One Grand Passion
I had not the opportunity of any more private interviews with Everard Grey till one morning near his departure, when we happened to be alone on the veranda.
"Well, Miss Sybylla," he began, "when I arrived I thought you and I would have been great friends; but we have not progressed at all. How do you account for that?"
As he spoke he laid his slender shapely hand kindly upon my head. He was very handsome and winning, and moved in literary, musical, and artistic society--a man from my world, a world away.
Oh, what pleasure I might have derived from companionship with him! I bit my lip to keep back the tears. Why did not social arrangements allow a man and a maid to be chums--chums as two men or two maids may be to each other, enjoying each other without thought beyond pure platonic friendship? But no; it could not be. I understood the conceit of men. Should I be very affable, I feared Everard Grey would imagine he had made a conquest of me. On the other hand, were I glum he would think the same, and that I was trying to hide my feelings behind a mask of brusquerie. I therefore steered in a bee-line between the two manners, and remarked with the greatest of indifference:
"I was not aware that you expected us to be such cronies--in fact, I have never given the matter a thought."
He turned away in a piqued style. Such a beau of beaux, no doubt he was annoyed that an insignificant little country bumpkin should not be flattered by his patronage, or probably he thought me rude or ill-humoured.
Two mornings later uncle Jay-Jay took him to Gool-Gool EN ROUTE for Sydney. When departing he bade me a kindly good-bye, made me promise to write to him, and announced his intention of obtaining the opinion of some good masters re my dramatic talent and voice, when I came to Sydney as promised by my grandmother. I stood on the garden fence waving my handkerchief until the buggy passed out of sight among the messmate-trees about half a mile from the house.
"Well I hope, as that dandified ape has gone--and good riddance to him--that you will pay more heed to my attentions now," said Mr Hawden's voice, as I was in the act of descending from the fence.
"What do you mean by your attentions?" I demanded.
"What do I mean! That is something like coming to business. I'll soon explain. You know what my intentions are very well. When I am XX-four, I will come into my property in England. It is considerable, and at the end of that time I want to marry you and take you home. By Jove! I would just like to take you home. You'd surprise some English girls I know."
"There would be more than one person surprised if I married you," I thought to myself, and laughed till I ached with the motion.
"You infernal little vixen! What are you laughing at? You've got no more sense than a bat if such a solemn thing only provokes your mirth."
"Solemn--why, it's a screaming farce!" I laughed more and more.
"What's a farce?" he demanded fiercely.
"The bare idea of you proposing to me."
"Why? Have I not as much right to propose as any other man?"
"Man!" I laughed. "That's where the absurdity arises. My child, if you were a man, certainly you could propose, but do you think I'd look at a boy, a child! If ever I perpetrate matrimony the participant in my degradation will be a fully developed man--not a hobbledehoy who falls in love, as he terms it, on an average about twice a week. Love! Ho!"
I moved in the direction of the house. He barred my path.
"You are not going to escape me like that, my fine lady. I will make you listen to me this time or you will hear more about it," and he seized me angrily by the wrist.
I cannot bear the touch of any one--it is one of my idiosyncrasies. With my disengaged hand I struck him a vigorous blow on the nose, and wrenching myself free sprang away, saying, "How dare you lay a finger on me! If you attempt such a thing again I'll make short work of you. Mark my words, or you'll get something more than a bleeding nose next time, I promise you."
"You'll hear more of this! You'll hear more of this! You fierce, wild, touch-me-not thing," he roared.
"Yes; my motto with men is touch-me-not, and it is your own fault if I'm fierce. If children attempt to act the role of a man with adult tools, they are sure to cut themselves. Hold hard a bit, honey, till your whiskers grow," I retorted as I departed, taking flying leaps over the blossom-burdened flower-beds.
At tea that night, after gazing interestedly at Mr Hawden's nose for some time, uncle Julius inquired, "in the name of all that's mysterious, what the devil have you been doing to your nose? You look as though you had been on the spree."
I was quaking lest he would get me into a fine scrape, but he only muttered, "By Jove!" with great energy, and glowered menacingly across the table at me.
After tea he requested an interview with grannie, which aroused my curiosity greatly. I was destined to hear all about it next morning. When breakfast was over grannie called me into her room and interviewed me about Mr Hawden's interview. She began without any preliminaries:
"Mr Hawden has complained of your conduct. It grieves me that any young man should have to speak to me of the behaviour of my own grand-daughter. He says you have been flirting with him. Sybylla, I scarcely thought you would be so immodest and unwomanly."
On hearing this my thoughts of Frank Hawden were the reverse of flattering. He had persecuted me beyond measure, yet I had not deigned to complain of him to either uncle, grannie, or auntie, as I might reasonably have done, and have obtained immediate redress. He had been the one to blame in the case, yet for the rebuffs he had brought upon himself, went tattling to my grandmother.
Is that all you have to say, grannie?"
"No. He wants to marry you, and has asked my consent. I told him it all rested with yourself and parents. What do you say?"
"Say," I exclaimed, "grannie, you are only joking, are you not?"
"No, my child, this is not a matter to joke about."
"Marry that creature! A boy!" I uttered in consternation.
"He is no boy. He has attained his majority some months. He is as old as your grandfather was when we married. In three years you will be almost XX, and by that time he will be in possession of his property which is very good--in fact, he will be quite rich. If you care for him there is nothing against him as I can see. He is healthy, has a good character, and comes of a high family. Being a bit wild won't matter. Very often, after they sow their wild oats, some of those scampy young fellows settle down and marry a nice young girl and turn out very good husbands."
"It is disgusting, and you ought to be downright ashamed of yourself, grannie! A man can live a life of bestiality and then be considered a fit husband for the youngest and purest girl! It is shameful! Frank Hawden is not wild, he hasn't got enough in him to be so. I hate him. No, he hasn't enough in him to hate. I loathe and despise him. I would not marry him or any one like him though he were King of England. The idea of marriage even with the best man in the world seems to me a lowering thing," I raged; "but with him it would be pollution--the lowest degradation that could be heaped upon me! I will never come down to marry any one--" here I fell a victim to a flood of excited tears.
I felt there was no good in the world, especially in men--the hateful creatures!--and never would be while it was not expected of them, even by rigidly pure, true Christians such as my grandmother. Grannie, dear old grannie, thought I should marry any man who, from a financial point of view, was a good match for me. That is where the sting came in. No, I would never marry. I would procure some occupation in which I could tread my life out, independent of the degradation of marriage.
"Dear me, child," said grannie, concernedly, "there is no need to distress yourself so. I remember you were always fearfully passionate. When I had you with me as a tiny toddler, you would fret a whole day about a thing an ordinary child would forget inside an hour. I will tell Hawden to go about his business. I would not want you to consider marriage for an instant with anyone distasteful to you. But tell me truly, have you ever flirted with him? I will take your word, for I thank God you have never yet told me a falsehood!"
"Grannie," I exclaimed emphatically, "I have discouraged him all I could. I would scorn to flirt with any man."
"Well, well, that is all I want to hear about it. Wash your eyes, and we will get our horses and go over to see Mrs Hickey and her baby, and take her something good to eat."
I did not encounter Frank Hawden again till the afternoon, when he leered at me in a very triumphant manner. I stiffened myself and drew out of his way as though he had been some vile animal. At this treatment he whined, so I agreed to talk the matter over with him and have done with it once and for all.
He was on his way to water some dogs, so I accompanied him out to the stables near the kennels, to be out of hearing of the household.
I opened fire without any beating about the bush.
"I ask you, Mr Hawden, if you have any sense of manliness, from this hour to cease persecuting me with your idiotic professions of love. I have two sentiments regarding it, and in either you disgust me. Sometimes I don't believe there is such a thing as love at all--that is, love between men and women. While in this frame of mind I would not listen to professions of love from an angel. Other times I believe in love, and look upon it as a sacred and solemn thing. When in that humour, it seems to me a desecration to hear you twaddling about the holy theme, for you are only a boy, and don't know how to feel. I would not have spoken thus harshly to you, but by your unmanly conduct you have brought it upon yourself. I have told you straight all that I will ever deign to tell you on the subject, and take much pleasure in wishing you good afternoon."
I walked away quickly, heedless of his expostulations.
My appeal to his manliness had no effect. Did I go for a ride, or a walk in the afternoon to enjoy the glory of the sunset, or a stroll to drink in the pleasures of the old garden, there would I find Frank Hawden by my side, yah, yah, yahing about the way I treated him, until I wished him at the bottom of the Red Sea.
However, in those glorious spring days the sense of life was too pleasant to he much clouded by the trifling annoyance Frank Hawden occasioned me. The graceful wild clematis festooned the shrubbery along the creeks with great wreaths of magnificent white bloom, which loaded every breeze with perfume; the pretty bright green senna shrubs along the river-banks were decked in blossoms which rivalled the deep blue of the sky in brilliance; the magpies built their nests in the tall gum-trees, and savagely attacked unwary travellers who ventured too near their domain; the horses were rolling fat, and invited one to get on their satin backs and have a gallop; the cry of the leather-heads was heard in the orchard as the cherry season approached. Oh, it was good to be alive!
At Caddagat I was as much out of the full flood of life for which I craved as at Possum Gully, but here there were sufficient pleasant little ripples on the stream of existence to act as a stop-gap for the present.