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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v3 - 3/8 -
"Because we are not likely ever to meet again."
"Where are you going?" she anxiously asked. "God knows!"
Strange sensations were working in her. What would be the end of this? Her husband, knowing all, had permitted this man to come to her alone. She had loved him for years; though he had deserted her years ago, she loved him still--did she love him still?
"Will you not sit down?" she said with mechanical courtesy.
A stranger would not have thought from their manner that there were lives at stake. They both sat, he playing with the leaves of an orchid, she opening and shutting her fan absently. But she was so cold she could hardly speak. Her heart seemed to stand still.
"How has the world used you since we met last?" she tried to say neutrally.
"Better, I fear, than I have used it," he answered quietly.
"I do not quite see. How could you ill-use the world?" There was faint irony in her voice now. A change seemed to have come upon her.
"By ill-using any one person we ill-use society--the world"--he meaningly replied.
"Whom have you ill-used?" She did not look at him.
"How have you--most-ill-used me?"
"By letting you think well of me--you have done so, have you not?"
She did not speak, but lowered her head, and caught her breath slightly. There was a silence. Then she said: "There was no reason why I should-- But you must not say these things to me. My husband--"
"Your husband knows all."
"But that does not alter it," she urged firmly. "Though he may be willing you should speak of these things, I am not."
"Your husband is a good fellow," he rejoined. "I am not."
"You are not?" she asked wearily.
"No. What do you think was the reason that, years ago, I said we could never be married, and that we must forget each other?"
"I cannot tell. I supposed it was some duty of which I could not know. There are secret and sacred duties which we sometimes do not tell, even to our nearest and dearest . . . but I said we should not speak of these things, and we must not." She rose to her feet. "My husband is somewhere near. I will call him. There are so many things that men can talk of-pleasant and agreeable things--"
He had risen with her, and as her hand was stretched out to ring, stayed it. "No, never mind your husband just now. I think he knows what I am going to say to you."
"But, oh, you must not--must not!" she urged.
"Pardon me, but I must," was his reply.
"As I said, you thought I was a good fellow. Well, I am not; not at all. I will tell you why I left you. I was--already married."
He let the bare unrelieved fact face her, and shock her.
"You were--already married--when--you loved me," she said, her face showing misery and shame.
He smiled a little bitterly when he saw the effect of his words, but said clearly: "Yes. You see I was a villain."
She shuddered a little, and then said simply: "Your face was not the face of a bad man. Are you telling me the truth?"
"Then you were wicked with me," she said at last, with a great sigh, looking him straight in the eyes. "But you--you loved me?" she said with injured pride and a piteous appeal in her voice. "Ah, I know you loved me!"
"I will tell you when you know all," he answered evenly.
"Is there more to tell?" she asked heavily, and shrinking from him now.
"Much more. Please, come here." He went towards the open window of the room, and she followed. He pointed out to where his horse stood in the palms.
"That is my horse," he said. He whistled to the horse, which pricked up its ears and trotted over to the window. "The name of my horse," he said, "maybe familiar to you. He is called Firefoot."
"Firefoot!" she answered dazedly, "that is the name of Hyland's horse-- Hyland the bushranger."
"This is Hyland's horse," he said, and he patted the animal's neck gently as it thrust its head within the window.
"But you said it was your horse," she rejoined slowly, as though the thing perplexed her sorely.
"It is Hyland's horse; it is my horse," he urged without looking at her. His courage well-nigh failed him. Villain as he was, he loved her, and he saw the foundations of her love for him crumbling away before him. In all his criminal adventures he had cherished this one thing.
She suddenly gave a cry of shame and agony, a low trembling cry, as though her heart-strings were being dragged out. She drew back from him --back to the middle of the room.
He came towards her, reaching out his arms. "Forgive me," he said.
"Oh, no, never!" she cried with horror.
The cry had been heard outside, and Houghton entered the room, to find his wife, all her strength gone, turning a face of horror upon Cayley. She stretched out her arms to her husband with a pitiful cry. "Tom," she said, "Tom, take me away."
He took her gently in his arms.
Cayley stood with his hand upon his horse's neck. "Houghton," he said in a low voice, "I have been telling your wife what I was, and who I am. She is shocked. I had better go."
The woman's head had dropped on her husband's shoulder. Houghton waited to see if she would look up. But she did not.
"Well, good-bye to you both," Cayley said, stepped through the window, and vaulted on his horse's back. "I'm going to see if the devil's as black as he's painted." Then, setting spurs to his horse, he galloped away through the palms to the gate.
A year later Hyland the bushranger was shot in a struggle with the mounted police sent to capture him.
The planter's wife read of it in England, whither she had gone on a visit.
"It is better so," she said to herself, calmly. "And he wished it, I am sure."
For now she knew the whole truth, and she did not love her husband less --but more.
The last time John Osgood saw Barbara Golding was on a certain summer afternoon at the lonely Post, Telegraph, and Customs Station known as Rahway, on the Queensland coast. It was at Rahway also that he first and last saw Mr. Louis Bachelor. He had had excellent opportunities for knowing Barbara Golding; for many years she had been governess (and something more) to his sisters Janet, Agnes and Lorna. She had been engaged in Sydney as governess simply, but Wandenong cattle station was far up country, and she gradually came to perform the functions of milliner and dressmaker, encouraged thereto by the family for her unerring taste and skill. Her salary, however, had been proportionately increased, and it did not decline when her office as governess became practically a sinecure as her pupils passed beyond the sphere of the schoolroom. Perhaps George Osgood, father of John Osgood, and owner of Wandenong, did not make an allowance to Barbara Golding for her services as counsellor and confidant of his family; but neither did he subtract anything from her earnings in those infrequent years when she journeyed alone to Sydney on those mysterious visits which so mightily puzzled the good people of Wandenong. The boldest and most off-hand of them, however, could never discover what Barbara Golding did not choose to tell. She was slight, almost frail in form, and very gentle of manner; but she also possessed that rare species of courtesy which, never declining to fastidiousness nor lapsing into familiarity, checked all curious intrusion, was it ever so insinuating; and the milliner and dressmaker was not less self-poised and compelling of respect than the governess and confidant.
In some particulars the case of Louis Bachelor was similar. Besides being the Post, Telegraph, and Customs Officer, and Justice of the Peace at Rahway, he was available and valuable to the Government as a meteorologist. The Administration recognised this after a few years of voluntary and earnest labour on Louis Bachelor's part. It was not, however, his predictions concerning floods or droughts that roused this official appreciation, but the fulfilment of those predictions. At length a yearly honorarium was sent to him, and then again, after a dignified delay, there was forwarded to him a suggestion from the Cabinet that he should come to Brisbane and take a more important position. It was when this patronage was declined that the Premier (dropping for a moment into that bushman's jargon which came naturally to him) said,
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