The New Arcadia/Chapter 25

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CHAPTER XXV.

CHANGES AND CHANCES.

And the hot sun rose, and the hot sun set,
And we rode all the day through a desert land,
And we camped where the lake and the river met,
On sedge and shingle and shining sand."—A. L. Gordon.

In due course Hilda and O'Lochlan were married. The magic of a woman's touch is seldom more graphically illustrated than upon the advent to the bachelor's homestead of the bride from the city. So, from the moment Larry lifted the wilful Hilda from her glowing chestnut across the threshold of their future home, was it at Bullaroo. Pipes, spurs, stockwhips disappeared from place of honour in the dining-room, relegated to a cosy quarter of the spruced-up barracks across the tidied yard. No longer from every sofa and easy-chair dogs greeted the visitor with snarl or whine. Cows were duly milked, and butter was made. No longer squatter and guest fared worse than "Cockie" who had a wife. Bread was not always sour and meat high. Hence Larry swore less oft. The Chinese cook despite his expostulations was relegated to the vegetable garden across the creek. A cook from town, housemaids with wondrous white caps and spotless aprons, flitted about the clean kitchen and renovated house. "Old Mary," the black gin, was not now permitted to ogle at all hours in the parlour window, nor her sable spouse and mates, with pickaninnies clad in seamless, some said unseemly, suit of black skin, to camp in the back-yard.

"Swept and garnished" was the homestead, and Larry and his visitors, clerical and otherwise, had reason to thank their stars that a lady had come to Bullaroo.

"The course of true love" does not necessarily "run smooth" after marriage, especially if it did not do so before.

"In every life some rain must fall,
In every year some days must be dark and dreary."

Scarce was the garden at the front, whence cabbage and melons had been removed, nicely laid-out, and the tennis-lawn, where the gallows had swung, was clothed with coat of velvety grass; scarce had the Vixen filly come well to her paces and she and Hilda fallen into harmony, than the first little home of the "happy pair" had to be broken up.

Did Larry, like many a married man, attend less to business now?

However it was, the terrible drought came upon him unawares. The "Cockie" he had "hammered" cut his best dam, just after the last rains; the new tank, not properly puddled, leaked. Heavily stocked, he tried, when too late, to lighten himself of his load. After the first draft to market, he would, he declared, rather "boil all down than accept such prices." The sun did the boiling for him, and the hot winds the drying of carcase and of fleece. Often did the newly-married couple return with buggy full of remnants, all of value that was left of the sheep whose wool was silvering the plains.

Larry welcomed an opportunity, after the first rain, of selling out. The "desert" of last week was a prairie of grass a foot high, when the Hon. Herbert Fitzhubert from the old country, with Messrs. Hyan's and Ramman's agent, came to inspect.

Despite the ominous carcases and still fleeting fleeces, a fine property was Bullaroo Plains. The new chum from England had capital; the old one from Ireland had lost his. It was well as it was.

The Hon. Herbert's sisters played the first game on Hilda's tennis-court, and "old Mary" was again permitted to flatten her nose—if flatter it could be—on the dining-room windows; for the Hon. Herbert was never caught kissing his sisters, and it was "such a good joke" to tell the folk about at home—this lubra looking in at lunchtime.

The very fact that the doctor was, as he termed it, "hard as nails," encouraged him to draw too heavily on his splendid reserves of physical and mental vigour.

Happy, in some senses, they who have occasional reminder that man cannot with impunity toil and think sixteen hours a day, who are compelled by physical admonitions to lie still awhile and taste of the bitter-sweet of repose.

The terrible strain to which the doctor had been subjected began to tell. For the first time he learnt that he had a liver and a heart. The medical adviser, whom his wife had by intrigue contrived that he should consult, insisted upon his absence for a while from the scene of his labours. A sea voyage would set him up.

Happily the advice harmonized with the indefatigable pioneer's plans.

The opening of an Emporium in London was in his mind, with a dozen expedients for placing products upon the best and largest markets. He would observe, too, irrigation methods in the Western States, and the progress of co-operative enterprise in England.

"And you call that a holiday trip?" exclaimed his wife, aghast, ere he had half enumerated the purposes to be served by his trip.

"A change of occupation, my dear," exclaimed the good man, "is the best restorative. You would not have me hang about the clubs and salons of London and Paris?"

Travers had taken up his abode at the bungalow that he had built on the hill overlooking the lake. He was not himself. The mysterious barrier that had arisen between Gwyneth and himself preyed upon his mind. His duties, however, he discharged with unfaltering regularity.

Mrs. Courtenay and Maud could not be left alone in the great White House. Some one must take the doctor's place.

The O'Lochlans had come over for a few days to tell of their contemplated departure from Bullaroo.

"And what are you going to do next?" asked the doctor.

"Lord knows," replies Larry. "I shall keep the few thousands I have left, until I see a good line. But I cannot be idle long. I'll be getting into mischief if I do. Run away with some other girl!" he suggested, tickling on the neck with his riding-whip his wife, who sat embroidering his initials on a saddle-cloth.

"I have it," cried the doctor. "Men always come to my hand as I want them. You'll stay here, look after the old lady, with Maud and her curate, not to mention the few thousand folk scattered down the valley and across the plains."

"Not if I know it," demurred Larry. "It would be a dog's life for me. No one but you could stand it. Besides I've too plaguy a temper."

"You're all right," said the doctor. "Though you must not go in for 'hammering' our boys! You get on well enough with people when you like, and for God's sake, do like, old man." And he went to the window and looked across the valley, and away into the middle of next month.

His wife placed a hand on his arm.

"Is not your heart outside rather than in?" she whispered, looking with a shade of sadness into his eyes.

He bent down and kissed her.

"My dear, I could not love my work as I do, if I did not love my God and you the more."

The wife's eyes filled with tears; she tried to understand, and could not.

The sacrifices we make are easier for ourselves than for those who love us. The woman, whose whole life it is to spend herself for others, rebels when she sees her husband expending half his energies so.

Meetings were held. Larry and Travers were appointed co-managers. Head men, who had for some time virtually held office, were duly appointed; nominated by the vote of the men and women, and approved by the doctor as president.

The announcement of the intended departure was received with regret and concern. The doctor's personality, to a greater extent than he realized, had conduced to the harmonious working of his plans.

His son-in-law was admired as a visitor. The villagers opened their eyes as he "cleared" their hedges and ditches, appearing and disappearing like a meteor of the plains.

The doctor had his misgivings. Earnest injunctions he gave to his high-spirited son-in-law as to cultivation of temper and tact. True as steel, open as the day, honest as the light, he knew Larry to be. Unless unforeseen difficulties arose, all should go well.

"Now, my charmer," cried the Irishman a few weeks later at the door of the house he was leaving for ever, "give me your dainty foot. There," as Hilda sprang, not quite as lightly as heretofore, into the saddle, "dry your eyes, my girl. You'll want them undimmed. Chestnut's fresh, you know. If fortunes are broken, our hearts are not. And I don't mean my wife's neck to be either.

"Hang the gates, let's take the fences. Across the country once more with the wind whistling in our ears to blow out all the nonsense."

So saying he touched the chestnut on the shoulder with his whip, and "made believe" to press spurs to "Mooroobool's" sides. Hilda caught one glance of the chickens she had reared running about motherless, of Mrs. Rails, the boundary rider's wife, crying, with a dirty apron to her face; and away the two sped, over the fences, across the creek; she, as if flying from her destiny; he, as if hastening to meet his; and the blood rushed again to the girl-wife's white face, and the thought of past disappointment with sense of impending trouble passed away as they bounded in mad career across the hollow-sounding plains. The wild Irishman shouted meanwhile—

"Round goes the world,
Its troubles I defy,
Scampering along together, my boys,
My dear old wife and I."

"Larry, you must be steady now; we are just turning into Kokiana. You seem in good spirits at leaving our first home behind you."

"I never look behind, no sane rider does," was the reply. "I see a big fence in front, stiffer than I've cleared yet. I want all the nerve and spirit I've got, and I don't mean to waste any on useless repinings."

The wife understood. He was taking a smart run at his big fence.

"Hilda, old girl," he continued, "I'd never forgive myself if I got this affair knotted up. I would not touch it with a finger but for your sake and the old man's."

"There's a handsome pair," said Mrs. Sandbach, who sat at her door darning stockings, while her husband dug around some promising trees.

"Yes," said Sar' Ann, "they seems made for their horses, and their horses for they, as we're made for the broom, and the work for we."

"Handsome is as handsome does," remarked Mrs. Smith, who was visiting her friends. "He's a fine man, maybe, but 'a far cry' from th' good doctor. There's not the likes of him about in all the country-side. Good luck go with him, says I!"