The morning after Cecil Mayford had made his unlucky offer to Alice, he appeared at Sam’s bedside very early, as if he had come to draw Priam’s curtains; and told him shortly, that he had spoken, and had been received with contempt; that he was a miserable brute, and that he was going back home to attend to his business; — under the circumstances, the best thing he could possibly do.
So the field was clear for Sam, but he let matters stay as they were, being far too pleasant to disturb lightly; being also, to tell the truth, a little uncertain of his ground, after poor Cecil had suffered so severely in the encounter. The next day, too, his father and mother went home, and he thought it would be only proper for him to go with them, but, on proposing it, Jim quietly told him he must stay where he was and work hard for another week, and Halbert, although a guest of the Buckleys, was constrained to remain still at the Brentwoods’, in company with Sam.
But at the end of a week they departed, and Jim went back with them, leaving poor Alice behind, alone with her father. Sam turned when they had gone a little way, and saw her white figure still in the porch, leaning in rather a melancholy attitude against the door-post. The audacious magpie had perched himself on the top of her head, from which proud elevation he hurled wrath, scorn, and mortal defiance against them as they rode away. Sam took off his hat, and as he went on kept wondering whether she was thinking of him at all, and hoping that she might be sorry that he was gone. “Probably, however,” he thought, “she is only sorry for her brother.”
They three stayed at Baroona a week or more, one of them riding up every day to ask after Mary Hawker. Otherwise they spent their time shooting and fishing, and speculating how soon the rains would come, for it was now March, and autumn was fairly due.
But at the end of this week, as the three were sitting together, one of those long-legged, slab-sided, lean, sunburnt, cabbage-tree-hatted lads, of whom Captain Brentwood kept always, say half-a-dozen, and the Major four or five (I should fancy, no relation to one another, and yet so exactly alike, that Captain Brentwood never called them by their right names by any chance); lads who were employed about the stable and the paddock, always in some way with the horses; one of those representatives of the rising Australian generation, I say, looked in, and without announcing himself, or touching his hat (an Australian never touches his hat if he is a free man, because the prisoners are forced to), came up to Jim across the drawingroom, as quiet and as self-possessed as if he was quite used to good society, and, putting a letter into his hand, said merely, “Miss Alice,” and relapsed into silence, amusing himself by looking round Mrs. Buckley’s drawing-room, the like of which he had never seen before.
Sam envied Jim the receipt of that little threecornered note. He wondered whether there was anything about him in it. Jim read it, and then folded it up again, and said “Hallo!”
The lad — I always call that sort of individual a lad; there is no other word for them, though they are of all ages, from sixteen to twenty — the lad, I say, was so taken up with the contemplation of a blown-glass pressepapier on the table, that Jim had to say, “Hallo there John!”
The lad turned round, and asked in a perfectly easy manner, “What the deuce is this thing for, now?”
“That,” said Jim, “is the button of a Chinese mandarin’s hat, who was killed at the battle of Waterloo in the United States by Major Buckley.”
“Is it now?” said the lad, quite contented. “It’s very pretty; may I take it up?”
“Of course you may,” said Jim. “Now, what’s the foal like?”
“Rather leggy, I should say,” he returned. “Is there any answer?”
Jim wrote a few lines with a pencil on half his sister’s note, and gave it him. He put it in the lining of his hat, and had got as far as the door, when he turned again. He looked wistfully towards the table where the pressepapier was lying. It was too much for him. He came back and took it up again. What he wanted with it, or what he would have done with it if he had got it, I cannot conceive, but it had taken his simple fancy more, probably, than an emerald of the same size would have done. At last he put it to his eye.
“Why, darn my cabbage-tree,” he said, “if you can’t see through it! He wouldn’t sell it, I suppose, now?”
Jim pursed his lips and shook his head, as though to say that such an idea was not to be entertained, and the lad, with a sigh, laid it down and departed. Then Jim with a laugh threw his sister’s note over to Sam. I discovered this very same note only last week, while searching the Buckley papers for information about the family at this period. I have reason to believe that it has never been printed before, and, as far as I know, there is no other copy extant, so I proceed to give it in full.
“What a dear, disagreeable old Jim you are,” it begins, “to stay away there at Baroona, leaving me moping here with our daddy, who is calculating the explosive power of shells under water at various temperatures. I have a good mind to learn the Differential Calculus myself, only on purpose to bore you with it when you come home.”
“By the bye, Corrella has got a foal. Such a dear little duck of a thing, with a soft brown nose, and sweet long ears, like leaves! Do come back and see it; I am so very, very lonely!”
“I hope Mr. Halbert is pretty well, and that his wound is getting quite right again. Don’t let him undertake cattle-drafting or anything violent. I wish you could bring him back with you, he is such a nice, agreeable creature.”
“Your magpie has attacked cocky, and pulled a yellow feather out of his crest, which he has planted in the flower-bed, either as a trophy, or to see if it will grow.”
Now this letter is historically important, when taken in connexion with certain dates in my possession. It was written on a Monday, and Halbert, Jim, and Sam started back to Garoopna the next day, rather a memorable day for Sam, as you will see directly. Now I wish to call attention to the fact, that Sam, far from being invited, is never once mentioned in the whole letter. Therefore what does Miss Burke mean by her audacious calumnies? What does she mean by saying that Alice made love to Sam, and never gave the “poor boy” a chance of escape? Can she, Lesbia, put her hand on her heart and say that she wasn’t dying to marry Sam herself, though she was (and is still, very likely) thirty years his senior? The fact is, Lesbia gave herself the airs, and received the privileges of being the handsomest woman in those parts, till Alice came, and put her nose out of joint, for which she never forgave her.
However, to return to this letter. I wonder now, as I am looking at the age-stained paper and faded writing, whether she who wrote it contemplated the possibility of its meeting Sam’s eye. I rather imagine that she did, from her provoking silence about him. At any rate, Jim was quite justified in showing him the letter, “for you know,” he said, “as there is nothing at all about you in it, there can be no breach of confidence.”
“Well!” said Sam, when he had read it.
“Well!” said Jim. “Let us all three ride over and look at the foal.”
So they went, and were strictly to be home at dinner time; whereas not one of them came home for a week.
When they came to the door at Garoopna, there was Alice, most bewitchingly beautiful. Papa was away on the run, and Dr. Mulhaus with him; so the three came in. Alice was very glad to see Halbert — was glad also to see Sam; but not so glad, or, at all events, did not say so much about it.
“Alice, have you seen the newspaper?” said Jim.
“There is a great steamer gone down at sea, and three hundred persons drowned!”
“What a horrible thing! I should never have courage to cross the sea.”
“You would soon get accustomed to it, I think,” said Halbert.
“I have never even seen it as yet,” she said, “save at a distance.”
“Strange, neither have I,” said Sam. “I have dim recollections of our voyage here, but I never stood upon the shore in my life.”
“I have beat you there,” said Jim. “I have been down to Cape Chatham, and seen the great ocean itself: a very different thing from Sydney Harbour, I promise you. You see the great cape running out a mile into the sea, and the southern rollers tumbling in over the reefs like cascades.”
“Let us go and see it! — how far is it?” said Alice.
“About thirty miles. The Barkers’ station is about half a mile from the Cape, and we could sleep there, you know.”
“It strikes me as being a most brilliant idea,” said Sam.
And so the arrangement was agreed to, and the afternoon went on pleasantly. Alice walked up and down with Sam among the flowers, while Jim and Halbert lay beneath a mulberry tree and smoked.
They talked on a subject which had engaged their attention a good deal lately: Jim’s whim for going soldiering had grown and struck root, and become a determination. He would go back to India when Halbert did, supposing that his father could be tempted to buy him a commission. Surely he might manage to join some regiment in India, he thought. India was the only place worth living in just now.
“I hope, Halbert,” he said, “that the Governor will consent. I wouldn’t care when I went; the sooner the better. I am tired of being a cattle-dealer on a large scale; I want to get at some MAN’S work. If one thing were settled I would go tomorrow.”
“And what is that?” said Halbert.
Jim said nothing, but looked at the couple among the flower-beds.
“Is that all?” said Halbert. “What will you bet me that that affair is not concluded to-night?”
“I’ll bet you five pounds to one it ain’t,” said Jim; “nor any time this twelvemonth. They’ll go on shillyshallying half their lives, I believe.”
“Nevertheless I’ll bet with you. Five to one it comes off to-night! Now! There goes your sister into the house; just go in after her.”
Jim sauntered off, and Sam came and laid his great length down by the side of Halbert.
They talked on indifferent matters for a few minutes, till the latter said —
“You are a lucky fellow, Sam.”
“With regard to what?” said Sam.
“With regard to Miss Buckley, I mean.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Are you blind, Sam? Can’t you see that she loves you better than any man in the world?”
He answered nothing, but turning his eyes upon Halbert, gazed at him a moment to see whether he was jesting or no. No, he was in earnest. So he looked down on the grass again, and, tearing little tufts up, said —
“What earthly reason have you for thinking that?”
“What reason! — fifty thousand reasons. Can you see nothing in her eyes when she speaks to you, which is not there at other times; hey, Bat? — I can, if you can’t.”
“If I could think so!” said Sam. “If I could find out?”
“When I want to find out anything, I generally ask,” said Halbert.
Sam gave him the full particulars of Cecil’s defeat.
“All the better for you,” said Halbert; “depend upon it. I don’t know much about women, it is true, but I know more than you do.”
“I wish I knew as much as you do,” said Sam.
“And I wish I knew as little as you do,” said Halbert.
Dinner-time came, but the Captain and the Doctor were not to the fore. After some speculations as to what had become of them, and having waited an hour, Jim said, that in the unexplained absence of the crowned head, he felt it his duty to the country, to assume the reins of government, and order dinner. Prime Minister Alice, having entered a protest, offered no further opposition, and dinner was brought in.
Young folks don’t make so much of dinner as old ones at any time, and this dinner was an unusually dull one. Sam was silent and thoughtful, and talked little; Alice, too, was not quite herself. Jim, as usual, ate like a hero, but talked little; so the conversation was principally carried on by Halbert, in the narrative style, who really made himself very useful and agreeable, and I am afraid they would have been a very “slow” party without him.
Soon after the serious business of eating was over, Jim said —
“Alice, I wonder what the Governor will say?”
“About what, brother?”
“About my going soldiering.”
“Save us! What new crotchet is this?”
“Only that I’m going to bother the Governor, till he gets me a commission in the army.”
“Are you really serious, Jim?”
“I never was more so in my life.”
“So, Mr. Halbert,” said Alice, looking round at him, “you are only come to take my brother away from me!”
“I assure you, Miss Brentwood, that I have only aided and abetted: the idea was his own.”
“Well, well, I see how it is; — we were too happy I suppose.”
“But, Alice,” said Jim, “won’t you be proud to see your brother a good soldier?”
“Proud! I was always proud of you. But I wish the idea had never come into your head. If it was in war time I would say nothing, but now it is very different. Well, gentlemen, I shall leave you to your wine. Mr. Halbert, I like you very much, but I wish you hadn’t turned Jim’s head.”
She left them, and walked down the garden; through the twilight among the vines, which were dropping their yellow leaves lightly on the turf before the breath of the autumn evening. So Jim was going — going to be killed probably, or only coming back after ten years’ absence, “full of strange oaths and bearded like a pard!” She knew well how her father would jump at his first hint of being a soldier, and would move heaven and earth to get him a commission — yes, he would go — her own darling, funny, handsome Jim, and she would be left all alone.
No, not quite! There is a step on the path behind her that she knows; there is an arm round her waist which was never there before, and yet she starts not as a low voice in her ear says —
“Alice, my love, my darling, I have come after you to tell you that you are dearer to me than my life, and all the world besides. Can you love me half as well as I love you? Alice, will you be my wife?”
What answer? Her hands pressed to her face, with
flood of happy tears, she only says —
“Oh! I’m so happy, Sam! So glad, so glad!”
Pipe up there, golden-voiced magpie; give us one song more before you go to roost. Laugh out, old jackass; till you fetch an echo back from the foggy hollow. Up on your bare boughs, it is dripping, dreary autumn: but down here in the vineyard, are bursting the first green buds of an immortal spring.
There are some scenes which should only be undertaken by the hand of a master, and which, attempted by an apprentice like myself, would only end in disastrous failure, calling down the wrath of all honest men and true critics upon my devoted head — not undeservedly. Three men in a century, or thereabouts, could write with sufficient delicacy, and purity to tell you what two such young lovers as Sam Buckley and Alice Brentwood said to one another in the garden that evening, walking up and down between the yellow vines. I am not one of those three. Where Charles Dickens has failed, I may be excused from being diffident. I am an old bachelor, too — a further excuse. But no one can prevent my guessing, and I guess accordingly — that they talked in a very low tone, and when, after an hour, Alice said it was time to come in, that Sam was quite astonished to find how little had been said, and what very long pauses there had been.
They came in through the window into the sittingroom, and there was Dr. Mulhaus, Captain Brentwood, and also, of all people, Major Buckley, whom the other two had picked up in their ride and brought home. My information about this period of my history is very full and complete. It has come to my knowledge on the best authority, that when Sam came forward to the light, Halbert kicked Jim’s shins under the table, and whispered, “You have lost your money, old fellow!” and that Jim answered, “I wish it was ten pounds instead of five.”
But old folks are astonishingly obtuse. Neither of the three seniors saw what had happened; but entered CON AMORE into the proposed expedition to Cape Chatham, and when bedtime came, Captain Brentwood, honest gentleman, went off to rest, and having said his prayers and wound up his watch, prepared for a comfortable night’s rest, as if nothing was the matter.
He soon found his mistake. He had got his boots off, and was sitting pensively at his bedside, meditating further disrobements, when Jim entered mysteriously, and quietly announced that his whole life in future would be a weary burden if he didn’t get a commission in the army, or at least a cadetship in the East India Company’s service. Him the Captain settled by telling, that if he didn’t change his mind in a month he’d see about it, and so packed him off to bed. Secondly, as he was taking off his coat, wondering exceedingly at Jim’s communication, Sam appeared, and humbly and respectfully informed him that he had that day proposed to his daughter and been accepted — provisionally; hoping that the Captain would not disapprove of him as a sonin-law. He was also rapidly packed off to bed, by the assurance that he (Brentwood) had never felt so happy in his life, and had been sincerely hoping that the young folks would fall in love with one another for a year past.
So, Sam dismissed, the Captain got into bed; but as soon as the light was blown out two native cats began grunting under the washing-stand, and he had to get out, and expel them in his shirt; and finally he lost his temper and began swearing. “Is a man never to get to sleep?” said he. “The devil must be abroad tonight, if ever he was in his life.”
No sleep that night for Captain Brentwood. His son, asking for a commission in the army, and his daughter going to be married! Both desirable enough in their way, but not the sort of facts to go to sleep over, particularly when fired off in his ear just as he was lying down. So he lay tossing about, more or less uncomfortable all night, but dozed off just as the daylight began to show more decidedly in the window. He appeared to have slept from thirty to thirty-five seconds, when Jim awoke him with —
“It’s time to get up, father, if you are going to Cape Chatham today.”
“D— n Cape Chatham,” was his irreverent reply when Jim was gone, which sentiment has been often reechoed by various coasting skippers in later times. “Why, I haven’t been to sleep ten minutes — and a frosty morning, too. I wish it would rain. I am not vindictive, but I do indeed. Can’t the young fools go alone, I wonder? No; hang it, I’ll make myself agreeable today, at all events!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10