by Frances Gill

An ambitious young Melbourne woman, eager to experience London’s cultural life and to find her wayward brother, puts duty above her own desires and moves to the country to care for her orphaned half-siblings.

Chapter I

“If life is well lived, what does it matter whether passed on a station in the Australian bush, or in the most brilliant circles of English society? You are lost to the world – there is all the bitterness of my sentence. But self-sacrifice, and willingness to do the work at hand, are amongst the lessons my books ought to have taught me. If I fail to do the duty that lies before me now, all my professions of courage and love of high deeds were so much vane talk, and I am a coward instead.“

The girl was walking restlessly up and down the room while she added the soliloquy. As she came to this conclusion, she paused at the open window, and stood looking out.

It was summer time, and evening – one of those evenings that come the day after heavy rain. The sweet, pure air came and touched her cheek. She looked up, and the blue sky overhead was so serene and far away; a few soft grey clouds were floating across it, making her think of doves, trying to find a resting place. Beyond the bay, the sun had gone down, and the unbroken waters had caught out all the glowing light. A few boats, with their broad curved sails, were lying idly there. A steamer was going out; she was half way across, leaving a grey line of smoke as she went along; and, far away on the horizon, a large ship was coming in, her sails, all spread, glorified in the evening light, and spiritualised by distance. A beautiful vision! Whose heart is not touched by the sight of these things?

Cora Wildhurst spoke again, in a slower and calmer tone.

“Surely none can grow utterly heartsick and weary in such a beautiful world as this? I think God has given me some strong thoughts; and wherever my lot is cast, if only the blue sky is above me, and the grass beneath my feet, I don’t think I can fail utterly.“

Beneath the window was the slanting verandah roof, where the swallows built; then the gravel space with the fountain, and the old sundial, upon which the sun used to blaze, and around which the shadows used to creep all through the long, summers day; beyond this, the long sloping grass-plot, where the yellow grass had been rakes up into mounds; the tall gum-trees that stood around seemed alive with birds, singing their evening chorus with threefold delight for the peace and freshness that came after the rain; and the leaves and fruits were so thick in the garden that the ground was hidden.

Cora turned from this sweet scene to the familiar room within – the everyday parlour into which none but the oldest friends were admitted, and where the company that came on grant occasions never intruded. The thick green carpet and curtains were a little faded, but the fresh white muslin relieved them. The bookcases were piled up with her favourite books, the pictures on the walls were precious. Her father had brought them out from England years and years ago; she had loved and studied them from childhood. A Kentish landscape, with the afternoon sunlight lingering upon the sloping grass-fields, and the sheep resting under the leafy oaks; a view of Venice under the moonlight, the strangeness of the old carved palaces, and the weirdness of the whole, made it especially fascinating. There were family portraits, some of them five or six generations old, that Mr Wildhurst always prized as the works, he said, of the old masters of English art. There were beautiful little statuettes, and always fresh flowers.

Mr Wildhurst had built this house fifteen years before, when he first began to be a prosperous merchant in Melbourne. He belonged to a good family, and had tried to make it like his ancestral home. The luxuriant orchard, the sunny garden, the gables and shady verandahs, were all reminders of other days.

Cora had lived here a great part of her life; she had past many happy days, and every year her love had grown stronger for its homelike scenes.

“It was hard to part from it altogether,” she was thinking, as she looked around; “to know that it must all pass away into the hands of strangers!“

Life had begun for her under brilliant auspices – the future was to have been the realisation of the pleasant dream. She was to have gone for a few years to England to see some of its treasures of art and learning, to linger for a while amongst its old associations, to see something of the continent, and then to come back to her Australian home. Then her dream was dispelled by herself at her father’s sudden death; and, with his death, all the wealth for which society had given them credit vanished also. This was at first an overwhelming disappointment. She had not actually to resign England, because her father’s sister lived there, and she was desirous for her to come; but she saw clearly to-night, as she stood looking lingeringly at these familiar objects, that her work lay at home. She knew she had talents, not of the order to make a name for herself in the world, but of the kind that succeeds to perfection in society – a brilliant musician, a fairly accomplished linguist, well up in all the questions and light literature of the day, intellectual tastes, highly educated, a graceful manner characterised by a sort of sweet suavity, youth, and good looks. And knowing this, ambition and love of life had made it a hard struggle to resign it all for a hard-working existence in the bush – a style of life in which these talents would be thrown away. Her own mother had died years before. Her eldest brother had taken easily to station life. He was cast in that unwearying, straightforward mould of character suited to the bush, and unfitted for a desk in a merchant’s office. Her youngest brother was at once her darling and her constant grief. He had genius of a certain, wild, unstable sort, and of so fitful and restless a nature, it was impossible he could ever take quietly to home life. There was a splendid sketch in watercolours – his work two or three years back – she had had framed and hung upon the wall – a piece of stormy water, a boat struggling amidst it, and the sun going down a mingling mass of brilliant crimson, and lurid cloud. She was looking at it, with the great tears gathering in her eyes, as they did when she wondered where he might be wandering at that moment.

“What could not that boy to,” she said, bitterly, “if he would only forsake his wild ways, and set to work in earnest? And what would his feelings be if ever he returned and found his old home deserted, and his sister – the one to whom he clung in all his misfortunes – gone? Poor boy!” she went on musingly, with all the unreasonableness of great love, making excuses for her favourite she would have been so slow to admit in other cases, “he never would have been so wild, if he had had kinder treatment; and if he could have led a life better suited to his nature; and was not was there, not something wrong in the arrangement of the world, that genius was for ever to be measured, and condemned by every commonplace rule, when so many allowances for this immortal gift ought to be made!”

This brother had always been a stumbling block between Mr Wildhurst and his daughter. Right or wrong, Cora had always taken his part, had helped him out of innumerable scrapes, had shared her own allowance with him, and hidden his faults. Her father and eldest brother were kind and good, but both were undemonstrative and matter-of-fact. They seemed to stand neither in want of pity nor love.

It was the first impulse of Cora’s large-hearted nature to pity and protect the one whom all others despised. And Henry, with all his faults, had such winning ways; he was so bright in his happy moments, so brilliant and witty in society; the only one who understood her aspirations and plans for the future. How many nights she had sat up watching for him when all the household was asleep! How often, when sick at heart he daren’t confess his debt to his father, he had laid his burning brow upon her shoulder, and told her all his sins and failures; and how she only needed to look into his sorrowful eyes, to listen to his pitiful cadences and loving words, to make her forgive him at once; and if helping him out of his grapes seemed an endless task – if all her money went the same way, if she offended her father for his sake – still, it might reclaim him!

About eighteen months before, Mr Wildhurst, finding that the dull routine of his office was only making him more reckless, had sent him home to Oxford, in the hope that ambition might induce him to make use of his talent. But either his old habits hung too heavily upon him, or the companionship of so many young fellows as wild as himself became a fresh incentive for pleasure, the only result of his father‘s plan was to make him, in twelve months, break every college rule, and end in expulsion. He had held chapels in contempt, he had despised lectures, and steadily set his face against books, and the authorities at defiance. Instead of allying himself with the reading set, or going in for honours, he had become distinguished only for late hours, fighting with bargemen, and for scattering his money with reckless profusion. He had spent treble the sum his father allotted him. Mr Wildhurst paid his debts and cast him off altogether. In vain Cora pleaded. Her faithful love saw deeper than her father’s strong sense and knowledge of the world. It was only the first burst of mad delight at finding himself free, the hot blood of youth rushing through his veins; and with a brain so sensitive, and an organisation so nervous as his, what could her father expect?

“I expected, of course, he would apply himself to study, and make an effort to behave, after all the patience I’ve had with him,” he replied, sternly and angrily.

“He’s only sowing his wild oats, as they call it. Don’t all boys with brains do the same?“ Cora pitifully pleaded.

“No,“ said Mr Wildhurst, curtly, “William did not.”

“William is not Henry, Papa. I said people with brains,“ Cora said, allowing herself to be unjust in her eager defence.

“No,” said Mr Wildhurst, indignantly. “It’s a good thing both for my purse and my patience that he is not. Cora, not another word. Understand me at once – that boy is dead to me. He has brought me to the verge of ruin with his infernal extravagance. If this is the only result of possessing genius, I would, rather the boy had been born a fool. Better an idiot than a madman. And the brother you so despise has suffered bitterly for him too. I have already written that all is at an end between us. I told him when he started it was the last chance I would give him. As he has chosen to make the worst possible use of it, he must abide by the consequences. My resolve once taken, you know, nothing, either in heaven or earth, shall induce me to alter it. If ever you mention his name to me again, I shall consider all at an end between us also. This is my final resolve.“

And he moved resolutely towards the library door.

“I shall only love him, the more deeply,“ Cora said, in her bitterness. “If his father forsakes him, it is time surely for his sister to look after him. The poor boy has no mother, and God alone knows whether the one who took her place may not have been the cause of all his wildness.“

There were great tears in her eyes, and her cheeks flushed with indignation.

“Do as you please about that, Cora. I’ve nothing more to say,” he said, now, in a different tone.

Ten years ago he had married again. Cora always wondered how this young lady, who had only the recommendation of a pretty face and a certain affected dainty manner, could ever fill the place of her own mother. As she grew up, she felt a sort of pitiful contempt for her, which only changed to indignation when Mrs Wildhurst committed some act of hostility against her favourite brother. The boy had always laughed at and despised her, and she hated him with a hatred as intense as so feeble a nature could feel for anything. She exaggerated his faults, made his home wretched by complaining constantly to his father. This was what Cora meant by her being the cause of his wickedness. But she was now dead also.

Six months before this altercation, she had succumbed to a low fever, the result of a cold caught at a fashionable party. Mr Wildhurst never seemed to get over her loss. Even though Cora saw her father more careworn and depressed, she could not forgive him. Loving her brother as she did, it seemed such absolute cruelty to cast one so young and so reckless upon the world. No answer came to her pleading letters. The weary months dragged till her father’s sudden death. He had been talking very hopefully of sending her to England, and the brilliant reception she would meet there. Cora had her head full of this new life, and of searching out her brother and reclaiming him, of the brilliant future for both of them, when her father was struck with a fit of apoplexy, from the effects of which he never recovered; his brain was overworked, so the doctor said. He died deeply in debt, and everything had to be sold. He left Cora and the two little children, Mary and Lewis – belonging to the second wife – quite unprovided for.

William, his eldest son, came down from his station, and did his best to set affairs in order. This was why Cora was thinking so earnestly this evening. Her brother, in his matter-of-fact way, had laid the case clearly before her, offering to make great sacrifices, taking no credit to himself, and seeming to think it only natural that he should do so.

“If you still like to go to England, Cora,“ he said, in his slow tone, asking kindly looking kindly at her with his honest brown eyes, “I will pay your passage home, and other necessary expenses. Then, of course, our aunt will do the rest. I believe she will be proud to do it, for she can’t see many girls like you either in England or out of it. I can’t do more than this, because, as you know, I’ve endeavoured to pay as many of my father’s debts as possible. I won’t say anything now about the other way my savings have had to go.” His brow grew darker at this. “I will put the children to school, and see they are well taken care of; and I have no doubt there will be some grand future for you in the world yet. If there is anything else in my power you would like, I will do it. I must go now; I’ve so much business to attend to. I’ll come at this time tomorrow, and you can tell me what you’ve resolved to do.”

He did not say one word about the station or himself, and this went to Cora’s heart more than anything else. He had given up all the money he had worked so hard for during the last five years. Mr Wildhurst had been forced to borrow a great portion of it to pay his youngest son’s college debts. This was what he meant when he spoke to Cora. Now, he proposed to sacrifice his future for the sake of his sister, and two children whom he scarcely knew. This was why she was pacing the room so restlessly, and thinking so long, in the dying evening light. But her resolve was taken. She would go up to the station, and take the children with her, and try and make his life as bright as possible.

The children came rushing, just then, into the room. Poor little things, they had clung to her very much since their mother’s death, and now they were more desperate than ever. She wouldn’t leave them; perhaps she might make something of them after all.

She could see the look of pleased surprise that came over her brother’s face when she told him what she meant to do. He tried to dissuade her, on account of the dreariness of the life; but Cora was immovable. Then he said he would try his hardest to make it pleasant for her. He thanked her gratefully; he was not used to so much consideration, and it touched him deeply.

Cora resolved not to think of herself at all, but to prepare for her new life in earnest.

Chapter II

There were only a few days before the sale, and yet things went on as usual. It seems strange that everything in the outside look of the world should be the same, and yet people move about with such changed hearts. Cora’s was heavy enough, spite of her brave resolutions, as she moved from room to room, gathering up some of her treasures. Her long black dress swept down corridors and passages (she was a tall girl, and looked very graceful in the morning), she lingered tenderly in old nooks and corners, she went pacing up and down the garden walks in the sunlight, looking through her tears at her favourite trees and flowers, as if she could never look enough. She leaned upon the old fountain and sun-dial, thinking how, only a week ago, she was strolling about here in her floating muslin dress, and how bright the world seemed, and the difference now! They were glorious these last few days, the sun pouring his warm rays down, gilding the old house and garden, the breeze lingering amongst the whispering trees, as if nature had determined to show her her old home in its fairest aspect before she left it forever. She wandered into the kitchen, and looked with new interest at the clean white tables and broad dresser. There were busy preparations going on as usual. Cook had some fowls dressed and laid on one side; she was hard at work now making pastry. She looked up for an instant to give a smile of welcome to Cora, dusting the rolling pin upon her white apron. There were heaps of fresh vegetables that the gardener had just brought in lying upon a chair. The fire was blazing in the range, and there were nets of onions and sides of bacon hanging from the ceiling. Altogether, it made one of those warm pictures of quiet life Cora was so fond of studying. The servants knew nothing of the proposed changes as yet, and she had the weary task of telling them.

But her head was so full of business that she had not much time to spend weeping over the proposed changes, and the children ran after her everywhere. She was a great deal in Melbourne at this time, and it revived her. Life glowed in Cora’s veins; she was so eager, and impulsive in the race, that nothing relating to work or progress could fail to rouse her. She never grew tired of the noise of trains and cars, or weary of looking at the great buildings, all the shop windows full of wears, the heaps of fruit, and cool awnings before the hotels, the yellow sunlight streaming down, and the bustle of the station. She was fitted for city life, both by taste and custom, and had a sort of half dread that she would not get used to the station.

Then the last day came, and her brother took them up to the country. She was spared the pain of seeing the well-known furniture sold, for her brother had arranged this should take place after their departure.

They started by the earliest train, at five o’clock in the morning. The children soon grew tired, but her brother took all care off Cora’s hands, she kept quite still watching the changing country. After they left the last station, there was a very long drive – now through scrub, now under giant gum and wattle trees. The country grew wilder and the air purer every mile they went. The steep mountain ranges stood up red and warm in the dying sunlight, and now and then there came a gleam of the far-off sea.

As the shadows of evening were closing in, they turned up at winding lane, that seemed as if it would never end. And the first look of Cora’s new home fixed it self upon her mind as a rambling house, with verandah and balcony, and a mass of foliage stretching away in front, which must be the garden.

One of the French windows stood wide open, and a supper table was laid within; a lamp was burning, but there was a sort of bare look about the whole. Her brother drove round to the kitchen door and lifted them out.

By one of the tables stood an old woman, who might have stepped out of an ancient Dutch picture; for she wore sick grey woollen stockings, and loose shoes, a short brown stuff petticoat, a red boddice, and white muslin folded across her chest. She spoke a language that was neither Irish, Scotch, nor English, but a mixture of all three, with the addition of a good deal of colonial slang. She had a great quantity of grey hair, that was parked under a high white cap. Her face was the colour of mahogany, and all wrinkled and puckered up. Her eyebrows met, and under them gleamed a pair of sharp brown eyes. They seemed to be always watching you out of the corners. The poor old woman most likely had seen a great many sides of life, and it had made her suspicious. She was making melted butter, stirring the butter round in the flour, without deigning to look up.

An old man was leaning over the fireplace. He had the lid of a saucepan in one hand, and his head was twisted over his shoulder, staring at the group. He looked as if he belonged to the old woman in some way. He was just as brown and as withered, but he had a sort of stupid, apathetic stare, instead of her cunning. He wore a red woollen nightcap, with a tassell, and a blue blouse.

They were introduced to Cora as old Jim and old Marget, and it struck her at once they might very easily be a great deal pleasanter, and yet not be too attractive.

“This is my sister, Marget,” William said, bringing Cora under her notice.

The old woman turned around and steadily surveyed her from head to foot, but a sort of grunt was the only result of her observation. She jerked her head over in William’s direction.

“Yere supper’s ready, and yer ten minutes behindhand; and if yer mutton’s spiled, the fault’s yer ain.”

“All right,“ he said; “I’ll hurry up,” trying to speak cheerfully, with a sort of half dread of what Cora might think of all this. “But can’t you do something for these children – get them washed, or –”

“’Deed, I can’t then,” she interrupted, with a harsh, croaking laugh. “If ye only brought them for old Marget Cairns to look to, ye’d best tak’ them away again.”

Cora’s cheeks flushed. She felt indignant against the hard old woman, but far more pity for her brother.

“I can manage, dear William, if you’ll show me their room.”

As they went along, she pressed his arm fondly.

“Poor brother, I didn’t know you’d all this to endure.”

He gave a little laugh.

“Oh, it’s nothing, Cora, dear. I’m used to the old character, and I lead an awfully jolly life here. It suits me and I suit iIt doesn’t take much to make me happy, you know. A good horse and plenty of wild cattle to gallop after. It’s you I think of; I don’t know how on earth you’ll stand it, after what you’ve been used to. I’ve got two young fellows stopping with me; you know this, don’t you? But they’re away down to the port tonight, at some spree going on there. They’re nice fellows – gentlemen, of course – and they’ll help to make you lively. What can I do for these children for you? Here, Lewis, old fellow, come to me. I’ll do your hair for you, and you’ll see what a first rate nurse I’ll make.”

And he snatched up the little boy, put him on his shoulder, and walked off with him before Cora had time to interfere.

“How good, he is!” she thought. “If I had hated this life ever so much, I’d enjoy it now for his sake.”

Cora went to sleep that night thoroughly weary, and with a sort of feeling that her old life had been all a dream, and that really that reality was only now beginning.

And she woke up with the strangest feelings that first morning on the station. Sunlight was pouring in, but it was all so unlike her old home. Large enough and airy enough, but with a certain bareness and want of grace. She was soon dressed, and leaning against the kitchen door looking out, with all the sensation of being in a new world – half wondering where the calm, well-known loveliness she had seen morning after morning, for so many years, had gone to: the warmth and harmony that used to reign there.

Every feature of the present scene was large, free, and rugged. The air was glorious; she was drinking in its fresh, invigorating power. The thick bush, like a great blue-green wall, seemed to be on all on one side, the open plains on the other. Beyond them, the stony ranges – they were miles and miles away – but, in the clear atmosphere, every ridge and cliff looked as if you could touch it. The magpies were singing their matins with rich liquid notes. She was startled by a great trampling of feet, smacking of whips, and noise of voices – the horses being run into the stockyard. There was something inspiriting about it, and her spirits rose. A boy was coming across the nearest yard with two great pails of frothing milk. The sleek cows were standing quiet under the sheds. A great barn stood nearby, its red walls rising up against the melting blue sky; a yellow haystack beside it. The poultry were making a great commotion amongst the scattered straw, and a peacock, displaying his splendid colours in the sun.

The old woman inside aroused her with a great clattering of plates and noise of frying.

Cora came up to her, speaking cheerfully.

“Why, you don’t mean to say, you’re going to have breakfast at this hour of the day, do you?”

“’Deed, then,” said the old woman, dusting a dish with what seemed, to Cora’s fastidious taste, anything but a clean apron, “I said nothin’; but them as doesn’t like to tak’ it now can go widout it.”

It was something new in Cora’s experience to be spoken to in this way by a servant, but she tried again.

“But, I suppose, your rules are not so strict here but you allow people to eat when they feel inclined, supposing they are not accustomed to your hours?”

“My rules is jist them,” said the old woman, folding her arms across, and staring in a very decided manner of Cora, with her little sharp, brown eyes,“I lays the meals reg’lar, and clears in up reg’lar, and if folks doesn’t want to come to ’em, not a bite or a sup do they get from old Marget – not the best lady in the land; and the hours is half past six, one, and seven.”

And with a concluding sniff, she turned off to dish up a great panful of chops for breakfast.

The old man was shuffling about the kitchen with a coffeepot in his hand. By way of comment on his wife’s decision, he grinned, and wagged his head, as if he had been acting in a pantomime.

William had loitered up to the door, and, of course, heard all that was going on. He had been so long tyrannised over by old Marget that it seem quite out of the order of things to take up arms against her; but he came to his sister’s rescue.

“My sister hasn’t been used to country ways, Marget. Come on, Cora, and I’ll introduce you to my two friends. You mustn’t mind her,” he went on, when they were out of hearing. “She’s a very good old woman –”

“My dear brother,“ Cora interrupted, with a glimpse of her old spirit, “I don’t doubt her goodness for an instant, because all the people who have been introduced to me as especially good, were always extremely disagreeable. In proportion to their goodness, so was there disagreeableness. Therefore, I’m sure your old woman stands at the head of the list.”

The sun came in and lighted up the great dining room. It looked more cheerful now than it did in the uncertain light of the lamp on the previous evening. Two young fellows were out on the veranda, leaning over the railing, laughing and talking together. They wore riding boots, loose grey shooting coats, and blue neckties. They were both English, and both had rather good looking, but not very expressive, countenances. They were tall, with well-developed muscles, looked as if they had been accustomed to train all their lives, and ought to have come under the head of muscular christians.

They were delighted at Cora’s arrival, for there was not a lady of any sort within seven miles all all round, and they fell in love with her immediately. They were much like her brother in disposition, not at all ambitious, and seem to think station life a sort of earthly paradise.

As each day passed, they proved how heartily they seconded all her brother’s efforts to make her life there as bright as possible. They exceeded the time allotted for breakfast, and were recalled to a sense of their impropriety by old Marget fiercely striding in with a large tray in her hand and frightening them away. All this was set down to Cora’s account, and it did not tend to make old Marget more gracious to her when she went about inspecting the premises.

Her brother had been here five years now, and he had made a great many improvements. The garden was flourishing, and the rooms were papered; but still it had a forsaken, comfortless aspect, and needed some guiding taste to make it homelike. There were no books about, beyond a few works on agriculture, the daily papers, and a sporting journal. She brought up a box of her own treasures, and prepared to adorn her room with them. Longfellow, Keats, Tennyson, Kingsley, and Thackeray. When these were placed upon her drawers, she began to feel more at home. Old Marget would not give her the least assistance; – she had to wait upon the children hand and foot, and find out everything for herself. One might as well have appeal to a stone for advice or suggestion. She closed her lips up tight, and held her head high in the air, whenever she saw Cora coming towards her. If she applied to old Jim for the loan of a hammer and tools, or even a duster, he looked more stupid than ever.

“Go ask the missus,” he’d say, looking over his shoulder in her direction, and sliding out of Cora’s way, as if afraid of old Marget becoming suspicious. “I dun know where nothing is kep’, and I does nothin’ without the missus’s orders.”

And if everyone in life is supposed to bear some burden, Cora began to see what particular shape hers was likely to take between these two unpleasant old people. But at this time, nothing could have disheartened her. Cora was one of those people who are born workers. Whatever fortune Fate had brought her, she was sure to fulfil the precept of “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might.” Hopefulness and strength were the chief foundations of her nature. She had immense faith in life. Those words of Emerson were forever ringing through her brain – “every day, the sun, and after sunset, night and her stars. Ever the winds blow, ever the grasses grow. Every day, men and women beholding, beholden, conversing. The scholar must needs stand, wistful and admiring, before this great spectacle.“ She would rather have resided in the gay world, but she had accepted this life, and now she would go through her every-day duty with a brave heart. She soon found a thousand ways of aiding her brother, and of checking some of the waste that went on under old Marget’s reign. They had many a battle-royal before she could be brought to see things in the same light as Cora did. The old woman fought fiercely. “She would be missus there or nothin’.” And she used to tell Jim, that “she would show this stuck up fule, whether she was a match for old Marget Cairns.” But she had to give in, as everyone else did, to Cora; who had to do everything for the two children – teach them, and sew for them; but William resolved she should not do more household work than he could help. So one day he came in, half an hour before the usual dinner hour, to tell her of a girl he had discovered just beyond the confines of his own station that would suit her exactly. She must get on her riding habit in the afternoon, and he would take her down. It wasn’t much he could do for her, he said, laying his hand lovingly on her shoulder, but, at least, she should not be a servant to those children. He couldn’t make any more improvements now, as she knew. He must work hard, and recover lost ground. He thought it a confounded shame, the way his money had gone, but stil, it was no good crying over spilt milk; and though he said this with a hard, angry voice, and with a scowl upon his face, she remembered for whose sake the sacrifice had been made.

Why could she not love him as she did Henry? she asked herself, as she stood there watching him; he was so good and unselfish; he treated her like some superior being, and thought no sacrifice too great; and yet, she had not half the feeling for him she had for the reckless boy whose likeness she had been gazing at so wistfully before William came in. She had taken it herself in water-colours, and had drawn every line and curve to perfection. William was standing here, large and muscular, with his shirt sleeves turned up from his brown arms, with sunburnt, honest, face, and kind eyes; Henry was there, dressed with all his old grace, the light falling upon his face, and bright brown hair, the large, dreamy-looking eyes, from which one could never suppose a thought of iIl, and the sweet lines about the mouth. But there was too much softness in the face; this was the fault of his whole character – he yielded too easily. But how he used to come back always to her in his troubles; what strange, quaint things he used to say; what brilliant flashes of mirth and wit, and then what moods of utter despair! While she was mechanically answering William, she was thinking, with a sort of weary pain at her heart, of all these things.

The girl proved quite suited to her new post. Cora discovered the sick mother and her two daughters in a place that was a little better than a hut; but everything was beautifully clean and in the most perfect order, and there was a sort of Sabbath-day air about the place that Cora could not account, for the husband had been drowned in one of the winter floods, and they were suffering extremest poverty, with just enough food to eat, and without neighbours to appeal to in this desperate spot. The poor woman was very ill, but she was sitting propped up on her stretcher, sewing some coarse garment, without a word of complaint. A bible and hymn book were on the pillow beside her; this seemed to explain all their resignation. The eldest daughter was very willing to come: “It would be a great help to mother, and she could come and see her sometimes.” Jane Ingram was an eminently religious girl, without a shadow of pretense, but it was the first time Cora had seen religion in this form. It struck her with a feeling of pity more than anything else. It seem to subdue and shade the girl’s whole nature. She went about the house in the same resigned manner. She bore all old Marget’s ill-temper and the children’s presence without a word of complaint. Cora was sorry for her; she was a young girl, and a girl that anyone would like. She would say, “I wonder you bear all trials so patiently, Jane. Why don’t you get indignant?”

“Because, dear Miss Cora,” she would answer sweetly, “we are told to bear our crosses patiently, and when I think of Jesus, and all he suffered, it seems very easy.”

She became deeply attached to Cora; there was no trouble or danger she would not have encountered for her sake. Whenever she saw her sitting sadly alone, she would steal up and ask if she should bring her bible and hymn-book and read to her. It was the only consolation the poor girl knew of for every trial this world contained. Whenever Cora passed her over her work, she heard her singing her favourite hymns in a low voice – “Jerusalem, my happy home, Name ever dear to me,” Or else, “Rock of ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.”

“That must be an awfully good girl, Cora. All my men look upon her as a sort of saint,” William said, one day.

“She is very good: but, honestly, I shouldn’t care to be religious in the same way.”

“Why, Cora?” he asked, in his slow, surprised manner. “I thought you liked religion – so good as you are, too.”

“So I do, but I think there are other things in this world beside hymns and prayers. I don’t like to see a life thrown out of balance. Depend upon it, if that girl had been educated, she would not have become absorbed in this one idea; but her thoughts run in this narrow groove because she can see no further. I think religion a beautiful thing; but God surely never made this beautiful world, with all its richness, its talent, and adventure, for us to shut our eyes against it, and think only of getting into heaven as fast as we can. It would be so much waste of beauty.”

It was rather hard upon William, too, to see more than one idea at a time, so he said, “he supposed Cora knew best; but he always had thought girls ought to be good. Whatever men might be who knocked about the world, it was a good thing for girls to be religious; and he thought fellows only got into heaven, because women showed them the way.”

“And I’m sure you’re good, dear brother; and if you would only do one thing, I know you’d go straight to heaven.”

“I’m not good in the way that girl is or you are, I know; but what’s this one thing?”

“Forgive Henry, and help me to find him again,” she said, pleadingly.

The hard, resolute look came over his face in an instant, and he moved away from his sister, with a heavy frown on his brow.

“Cora, if ever he dare to put a foot in my house, I will turn him out as I would a dog I hated the sight of.”

This intense hatred of William’s was more bitter to her than anything else. But in these early days of her new life, she was very hopeful. Perhaps William would soften with time. Henry could never be dead. He would never allow her to live in such a state of suspense; he would write to her on his deathbed. Perhaps he was striving to reform, to make a name for himself, before he came to seek her out. And she conjured up a picture of a wild young author, living up three pair of stairs, in some dingy street in London, writing by the light of a dull, flickering lamp, and going from office to office, till he found an editor courageous enough to accept his strange views, and wild, beautiful thoughts, as many a man of genius has done before. Or, perhaps — bitterer thought still — he was struggling in the meshes of temptation, sinking lower and lower. But surely he would turn to her at last? He would think of his old house, and the sister who worshipped him, and come back like the prodigal, to his right mind.

And now, a new thought took possession of Cora. She would try and earn money for him, that she might start him fresh if he returned penniless. She would see what could be made of the dairy and garden. William gladly acquiesced – she would have all the money that could be gained by these means. This became the chief purpose of her life; she worked from morning till night, and the labour was always sweet, for the sake of him for whom it was done.

And so, the days, and the months, and years even, rolled on. William did not soften. She tried at long intervals, but his hatred seemed to burn as fiercely as ever. There was no word from Henry, and she began to realise the force of the old saying, “That hope delayed make us the heart sick.” She had set herself out to work her wild, young brother’s redemption, it seems so hard she should fail!

This seems to be a touching picture. Cora, waiting with unwearying watchfulness, longing with her depth of love for his return. All through those long years of station life, amidst hard work and care, his face was never absent from her thoughts. All through the long silent summer days, with the heavy aromatic air brooding over the dense pathless bush; with no sound but the chirping of the locusts, or the note of some native bird, she went about her work, watching, and wondering, till she grew weary as ever was Mariana in her moated grange.

Chapter III.

When all this time had passed, Cora began to feel as if she had laboured for nought. She had effected a great deal, but the chief aim of her life seem to have failed. May had grown up — she was nearly seventeen; she was as pretty as her mother had been, and as fond of admiration. All the attention that the young fellows on this and the neighbouring stations used to shower upon Cora was being transferred to her. Cora did not care for them; she had a void at heart that such love could not fill. William was about to be married; he would soon be bringing another mistress home, and Cora was thinking wearily of the many offers she had refused. She had had a deeper interest at heart than home or future for herself. Jane waited upon her, and watched her with the same love; neither would she marry, she seem to have dedicated herself to Cora, and to heaven, with a sort of nun-like devotion. Old Marget still grumbled and scowled, and reigned supreme in the kitchen. Old Jim still muddled about; only a little more in the way than he used to be. Everything about the station was the same as when she first came, except this different feeling at her heart. She had given up all her own hopes, and devoted herself to others; and now, sick of watching in vain, a sort of longing for rest took possession of her whole being. If she could only see his face, she told herself, her work in this world would be done. All her splendid strength and spirits failed her; she cared for nothing but to lie down for hours together, and dream and recall the past.

There was one day intensely hot in the end of summer, when a sort of fresh hope sprung up in her heart. The house was very still; Lewis was away at school, May was lying down in the shadiest part of the verandah reading, Jane was doing up May’s muslin dresses in her own little room, there was the occasional sound of her iron coming down on upon the board, or of old Marget’s chopper making mincemeat in the kitchen; the yellow seem to lie thick on the ground, and the air in the heavy bush was breathless. With this overpowering desire for rest, she had lain down in the breakfast-room – the coolest place in the house. The French window was open, and through the white curtains she could see the balcony above, with its lattice-side standing out clear against the burning blue sky; then she turned her eyes to the sea — over it hung the mist of intense heat; far away in the distance, she could see a ship lying becalmed there, her sails all spread, but not a breath of air to move them. She watched her with a sort of feverish eagerness, almost expecting her to vanish like an object in a dream. Why did she think of her brother in connection with this vessel? Towards evening the wind changed, and a fresh, cool, sea-breeze sprang up. The ship, like a messenger of hope, came in steadily onwards. Cora watched her, with parted lips, till she was out of sight under the projecting brow of land, to the nearest port. She sighed as the last glimmering sail stole out of sight. Was it bringing tidings for her? She had seen many ships come in, but none had filled her with such interest as this one did.

When old Marget came in to see her, she spoke to her with something like a gleam of her old spirit. She had been gradually acquiring immense respect for Cora, and lately, when she had seen her so sad and languid, had, in her rough, queer way, lavished a great many marks of affection upon her. She strode in now with a little tray of chicken and tea, and placed them in a very emphatic manner on a chair beside her. She threw up the window blind, and rattled about the room.

“Now, you just rouse yoursel’, and eat every bit of this, and see if yer can’t get some life in yer; don’t see no use in folks sinking into the grave by inches, as yer doing.”

Cora rose up and pushed the heavy brown hair back from her broad brow.

“I believe I’ve had a good spirit near me for the last hour, Marget. I’ll eat what you’ve brought me, and then I’ll go about again as fresh as ever.”

May came in at one of the windows.

“Why, Cora dear, are you really having something to eat at last?” And she sat down fondly by her side.

Her brother and his friends were delighted, too, to see her more like her own self, but it was only like the last bright flash of a lamp before it goes out forever.

As the days wore on, and brought no sign, she fell into deeper despair. She used to muse bitterly upon life. How little she cared now for the great world. She was once so eager to take her part in! The years had passed, and the great hope in her heart had died out. All she longed for now was to leave it, and rest forever.

It was about three weeks after the day when she lay watching the ship. All day, long the heat had been like a furnace, and the air stifling. There were accounts of bush fires all round; and when night closed in, the darkness was so great, you felt as if you could put out your hand and touch it. Everyone was lying about in a different direction. May was asleep in her own bed, and William, thoroughly worn out, on one of the sofas on the veranda. But Cora, trying vainly “to chase from her soul, the fever of unrest,” had gone out.

A narrow lane rang ran along the top of the garden. You could step off the low verandah at one end into it. Cora, caring little where she went, was creeping mechanically down here, feeling her way by the fence. She had reached the gate at the end, and was resting her weary head upon her hand, when the light of a shaded lantern was suddenly turned upon her, and she saw a tall, bearded man, wearing a Crimean shirt, with a revolver stuck in his belt, and another in his right hand, standing before her. She started back with a sort of stifled shriek.

“Hush!“ he said, in a low voice, “I will not harm you. I came to do you a service. Listen, I come from your brother, Henry Wildhurst. Am I safe here for five minutes?”

“Yes,“ she replied, eagerly, coming near. “Tell me quick – is he well? – is he near?”

“Not far off. But listen. I have risked a great deal to see you. I have skulked about here for the last three days to find the best way in. I’ve had a boy on the watch all day. I intended to have lain in hiding till midnight, and then have crept up to your window. I heard a step coming down the lane, and I was on the defensive. But directly I heard your deep sigh and exclamation, ‘Oh, God, shall I never see him again?’ I knew who you were. This is my message. Your brother Henry is just now at a wayside house, about fifteen miles off. Rather more than three weeks ago, we landed in Melbourne with only five shillings between us.”

“Three weeks ago!” Cora said, putting her hand to her head. “It must have been the ship I saw. Was it the ‘Star of the East?’”

“Yes: we put into the port down yonder for water. He discovered where you had gone to, and then we resolved to trap out here. Remember, when we left Melbourne, we were in a starving condition. We begged our way for three days, and the third day, maddened by hunger, we rushed upon some quiet traveller, and took his horse and his firearms. Since then, we have been upon the roads. I have done desperate deeds before, and it did not lie so heavy upon my conscience, but your brother has been sick for the last few days, and he has been craving with a sort of madness to see you you again. But he would not come near you, till you knew the whole truth, if, with all his sins, you will still see, and forgive him.”

Cora had listened to the bushranger’s hurried tale with a face white as death.

“He has not shed blood?” she gasped.

“No,” he said, solemnly, “neither of us. I would give up to-morrow if I could. I do all this for him, because he once saved me from a miserable death in a garrett in London. With all his sins, he would have given his last crust to anyone in need. For years now I have followed him like a faithful dog.”

“Ah!” said Cora, sadly, “he could make anyone love him; but it would be death to him to come here.”

“I will manage all this. If still alive, you shall see him here the night after tomorrow, at this time and place. I will die rather than fail you. Remember, if he is not here, something has happened to him. I will guide him myself. Now, I will go; I have a boy and a horse waiting for me half a mile off.”

Cora found her way back to the house in our sort of dream. Jane was out in the yard, looking for her; none of the others had stirred.

“Oh, Miss Cora, dear, I’ve been searching for you everywhere.”

“I’ve been trying to cool my hot head out in the air, but I’ll go to bed now, Jane. I feel dreadfully ill.”

She walked up and down her room half the night, trying to calm her thoughts. And all the next two days, she wandered about in such a restless fever that her brother declared he would take her to town for advice. She was thinking madly what a wreck the boy had come to. His beautiful thoughts – his sweet ways – his many talents, that she used to be so proud of!

When the time came for her to meet him, she called Jane to her.

“Jane, if May asks for me, say I am very ill, and fast asleep. I am going out, and I don’t want her to know.”

“Why, Miss Cora,“ said Jane, looking, aghast, “what for?”

“Surely, Jane,“ said Cora, excitedly, “you can do this little thing for me – the last I shall ask in the this world.”

Jane promised, frightened at her excitement.

William was away for a few days, so she was safe that way. The night was as heavy and as dark as the other, but the threatening storm was coming nearer. The role of the distant thunder was heard, and now and again a flash of lightning lit up the whole place.

Cora waited there for hours, but no one came. Her head seemed on fire. What did it mean? – was he dead? – and was she denied the only thing she prayed for so bitterly, when at last it seemed near? She still clung to the gate, though the heavy raindrops fell thickly. At midnight, the storm burst in all its fury. She crouched under the fence from its violence. Someone stumbled against her. It was Jane come to seek for her.

“Miss Cora, you must come back; this is madness. Lean upon me and I’ll help you home.”

Then Cora went, for she said it was all useless.

When once inside, she sank down exhausted in her own room. She was drenched from head to foot, and shivering, as she had been burning with fever before. Then, in a faint voice, she told Jane the whole tale. “Jane, if he comes after this, I must see him; my brother will forgive when I’m on my deathbed, for I shall never rise from this again. Promise me, Jane, you will bring him to me.”

“I will, Miss Cora,” she said, solemnly; “none on earth shall stop me. Oh, what you have gone through!”

A few days after this, the brother she loved so well stood by her bedside. He was at most as near death as herself. A long course of dissipation, and extreme privation, had brought him to this. There were still the remains of the old grace and beauty she used to be so proud of. The window was wide open, and the air was sweet and cool again, after the storm. The shadows of evening were falling through the room. Cora was in a low fever, and thoughts of the old days were wandering through her brain. He groaned as he listened. William was there, too. He had forgiven, as Cora knew he would, when he saw her like this. In a day or two, the fever left her, and she did not seem surprised to see him standing by her pillow.

“Darling brother,” she said, “something told me you were there. I’ve just been having a long dream about you.”

“Oh, sister,” he groaned, “I would give the world to be lying as you are now, with such a noble life to look back upon, and mine all stained and sad and with sin.”

They sat a long while together. Henry told her how often he had struggled to get back to the right path, and just as he meant to write, and tell her of some little literary success, he had been conquered by some fresh temptation.

As Cora watched the strange look upon his face, she saw how vain all her labour and striving had been, it was impossible he could live for many days more. On her deathbed, she made William promise they should both be buried in the one grave. Something told them both, she said, that he would not be long after her.

After the weary suffering of the last few months, Cora died very peacefully. William kept his promise when Henry followed her, so that though they were parted so long in life, “in death, they were not divided.”

William missed his sister bitterly. He could scarcely understand all the sudden changes that had taken place. It seemed strange to him that the good and the wicked should rest quietly together. He could never understand the great bond of love that kept them through all these years.

After all, a life like Cora’s is a success. She could close her eyes with the consciousness of work well done; and her self-sacrifice made a lasting impression on all who knew her.


Frances Gill, “Cora”, The Australian Journal , May vol. 6 no. 72 1871; (p. 488-492)