That week one of those runs upon the Captain’s hospitality took place which are common enough in the bush, and, although causing a temporary inconvenience, are generally as much enjoyed by the entertainer as entertained. Everybody during this next week came to see them, and nobody went back again. So by the end of the week there were a dozen or fourteen guests assembled, all uninvited, and apparently bent on making a good long stay of it.
Alice, who had expected to be rather put out, conducted everything with such tact and dignity that Mrs. Buckley remarked to Mrs. Mayford, when they were alone together, “that she had never seen such beauty and such charming domestic grace combined, and that he would be a lucky young fellow who got her for a wife.”
“Well, yes, I should be inclined to say so too,” answered Mrs. Mayford. “Rather much of the boarding-school as yet, but that will wear off, I dare say. I don’t think the young lady will go very long without an offer. Pray, have you remarked anything, my dear madam?”
Yes, Mrs. Buckley had remarked something on her arrival the day before yesterday. She had remarked Sam and Alice come riding over the paddock, and Sam, by way of giving a riding-lesson, holding the little white hand in his, teaching it (the dog!) to hold the reins properly. And on seeing Alice she had said to herself, “That will do.” But all this was not what Mrs. Mayford meant — in fact, these two good ladies were at cross-purposes.
“Well, I thought I did,” replied Mrs. Buckley, referring to Sam. “But one must not be premature. They are both very young, and may not know their own minds.”
“They seem as if they did,” said Mrs. Mayford. “Look there!” Outside the window they saw something which gave Mrs. Buckley a sort of pang, and made Mrs. Mayford laugh.
There was no one in the garden visible but Cecil Mayford and Alice, and she was at that moment busily engaged in pinning a rose into his buttonhole. “The audacious girl!” thought Mrs. Buckley; “I am afraid she will be a daughter of debate among us. I wish she had not come home.” While Mrs. Mayford continued —
“I am far from saying, mind you, my dear Mrs. Buckley, that I don’t consider Cecil might do far better for himself. The girl is pretty, very pretty, and will have money. But she is too decided, my dear. Fancy a girl of her age expressing opinions! Why, if I had ventured to express opinions at her age, I—— I don’t know what my father would have said.”
“Depend very much on what sort of opinions they were; wouldn’t it?” said Mrs. Buckley.
“No; I mean any opinions. Girls ought to have no opinions at all. There, last night when the young men were talking all together, she must needs get red in the face and bridle up, and say, ‘She thought an Englishman who wasn’t proud of Oliver Cromwell was unworthy of the name of an Englishman.’ Her very words, I assure you. Why, if my daughter Ellen had dared to express herself in that way about a murderous Papist, I’d have slapped her face.”
“I don’t think Cromwell was a Papist; was he?” said Mrs. Buckley.
“A Dissenter, then, or something of that sort,” said Mrs. Mayford. “But that don’t alter the matter. What I don’t like to see is a young girl thrusting her oar in in that way. However, I shall make no opposition, I can assure you. Cecil is old enough to choose for himself, and a mother’s place is to submit. Oh, no; I assure you, whatever my opinions may be, I shall offer no opposition.”
“I shouldn’t think you would,” said Mrs. Buckley, as the other left the room: “rather a piece of luck for your boy to marry the handsomest and richest girl in the country. However, madam, if you think I am going to play a game of chess with you for that girl, or any other girl, why, you are mistaken.”
And yet it was very provoking. Ever since she had begun to hear from various sources how handsome and clever Alice was, she had made up her mind that Sam should marry her, and now to be put out like this by people whom they had actually introduced into the house! It would be a great blow to Sam too. She wished he had never seen her. She would sooner have lost a limb than caused his honest heart one single pang. But, after all, it might be only a little flirtation between her and Cecil. Girls would flirt; but then there would be Mrs. Mayford manoeuvring and scheming her heart out, while she, Agnes Buckley, was constrained by her principles only to look on and let things take their natural course.
Now, there arose a coolness between Agnes Buckley and the Mayfords, mother and son, which was never made up — never, oh, never! Not very many months after this she would have given ten thousand pounds to have been reconciled to the kind-hearted old busy-body; but then it was too late.
But now, going out into the garden, she found the Doctor busy planting some weeds he had found in the bush, in a quiet corner, with an air of stealth, intending to privately ask the gardener to see after them till he could fetch them away. The magpie, having seen from the window a process of digging and burying going on, had attended in his official capacity, standing behind the Doctor, and encouraging him every now and then with a dance, or a few flute-like notes of music. I need hardly mention that the moment the Doctor’s back was turned the bird rooted up every one of the plants, and buried them in some secret spot of his own, where they lie, I believe, till this day.
To the Doctor she told the whole matter, omitting nothing, and then asked his advice. “I suppose,” she said, “you will only echo my own determination of doing nothing at all?”
“Quite so, my dear madam. If she loves Sam, she will marry him; if she don’t, he is better without her.”
“That is true,” said Mrs. Buckley. “I hope she will have good taste enough to choose my boy.”
“I hope so too, I am sure,” said the Doctor. “But we must not be very furious if she don’t. Little Cecil Mayford is both handsomer and cleverer than Sam. We must not forget that, you know.”
That evening was the first thoroughly unhappy evening, I think, that Sam ever passed in his life. I am inclined to imagine that his digestion was out of order. If any of my readers ever find themselves in the same state of mind that he was in that night, let them be comforted by considering that there is always a remedy at hand, before which evil thoughts and evil tempers of all kinds fly like mist before the morning sun. How many serious family quarrels, marriages out of spite, alterations of wills, and secessions to the Church of Rome, might have been prevented by a gentle dose of blue pill! What awful instances of chronic dyspepsia are presented to our view by the immortal bard in the characters of Hamlet and Othello! I look with awe on the digestion of such a man as the present King of Naples. Banish dyspepsia and spirituous liquors from society, and you would have no crime, or at least so little that you would not consider it worth mentioning.
However, to return to Sam. He, Halbert, Charles Hawker, and Jim had been away riding down an emu, and had stayed out all day. But Cecil Mayford, having made excuse to stay at home, had been making himself in many ways agreeable to Alice, and at last had attended her on a ride, and on his return had been rewarded with a rose, as we saw. The first thing Sam caught sight of when he came home was Alice and Cecil walking up and down the garden very comfortably together, talking and laughing. He did not like to see this. He dreaded Cecil’s powers of entertainment too much, and it made him angry to hear how he was making Alice laugh. Then, when the four came into the house, this offending couple took no notice of them at all, but continued walking up and down in the garden, till Jim, who, not being in love, did’nt care twopence whether his sister came in or not, went out to the verandah, and called out “Hi!”
“What now?” said Alice, turning round.
“Why, we’re come home,” said Jim, “and I want you.”
“Then you won’t get me, impudence,” said Alice, and began walking up and down again. But not long after, having to come in, she just said, “How do, Mr. Halbert?” and passed on, never speaking to Sam. Now there was no reason why she should have spoken to him, but “Good evening, Mr. Buckley,” would not have hurt anybody. And now in came Cecil, with that unlucky rose, and Jim immediately began —
“Hallo, Cis, where did you get your flower?”
“Ah, that’s a secret,” said Cecil, with an affected look.
“No secret at all,” said Alice, coming back. “I gave it to him. He had the civility to stay and take me out for a ride, instead of going to run down those poor pretty emus. And that is his reward. I pinned it into his coat for him.” And out she went again.
Sam was very sulky, but he couldn’t exactly say with whom. With himself more than anybody, I believe.
“Like Cecil’s consummate impudence!” was his first thought; but after he had gone to his room to dress, his better nature came to him, and before dinner came on he was his old self again, unhappy still, but not sulky, and determined to be just.
“What right have I to be angry, even suppose she does come to care more for him than for me? What can be more likely? He is more courtly, amusing, better-looking, they say, and certainly cleverer; oh, decidedly cleverer. He might as well make me his enemy as I make him mine. No; dash it all! He has been like a brother to me ever since he was so high, and I’ll be d —— d if there shan’t be fair play between us two, though I should go into the army through it. But I’ll watch, and see how things go.”
So he watched at dinner and afterwards, but saw little to comfort him. Saw one thing, nay, two things, most clearly. One was, that Cecil Mayford was madly in love with Alice; and the other was, that poor Cecil was madly jealous of Sam. He treated him differently to what he had ever done before, as though on that evening he had first found his rival. Nay, he became almost rude, so that once Jim looked suddenly up, casting his shrewd blue eyes first on one and then on the other, as though to ask what the matter was. But Sam only said to himself, “Let him go on. Let him say what he will. He is beside himself now, and some day he will be sorry. He shall have fair play, come what will.”
But it was hard for our lad to keep his temper sometimes. It was hard to see another man sitting alongside of her all the evening, paying her all those nameless little attentions which somehow, however unreasonably, he had brought himself to think were his right, and no one else’s, to pay. Hard to wonder and wonder whether or no he had angered her, and if so, how? Halbert, good heart! saw it all, and sitting all the evening by Sam, made himself so agreeable, that for a time even Alice herself was forgotten. But then, when he looked up, and saw Cecil still beside her, and her laughing and talking so pleasantly, while he was miserable and unhappy, the old chill came on his heart again, and he thought — was the last happy week only a deceitful gleam of sunshine, and should he ever take his old place beside her again?
Once or twice more during the evening Cecil was almost insolent to him, but still his resolution was strong.
“If he is a fool, why should I be a fool? I will wait and see if he can win her. If he does, why, there is India for me. If he does not, I will try again. Only I will not quarrel with Cecil, because he is blinded. Little Cecil, who used to bathe with me, and ride pickaback round the garden! No; he shall have fair play. By Jove, he shall have fair play, if I die for it.”
And he had some little comfort in the evening. When they had all risen to go to bed, and were standing about in confusion lighting candles, he suddenly found Alice by his side, who said in a sweet, low, musical tone —
“Can you forgive me?”
“What have I to forgive, my dear young lady?” he said softly. “I was thinking of asking your forgiveness for some unknown fault.”
“I have behaved so ill to you today,” she said, “the first of my new friends! I was angry at your going out after our poor emus, and I was cross to you when you came home. Do let us be friends again.”
There was a chance for a reconciliation! But here was Cecil Mayford thrusting between them with a lit candle just at the wrong moment; and she gave him such a sweet smile, and such kind thanks, that Sam felt nearly as miserable as ever.
And next morning everything went wrong again. Whether it was merely coquetry, or whether she was angry at their hunting the emus, or whether she for a time preferred Cecil’s company, I know not; but she, during the next week, neglected Sam altogether, and refused to sit beside him, making a most tiresome show of being unable to get on without Cecil Mayford, who squired her here, there, and everywhere, in the most provoking fashion.
But it so happened that the Doctor and the Major sat up later than the others that night, taking a glass of punch together before the fire, and the Major said, abruptly —
“There will be mischief among the young fellows about that girl. It is a long while since I saw one man look at another as young Mayford did at our Sam tonight. I wish she were out of the way. Sam and Mayford are both desperately in love with her, and one must go to the wall. I wish that boy of mine was keener; he stayed aloof from her all to-night.”
“Don’t you see his intention?” said the Doctor. “I am very much mistaken if I do not. He is determined to leave the field clear for all comers, unless she herself makes some sort of advances to him. ‘If she prefers Mayford,’ says Sam to himself, ‘in the way she appears to, why, she is welcome to him, and I can go home as soon as I am assured of it.’ And go home he would, too, and never say one word of complaint to any living soul.”
“What a clear, brave, honest soul that lad has!” said the Major.
“Truly,” said the Doctor, “I only know one man who is his equal.”
“And who is he?”
“His father. Good night; good dreams!”
So Sam kept to his resolution of finding out whether or no Alice was likely to prefer Cecil to him. And, for all his watching and puzzling, he couldn’t. He had never confided one word of all this to his mother, and yet she knew it all as well as he.
Meanwhile, Cecil was quite changed. He almost hated Sam, and seldom spoke to him, and at the same time hated himself for it. He grew pale, too, and never could be persuaded to join any sport whatever; while Sam, being content to receive only a few words in the day from My Lady, worked harder than ever, both in the yards and riding. All day he and Jim would be working like horses, with Halbert for their constant companion, and, half an hour before dinner, would run whooping down to the river for their bathe, and then come in clean, happy, hungry — so full of life and youth, that in these sad days of deficient grinders, indigestion, and liver, I can hardly realize that once I myself was as full of blood and as active and hearty as any of them.
There was much to do the week that Alice and Sam had their little tiff. The Captain was getting in the “scrubbers” cattle, which had been left, under the not very careful rule of the Donovans, to run wild in the mountains. These beasts had now to be got in, and put through such processes as cattle are born to undergo. The Captain and the Major were both fully stiff for working in the yards, but their places were well supplied by Sam and Jim. The two fathers, with the assistance of the stockman, and sometimes of the sons, used to get them into the yards, and then the two young men would go to work in a style I have never seen surpassed by any two of the same age. Halbert would sometimes go into the yard and assist, or rather hinder; but he had to give up just when he was beginning to be of some use, as the exertion was too violent for an old wound he had.
Meanwhile Cecil despised all these things, and, though a capital hand among cattle, was now grown completely effeminate, hanging about the house all day, making, in fact, “rather a fool of himself about that girl,” as Halbert thought, and thought, besides, “What a confounded fool she will make of herself if she takes that little dandy! — not that he isn’t a very gentlemanlike little fellow, but that Sam is worth five hundred of him.”
One day, it so happened that every one was out but Cecil and Alice; and Alice, who had been listening to the noises at the stockyard a long while, suddenly proposed to go there.
“I have never been,” she said; “I should so like to go! I know I am not allowed, but you need not betray me, and I am sure the others won’t. I should so like to see what they are about!”
“I assure you, Miss Brentwood, that it is not a fit place for a lady.”
Cecil blushed scarlet. If women only knew what awkward questions they ask sometimes! In this instance he made an ass of himself, for he hesitated and stammered.
“Come along!” said she; “you are going to say that it is dangerous —(nothing was further from his thoughts); I must learn to face a little danger, you know. Come along.”
“I am afraid,” said Cecil, “that Jim will be very angry with me;” which was undoubtedly very likely.
“Never mind Jim,” she said; “come along.”
So they went, and in the rush and confusion of the beasts’ feet got to the yard unnoticed. Sam and Jim were inside, and Halbert was perched upon the rails; she came close behind him and peeped through.
She was frightened. Close before her was Sam, hatless, in shirt and breeches only, almost unrecognisable, grimed with sweat, dust, and filth beyond description. He had been nearly horned that morning, and his shirt was torn from his armpit downwards, showing rather more of a lean muscular flank than would have been desirable in a drawing-room. He stood there with his legs wide apart, and a stick about eight feet long and as thick as one’s wrist in his hand; while before him, crowded into a corner of the yard, were a mob of infuriated, terrified cattle. As she watched, one tried to push past him and get out of the yard; he stepped aside and let it go. The next instant a lordly young bull tried the same game, but he was “wanted;” so, just as he came nearly abreast of Sam, he received a frightful blow on the nose from the stick, which turned him.
But only for a moment. The maddened beast shaking his head with a roar rushed upon Sam like a thunderbolt, driving him towards the side of the yard. He stepped on one side rapidly, and then tumbled himself bodily through the rails, and fell with his fine brown curls in the dust, right at the feet of poor Alice, who would have screamed, but could not find the voice.
Jim and Halbert roared with laughter, and Sam, picking himself up, was beginning to join as loud as anybody, when he saw Alice looking very white and pale, and went towards her.
“I hope you haven’t been frightened by that evildisposed bull, Miss Brentwood,” he said pleasantly; “you must get used to that sort of work.”
“Hallo, sister!” shouted Jim; “what the deuce brings you here? I thought you were at home at your worsted work. You should have seen what we were at, Cecil, before you brought her up. Now, miss, just mount that rail alongside of Halbert, and keep quiet.”
“Oh, do let me go home, Jim dear; I am so frightened!”
“Then you must learn not to be frightened,” he said. “Jump up now!”
But meanwhile the bull had the best of it, and had got out of the yard. A long lithe lad, stationed outside on horseback, was in full chase, and Jim, leaping on one of the horses tied to the rails, started off to his assistance. The two chased the unhappy bull as a pair of greyhounds chase a hare, with their whips cracking as rapidly and as loudly as you would fire a revolver. After an excursion of about a mile into the forest, the beast was turned and brought towards the yard. Twice he turned and charged the lad, with the same success. The cunning old stockhorse wheeled round or sprang aside, and the bull went blundering into empty space with two fourteen-foot stock-whips playing on his unlucky hide like rain. At length he was brought in again, and one by one those entitled to freedom were passed out by Sam, and others reserved unto a day of wrath — all but one cow with her calf.
All this time Alice had sat by Halbert. Cecil had given no assistance, for Jim would have done anything rather than press a guest into the service. Halbert asked her, what she thought of the sport?
“Oh, it is horrible,” she said. “I should like to go home. I hope it is all over.”
“Nearly,” said Halbert; “that cow and calf have got to go out. Don’t get frightened now; watch your brother and Buckley.”
It was a sight worth watching; Sam and Jim advanced towards the maddened beasts to try and get the cow to bolt. The cattle were huddled up at the other end of the yard, and, having been so long in hand, were getting dangerous. Once or twice young beasts had tried to pass, but had been driven back by the young men, with a courage and dexterity which the boldest matador in Spain could not have surpassed. Cecil Mayford saw, with his well-accustomed eye, that matters were getting perilous, and placed himself at the rails, holding one ready to slip if the beasts should break. In a moment, how or why none could tell, they made a sudden rush: Jim was borne back, dealing blows about him like a Paladin, and Sam was down, rolled over and over in the dust, just at Alice’s feet.
Half-a-dozen passed right over him as he lay. Jim had made good his retreat from the yard, and Cecil had quietly done just the right thing: put up the rail he held, and saved the day’s work. The cattle were still safe, but Sam lay there in the dust, motionless.
Before any of them had appreciated what had happened, Alice was down, and, seizing Sam by the shoulders, had dragged him to the fence. Halbert, horrified to see her actually in the presence of the cattle, leaped after her, put Sam through the rails, and lifted her up to her old post on the top. In another instant the beasts swept furiously round the yard, just over the place where they had been standing.
They gathered round Sam, and for an instant thought he was dead; but just as Jim hurriedly knelt down, and raising his head began to untie his handkerchief, Sam uprose, and, shaking himself and dusting his clothes, said —
“If it had been any other beast which knocked me down but that poley heifer, I should have been hurt;” and then said that “it was bathing-time, and they must look sharp to be in time for dinner:” three undeniable facts, showing that, although he was a little unsteady on his legs, his intellect had in nowise suffered.
And Halbert, glancing at Alice, saw something in her face that made him laugh; and, dressing for dinner in Jim’s room, he said to that young gentleman —
“Unless there are family reasons against it, Jim, which of course I can’t speak about, you know, I should say that you would have Sam for your brother-in-law in a very short time.”
“Do you really think so, now?” said Jim; “I rather fancied she had taken up with Cecil. I like Sam’s fist, mind you, better than Cecil’s whole body, though he is a good little fellow, too.”
“She has been doing that, I think, rather to put Sam on his mettle; for I think he was taking things too easy with her at first; but now, if Cecil has any false hopes, he may give them up; the sooner the better. No woman who was fancy free could stand seeing that noble head of Sam’s come rolling down in the dust at her feet; and what courage and skill he exhibited, too! Talk of bull-fights! I have seen one. Bah! it is like this nail-brush to a gold watch, to what I saw today. Sam, sir, has won a wife by cattledrafting.”
“If that is the case,” said Jim, pensively brushing his hair, “I am very glad that Cecil’s care for his fine clothes prevented his coming into the yard; for he is one of the bravest, coolest hands among cattle, I know; he beats me.”
“Then he beats a precious good fellow, Jim. A man who could make such play as you did today, with a stick, ought to have nothing but a big three-foot of blue steel in his hand, and Her Majesty’s commission to use it against her enemies.”
“That will come,” said Jim, “the day after Sam has got the right to look after Alice; not before; the governor is too fond of his logarithms.”
When Sam came to dress for dinner he found that he was bruised all over, and had to go to the Captain for “shin plaster,” as he called it.
Captain Brentwood had lately been trying homeopathy, which in his case, there being nothing the matter with him, was a decided success. He doctored Sam with Arnica externally, and gave him the five-hundredth of a grain of something to swallow; but what made Sam forget his bruises quicker than these dangerous and violent remedies, was the delightful change in Alice’s behaviour. She was so agreeable that evening, that he was in the seventh heaven; the only drawback to his happiness being poor Cecil Mayford’s utter distraction and misery. Next morning, too, after a swim in the river, he handled such a singularly good knife and fork, that Halbert told Jim privately, that if he, Sam, continued to sport such a confoundedly good appetite, he would have to be carried half-a-mile on a heifer’s horns and left for dead, to keep up the romantic effect of his tumble the day before.
They were sitting at breakfast, when the door opened, and there appeared before the assembled company the lithe lad I spoke of yesterday, who said —
“Beg your pardon, sir; child lost, sir.”
They all started up. “Whose child?” asked the Captain.
“James Grewer’s child, sir, at the wattle hut.”
“Oh!” said Alice, turning to Sam, “it is that pretty little boy up the river that we were admiring so last week.”
“When was he lost?” asked Major Buckley.
“Two days now, sir,” said the lad.
“But the hut is on the plain side of the river,” said the Major; “he can’t be lost on the plains.”
“The river is very low, sir,” said the lad; “hardly ancle deep just there. He may have crossed.”
“The black fellows may have found him,” suggested Mrs. Buckley.
“They would have been here before now to tell us, if they had, I am afraid,” said Captain Brentwood. “Let us hope they may have got him; however, we had better start at once. Two of us may search the river between this and the hut, and two may follow it towards the Mayfords’. Sam, you have the best horse; go down to the hut, and see if you can find any trace across the river, on this side, and follow it up to the ranges. Take some one with you, and, by-thebye, take your dog Rover.”
They were all quickly on the alert. Sam was going to ask Jim to come with him; but as he was putting the saddle on Widderin he felt a hand on his arm, and, turning, saw Cecil Mayford.
“Sam Buckley,” said Cecil, “let me ride with you; will you?”
“Who sooner, old friend?” answered Sam heartily: “let us come together by all means, and if we are to go to the ranges, we had better take a blanket a-piece, and a wedge of damper. So if you will get them from the house, I will saddle your horse.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:52