"She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of earthly years."
"No motion has she now—no force;
She neither hears nor sees;
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course,
With rocks and stones and trees."
They went home again, the six of them, and Esther, who, all her days, "would go the softlier, sadlier" because of the price that had been paid for the life of her little sweet son. The very air of Yarrahappini seemed to crush them and hang heavy on their souls.
So when the Captain, who had hurried up to see the last of his poor little girl, asked if they would like to go home, they all said "Yes."
There was a green space of ground on a hill-top behind the cottage, and a clump of wattle trees, dark-green now, but gold-crowned and gracious in the spring.
This is where they left little Judy. All around it Mr. Hassal had white tall palings put; the short grave was in the shady corner of it.
The place looked like a tiny churchyard in a children's country where there had only been one death.
Or a green fair field, with one little garden bed.
Meg was glad the little mound looked to the east; the suns died behind it—the orange and yellow and purple suns she could not bear to watch ever again while she lived.
But away in the east they rose tenderly always, and the light crept up across the sky to the hill-top in delicate pinks and trembling blues and brightening greys, but never fiery, yellow streaks, that made the eyes ache with hot tears.
There was a moon making it white and beautiful when they said good-bye to it on the last day.
They plucked a blade or two of grass each from the fresh turfs, and turned away. Nobody cried; the white stillness of the far moon, the pale, hanging stars, the faint wind stirring the wattles; held back their tears till they had closed the little gate behind them and left her alone on the quiet hill-top. Then they went-back to Misrule, each to pickup the thread of life and go on with the weaving that, thank God, must be done, or hearts would break every day.
Meg had grown older; she would never be quite so young again as she had been before that red sunset sank into her soul.
There was a deeper light in her eyes; such tears as she had wept clear the sight till life becomes a thing more distinct and far-reaching.
Nellie and she went to church the first Sunday after their return. Aldith was a few pews away, light-souled as ever, dressed in gay attire, flashing smiling, coquettish glances across to the Courtneys' pew, and the Grahams sitting just behind.
How far away Meg had grown from her! It seemed years since she had been engrossed with the latest mode in hat trimming, the dip of "umbrella" skirts, and the best method of making the hands white. Years since she had tried a trembling 'prentice hand at flirtations. Years, almost, since she had given the little blue ribbon at Yarrahappini, that was doing more good than she dreamed of.
Alan looked at her from his pew—the little figure in its sorrowful black, the shining hair hanging in a plait no longer frizzed at the end, the chastened droop of the young lips, the wistful sadness of the blue eyes. He could hardly realize it was the little scatterbrain girl who had written that letter, and stolen away through the darkness to meet his graceless young brother.
He clasped her hand when church was over; his grey eyes, with the quick moisture in them, made up for the clumsy stumbling words of sympathy he tried to speak.
"Let us be friends always, Miss Meg," he said, as they parted at the Misrule gate.
"Yes, let us," said Meg.
And the firm, frank friendship became a beautiful thing in both their lives, strengthening Meg and making the boy gentler.
Pip became his laughing, high-spirited self again, as even the most loving boy will, thanks to the merciful making of young hearts; but he used to get sudden fits of depression at times, and disappear all at once, in the midst of a game of cricket or football, or from the table when the noise was at its highest.
Bunty presented to the world just as grimy a face as of old, and hands even more grubby, for he had taken a mechanical turn of late, and spent his spare moments in manufacturing printing machines—so called—and fearful and wonderful engines, out of an old stove and some pots and rusty frying-pans rescued from the rubbish heap.
But he did not tell quite so many stories in these days; that deep sunset had stolen even into his young heart, and whenever he felt inclined to say "I never, 'twasn't me, 'twasn't my fault," a tangle of dark curls rose before him, just as they had lain that night when he had not dared to move his eyes away from them.
Baby's legs engrossed her very much at present, for she had just been promoted from socks to stockings, and all who remember the occasion in their own lives will realize the importance of it to her.
Nell seemed to grow prettier every day. Pip had his hands full with trying to keep her from growing conceited; if brotherly rubs and snubs availed anything, she ought to have been as lowly minded as if she had had red hair and a nose of heavenward bent.
Esther said she wished she could buy a few extra years, a stern brow, and dignity in large quantities from some place or other—there might be some chance, then, of Misrule resuming its baptismal and unexciting name of The River House.
But, oddly enough, no one echoed the wish.
The Captain never smoked at the end of the side veranda now: the ill-kept lawn made him see always a little figure in a pink frock and battered hat mowing the grass in a blaze of sunlight. Judy's death made his six living children dearer to his heart, though he showed his affection very little more.
The General grew chubbier and more adorable every day he lived. It is no exaggeration to say that they all worshipped him now in his little kingly babyhood, for the dear life had been twice given, and the second time it was Judy's gift, and priceless therefore.
My pen has been moving heavily, slowly, for these last two chapters; it refuses to run lightly, freely again just yet, so I will lay it aside, or I shall sadden you.
Some day, if you would care to hear it, I should like to tell you of my young Australians again, slipping a little space of years.
Until then, farewell and adieu.