I WAS at my wits’ end. I was almost at the conclusion of my stay in town. I had been searching diligently from the first day of my arrival for a young woman (we had had enough of old ones) who would consent, for a liberal wage, to proceed to Bundaburramah, and there go through the form of cooking our food. I say, go through the form. My wife and I, taught by long intervals of self-help, were not exacting. I could broil chops and steaks fairly well. I could put a piece of corned beef into a pot, and leave it to simmer when I retired for the night. I could manage potatoes. But my free spirit rebelled at the ‘washing up.’ The half-used plates and dishes were to me as things loathsome. They operated prejudicially upon my dinners in prospect even, as well as upon those which had ‘gone before.’ So, as a man, a gentleman, and a squatter, I ‘jacked up’ at the cookery.
My poor Isabel tried it many times; and I am bound to say, as a truthful though oppressed employer, accomplished miracles. But the children could not be kept out of the kitchen when mamma was so delightfully engaged. Narrow escapes occurred of cremation of little dresses, and the little treasures contained therein. And how could I bear to find my dainty darling, hot, uncomfortable, and perfumed as to her peerless person, not with lavender or millefleurs, but actually, as her younger brother roughly expressed it, ‘smelling of fat’?
We tried men cooks, but they were surly or drunken. We placed occasionally adjacent bush-girls between us and the unwonted toils and miseries. They augmented the toils by their awkwardness. They sharpened the misery by their waste, extravagance, and sudden abscondings. And this is how it all came to pass.
While at our worst, I received a sudden summons to town on business.
‘I am sorry to leave you, my dearest,’ said I, as I bade farewell to my tearful wife. ‘I feel almost cowardly in going away to a region where cooks can still be obtained for money. I shall, in spite of myself, be revelling in hotel banquets, and real actual dinners (not meals); while you, my poor darling, will be dwelling in the desert alone, subsisting upon the burned chop, the underdone “gigot,” the unleavened bread. My heart bleeds for you. Why did I ever marry you?’ Here the mail, which passes our door, came rapidly towards us.
‘Oh, Edward!’ said she, hiding her face in my breast, ‘don’t say such dreadful things. But you will bring up a cook from town, won’t you, like a dear? I am willing to do my best, but I am almost worn out.’ Here the up-mail drove up.
‘If I do not,’ said I, ‘may I—’ here I swore an oath, not too dreadful to repeat, for I remembered I was a family man, and member of the local school board, in the midst of my natural indignation—‘be forced to sell Bundaburramah, and turn mining agent, stockbroker, or even member of parliament. If I do return alive, and if there is only one cook in the whole metropolis, that cook shall be yours.’
She thanked me with one half-bright glance from her tender brown eyes. I climbed to the box seat, the impatient leader reared, the off-side wheeler stubbornly refused to move, the near-side one gave a playful kick, and in about ten minutes we were fairly off.
I reached the metropolis after a journey during which even the modest fare of the roadside inns appeared to me in the light of astonishing delicacies, so unaccustomed had I been, of late, to the most rudimentary results of the culinary art. I may mention that I had not left Bundaburramah for three years previously; domestic difficulties, and a certain disobligingness on the part of my banker, being both in favour of home-keeping. Though the latter conflicting element was in a state of unwonted rest, the domestic difficulties were as sharp as ever. The general prosperity seemed to have intensified them. What was the use of my getting grand prices for my wool and sheep if my wife was to be the slave of the lamp, as the man says in the Arabian Nights, or, rather, of the saucepan?—flesh and blood couldn’t stand it. I am a moderate man, and believe in the liberty of the subject, and all that, but fancy a cargo of nice strong young slaves just arrived, with a score of cooks among them! Wouldn’t I have bid up? Yes, I grieve to say—like Mr. Salem Scudder himself.
I was almost comforted when we pulled up, or rather, the train stopped at the refreshment station on the mountains. ‘Come,’ I said to myself, ‘this is something like. Here is no violent contrast here to shock the consciences of men long ignorant of cooks! The Government have shown their usual delicacy of feeling. Nothing but bread and butter, the mature sandwich, the almost warm tea and coffee. No wicked wine or spirits.’ I fed uncomfortably, as I had done for years, and felt free from the crime of wallowing in luxury, while my absent spouse was alternately starving or suffering from indigestion.
Sydney at length. More temptation, with the usual human result—more indulgence. I sinned and sorrowed. Daily I feasted on fish, soup, and entrées, nightly I bewailed my guilty pleasure, and excused myself to my absent sufferer, by ingenious explanations, in which figured the recovery of a lost palate, and a stern determination to wrest a cook from the clutches of the registry office-keepers, or to stay in Sydney till I did.
To this end I visited every one of those remarkable establishments, where domestics have of late years condescended to meet for the purpose of selecting employers. Daily I presented myself for inspection by the proud daughters of the kitchen—alas! unavailingly.
My appearance, I flatter myself, is not unimpressive. A judicious mixture of paternal benevolence, with the merest soupçon of dignity, has always marked my manner, more especially with the younger and better-looking female domestics. Wages, if not altogether ‘of no object,’ were decidedly liberal. The duties certainly comprised a fair knowledge of cookery, but the sum was not high. No willing student of ordinary intelligence could be plucked. We saw no company. Old Jubley, P.M., once a month, a wandering squatter, and a rare inspector of stock, were our only guests.
I did not particularly care what they got, as I, in my turn, took my chance of compulsory potluck when travelling. ‘Why then this morbid hatred of the fox? Why did I always break down on the cross-examination? Why was the invariable answer of the young and giggling, the middle-aged and wary, the old and vinous aspirant, “That she was afraid the place wouldn’t suit”?’ In other words, why couldn’t I get a cook? The distance, no doubt, was the fatal objection—two hundred and twenty miles. I couldn’t decently make it less than that, though I softened the last mail stage. Then the name—Bundaburramah—confound it! it had the smack of the Lower Darling.
I thought seriously of changing it into Belvoir, or Hampton Court, when I saw the effect it had upon the countenances of the most likely candidates. The way the more smartly dressed among them used to bring out, ‘The bush! oh! I’m afraid it’s a great deal too far off.’
Some made such a point of going to church regularly every Sunday, that I regretted that I had not subscribed munificently to that Wesleyan edifice, which might have been completed now, under other circumstances; that is, if there had been a sufficiency of Wesleyans in the neighbourhood, which it afterwards turned out there were not. For the first few days, I did not mind it so much; I went as a regular thing to the next registry office on my list. I had checked them all down in my pocket-book. I was, indeed, so constant an attendant at these exasperating domestic clubs, popularly supposed to tend to the distribution of servants, but in reality being secret societies for the circulation of gossip, and the intimidation of employers, that I began to be taken for a relation of some of the young persons. Little notice was therefore bestowed upon me, and I heard as many pieces of private intelligence and unmasked conversation, bearing upon the manners and customs of the species female servant, as if I had been the ‘amateur casual’ himself. I was not, however, as yet satiated with the pleasures of the metropolis, and day by day I resumed my stereotyped inquiry of the politely indifferent lady registrars, and kept guard for the regulation period until we all (I was getting quite identified with the ways of the societies) went home to lunch, after which, few of us troubled the institution again that day.
Obviously, however, this mode of life could not last for ever. I had merged my whole existence and staked my reputation for success upon this mad quest for a cook.
From that fleeting delusive from I was apparently as far as the crowd of fated worshippers in Noel Paton’s grand picture, ‘The Pursuit of Pleasure.’ I could, perhaps, have supported the ennui and fatigue of another month’s quest with the aid of fresh and congenial society, the theatres and concerts by night, an occasional voyage to Manly Beach and the Garden promenade. But other forces began to manifest themselves. My wife’s letters, at first full of sympathy with my ardent pursuit, began to show first incredulity, then disapproval.
‘She was afraid I was not trying in earnest, or else I must have got a cook by this time. Then, was I going to take up my abode in Sydney altogether, and leave my family and the station to take care of itself? She must say she thought it strange, to say the least of it, that I should have been in Sydney a whole month and have done nothing. If I did not return soon, she thought she would start down with the children in the mail. Besides, there had been a bush-fire, some of the sheep were away, and she was afraid the overseer had been drinking.’
Alas! alas! (as I am writing and not talking I may make use of this interjection) how my enjoyment shrivelled up, as grass before a bush-fire, under the last paragraph! Human nature is weak.
Here had I gone on, patiently searching for this philosopher’s stone of a cook, while my stock was decreasing, my wife becoming deranged, and my overseer in a chronic state of delirium tremens. I knew that nothing short of this stage would have aroused her suspicions. Off I must go, cookless and hopeless, by Saturday’s mail. Words fail to describe my humiliation and despair. ‘Why did I not marry a cook?’ I asked myself in my agony. I have seen those of that persuasion that were fair to look upon. Then should I have been saved this anguish, this degradation, this mental, physical, moral, most complicated misery!
Friday arrived. I had advertised from the first day of my visit, directing applicants, with bitter irony, to call between nine and ten o’clock at the Royal Hotel, that being the hour when I am immersed in the morning papers. I was not reading, far from it, but, with corrugated brow, considering how many of my commissions, left to the last moment, it would be safe to neglect, when, enter the waiter.
‘A young person has called, sir, about the situation as cook.’
‘What!’ said I, ‘show in the angel—I mean the young woman.’ In a few moments, however, my spirits fell—‘She will leave me, as other hopes have left before,’ I murmured; ‘why should I be so ridiculous as to expect anything but disappointment, a little more ingenious than usual? Here she comes.’
The door opened. A young woman of twenty, very quietly dressed, presented herself, with an air of slight timidity, rather different from the assured elegance to which I had been accustomed.
‘Pray take a chair,’ said I. ‘I understood that you had come with reference to my advertisement for a cook?’
‘Mr. Steadman,’ said she, ‘of Bundaburramah?’ inquiringly.
‘The same,’ said I, breaking out into a cold perspiration—(She’s going to ask whether it is at the North Shore, or what the distance from town is).
She did nothing of the sort. She took from her black bag a letter which she handed to me. As soon as my trepidation permitted, I read it. I knew the handwriting well. It was from a dear old family friend, who had known me from a boy, a lady, though of warm benevolence, not less noted for clear-sighted dislike to imposition. It ran as follows: ‘I willingly testify that Mary Dale has a thorough practical knowledge of cookery. I consider her likely to prove valuable to any family in which she may engage herself. I have known her for some years, and vouch for her perfect trustworthiness.’
I looked up from this document as the ruined heir lifts his eyes from his grandfather’s long-lost (favourable) will. My glance encountered a look of mingled expectation and anxiety. The face itself was a good one. Clear dark eyes, fair features, well-kept, neatly-arranged hair. ‘Fully good-looking enough,’ thought I; ‘thorough knowledge of cooking—too good to be true—must end in failure.’
‘Hem—ha!’ said I. ‘Very good character Mrs. Longworth gives you here. How long will you engage for? Not less than six months?’
‘I am willing to engage myself for twelve months,’ said she.
I gave myself a severe pinch at this statement. I must be dreaming, or is she an escaped lunatic? Or, somehow, the wording of Mrs. Longworth’s letter is rather ambiguous. No allusion to other places. Is there anything—hum—ha?
‘You have been cook in other families, I suppose?’ said I, with an easy air of unconcern. ‘Where Mrs. Longworth acquired her knowledge of you?
She was slightly confused, as I thought, for a moment, then looked up and said steadily:
‘I have never been away from home before; but I can cook very fairly, as Mrs. Longworth has kindly stated. If you do not approve of my work after a month, you need not pay me.’
I hesitated, only for a moment. There was a little mystery; but in one second there flashed across my mind the tremendous extent, the ruinous depth of the domestic gap that this female Curtius was volunteering to close by self-sacrifice. I looked at her clear eyes and earnest face. I call myself a bit of a physiognomist. The die was cast.
‘It is arranged,’ I said. ‘Our wages are so-and-so for twelve months.’
She inclined her head.
‘Will you meet me with your trunk at the terminus at five o’clock to-morrow afternoon?’
‘I shall be sure to be punctual, sir,’ she said, in a pleased voice, and departed.
I never missed a train in my life, though not punctual to a fault. I sometimes linger, I often procrastinate. But I contrive to energise as the time grows short. I double the cabman’s fare. I omit my least important (family) commissions. By this process of addition and subtraction, I have hitherto avoided failure.
But on this momentous occasion I ran no imprudent risks. There are moments in life when, stupendous issues being involved, no sane man leaves anything to chance.
I was more than prepared. I went down to the terminus after breakfast, and set my watch by the railway time. I mustered my parcels in the most methodical way, and arrived with them hours beforehand. I dined sparingly, lest caution should be lulled by liquor, and half an hour before the five-twenty train, I was wandering up and down the platform, arousing the interest of the railway officials. One of them, expectant of subsidy, touched his hat, as he asked, pointing to my luggage, which included bandboxes—‘Was there a lady in the case?’ ‘Yes, there was.’
The appointed time drew nigh; but five minutes, at the expiration of which the inexorable train would start. Already the warning cry of ‘Take your seats for ———’ was heard. Anxious or timid passengers hastened to ensconce themselves in the carriages. I had taken two first-class tickets; I had seen my multifarious packages, comprising all things indispensable to the home-returning paterfamilias, from a crate of crockery to a box of toys, safely bestowed. I am aware that second-class accommodation is usually considered suitable for domestic servants; but I was not going to be trammelled by the usages of a bygone state of society, where cooks were doubtless plentiful and easy to replace. No! Was I to run the risk of a headlong proposal from a fortunate miner? An offer of double wages from a desperate employer like myself? No! By the recollection of my past anguish, by the dread of a servantless period to come, I would run no insane risks. ‘Safe bind, safe find.’ Once in my charge, this gifted maiden should be guarded and cherished as a ward in Chancery, until I deposited her with triumph in the kitchen at Bundaburramah. But was she coming after all? Agonising doubt! I felt as if the disappointment would shatter my overtasked faculties.
All fears on that score were set at rest by the appearance of the inestimable maid, accompanied by an elderly woman of great respectability of aspect, who looked at me keenly, as I hurriedly advanced.
I could have clasped her (our new cook, I mean) in my arms. But I controlled all outward signs of joy, and calling a porter directed him to take charge of the moderate-sized trunk that the cabman deposited on the pavement.
‘Here is your ticket; perhaps you had better take your seat,’ said I, leading the way to a saloon carriage.
‘I am sorry to be late,’ said she; ‘but I am quite ready now. Good- bye!’ Here she spoke in low tones to the elderly person, who by this time, from the attention she bestowed upon me, must have had a correct mental photograph of my features and expression.
‘You can tell them you saw me safely off.’
‘Good-bye, my dear child,’ said the old woman.
I discovered no family likeness. I opened the carriage door a little impatiently, pointing out an unoccupied corner, of which Mary quietly took possession—the signal sounded, and, joy of joys! we were off.
When the ‘gentlemanly’ dealer in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, who bought his slaves in small parcels, a wife here, a husband there, a child somewhere else, as prices suited, had got his valuable lots safely on board the steamer, he (erroneously, as it turned out) relaxed his watchfulness, under the impression that they couldn’t very well get way. Here let me remark that I at least never for a moment wondered why the Southerners fought so desperately for their slaves. Could I not enter into their feelings? Had I been possessed of—say inherited—a good cook or two, a housemaid, a prize laundress, would I not have shed the last drop of blood ere they should be torn from me. Don’t tell me! human nature is the same everywhere. Wilberforce himself would have done it, had he been the prey of servants and the scorn of registry offices.
But revenons à nos moutons, or to the artist mostly concerned with the post-mortem experiments made on their hapless bodies.
I sat within a convenient distance of my prize, and only occasionally satisfied myself by a cautious glance that she was there. I fancied that a look of regret had succeeded the one of quiet determination which I had remarked upon her face as she ascended the platform. ‘Only natural,’ thought I; ‘but she can’t well draw back now. She doesn’t look the sort of damsel to burst into tears, and entreat to be sent back to her mother. No! I think I’ve made a hit for once. Quietly dressed, in a well-fitting, almost too plain material. Gloves, yes; all the world wears gloves now; a pair of half-worn gauntlets, very sensible. Hat, unobtrusive; veil, thick and defensive. Hem! most unexceptional attire.’
Worn out by my late severe mental conflicts, I must have dozed, for I was suddenly awakened by the stopping of the train at the half-way station, where refreshments are popularly supposed to be obtainable. I went over to her. ‘Mary,’ said I, ‘do you feel hungry? would you like anything to eat or drink?’
She started slightly as I spoke; then with an effort, said, ‘Thank you, Mr. Steadman, I should like a cup of coffee.’ The refreshment was procured, and I thought it a suitable occasion to ask if she felt rested, and ready to take the coach journey, which commenced at midnight.
‘Thank you,’ she said, ‘I am quite well, and I daresay I can manage it.’
I OBSERVED that she disposed of the sandwich with evident appetite. ‘Good constitution,’ thought I; ‘persons who can’t eat can’t work—a good appetite goes along with good temper and a reasonable habit of mind. Indigestion is another name for irritable nerves, which mean—the devil, and all his works.’
I continued my paternal care during the coach journey, and at the roadside inns where we put up. The demeanour of my domestic was marked by gravity and seriousness even beyond her years. But occasionally I noticed a sudden expression, an appreciation of bits of scenery, an amused look as she read in a book with which she came provided, which, while not detracting from the respectful admiration with which I regarded her, led to doubts as to the light in which these traits would be looked upon by Mrs. Steadman. In fact, as we came nearer home, mild misgivings, deepening into fears, arose in my mind, as I pictured my introduction of this very good-looking and well-mannered young woman. I knew the hard criticisms, the groundless suspicions of the best, the most sensible of women, where their own sex is concerned. However, I sternly beat down these ungrateful feelings. ‘Pooh!’ said I to myself, ‘haven’t I got my dear old Mrs. Longworth’s guarantee, worth a score of any one else’s. She can cook, at any rate. Everything else is the merest bagatelle.’
In this liberal and intrepid state of mind I found myself, as we drove up, on a fine sunshiny morning (nothing very unusual in that), to the Bundaburramah homestead. My heart began to beat a little. Was everything well at home? No sudden illness. No child tumbled into a waterbutt. No ‘smash’ among the sheep. All kinds of possibilities occurred to me.
‘What a pretty spot!’ said the new cook suddenly. ‘I had no idea there were such nice places in the bush. I am sure I could be very happy here.’
‘I hope you will, Mary,’ said I, with the deepest sincerity; ‘and your—er—mistress and I will do everything in our power to make you comfortable.’
She smiled, as if her train of thought had been casually interrupted, and then answered, ‘I hope I shall be happy and contented here, sir. I will do my best, I promise you.’
‘Thank you,’ said I, and our existence as fellow-travellers terminated, as I jumped down and was embraced by my family, with a warmth proportioned to the length of my absence and the success of my efforts.
‘This is the—er—Mary Dale,’ said I to my wife. I could not say the cook, somehow.
‘Oh! very well,’ said the partner of my cares, with no great display of feeling. ‘Come with me, Mary, and I will show you your bedroom and kitchen.’
I had brief time for conversation just then. In half an hour I was in the saddle, and the moon was up before my overseer and I returned from our rounds. After the evening meal was over, and just a slight suspicion of drowsiness was creeping over me, my wife fixed her eyes upon me, in rather a searching manner, and thus commenced—
‘Now, don’t go to sleep, Edward, the moment you come home. I want to speak to you about the new cook.’
‘Good Heavens!’ said I, sitting bolt upright. ‘She’s given warning—says the place doesn’t suit her? Don’t tell me another word! And yet, I did think she was better than the ordinary run of girls. Confound all!’
‘Now don’t swear, Edward,’ interrupted my wife. ‘You appear to be very much concerned about her. Just answer me this,’ and the little woman looked like a valiant pigeon which has just cast away all mildness of demeanour, and pecks ferociously at your finger. ‘Did you ever see her before she answered the advertisement?’
‘Of course not,’ said I testily. ‘How could I? I was very glad to see her then, I promise you.’
‘I daresay; are you quite sure you never saw or heard of her before? Oh, Edward!’ said the little woman, relinquishing her expression of stern investigation, and seizing my hand in hers, while the tears came into her eyes, ‘why, that girl is a lady!’
‘Suppose she is,’ said I coolly, ‘how does that concern us? She evidently can perform the duties she has engaged for—witness those chops; best I’ve had since I left town.’
‘Oh, Edward, Edward!’ pleaded the perplexed advocate, now driven to her last entrenchments. ‘You know what I mean. There must be some mystery about her. For what I know, she may be—I don’t know what. And I’m to take her into my family, and the dear children. Oh—oh!’
Here the undefined picture of mysterious danger became too painful, and my helpmate broke down utterly, and sobbed upon my manly breast. I soothed her.
‘Dearest little woman, and best of wives, don’t you think you’re going rather too fast? We have Mrs. Longworth’s certificate of character, and you always said how wise as well as benevolent she was. No taking her in, you know.’
‘Still, this once,’ remonstrated the unconvinced.
‘I have a great mind to say,’ I replied, ‘that women are always suspicious, and so pay their sex a bad compliment. Men are more trustful; and they must necessarily have seen much more of the bad side of human nature than any good woman. Now, do you think you are doing your duty to your neighbour, by first of all unreasonably suspecting the girl of concealed evil, and following it up by the actual injury of dismissal? For, of course, she must go, if you insist upon it.’
‘Well, but, Edward, what reason can she have, with her appearance and manner? though nothing could be plainer or in better taste than her dress, and she hasn’t an ornament. She is a lady, or I never saw one.’
‘Perhaps she is poor; perhaps she has a father in a lunatic asylum; perhaps her brother has broken his back, and her grandmother is bedridden; perhaps she wants to help her mother, who may keep a boarding-house; perhaps she is a romantic goose (though she doesn’t look it) who wants to prove that in any station we may be respected; perhaps——’
‘That will do, sir,’ interrupted my mollified tyrant, stopping my mouth with an unanswerable argument. ‘Perhaps I have been a silly, uncharitable little woman, saying my prayers, but not acting them out in real life. You always bring me round somehow, with that clever tongue of yours. I’ll promise to do my duty, and to help her in all ways, and if she really is a good girl——’
‘And a good cook,’ said I, frowning sternly. ‘I will have my pound of flesh. Then we shall get on very well, and be happy for a whole year. Think of that!’
‘Think of that!’ echoed the little woman, clapping her hands.
On my next return from my daily jog round the run, I made an ejaculation at the altered appearance of our humble table. There was a delicious salmi; there were one or two slight but artistic compositions; there was a simple but novel rendering of the inevitable pommes de terre—in short, it was a minute and accurate section of a Parisian dinner, such as I had read of.
‘For what we are about to, etc.—shall I include the cook, my dear?’
‘Don’t be profane, Edward,’ said my wife gravely; ‘but really,’ added she, breaking into an approving smile, ‘I am quite charmed with our new domestic. She is such a manager, so neat and careful, and so beautifully clean. She told me she had some lessons at a school for cookery, which has been lately established. It does not take her half her time to do her work, and she told me she should be glad of some sewing to do in her leisure hours. What a help that will be with the dear children’s dresses! for here’s the summer coming on, and I haven’t a cool frock even cut out yet.’
‘All very well,’ said I. ‘But don’t you think, really, that there may be a little risk. She may be—eh?’
‘Come, come, sir! you’re laughing at me now. No! I’m converted, and content to take her as she is, and make no impertinent inquiries; in fact, conduct myself like a lady, in spite of her being one.’
‘I suppose she was quite knocked up after all this?’ inquired I, finishing the potatoes à la maître d’hotel.
‘Knocked up! I really believe she could cook a dinner in a drawing-room. It’s all method, arrangement, and accurate weighing of materials (as she says). I couldn’t have believed that such a dinner could have been turned out with so little effort.’
‘How lucky for us that she had sense enough to attend these said cookery classes! How much more rational than devoting hours of fruitless labour in acquiring that very limited knowledge of music which a girl generally gets.’
‘Every lady should play a little and sing if she has a voice,’ said my wife, with decision. ‘But oh, what would it not have saved me, if I had been taught like this girl?’
‘Well, my dear,’ said I, closing the conversation with a practical suggestion, ‘as we are so fortunate in our domestic arrangements, let us endeavour to keep so. You understand?’
‘I understand, sir,’ said the châtelaine archly. ‘I know that you think we women have no self-control. Do you always restrain your feelings and keep back your words?’
‘Women are capable of such superb emotional repression in certain directions,’ said I, ‘that it has always grieved me that they should ever fall short in the management of their domestics. This I state as a general proposition, of course.’
‘Of course; well, I feel as if I were going to be good and happy, and everything that could be wished now that we have such a charming cook.’
About this period, happiness had evidently alighted upon the humble roof-tree of Edward Steadman.
It was a lonely place, as stations are apt to be, and in the long days, when I was necessarily absent, my wife had often suffered from being too much alone. Of visitable neighbours we had hardly one. Our small establishment had been built half a mile away from the station huts, so that the overseer and station hands were rarely near the cottage. When they did come, to be paid off, or the like, they were not suffered to enter the kitchen. An order to that effect had been long issued—as it was found inexpedient to have Currajong Jack, or other bush celebrities, lounging about the fireplace smoking, when the mistress of the house was giving orders, or personally preparing the frugal meal.
This obviated any little difficulty which our new cook might have met in a bush kitchen. This apartment she renovated, and beautified till it was quite a pleasant room in the coldish autumn evenings, or, later on, in the frosty winter nights. For we have frosts, and sharp ones too, in the bracing climate of Bundaburramah. All the real work seemed to be done before mid-day, when, with the neatest of morning dresses, and a protecting apron, this mysterious domestic flitted fairy-like among her beautifully clean saucepans and stewpans, placing therein arithmetically correct quantities of meat, vegetables, herbs, and spices, in a way which gave an appetite even before the culinary process set in.
‘You seem wonderfully particular with your weights and measures,’ said I, as I looked in one day, after an accidentally early return. ‘I thought high-art cooking was more poetical, and not so mathematical; throwing in a flavour here and a little material there, with the careless inspiration of the moment.’
‘Cookery resembles poetry in one respect,’ she answered, without looking up from her work, ‘that a false quantity does damage in either case.’
I smiled, perhaps a little mischievously, like a schoolboy who has discovered a sensational secret; as she looked up our eyes met, and her face was suffused with a glow, certainly not derived from the heat of the fire.
‘Mr. Steadman,’ she said, with a quiet air of reproof, ‘cookery and conversation cannot be carried on without discomfort, slight perhaps, but not less marked, to the—person cooking.’
‘Pray excuse me,’ said I, as I prepared to depart. ‘I should be very sorry to pain you in the slightest degree. Surely you will acquit me of any desire to do so.’
‘I know that,’ she said quickly, ‘you have been most kind and truly considerate; don’t think that I do not see it; but—sometimes—I feel——’
‘Don’t trouble yourself to explain anything. Mrs. Steadman and I are your very good friends; and whenever the time comes that you choose to confide in us, and ask our advice, you shall have it, with all our hearts. Good-morning.’
So I retreated, more than ever convinced that there was a mystery about our estimable—what do I say?—inestimable domestic—but quite contented to wait upon Time, his ‘whirligigs and revenges,’ for elucidation. When I thought of her quietly dignified manner, her pleasant though rare smile, her conscientious care and steady industry, I longed to unravel the stupendous puzzle. When I thought of the delightful breakfasts and lovely dinners I daily revelled in, I was more than ever confirmed in my prudential resolution to leave well alone.
As I was going to say before, Mrs. Steadman by degrees, and having got over the feeling that it was not the thing to enjoy the society of your domestic, charm she never so wisely, began to form a strong attachment to the self-contained, reserved girl, who so effectively and unostentatiously performed what she had always found to be very distasteful work. After a certain hour of the day, as I have said, all the uncomfortable part of the work was over, even that part being dignified and reduced to its lowest limits of exertion, by the methodical arrangement and delicate cleanliness with which the operation was performed. Mary had made a request, after the first few days, to be allowed to sit with the nurse, who was an old family servant. With her and the children, joined by my wife, the afternoon passed cheerfully in the everlasting, never-palling pleasures of the needle—that virtuous substitute for I know not how many recreations indulged in by impatient mankind.
Gradually, as Mary Dale saw that her secret was respected, and her decision to take an unusual step unquestioned, she became less timid, and permitted herself to relapse into her natural manner. She showed, in an unaffected way, considerable knowledge of the great world, that is, the world of metropolitan fashion. She was accomplished, though she firmly objected to exhibit her proficiency in any way, lest gossip might be aroused, and she went through the contents of our modest library at a pace which showed that she had been an eager and by no means superficial student.
Letter from Miss Seyton to Miss Charteris
BUNDABURRAMAH, 12th June 187—.
DARLING KATIE—You see that I was safely deposited at the place in the desert with the unpronounceable name, as you used to call it. I carried out my purpose in spite of friends, relations, and a contemptibly undecided heart, which nearly betrayed me at the last moment, when I parted from dear old nurse at the train.
You know very well my reason for taking the step which I did. You were among my principal dissuaders and scolders about the naughty, wicked, quixotic, unconventional plan which I had formed. I suppose you, none of you, knew how near I was to bursting out crying and abandoning the whole grand project. I should have been very sorry afterwards, for now that I have got over the difficulty, I am well pleased with myself and everybody else. I always said there was nothing like perseverance. Nor is there. Only there comes a time when the most beautiful cut-and-dried arrangement looks full of flaws and mistakes; and then firmness (which men call obstinacy where girls are concerned) comes in. You always accused me of having too much of that useful quality. I assure you every grain of it was wanted when the train moved off, and I found myself alone, under the protection of a total stranger, and in what my conscience occasionally assured me was a false position.
However, mamma had made all kinds of inquiries about Mr. Steadman, my employer, and hearing nothing but good about him and his wife, she finally permitted me to make the engagement. Well, away we went. Luckily, Mr. Steadman was considerate or careful enough of that rare domestic, a decent cook (this I afterwards suspected to be the true reading), to take a first-class ticket for me. So I had no troubles to start with; and when we had to change for a coach, at midnight, he took much the same care of the ‘young lady,’ as all girls, gentle or simple, are called indifferently when travelling, as if I had been a ‘real lady.’ Do you think I am growing just a little vulgar? Mind you tell me—the very first faint symptom—there’s a dear. Well, I enjoyed the journey so much.
I am pretty strong (you know cooks couldn’t be delicate), and don’t get headaches. The lovely fresh air, so different from a wretched street. The glorious dawn; the sun heaving up a great golden shell above the purple-crowned brows of the calm mountains. Oh! I could have screamed with delight. But I looked as prim as prim, I declare to you. I couldn’t tell for certain whether Mr. Steadman suspected my masquerade or not. He is one of those men who think a great deal, see everything, and don’t get surprised out of their opinions. On second thoughts, I think it’s probable he did guess something, though I was most careful in my get-up; so plain, though rather neat, and perhaps the least thing incongruous as to cuffs. But he had reasons of his own for taking no notice, so he was as gravely kind as if I had been old nurse herself—bless her old heart! Goodness gracious, what a dreadfully long letter! My candle is just going out, and I shan’t get another till to-morrow, so I must rush to the conclusion, which is, that Mrs. Steadman is a kind little woman and a lady—that we get on very well, and that I am in capital health and spirits and have such a colour, tell Roland—or rather don’t tell him, poor fellow. He must wait a little like me. Dearest, best, and carefullest of Katies, good- bye.—Your own eccentric friend.
MARY DALE SEYTON.
Letter from Miss Charteris to Miss Mary Dale
WOOLLAHRA, 20th June 187—.
Oh! my own loved and lost friend (to sight, I mean, to memory dear), you wicked runaway, pirate of the dark blue sea, no, I don’t mean that exactly; as you have gone up the country, you must resemble a bushranger more when he or she—oh dear! what has become of my verb? I must begin again. I was charmed to get your good-for-nothing letter, though I never will forgive you, Miss, and I hope your hands will get ruined, and that you will die of freckles, for I was just beginning to get low-spirited about you, and pictured you slaving away in some dismal hole in the bush, surrounded by rough people, and without the power of getting back. And I knew you would never, never give in, you obstinate puss! However, I am so glad to hear that you have fallen on your feet, after casting yourself violently down the social ladder, which is more than you deserve. No! I won’t scold you again—I promise you, dear-loved and lost gazelle. Really though, I don’t think you ought to be encouraged, though, from your description, a girl might be worse off than doing real, and not make-believe, work in a nice, neat, cool kitchen, all by one’s self, and sewing peacefully in the afternoons with a nice nurse or a cheery good little woman, as you describe your mistress (much laughter—as they say in the papers). I believe Fanny Westfield, who teaches, says she is worried and worked to death, and has dreadful headaches, and is as thin as she can be, while you seem to be enjoying your duties and getting quite a colour, which is all, Reggy Dalton used to say, was needed to make you perfectly lovely. Isn’t there some ‘grand dame’ that has all ladies for servants? I don’t know whether I should care for that kind of thing. I’m afraid I should squabble dreadfully with my fellow ‘helps.’ Now, you are safe from such a state of things. How dignified you must look! I can scarcely help screaming when I think of (possibly) Mrs. Steadman’s little girl saying, ‘Mary, ma says do make haste with the dinner’; or, ‘Ma says the beef’s underdone, and you’re to put it into the oven again.’
I went to a ball last week and had an ecstatic galop with Claud Slidlesley. He saw Roland in the bush somewhere, and said he was working so hard, and looking grave and miserable. You might write him one wee letter. There’s the dinner-bell. Beg your pardon—dearest Molly—oh, there I am again. Good-bye, my darling old girl; take care of your dear self, and oh, be careful of your hands! Of course you wear gloves always—that is, nearly always. He used to admire a ‘refined expression of hand’ as he said to me once. Oh! that dreadful dinner-bell! Now, I hate dinners; I wish we could do without them, and those worrying—ah! what was I going to say?—Your loving, blundering, dearest of all old friends.
THE CURRENT of our family life, once all whirlpools, cascades, what not, from the turbulence or treachery of female domestics, flowed on now so peacefully that we were in danger, like other prosperous persons, of having no history worth the writing. What with her talent with the needle, her loving sympathy with our children, her unobtrusive attention to my taste in culinary composition, Mary Dale was rapidly becoming dangerously indispensable, and as the year turned I found myself pensively wondering what we should all do when the busy shearing was over, and the bush-fires, hot winds, and anxious festivities of Christmas were upon us. What should we do? Sit down and weep when the mail bore away our peerless Mary—our companion, comforter, and cook? Delightful word! New honours clothed it, enriched by the tender association of Mary’s calm, sweet, gravely cheerful features. She had lost much of her armour now, and made confidences of the most thrilling nature to my wife, which were unhandsomely concealed from me.
When I say that perpetual serenity reigned, perhaps I may be permitted to retract that too unconditional statement. A month or two after I returned from the metropolis, a short, but sharp and decisive conflict took place between the two high contracting parties. What were the mental ingredients which precipitated so frightful a result?
I believe the proximate cause of the aggressive demeanour of the ordinarily mild and tender mistress, and the untranslatable haughty attitude of the maid was, like the North Pole, never actually discovered, perhaps, like it, never will be. My readers will recall the statement—souvent femme varie. No other explanation can I offer. Whether my wife was ‘put out,’ whether the wind was in the east or in some occult quarter, whereof ordinary males deem not, whether a sudden lack of sympathy with the maid’s extra-domestic graces had transformed them into ‘airs and graces,’ I know not. But the facts simply were, that when I returned at eve, as is my custom, decently tired, hungry, and perhaps a little—but no! say with just sufficient nervous quiescence to last me till dinner-time, I was received with a thrilling embrace from my overwrought partner, and this plaintive announcement, ‘Oh—Edward! Mary has behaved with want of proper respect to me, and she says she must go at the end of the month.’
Here the little woman looked doubtfully at me, and sobbed unrestrainedly.
I am afraid I disengaged her from my embrace a second or two before the regulation period, and looking at her (she says) very sternly, thus spoke—‘Of course you could not possibly contrive to exist without a quarrel. Women certainly have no more brains than flies; no more self-control than children! An overseer has sense enough not to quarrel with his men just before shearing; even a commercial traveller knows enough not to flog his horses in the middle of a plain; a captain isn’t hard upon his crew with the breakers in sight—but, hang me! if a woman isn’t capable of doing anything on the impulse of the moment, no matter what ruin is imminent.’
‘Oh, Edward, Edward, don’t speak and look so dreadfully. But you always take part with this—this Mary Dale. You don’t think it possible I can be in the right.’
‘Well, well,’ I said gloomily, ‘let us look forward to another year of misery. Tell me how it happened.’
‘Well,’ said the little woman plaintively, ‘now I come to look back upon it, it all seems to have sprung out of nothing. I wished to have a particular dish to-day for dinner, and Mary reminded me that I myself had arranged the menus for the week on Monday. She pointed out that it would lead to an alteration of the whole dinner, as she had used some of the materials for another dish. I am afraid now,’ confessed my ordinarily meek-voiced dove, ‘that I was silly enough to think there was a tone of calm superiority in her voice. I hadn’t felt quite well all the morning, and I told her hastily that I believed I was mistress in my own house, and that I did not intend to be ruled by any servant. I knew it was cruel, mean, if you will, to say so, but it came out in a moment, and I felt as if I could have given anything to recall it.’
‘And what did she say to this polished little stiletto stab?’
‘Oh, Edward, I know you won’t forgive me, and it will serve me right if I have to work my fingers to the bone. Well, she looked at me for an instant with an expression of great surprise, then her face flushed, and her eyes half filled with tears. She turned away for a moment, and then said in a very cold haughty tone:
‘“Mrs. Steadman, I had hoped when I first saw you that I should have met with the consideration yielded by a lady to—every one. I find I was mistaken. I must decline to remain longer in your service.” Her tone, more than the words, irritated me; so I said she might go whenever she pleased, and that I was sorry to find I was mistaken in her. She made no reply. Bowing gravely, but still haughtily, she went into her bedroom, leaving me oh, so dreadfully sorry and ashamed of myself!’
‘Well,’ said I thoughtfully, ‘perhaps after all it is better for one’s wife to cook and drudge generally. It rubs off the poetry of married life, and so saves both from the jars and aches of over-sensitiveness. Then, of course, she can’t give warning, and you are relieved from all anxiety. In the state of muddle to which the household is henceforth doomed, you cease to require anything.’
‘Oh, Edward,’ shrieked my repentant wife, throwing herself upon her knees, ‘don’t talk in that horrid, cold-blooded manner. I’d far rather you would scold me well.’
‘My poor darling,’ said I, passing my hand over her bright, soft hair, as the dinner-bell rang; ‘why should I scold you for immolating yourself? Upon you directly will fall the burden of the consequences of this step; I only suffer indirectly, and besides,’ continued I, with studied malice, ‘I may be a good deal away from home.’
The dinner was faultless as usual; the fatal dish upon which war had been declared was there. It went out untouched. My usual appetite had abandoned me; it was like a meal before an execution. All was perfect as heretofore, but the hideous future unmanned me. I was gloomy and distrait.
Next morning at breakfast, while sorrowfully surveying the broiled kidneys, as who should say, ‘grief a fixed star and joy a vane that veers,’ ‘we all do fade as a leaf,’ ‘nothing is certain but misery,’ and so on, till the string of depressing statements founded upon the general frowardness of existence must have been nearly finished—to me entered my wife, but of a radiant and undimmed countenance. ‘What has happened, O herald of good tidings?’ asked I, with an inspiration of hope. ‘Is it peace?’
‘All is forgiven and forgotten,’ cried she, almost hysterically. ‘I went in before breakfast to apologise for my rudeness, but before I could get a word out she stopped me, saying, “Mrs. Steadman, I don’t think I behaved well yesterday. I am sorry for it. Perhaps I felt aggrieved, but I acknowledge to—well—not being nice in my manner. I daresay you were put out about something, and I ought to have been more patient.”
‘“It is I, Mary, who did not behave as I should have done,” I burst out. “And I feel more grieved and ashamed than you.”
‘“You must not say any more,” said she, so nicely and kindly, I could have kissed her. “It’s all over now. Cooks have proverbially hot tempers, you know. I daresay you won’t turn me away.”
‘The tears were in both our eyes. Oh, Edward, she’s an angel!’
‘Fancy two in one house,’ said I, as I welcomed my repentant house-angel to my bosom; ‘that’s why this slight disagreement took place, but if birds in their little nests agree, how much more so, etc. I suppose this will be the last of these terrific combats and heart-shaking uncertainties. Really, my dear, I’m not equal to them now. I am getting old, you know.’
As I think I said before this painful reminiscence, white-robed peace dwelt henceforth under my lowly iron-bark-shingled roof. I was free to devote my unshackled energies to the improvement of my stock, the enlargement of my water privileges, and the reformation of my fortunes. When I returned from my day’s work to my home, now the scene and theatre of modest comfort and permissible luxury, I felt daily that I was developing a larger nature, a more highly cultured intelligence.
Yes, I must have alluded at an earlier portion of this simple narrative to the approaching departure of our incomparable Mary. Departures are always approaching somehow; those most undesired glide forward like railway trains, with flaming eyes of doom or derision, as the case be. Bills have that peculiarity, perhaps some one may have noticed. Bills payable I mean. Perhaps the best hitherto undiscovered way of getting over an uncomfortable period of time would be to draw a bill maturing at its expiration. If that wouldn’t spur old Chronos into a slight increase of relative speed, wouldn’t tend to a total cessation of ennui, I am unable to offer a more practical suggestion.
Well, I must drag myself and my tale nearer the dreadful day, when,—but oh! I was very nearly forgetting a most important episode. Just sit down again, dear reader; it isn’t long, and is vitally necessary to the satisfactory—ahem—to the real facts of the case. Half an hour after sundown, one dusty, hot, windy day, up drove old Mr. Ralph Ratcliffe of Ratcliffe Heath, ‘down the country,’ as the exterior provinces are wont to be described, who had just been ‘up the country’ visiting some of his dozen or two stations. The old man was not easy to beat, and was popularly supposed to be much harder than nails, or whatever might be the appropriate simile for the endurance of a man who was never tired, or, apparently, hungry, thirsty, or in need of sleep at any hour of the day or night, when there was any work to be done.
However, nec tendit arcum, without some slight reactionary symptoms. So, whether it was the slow o’ertaking foot of Time, or whether sixteen hours of fever heat, dust glare, and bush-fires had proved ‘trying’ (as my wife said) to a frame which had for sixty years experienced a good deal of adverse exercise, certain it is that old Ralph looked just about done as he alighted slowly from his buggy at our gate.
‘You don’t look well, Mr. Ratcliffe,’ said I, as I walked in with him to the house—he had indignantly refused my arm—‘let me give you some refreshment before you go to your room.’
‘Well? Why shouldn’t I be well?’ demanded he, as if travelling in a simoom was an exercise of the most invigorating, not to say exhilarating nature. ‘There’s nothing to hurt a man in driving sixty or seventy miles, is there?’—he had come nearer eighty. ‘But I will take a glass of brandy-and-water before I pay my respects to Mrs. Steadman. I’ve had deuced little to eat or drink to-day.’
The restorative, with carefully cooled water, was exhibited, after which the old gentleman was decidedly more reasonable. He reappeared, after a leisurely toilette, much more like a respectable landowner, and less like a bear, than at first. He permitted himself to be gently entreated by my amiable helpmate, who was of the opinion that the ‘good old gentleman was working himself to death,’ and that he ought to stay a week at Bundaburramah and rest himself, before he tempted sunstroke, fever, and ague, what not—in fact, all the dangers of the road. But she had not quite sufficient courage to make this proposition to our venerable guest. Fancy old Ralph resting for a week anywhere but in his grave! The very thought would have been enough to send him half way to it. The dinner-bell rang, but our guest declined to go in, saying it would be a mere matter of form, as, from whatever cause, he had not the smallest shred of appetite, and in spite of his long day’s fast could not touch a joint to save his life.
‘Joint!’ said Mrs. Steadman playfully, glancing at the thermometer. ‘We don’t have joints at this time of the year. You must come in, Mr. Ratcliffe, or else I shall stay and keep you company.’
The old boy was too gallant to refuse after this statement, so in we went, and I thought I saw a slight air of astonishment as he took in the general expression of the table. An adaptation of the diner à la Russe, at any rate involving flowers in the centre, and the keeping off the table of masses of hot meat and steaming dishes, is to be commended for summer custom.
As it happened, this particular day had been fixed for the rehearsal of a lunch that we were going to give to some friends the following week, and the dauntless Mary had insisted upon having it in duplicate to ensure a perfect success on the day of performance.
I saw no harm in having our wine properly cooled in such hot weather; and after a glass or two of hock, and an introduction to the entrées, Mr. Ratcliffe began to look upon the dinner with less indifference.
‘Really, Mrs. Steadman,’ said he, ‘such a dinner as this tempts a man; and I have a higher opinion of cookery, as one of the fine arts, than I ever had before. I have seen nothing but rounds of beef, legs of mutton, and chops half warmed in frying-pans for the last month. I have always been careless about diet; but I must, I really must begin to value the proper preparation of food. Only young people, I begin to think, can afford to neglect digestion.’
‘I am so glad to hear you say so,’ said the flattered hostess; ‘but we have not always been able to give our friends such good dinners.’
‘I should think not, I should think not,’ said the old gentleman, actually making a second request for a ‘happy thought’ in the shape of an entremet. ‘But wherever did you get such a cook? Steadman, you luxurious dog, don’t be led away by the price of stock; it won’t last, my boy, it won’t last—trust old Ralph Ratcliffe, who has seen every rise and fall for the last fifty years. Why, you’ve brought up an ex-club cook! Must had have done so, eh?’
‘Nothing of the sort,’ said I; ‘haven’t quite stock enough to stand that sort of thing.’
‘Good woman cook, elderly, but drinks, of course,’ said the old gentleman, with bland certainty. ‘Have to give her a glass of grog last thing at night to keep down the hankering. Red face—old soldier—that sort of woman—sure as if I had seen her.’
‘Wrong again,’ said I, ‘wonderfully wrong. My dear,’ said I—we were at the second bottle of Rudesheimer by this time—‘can’t we contrive somehow to get Mr. Ratcliffe a sight of Mary?’
‘Really, I don’t know,’ answered my wife, without entering very strongly into my suggestion. ‘I daresay, if you wish very much that Mr. Ratcliffe should behold our pretty, as well as very good, cook, it could be managed. I’ll ask her to go into the drawing-room for something, and she will have to pass through here, as you chose to build your house without passages, Mr. Steadman.’
‘No passage of arms, I hope, will ever be found in this house,’ replied I. But she had left us. We did not immediately rise, and at the conclusion of the bottle, in which I was ably assisted by my previously exhausted guest, Mr. Ratcliffe asserted that he had never eaten so good a dinner before—‘done me a world of good,’ he continued to aver, ‘world of good, world of good—in point of fact, saved my life, not a doubt of it, Steadman, old fellow!’
At this juncture Mrs. Steadman informed me that there was a cup of tea awaiting us in the drawing-room, but that, unluckily, Mary had a very severe headache, and had gone to bed.
Mary was sufficiently recovered to rise early and prepare what was needful for the breakfast; but, unfortunately, her headache recommenced, and so incapacitated her for the slightest exertion that she was compelled to retire again to her room. Mr. Ratcliffe, therefore, after bestowing much praise upon the breakfast, was compelled to depart without seeing her. His last words were:
‘My dear Mrs. Steadman, never forget your kindness, never forget your dinner, very sorry I could not tell the cook so; give her my love, as she’s a young woman; best dinner I ever tasted. Good-bye.’
‘My dear Mr. Ratcliffe,’ wheedled the young person who had successfully wheedled me, ‘just write it upon this card. Mary will be so proud when I show it to her; do write it, send your love and all.’
‘My dear madam, of course, of course I will,’ answered the now renovated senior, with all the ardour of youth, under the influence of my wife’s still effective hazel eyes, and drawing forth a stout silver-cased pencil, he scrawled:
‘Best dinner I ever ate, best cooked, best served, my love to the cook.—Ralph Ratcliffe.’
The wiry buggy horses declined to stand any longer. Mr. Ratcliffe handed the card to my wife, with a bow like that of a marquis in the days of the Regency, and ‘dusted out’ at the rate of twelve miles an hour to one of his desirable properties.
‘Is the habit of flirting so ingrained in women,’ I demanded sternly, ‘that even a grandfather is considered better than no one? What audacious correspondence is this that you carry on before the eyes of your trusting husband, madam?’
‘Never mind, never mind, my dear!’ said this shameless young woman, concealing the document. ‘I only told him Mary would be pleased with it, and so she will.’
‘I am glad to see that her headache is better,’ remarked I, as I beheld the convalescent gazing after the vehicle of Mr. Ratcliffe with an eager abstracted air. ‘Has she fallen in love with him, too? Well, there’s some comfort in store for a middle-aged man if he can be certain that his power to interest the sex will not practically cease at the age of threescore and ten.’
Letter from Miss Mary Dale Seyton to Miss Kate Charteris
BUNDABURRAMAH 25th November 187—.
MY DEAREST CATHERINE—Oh, my dear, I have just had such a fearfully narrow escape! I was always afraid of being recognised by some old acquaintance, though there could not be a better place than this for being quite out of the world.
Now, who do you suppose, of all people under the sun, came here unexpectedly and stayed all night? No one but old Mr. Ratcliffe! Think of that—fortunately I was near the door, and heard his voice, which I should know anywhere, before he came past. I had just time to dash into my bedroom, and as the old gentleman was remarkably tired for him—it was the most awful hot-wind day—he went very soon into his room and did not see me. I am not sure, after all, whether his visit may not be productive of good. It seems he thought himself too tired to eat, and there being rather a well-composed little dinner (though I say it—professional vanity being allowed for) he enjoyed it very much, praised the cook, and even had the curiosity to want to see her. Fancy my feelings! However, of course, I had a headache, and could not be seen either that night or the next morning. The best of the joke is that he sent his love to the cook, and dear little Mrs. Steadman got him to write it on a card—so that I am in possession of his written statement that it was the best-cooked dinner he had ever tasted. Such testimonials are sometimes of value.
My visit to the country draws to a close. My time is nearly up. Really I am less glad than I thought I could be at the prospect of returning. Mr. and Mrs. Steadman have been very kind to me. The climate is fine. I have grown so fond of the children; and if anything awfully sudden and serious—and—well, impossible, happened between me and Roland, I really believe I could go on contentedly and happily here, year after year. However, I shall not, perhaps, be altogether sorry to feel the fresh, briny blast, and to hug my dearest darling Kate again.—Your ownest and lovingest friend.
M. D. SEYTON.
Miss Charteris to Miss Mary Dale
WOOLLAHRA, 13th December 187—.
MY DEAREST MAID (of all work)—No, I suppose you are not so fully occupied. So you are really going to leave that charming retreat Bunda—and all the rest, and return to your family and friends. I wonder whether we shall ever tread on your toes, mentally, or whether we shall hail in you a princess released from captivity, whose experiences and adventures will throw us all into the shade. You always had a habit of posing as a leader of your monde. Oh, dear, I would have given anything to have come up and seen your respectful demeanour to your mistress!
So you saw old Mr. Ratcliffe, or his back? I can imagine your consternation. And you cooked him an irresistible dinner? Food has played its part in the world’s great dramas before now. ‘This, by no means to be inwardly despised, art—profession—life-habit of good cookery (some say Gallic-derived), all respect secretly as a minister of enjoyment—nay, an elixir-vitae’. I have been reading Carlyle, you see. What an old dear he is! When young ladies do not get married at twenty-one, and have no kind destiny to pitchfork them into a ‘situation,’ they must read a little.
Isn’t it a wonderful coincidence; I saw Roland yesterday. He has just come down from some horrid place a thousand miles off, and is burnt black, and has had the ague, and—looks handsomer than ever. He goes back to-morrow.
He says he thinks some one will relent some day. In the meanwhile, though he has fits of despondency, he is fidelity personified.
This I know for a fact.
So now, I hope you will sleep well after that and your lawful day’s work. Heigho! Do you think Mrs. S. wants a laundress? If you don’t come soon, don’t be surprised if you see me by the mail some fine day.—Ever (or nearly always) your true but unsettled friend.
From Mr. Roland Ratcliffe to Robert Stanley, Esq., Woods and Wastes Office, Sydney
LOWER BACK DARGIL.
15th December 187—, 4 P.M.
MY DEAR BOB—How I envy you, just taking down your coat from its peg, filling your pipe, and sauntering off for a stroll in the Domain, or an hour’s practice in the boat. In either of these occupations you are safe, at this time of year, for a glorious whiff of sea-breeze—maddening thought! Here I am stuck for another month in this howling wilderness, in the society of Blacks, Chinamen, inebriated shearers, and all the demons of this Lower Dargil! Taking the heat, torment, and profanity, it cannot be very far from that other, perhaps lowest abode. What a life it is! I have had ten years of it now, and I abhor it deeply and daily. Work, of course, is work, and as such to be accepted. But it ought to have an end, or hope of end some day. Now this end, hope, or expectation, I do not at present catch a glimpse of. The governor was up here the other day, and said he thought it rather a pleasant place to live in—not by any means hot overmuch. Told me (as usual) how much harder he worked and saved before he permitted himself to think of a wife.
That last thrice-blessed word makes me think of my darling Mary. If she had not more sense than I have, we should have run away and married years ago. She wouldn’t hear of it. ‘Patience, my dear Roland the brave,’ she would say; ‘better practise voluntary self-sacrifice now, than compulsory ditto all our lives after. If we are true to each other, fortune and your stern father will come round some day.’ She took it into her head to pay a visit to a country friend last Christmas—where, I could never learn, just leaving a line to say she would be back that month next year. It isn’t long now, thank God! I shall start for Sydney at the end of this monotonous, murderous month. By George! it’s enough to make any fellow drink, or go mad. You know, for I told you, old fellow, how the governor wouldn’t hear of our marriage. He had absurd ideas that I never could disabuse him of. ‘You shall never marry one of these Seyton girls,’ he said, over and over again; ‘that is—not with my consent. They’re a proud, useless lot, and they haven’t a penny to bless themselves with. I don’t believe one of them could do a bit of real work, if she had a house of her own, in the bush, where you’ll have to live for the next ten or fifteen years, no! not if she was to die for it. All they think of is dressing, and drawing, playing the piano, and reading useless books from Monday morning to Saturday night. You’ll have to travel like a circus, with half a dozen vans to carry the servants and luggage, if you marry a girl out of that house; and you’ll not do it—not with my money, at all events.’ This was his general argument. In vain I implored him to see that the girls, if well dressed and well educated, were economical. That cultivated minds did not necessitate indolence or extravagance. No, of course he wouldn’t hear reason, old men never do. Why, I wonder? Don’t they gather wisdom? It appears not. Well, I told Mary all this. She smiled when I came to the work part, then paused and thought for a while, as she often does. By George! here’s the mail-boy’s horse has bucked and thrown him. He has to go sixty miles with this letter. I must stop for the present, and help catch him, and pick up the mail.—In haste, your unlucky friend.
From Robert Stanley, Esq., to Roland Ratcliffe
WOODS AND WASTES OFFICE, SYDNEY, 7th January 187—.
MY DEAR ROWLEY—The frog who would a-wooing go fell into misadventure, so you have a precedent from earliest lyric history. Being in love, and, not as yet in possession of the angel referred to in your short note of the 15th ult., of course you are miserable,—to suppose otherwise would be an insult to her charms and your passion. Still, all is not lost. It appears to my calmer intelligence that your Mary has shown the possession of qualities which will add to your happiness, when all this heart and dart business is over. Excuse my plainness. She is prudent, and counsels you to patience and self-denial. You have nowhere accused her of being cold. Women seldom are, so they tell me; therefore, she is coercing her own inclinations, and urging you to do likewise, for your mutual advantage. That shows enlightened foresight, not a common quality of the sex, as I gather from authorities. Being a bachelor, I speak with diffidence. Of the young lady’s personal graces and accomplishments, I can depose with certainty, from actual observation. It appears to me, putting two and two together, as we officials are wont to do in our despatches, that you are a most fortunate fellow. I advise you to abide for the present by her decision, particularly as you deplore, from experience, your power to alter it. I am not sure whether this will find you still at Lower Dargil. Farewell. I go to play a game at billiards. Excuse my lack of pity. The temporary inconveniences of dusty Dargil are cheaply purchased by the potentiality of unlimited travel and independence, when you come into your kingdom. To that end follow the wise counsels of a certain ladye fayre. Bye-bye. If you feel very hot, think of the grateful ices of town; they are very soothing this year.—Yours as of old.
The year 187— belonged to those fortunate seasons which occasionally compensate the toils and anxieties of habitans in sicco and his sun-scorched brethren. Wool was very fair; stock were at once plentiful, in good condition, and high in price. I hardened my heart as the days grew more fiercely hot, while the dust-storms swept through the naked stems of the eucalypti, wailing a requiem to the dying grasses and fading streams. However, dead grass in Australia is good to eat, and fattening withal. And if the creeks cease to run, the waterholes, when permanent, answer much the same purpose. So, except for poetical reasons, there was not much the matter with the season.
‘Little woman,’ said I to my wife, ‘don’t you think a trip to Sydney, combined with sea-air, would do you and the children good, this hot weather?’
‘Edward!’ shrieked the delighted housewife, who had been patiently, but somewhat sorrowfully, looking forward to three months of heat, dust, flies, and lassitude. ‘You don’t mean it, surely? Oh—you dear—good——!’
‘You know, dearest,’ said I, resuming the conversation which had been temporarily interrupted. ‘I am always willing to give you any reasonable enjoyment, when I have the money to spare. I have often, much against the grain, been compelled to deny you indulgences; now, the same cause no longer operates.’
‘You are always my dear, good, thoughtful Edward,’ said she, forgetting apparently the trifling differences of opinion which we had had upon this sore point of allowable entertainments. ‘Then we can take Mary down, too, as her year is just up. Yes? Oh, I must go and tell her!’
It is hard for the dwellers in cities to realise the deep joy, the childlike eagerness with which the ‘route’ is greeted by a squatter’s family in the far interior after a lengthened absence from town. Not altogether comfortless may be the nest to which the sanguine dweller in the woods has borne the bride, who has given up cheerfully, for love of him, friends, home, all that went to make the cherished portions of life up to that hour. There are the household duties; there is the garden; there may be the blessed, purifying companionship of children to fill up the long hours; but there is little society, there is no recreation; and, more particularly, perhaps, in the cloudless summer days, the most tender, the most domesticated wife may well feel an oppressive monotony—a pining, craving sensation—when the thought of change, society, all the charms of highly-organised social life, flits across her musings. Such was our present mental condition. My wife lay awake half the night thinking of possible delights, like a schoolgirl before the holidays. The children dreamed of countless toys and castles by the sea, with delicious bare-legged paddlings therein. Mary was unusually demonstrative, and sincerely gratified at the idea of going home under my wife’s chaperonage. While I—as I looked over the bolts of the waggonette, and scrutinised the condition of my buggy horses, fat and frolicsome, but hard as nails, upon the faultless pasturing of midsummer—thought that iced claret and the club smoking-room would not be a bad exchange for the ‘after-shearing’ existence of Bundaburramah.
We reached town with not more than the ordinary number of slight accidents and narrow escapes; and oh, that first week of change of air, change of scene, change of diet, change of friends, change of books, change of dress! It was a daily ecstasy. It was a week carved out and forwarded fresh from fairyland. Why do these first weeks refuse to repeat themselves? Why does the bloom cease to remain on the rose? Why halt not the coursers of Phoebus when first their eyes shine through the tender dawn and their manes are damp with dew from the lawns of paradise? Why fade the dreams of love? Why presses forward glorious, bright-haired, bounding youth, himself returning not, though we call to him, weeping bitter tears, and scorning the joyless life that alone remains?
We established ourselves in a pretty furnished cottage, overlooking one of those terraced garden lawns, heavy with flowers, shrubs, and lustrous trailers, through thickets of which you saw the blue, untroubled deep, or watched the free breeze summon the white-fringed billowy ranks. I used to lounge in the cool stone-paved verandah for hours in the calm evenings and starry nights, smoking, dreaming, while the rhythmical plash of the waves on the beach soothed my spirit and well-nigh extinguished all consciousness of the outer world, so largely compounded of toil and strife.
I hope it is superfluous to explain that our first duty, duly performed by my wife, was to deliver over our Mary—no longer so, but Miss Seyton—to her mother and sisters. With the help of a mysterious package, which had arrived by coach about a month before our departure, she appeared ‘disguised as a lady’; and to guess from the flattering comments of her delighted family, by no means the worse—on the contrary, conspicuously the better—in health, figure, and complexion, for her mysterious visit to the bush.
‘I can never be sufficiently grateful, my dear madam,’ said Mrs. Seyton, a high-bred-looking old lady of majestic mien, ‘for your goodness and for your motherly care of my daughter. She certainly had my consent, but it was given unwillingly. Words cannot tell my thankfulness to see her back safe and well.’
Here the tears would come into the old lady’s eyes.
‘WE never can be sufficiently grateful, I assure you,’ said my wife, in her pretty way (and between ourselves, when the little woman likes, she has a manner quite irresistible). ‘We had quite a “year of consolation,” as Fanny Kemble says, while your dear Mary was with us, and I don’t look upon it as a year altogether thrown away. We shall see.’
‘Mary is the most obstinate girl in the whole world,’ said Brenda Seyton, a mischievous-looking younger sister; ‘but then she has such a way of making you believe that everything she does is wise and expedient. Usen’t she to over-persuade you, Mrs. Steadman? and didn’t you have any fights?’
‘Your sister Mary will always be the dearest friend I have in the world,’ said the small diplomatist, with great dignity. ‘I could never be brought to believe that anything she did was not the very best thing—done with the very best intentions.’
‘It’s the old story, I see,’ smiled Miss Brenda. ‘You’re one of the victims, Mrs. Steadman. It’s a pity that one old gentleman should be the only one in the world who can’t see what a dear, unselfish thing she is, far too good for Roland or any other man, I believe.’
‘We must trust that time may make a little improvement even in this unpromising matter, Miss Brenda,’ said my wife, smiling and preparing to depart. ‘You are all coming to our picnic, you know, next Saturday?’
We had, upon the time-honoured principle of ‘in for a penny in for a pound,’ resolved to give a picnic. We were fairly intoxicated with the odour of the briny main, and under that glamour bethought ourselves of the luxury of spending a whole breezy, bright day fishing, oystering, scrambling, and otherwise diverting ourselves and such of our friends as we could entice. Then the sail home under the starlit heavens, over the moon-silvered rippling wave!
‘I had no idea I could feel so young again,’ said my wife, as we added up the probable joys of the day.
‘Nor I either,’ acquiesced the sympathising head of the house. ‘Mind you get plenty of nice girls.’
My wife was fully of opinion that much of the success of such a party depended upon the lunch.
‘You be sure to have lots of ice, Edward, and let there be no mistake about the hock and Moselle (I piqued myself upon my acquaintance with these vintages), and I’ll show you such a luncheon as Sydney hasn’t seen for many a day!’
‘But how will you manage that without a Mary Dale?’ asked I, with a half-perceptible tribute to memory and regret. ‘She doesn’t go out to little affairs professionally now, I suppose?’
‘Miss Seyton is coming to me to-morrow, and is going with us. Perhaps we may both look into the kitchen the day before.’
‘Beware,’ said I, ‘or you will make some tremendous disclosures, the consequences of which will be on your own small head.’
‘Some women can keep secrets, sir, though I know you despise us and our wisdom. By the bye, if you see Roland Ratcliffe at the club, or anywhere, mind you ask him.’
‘He has not come down the country yet, nor the old buffer either; they are expected daily.’
‘H’m!’ responded I. ‘Perhaps there is a slight resemblance. The Jews have the best of it, though, in these latter days, now that we cherish a weak aversion to bloodshed. Still, I think old Ralph could hold his own with any Jew that ever drew cheque.’
The day arrived. Golden-clear were the waters, soft the breeze, azure-bright the skies, as our boats, with their merry crew of care-defying men and sportive maidens, slipped down the Bay of all Bays. By a curious chance I happened to meet old Ralph Ratcliffe the very last thing the day before, and, more wonderful to relate, he consented to come.
‘I have such pleasant recollections of your last hospitality, my boy,’ said he, ‘that I feel bound to honour Mrs. Steadman’s invitation. Besides, I must be dusty, like the wool-bales, a good inch inside the skin. Roads awful. I daresay a blow in the harbour will do me good.’
So when the desert-worn veteran appeared with a silk coat and a fly-away blue tie, Mrs. Steadman greeted him with such warmth that you would have thought that he had just made us a present of a station or two. I could not quite understand this excessive appreciation of a very stern old gentleman, but I knew from experience that when the little woman ‘put on side’ it was for somebody’s good, and I ‘backed up’ by taking the old boy about and introducing him to all the pretty girls I fell across.
Did we have a pleasant day? In the after-time, when occasionally mopes and worries would intrude into ours as into all households, it was only necessary to recall some incident of that peerless frolic to throw every one into high spirits. Such walks, such talks, such scrambles, such flirtations, such careless, innocent, unchecked mirth! It was the childhood of the world come again—a sea-bordered Arcadia, a vision of the golden age, when the happy dwellers in wood or grove, by vale and mount, wandered and joyed, wooed and feasted, fearless of sorrow, untempted by gold.
The lunch had been arranged under a gigantic wild fig-tree. We were sheltered from the mid-day sun by a channelled and beetling crag. The thick green couch-grass made a perfect table, upon which our damask was spread.
‘What pretty girl is that?’ said old Ralph, who was in great spirits. ‘What a figure she has; don’t see such a complexion about Sydney. Comes from the country, I could swear.’
I immediately introduced him to Miss Mary Dale, partly from a spirit of mischief, and partly because I knew he had a prejudice against the Seyton family, none of whom he had ever seen. He devoted himself to her with old-fashioned gallantry, and Mary, bewitchingly attired, and having caught the spirit of the hour, replied to his cheerful statements with so much spirit and readiness that the old gentleman told me in confidence, just as we sat down to lunch, that she was the nicest girl he had met for years. ‘Something like a girl, not one of those wasp-waisted dawdles that were fit for nothing but to read novels, loll in carriages, and send their husbands at full speed along the road to the Insolvent Court.’
My wife’s eyes sparkled as she saw Mr. Ratcliffe lead in Mary, and she motioned them to sit next to her, saying she could not manage without his assistance in carving. Lunch lasted a long time. Those who were qualified to appreciate artistic performances soon discovered that the first and second courses contained culinary treasures not generally granted to so informal a banquet. Among the explorers fresh from recent journeying was Mr. Ratcliffe, who apologised more than once for the positively surprising appetite which he developed.
‘Haven’t done so well since that wonderful dinner of yours at Bundaburramah, Mrs. Steadman, which I remember with gratitude—shall always remember. I was really tired that day. Dinner brought me to, Miss Dale. Quite wonderful effect. May I ask for some salmi of wild duck? Why, bless my soul!’
This exclamation was elicited from the ancient capitalist after the second mouthful of this meritorious composition, after partaking of which he had put down his fork and gazed wildly around.
‘What’s the matter?’ said I. ‘Too much pepper?’
‘Pepper be——! Beg your pardon, Mrs. Steadman, but this delightful dish reminds me of the identical one at your great dinner. Must have been prepared by the same hand. That astonishing cook of yours, whoever she was—didn’t see her next morning—the same hand must have prepared both.’
‘Well, it’s a little secret between you and me, Mr. Ratcliffe,’ said my wife. ‘And I’ll promise to tell you if you’ll escort me down to the boat after lunch. Mary here knows it—you needn’t blush, my dear; and if you’ll just restrain your curiosity till we’re thinking of the homeward voyage, you shall know all.’
‘Certainly, my dear madam, certainly,’ quoth the gallant old gentleman. ‘I say, Steadman, it won’t do to stow away a bottle of hock here, each, if we are to have a life on the ocean wave afterwards. Must take care of the ladies, you know, eh?’
The sun was low, the long glorious day was done, as Mr. Ratcliffe, according to promise, rejoined Mrs. Steadman and Mary, who had prudently been superintending the final basketing of the glass, china, etc., the permanent absence of which would have communicated an unpleasant after-taste to our enjoyment. I took Mary with easy promptness, leaving the aged Ralph to the wiles of the temptress, in the shape of my wife.
‘Now, Mrs. Steadman,’ I heard him say, ‘you promised to let me into the secret of this wonderful cookery. Do you do it yourself? or do you carry about a familiar spirit in a tin box, who turns out lunches and dinners at a moment’s notice?’
‘The same young woman cooked the salmi at Bundaburramah and the one you were pleased to recognise to-day; and more than that, our cook of Bundaburramah was at the picnic to-day.’
‘I suppose the hot weather has not turned my brain?’ said old Ralph thoughtfully, feeling his cranium with a distrustful air. ‘I have seen nothing to-day but lovely faces, becoming dresses, young ladies, middle-aged ladies, fine ladies. Now, could any one I have met here to-day have been your cook?’
‘Mary, my dear,’ said my wife, with a quick but slightly tremulous tone, ‘will you please to hand to Mr. Ratcliffe the note which I gave you this morning?’
Mary stopped, and, producing the document in question, advanced shyly towards the old gentleman.
‘My dearest Miss Dale,’ he said, ‘are you in this conspiracy? I feel deeply interested. Are you sure you were not the cook yourself? You will excuse me for opening this mysterious billet?’
‘I was the cook,’ said Mary, holding up her head, with all the hauteur which had never deserted her even in the unromantic kitchen of our bush home.
‘What’s this?’ gasped Mr. Ratcliffe. ‘Best dinner, etc. etc., best cooked—best cooked. Love to the cook.—Ralph Ratcliffe. My writing—my signature. I remember—I remember; now I see it all. You were staying with my charming friend Mrs. Steadman, and as they were short of a servant, you went into the kitchen and cooked the dinner. Well, never be ashamed of it, my dear; any young lady who had cooked such a dinner as that, could make two such salmis, ought to be proud of it to the day of her death. If my son had only the sense to choose a girl like you, my dear.’
‘Don’t praise me before you know all,’ said she. ‘I don’t want your approbation under false colours. I was, for a full year, the cook at Bundaburramah. I am Mary Dale Seyton.’
‘Seyton, Miss Seyton!’ said the old man, changing his tone wholly, and looking steadily at her, at me, and at my wife. ‘So that is the key to the whole cipher. And how did you come to be a year at Bundaburramah as cook?’
‘Because I knew that you had said that neither I nor my sisters had capacity for sensible work; and I was determined to show you,’ said our Mary, standing up and looking him fearlessly in the face with her honest eyes, ‘that I could work, and that we were not the useless, frivolous girls you chose, without knowing us, to take it for granted we were.’
‘And I can depose and testify on oath, if required by my Queen and country,’ said I, striking up at this somewhat embarrassing juncture, ‘that such a cook we never had before, and never shall have again. If anything happens to my wife here, I am ready to——’
‘Not if I know it,’ interposed our elderly friend, with considerable briskness. ‘This young lady has contracted a written engagement, or I am misinformed. Mrs. Steadman, I shall indict you for a conspiracy for the purpose of providing one Ralph Ratcliffe with the best daughter-in-law in the whole world. And my dear Miss Seyton, accept the very humble apologies of a conceited old idiot, who thought he could choose a wife for another man.’
We separated into different groups and parties after disembarking, and Mr. Ratcliffe insisted upon escorting Miss Seyton as far as my house. When we arrived there it was comparatively early in the evening, though quite time for all picnic parties to be concluded. In the moonlight I observed a tall figure leaning in statuesque pose against one of the verandah posts.
‘Not unlike Master Roland,’ observed old Ralph, whose eyesight was by no means dimmed, nor his bodily strength abated. ‘I expected him down to-night.’
It was indeed that ill-used personage. After a long day’s journey he had arrived at Mrs. Seyton’s house, only to find that his idol had gone forth on seafaring pleasure bent. Then, having discovered my abode, he had kept vigil since sundown, wearily awaiting our somewhat leisurely return. Virtue, however, was close to the proverbial reward. As we came up, full of spirits, and somewhat in contrast to his subdued air, his father was the first to speak.
‘Roland, my boy, there’s been a trifling mistake rectified to-day, principally by the good sense and high feeling of Miss Seyton here—a young lady, sir, whom I shall be only too proud to welcome to our family.’
Here Roland was suddenly transformed into another and wholly different individual. Shaking his father’s hand warmly, he all but embraced my wife, in his indiscriminating fervour.
‘Don’t you speak to Miss Seyton yet,’ said old Ralph, retaining his grasp of that maiden. ‘You’re not half worthy of her, sir. Do you think I’d have been bullied out of a girl like her by all the fathers in the world? No, sir! At your age I should have run away with her—if I had had the distinguished honour to have gained her affections. And snapped my fingers at my old governor; and he wasn’t a man to be played with, either.’
‘It wasn’t my fault, dad,’ quoth Master Roland, with cheerful defiance; ‘don’t make any mistake there. I had arranged when to go, and what to do, in case you—well—cut up rough. But she stood firm, though we nearly quarrelled about it. Would not hear of anything but time and patience. I’m afraid she’s pretty obstinate. But you seem to know each other pretty well by this time, if I’m to judge by appearances.’
‘You’re a lucky dog, sir, a lucky dog,’ chuckled old Ralph. ‘Here, take the greatest care of her,’ and he handed the somewhat discomposed young lady over to the enraptured Roland. ‘I very much regret, Steadman, that I can’t come in, as I have some letters to write at the club. I daresay Miss Seyton will be able to render a full account of all her proceedings. Mrs. Steadman, my warmest thanks for all your kindness, which, as well as this memorable picnic, and the dinner, I shall never forget.’
So Ratcliffe senior went off, and Ratcliffe junior came in, and as my wife had necessarily a few household matters to arrange, and I thought a smoke on the balcony would be a pleasant finale to the day’s exertions, the lovers had a good hour to compare notes and otherwise clear up mysterious doubts.
We were all very merry in the drawing-room before we turned Roland out, and when, on the following morning, I delivered Mary to her friends, I found Roland seated there, the centre of an admiring group of probable sisters-in-law.
The sequel was not long delayed. Old Ralph, who generally did a thing well, when he decided to do it at all, gave the young couple a magnificent wedding, and was truly liberal in his after arrangements for their welfare.
‘Whatever doubts I may have had about Roland,’ the old man said, ‘are now at rest—with such a wife he can’t go wrong.’
We saw our Mary decked in the ‘sweetest’ possible inspiration of the artiste of the day, presumably equal to ‘all that Worth could offer.’ We wended our way home to Bundaburramah in due time, having secured reasonable, if not transcendental, domestics. But whenever we visit the metropolis, upon our annual trip to the seaside, we generally fall across that happy and prosperous couple, Mr. and Mrs. Roland Ratcliffe, and never fail to extract some fun from the still pleasant remembrance of ‘our new cook.’