Lady Bridget in the Never-Never Land
Rosa Praed (1851-1935)
Part 2 out of 7
'But,' went on Biddy brightly, 'I think sometimes that if one could get
to the pitch of feeling nothing matters, it would be a way of reaching
the "letting go" stage which one MUST arrive at before one can even
BEGIN to live in the Eternal.'
There seemed something a little comic in the notion of Bridget O'Hara
living in the Eternal, and yet Mrs Gildea realised that there really
was a certain stable quality underneath the flashing, ever changing
temperamental sheath, which might perhaps form a base for the Verities
to rest upon.
'Beelzebub didn't teach you that,' she said.
'No, quite the contrary. It all came out of my concentration studies
and the Higher Thought Centre where I met some most original
dears--Christian Scientists and Spiritualists--and then these
Socialists--not a bit on the lines of the old Fabians and Bernard Shavians
and the rest who used to believe only in Matter--specially landed property
matter--and in parcelling that out among themselves. My friends are
for parcelling out what they call the Divine Intelligence, which they
say will bring them everything they need for the good of others and,
incidentally, themselves. Of course none of them have a penny. But they
do contrive to get what they want for other people--it was a soup
kitchen this winter where they fed 11,000 starving poor. Only, when
they begin, they never have the smallest idea of HOW it's going to be
Lady Bridget was so absorbed in her subject matter that she did not
notice the entrance of the men; but Mrs Gildea saw that Colin McKeith
was making straight towards them. He halted behind Bridget's chair.
Biddy went on in reply to a question from her friend.
'You see, they argue this way, "We don't know," they say, "the HOW of
the simplest things in life, we don't know the HOW of our actual
existence--how we move or think--not even the HOW of the most
ordinary fact in science. We only know that there must be an
Intelligence who does know and who has forces at command and the power
to set them in motion." '
'And how do we know that?' asked Colin McKeith.
Bridget turned with a start and looked at him solemnly for a second or
'You paralyse me: you are too big. I can't speak to you when you are
standing up. Please sit down.'
He went to fetch a chair. At the moment, Lady Tallant came up.
'Biddy, will you sing. Do for Heaven's sake make a sensation. Help me
out! You know how!'
Lady Bridget had a funny inscrutable little smile and a gleam in her
eyes which crinkled up when she was going to say or do something rather
'I'll do my best, Rosamond. But you don't think it would be a dangerous
experiment, do you?'
Lady Tallant laughed, and told Captain Vereker Wells to take her to the
'YOU know that Biddy does a lot of mischief when she sings,' said the
Governor's wife, sitting down in Lady Bridget's vacant place beside Mrs
Gildea. Colin McKeith, still on the outskirts with his chair, stood
leaning upon it, watching the performer.
The piano was in such a position that Lady Bridget faced him.
A vain man might have fancied that she was singing at him, and that the
by-play of her song--the sudden eye-brightenings, the little twists of
her mouth, the head gestures, were for his particular benefit.
She was singing one of the Neapolitan folk-songs which one hears along
the shores of the Mediterranean beyond Marseilles--a love song.
Most people know that particular love-song. Lady Bridget gave it with
all the tricks and all the verve and whimsical audacity of a born
Italian singer. Well, she was Italian--on one side at least, and had
inherited the tricks and a certain quality of voice, irresistibly
catching. And she looked captivating as she sang--the small pointed
face within its frame of reddish-brown hair, the strange eyes, the
expressive red lips, alive with coquetry. The men--even the old
politicians, listened and stared, quite fascinated.
Some of the Leichardt's Town ladies--good, homely wives and mothers
who, in their early married days of struggle, had toiled and cooked and
sewed, with no time to imagine an aspect of the Eternal Feminine of
which they had never had any experience, were perhaps a little shocked,
perhaps a little regretful. One or two others, younger, with budding
aspirations, but provincial in their ideals, were filled with wonder
and vague envy.
A few of them had made the usual trip 'Home,' landing at Naples and
journeying to London, via Monte Carlo and Paris, and these felt they
had missed something in that journey which Lady Bridget was now
revealing to them. Joan Gildea, whose profession it was to realise
vividly such modes of life as came within her purview, felt herself
once more in the blue lands girdling the Sea of Story--It all came
back upon her--moonlight nights in Naples; on the Chiaja; looking down
from her windows on sunny gardens on the Riviera, and the strolling
minstrels in front of the hotel. . . .
As for Colin McKeith who had never been in the Blue Land and knew
little even of the British Isles except for London--chiefly around St
Paul's School, Hammersmith--and the Scotch Manse where he had
occasionally spent his holidays--even he was transported from the
Government House drawing-room. Where? . . . . Not to the realm of
visions such as he had seen in the smoke of his camp fire. Oh no. He
had never dreamed of this kind of enchantment.
A fresh impulse seized the singer. She struck a few chords. A familiar
lilt sounded. Her face and manner changed. She burst into the famous
song of CARMEN. She WAS CARMEN. One could almost see the swaying form,
the seductive flirt of fan. There could be no doubt that had the voice
been more powerful, Lady Bridget might have done well on the operatic
Yet it had a TIMBRE, a peculiar, devil-may-care passion which produced
a very thrilling effect upon her audience. She got up when she had
finished in a dead silence and was half-way across the room before the
applause burst out. There was a little rush of men towards her.
'Beats Zelie de Lussan and runs Calve hard,' said the Premier who had
made more than one trip to England and considered himself an authority
in the matter.
Bridget skimmed through the groups of admirers, stopping to murmur
something to Lady Tallant who had met her half way; then stopped with
hands before her like a meek schoolgirl, in front of Mrs Gildea and
Colin McKeith--he almost the only man who had made no movement towards
her. Bridget sank into her former seat.
'The last time I sang that was at a Factory Girls' entertainment at
Poplar,' she said. . . 'You should have seen them, Joan: they stood up
and tried to sing in chorus and some of them came on to the platform
and danced. . . . Mr McKeith you look at me as if I had been doing
something desperately improper. Don't you like the music of CARMEN?'
Colin was staring at her dazedly.
'It seemed to me a kind of witchcraft,' he said. . . . 'I should think
you might go on the stage and make a fortune like Melba.'
She laughed. 'Why my voice is a very poor thing. And besides, I could
never depend upon it.'
'Everything just how you feel at the time, eh?' he said. 'You wouldn't
care what you did if you had a mind to do it.'
'No,' she answered. 'I shouldn't care in the least what I did if I had
a mind to do it.'
There was the faintest mimicry of his half Scotch, half Australian
accent in her voice--a little husky, with now and then unsuspected
modulations. She looked at him and the gleam in her eyes and her
strange smile made him stare at her in a sort of fascination. Joan knew
those tricks of hers and knew that they boded mischief. She got up at
the moment saying that people were going and that she must bid Lady
Then the Premier's wife came up shyly; she wanted to thank Lady Bridget
for her singing. It had been as good as the Opera--They sometimes had
good opera companies in Leichardt's Town, etcetera, etcetera.
Lady Bridget made the prettiest curtsey, which bewildered the Premier's
wife and gave her food for speculation as to the manners and customs of
the British aristocracy. She had always understood you only curtsied to
Royalty. But she took it as a great compliment and never said anything
but kind words about Bridget ever after.
Colin McKeith escorted Mrs Gildea to her cab and as they waited in the
vestibule, obtained from her a few more particulars of Lady Bridget
O'Hara's parentage and conditions. But he said not a word implying that
he had discovered her identity with the author of the typed letter.
'I'll come along to-morrow morning if I can manage it, and tell you
about Alexandra City and the Gas-Bore,' he said carelessly as she shut
the fly door. Joan wondered whether he had caught Lady Biddy's parting
words in the drawing room.
'If Rosamond doesn't insist on my doing some stuffy exploration with
her, I'll bring my sketches some time in the morning, Joan, and you can
see whether any of them would do for the great god Gibbs.'
'And what are you going to do, Biddy? How long are you going to stay
with the Tallants?'
'Until Rosamond gets tired of me--or I feel no further need of the
moral support of the British Throne,' answered Lady Bridget lightly.
'I'm not sure whether I shall be able to stand Luke's Jingo attitude in
regard to Labour and the Indigenous Population--all the Colonial
problems in capitals, observe. He does take his position so
strenuously; it's no good my reminding him that even the Queen is
obliged to respect a Constitutional government.'
Bridget took a cigarette from a gold case with her initials in tiny
precious stones across it, and handed the case to Mrs Gildea who shook
'Still too old-fashioned to smoke! I should have thought you'd have
been driven to it here to keep the mosquitoes at a distance. . . .
'Do you like my case, Joan? Willoughby Maule gave it to me,' she asked.
'You didn't return it then?'
'Why should I have hurt his feelings? We weren't engaged.' A meditative
pause and then suddenly, 'Evelyn Mary doesn't smoke. Nice girls don't!'
'Biddy, I shall be sorry for Evelyn Mary if the Maules are to live in
London and you go back there again--which I suppose you will do.'
'You needn't suppose for certain that I shall go back.' She savoured
her cigarette slowly. 'I can't go on with that old life, the sort of
life one has to lead with Aunt Eliza and the Gavericks and their set. I
can't go on pushing and striving and rushing here and there in order to
be seen at the right houses and join the hunt after fleeing eligibles.'
She gave a bitter little laugh, and then her tone changed to that
ripple of frivolity in which nevertheless Mrs Gildea discerned the
under-beat of tragedy.
'Besides, even so, it's incongruous--impossible. I've come to the
conclusion that the only things which make London--as I've known it--
endurable are unlimited credit at a good dressmaker--Oh, and one of
the beautiful new motor-cars. You don't mind travelling from Dan to
Beersheba if you can do it in five minutes. But when you've got to
catch omnibuses or take the Tube, dressed in garden-party finery--well
it's all too disproportionate and tiresome.'
Mrs Gildea laughed. 'You must remember that I am out of all your fine
social business--except when I go as a reporter or look on from the
'It's abominable: it's stifling,' exclaimed Lady Biddy, 'it kills all
the best part of one. You know I've tried time after time to strike out
on my own individual self, but I've always been brought back again by
my hopeless, hopeless lack of practical knowledge of how to earn a
livelihood. The one gift I'd inherited wasn't good enough to be of any
use--If my mother had only left me the whole of her voice, I'd have
been an opera-singer. But I don't think I could have stood the drudgery
--and I should have hated the publicity of it all. . . . Joan, how did
you ever manage to make yourself independent?'
'By drudging,' said Mrs Gildea dryly. 'Besides, I was born differently.
And I was brought up with practical people.'
'Mr McKeith, for instance. He told me about his having been what he
called a "cattle new-chum" on your father's station.'
'He wasn't exactly a "new-chum." His father had owned a sheep-station
up in the unsettled districts. There was a tragedy--the place was sold
up when Colin was a boy. He wanted to learn how we did things further
south--and besides, he was left without a penny--that's how he came
to be with us.'
'Oh! . . . anyway, he's practical. But it isn't that side of him that
appeals to me. He believes in Missions--in a sort of way.'
Mrs Gildea laughed uneasily. 'So you have discovered the streak of
idealism in Colin. But'--she veered off hastily, 'I didn't want to
talk about Colin McKeith. What I want is to hear about your own state
'My state of mind! That's chaotic. The fact is, I feel in a horrible
sort of transition state. . . . It's just as if one were trying to wind
a skein backwards--taking up one end and finding a confusion of knots;
then, taking up another and after forcing a few of the knots, giving
the thing up in despair. One knows the right end is there, but how to
find it through all that hopeless, woolly tangle!'
'Still, you must have learned something about how to wind your skein
while you've been working through your various enterprises,' said Mrs
Gildea. She took up one of Bridget's sketches which were on the table
and looked at it thoughtfully.
'This is quite charming, Biddy--if only it wasn't too fine for
reproduction. The block would cost more than the thing is worth.'
Biddy made a MOUE. 'Oh, I know. Like me isn't it? Impracticable. But I
COULD do you some illustrations. I drew Rosamond entertaining the
Ministerial Circle last night and showed it to Vereker Wells while we
were waiting for breakfast. He nearly died with laughing. I couldn't
have dared to let Luke see it.'
'That I can believe. And I should be murdered by the Leichardt'stonians
if I allowed it to be published. But if you'd come with me through the
Blue Mountains and caricature yourself exploring the Jenolan Caves--
like the "Lady of Quality" in the Dolomite Country I could do something
Mrs Gildea alluded to their first and only collaboration as author and
'Yes, I might. We'll think about it. And if I did perhaps I could make
money enough to keep me out here for a year or two travelling about.'
Joan Gildea looked up in a startled way from the drawing she had been
studying, and asked with some eagerness:
'Biddy, do you really mean that you are thinking of stopping out here
for a year or two?'
'I do. I want to shake myself free from the old clogs. I want to be
honest with myself and with--with the people who ARE honest with
themselves. I've always envied you, Joan. Your life is real at least.
You can put your finger on vital pulse beats. I should like to do as
you are doing, study and learn from a country that has no traditions,
but is making itself. I want to breathe Nature unadulterated--if I
could only reach the reality of her. Joan, I have the feeling that if
one could go right up to the Bush--far away from the Government House
atmosphere and Luke Tallant's red-tapism and the stupid imitation of
our English social shams--well, I think one might touch a more vital
set of heart-beats than the heart-beats of civilization.'
'You are off civilization, Biddy?'
'Yes I am, I've had a horrible time. I was quite reckless and spent far
too much on clothes and things--but that's not what matters--it's the
effect on one's inner self that matters. And now I'm going through the
pangs of revulsion, and just wondering where I can find anything that's
true and satisfying. I believe it may be a kind of birth into a new
life--coming out here you know and all the rest.'
She stopped, her long golden brown eyes fixed Sphinx-like on Joan, who
returned the gaze, but did not answer in words. Biddy went on: 'YOUR
work is practical--not idealistic. I believe the truth of it all is
that the idealists haven't built up on a practical basis. There's too
much POSE. Joan, I do think it's only the pinch of starvation that
knocks down the ridiculous POSE of people.'
'True enough. Your cranks don't get much beyond POSE.--They think they
do, but they don't.'
'Even the ones who believe in themselves--and who are in their way
truly sincere. Joan, do you know, there were moments at the meetings I
went to of those people--Christian Scientists, and my Spiritual
Socialists, and all those philo-factory-girls and tramps, and
philo-beasts, and philo-blacks and the rest of it--Moments when a
ghastly wonder would come over me whether, if we were all stranded on a
desert island with a shortage of food and water, it wouldn't be a case
of fighting for bare existence and of Nature red of tooth and claw.'
'True for you, Lady Bridget. I like the way that's put,' broke in a
voice from the other side of the veranda railing.
Lady Bridget started and looked round, a sudden flush rushing upon the
ivory paleness of her face. If she had not had her back turned to the
garden; if she had not left the gate open behind her, and if the wind
in the bamboos had not then made a noisy rustling, she would have seen
the visitor or heard his steps on the gravel path. Or if she had not
been so absorbed in her subject and her cigarette she might have
noticed that Mrs Gildea had looked up quickly a minute before and given
a mute signal to the intruder not to interrupt the conversation
Lady Bridget recovered herself as Colin McKeith mounted the steps and
made the two ladies a rather self-conscious salute.
'I suppose you know that's a quotation,' she said.
'Weren't you a bit out?' he answered, and repeated the phrase. 'Excuse
my correcting you.'
'Thank you. But I always thought men of action weren't great readers.
How did you do your reading?'
'Some day--if you care to hear--I'll tell you.'
She looked at him interestedly. 'Yes, I should care to hear.'
'Not now,' put in Mrs Gildea. 'You've come this morning to tell us
about the Gas-Bore at Alexandra City, and, as it's got to go into my
next letter, I shall take some notes. Do look for a comfortable chair,
Colin, and you may smoke if you want to.'
'This is good enough,' and he settled himself after his own fashion at
Lady Bridget's feet with his back against the veranda post and his long
legs sprawling over the steps.
Lady Bridget leaned out of the depths of her deep canvas chair and
offered him her cigarette case.
He eyed it in amused criticism--the dull gold of the case, and the
initials in diamonds, sapphires and rubies set diagonally across it.
Again the faint pink rose in her paleness.
'No, it's the writing of the person who gave it to me.'
'Was it a man?' he asked bluntly.
Bridget looked at him with slight haughtiness.
'Really, Mr McKeith, I think you are--inquisitive.'
'Yes, I am. And I've Bush manners--not up to your form. Please excuse
'I don't mind Bush manners. They're--rather refreshing sometimes. . . .
But'--again extending and then half-withdrawing her offering hand.
'You'd despise my cigarettes?'
He made an eager movement.
'No I shouldn't. Choose me one, won't you--two--if I may have one to
'Why to keep?' She selected two of the dainty gold-tipped cigarettes,
and he received them almost as if they had been sacred symbols. One he
placed carefully, notwithstanding her laughing protest, in a
letter-case which he carried in an inner pocket. She tilted her face
forward for him to light the other cigarette at hers, and he did so,
always with that suggestion of reverence which sat so oddly upon him.
Mrs Gildea watching the pair was immensely struck by it.
He smoked in silence for a few moments, his eyes still apparently
fascinated by the glittering initials on the case which now Bridget
attached to her chatelaine chain. She threw away the end of her
'Well, so you've become the Governor's unconstitutional adviser?' she
said. 'Joan, do you know that Luke Tallant kept Mr McKeith talking and
smoking in the loggia just below my bedroom for hours last night after
every one had gone--I know, because I couldn't get to sleep.'
McKeith had all compunction, 'I'm downright sorry for that, Lady
Bridget. I'd have gone away if I'd only guessed your room was up
'Oh, it didn't matter. I'd lots to think about--my own shortcomings
and Luke's responsibilities.'
'He takes them--hard,' hazarded McKeith.
'I hope you gave him good advice,' put in Mrs Gildea.
McKeith's lips twisted into a humorous smile.
'Well, I told Sir Luke that I didn't think he need bother himself just
yet awhile over that northern tour of inspection he's talking about.'
'He wants to make a kind of royal progress, Joan, through the
Back-Blocks,' said Lady Biddy.
'It'll mean a bit of stiff riding,' said McKeith, 'but I've offered to
show him round the Upper Leura anyway, and to find him a quiet hack.'
'Rosamond flatly declines the Royal Progress,' said Bridget. 'I'm
coming instead of her.'
'Can you ride?' he asked.
'CAN I ride--Can any O'Hara ride! You needn't find ME a quiet hack.'
'All right,' said McKeith. 'But I wouldn't make sure of that by putting
you on a buckjumper. It's a bargain then, Lady Bridget.'
'You promise to pay me a visit when the Governor makes his trip north--
when he carries out his notion of establishing military patrols and a
Maxim gun or two to put down Trades-Unionism and native outrages in the
Lady Bridget looked at him thoughtfully. He had pulled out his tobacco
pouch and was filling a well-worn pipe. 'You won't mind my pipe, will
you--as you're a smoker yourself. Mrs Gildea likes it best--And so do
Lady Bridget sniffed his raw tobacco and made a tiny moue. 'Well, if
you prefer that--No, of course I don't mind. I see,' she went on,
'that you favour the Maxim gun idea, Mr McKeith. I understand that
you're one of the Oppressors; and you and I wouldn't agree on that
Mr McKeith returned her look, all the hardness in his face softening to
an expression of almost tender indulgence.
'We'd see about that. I might convert you--but in the Back-Blocks.'
'Or I might convert YOU.'
He shook his head, and then laughed in a shy, boyish way.
'There's no knowing what might happen--but in the Back-Blocks.'
Lady Bridget leaned forward. 'Tell me about them--Tell me about your
life in the Bush and what makes you hate the Blacks.'
'What makes me hate the Blacks?' he repeated slowly and the soft look
on his face changed now to one very dour and grim.
'You do hate them, don't you? Mr McKeith, the Premier told me something
about you last night, which simply filled me with horror. If I believed
it--or unless I knew that what you did had been in honourable warfare,
I don't think I could bear to speak to you again. Now, I'm going to ask
you if it's true.'
'If what is true? Lady Bridget, I'll tell you the truth if you ask me
for it, about anything I've done. But--I warn you--ugly things happen
--in the Back-Blocks.'
'The Premier said that you were the terror of the natives. He told me
about a gun you have with a great many notches on the barrel of it, and
he said that each notch represented a black-fellow that you had
'I never killed a black-fellow except in fair fight, or under lawful
provocation. Many a time one of them has sneaked a spear at me from
behind a gum tree; and I'd have been done for if I hadn't been keeping
a sharp look-out.'
'But you were taking their land,' Lady Bridget exclaimed impetuously,
'you had come, an invader, into their territory. What right had you to
do that? You were the aggressor. And you can't judge them by the moral
laws of civilised humanity. They fought in the only way they
'Lady Bridget, there are moral laws, which all humanity--civilised or
savage understands. I'm not saying that no white man in the Bush has
ever violated these laws, I'm not saying that the Blacks hadn't
something on their side. I'm only saying that in my experience--it was
the black man and not the white man who was the aggressor. And when you
ask me what made me hate the Blacks--well--it isn't a pretty story--
but, if you like, I'll tell it to you some time.'
'Tell me now,' she exclaimed, 'Oh, Joan . . . Won't your notes keep?'
Mrs Gildea had got up, a sheaf of pencils and a reporter's note book in
'Yes, for a few minutes. But I've just remembered something I've got to
refer to in one of Mr Gibbs' letters. Don't mind me; I'll be back
McKeith seemed to take no heed of her departure; his eyes were fixed on
Lady Bridget; there was in them a light of inward excitement.
'Please go on,' she said, 'I want so much to hear.'
He thought for a few moments, shook the ashes from his pipe and then
plunged into his story.
'I've got to go back to when I was quite a youngster--taken from
school--I went to St Paul's in the Hammersmith Road--just before I
was seventeen. You see before that my father had scraped together his
little bit of money and we'd been living in West Kensington waiting
while he made out what we were all going to do. He wasn't any great
shakes, my father, in the way of birth, and fortune. I daresay, you
guessed that, Lady Bridget?'
She tossed her head back impatiently. 'Oh what DOES that matter! Go on,
'He'd been a farmer, Glasgow way'--McKeith still pronounced it
'Glesca,' 'and my mother was a minister's daughter, as good a woman and
as true a lady as ever breathed. But that's neither here nor there in
what turned out a bad business. Well, we all emigrated out here, and,
after a while, my old dad bought a station on the Lower Leura--taken
in he was, of course, over the deal, and not realising that it was
unsettled country in those days. So the whole family of us started up
from the coast to it. . . . He drove my mother and my two sisters just
grown up, and a woman servant--Marty--in a double buggy, and Jerry
the bullock driver and me in the dray with him and taught me to drive
bullocks. There were stock-boys, two of them riding along side.
'It took us three and a half weeks, to reach the station, averaging
about thirty miles a day and camping out each night.
'I'd like you to camp out in the Bush sometime, Lady Bridget, right
away from everything--it'ud be an experience that 'ud live with you
all your life--My word! It's like nothing else--lying straight under
the Southern Cross and watching its pointers, and, one by one, the
stars coming up above the gum trees--and the queer wild smell of the
gums and the loneliness of it all--not a sound until the birds begin
at dawn but the HOP-HOP of the Wallabies, and the funny noises of
opossums, and the crying of the curlews and native dogs--dingoes we
call 'em. . . . Well, there! I won't bother you with all that--though,
truly, I tell you, it's the nearest touch with the Infinite I'VE ever
known. . . . Lord! I remember the first night I camped right in the
Bush--me rolled in my blanket on one side of the fire, and Leura-Jim
the black-boy on the other. And the wonder of it all coming over me as
I lay broad awake thinking of the contrast between London and its
teeming millions--and the awful solitude of the Bush. . . . I wonder
if your blood would have run cold as mine did when the grass rustled
under stealthy footsteps and me thinking it was the blacks sneaking us
--and the relief of hearing three dismal howls and knowing it was
dingoes and not blacks.'
'I'd have loved it' murmured Bridget tensely. 'Go on, please.'
'Well, I've got to come to the tragedy. It began this way through an
act of kindness on our journey up. We were going through the
bunya-bunya country not far from our station, when out of the Bush
there came a black gin with two half-caste girls, she ran up and
stopped the buggy and implored my mother's protection for her girls
because the Blacks wanted to kill and eat them.'
'O . . . oh!' Biddy made a shuddering exclamation.
'Didn't I say the Blacks hadn't everything on their side--I ought to
explain though that in our district were large forests of a kind of
pine--there's one in this garden,' and he pointed to a pyramidal fir
tree with spreading branches of small pointed leaves spiked at the
ends, and with a cone of nuts about the size of a big man's head,
hanging from one of the branches.
'That's the bunya-bunya, and the nuts are splendid roasted in the
ashes--if ever that one gets properly ripe--it has to be yellow, you
know--I'll ask Joan Gildea to let me roast it for you. Only it wouldn't be
the same thing at all as when it's done in a fire of gum logs, the nuts
covered with red ashes, and then peeled and washed down with quartpot
tea. . . .'
'Quartpot tea! What a lot you'll have to show me if--if I ever come to
your station in the Back-Blocks.'
'Different from your London Life, eh? . . . Your balls and dinners and
big shows and coaching meets in Hyde Park, and all the rest of the
flummery! Different, too, from your kid-glove fox-hunts over grass
fields and trimmed hedges and puddles of ditches--the sort of thing
you've been accustomed to, Lady Bridget, when you've gone out from your
castle for a sporting spree!'
'A sporting spree!' She laughed with a child's merriment, and he joined
in the laugh, 'It's clear to me, Mr McKeith, that you've never hunted
in Ireland. And how did you know, by the way, that I'd lived in a
'I was led to believe that a good many of your kind owned historic
castles which your forefathers had won and defended with the sword,' he
answered, a little embarrassed.
'That's true enough. . . . But if you could see Castle Gaverick! My old
Aunt is always talking of restoring it, but she never will, and if my
cousin Chris Gaverick ever does come into it, he'd rather spend his
money in doing something else. . . . But never mind that. . . . I want
to hear about the black gin and the half-caste girls, and if your
mother saved them from the cannibals . . . and why the blacks wanted to
eat their own kind. Dog doesn't eat dog--at least, so they tell one.'
'It's this way. Our blacks weren't regular cannibals, but in the bunya
season they'd all collect in the scrubs and feed on the nuts and
nothing else for months. Then after a bit they'd get meat-hungry, and
there not being many wild animals in Australia and only a few cattle in
those outlying districts, they'd satisfy their cravings by killing and
eating some of themselves--lubras--young girls--by preference, and,
naturally, half-castes, as having no particular tribal status, for
'Half-castes!' She repeated, a little puzzled.
'These ones had Chinky blood in them--daughters of a Chinaman
fossicker. . . . We're not partial to the Chinese in Australia--only
we don't eat them, we expel them--methods just a bit dissimilar, but
the principle the same, you see. . . . Anyway, of course we took on the
gin and her girls, and for about a year didn't have any particular
trouble at the station with the blacks--though there was a shepherd
speared in one of the out-huts. . . . That was his fault, however, poor
devil--the old story--but it don't matter. The trouble came to a head
with a black boy, called Leura-Jimmy, that Jerry the bullock-driver
brought up with him and left at the station where he went down to the
township for store supplies--He took me with him--I told you I was
learning bullock-driving. . . .'
McKeith paused, and the dark look came upon his face.
'And Leura-Jimmy?' put in Bridget.
'Oh, he was a fine, big fellow--plausible, too, and could speak pidgin
English--he was never weaned from his tribe, and he was a treacherous
scoundrel at heart. . . . As a precautionary measure, my father forbade
the blacks to come up to the head-station. But Jimmy fell in love with
the eldest of the half-caste girls. She encouraged him at first, then
took up with one of the stock-boys. . . .
'It was the bunya season again, and the girls' old tribe, under their
King Mograbar--a devil incarnate in a brute--I sent him to Hell
afterwards with my own hand and never did a better deed'--McKeith's
brown fists clenched and the fury in his eyes blazed so that he himself
looked almost devilish for a moment. His face remained very grim and
dour as he proceeded.
'Jimmy had got to know through the half-caste girl about our ways and
doings, and he made a diabolic plot with King Mograbar to get the
blacks into the house. . . . Every living soul was murdered . . .surprised
in their sleep . . . My father . . . my mother . . . my
sisters . . . God! . . . I can't speak of it. . . .'
He got up abruptly, jerking his long legs, and went to the further end
of the veranda, where he stood with set features and brows like a red
bar, below which staring eyes were fixed vacantly upon the avenue of
bunya trees in the long walk of the Botanical Gardens across the river.
But they did not see those bunya trees. What they saw was a row of
mutilated bodies, lying stark along the veranda of that head-station on
Bridget was leaning forward in her squatter's chair, her fingers
grasping the arms of it, her face very white and her eyes staring too,
as though they also beheld the scene of horror.
Presently McKeith came back, pale too, but quite composed.
'I beg your pardon,' he said stiffly. 'Perhaps I should not have told
'It's--horrible. But I'm glad to know. Thank you for telling me.'
He looked at her wistfully. There was silence for a moment or two.
'And you . . . you . . . where were you?' she stammered.
'Me! I was with the drays, you know. We got back about noon that
day. . . . If we'd been twelve hours sooner! Well, I suppose I should
have been murdered with the rest. . . . The blacks had gone off with their
loot. . . . We . . . we buried our dead. . . . And then we ran up our
best horses and never drew rein for forty miles till we'd got to where
a band of the Native Police were camped. . . . And then . . . we took
what vengeance we could. . . . It wasn't complete till a long time
He was standing behind Bridget's chair, his eyes still gazing beyond
the river. He did not notice that she leaned back suddenly, and her
hands fell nervelessly to her lap. He felt a touch on his arm. It was
Mrs Gildea, who had come out to the veranda again. 'Colin,' she said,
'I want you to go and bring me my typewriter from the parlour. And then
you've got to dictate "copy," about the Alexandra City Gas-Bore. Please
go at once.'
He obeyed. Mrs Gildea bent over Lady Bridget.
'Biddy! . . . You're not faint, are you?'
Lady Bridget roused herself and looked up at her friend rather
wildly. . . . 'No. . . . What do you take me for? . . . I said I wanted
real things, Joan . . . And I've got them.'
She laughed a little hysterically.
'All right! But we shall give you a taste of real Australia that isn't
quite so gruesome. That some of the tragedy belongs to the pioneer
days. . . . I could tell you things myself that my father has told me.
. . . But I won't. . . . Mind, Colin McKeith is no more of a hero than
a dozen bush boys I knew when I first knew him. Yes, put it there,
Colin, please. . . . And now, if Biddy doesn't mind, we'll proceed to
business, which is my IMPERIALIST Letter. I suppose you haven't brought
back any snapshots of Alexandra City and your wonderful Gas-Bore that
Mr Gibbs could get worked up for his paper?'
That was not the only time Lady Bridget and McKeith met on Mrs Gildea's
veranda. In fact, Biddy, reminiscent of wild sea-excursions along the
shore by Castle Gaverick, developed a passion for what she called tame
boating on the Leichardt River. She found a suitable skiff in the
boat-house--the Government House grounds sloped to the water's edge,
and would row herself up and down the river reaches. It was easy to
round the point, skirt the Botanical Gardens, and, crossing above the
ferry, land below Mrs Gildea's cottage, then climb up the bank and
enter by a lower gate to the garden. Thus she would often turn up
unexpectedly of mornings for a chat with her friend in the veranda
At this time, Colin McKeith contracted a similar habit. He showed a
still greater interest in Mrs Gildea's journalistic work and professed
a strong desire to enlighten British statesmen, through the medium of
Mr Gibbs' admirable paper, on certain Imperial questions affecting
Australia--the danger of a Japanese invasion in the northern waters--
the establishment of a naval base by Germany in New Guinea--the Yellow
Labour Problem and so forth. He would intersperse his political
dissertation with racy bits of description of life in the Bush, and
would give the points of view of pearl fishers, miners, loafers,
officials in out-of-the-way townships, Labour reformers, sheep and
cattle owners--all of which vastly amused Lady Bridget, and was
valuable 'copy,' typed unscrupulously by Mrs Gildea. In fact, she owed
to it much of the success which, later, attended her journalistic
venture. Mrs Gildea thought at first that the 'copy' would be more
easily obtainable in the intervals before and after Lady Bridget's
arrival, or on the days when she failed to come. But, finding that
Colin was distinctly at his best as a narrator with Biddy for an
audience, she artfully arranged to take her notes under those
conditions. This lasted two or three weeks, during which period Sir
Luke and Lady Tallant conscientiously improved their acquaintance with
the new sphere of their labours. They visited hospitals, inspected
public buildings, inaugurated social schemes, and, to the strains of
'God Save the Queen,' performed many other insignificant public
functions, from which, as often as not, their guest, Lady Bridget,
basely cried off.
On one such occasion, Joan, arrayed in her best, had patriotically gone
forth on a steaming March day to support their Excellencies, fondly
expecting that, as arranged, Lady Bridget and Colin would meet her. But
Lady Tallant, looking distinctly cross, accompanied the Governor alone.
Bridget, it appeared, had come down, just as the carriage drove up, in
her morning frock and garden hat, saying that she had a bad headache
and meant to spend the afternoon in a hammock by the river bank. As for
Colin, there was no sign of him.
But when Mrs Gildea got home very tired, and hot she was made extremely
angry by hearing the voices of Lady Bridget and McKeith in the veranda
where they were drinking tea and, it seemed, holding a confidential
conversation. Mrs Gildea's gorge rose higher. She had to stop a minute
to try and recover her temper. Here was Biddy disburdening herself to
Colin of her family troubles and short-comings, showing herself and
them in the worst light, singing small to a man with whom it was highly
desirable she should maintain her dignity. Instead of that, she was
deliberately pulling down the barrier of rank and social position which
should exist between Lady Bridget O'Hara and the Factor's son, the
Out-Back squatter--Colin McKeith.
Biddy was saying: 'Oh, but you're as bad as that sort of person who
can't be made to realise that the oldest peerage in Ireland counts for
nothing in comparison with an oil-king's millions and being able to
entertain the right set. . . . And besides, really Mr McKeith, there's
no difference at all between us. You talk such a lot about YOUR
grandfather having been a Scotch peasant. Why! MY mother's father was
an Italian beggar--Ugh! haven't you seen them with their crutches and
things on the steps of the churches?--And my mother sang in the
streets of Naples until a kind musician heard her and had her trained
to be a opera singer.'
'My mother! That's where my CARMEN comes from--only that my voice, I'm
told, isn't to be compared with what hers was. . . . But that's not the
worst about my mother. Not that I blame her. I think that a woman has a
perfect right to leave her husband if she has ceased to care for him,
and that it's far more moral to live with a man you love and can't
marry, than with a husband you hate.'
Mrs Gildea cut short Lady Bridget's exposition of her views on morality
before McKeith had time to answer. Her voice was sharp as she went up
the steps and arraigned the pair.
'Really, Biddy, I do call this too bad of you. May I ask how you and Mr
McKeith come to be drinking tea together in my veranda?'
'Sure, and it's by accident intoirely,' answered Biddy, with a
whimsical look and the touch of the brogue she sometimes put on when a
situation became embarrassing.
'A prearranged accident!'
'No it wasn't, Joan. As a matter-of-fact, we were the last persons
either of us expected to meet.'
'Honour bright,' put in McKeith. 'I'd forgotten all about the Pineapple
Products Exhibition, and I just dropped in at Government House to pay
my respects after a pleasant dinner two nights ago--What you'd call a
visit of digestion.'
'And since when, Colin, have you become an observer of social
obligations?' jeered Mrs Gildea.
He grinned, 'Ah! you have me there. Anyway, I asked for Lady Bridget,
and found her down by the boat-shed.'
'And we thought it would be cooler on the water, so he rowed me round
the point. It was the most natural thing in the world that we should
discover we were thirsty, and that we should come up the garden and ask
your old woman to give us some tea. Don't be a cat, Joan. You never
used to be grudging of your hospitality.'
Mrs Gildea quickly recovered her usual genial demeanour. She poured
herself out a cup of tea, and remarked that it was refreshing after the
pine-apple syrups and other concoctions she had, as in duty bound,
sampled at the Show. Lady Bridget rattled along with questions about
the Function and the behaviour of the Government House party. Had Sir
Luke been too over-poweringly pompous? Was Lady Tallant really cross?
and had Vereker Wells made any more blunders? and so forth. But she did
not enlighten Mrs Gildea much about her doings with Colin McKeith, and
presently said she must go and make her peace with Rosamond. McKeith
accompanied her--naturally, since he had to row her back to the
Government House landing. There was something in the manner of the pair
that Mrs Gildea could not understand. Of course, Colin was in love--
that she knew already. But was Biddy merely playing with the big
primitive-souled bushman--or was it possible that she, too, could be
The next time Biddy came, Joan tackled matters boldly.
'Biddy, I've had my marching orders. Mr Gibbs finds Leichardt's Land a
bit stale. I take train to Sydney next week and tour the Riverina, the
Blue Mountains and the country along the railway line to Melbourne. Are
you coming with me?'
Bridget gave a deprecatory laugh. ' I don't know what Rosamond would
'She'd recognise the necessities of the situation. Besides, you could
come back again.'
'I haven't been here a month. And I don't find Leichardt's Land stale.
On the contrary, I find it extremely stimulating. No, I think the
Riverina and the Blue Mountains will keep, as far as I'm concerned.'
'But I won't keep. Mr Gibb and the drawings for THE IMPERIALIST won't
keep. The question is whether you want to make some money or not?'
'It's the one thing I've WANTED to do all my life, and have never yet
succeeded in doing except when we collaborated in "The Lady of
'Here's your chance for a continuation series, "The Lady of Quality in
the Bush." How does that sound?'
'Rather clumsy and long, don't you think? "Lady Bridget in the Bush"
would be more alliterative and catching. Only I should be giving myself
'I think you're doing that already,' said Mrs. Gildea.
'How do you mean, Joan? I don't see it.'
'Yes, you do. Look here, Biddy. Colin McKeith isn't Mr Willoughby Maule.'
'He's a hundred times better man, Joan.'
'That you needn't tell me; and I'm glad you recognise the fact. But
from the point of view of "The Lady of Quality," would he be a better
'You forget, my dear, that I'm not the genuine article. I'm nothing but
a pinchbeck imitation of the real "Lady of Quality." If HIS grandfather
was a peasant, remember that my maternal grandparents were peasants
too. I told him so yesterday.'
'Has it come to that? You go fast, Biddy. But I warn you--Colin
McKeith isn't the man to be trifled with. He knows his own mind. The
question is whether you know yours.'
Biddy nodded her head like a Chinese Mandarin.
'Two months ago you were wildly in love--or, at least, from your
letters one might have judged so--with another man,' said Mrs Gildea.
'No--no--don't call that love.'
'Call it a violent attraction, then. I suspect the man could have made
you marry him if he had chosen. So far as I can understand, you
quarrelled because neither of you would face matrimony on what you
considered an inadequate income.'
'Middle-class respectability--living in Pimlico or further
Kensington,' scoffed Biddy. 'Ordering sprats and plaice for dinner and
pretending they're soles and whitebait. Perambulators stuffing up the
hall; paying your own books and having your gown made at home! No,
thank you. 'Possum skins and a black's gunya--that's Autralese for a
wigwam, isn't it?--appeal to me infinitely more.'
Mrs Gildea threw up her hands.
'Biddy, you haven't the faintest notion how dull and uncomfortable--
how utterly unpoetic--how sordid the life of a struggling bushman can
'No! You know, Joan, I think that it might be perfectly fascinating--
if one really cared for the bushman.'
'Really cared! Have you EVER really cared for any man? COULD you ever
'That's what I've been asking myself. It would have to be someone quite
different from all the other men I've liked--something altogether
above the ordinary man, to make me REALLY care.'
'You said that Mr Willoughby Maule was different from any man you'd
ever met. Each man you've ever fancied youself in love with has been
different from all the rest.'
Lady Bridget laughed rather uneasily.
'How tiresomely exact you are, Joan! Of course, they were different.
Everybody is different from everybody else. And I attract marked types.
Will was more marked and more attractive--as well as attracted--
'His attraction doesn't seem to have been as strong as self-interest,
any way,' said Joan, with deliberate terseness.
The girl's small, pale face flushed to deep crimson for a moment.
'Joan, you are cruel! You know that was the sting! And it wouldn't have
stung so if I hadn't cared. Sometimes I feel the maddest desire to hurt
him--to pay him out. I never felt like that about any of the others--
the ones I really did ALMOST want to marry. And then--at other times
I'd give ANYTHING just to have him again as he used to be.'
'I'm certain you weren't really in love with him,' exclaimed Mrs
Bridget seemed to be considering. 'Wasn't I?--I'm not so sure of that.
No--' she went on impetuously, 'I was not REALLY in love with him. He
had a magnetic influence over me as I told you. Perhaps I might get a
little under it again if he were to appear suddenly without his wife--
it turns me sick to think of a married man having a magnetic influence
over me. . . . Even if there was no wife--now. So, when you've
idealised a person and can't idealise him any more: C'EST FINI. There's
nothing but a ghost to come and make you uncomfortable sometimes--and
that CAN'T last. . . . Besides, I've been breathing the strong clear
air of your gum trees lately. It's a case of pull devil--pull bushman.
Do you see?'
'I see, my dear, that you're idealising Colin McKeith, and let me tell
you that a bushman is very far removed from the super-man. Oh, Colin is
a fine enough specimen of a pioneer in a rough country. But his rough
life, his bush surroundings, and all the rest--why, he'd jar upon you
in a hundred ways if you were alone with him in them. Then--he's not
of your order--though I hate the phrase and I hate the kind of man.
All the same, Biddy, you may pretend to despise the men of your own
class, but I fancy that, after a spell of roughing it with Colin on the
Upper Leura, you'd hanker after something in them that Colin hasn't and
never will have. . . . And then,' Joan's swift imagination carried her
on with a rush, 'you don't know in the least the type of man he is.
You'd have to give in to him: he'd never give in to you. He's
domineering, jealous, vindictive and reserved. Before a month was out
you'd quarrel, and there would be no chance of your ever making it up
'I must say, Joan, that for a friend of his you're not an enthusiastic
'It's because I'm so fond of Colin that I hate the thought of your
making him miserable. Anyway, however, you're bound to do that.'
'I don't see why.'
'If you flirt with him and then drop him, he'll suffer, though he'll be
too proud to show it. And as for the alternative, it's out of the
question. You must see that it would be sheer folly.'
'I've committed a great many follies,' said Bridget wistfully.
'But, so far, none that are quite irrevocable.'
'Well, he hasn't asked me yet to commit this one.'
'You're leading him on to it. Biddy, it is abominable of you to
encourage him as you do--coming here with him that day. . . . And you
let him take you riding. . . .'
'Yes, he knows now that I CAN ride.'
'And he's at Government House nearly every day--I can't think what
Lady Tallant is about to ask him so often to dinner.'
'She likes him because he takes Luke off her hands. You know we've
nick-named him the Unconstitutional Adviser.'
'That's rubbish. You sing to him.'
'What harm is there in my singing to Colin McKeith?'
'As if you didn't know well enough that you're perfectly irresistible
when you look at a man while you're singing those Neapolitan things.
Biddy, it won't do. Give it up.'
'I can't do that, Joan.' She spoke with a strange earnestness. 'Don't
you see that it's giving me a chance.'
'Of forgetting Mr Willoughby Maule!'
'Yes. . . . But it's more than that.'
'More than that. . . . Do you mean . . . can you mean that you could
love Colin McKeith--for himself?'
'Love is a big word, Joan. I've never said to any man--"I love you."'
She spoke the words now as if she were uttering a sacred formula. Her
voice reminded Mrs Gildea of something--the same note in the voice of
Colin McKeith when he, too, had spoken of love. Yet what she had said
was true. Bridget had talked often enough of falling 'in love'--which
she had always been at pains to define as a mere transitory condition--
not by any means the 'real thing,' and she had freely confessed to
violent attractions and even adorations. But, as she had sometimes
solemnly stated, she had never 'loved.'
'I can't explain,' she went on. 'I know you think me a heartless,
emotional flirt. Yes, I am. I admit it. But there's a locked door in
the inner chamber--a shrine that no one has desecrated. The Goddess is
there, waiting--waiting to reveal herself.'
'And so--all the rest have been--experiments?'
'No, The Quest of the Ideal through the Forest of Illusion. I've often
thought, Joan, there was a lot in the motive of that novel of Thomas
Hardy's THE WELL BELOVED. But I seem to be mixing up my metaphor, and
it's time I went back to Government House.' She got up and began
putting on her gloves.
Mrs Gildea laughed hysterically. Somehow, she could not imagine Colin
McKeith producing the golden key and masterfully taking possession of
Lady Bridget's locked shrine. She could only think of him as tricked,
deceived and suffering hideously at the end. She stammered out her
fear, beseeching Biddy to be merciful, but Biddy's mood had changed,
and she only smiled her Sphinx smile.
'I think he's quite able to look after himself,' she said. 'And if he
isn't, sure, he must take the consequences.'
Mrs Gildea could get nothing more out of Lady Bridget. She attacked
McKeith in a more tentative manner, but Colin was doggedly reticent. He
was taking the thing hardly. His way of facing a serious situation was
by setting his teeth and saying nothing. After these unsuccessful
attempts, Joan made opportunity, before leaving, for a private word on
the subject with Lady Tallant. But Rosamond Tallant treated the matter,
at first, very lightly.
'Dear Mrs Gildea, you needn't worry, it's only Biddy's way. She must
have some excitement to keep her going. If it isn't one thing, it's
another. In London, I tried to interest her in Society, or Politics,
and the Opera--and now Luke is trying to interest her in Colonial
questions--but she always drifts back to--Men. She can't help it. And
the funny thing is, I don't believe that in her heart she is capable of
a serious attachment.'
'I'm not so sure of that,' answered Mrs Gildea.
'If so, she has had plenty of opportunities of proving it. But I wasn't
ever afraid even of Willoughby Maule. I was certain that would fizzle
out before real harm could come of it. And mercifully it did. He's
married a woman with a quarter of a million and the right to dispose of
it absolutely as she pleases. I heard that she signed a will on her
wedding day, leaving it all to him in the event of her death. Too great
a temptation, wasn't it? Though I do think if Biddy had chosen she
might have kept him in spite of Miss Bagalay and her money. As it is,
Colin McKeith, or else the novelty of it all out here--has driven him
out of her head. I felt sure of that when I asked her to come. You
needn't worry about her.'
'It's not so much about Biddy that I'm worrying as about my old friend,
Colin McKeith,' said Mrs Gildea. 'It isn't fair that he should be made
'Oh, well, it isn't altogether Biddy's fault that she attracts all
types of men.' And then Lady Tallant made exactly the same remark as
Lady Bridget. 'I think Mr McKeith is quite able to look after himself.
I don't pity him in the least. Didn't somebody say of Lady Something or
Other that to love her was a liberal education?'
'Steele said it of Lady Elizabeth Hastings.'
'I call it a liberal education for Colin McKeith to love Lady Bridget
O'Hara,' laughed Lady Tallant.
Mrs Gildea changed her tactics and voiced her other fear--a more
'Has it ever occurred to you that Lady Bridget O'Hara might fall in
love with Colin McKeith?'
'Why, my dear, she's wildly in love with him already,' rejoined Lady
Tallant, to Joan Gildea's surprise.
'You've seen it?'
'I'm not blind, and I know Biddy. But I've seen that she's taking this
affair differently from the others, and that's what makes me think it
has gone deeper. A very good thing for Biddy.'
'You can't mean that it would be a good thing for Biddy to marry Colin
Lady Tallant's social manner was rather full of affectations.
Underneath it, however, lay commonsense and sympathy. She became
suddenly simple and direct.
'Well, now, Mrs Gildea, let us look at the matter without prejudice.
You are fond of Biddy and so am I, but we know her drawbacks.
Naturally, it wouldn't be a good thing under ordinary conditions, but
is she likely to do much better?'
'She has had plenty of chances.'
'And thrown them all away. And though she looks so young, she is close
on thirty. Of course, with her looks and her fascination she ought to
have married well. I'm sure her friends have tried hard enough for her.
But what can you do with a girl who throws herself at the heads of
ineligibles, and when one trots out an unexceptionable PARTI and does
one's best to bring them together, goes off at a tangent and lets the
whole thing drop through. You know how it was with. . . .' Lady Tallant
Mrs Gildea acquiesced mournfully. Lady Tallant continued:
'The truth is, Biddy has tired out the patience of her relatives and
friends. Molly and Chris Gaverick got the hump over Willoughby Maule--
who would have done well enough if he had only had more money. Old
Eliza'--so Lady Tallant irreverently styled the Dowager Countess of
Gaverick--'told me herself that she was going to wash her hands of
Biddy. I shouldn't wonder if she didn't leave her a penny. And, after
all, it was her own fortune, and she has a horde of needy relatives.
She will consider that she has done her duty to the Gavericks if she
lets Chris have the Castle. When all's said and done, I don't see that
it would be such a bad thing for Biddy to marry a rich Australian
'Colin McKeith is not rich.'
'Oh, he will be. Sir Luke has been hearing all about him.'
'He's not her equal. His father was just a land bailiff, and his
grandfather a crofter.'
'Oh, what DOES that matter! In these days any of us would marry the
roughest of rough diamonds, provided he was decently well off. Biddy
has always been mad after adventure and an open-air life. She's an
original, and everything would be in keeping.' Lady Tallant went on
briskly. 'She would enjoy living among the blacks, provided they did
not murder her, and I suppose one could trust Mr McKeith for that.'
'Oh, there's no danger from the blacks now,' put in Mrs Gildea.
'And then she needn't be buried for ever in the Bush. Luke tells me
that Colin McKeith is certain to come to the fore in politics--I
daresay he will be Premier of Leichardt's Land before long. Biddy would
like bossing the show and airing her philanthropic crazes.'
Mrs Gildea shook her head doubtfully.
'Colin wouldn't agree with them. Besides, she would be expatriated.'
'Oh no. The big men over here are always taking trips to England, being
feted and made much of in Downing Street--Imperialist Policy and that
sort of thing--I can see Biddy at it.'
Mrs Gildea was silent. She scarcely knew Lady Tallant in this downright
'There's no use blinking matters,' said that lady. 'At home, Biddy has
been a failure. That was why I persuaded her to come out with us. I
knew she wanted a fresh start badly.'
It was quite true. Mrs Gildea remembered Bridget's confidences to
herself. She could not help feeling that Lady Tallant was right in the
main, and put forward no more objections. But she explained her own
plans and the necessity for her immediate departure from Leichardt's
Land--how she had hoped, too, to take Biddy with her and interest her
once more in literary and artistic work.
'Biddy won't go, she told me so, and I don't mean to let her,' said
Lady Tallant decidedly. 'We're short-handed till the new Private
Secretary gets here, and she helps me with my notes and things
generally. And if it wasn't for Biddy's singing, our dinners would be
too deadly dull for words.'
Joan gave up in despair. She suspected that Lady Tallant's affectionate
candour was not unadulterated with selfishness. Finally, Rosamond
promised that she would interest and amuse Lady Bridget to such an
extent as would deter her from rash love-making for want of counter
excitement. Then, Joan reflected, Colin was pre-eminently a prudent
business man, and, as he had told her some time before, would have to
go back to the Upper Leura before the strenuous work of the Session
came on. This was always supposing that the present Ministry kept in
without going to the country upon certain Labour measures unacceptable
to the large land-owners, in which case it was just possible McKeith
might be thrown out of his seat.
Events lay in the lap of the gods. Mrs Gildea wound up matters at the
Cottage and took train south, where she was soon wholly occupied in
describing the wonder of the Jenolan Caves and the wild gorges and
primaeval gum forests in the Blue Mountains. She was really too busy in
the interests of the IMPERIALIST to worry over her friend's love
affairs. In fact, she gleaned most of her information as to the
Leichardt's Town Government House Party from the newspapers she
happened upon at bush hotels. For Lady Bridget was evidently in a
reactionary mood as regards letter-writing and Colin McKeith never put
pen to paper, if he could avoid doing so, except on business.
It was at Mossvale that she read a florid paragraph in the Ladies' Page
of a Sydney Journal, telling of the engagement of 'that intrepid
Pioneer and future Empire-builder, Mr Colin McKeith, to the Lady
Bridget O'Hara, niece of the late, and cousin of the present, Earl of
Next post brought her three brief and characteristic letters. She
opened Lady Tallant's first:
'DEAR MRS GILDEA,
I do hope this may catch you before the newspapers, which I find
announced the engagement rather prematurely last week. I am still of
opinion that Biddy might do much worse than marry Colin McKeith,
though, ENTRE NOUS, the settlements--or rather want of them--for Mr
McKeith tells us that he needs all his capital for making wells and
buying cattle, and he won't injure his prospects and Biddy's by tying
it up--does not at all please Sir Luke, who, before he would
countenance the marriage, insisted upon a cablegram being sent to the
Dowager Lady Gaverick. Her answer: "Not my business, must do as she
pleases," only confirms what I said to you, and I am afraid Biddy's
chances are worth nothing in that quarter.
The wedding is to be early in May, from Government House, of course,
and I need scarcely say how much we all hope you will come back for it.
P.S.--No doubt, Biddy is giving you full details.'
But Biddy did not indulge either in details or rhapsodies. She began:
'They say hanging and wiving go by destiny, and clearly my destiny is
to become the wife of Collin McKeith. I've always felt that the only
thing which could reconcile me to marriage would be marrying a MAN; and
at last I've found one. I want to tell you, Joan, that we've made an
agreement to ask each other no questions about respective Pasts. The
black-fellows he has slain--the one jarring note between us--are
never to be resuscitated. The men whose hearts I have broken and VICE
VERSA are dead and buried on the other side of the Equator, under a
monument of inviolable silence. Such are the terms of the marriage
contract: and you in especial must respect them. I need say no more,
except this: Have no fears for the happiness of
From Colin in telegraphic conciseness:
'Tremendously happy. She's absolutely my Ideal--in everything but
All very satisfactory and conclusive. But--Mrs Gildea could not escape
from a vague misgiving. She was not afraid of the ghost of Mr
Willoughby Maule: indeed, she argued favourably from the baldness of
Bridget's letter in comparison with the reams of sentiment she had
written upon the previous occasion. Nor did she feel uneasy on the
score of any others of Lady Bridget's bygone passions. But had this
complex, fastidious, physically-refined creature the least
comprehension of what life on the Upper Leura might mean? And how about
an Ideal dethroned from her pedestal and plumped down amid the crude
realities of the nethermost Bush?
Mrs Gildea did not get to the wedding. She was ordered to report on the
mines of Western Australia, and was on the other side of the continent
when the marriage took place. In fact, it seemed doubtful whether she
would again meet Lady Bridget before her mission as Special
Correspondent ended. But the McKeiths were to spend their honeymoon in
travelling to his station on the Upper Leura, a distance of some
hundreds of miles from the nearest port, and quite out of THE
She read, however, circumstantial accounts of the wedding, and there
were portraits of the pair--in which Colin looked grumpy and Lady
Bridget whimsically amused--snap shots, too, of the wedding cortege,
in which Sir Luke Tallant, fathering the Bride, appeared a pompous
figure in full uniform; and Lady Tallant in splendid panoply, most
stately and gracious. A long account followed of the bride's family
connections, in which the biographer touched upon the accident of sex
that had deprived her of the hereditary honours; the ancient descent of
the Gavericks, with a picture of the old Irish castle where Lady
Bridget had been brought up--and so forth, and so forth. Mrs Gildea
sighed as she read, and pictured in her imagination the wild wastes of
the Never-Never Land and the rough head-station which was to be Lady
FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF LADY BRIDGET O'HARA
It was the way of the O'Haras to do things first and to consider
afterwards whether it were well or ill that they should be done. Many a
ruined O'Hara might have fared differently in life's battle had he
thought before he acted.
Lady Bridget was no exception to the rule of her family. She had
accepted Colin McKeith in a blind impulse of escape from the old
hedged-in existence of her order, of which she was quite tired and
where-in she had proved herself a failure. She had been attracted by
the idea that he represented, of wide spaces and primitive adventures.
She had always longed to travel in untrodden ways, and had loved
stories of romantic barbarism. And then, too, some queer glamour of the
man had got hold of her. She was intensely susceptible to personal
influence--his bigness, his simplicity, his strength and daring, and
the feeling that he was quite capable of mastering her, not only by
brute force--which always appeals to a certain type of woman--but by
power of will, by a tenacity of passion which she recognised even
through the shy reserve with which McKeith tried to cloak his
adoration. For she was goddess to him, as well as lady-love--and that
she realised plainly. A look from her would make him go white and his
large hands tremble; an unexpected grace from her would fill him with
The thing happened one soft moonlit evening after dinner at Government
House, when she had strolled out alone to a secluded part of the
terrace, and he had followed her after the men left the dining-room.
She was in a mood of tempestuous raging against her ordained lot.
Letters had come from England that day which had irritated her and made
her wonder how she could endure any longer her galling state of
dependence. Eliza Countess of Gaverick had sent her a meagre cheque,
accompanied by a scathing rebuke of her extravagance. Some cutting
little sarcasms of Molly Gaverick's had likewise annoyed her, and she
fretted under the miserable sense of her inadequacy to the demands of a
world she despised and yet hankered after. Then Sir Luke had been
tiresomely pertinacious over some small dereliction on Bridget's part
from the canons of Government House etiquette, which he had requested
should not be repeated. Rosamond Tallant had been tiresome also and had
made her feel that even here she was no more than a dependent who must
conform to the wills of her official superiors. Joan Gildea might have
served as a safety-valve, but Joan was away in or near the Jenolan
Caves, and could not be got at unless Bridget chose to throw up other
things and go to her, which Bridget was not inclined to do.
The whole thing was a tangle. If only it were possible to find a way
out that would not prove still more painfully complicated.
At the moment the ting-tang of a steamer bell bound outward to the
northern coast, borne to her on the river-breeze, intensified her
desire for escape from conventional limitations. Oh! to find herself
under totally new conditions! The heavy fragrance of magnolia and
gardenia blossoms seemed freighted with exotic suggestion. The tropical
odours blended with the perfume of autumn roses, which made a trellis
over her head and overran the balustrades. The subtle mingling of
perfumes that float in the clear air of an Australian garden, when the
fierce heats of summer are gone, gave her a sense of almost
In fact, Bridget was in the mood for any desperate leap into the
Unknown. Such was her unconscious thought as she crunched a spray of
verbena in her fingers and inhaled the scent which had always a faintly
heady effect upon her imagination. She was leaning on the stone kerb of
the balustrade, vague emotions stirring her, when she heard McKeith's
step on the gravel. Presently he stood beside her, his tall form, in
the well-cut evening suit which always became him best, towering head
and shoulders above her small stature. It was always a satisfaction to
Lady Bridget, fastidious in such masculine details, that he was
particular about his tailoring, and tonight he exhaled the scent of one
of Sir Luke Tallant's excellent cigars. There used to be a good deal of
chaff between them about one of his personal predilections which jarred
a little upon Bridget--his pipe and, particularly, the quality of his
tobacco. But he did not change it in spite of her chaff. She was
beginning to find a certain mule-like obstinacy about him in
'If you object to this, what WOULD you say to the store tobacco smoke
when I'm in the Bush?' he said. And then he had explained that, when
camping out with the stockmen on their expeditions after cattle, he
always smoked the same tobacco that he supplied to his hands. That was
according to HIS rule of social equality by the camp fire, he
said. . . . And where was all Lady Bridget's vaunted socialism if she
jibbed at such a simple illustration of the first principles of socialism?
Of course, Bridget had taken his banter in good part, and with a pretty
grimace had told him she would get out a consignment of the stuff her
Aunt Eliza gave at Christmas to the old men in their Irish village and
present him with it.
He threw away the butt end of Sir Luke's cigar when he joined her. For
several moments he stood watching her--the picturesque little figure
in its dainty frock, the grace of the small head with its crop of
untidy hair, the pale pointed face--chin resting in the cup of one
flower-like hand, red lips--the upper one like Cupid's bow--slightly
parted, strange deep eyes gazing across the dark expanse of river to
the scattered lights on the high land opposite. Above, the Southern
Cross, set diagonally, in the dark clear sky gemmed with its myriad
There could be no doubt that Colin McKeith was in the grip of an
infatuation such as he had never known before in his life. It staggered
him. His breath caught in his throat and ended in an uncertain laugh.
He stuttered in sheer awkwardness.
'I--I say . . . you seem to be up in the clouds. You've been awfully
down in the mouth--all through dinner. Won't you tell me? Is anything
Bridget turned and looked at him. Her eyes were softly glistening, her
lips trembled. He thought of her as of a child seeking sympathy in a
strange land, where nobody understood her and somebody had been unkind.
He was intensely stirred by her impulsive appeal.
'Oh! I'm worried. I'm so alone in the world. Nobody wants me--here or
in England either. I was just wondering if I couldn't go off and join
Joan Gildea. . . . But she wouldn't want me either, perhaps.'
He went closer, stooping over the balustrade. Magnetic threads seemed
to be drawing them to each other. He wanted to say, 'I want you,' but
dared not. He blurted forth instead?
'What is it? I'd cut off my right hand if that would be of any use to
you. Good Lord! That does sound cheek! Only--you know--I'm big enough
to bully the whole of Leichardt's Land from the Governor down--and I'd
do it if you wanted me to. Just tell me what's worrying you?'
'It's everything--the whole set of conditions from the day I was born
'Conditions are easy enough things to break, if you're determined to do
it. Look here--talk it out. . . . you can trust me.'
Then she recklessly set the flood gates open--laughed with tears in
the laughter; drew a tragically amusing picture of her life--her
anomalous position, her dependence, her hatred of the pretences, the
shifts, the sordid bravado by means of which her impoverished Gaverick
relatives clung on to their social birthright, the toadying of the
Dowager, the worldly admonitions of Rosamond Tallant and her set--she
used some of the phrases he had himself read in that letter. Had he
been in any doubt as to its authorship that doubt must now be at rest.
But he would never tell her of that episode. For one thing, his promise
to Joan bound him. Like a stab came the remembrance of that man of whom
Biddy had written--the man towards whom she had confessed a violent
attraction--and who had behaved as a cad and a fortune-hunter would
naturally behave. That he could have weighed money in the balance with
THIS! She could not have cared for the fellow, or he MUST have thrown
over everything else for her. Was it possible that she had cared--that
she still cared?
'Tell me,' he asked hoarsely. 'Is it that you are fretting after
somebody over there who--someone you can't marry? There must have been
a lot of men in your life. Perhaps there was one who--whom you--
His voice dropped, as it had a way of doing when he touched the sacred
'There have been a lot of men,' she admitted frankly. 'But there has
never been one true Man among them. I've never really in my heart
wanted to marry any of them, if that's what you mean--I don't like
marriage--OUR system of marriage--a bargain in the sale shop. So much
at such a price--birth, position, suitability, good looks--to be paid
for at the market value. Or else it's just because the man happens to
have taken a fancy to one, and while the fancy lasts doesn't think
whether or not it's a fair bargain--on either side. I've seen people
fall madly in love and marry like that. Then before very long the love
turns to hate and it's a case for the Divorce Court.'
'Nothing of that is--love--not as I--and you--understand it.'
She gave him one of her inscrutable looks and then turned again to the
stars. There was silence; Colin thought she must hear his heart
thumping, but she seemed lost in her dreams. He put out his big hand
and timidly, reverently, took hers, crushed verbena and all, as it lay
on the balustrade. It rested like a prisoned bird within his; he could
feel the nervous twitch of the little fingers.
'There's another system of marriage--a better one, I think--where the
man doesn't ask for anything but the right to love until--until he has
compelled the woman's love in return.'
'Compelled! I like that word. I could yield to my master. But he would
have to prove himself my master.'
'Will you let me try?' McKeith said boldly. He grasped her hand tightly
as he spoke; she gave a little cry, for he had hurt her. He was all
compunction and gentleness in a moment.
'Oh, you are strong!' she said. 'I almost think you could make me do
anything you chose.'
'No--that isn't what I meant.' He seemed trying to steady himself.
'I'm damned if I'd ever give up my free-will to anybody, and I wouldn't
like even the woman who was my mate to do it either. But love--that's
a different thing. . . . '
'Your mate!' she repeated.
'You don't know the Bush idea of a real mate--shoulder to shoulder,
back to back--no getting behind one or the other--giving up your life
for your mate, if it came to a pinch.'
'And that's your idea of--love?'
'Something like it, only closer, dearer--a thing you couldn't talk
about even to your mate--unless your mate was your wife--a flower
that blooms once in your life, and that would never--if it were cut
off--come to bloom again. Look here,' he said fiercely, 'have you ever
felt for any one of the lot of men you spoke about just like that?'
'N--no,' she answered slowly.
'If you told me you had, I'd walk away now down those steps--' he
pointed to the flight of stone steps leading from the terrace to the
drive--'and you wouldn't see me any more. . . . But I'm not going to
leave you now, I mean to stick on for all I'm worth, so long as I see
the faintest chance of your giving me what I've set my heart on.'
'Yes--well?' She stared at him in a fascinated manner.
'Well--Bridget--I can't milady you. We're man and woman and nothing
else to-night. . . . '
She interrupted. 'I like you to say that. I feel now that WE, at least,
are real--not social shams.'
'Bridget--you said you'd never found yet a Real Man to love you.
Here's one.' He patted his broad chest with his open palm. 'I'm a rough
Bushy and there's not a frill about me, but I'm bed-rock if you come to
Reality. I'm a lode you've never struck in your life before. There's
payable gold here, if you choose to work me,'
She laughed nervously, considering him.
'Mr McKeith, I'm sure that you're a perfect Mount Morgan, and you
certainly have a most original way of putting things. Do you happen to
own a gold mine, by the way?'
He drew in his breath slowly, as if he were considering the check, then
he took her cue.
'Oh, well! I have pegged out a good many claims in my time and never
got much more than my tucker out of any of them--though there was a
show I came on once up the Gulf way that I've always been a bit sorry I
didn't stop and look into. But rations were short and the Blacks
bad. . . . However, that's neither here nor there, now. Gold mine or not,
I'm positive that I shall be a rich man before many years have passed--all
the richer for a true mate to stand by me.'
'Yes, of course,' she said hastily--'I wasn't thinking of that--
whether you were rich or not, I mean.'
'I know you weren't. All the same, I suppose your grand relations would
consider me a presumptuous boor for daring to lift my eyes to you. And
yet, if I could make you love me, it wouldn't count for a blade of
grass that your father was born in a castle and mine in a crofter's
cabin. . . . Only--you know too--' he became timid and hesitant again
--'you know it isn't that I don't feel you as far above me, almost, as
those stars in the sky. . . . '
'Oh don't, don't, Mr McKeith. It isn't true, you know. I've told you
how I despise all that--all the life I've led.'
'Yes, I know. There's not such a difference between us when we stand as
we are now, right on the bed rock. You're like me in having a strain of
working-folk's blood in you. It's Nature you're hankering after--God's
sweet air and the breath of the gum trees and freedom for your soul.'
'Freedom for my soul! How strange that you should understand.'
'I understand better than you might think. You want more than freedom
to make you content. You want a kind of bondage that is the truest
freedom--Love--a strong man's love, a strong man's worship. And
that's what I'd give you, Bridget. Are you angry with me for saying
'No.' She turned her face straight to him without any shadow of
embarrassment. 'Mr McKeith, I'm too honest to pretend that I didn't
half expect this. I felt you were beginning to care for me, and I was
wondering whether I ought to let you go on.'
'Whether you ought to let me! As if you would be able to hinder it!
Why, you couldn't stop me loving you. You might as well try to dam up
the river Leichardt with this little hand I'm holding.'
She would have withdrawal it, but could not.
'No, no. It isn't strong enough--this tiny, trembling hand, which I
could break to bits in mine if I wanted to. And could you prevent me
from taking you in my arms--you wee great lady--and carrying you
right away--away, out into the Bush where I'm on my own ground and
where not one of your swell men folk would have a chance to find you.'
'I don't think any one of them would want to.' she laughed again
tremulously. 'If it comes to that though, I fancy you'd have some
trouble in disposing of me against my will.'
'Do you think I'd ever want you against your will! No. I'd sooner cut
the whole show, and let you scorn me at a distance as much as you
'I--scorn you! . . . I wouldn't scorn you.'
'And even your scorn wouldn't kill my love,' he said, in that moved
voice that was so unlike his ordinary utterance--'because there's
nothing in the Universe, so far as I know it, that would be able to do
that. Why, it seems to me that my feeling for you is as much a part of
myself as the very blood in my heart. I knew you were the only woman in
the world for me the moment I saw you--so slim and small and strange,
the very contrary of what I'd always thought would be the kind of woman
I'd be in love with--that day when you came walking along that gangway
behind Lady Tallant. It was just a revelation, and then I bolted
straight off to Alexandra City.'
'Which seems rather odd, doesn't it, in the circumstances?'
'No, it's this way. I had to take a few days for getting over the shock
--for rubbing in the fact that what I wanted more than anything on
God's earth, now I'd seen it, was utterly beyond my reach.'
'One might think I was an enchanted princess--a sort of Brunhilda
guarded by a fiery dragon.'
'That's a good bit of how I looked on you--though I've never made much
out of Wagner--he isn't human enough for me. . . . And how could I
have dreamed then that you'd ever let me come as near you as I am this
'I must say, Mr McKeith, you haven't shown such extreme diffidence in
'Ah! Because you soon showed that Brunhilda's dragon was only
pasteboard and blue fire after all--one of the shams you despise. I'm
not afraid of him now. . . . Oh, it's wonderful. . . . It's
beautiful. . . . '
He took her other hand and held the two covered over by his own as he
said with an odd solemnity:
'Lady Bridget O'Hara will you come away with me to the Bush, leaving
everything else behind you?'
She stood very slender and erect, her eyes shining in the moonlight out
of her small pale face and fixed upon him thoughtfully as if she were
weighing his proposition. After a few minutes, she answered
'Yes, Mr Colin McKeith, I will go away with you into the Bush, leaving
everything else behind me--the old "Lady Bridget O'Hara" included.'
He gave an indescribable ejaculation--joy, surprise, triumph--all
were in the utterance. Dropping her hands, he stooped to her and his
arm went round her.
'Oh! Biddy . . . darling.'
She knew he wanted to kiss her, and that he scarcely dared so
greatly. . . . As his beard brushed her cheek, she shrank and moved a step
from him. He, too, shrank, hurt by her rebuff.
'You mustn't be--ardent,' she said. 'You must give me time to get
accustomed to--the fate I've chosen. You know the dragon isn't
altogether a sham. He's got a few kicks in him--yet.'
On other occasions also Lady Bridget made McKeith feel that she
preferred good fellowship to love-making. She was perfectly charming,
always excellent company, and she had a sense of humour which delighted
him, but she did not encourage effusiveness. She seemed to want to hear
about the Bush a great deal more than she wanted to hear about his
feelings towards herself, and appeared anxious to show him that she
meant to be a thorough-going 'mate.' The phrase had taken her fancy.
There was not much opportunity however, for exchanging sentimental
confidences. Everything was rush and hurry during the few weeks between
the engagement and the marriage. It was plain that Lady Tallant wished
to get the wedding over before she and the Governor started upon a tour
of the important stations in the settled districts round Leichardt's
Town, officially contemplated. Bridget had a shrewd suspicion, which
she confided to Colin, that Lady Tallant was getting tired of her.
Perhaps Bridget did not keep herself sufficiently in the background to
please the lady of Government House. Her unpunctuality too often
annoyed Sir Luke.
Another reason for not delaying the marriage was that the Leichardt's
Land government was expected to go out of office on a Labour Bill, and
that an appeal to the country would certainly follow its defeat. In
that case McKeith's re-election would have to be considered, and an
electioneering honeymoon in one of the out-back districts was an
inspiring prospect to Lady Bridget. Then the preparation of a Bush
trousseau needed thought and discussion. She had not much money,
either, to buy her trousseau with. Bridget would have none of Sir
Luke's suggestions of conciliatory letters and cablegrams to Eliza Lady
Gaverick on the subject of settlements. She said she did not intend to
cadge any longer upon her rich relative, and that she preferred to
marry without settlements. Sir Luke was not satisfied with McKeith's
views upon the financial question, and had some difficulty in getting
him to tie up even the insignificant sum of three thousand pounds in
settlement upon his wife. Colin pointed out that his capital was all
invested in cattle, and that though things would be all right as long
as there were good seasons, a bad one would cripple him, and he would
need money to recoup his losses and buy fresh stock. Bridget took his
view and Sir Luke frowned, but did what he considered his duty so far
as the paltry settlement went. At all events, it was a satisfaction to
Colin McKeith's shrewd Scotch mind that nobody insisted upon getting
the better of him in the matter. He knew that Bridget never gave it a
second thought. She was much more interested in the social and racial
problems of this new country of her adoption, and especially in the
blacks. What time she could spare from her trousseau she spent in
reading books about them, which some of her official friends got her
from the Parliamentary Library, and had already learned to think of
herself as a 'bujeri* White Mary,' whose mission it might be to
compose the racial feud between blackman and white.
[*Bujeri--Black's term of commendation.]
To Colin, knowing now the tragedy of his youth, she did not speak much
on this subject. The time went with startling rapidity. The two were
borne on the tide of Colin's wild elation and Bridget's more impersonal
enthusiasms. They were like travellers steaming through strange seas,
not knowing what they were going to find at the end of the voyage and
too excited to care.
That was the way of Bridget O'Hara, but it was not the way of Colin
Yet his closest intimates would scarcely have known him at this period.
He was as a man bewitched, with intervals only of his ordinary
commonsense. In these intervals the consciousness of glamour made him
Had Joan Gildea been there she would have seen all this and would have
observed signs of over-strain in Bridget--something faintly
apprehensive yet obstinately determined. And Joan would have understood
that when an O'Hara woman gets the bit between her teeth, she will not
stop to look back or to consider whither she is galloping. Bridget kept
herself continually on the go. Latterly, even Colin was warned by her
nervous restlessness. When they were alone together, which was not
long, nor often, her body seemed never still, her tongue rarely at
rest. Sometimes her talk was brilliantly allusive; at others it was
frothy chatter. One day it really irritated him. She had been
fluttering about the sitting-room opening on to the terrace, which Lady
Tallant had made over to her guest. An English mail had come in. She
read him bits of a letter from Molly Gaverick and made explanatory,
satiric comments upon those impecunious, aristocratic relatives who
were on the fringe of the London smart set of which Bridget herself had
lately formed a yet more outside part.
'Chris Gaverick has gone into the wine business, and they've taken a
tiny house in Davies Street, Berkeley Square, and the Eaton Place house
pays its rent . . . You don't understand? . . . No. . . . Molly and I
talked it out when they were married. Of course, it seemed madness,
with their means to take a house in Eaton Place. They ought to have had
one in Bayswater. But it has answered splendidly. You see, they put
their wedding presents into it and let it for the season, and managed
to live rent free and have the use of other people's motors and all the
going about they wanted without paying even for their food . . . and no
expense of entertaining, outside a dinner or two at Hurlingham. . . .
Cadging!. . . In London Society everybody cadges except the
millionaires--and they're cadged upon. . . You see, as Molly said, you
can't entertain in Bayswater, or know the right people, and go about to
the right houses, which is the most important thing for a poor couple
who want to keep their heads up. Now the result is that Chris is able
to bring in quantities of clients and gets a commission on all the wine
he sells. . . . What's the matter, Colin? You look quite fierce.'
'And that,' commented McKeith, 'is an English belted Earl!'
'Irish--there's a difference. And are they belted--really? Isn't it a
figure of speech?'
'I don't know, and I don't care.'
'But wouldn't you care to hear Molly's account of their visit to the
Duke and Duchess of Brockenhurst to meet the King and Queen of
Hartenburg? Molly is very sorry I wasn't there. She says that it would
have made everything so much nicer for her and Chris, and that the King
might have ordered some wine from his firm.'
She was teasing. He knew it, and it infuriated him.
'Oh, no doubt you're sorry too that you weren't there with the Duke and
Duchess, and the King and Queen, and your cousins, the Earl and
Countess,' he flung at her.
'They'll be your cousins too--by marriage. And if you ever become a
very rich man and take me back to England, you'll have to "Chris and
Molly" them and to give him a big order for wine. . . . '
That mollified McKeith.
'And if I wasn't a rich man, and didn't give a big order, they wouldn't
care a twopenny damn for me.'
'Molly mightn't--unless by chance you were taken up in high quarters
and made the fashion--like Cecil Rhodes and "Doctor Jim," or some new
edition of Buffalo Bill. Then she'd call you "one of nature's uncrowned
kings." But Chris Gaverick isn't a bad sort, if his wife would let him
be natural. . . . They hadn't got my cablegram about you, Colin, when
this was written,' she went on. 'I wish I could have told the Queen
myself. I'm sure she would have been sympathetic. And now I don't
suppose I shall ever meet her again.'
He rejoined with clumsy sarcasm.
'I see. The Queen of Hartenburg was an intimate friend of yours--the
sort of chum who'd have been likely to drop in any day for a yarn and a
cup of tea!'
'She often did when she hunted with our hounds in Ireland, and it IS
true that the Queen of Hartenburg was quite an intimate friend of mine
--for two winters, anyhow. But I assure you, it hasn't made me proud,
and if the Queen of Hartenburg bores you, let us talk of something
She gave another glance at the last sheet of Lady Gaverick's letter and
thrust it into a pigeon-hole of the writing-table, then came back to
the long settee on which he sat. All the time, his gaze had never left
her. She saw that he was disturbed.
'What is the matter?' she asked again, and sat down, a little way from
him, on the settee. He turned sideways to her, bending forward, one
large hand twisting his fair beard. There was a hungry look in his
eyes, but his passing ill-humour had melted into a deep, adoring
'Biddy--my mate--will you answer me a question--truthfully?'
'I believe I can say honestly, that truth is one of my strong points,'
she parried lightly.
'I want you to be serious. I mean it seriously. I want you to tell me
what determined you on marrying a rough chap like me? That letter--
thinking of you among those grandees, you talking a language that's
worse than Greek to me, brings the wonder of it home. As I look at you,
the thing seems just incredible.'
'I can't understand why it should seem so surprising.'
'WHY! You know what I mean. It's not only that your birth and bringing
up are so superior to mine, and that you had a right to look for a
husband in a very different sort of position--I can see plainly that
is what Sir Luke thinks. . . . '
'I don't care--a twopenny d-a-m-n--as you said--for what Sir Luke
thinks. I've got my own ideas as to the kind of husband most likely to
'There's the marvel of it. For you must have had dozens of men wanting
you. You are so beautiful.'
'Oh, Colin, I've told you what I feel about the English marriage
system. And, PAR PARENTHESE, I'm not beautiful. I don't come up in the
least to the artist's standard. My measurements are wrong. I'm too
'That's rot. There's a fascination about you no man can resist--or
woman either. I see it in the people who come here.'
'If I happen to have drawn them into what Rosamond used to call my
mysterious sphere of influence--which I seem to do without knowing it.
I'm not sure, though, that either Rosamond or Luke approve of my
drawing the Leichardt's Town people into my mysterious sphere of
'I think, if you ask me, that Lady Tallant is a bit of a cat, and Sir
Luke more than a bit of a prig.'
'No. You mustn't say a word against them.' It was not in Bridget to be
disloyal. 'They've given me the time of my life.'
'When you smile like that, you remind me of a photograph of a picture
I've seen--a woman, I don't remember her name.'
'Mona Lisa--La Gioconda. I know--I've been told that before.'
'Yes, that's it. Mona Lisa. People have written about her.'
'Reams. Some day I'll read you what Pater says of her, unless you've
read him already--by your camp fire.'
For he had talked to her, as he had talked to Joan Gildea, about his
readings and his dreamings under the stars in the Bush.
'Eh! you shall teach me about these new writing chaps. I don't
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