second to her
throat as though she felt stifled.
Later on that evening she sat in her tent, sewing by the light of the
lamp that stood on her little table.
Opposite to her, her husband stretched his ungainly length in a deck-
chair, and turned over a pile of official notes. Every now and then
her eyes wandered from the gay silks of the table-cover she was
embroidering to the canvas walls which bounded the narrow space into
which their few household goods were crowded. Outside there was a deep
hush. The silence of the vast empty plain seemed to work its way
slowly, steadily in toward the little patch of light set in its midst.
The girl felt it in every nerve; it was as though some soft-footed,
noiseless, shapeless creature, whose presence she only dimly divined,
was approaching nearer--/nearer/. The heavy outer stillness was in
some way made more terrifying by the rustle of the papers her husband
was reading, by the creaking of his chair as he moved, and by the
little fidgeting grunts and half-exclamations which from time to time
broke from him. His wife's hand shook at every unintelligible mutter
from him, and the slight habitual contraction between her eyes
All at once she threw her work down on to the table. "For heaven's
sake--/please/, John, /talk/!" she cried. Her eyes, for the moment's
space in which they met the startled ones of her husband, had a wild,
hunted look, but it was gone almost before his slow brain had time to
note that it had been there--and was vaguely disturbing. She laughed a
"Did I startle you? I'm sorry. I"--she laughed again--"I believe I'm a
little nervous. When one is all day alone--" She paused without
finishing the sentence. The man's face changed suddenly. A wave of
tenderness swept over it, and at the same time an expression of half-
incredulous delight shone in his pale eyes.
"Poor little girl, are you really lonely?" he said. Even the real
feeling in his tone failed to rob his voice of its peculiarly
irritating grating quality. He rose awkwardly, and moved to his wife's
Involuntarily she shrank a little, and the hand which he had stretched
out to touch her hair sank to his side. She recovered herself
immediately, and turned her face up to his, though she did not raise
her eyes; but he did not kiss her. Instead, he stood in an embarrassed
fashion a moment by her side, and then went back to his seat.
There was silence again for some time. The man lay back in his chair,
gazing at his big, clumsy shoes as though he hoped for some
inspiration from that quarter, while his wife worked with nervous
"Don't let me keep you from reading, John," she said, and her voice
had regained its usual gentle tone.
"No, my dear; I'm just thinking of something to say to you, but I
She smiled a little. In spite of herself, her lip curled faintly.
"Don't worry about it; it was stupid of me to expect it. I mean--" she
added, hastily, immediately repenting the sarcasm. She glanced
furtively at him, but his face was quite unmoved; evidently he had not
noticed it, and she smiled faintly again.
"O Kathie, I knew there was /something/ I'd forgotten to tell you, my
dear; there's a man coming down here. I don't know whether--"
She looked up sharply. "A man coming /here/? What for?" she
"Sent to help me about this oil-boring business, my dear."
He had lighted his pipe, and was smoking placidly, taking long whiffs
between his words.
"Well?" impatiently questioned his wife, fixing her bright eyes on his
"Well--that's all, my dear."
She checked an exclamation. "But don't you know anything about him--
his name? where he comes from? what he is like?" She was leaning
forward against the table, her needle, with a long end of yellow silk
drawn half-way through her work, held in her upraised hand, her whole
attitude one of quivering excitement and expectancy.
The man took his pipe from his mouth deliberately, with a look of slow
"Why, Kathie, you seem quite anxious. I didn't know you'd be so
interested, my dear. Well,"--another long pull at his pipe,--"his
name's Brook--/Brookfield/, I think." He paused again. "This pipe
doesn't draw well a bit; there's something wrong with it, I shouldn't
wonder," he added, taking it out and examining the bowl as though
struck with the brilliance of the idea.
The woman opposite put down her work and clinched her hands under the
"Go on, John," she said, presently, in a tense, vibrating voice; "his
name is Brookfield. Well, where does he come from?"
"Straight from home, my dear, I believe." He fumbled in his pocket,
and after some time extricated a pencil, with which he began to poke
the tobacco in the bowl in an ineffectual aimless fashion, becoming
completely engrossed in the occupation apparently. There was another
long pause. The woman went on working, or feigning to work, for her
hands were trembling a good deal.
After some moments she raised her head again. "John, will you mind
attending to me one moment, and answering these questions as quickly
as you can?" The emphasis on the last word was so faint as to be
almost as imperceptible as the touch of exasperated contempt which she
could not absolutely banish from her tone.
Her husband, looking up, met her clear bright gaze, and reddened like
"Whereabouts '/from home/' does he come?" she asked, in a studiedly
"Well, from London, I think," he replied, almost briskly for him,
though he stammered and tripped over the words. "He's a university
chap; I used to hear he was clever; I don't know about that, I'm sure;
he used to chaff me, I remember, but--"
"Chaff /you/? You have met him then?"
"Yes, my dear,"--he was fast relapsing into his slow drawl again,--
"that is, I went to school with him; but it's a long time ago.
Brookfield--yes, that must be his name."
She waited a moment; then, "When is he coming?" she inquired,
"Let me see--to-day's--"
"/Monday/;" the word came swiftly between her set teeth.
"Ah, yes--Monday; well," reflectively, "/next/ Monday, my dear."
Mrs. Drayton rose, and began to pace softly the narrow passage between
the table and the tent wall, her hands clasped loosely behind her.
"How long have you known this?" she said, stopping abruptly. "O John,
you /needn't/ consider; it's quite a simple question. To-day?
Her foot moved restlessly on the ground as she waited.
"I think it was the day before yesterday," he replied.
"Then why, in heaven's name, didn't you tell me before?" she broke
"My dear, it slipped my memory. If I'd thought you would be
"Interested!" She laughed shortly. "It /is/ rather interesting to hear
that after six months of this"--she made a quick comprehensive gesture
with her hand--"one will have some one to speak to--some one. It is
the hand of Providence; it comes just in time to save me from--" She
checked herself abruptly.
He sat staring up at her stupidly, without a word.
"It's all right, John," she said, with a quick change of tone,
gathering up her work quietly as she spoke. "I'm not mad--yet. You--
you must get used to these little outbreaks," she added, after a
moment, smiling faintly; "and, to do me justice, I don't /often/
trouble you with them, do I? I'm just a little tired, or it's the heat
or--something. No--don't touch me!" she cried, shrinking back; for he
had risen slowly and was coming toward her.
She had lost command over her voice, and the shrill note of horror in
it was unmistakable. The man heard it, and shrank in his turn.
"I'm so sorry, John," she murmured, raising her great bright eyes to
his face. They had not lost their goaded expression, though they were
full of tears. "I'm awfully sorry; but I'm just nervous and stupid,
and I can't bear /any one/ to touch me when I'm nervous."
"Here's Broomhurst, my dear! I made a mistake in his name after all, I
find. I told you /Brookfield/, I believe, didn't I? Well, it isn't
Brookfield, he says; it's Broomhurst."
Mrs. Drayton had walked some little distance across the plain to meet
and welcome the expected guest. She stood quietly waiting while her
husband stammered over his incoherent sentences, and then put out her
"We are very glad to see you," she said, with a quick glance at the
new-comer's face as she spoke.
As they walked together toward the tent, after the first greetings,
she felt his keen eyes upon her before he turned to her husband.
"I'm afraid Mrs. Drayton finds the climate trying?" he asked. "Perhaps
she ought not to have come so far in this heat?"
"Kathie is often pale. You /do/ look white to-day, my dear," he
observed, turning anxiously toward his wife.
"Do I?" she replied. The unsteadiness of her tone was hardly
appreciable, but it was not lost on Broomhurst's quick ears. "Oh, I
don't think so. I /feel/ very well."
"I'll come and see if they've fixed you up all right," said Drayton,
following his companion toward the new tent that had been pitched at
some little distance from the large one.
"We shall see you at dinner then?" Mrs. Drayton observed in reply to
Broomhurst's smile as they parted.
She entered the tent slowly, and, moving up to the table already laid
for dinner, began to rearrange the things upon it in a purposeless,
After a moment she sank down upon a seat opposite the open entrance,
and put her hand to her head.
"What is the matter with me?" she thought, wearily. "All the week I've
been looking forward to seeing this man--/any/ man, /any one/ to take
off the edge of this." She shuddered. Even in thought she hesitated to
analyse the feeling that possessed her. "Well, he's here, and I think
I feel /worse/." Her eyes travelled toward the hills she had been used
to watch at this hour, and rested on them with a vague, unseeing gaze.
"Tired Kathie? A penny for your thoughts, my dear," said her husband,
coming in presently to find her still sitting there.
"I'm thinking what a curious world this is, and what an ironical vein
of humour the gods who look after it must possess," she replied, with
a mirthless laugh, rising as she spoke.
John looked puzzled.
"Funny my having known Broomhurst before, you mean?" he said
"I was fishing down at Lynmouth this time last year," Broomhurst said
at dinner. "You know Lynmouth, Mrs. Drayton? Do you never imagine you
hear the gurgling of the stream? I am tantalised already by the sound
of it rushing through the beautiful green gloom of those woods--
/aren't/ they lovely? And /I/ haven't been in this burnt-up spot as
many hours as you've had months of it."
She smiled a little.
"You must learn to possess your soul in patience," she said, and
glanced inconsequently from Broomhurst to her husband, and then
dropped her eyes and was silent a moment.
John was obviously, and a little audibly, enjoying his dinner. He sat
with his chair pushed close to the table, and his elbows awkwardly
raised, swallowing his soup in gulps. He grasped his spoon tightly in
his bony hand, so that its swollen joints stood out larger and uglier
than ever, his wife thought.
Her eyes wandered to Broomhurst's hands. They were well shaped, and,
though not small, there was a look of refinement about them; he had a
way of touching things delicately, a little lingeringly, she noticed.
There was an air of distinction about his clear-cut, clean-shaven
face, possibly intensified by contrast with Drayton's blurred
features; and it was, perhaps, also by contrast with the gray cuffs
that showed beneath John's ill-cut drab suit that the linen Broomhurst
wore seemed to her particularly spotless.
Broomhurst's thoughts, for his part, were a good deal occupied with
She was pretty, he thought, or perhaps it was that, with the wide, dry
lonely plain as a setting, her fragile delicacy of appearance was
invested with a certain flower-like charm.
"The silence here seems rather strange, rather appalling at first,
when one is fresh from a town," he pursued, after a moment's pause;
"but I suppose you're used to it, eh, Drayton? How do /you/ find life
here, Mrs. Drayton?" he asked, a little curiously, turning to her as
She hesitated a second. "Oh, much the same as I should find it
anywhere else, I expect," she replied; "after all, one carries the
possibilities of a happy life about with one; don't you think so? The
Garden of Eden wouldn't necessarily make my life any happier, or less
happy, than a howling wilderness like this. It depends on one's self
"Given the right Adam and Eve, the desert blossoms like the rose, in
fact," Broomhurst answered, lightly, with a smiling glance inclusive
of husband and wife; "you two don't feel as though you'd been driven
out of Paradise, evidently."
Drayton raised his eyes from his plate with a smile of total
"Great heavens! what an Adam to select!" thought Broomhurst,
involuntarily, as Mrs. Drayton rose rather suddenly from the table.
"I'll come and help with that packing-case," John said, rising, in his
turn, lumberingly from his place; "then we can have a smoke--eh!
Kathie don't mind, if we sit near the entrance.
The two men went out together, Broomhurst holding the lantern, for the
moon had not yet risen. Mrs. Drayton followed them to the doorway,
and, pushing the looped-up hanging farther aside, stepped out into the
Her heart was beating quickly, and there was a great lump in her
throat that frightened her as though she were choking.
"And I am his /wife/--I /belong/ to him!" she cried, almost aloud.
She pressed both her hands tightly against her breast, and set her
teeth, fighting to keep down the rising flood that threatened to sweep
away her composure. "Oh, what a fool I am! What an hysterical fool of