The day after Mr Travers dined at Twickenham was almost the first day that passed without the happy pair running up to London together.
‘It’s far too hot to think of town, or of wearing anything but flannels all day,’ said Alfred in the morning. ‘But there’s plenty to see hereabouts, Gladdie. There’s Bushey Park and Hampton Court, and Kew Gardens, and Richmond Park. What do you say to a stroll in Richmond Park? It’s as near as anything, and we shall certainly get most air there.’
Gladys answered promptly that she was ‘on’ (they were alone); and they set out while the early haze of a sweltering day was hanging closely over all the land, but closest of all about the river.
There was something almost touching in the air of serious responsibility with which these two went about their daily sight-seeing; though Granville derived the liveliest entertainment from the spectacle. The worst of guides himself, and in many respects the least well-informed of men, Alfred nevertheless had no notion of calling in the aid of a better qualified cicerone, and of falling into the rear himself to listen and learn with his wife. At the same time, the fierce importance, to his wife, of this kind of education exaggerated itself in his mind; so he secretly armed himself with ‘Baedeker,’ and managed to keep a lesson ahead of his pupil, on principles well known to all who have ever dabbled in the noble art of ‘tutoring.’ But, indeed, Alfred’s whole conduct towards his wife was touching — touching in its perpetual tenderness, touching in its unflagging consideration, and ten times touching in the fact that his devotion was no longer blind. His eyes had been slowly and painfully opened during this first week at home. Peculiar manners, which, out there in the Bush, had not been peculiar, seemed worse than that here in England. They had to bear continual comparison with the soft speech and gentle ways of Lady Bligh, and the contrast was sharp and cruel. But the more Alfred realised his wife’s defects the more he loved her. That was the nature of his simple heart and its simple love. At least she should not know that he saw her in a different light, and at first he would have cut his tongue out rather than tell her plainly of her peculiarities. Presently she would see them for herself, and then, in her own good time, she would rub down of her own accord the sharper angles; and then she would take Lady Bligh for her model, instinctively, without being told to do so: and so all would be well. Arguing thus, Alfred had not allowed her to say a word to him about that escapade with the stock-whip on the first morning, for her penitence was grievous to him — and was it a thing in the least likely to happen twice? Nevertheless, he was thoroughly miserable in a week — that electioneering conversation was the finisher — and at last he had determined to speak. Thus the walk to Richmond was strangely silent, for all the time he was casting about for some way of expressing what was in his mind, without either wounding her feelings or letting her see that his own were sore.
Now they walked to Richmond by the river, and then over the bridge, but, before they climbed the hill to the park gates, a solemn ceremony, insisted upon by Alfred, was duly observed: the Bride ate a ‘Maid-of-Honour’ in the Original Shop; and when the famous delicacy had been despatched and criticised, and Alfred had given a wild and stumbling account of its historic origin, his wife led the way back into the sunshine in such high spirits that his own dejection deepened sensibly as the burden of his unuttered remonstrances increased. At last, in despair, he resolved to hold his tongue, for that morning at least. Then, indeed, they chatted cheerfully together for the first time during the walk, and he was partly with her in her abuse of the narrow streets and pavements of Richmond, but still stuck up for them on the plea that they were quaint and thoroughly English; whereat she laughed him to scorn; and so they reached the park.
But no sooner was the soft cool grass under their dusty feet, and the upland swelling before them as far as the eye could travel, than the Bride became suddenly and unaccountably silent. Alfred stole curious glances as he walked at her side, and it seemed to him that the dark eyes roving so eagerly over the landscape were grown wistful and sad.
‘How like it is to the old place!’ she exclaimed at last.
‘You don’t mean your father’s run, Gladdie?’
‘Yes, I do; this reminds me of it more than anything I’ve seen yet.’
‘What nonsense, my darling!’ said Alfred, laughing. ‘Why, there is no such green spot as this in all Australia!’
‘Ah! you were there in the drought, you see; you never saw the run after decent rains. If you had, you’d soon see the likeness between those big paddocks in what we call the “C Block” and this. But the road spoils this place; it wants a Bush road; let’s get off it for a bit.’
So they bore inward, to the left, and Gladys was too thoroughly charmed, and too thoughtful, to say much. And now the cool bracken was higher than their knees, and the sun beat upon their backs very fiercely; and now they walked upon turf like velvet, in the shadow of the trees.
‘You don’t get many trees like these out there,’ said Alfred.
‘Well — not in Riverina, I know we don’t,’ Gladys reluctantly admitted; and soon she added: ‘Nor any water-holes like this.’
For they found themselves on the margin of the largest of the Pen Ponds. There was no wind, not a ripple could be seen upon the whole expanse of the water. The fierce sun was still mellowed by a thin, gauzy haze, and the rays were diffused over the pond in a solid gleam. The trees on the far side showed fairly distinct outlines, filled in with a bluish smoky gray, and entirely without detail. The day was sufficiently sultry, even for the Thames Valley.
‘And yet,’ continued Gladys, speaking slowly and thoughtfully, ‘it does remind one of the Bush, somehow. I have sometimes brought a mob of sheep through the scrub to the water, in the middle of the day, and the water has looked just like this — like a great big lump of quicksilver pressed into the ground and shaved off level. That’d be on the hot still days, something like today. We now and then did have a day like this, you know — only, of course, a jolly sight hotter. But we had more days with the hot wind, hot and strong; what terrors they were when you were driving sheep!’
‘You were a tremendous stock-rider, Gladdie!’ remarked her husband.
‘Wasn’t I just! Ever since I was that high! And I was fond, like, of that old run — knew every inch of it better than any man on the place — except the old man, and perhaps Daft Larry. Knew it, bless you! from sunrise — you remember the sunrise out there, dull, and red, and sudden — to sundown, when you spotted the station pines black as ink against the bit of pink sky, as you came back from mustering. Let’s see — I forget how it goes — no, it’s like this:—
‘’Twas merry ‘mid the black-woods when we spied the station roofs,
To wheel the wild scrub cattle at the yard,
With a running fire of stock-whips and a fiery run of hoofs,
Oh, the hardest day was never then too hard!
That’s how it goes, I think. We used sometimes to remember it as we rode home, dog-tired. But it was sheep with us, not cattle, more’s the pity. Why, what’s wrong, Alfred? Have you seen a ghost?’
‘No. But you fairly amaze me, darling. I’d no idea you knew any poetry. What is it?’
‘Gordon — mean to say you’ve never heard of him? Adam Lindsay Gordon! You must have heard of him, out there. Everybody knows him in the Bush. Why, I’ve heard shearers, and hawkers, and swagmen spouting him by the yard! He was our Australian poet, and you never had one to beat him. Father says so. Father says he is as good as Shakespeare.’
Alfred made no contradiction, for a simple reason: he had not listened to her last sentences; he was thinking how well she hit off the Bush, and how nicely she quoted poetry. He was silent for some minutes. Then he said earnestly:—
‘I wish, my darling, that you would sometimes talk to my mother like that!’
Gladys returned from the antipodes in a flash. ‘I shall never talk to any of your people any more about Australia!’ And, by her tone, she meant it.
‘Because they don’t like it, Alfred; I see they don’t, though I never see it so clearly as when it’s all over and too late. Yet why should they hate it so? Why should it annoy them? I’ve nothing else to talk about, and I should have thought they’d like to hear of another country. I know I liked to hear all about England from you, Alfred!’
Faint though it was, the reproach in her voice cut him to the heart. Yet his moment had come. He had decided, it is true, to say nothing at all; but then there had been no opening, and here was one such as might never come again.
‘Gladdie,’ he began, with great tenderness, ‘don’t be hurt, but I’m going to tell you what may have something to do with it. You know, you are apt to get — I won’t say excited — but perhaps a little too enthusiastic, when you talk of the Bush. Quite right — and no wonder, I say — but then, here in England, somehow, they very seldom seem to get enthusiastic. Then, again — I think — perhaps — you say things that are all right out there, but sound odd in our ridiculous ears. For we are an abominable, insular nation of humbugs ——’ began poor Alfred with a tremendous burst of indignation, fearing that he had said too much, and making a floundering effort to get out of what he had said. But his wife cut him short.
The colour had mounted to her olive cheeks. Denseness, at all events, was not among her failings — when she kept calm.
She was sufficiently calm now. ‘I see what you mean, and I shall certainly say no more about Australia. “I like a man that is well-bred!” Do you remember how Daft Larry used to wag his head and say that whenever he saw you? “You’re not one of the low sort,” he used to go on; and how we did laugh! But I’ve been thinking, Alfred, that he couldn’t have said the same about me, if I’d been a man. And — and that’s at the bottom of it all!’ She smiled, but her smile was sad.
‘You are offended, Gladys?’
‘Not a bit. Only I seem to understand.’
‘You don’t understand! And that isn’t at the bottom of it!’
‘Very well, then, it isn’t. So stop frowning like that this instant. I’d no idea you looked so well when you were fierce. I shall make you fierce often now. Come, you stupid boy! I shall learn in time. How do you know I’m not learning already? Come away; we’ve had enough of the water-hole, I think.’
She took his arm, and together they struck across to Ham Gate. But Alfred was silent and moody; and the Bride knew why.
‘Dear old Alfred,’ she said at last, pressing his arm with her hand; ‘I know I shall get on well with all your people, in time.’
‘All of them, Gladdie?’
‘At any rate, all but Granville.’
‘Still not Gran! I was afraid of it.’
‘No; I shall never care much about Gran. I can’t help it, really I can’t. He is everlastingly sneering, and he thinks himself so much smarter than he is. Then he enjoys it when I make a fool of myself; I see he does; and — oh, I can’t bear him!’
A pugnacious expression came into Alfred’s face, but passed over, and left it only stern.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know his infernal manner; but, when he sneers, it’s only to show what a superior sort of fellow he is; he doesn’t mean anything by it. The truth is, I fear he’s becoming a bit of a snob; but at least he’s a far better fellow than you think; there really isn’t a better fellow going. Take my word for it, and for Heaven’s sake avoid words with him; will you promise me this much, Gladdie?’
‘Very well — though I have once or twice thought there’d be a row between us, and though I do think what he’d hear from me would do him all the good in the world. But I promise. And I promise, too, not to gas about Australia, to any of them for a whole week. So there.’
They walked on, almost in silence, until Ham Common was crossed and they had reached the middle of the delightful green. And here — with the old-fashioned houses on three sides of them, and the avenue of elms behind them and the most orthodox of village duck-ponds at their feet — Gladys stopped short, and fairly burst into raptures.
‘But,’ said Alfred, as soon as he could get a word in, which was not immediately, ‘you go on as though this was the first real, genuine English village you’d seen; whereas nothing could be more entirely and typically English than Twickenham itself.’
‘Ah, but this seems miles and miles away from Twickenham, and all the other villages round about that I’ve seen. I think I would rather live here, where it is so quiet and still, like a Bush township. I like Twickenham; but on one side there’s nothing but people going up and down in boats, and on the other side the same thing, only coaches instead of boats. And I hate the sound of those coaches, with their jingle and rattle and horn-blowing; though I shouldn’t hate it if I were on one.’
‘Would you so very much like to fizz around on a coach, then?’
‘Would I not!’ said Gladys.
The first person they saw, on getting home, was Granville, who was lounging in the little veranda where they had taken tea on the afternoon of their arrival, smoking cigarettes over a book. It was the first volume of a novel, which he was scanning for review. He seemed disposed to be agreeable.
‘Gladys,’ he said, ‘this book’s about Australia; what’s a “new chum,” please? I may as well know, as, so far, the hero’s one.’
‘A “new chum,”’ his sister-in-law answered him readily, ‘is some fellow newly out from home, who goes up the Bush; and he’s generally a fool.’
‘Thank you,’ said Granville; ‘the hero of this story answers in every particular to your definition.’
Granville went on with his skimming. On a slip of paper lying handy were the skeletons of some of the smart epigrammatic sentences with which the book would presently be pulverised. Husband and wife had gone through into the house, leaving him to his congenial task; when the Tempter, in humorous mood, put it into the head of his good friend Granville to call back the Bride for a moment’s sport.
‘I say’— the young man assumed the air of the innocent interlocutor —‘is it true that every one out there wears a big black beard, and a red shirt, and jack-boots and revolvers?’
‘No, it is not; who says so?’
‘Well, this fellow gives me that impression. In point of fact, it always was my impression. Isn’t it a fact, however, that most of your legislators (I meant to ask you this last night, but our friend the senator gave me no chance)— that most of your legislators are convicts?’
‘Does your book give you that impression too?’ the Bride inquired coolly.
‘No; that’s original, more or less.’
‘Then it’s wrong, altogether. But, see here, Gran: you ought to go out there.’
‘You remember what I said a “new chum” was?’
‘Yes; among other things a fool.’
‘Very good. You ought to go out there, because there are the makings of such a splendid “new chum” in you. You’re thrown away in England.’
Granville dropped his book and put up his eyeglass. But the Bride was gone. She had already overtaken her husband, and seized him by the arm.
‘Oh, Alfred,’ she cried, ‘I have done it! I have broken my promise! I have had words with Gran! Oh, my poor boy — I’m beginning to make you wish to goodness you’d never seen me — I feel I am!’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09