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Get to Know Us. English Choose a language for shopping. I never really believed it would come to that. He once or twice hinted that there was a girl — the "nice English girl" that I had chaffed him about. I had an idea that it was his way of putting pressure on me. The first time was the evening that I dined alone with him at the Exhibition. I grow hot this moment thinking that he may have supposed I was in the habit of dining alone with men in French restaurants at popular Exhibitions.
I don't know why I did for this man what I'd never done for any other, Partly, I fancy, because it never dawned upon me that he could misunderstand me. Rosamond says I idealised him too much, and that he's just the ordinary man and not the tiniest bit of the Bayard I imagined him. I daresay she's right, and that he may have laughed in his sleeve at my romantic rhapsodies.
All the same, I never can convince myself that he is a mere fortune-hunter. Perhaps the very fact that I didn't make the smallest effort to wrest him from Mademoiselle Croesus when he tried to make me jealous seemed proof to him that he was no more to me than a caprice.
So, when we made each other an atrocious scene and I told him to go off to her, he simply took me at my word. The scene began with my telling him about my sort of engagement to Aubrey Blaine — whom as you know, I was really nearer to marrying than I have been to marrying anybody. And yet, as I tried to explain to Will, I didn't want to marry Aubrey. Only the mischief with me is always that I can't hold back with one hand and give with the other. Will wasn't able to enter into my feelings about that affair in the very least or to understand how, when it came to the point, I realised that I couldn't sink to domesticity on seven hundred a year.
Fancy taking a house in Pimlico or West Kensington, or one of those horrible places with a man to whom you have a violent attraction and consulting with your adored as to whether you could run to three maids and a Tweeny! The sordidness of it would be too disenchanting.
When I said something like that to Will, he flared up and we hurled nasty speeches at each other, and finally he walked off slamming the door — I used to hear that slam in my dreams sometimes — or it may have been Luke coming in late — the Tallants' hall door makes a particularly Kismetish bang. That was our real parting, though it wasn't the last. He wrote to me — a bitter sort of farewell. And I did a mad thing. I went to see him in his rooms. But when I got there, his manner — something he said which offended me — one can't explain the unexplainable — started the scene all over again.
It was as if a mocking demon came up between us. That time it was I who left him. The next thing I heard was that he and Mademoiselle Croesus were engaged. I wrote to him — I know it wasn't the proper sort of letter — I daresay he saw through my pretended indifference. He sent me back my letters as I had asked him to do — wrote me in quite the right strain — said he was not worthy of me — that I'd shewn him I was far above him — that he might not presume to think I could be happy with a man of his inadequate means and position — that he could never forget me — and so on — but that it was best as it is.
And now I've got to get what consolation I can out of my own inner conviction — that it is best as it is, and that I ought to be thankful for being still Bridget O'Hara, mistress of my own fate, and free yet to sport about — sport! I make over to you the copyright of my sufferings. It was resumed on another sheet six weeks later at Gaverick Castle. I daren't read them over, but they'll give you an idea of my state of mind during those last dreadful weeks in London. My nerves are now in a little better condition.
Since I came here, I've set myself resolutely not to think of Will — that is, not more than I can help; there are times when his ghost is extremely active. I'm putting out brain-feelers, for I know that I should go to pieces altogether if I didn't throw myself into some new interest. So that I'm trying a system for the development of one's higher faculties that was taught me by a queer old German professor I met at Caux last summer, who was interested in the odd little second-sight experiences I've had occasionally which I told him about.
He made me do exercises in deep-breathing and meditation — you shut yourself up, darken your room and concentrate upon a subject — Beauty, Wisdom, Friendship, were some of the subjects he gave me — and you can't think how thrillingly absorbing it was. I worked frightfully hard at it for a bit, drinking only distilled water and living on vegetables — you can do that in Switzerland: Has it come to that!
Ah Joan, I have a horrible suspicion that however much I may try to persuade myself I'm concentrating upon some abstract theme, I've really all the time been thinking of him. Yesterday I took Friendship for my study in concentration. You, dear thing, came up, naturally, and your image actually kept Will away for a clear five seconds. I thought what a help it would be to be with you, and afterwards I made the suggestion of an Australian trip on literary business to Aunt Eliza, but it was no good.
She is deeply engaged just now in driving batches of stuffy relatives in a stuffy brougham — luckily there's no room for me in it — to still stuffier garden parties. And, besides, I don't feel that I can take any desperate step of that kind until the Irrevocable has been written in Destiny's Book.
Will Maule is not married yet.
Well, anyhow, the meditation on Friendship was comparatively successful. Wisdom I found beyond me, and Beauty awakened painful memories. To-day I mean to concentrate on wealth — one of my Professor's theories is that if you concentrate regularly on a thing you are bound in the long run to get what you set your mind upon, and I do find my position of dependence upon Aunt Eliza too unspeakably galling.
What a monstrous injustice it seems that I — who if I had been born a boy, must have been Earl of Gaverick, should be at the mercy of an ill-tempered, miserly, old woman who may leave the home of my forefathers to a crossing-sweeper if she pleases. I suppose it ought to go to Chris, but one doesn't feel called upon to arraign Fate on behalf of a distant cousin who by rights has no business to be Lord Gaverick at all. I'm concentrating on Art too. Every day I do some inspirational painting by the sea shore.
I've made some studies of Wave-fairies for the Children's Story Book we planned to do together. It's quite invigorating to sport about with them in imagination, in a grey-green stormy sea, out of reach of human banalities. I can feel the cold spray as I paint and the sense of power and rest in the elemental forces — an almost Wagnerian feeling of great Cosmic Realities. How like Biddy O'Hara! She couldn't be so utterly heart-broken if she was able to practise deep breathing and concentration — Wealth, Friendship, Art — a pretty comprehensive repertoire — and to prate on Cosmic Realities and the Wagnerian feeling!
But presently the tragic note shrieked again. He has been obsessing me these last days. He too — I am certain of it — dreads the Irrevocable, and regrets the rupture between us. I dream of him continually — such restless, tantalising dreams. And yet my mood is so contradictory. If the marriage were broken off and he stood before me, free, and offered himself!
Something deep down inside me says — has always said — "It would be a mistake; this is not the real thing: Life goes on here, all dribble, waste and fret — I cannot concentrate, I cannot paint — the Wave-fairies won't play — Your Bush gobies appeal more to my present humour. I feel a sort of nostalgia for the wild — though my nostalgia is mental, and not from any former association. Do not be surprised if some day you get a telegram saying that I am coming. I have just read the account of the ceremony — I can see it all — the usual semi-smart opulent wedding — palms lining the aisle, Orange blossom galore.
The bride "beautiful in cream satin and old lace" — Evelyn Mary is simply a Lump — Pages in white velvet — The fussy overdressed Bagallay crowd of friends — I hear there are no "in-laws," And the bridegroom's face — dark, cynical — I know the sort of miserable smile and the queer glitter in his eyes. I'm a blathering idiot to mind.
I ought to be dancing with joy at my escape. Let us end the chapter. The incident is closed, I'm going for a long tramp by the sea and shall post this on my way. She had to report on the small holders of property in Leichardt's Land and made a trip for that purpose among the free-selectors in her own old district.
The Twenty Years After letter she wrote about this expedition for The Imperialist was one of her best, and for that she was greatly indebted to Colin McKeith's commentaries. Old associations with him had been vividly reawakened by this visit to the home of her youth. She remembered, as if it had been yesterday, how McKeith, a raw youth of eighteen with a horrible tragedy at the back of his young life, had been picked up by her father and brought to Bungroopim to learn the work of a cattle-station.
Joan was herself a girl in short frocks, three or four years younger than Colin McKeith, and with no apparent prospect of ever crossing the 'big fella Water,' as the Ubi Blacks called it, or of joining the band of Bohemian scribblers in London. She remembered how quickly Colin had learned his work — remembered how the shy self-contained lad, with always that grim memory of his boyhood shaping a vengeful purpose in his mind and making him old for his years, had developed the flair of the Bush in his hardy Scotch constitution. She was compelled to own that he had developed, too, some of the worst as well as the best of those Scotch qualities inherited from his parents, expatriated though they had been, and from the staunch clansmen behind them.
He had the Scotch loyalty; likewise, the Scotch tenacity of character which never forgot and very seldom forgave; the Scotch obstinacy of purpose and opinion; the Scotch acquisitiveness; a tendency too to 'nearness' in matters of small expenditure which combined oddly with a generosity amounting almost to recklessness in large enterprise.
It was on the whole not a bad outfit for a pioneer who meant to get on in his world. The beginnings were small, but indicative of the trend of his career. He contrived, even when he was earning no salary but working only for his 'tucker,' to get together a horse or two, a cow or two, a specially good cattle-dog or two, which last he made the nucleus of a profitable breed.
The cows and bullocks he left at Bungroopim when the time came for him to push out, reclaiming them after they had increased and multiplied in those pleasant pastures like Jacob's herds in the fields of Laban. Not that there was any seven years matrimonial question.
There had been no Leah. Or if Joan Gildea had ever played the part of Rachel in Colin McKeith's sentimental dreams, those boyish dreams had left no serious mark upon him. He had gone north to a newly-formed station and had there out-bushed the bushman in his knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of cattle and sheep and his amazing faculty for spotting country suitable for either. Here no doubt his descent from generations of herdsmen had stood him in good stead. He sold his knowledge to rich squatters in the settled districts who employed him to take up new country for them and to manage the hundreds of square miles and the thousands of stock from which they derived the best part of their wealth.
But he only managed for other men until he had made enough money of his own to take up and stock new country for himself. In a few years he had acquired a moderate-sized herd and established himself with it on the almost unexplored reaches of the Upper Leura. Life on that river never lacked dangerous adventure. McKeith's father had owned a station on the Lower Leura — the bank took it in payment of their mortgage after the catastrophe occurred. That station had been the scene of one of the most horrible native outrages in the history of Australia. The tragedy had set its mark on Colin McKeith.
Left a penniless boy after having worked his way to independent manhood he had made it his purpose to pursue the wild black with relentless animosity. All along the Upper Leura to the fastnesses at the river's head where his new station stood on the boundaries of civilisation he had gone, mercilessly punishing native depredations. He had been put on trial by a humanitarian Government for so-called manslaughter of natives, and had been acquitted under an administration immediately succeeding it.
Afterwards he had at the peril of his life, made an exploring trip across the base of the northern peninsula of the colony with the intention, as he phrased it, of 'shaking round a bit. Colin McKeith solved the mystery of that explorer's fate and had his revenge on the Government which had impeached him by pocketing the reward which it had offered any adventurous pioneer following on the lost explorer's steps. Later, McKeith was given a mission to explore and develop a certain tract of fertile country between the heads of the Leura and the Big Bight — the particular Premier instigating the mission being a far-sighted politician who realised that a Japanese invasion of the northern coast might eventually interfere very radically with the plan for a White Australia.
He volunteered, too, for the Boer War, and did a short term of service with the Australian Contingent in South Africa. He dreamed more and more of becoming an Empire-maker — a sort of Australian Cecil Rhodes. But he was wise enough to realise that all Empire-making cannot be on the Rhodesian scale. He realised that his personal fortune must first be secured. Without money one can do nothing.
Cecil Rhodes had had the natural wealth of Rhodesia at his back. McKeith had set himself the task of opening up the fine country out West, which he knew only needed a system of irrigation by Artesian Bores to defy drought, the squatters curse. That object once accomplished — he gave himself with luck and good seasons five or six years — there would be nothing to stop his becoming a patriot and a millionaire.
But Colin went slowly and cannily — and that was why the Leichardt's Land Government believed in him. He had the reputation of never spending a penny on his private or public ambitions where a halfpenny would serve his purpose, and he was known to be a man of deep counsels and sparing of speech. Thus, no one knew exactly what was his business down south at this time. Only the general remark was that Colin McKeith had his head screwed on the right way and that some day he would come out on top. But that there was deep down a spring of romance beneath that hard Bushman's exterior, Joan Gildea, herself a romance writer, guessed easily.
And her intuition told her that a little thin bore had been made in the direction of that vital spring of romance by his inadvertent reading of Lady Bridget O'Hara's letter. CHAPTER 7 Joan saw that McKeith was extremely anxious to know more about the writer of that letter and the progress of that love-affair, though he had given his word of honour that he would not try to find out her identity. But he put subtle questions to Joan about her friends in England and her acquaintance with the higher circles of society in London. Once, he asked her straight out whether she had heard again from her typewriting correspondent, and if the Soldier of Fortune had proved himself a Bounder, as they had suspected?
She's practising Deep-breathing and Concentration to try and drive the man from her thoughts. Oh, you mean Theosophy and that kind of thing. I went to hear Mrs Annie Besant lecture once, and I couldn't make head or tail of it. But it was a German Professor who taught B— No. I will not tell you her name. They were in the veranda of her cottage, and he was seated on the steps smoking, his long legs stretched out against one veranda post, his broad back against another.
If you pass the Chronicle Office, I wish you'd lodge a complaint for me against the vagaries of their distribution department. Twice lately I haven't had the paper till the afternoon. Joan stopped cleaning her typewriter and examined the column of latest intelligence. No good telling me that. She wrote that "Luke" was hankering after a colonial governorship.
Luke Tallant's a friend of Chamberlain's, a thorough Imperialist and a very good man for the post. Has it come to Her! Colin, if anyone had told me that you would ever be fool enough to fall in love with a woman you've never seen, I should have laughed outright.
You don't even know what she's like. You'd never believe either what a queer idealistic chap I can be when I'm mooning about the Bush. Don't you know, Joan' — and his voice got suddenly grave and deep-toned — 'you ought to, for you were a bush girl and you've had men-kind out in the Back Blocks — Don't you know that when a man has got to go on day after day, week after week, year after year, fighting devils of loneliness and worse — with nothing to look at except miles and miles of stark staring gum trees and black, smelling gidgee 1 and dead-finish scrub — and never the glimpse of a woman — not counting black gins — to remind him he once had a mother and might have a wife.
Well, can't you see that his only chance of not growing into a rotten hatter 2 is to start picturing in his imagination all the beautiful things he's ever seen or read about — the sort of lady-wife he hopes to have some day and in making such a companion of her that she seems to him as real as the stars and far more real than the gum trees.
So as he'll keep saying to her always in his thoughts: I'll never forget that I'm a gentleman, so as you won't shrink away from me in horror if ever I've the luck to come across you down here on this Earth. Though I see by your writing that you've a fair notion of how this cursed, grim, glorious old Bush can play the deuce with a chap — body and brain and soul — if he doesn't wear the right kind of talisman to safeguard himself.
And your talisman, Colin? What was your picture of the lady-wife? Describe your Ideal and I'll tell you if She is the least bit like it. The lines in his forehead and round his mouth showed plainly. He was gazing out into space, far beyond the sun-flecked Leichardt River and the Botanical Gardens, and the glaring city and the range of distant hills on the horizon.
She is tall — got a presence, so that if She's there, you'd know it and everybody else would know it, no matter how many other women there might be in the place. Most big men take to their opposites. Now, though I'm a big man I've never fancied a snippet of a girl. Five foot seven of height is my measure of a woman, and a good ten stone in the saddle — What are you laughing at, Joan?
I'm out there, I suppose? In fact, your description fits the Ideal Wife perfectly. Five foot seven and a good ten stone. How is the rest of Her? Fair or dark — her hair now — and her eyes? Her hair is dark, soft and cloudy looking. And she's got a small head set like — like a lily on its stem — and her hair is parted in the middle and coiled smoothly each side and into a sort of Greek knot.
Something of that sort. Dignity and sweetness, you know — those are what I admire in a woman. But not too much of the goddess or of the angel either. I shouldn't want always to have to load up with a pedestal when we shifted camp, and the only shrine I'd keep going for her would be in my heart. It's a Mate I'm wanting, as well as an Ideal. Now you're laughing again. I agree with you entirely — and so would She. You needn't tell me. I shouldn't wonder if I'd got the second sight where She's concerned. But you haven't finished your personal description. What about the colour of her eyes?
They're the kind, to me, that have no colour. Soft and melting and sort of mysterious — Deep and clear and with a light far down in them like starlight reflected in a still lagoon. I say, Joan, you remember the old Eight Mile Water-hole on Dingo Flat — middle of the patch of flooded gum and she-oak — that the Blacks used to say had no bottom to it? Her eyes seemed to me a bit like that water-hole — No bottom to her possibilities.
She seemed to write flippantly about things — but that was just because she hates insincerity and flummery, and the world she lives in doesn't satisfy her. Why, it was as if I read slick through to her soul.
That woman would go through anything for a man she really loved. She was discovering a new Colin McKeith. I think she would — if she really loved him. You see, that would make a difference. What do you mean? Look here, Joan, you've as good as told me — and if you hadn't, I'd be pretty thick-headed not to have put two and two together — that the Luke of her letters is Sir Luke Tallant, our new Governor. Well, if she was staying with him in London, and his wife is a friend of hers, why shouldn't she come and stay with them out here?
Colin had not read the opening sheet of her letter. You — a hard-headed Bushman, to be dreaming romantic dreams and falling all of a sudden over head and ears in love with — with a figment of your imagination — just because you happen to have read by mistake some sentimental outpourings of a woman you know nothing about and who would never forgive me if she knew I'd let you see her letter. And as to my falling in love with — a figment of my own imagination' — he spat the words out savagely — 'we'll see how far your remark is justified when She does come out and I recognise her — as I am convinced I shall do directly I set eyes on Her.
He was very busy himself at this time in connection with a threatened labour strike that was agitating sheep and cattle owners of the Leura District. Likewise with a report he had been asked to furnish of a projected telegraph line for the opening of his 'Big Bight Country'.
Colin McKeith appeared to be deep in the confidence of the Leichardt's Land Executive Council and to have taken up his abode for the winter session in the Seat of Government, though he seemed to regard his recent election for a Northern constituency as an unimportant episode in a career ultimately consecrated to the elucidation of far-reaching Imperial problems. Joan Gildea found him excellent 'copy,' and the great Gibbs cablegrammed, in code, approval of her lately-tapped source of information.
She almost forgot Bridget O'Hara in her absorption in colonial topics. But three weeks before the expected arrival of the new Governor of Leichardt's Land a cablegram was shot at her from Colombo which made her feel that there was no use in setting oneself against Destiny.
This was the wire: Expect me with Tallants Biddy. She said nothing to Colin McKeith about the message — partly because his movements were erratic and he was a good deal away from Leichardt's town just then. Thus Mrs Gildea did not know whether or not he had read the flowery description telegraphed by a Melbourne correspondent who interviewed Sir Luke Tallant and his party at that city and wired an ecstatic paragraph about the beautiful Lady Bridget O'Hara who was accompanying her friend and distant relative, the Honourable Lady Tallant.
Anyway, McKeith made no references to the newspaper correspondent's rhapsodies when he paid Mrs Gildea a short visit two or three days before the landing of the new Governor. But his very reticence and something in his expression made Joan suspect that he was puzzled and excited, and would have been glad had she volunteered any information about Lady Tallant's companion. Joan, however, kept perverse silence. In truth, she felt considerably nervous over the prospect. What was going to happen when Colin McKeith set eyes on Bridget?
Joan Gildea was a simple woman though circumstances had made her a shrewd one, and she had all the elementary feminine instincts. She believed in love and in strange affinities and in hidden threads of destiny — all of which ideas fitted beautifully on to Bridget O'Hara's personality, but not at all on to that of Colin McKeith. These two met in the vestibule as they emerged respectively from the ladies' and gentlemen's cloak-room. Both held back to allow certain Members of the Ministry to enter the drawing-room before them, which gave opportunity for an interchange of greetings.
If you like, I'll give you material for a first-rate article upon an uncommon phenomenon of Nature. I shall be grateful. Colin' — hesitatingly, 'I did think you'd have come and looked after an old friend at the big Show in the Botanical Gardens when the Governor made his State Entry. Sir Luke Tallant has got a bit too much red tape and too many airs about him to suit the Leichardt'stonians. But at that moment a footman came towards them, and Mrs Gildea was handed on to an imposing butler and ushered through a wide palm-screened doorway into the large inner hall which had a gallery round it and the big staircase at one end.
Joan saw that the room, formerly stiffly furnished and used chiefly as a ballroom, had been transmogrified with comfortable lounge chairs and sofas, beautiful embroideries, screens, a spinet and many flowers and books into a delightful general sitting-room. It seemed quite full — mostly of official Leichardt'stonians. Joan looked for the new Governor and his wife, or at least for Lady Biddy, but none of them had yet put in an appearance.
A handsome, fair-moustachioed young aide-de-camp, looking very smart in his evening uniform with white lapels, was fluttering round, his dinner list in his hand, and introducing people who already knew each other. He looked distinctly worried, so did the private secretary — sallow-faced, of a clerkish type, and obviously without social qualifications — who was also wandering round and trying ineffectively to do the right thing.
The aide-de-camp rushed forward to shake hands with Joan, exclaiming in a relieved undertone: I believe I've made an awful hash of it all. People out here,' he murmured, 'ain't used to viceregal etiquette as she is interpreted in Ceylon — that was my last post you know. They seem to think his Excellency ought to have been standing at the door to receive them ,instead of their waiting to receive him.
The Premier of Leichardt's Land, a red-faced gentleman of blunt speech, was grumbling audibly to the Attorney-General. Mrs Gildea caught snatches of discontent as she passed from one to another. A salaried official, no better than any of us, giving himself royal airs. May do in India. Of course you know Dr Plumtree? Literature and learning is an obvious combination, but' in a confidential aside 'if you knew the job I've had to find out the right order of precedence. Mr McKeith, the Governor will be so glad to meet you.
Will you take in Lady Bridget O'Hara? She's not down yet. You see,' he explained again to Mrs Gildea, 'we're strictly official to-night and Debrett's out of it. There was a rustle of silk on the grand staircase — the slam of a door above, the sound of a laugh and the patter of little high-heeled shoes on the parquet floor of the gallery.
The aide darted to the foot of the staircase and all eyes turned upward. The new Governor and his wife came down in slow and stately fashion, arm-in-arm, Sir Luke looking very impressive with the Ribbon and Order of St Michael and St George. He was a handsome man, clean-shaven but for a heavy dark moustache, and carried his dignities with perhaps a little too conscious an air — 'Representative of the Throne' seemed written all over him and no greater contrast could be imagined than the new Governor presented to his predecessor, an elderly, impoverished marquis who had the brain of a diplomatist and the manners of a British farmer, and who with his homely wife had been immensely popular in Leichardt's Land.
Nor a greater contrast than the new Governor's wife to the fat, kindly, old marchioness. Lady Tallant was a London woman, of about forty-five. She had been excessively pretty, but had rather lost her looks after a bad illness, and her worst affliction was now a tendency to scragginess, cleverly concealed where the chest was no longer visible. Obviously artificial outside, at any rate Lady Tallant was, as Mrs Gildea had reason to believe, a genuine sort underneath. She had a thin, high-nosed face of the conventional English aristocratic type, a good deal rouged to-night, but with natural shadows under the eyes and below the arch of the brows which were toned to correspond with the evidently dyed hair.
Her dress, a Paris creation of pale satin and glistening embroidery, was draped to hide her thinness, and her neck and throat were almost covered with strings of pearls and clusters of clear-set diamonds. Judging from the way in which the Leichardt'stonians stared at her as she came down the stairs, it seemed probable that none of them had ever before seen anyone quite like Lady Tallant.
Joan Gildea's eyes passed quickly from Sir Luke and Lady Tallant to a third figure behind them, on the half-landing, but first she realised in a flashing glance that Colin McKeith's gaze had been all the while riveted upon that figure. Not in astonishment — a proof to Joan that he had seen it before — but in a kind of unwilling fascination, most upsetting to Mrs Gildea's sense of responsibility in the matter.
The Visionary Woman of the camp-fire! What did he now behold? A very little woman. One of the snippets he despised. Not an ounce of the traditional dignity about her. Lady Bridget gave the impression of an old-fashioned, precocious child, dressed up in a picture frock of soft shining white stuff, hanging on a straight slender form and gathered into a girdle at the waist, with a wisp of old lace flung carelessly over the slight shoulders. She stood for a moment or two on the half landing, then, as the aide-de-camp murmured in the Governor's ear at the foot of the stairs, she came close to the bannisters and looked down amusedly at the party in the hall.
Her face was a little poked forward — a small oval face, pale except for the redness of a rather thin-lipped mouth — the upper lip like a scarlet bow — and the brilliance of the eyes, deep-set under finely-drawn brows and with thick lashes, golden-brown, and curling up at the tips. Mrs Gildea, who knew them well, never could decide their exact colour.
The nose was a delicate aquiline, the chin pointed. An untidy mass of wavy chestnut hair stuck out in uneven puffs and insubordinate curls, all round the small head. At this moment Mrs Gildea remembered a suggestive charm sent to Lady Bridget by her cousin, Chris Gaverick, one Christmas, of a miniature gold curry-comb. It was a vivid brief impression, for the girl moved on immediately, but Joan noticed that Colin McKeith had arrested Lady Bridget's wandering gaze. That was not surprising, for his great height and the distinctiveness of his appearance, made him more likely than anyone else present to attract her attention.
Then, as she caught sight of Joan, the interested, startled look changed to one of bright recognition, the red lips smiled, showing dimples at their sensitive corners. This, Lady Tallant did with quite enchanting courtesy, making an apt apology for having kept them waiting, which almost mollified the irate Premier. Bridget came with a swift gliding movement to the side of her friend, squeezed her hand and held it, while she talked in a soft rapid monotone.
I've never been so hot in my life. Rosamond is in despair. She says she really can't afford to lose more flesh. Do you see how she has had to make herself up to hide the mosquito bites? Luckily, I've got a skin that insects don't find palatable.
Joan had paid her formal visit, had lunched at Government House, and was now on intimate terms with the new people. Also, Lady Bridget had found her way to the cottage on Emu Point. She looked round at the different groups and gave a cynical little shrug. I might be at a party to the Colonial Delegates in London for all the difference there is.
Where's your barbarism, Joan? I'm pining for a savage existence. That's an excessively good-looking man' — her eyebrows indicated Colin McKeith — 'I do hope he is the man I asked for to take me in to dinner — I told Vereker Wells that I wanted a new sensation — that man looks as if he might give it to me — No, don't tell me: Vereker Wells was determined to follow Indian vice-regal precedents — so ridiculous — as I told him: Like a nouveau riche — terribly afraid of doing the wrong thing and showing every moment that he's new to the great Panjandrum part.
But if I had known how very tall you are! The dinner had portentous suggestiveness; the Leidchardt'stonians were at first rather difficult. Sir Luke a little too conscious of his responsibilities towards the British Throne: Lady Tallant so brilliant as to be bewildering. But except as it concerns Lady Bridget and McKeith, the Tallant's first dinner-party at Government House is not of special importance in this story. Mrs Gildea, very well occupied with Dr Plumtree, only caught diagonal glimpses of her two friends a little lower down on the opposite side of the table, and, in occasional lulls of conversation, the musical ring of Lady Bridget's rapid chatter.
Colin did not seem to be talking much, but every time Mrs Gildea glanced at him, he appeared absorbed in contemplation of the small pointed face and the farouche, golden-brown eyes turned up to him from under the top heavy mass of chestnut hair. Lady Bridget, at any rate, had a great deal to say for herself, and Mrs Gildea wondered what was going to come of it all.
Conversation became more general as champagne flowed and the courses proceeded. Sir Luke, discreetly on the prowl for information, attacked Antipodean questions — the Blacks for instance. He had observed the small company of natives theatrically got up in the war-paint of former times, which, grouped round the dais on which he had been received at the State Landing, had furnished an effective bit of local colour to the pageant.
Up to what degree of latitude might these semi-civilised, and he feared demoralised beings, be taken as a survival of the indigenous population of Leichardt's Land? Did wild and dangerous Blacks still exist up north and in the interior of the Colony? The early pioneers soon found that out.
Mrs Gildea, who understood the personal application, broke in across the table with an apposite remark about her own early experiences of the Blacks. Lady Bridget impatiently addressed McKeith. What do the Blacks do now to you people to make you treat them unkindly? Colin smiled at her grimly. I owe that to a spear through my thigh one night that the Blacks rushed my camp when I was asleep. And I'd given their gins rations that very morning. We had a dangerous job with those Blacks until King Mograbar was shot down.
It was his country you were stealing. Bridget shot a scathing glance at the aide-de-camp. If she had been alive then she'd have wanted to hand India back to the Indians after the Mutiny, and now when she has made Cecil Rhodes Emperor of Rhodesia, she'll give over all the rest again to the Dutch. But you'd better add on that I'm a Socialist too, Rosamond, because I've become one, as you know. I think the working man is in a shamefully unjust position, and that the capitalists are no better than slave-drivers. We've got to pay what the Trades' Union organisers tell us — or else go without stockmen or shearers.
Fact is, our Labour War is only just beginning; and I can tell you, Sir, that before a year is out the so-called bloated capitalist and the sheep and cattle station owner will sing either pretty big or very small. They're organising, as they call it, already all along the Leura. He was on his own ground and knew what he was talking about. But there are a few sheep stations down the river, and there isn't an unlimited supply of either cattle-hands or shearers, so we've got to look sharp about hiring them. Now, last year, we — of course I'm classing myself with the sheep-owners, for we all stand together — hired our shearers for seventeen shillings and sixpence a day.
Then, up come the Union organisers, form a Union of the men and say to them: Well then, the shearers go to the squatters. Next year, I'm told, the word is to go round that it's to be twenty-two and sixpence. Well sir, we're to see what's to happen then! Sir Luke preferred the Blacks, and started the question of danger to white men in the out-districts. How far had officialdom penetrated into the back blocks? The other men smiled nastily. The sailor shook his head. Or you wouldn't join the toast? May Parliament rot the wretched louts! James made a move to go join them, but Sarah caught his arm.
He and his buddies closed in around the poor sailor. I wanted to yell, wanted to race Wisdom, grab the man and run, but I didn't. I couldn't make my body function. All I could do was sit on my horse and watch. You need a warm coat, on tar and feathers. Henri laughed, but quickly stopped when I gave him the glare from Death himself. James knew I was a big patriot, but I gave him a glare from Death and Hades themselves. We were getting the sacks of pamphlets from a tavern and giving it to a wagoneer. I barely glanced or talked to James by the cruel way he was acting. I had the impression that the colonies consider themselves separate countries.
Until Parliament closed Boston Harbor," James answered. It was that poor sailor being carried with feathers strewn all over his body. I gasped and turned away, into Wisdom's body. Sarah put a hand on my shoulder. I want to see what's happening! Coming back in the first streak of light!
With a protesting cry from Sarah, I ran onto the crates, jumped on the running back of Wisdom, and ran away from James's shrug as he ran too. He ran toward the mocking crowd.
She worked hard for about ten minutes, hearing sub-consciously the rustle of papers under his hand and one or two faint ejaculations and a queer little laugh he gave once or twice as he read. Mr Gibbs finds Leichardt's Land a bit stale. I suggest we tell each other one of our sins. He drank them and then ordered two more. But would you mind if I passed it through my bladder first? The door opened and James walked out.
I left Sarah with tears in her eyes, and Henri's hurt look. Wisdom ran, and ran, and ran, until we got to Eternal Spring. I jumped down and sat on a rock, weeping. I stayed there until the first streak of red showed in the sky. My eyes were bloodshot, never closing them, never stopping crying. Then I stayed some more until it was about nine o'clock. I probably missed dinner, and sleep, and breakfast. I ate some blueberries and strawberries to fortify my hunger. I also just broke my promise of returning at dawn. Oh well, I'll face Moses's scolding sooner or later.
Wisdom nickered and rubbed my face. I rubbed her nose. Then I climbed on my saddle and walked home. I was right about missing Sarah and Henri when I got back to the printing shop. I heard James talking about last night. I sat on the bench and drank from a cup left out. I smacked my lips and looked at it. No it's apple juice.
I felt a sense of pride. What were you saying? Something about looking like a barn owl after being tarred and feathered? No, actually he looked like a snowy owl. Maybe it was a chicken? I mean the feathers were chicken feathers. After you ran off, Henri was crying. After the little ' parade' last night, I had to get out. Moses glanced disapprovingly too. I know you guys are touchy about it. Who had been bullied so cruelly by people who were being unpatriotic!
Who was being tortured by mocking crowds and having his life ruined! My voice had risen to a half-shout, but the fight drained out of me, and I plopped back onto the bench and took another sip of apple juice. The fire steamed down in my eyes and I looked tiredly at them. James had his head bowed.
James stared at Moses and seemed to have his old fire back. Now that man's a writer. That means he writes under an assuming name.
He glanced at me, but I was too busy stuffing my face with breakfast left over for me. All one word but capitalize the Q! I laughed lightly and James smiled. My smile quickly disappeared and his did too.