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- Jess - 10/58 -

wonderful eyes, at the masses of curling brown hair still damp and shining from the rain, at the curious pallid face and clear-cut determined mouth.

"If it were not for my eyes and hair, I should be very ugly," she said to herself aloud. "If only I were beautiful like Bessie, now." The thought of her sister gave her another idea. What if John were to prefer Bessie? Now she remembered that he had been very attentive to Bessie. A feeling of dreadful doubt and jealousy passed through her, for women like Jess know what jealousy is in its bitterness. Supposing that it was in vain, supposing that what she had given to-day--given utterly once and for all, so that she could not take it back--had been given to a man who loved another woman, and that woman her own dear sister! Supposing that the fate of her love was to be like water falling unalteringly on the hard rock that heeds it not and retains it not! True, the water wears the rock away; but could she be satisfied with that? She could master him, she knew; even if things were so, she could win him to herself, she had read it in his eyes that afternoon; but could she, who had promised to her dead mother to cherish and protect her sister, whom till this day she had loved better than anything in the world, and whom she still loved more dearly than her life--could she, if it should happen to be thus, rob that sister of her lover? And if it should be so, what would her life be like? It would be like the great pillar after the lightning had smitten it, a pile of shattered smoking fragments, a very heaped-up debris of a life. She could feel it even now. No wonder, then, that Jess sat there upon the little white bed holding her hand against her heart and feeling terribly afraid.

Just then she heard John's footsteps in the hall.

"I can't find her," he said in an anxious tone to some one as she rose, taking her candle with her, and left the room. The light of it fell full upon his face and dripping clothes. It was white and anxious, and she was glad to see the anxiety.

"Oh, thank God! here you are!" he said, catching her hand. "I began to think you were quite lost. I have been right down the Kloof after you, and got a nasty fall over it."

"It is very good of you," she said in a low voice, and again their eyes met, and again her glance thrilled him. There was such a wonderful light in Jess's eyes that night.

Half an hour afterwards they sat down as usual to supper. Bessie did not put in an appearance till it was a quarter over, and then sat very silent through it. Jess narrated her adventure in the Kloof, and everybody listened, but nobody said much. There seemed to be a shadow over the house that evening, or perhaps it was that each party was thinking of his own affairs. After supper old Silas Croft began talking about the political state of the country, which gave him uneasiness. He said that he believed the Boers really meant to rebel against the Government this time. Frank Muller had told him so, and he always knew what was going on. This announcement did not tend to raise anybody's spirits, and the evening passed as silently as the meal had done. At last Bessie got up, stretched her rounded arms, and said that she was tired and going to bed.

"Come into my room," she whispered to her sister as she passed. "I want to speak to you."



After waiting a few minutes, Jess said "Good-night," and went straight to Bessie's room. Her sister had undressed, and was sitting on her bed, wrapped in a blue dressing-gown that suited her fair complexion admirably, and with a very desponding expression on her beautiful face. Bessie was one of those people who are easily elated and easily cast down.

Jess came up to her and kissed her.

"What is it, love?" she said. And Bessie could never have divined the gnawing anxiety that was eating at her heart as she said it.

"Oh, Jess, I'm so glad that you have come. I do so want you to advise me--that is, to tell me what you think," and she paused.

"You must tell /me/ what it is all about first, Bessie dear," she said, sitting down opposite to her in such a position that her face was shaded from the light. Bessie tapped her naked foot against the matting with which the little room was carpeted. It was an exceedingly pretty foot.

"Well, dear old girl, it is just this--Frank Muller has been here to ask me to marry him."

"Oh," said Jess, with a sigh of relief. So that was all? She felt as though a ton-weight had been lifted from her heart. She had expected this bit of news for some time.

"He wanted me to marry him, and when I said I would not, he behaved like--like----"

"Like a Boer," suggested Jess.

"Like a /brute/," went on Bessie with emphasis.

"So you don't care for Frank Muller?"

"Care for him! I loathe the man. You don't know how I loathe him, with his handsome bad face and his cruel eyes. I always loathed him, and now I hate him too. But I will tell you all about it;" and she did, with many feminine comments and interpolations.

Jess sat quite still, and waited till she had finished.

"Well, dear," she said at last, "you are not going to marry him, and so there is an end of it. You can't detest the man more than I do. I have watched him for years," she went on, with rising anger, "and I tell you that Frank Muller is a liar and a traitor. That man would betray his own father if he thought it to his interest to do so. He hates uncle--I am sure he does, although he pretends to be so fond of him. I am certain that he has tried often and often to stir up the Boers against him. Old Hans Coetzee told me that he denounced him to the Veld-Cornet as an /uitlander/ and a /verdomde Engelsmann/ about two years before the annexation, and tried to get him to persuade the Landrost to report him as a law-breaker to the Raad; while all the time he was pretending to be so friendly. Then in the Sikukuni war it was Frank Muller who caused them to commandeer uncle's two best waggons and spans. He gave none himself, nothing but a couple of bags of meal. He is a wicked fellow, Bessie, and a dangerous fellow; but he has more brains and more power about him than any man in the Transvaal, and you will have to be very careful, or he will do us all a bad turn."

"Ah!" said Bessie; "well, he can't do much now that the country is English."

"I am not so sure of that. I am not so sure that the country is going to stop English. You laugh at me for reading the home papers, but I see things there that make me doubtful. The other party is in power now in England, and one does not know what they may do; you heard what uncle said to-night. They might give us up to the Boers. You must remember that we far-away people are only the counters with which they play their game."

"Nonsense, Jess," said Bessie indignantly. "Englishmen are not like that. When they say a thing, they stick to it."

"They used to, you mean," answered Jess with a shrug, and got up from her chair to go to bed.

Bessie began to fidget her white feet over one another.

"Stop a bit, Jess dear," she said. "I want to speak to you about something else."

Jess sat or rather dropped back into her chair, and her pale face turned paler than ever; but Bessie blushed very red and hesitated.

"It's about Captain Niel," she said at length.

"Oh," answered Jess with a little laugh, and her voice sounded cold and strange in her own ears. "Has he been following Frank Muller's example, and proposing to you too?"

"No-o," said Bessie, "but"--and here she rose, and, sitting on a stool by her elder sister's chair, rested her forehead against her knee-- "but I love him, and I /believe/ that he loves me. This morning he told me that I was the prettiest woman he had seen at home or abroad, and the sweetest too; and do you know," she said, looking up and giving a happy little laugh, "I think he meant it."

"Are you joking, Bessie, or are you really in earnest?"

"In earnest! ah, but that I am, and I am not ashamed to say it. I fell in love with John Niel when he killed that cock ostrich. He looked so strong and savage as he fought with it. It is a fine thing to see a man put out all his strength. And then he is such a gentleman!--so different from the men we meet round here. Oh yes, I fell in love with him at once, and I have got deeper and deeper in love with him ever since, and if he does not marry me I think that it will break my heart. There, that's the truth, Jess dear," and she dropped her golden head on to her sister's knees and began to cry softly at the thought.

But the sister sat there on the chair, her hand hanging idly by her side, her white face set and impassive as that of an Egyptian Sphinx, and the large eyes gazing far away through the window, against which the rain was beating--far away out into the night and the storm. She heard the surging of the storm, she heard her sister's weeping, her eyes perceived the dark square of the window through which they appeared to look, she could feel Bessie's head upon her knee--yes, she could see and hear and feel, and yet it seemed to her that she was /dead/. The lightning had fallen on her soul as it fell on the pillar of rock, and it was as the pillar is. And it had fallen so soon! there had been such a little span of happiness and hope! And so she sat, like a stony Sphinx, and Bessie wept softly before her, like a beautiful, breathing, loving human suppliant, and the two formed a picture and a contrast such as the student of human nature does not often get the chance of studying.

It was the eldest sister who spoke first after all.

"Well, dear," she said, "what are you crying about? You love Captain Niel, and you believe that he loves you. Surely there is nothing to

Jess - 10/58

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