After Sal had gone, Brian sank into a chair beside Madge with a weary sigh. He was in riding dress, which became his stalwart figure well, and he looked remarkably handsome but ill and worried.
“What on earth were you questioning that girl about?” he said abruptly, taking his hat off, and tossing it and his gloves on to the floor.
Madge flushed crimson for a moment, and then taking Brian’s two strong hands in her own, looked steadily into his frowning face.
“Why don’t you trust me?” she asked, in a quiet tone.
“It is not necessary that I should,” he answered moodily. “The secret that Rosanna Moore told me on her death-bed is nothing that would benefit you to know.”
“Is it about me?” she persisted.
“It is, and it is not,” he answered, epigrammatically.
“I suppose that means that it is about a third person, and concerns me,” she said calmly, releasing his hands.
“Well, yes,” impatiently striking his boot with his riding whip. “But it is nothing that can harm you so long as you do not know it; but God help you should anyone tell it to you, for it would embitter your life.”
“My life being so very sweet now,” answered Madge, with a slight sneer. “You are trying to put out a fire by pouring oil on it, and what you say only makes me more determined to learn what it is.”
“Madge, I implore you not to persist in this foolish curiosity,” he said, almost fiercely, “it will bring you only misery.”
“If it concerns me I have a right to know it,” she answered curtly. “When I marry you how can we be happy together, with the shadow of a secret between us?”
Brian rose, and leaned against the verandah post with a dark frown on his face.
“Do you remember that verse of Browning’s,” he said, coolly —
‘Where the apple reddens Never pry, Lest we lose our Edens, Eve and I.’
“Singularly applicable to our present conversation, I think.”
“Ah,” she said, her pale face flushing with anger, “you want me to live in a fool’s paradise, which may end at any moment.”
“That depends upon yourself,” he answered coldly. “I never roused your curiosity by telling you that there was a secret, but betrayed it inadvertently to Calton’s cross-questioning. I tell you candidly that I did learn something from Rosanna Moore, and it concerns you, though only indirectly through a third person. But it would do no good to reveal it, and would ruin both our lives.”
She did not answer, but looked straight before her into the glowing sunshine.
Brian fell on his knees beside her, and stretched out his hands with an entreating gesture.
“Oh, my darling,” he cried sadly, “cannot you trust me? The love which has stood such a test as yours cannot fail like this. Let me bear the misery of knowing it alone, without blighting your young life with the knowledge of it. I would tell you if I could, but, God help me, I cannot — I cannot,” and he buried his face in his hands.
Madge closed her mouth firmly, and touched his comely head with her cool, white fingers. There was a struggle going on in her breast between her feminine curiosity and her love for the man at her feet — the latter conquered, and she bowed her head over his.
“Brian,” she whispered softly, “let it be as you wish. I will never again try to learn this secret, since you do not desire it.”
He arose to his feet, and caught her in his strong arms, with a glad smile.
“My dearest,” he said, kissing her passionately, and then for a few moments neither of them spoke. “We will begin a new life,” he said, at length. “We will put the sad past away from us, and think of it only as a dream.”
“But this secret will still fret you,” she murmured.
“It will wear away with time and with change of scene,” he answered sadly.
“Change of scene!” she repeated in a startled tone. “Are you going away?”
“Yes; I have sold my station, and intend leaving Australia for ever during the next three months.”
“And where are you going?” asked the girl, rather bewildered.
“Anywhere,” he said a little bitterly. “I am going to follow the example of Cain, and be a wanderer on the face of the earth!”
“That is what I have come to see you about,” said Brian, looking steadily at her. “I have come to ask you if you will marry me at once, and we will leave Australia together.”
“I know it is asking a great deal,” he said, hurriedly, “to leave your friends, your position, and” — with hesitation — “your father; but think of my life without you — think how lonely I shall be, wandering round the world by myself; but you will not desert me now I have so much need of you — you will come with me and be my good angel in the future as you have been in the past?”
She put her hand on his arm, and looking at him with her clear, grey eyes, said — “Yes!”
“Thank God for that,” said Brian, reverently, and there was again a silence.
Then they sat down and talked about their plans, and built castles in the air, after the fashion of lovers.
“I wonder what papa will say?” observed Madge, idly twisting her engagement ring round and round.
Brian frowned, and a dark look passed over his face.
“I suppose I must speak to him about it?” he said at length, reluctantly.
“Yes, of course!” she replied, lightly. “It is merely a formality; still, one that must be observed.”
“And where is Mr. Frettlby?” asked Fitzgerald, rising.
“In the billiard-room,” she answered, as she followed his example. “No!” she continued, as she saw her father step on to the verandah. “Here he is.”
Brian had not seen Mark Frettlby for some time, and was astonished at the change which had taken place in his appearance. Formerly, he had been as straight as an arrow, with a stern, fresh-coloured face; but now he had a slight stoop, and his face looked old and withered. His thick, black hair was streaked here and there with white. His eyes alone were unchanged. They were as keen and bright as ever. Brian knew full well how he himself had altered. He knew, too, that Madge was not the same, and now he could not but wonder whether the great change that was apparent in her father was attributable to the same source — to the murder of Oliver Whyte.
Sad and thoughtful as Mr. Frettlby looked, as he came along, a smile broke over his face as he caught sight of his, daughter.
“My dear Fitzgerald,” he said, holding out his hand, “this is indeed a surprise! When did you come over?”
“About half-an-hour ago,” replied Brian, reluctantly, taking the extended hand of the millionaire. “I came to see Madge, and have a talk with you.”
“Ah! that’s right,” said the other, putting his arm round his daughter’s waist. “So that’s what has brought the roses to your face, young lady?” he went on, pinching her cheek playfully. “You will stay to dinner, of course, Fitzgerald?”
“Thank you, no!” answered Brian, hastily, “my dress — ”
“Nonsense,” interrupted Frettlby, hospitably; “we are not in Melbourne, and I am sure Madge will excuse your dress. You must stay.”
“Yes, do,” said Madge, in a beseeching tone, touching his hand lightly. “I don’t see so much of you that I can let you off with half-an-hour’s conversation.”
Brian seemed to be making a violent effort.
“Very well,” he said in a low voice; “I shall stay.”
“And now,” said Frettlby, in a brisk tone, as he sat down; “the important question of dinner being settled, what is it you want to see me about? — Your station?”
“No,” answered Brian, leaning against the verandah post, while Madge slipped her hand through his arm. “I have sold it.”
“Sold it!” echoed Frettlby, aghast. “What for?”
“I felt restless, and wanted a change.”
“Ah! a rolling stone,” said the millionaire, shaking his head, “gathers no moss, you know.”
“Stones don’t roll of their own accord,” replied Brian, in a gloomy tone. “They are impelled by a force over which they have no control.”
“Oh, indeed!” said the millionaire, in a joking tone. “And may I ask what is your propelling force?”
Brian looked at the man’s face with such a steady gaze that the latter’s eyes dropped after an uneasy attempt to return it.
“Well,” he said impatiently, looking at the two tall young people standing before him, “what do you want to see me about?”
“Madge has agreed to marry me at once, and I want your consent.”
“Impossible!” said Frettlby, curtly.
“There is no such a word as impossible,” retorted Brian, coolly, thinking of the famous remark in Richelieu, “Why should you refuse? I am rich now.”
“Pshaw!” said Frettlby, rising impatiently. “It’s not money I’m thinking about — I’ve got enough for both of you; but I cannot live without Madge.”
“Then come with us,” said his daughter, kissing him.
Her lover, however, did not second the invitation, but stood moodily twisting his tawny moustache, and staring out into the garden in an absent sort of manner.
“What do you say, Fitzgerald?” said Frettlby, who was eyeing him keenly.
“Oh, delighted, of course,” answered Brian, confusedly.
“In that case,” returned the other, coolly, “I will tell you what we will do. I have bought a steam yacht, and she will be ready for sea about the end of January. You will marry my daughter at once, and go round New Zealand for your honeymoon. When you return, if I feel inclined, and you two turtle-doves don’t object, I will join you, and we will make a tour of the world.”
“Oh, how delightful,” cried Madge, clasping her hands. “I am so fond of the ocean with a companion, of course,” she added, with a saucy glance at her lover.
Brian’s face had brightened considerably, for he was a born sailor, and a pleasant yachting voyage in the blue waters of the Pacific, with Madge as his companion, was, to his mind, as near Paradise as any mortal could get.
“And what is, the name of the yacht?” he asked, with deep interest.
“Her name?” repeated Mr. Frettlby, hastily. “Oh, a very ugly name, and one which I intend to change. At present she is called the ‘Rosanna.’”
Brian and his betrothed both started at this, and the former stared curiously at the old man, wondering at the coincidence between the name of the yacht and that of the woman who died in the Melbourne slum.
Mr Frettlby flushed a little when he saw Brian’s eye fixed on him with such an enquiring gaze, and rose with an embarrassed laugh.
“You are a pair of moon-struck lovers,” he said, gaily, taking an arm of each, and leading them into the house “but you forget dinner will soon be ready.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55