THERE WAS more than the usual mild excitement in the quiet country town of Barradoo, when it became known that a couple of travelling Englishmen had taken up their quarters at the Woolpack Hotel, with the intention of remaining in the neighbourhood. Further particulars, obtained from Joe Drummond, bank clerk in the National, who lodged there, amounted to this:—‘The strangers were young,’ he should say, ‘not bad-looking, very swell in their ways, and stand-offish in manner.’ Thus the young gentleman expressed it. ‘One of them—Grandison,’ he thought was his name, ‘talked about wanting to see station life. The “Captain,” so the other chap called him, was a smart-looking card. They played billiards AI. Seemed to have money too, else old Bowstead would never turn the house upside down for them as he did. Always went about together. The Captain did most of the talking. The tall man took it out mostly in smoking.’
Such a conjectural basis was hardly equal to a letter of introduction from a friend or of credit from a financier, in the case of two utterly unknown persons. Still, in the country, agreeable strangers are scarce. Visitors of mark are always at a premium, and though Englishmen are wrong in thinking that people may do all sorts of unconventional things in Australian society, the canons of hospitality are construed leniently.
It was decided, therefore, in conclave or otherwise, that the strangers were to be called upon and invited out by the élite of Barradoo.
No time was lost. The police magistrate, and the bankers, the two doctors, the three lawyers, the clergyman, the civil engineer, a retired military officer—most of them family men—called formally, and gave general or special invitations. Besides all these social minnows, the Triton of the vicinity, the mammoth squatter, whose vast freeholds elbowed the little town on all sides, even he presented himself.
Mr. Blocksleigh happened to be at home, for a wonder, spending the winter in his ancestral halls, as Mrs. Butters, the overseer’s wife, had been heard to call them. Being a trifle hard up for decent society, as he expressed it, the Barradoo people not being quite up to the mark in his opinion, soon after hearing this last intelligence, he ordered out the mail-phaeton, and rattled up to the door of the Woolpack, where he was received by Bowstead, and ushered into the presence of the illustrious strangers with all befitting reverence. They were at that moment in the billiard room.
‘So glad to make their acquaintance; knew they must find it fearfully dull in Barradoo. Hardly a soul to speak to, of course. Since Lord Eustace and the Hon. Mr. Wander had left, Blocksleigh Hall had been infernally dull. Daily fit of the blues, give them his honour! Must take pity on him! Come next week and stay a month. Weather glorious just now.’
‘Would be most happy,’ made answer the Captain. ‘Had a few engagements just now, but in about a week—say ten days—delighted to pay him a visit. His friend Grandstone wished, above all things, to see the life of the Australian bush.’
The gentleman alluded to, who had left off staring absently at Mr. Blocksleigh and was knocking about the billiard balls, turned round and murmured, ‘Bush life—delighted—thing I came out on purpose to go in for.’
‘As to that,’ said the squatter, ‘I’m not sure I can promise you much just now. Blocksleigh Hall is not exactly a—a station—not in the back-block line, you know. We don’t call this “the bush,” you know.’
‘The da-vil!’ exclaimed the tall Englishman, facing round and gazing through the window, from which, if the truth be told, some hundreds of miles of the unpicturesque ring-barked woodlands of the Lower Wammera were apparently visible. ‘Then what the dooce do you call it?’
‘We call it the country,’ said Mr. Blocksleigh majestically. ‘But,’ and here he relapsed into his cheery society manner, which he reserved for the distinguished persons who occasionally quitted the Union Club to relax amid the fresh air and unstinted hospitality of Blocksleigh Hall, ‘you come over and I’ll put you up to that, and a few other Australian wrinkles.’
‘Haw!’ commenced Mr. Grandstone, when the Captain, with a marked air of decision, interrupted—
‘You will see us to-morrow week. Thanks very much. Bowstead will send us over, and we shall be most willing to be your guests for a fortnight.’
On the appointed day, Mr. Bowstead, in person, had the gratification of driving his distinguished guests to the Hall, an experience to which he duly referred with honest pride before and after the event.
But, previous to this auspicious occurrence, their entrée to the best Barradoo society had been frankly availed of by the strangers. They had been dined by the police magistrate, and entertained at a ‘small and early,’ ‘not quite a dance, you know—just a social evening,’ at the house of the ‘National’ banker, who had three daughters. The lawyers had done their part: Mr. Rondell, a portly, loud-voiced bon vivant, with a small, quiet wife and two cheerful daughters; Mr. Ventnor, an elderly, slightly acidulated bachelor, famous for his whist parties, port wine, and conservative opinions. With the fewest exceptions, the stranger guests were the admired of all beholders—the general theme and topic of approving converse. ‘They were so good-looking, they dressed so well.’ ‘Their manners were so simple and unaffected.’ ‘Good form’; this from the men. ‘So unlike anything you see out here. There’s a stamp upon them which you can’t mistake’; this from the young ladies. The only dissenting voices from the chorus of admiration which swelled and rippled around the objects of all this hero-worship, were Mrs. Towers of Sandy Creek, the mother of Charlie Towers, who had been previously held to be the favoured admirer of Miss Kate Bellenden; and old Miss M’Causland, a maiden lady of Scotch extraction, whose acute perceptions had probably not been dulled by much flattering attention.
‘Dashed if I can see what there is to make such a howling about in these two English fellows,’ said Charlie Towers to his chief chum and crony, Jack Ainslie, as they were starting for a day’s fishing one Saturday morning; ‘I don’t say that the Captain, as they call him, isn’t well up in things generally. I’ve nothing to say against him. The long chap is a fine upstanding fellow; he can play billiards and shoot no end. Very neat with the gloves, too, for all his haw-haw ways. But there are plenty of as good all-round men out here. Not over clever about books either, or says he isn’t. One would think the women here had never seen a man before. Besides I can’t get it out of my head that there’s something crooked about them. Not above-board, I mean.’
‘Letters of credit wrong,’ laughed his friend. ‘Big swindle. Miranda business, eh? We’re a little hipped, Charlie, my boy.’
‘Not at all—nothing of that kind. Besides, Carton of the ’Asia had a private line. He’ll back them to any extent. No; I’m riled, I admit, at being dropped and so on. Still, I’m fair, I hope. It isn’t that.’
‘What then, old man?’
‘Why, about this never taking anything to drink, teetotal business, etc. You’ve remarked that?’
‘Haven’t I? Wasn’t I referred to them by Aunt Dorcas when she saw me taking a long beer one day? Said it would lead to excess. Didn’t I notice that Mr. Grandstone and Captain Wilton never took anything? And they were men of fortune and position at home.’
‘And what did you answer?’
‘Said it was a bad sign. I was wild, you bet. Told her straight out that men with nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of took their liquor like gentlemen. So I say now.’
‘Your aunt would be ropeable?’
‘I believe you,’ answered his companion. ‘Blew me up sky high. Said I was going headlong to perdition, and had lost the power of recognising high principle and self-denial when I saw them before my eyes. She had no patience with the young men of the present day.’
‘Didn’t one of them make a sort of explanation the first time they dined out?’
‘Oh yes, neatly enough. The swell chappie—big man—asked for lemonade. Said very few society fellers took wine or spirits in England nowadays. Bad form and so on. He and Wilton had agreed not to touch anything stronger than “sodah” till they saw the old country again.’
‘H’m, ha! Bad sign—fishy, I think so too. Of course all the women admire them more than ever.’
‘Quite so. Been a run on lemonade ever since. Binns, at the cordial factory, says he’ll make a fortune this year. Calls a new brand of soda—water “the Grandstone.” Bowstead—where they stay—not so enthusiastic.’
‘Time will tell, of course,’ quoth Charlie oracularly. ‘Nothing like a waiting race. By jove, what a bite!’ as his float went down head-first like a dabchick, and his line tightened as if a young shark had impounded the bait.
‘Patience, Jack, is our best ally. These temporary disturbances will subside. Some day all may yet go well, and after a little play we may each land our fish, just as this lovely silver bream—five pounds if he is an ounce—comes slowly but surely to grass.’
If there was any one in Barradoo who thought she possessed a slight advantage in the confidence of the reserved but interesting strangers it was Miss Bellenden. That young lady, a statuesque brunette, had from the first been singled out by the tall, fair Grandstone, and felt, naturally, somewhat flattered by the preference. Mary Woodrose, the Major’s only child, thought Captain Wilton ‘a most interesting person to talk to, so well read, had travelled so much, quite unaffected too; her father enjoyed his society; she liked seeing them together. Then his descriptions of the foreign countries he had seen were so graphic—they quite carried you away from this dull country.’
In her artless way she essayed to discover more than had been confided to the public. ‘They must be travelling merely for amusement,’ she was sure. ‘Did Mr. Grandstone really want to buy a station and settle in Australia? Was he so very rich as was stated? Had he known him long?’
These inquiries, hazarded now and then as chance queries, were answered after a fashion. ‘They had been friends in England. Both had a strong love of travel. Grandstone thought station life would suit him, but was uncertain in his movements. When their visit to Blocksleigh was over, he would make up his mind. For himself, he had fully decided upon his course. He would return to Australia, if—if—only—other arrangements’—here his eyes became bright and expressive—‘if, that is to say, everything went right.’ Over Mary Woodrose’s delicately fair cheek stole a tell-tale blush, and the conversation took another turn.
Miss Bellenden, on her part, tested her influence, with a view to unravel the mystery. She secured an apparently larger and more unexpected slice of information. Stroking his blond moustache, and assuming a diplomatic expression, borrowed from practice in private theatricals, Mr. Grandstone asked the young lady whether he could rely on her secrecy. In an agitated voice she gave the required assurance.
‘Well, then, my dear Miss Bellenden, let me confide to you that upon leaving England, Wilton and I, in order to avoid the bother of curiosity and attention, agreed to change names and characters.’
‘Changed names!’ said the girl, with a sudden tone of intense surprise. ‘What an extraordinary thing to do! And characters? What do you mean?’
‘If I had had the slightest idea that Australia was such a charming place, with such cultivated fascinating people, I should never have been a party to the innocent deception, I assure you.’
‘But what can your reason be? You raise my curiosity,’ almost gasped the damsel. ‘Was he a duke’s eldest son? What could it be?’
‘Fact is’—here the diplomatic expression stole over his naturally frank features—‘Wilton is a man of fabulous wealth, slightly affected here’ (he tapped his forehead significantly). ‘He is really Walladmor of Walladmor—tremendous estates in the North, don’t you know? Well, nothing but continuous travel and change of scene prevents frightful fits of despondency, in any one of which he may destroy himself. You’ve remarked his expression of eye? Sort of glare?’
‘I always thought they were too bright,’ murmured Miss Bellenden. ‘But what a dreadful thing! And poor Mary—that is—and you are——’
‘Point of fact, I’m his guardian-keeper, if you like—pro tem. Captain Mark Wilton, late Sixth Dragoon Guards, very much at your service. Assumed the business as a blind. Family give me two thousand a year to look after him.’
‘Good gracious! How sad—how very shocking!—I mean what a dreadful pity that anything should be the matter with him! And you’re quite sure that he’s beyond recovery? Might not a happy attachment—you know there have been such cases.’
‘Worst thing in the world for him,’ said Mr. Grandstone, in a wholly different tone from that employed by him at first. ‘Bring on cerebral excitement. Quite frightens me to think of it. But you’ll keep our secret? I’ve never breathed it before to a living soul.’
‘You need not fear my revealing one word,’ replied Miss Bellenden, with a slight accession of coldness and dignity. ‘But I can’t see why you should have taken all this trouble to mystify people, when there’s nothing to be gained by it. Poor Mr. Walladmor—that is, Captain Wilton, I mean—it’s horribly confusing. I shall never believe you are a military man, somehow. The character doesn’t seem to suit you.’
Shortly after this momentous disclosure the two friends went to pay their promised visit to Blocksleigh Hall, leaving behind them such a stock of conversational matter as the dwellers in Barradoo had not had in hand for many a day. The coming election of a member to represent the district fell flat before its fascinating mystery. When the teatable authorities remarked upon the attentions which Captain Wilton had been paying to Mary Woodrose,—as to what a suitable match it would be, with regrets that he wasn’t a medical man, as the town wanted another—Miss Bellenden sighed and remained silent.
When the friends of Miss Bellenden triumphantly alluded to Mr. Grandstone’s fortunate position and great expectations, Mary Woodrose didn’t respond, giving an impression that she didn’t attach as much importance to these gratifying facts as the inhabitants of Barradoo.
‘She’s a trifle jealous of Kate Bellenden, poor dear,’ suggested one interlocutor charitably. ‘It must be hard upon her to see such a prize captured before her eyes—but what girl in Barradoo has a chance with Kate?’
In three weeks or thereabouts, the illustrious strangers returned to the town. They had been induced to lengthen their stay at Blocksleigh Hall. There had been picnics and shooting parties for their especial benefit, kangaroo battues, improvised dances, all manner of festivities and excursions. Men had been specially invited up from the Union Club, and between riding and driving, coursing and billiards by day, with a trifle of whist and nap at night, their time had been fully occupied. Mr. Grandstone was lost in amazement at finding the ‘bush’ so redolent of ‘beer and skittles,’ so to speak, and never ceased wondering how the money had been made which supported so costly an entourage.
‘Monstrous pleasant, I’m sure,’ he was heard to remark, ‘but not much of the younger son about it, except going to a far country, you know. Might as well be in Wales or Scotland.’
‘Never mind, Grandstone, my boy,’ said Mr. Blocksleigh, slapping him familiarly on the back, ‘wait till the Agricultural Show in Barradoo is over. I’ve promised to go this year. Chance of his Lordship coming up, I hear. Then I’ll drive you and the Captain to one of my places, Outer Back Balah. There you’ll see bush-life in earnest.’
‘Suit me down to the ground. Should like a change to backwoods life. What do you say, Wilton?’
‘First-rate idea; but hadn’t we better go quietly up there before the Show, and wait there till our good host here joins us? Better, I think, in many ways, eh?’
Mr. Grandstone was evidently undecided, a strange look of hesitancy stole over his face. But Mr. Blocksleigh broke in.
‘What, go before the Show—and the Ball too! Why, no girl in Barradoo would ever speak to us again. Besides I’m President of the P. & A. Society. I daren’t be absent. Say it’s a settled thing, and we’ll drive four-in-hand to the Willandra Cowall afterwards.’
‘Afraid we’re putting you to an awful lot of inconvenience,’ said the Captain formally; ‘but really, we have business in Sydney which may prevent us from staying to the Show after all.’
‘No use, old man,’ said the host, with imperious good-nature; ‘you’re bound to go through with it, once you’ve begun. Grandstone, I’m sure Miss B. expects to see you at the Ball. Most likely His Excellency met some of your people at home, too. Must stay. No get-away.’
Mr. Grandstone looked at one and the other with doubtful gaze, before he spoke with his usual deliberation.
‘A fellow must have his way sometimes, Wilton,’ he said. ‘Partly promised to be at the Show, don’t you know. Awfully well worth seeing, they tell me. We can look up the desert afterwards. What do you say?’
‘Just what I did at first. But as you are determined to take your own way, I suppose you must. You know my reasons.’
‘Don’t think they hold good, in this case. Blocksleigh, old boy, I’m your man till the Carnival’s over.’
That afternoon all Barradoo was in possession of the fact that the visitors had returned to their quarters at the Woolpack, and were pledged to remain over the Show. Nothing more was wanted to complete the felicity of the inhabitants, already exhilarated by the crowning triumph of the Governor’s promised visit.
During the week that elapsed between the settlement of this truly momentous question, and the wildly exciting opening day of the Show, things apparently settled down into something like their normal condition of cheerful monotony. Whispers, of course, circulated in the social atmosphere—some of a thrilling and melodramatic nature, others of the light and sportive kind, which in the air of the interior settlements would seem to be spontaneously generated. Then the ball; a fancy ball, too—certain to be the best since the one Mr. Blocksleigh gave in the Town Hall the year he won the wool trophy at the Exhibition, in honour of that worldwide triumph. That he did the thing well, when he set about it, nobody could deny. It was some time since he had done anything for the good of the town, though. Perhaps in the expansion of his feelings, as the Governor was coming, he might. Whether or no, a man-of-war was in, and some of the officers were coming up with the Governor’s party.
Then beneath the smooth surface of the social tide there were eddies and currents of distinct sway and tendency. Captain Wilton had continued to be so ‘marked in his attentions’ to Mary Woodrose that all the best-informed tea-tables were unanimous in their vote that the Major ought to ‘speak to him,’ in case he exhibited indecision at the hour of departure.
About Kate Bellenden and Mr. Grandstone no satisfactory conclusion was arrived at. He seemed calmly appreciative, as usual. But was no longer ‘in her pocket’ perpetually, as one fair critic graphically described it. Certainly he did not pay any one else any attention. That was something. Perhaps Kate herself had cooled off. She was a wide-awake girl when you knew her (this from a school friend). And more than that, Charlie Towers had come on again. Anyhow, he was seen driving her out to the racecourse last Saturday, to see Miss Gaythorn take Lorraine over the steeplechase jumps. Though this was held to be suspicious by the conclave, it separated without any definite deduction being formulated, if we may except the exclamation of a severe matron: ‘How men can be such fools as to let that girl play fast and loose with them, I can’t imagine.’
Finally the great day arrived; the great man also—His Excellency Lord Warrington, with certain military and naval magnates in his train, the very thought of whose uniforms caused the hearts of the country maidens to palpitate strangely; other nobles and notables also. The town was more than crowded. In the hotels rooms had not been procurable for weeks previously. Mr. Blocksleigh’s four-in-hand and turn-out excited nearly as much attention as the Governor himself, from the fact of his being enabled to exhibit the English strangers thereon, though good judges declared Ralph Wardour’s team superior in style and breeding. As for spectators—
Shame on the false Etruscan
which means that every squatter, free selector, farm labourer, and station hand, within a hundred miles of the township, was present at that most memorable of all the Barradoo Shows.
It was a paradisal day, all blue and golden. Dustless, for a smart shower had fallen within forty-eight hours, yet bright-hued, tender, glowing, breezy as an Arcadian summer morn. Every one—horses included—was in the highest possible spirits. The drags, phaetons, buggies, dogcarts, and waggonettes rattled and rumbled out from the town in one long procession. All the society personages, arrayed in the freshest of spring fashions, if they did not eclipse Solomon in all his glory, nevertheless made a requisite and desirable impression upon those whom it was intended to subjugate.
The Governor was, as usual, most affable and intelligently appreciative. The Mayor, the Police Magistrate, and all the principal inhabitants were duly presented, lastly the two illustrious strangers, through the medium of the Aide-de-camp, who was personally acquainted with Mr. Blocksleigh. The Viceroy was politely pleased to make their acquaintance, even vouchsafing the remark that he was sure he had seen Captain Wilton before in the old country, but could not at that moment recollect where.
Then the Aide-de-camp directed His Excellency’s attention to the Amazonian troop as they filed into the fenced arena below the grand stand, and took their places, preparatory to facing the jumps. That high official had seen numbers of fine horses, good sheep, and well-bred cattle in the show-yards of Britain before landing on Australian shores. He frankly admitted, however, that never before had he beheld a cavalry troop of pretty girls so exceptionally well mounted, who rode so fearlessly over timber so stiff. When Miss Gaythorn, a South Coast native, disdaining the regulation fence, ran her horse at the wing, a foot higher, and after a flying leap came down, sitting as composedly as if she had just pulled up from a canter, His Excellency was strongly moved to admiration. When Miss Queenbie, reared on a cattle station amid the mountain ranges of the Upper Hume, forced the unwilling gray, after an unsuccessful attempt to baulk, to take the fence at the rate of forty miles an hour, throwing up her whip hand as he landed from a tremendous fly over the middle post, His Excellency made as if, but for State reasons, he would have liked to shy his vice-regal hat in the air. But a yet more exciting surprise was in store for the genial Pro-consul, for the great congregation generally.
Captain Wilton and Lord Lacrosse, one of His Excellency’s suite, were evidently having a confidential conversation, much to the wonder and admiration of all Barradoo, in which they evidently, for the moment, forgot their surroundings. Suddenly the Captain said, ‘Bless my soul! where’s Grandstone? I’ve not seen him lately. Have you?’
‘I suppose he won’t get lost,’ answered the other. ‘You seem anxious about him. When I saw him last, he was walking towards the booths at the back of the ground.’
‘I’ll look him up, if you’ll allow me,’ said Wilton. ‘We’re so used to hunt in couples that he feels quite lost out here—you’ve just hit the expression—if I’m not near him.’
‘Good Gad!’ exclaimed his lordship, ‘who, in Heaven’s name, can that be? Is it part of the Show?
For at that moment a tall man, bareheaded, and in his shirt sleeves, walked through a side gate, and planted himself immediately in front of the Governor’s private compartment. In his hand he held a high-crowned hat, not unlike a fool’s cap, with bells attached, which he shook violently from time to time. He waved his hand scornfully towards the Amazons, who, having just finished their contest, were retiring towards the starting-point, pending the final allotment of prizes by the judges.
‘Then he placed the hat solemnly upon his head, and thus addressed the Governor in a loud voice—
‘Unworthy delegate of the Royal power, you sit there like a Roman Emperor of the decadence, amusing yourself amid a degraded populace with paltry contests, while the British Empire is endangered. Know you not that within this very hour Russia has declared war with England, while France and Germany are at death grips? A hostile fleet, ordered here, may be expected at any moment. Would you ask who I am? Learn, minion, that you see Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, despatched here by telegraph to warn this people of their danger and deprive you of your rank and office. Consider yourself under arrest!’
All this was uttered so rapidly that there was scant time for interruption. The people generally were under the impression that it was some kind of impromptu performance of the minstrel bands or other mummers always permitted at Show time. They had not recognised the speaker, and it was only when he concluded his tirade with a loud whoop, and, casting his cap and bells into the arena, prepared to ascend the steps of the grand stand that misgivings assailed them.
Captain Wilton was the first to speak. ‘Great God!’ he said, ‘it’s Grandstone. He must have been drinking brandy at the booths. It always makes him fancy himself the Prince of Wales. He did the same thing at Ascot last year. Whisky turns him into the Emperor of Germany.’ And with this brief explanation he rushed frantically down the steps, and, grasping the illusionist by the arm, led him unresistingly to the rear.
The murder was out. Mr. Grandstone was evidently ‘off his head.’ Whether the derangement was chronic or merely dipsomaniacal none could say. The excitement was unparalleled. Some of the ladies screamed; one fainted. His Excellency’s expression was one of surprise, tinctured with sympathy. Mr. Blocksleigh, the A.D.C., and a few of the young men, among whom were Charlie Towers and Jack Ainslie, hastily followed the Captain, and arrived just in time to see Mr. Grandstone hustled into a cab, which dashed off in the direction of the town. Fortunately the hunter trials came next, as to which there was a trifle of betting. This, combined with the interest produced by the stiff jumps at which they were ridden, absorbed the chief attention of the crowd.
At the Ball that evening everybody was aware that Captain Wilton had called for his account directly after arriving at the Woolpack, recommending his friend to lie down and rest the while. After a prompt settlement, and most liberal douceurs to all the servants, they had left by the late train for Sydney. Beyond regretting to Bowstead that his friend should have been taken suddenly ill on the show-ground, owing to the heat of the weather, the Captain had not volunteered further information. Within a week their names were seen in the list of outward-bound passengers by the Messageries mail steamer Marengo, on board of which luxurious paquebot the passengers were alternately fascinated by the social qualities of ‘le Capitaine Villeton,’ and distressed at the mysterious attacks which compelled ‘Sir Grandstonne’ to keep his cabin for days at a time.
In lonely and deserted Barradoo, meanwhile, the germs of sound, satisfactory, complicated, and mysterious gossip have been safely implanted. With careful nursing the crop might be trusted to last nearly to the next Show.
‘Wasn’t it like Kate Bellenden to draw off at the last moment from the poor fellow?—after all the encouragement she gave him too! Positively shameful, I call it. No wonder he went off his head. And now that fool of a Charlie Towers is as mad about her as ever. Serve her well right if he had dropped her for good and all.’
This was the charitable and forbearing line taken by one section of the community, not wholly unprejudiced, it may be surmised, as comprehending the mammas with marriageable daughters and unappreciated sons.
‘Serve all you girls right for running after a couple of strangers fit to break your necks, without knowing anything about them in the wide world. Might have both been married men for all you knew to the contrary.’ This was the moral enforced by the chief banker, a middle-aged but susceptible bachelor, whose ascendency, previously unquestioned in matters of sentiment and fashion, had declined visibly since the advent of these meteoric strangers.
‘But they were so nice,’ pleaded a mischievous little debutante, with a plaintive trainante voice, who enjoyed teasing the financial Adonis. ‘One had such lovely eyes, and both seemed so different from all the Barradoo people. Mary Woodrose said the first evening she saw them that there was nothing like a thorough-bred Englishman.’
‘Thoroughbred fiddlesticks!’ growled the provincial autocrat. ‘We’re all that, I hope, though we’ve had the luck to be born in a decent climate. Even you—unpatriotic little humbug as you are—I’d back for looks against any girl I ever saw at home. Nice thing Mary Woodrose has made of it! Likes wearing the willow, I suppose?’
‘She got a long letter from the Captain last mail, though, with such a nice likeness of himself,’ retorted the defender of the absent. ‘He’s coming out to marry her in a year, or she’s going home, I don’t know which. But she’s satisfied.’
‘If she doesn’t mind living in a lunatic asylum it won’t matter, perhaps,’ muttered the indigène gloomily. ‘Can’t say I admire her taste.’
‘Do you want to make me scream, Mr. Plumpton? Is he mad too? Is everybody that’s nice out of their mind?’
‘Hope not,’ replied he, with practised readiness, ’or you would have to be locked up straight. But the A.D.C. told Blocksleigh and me before His Excellency that he was the well-known Captain Blank, a great authority on monomania, and owner of one of the best private lunatic asylums in England. Partly out of friendship, partly for an endowment to his pet hospital, he had undertaken to travel in charge of “Mr. Grandstone,” who is in reality Sir Tudor Walladmor of Walladmor—terribly old family and immensely rich. Most exemplary fellow, but can’t drink a glass of grog without fancying himself somebody else, royal personage mostly. Runs in the family. Dreadful affliction, isn’t it?’
‘Is that all?’ demanded Miss Darrell, with scorn and indignation in every line of her expressive countenance. ‘What a ridiculous fuss to make about a little eccentricity. You men are so jealous. Talk of girls, indeed! It’s a lucky thing he didn’t ask me. I’d have accepted him quick, and we might have been on our way to England, and left Barradoo to tattle about it till the day of judgment.’
‘My dear Dollie,’ quoth Mr. Plumpton paternally, ‘you had better speak to your mamma, or wait till you are quite grown up before you decide on matters of importance. If you want to cure or reform people, suppose you commence a little nearer home. I should have no objection to test your——’
But here the deeply displeased damsel, first casting upon the speaker a look of scorn, which became her style of feature immensely, darted out of the room.
The substance of the foregoing conversation proved to be only too true. His Excellency and Lord Lacrosse had, after a while, recognised ‘Wilton’ as Captain Blank, a well-known reforming specialist in certain phases of lunacy. A man of iron nerve and active philanthropy, he had devoted an unexpected legacy to the practical exposition of his theory with regard to presumably curable cases. At the solicitation of General Grandstone, an early friend, to whom he was under obligations, he had undertaken to be Sir Tudor’s guardian. How the trial of complete change of scene and surroundings terminated has been related.
For the rest, matters arranged themselves more or less satisfactorily, with the help of that experienced Master of the Ceremonies, old Father Time. Miss Mary Woodrose saw fit to accompany a married cousin to England in less than a year after all these wonders and surprises. In due course also appeared in both the Times and the Argus the following notice under the head of ‘Marriages’:—
‘At St. George’s, Hanover Square,—— ——, Esq., late Captain of 14th Royals, to Mary, only daughter of Major Woodrose, late of Her Majesty’s 50th Regiment, and now resident at Barradoo, New South Wales, Australia.’
The names of certain titled personages appeared in the list of guests at the wedding, including—strange as it may appear—that of Sir Tudor Walladmor, the mention of whose marriage gift, a complete set of diamond ornaments, nearly brought tears into the eyes of some eager readers in far Barradoo.
Mrs. Plumpton (née Darrell) declares she doesn’t believe he was mad at all, and only did it to get clear of Miss Bellenden, that all men are mad more or less, excepting that some are handsomer lunatics than others. As Charlie Towers and the Kate aforesaid had been married, and gone to live at Sandy Creek before the Captain’s final surrender, it is possible that they understood the undercurrents, and as their mutual contentment is manifestly extreme and all-sufficing, perhaps it is no one’s business to speculate upon what might have happened if— if— the sun hadn’t been so hot on that memorable Show day. That day will never be forgotten in Barradoo, amid whose chronicles it is destined to flourish till its peppermint gums turn into poplars, and the avenue of eucalyptus globulus into cocoa-palms and bananas.