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Over The Hills, and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter X. Mrs. Prior's Brother

page 106

Chapter X. Mrs. Prior's Brother.

Life at Maungarewa glided on for some time very peacefully after this stormy interlude.

Mr. Cunningham's anger blew over in a few days, as Louis had prophesied that it would; assisted probably by his son's departure to Auckland for a month to settle some business-matters not concerning the course of this story. After his return, Louis lived principally at the station which was situated like an outpost on the verge of his father's land; so that opportunities for a renewal of the argument, had Mr. Cunningham wished it, were few and far between.

Lucy had by this time quite settled down into her page 107 new life, and England was becoming the dream, not New Zealand. Only the coming and going of the English mail 136 reminded her at times that there were still friends, and still another country, across the blue ocean, 137 of which the faint thunder of the surf could be heard on a still day, in the peaceful valley where Maungarewa lay.

The visitors who found their way to Maungarewa were, except the Lennoxes, almost entirely of the masculine order 138 . It is true there were a few ladies scattered about among the different farms and stations, and rather more collected at the nearest township, ten miles or so away; but they were almost all married, and for the most part too much occupied with the care of children and domestic matters to have time to spend in paying visits, especially country ones; so that Lucy soon found her visiting list numbered three or four masculine to one feminine name, and the constant repetition of strange bearded faces became in time rather monotonous.

Gentlemen were kind enough to drop in pretty page 108 frequently at Maungarewa, and sometimes to remain for two or three days. It was a comfortable and well-ordered household—rather inviting after many of the rough bachelor establishments 139 of the district—Lucy's relations having, with unusual forethought, included the elements of housekeeping in her education to a more thorough extent than is usual, I believe, among the young ladies 140 of the present day.

But none of her home friends ever found her sketches of New Zealand scenery in water colours. 141 collectionless charmingly touched because she could personally superintend the preparation of beef-steak pies 142 ,which were not uninviting when completed, or cause to be placed upon her table a roast turkey 143 , with delicate accompaniments of mashed potatoes and sauces, which her father, at all events, appreciated. Nor was her admiration of Tennyson 144 or Mrs. Browning ever deadened by the fact that her apricot tarts melted in the mouths of all those who partook of them.

Clinton Meredith and many others were, at all page 109 events, at this period, the gainers 145 by the different branches of domestic economy which Lucy had been brought up to cultivate. She received many compliments, which gave her pleasure, more or less, for surely there never was a clever housekeeper 146 yet who did not like to feel that she was appreciated?

But her head was not over-exalted by the praise bestowed upon her; and one day she nearly made Clinton jealous, by telling him that she had met no one since she came out whom she considered half as agreeable as Doctor Dacre.

“I wonder where he is, and what he is doing?” Lucy added, more to herself than to him. “It seems odd that we have never heard of him since we landed; but perhaps he has already gone home.”

Clinton had heard of him, and knew that he was at that time not very far from Maungarewa; but, being jealous, he did not choose to tell her so. And so the subject dropped.

But somewhere about this time Lucy heard that Mr. Prior, another old shipmate, was at last to be made happy. His lady-love landed in perfect safety page 110 at Christ Church, with her brother, under whose protection she had consented to venture upon the long voyage.

Miss Winstanley became Mrs. Prior within a week of her setting her foot once more upon terra firma; and, after a short honeymoon, the happy couple came up to settle upon the station of which Mr. Prior was manager, about six miles from Maungarewa. They brought the brother with them, and Arthur Winstanley accompanied them when they went to Maungarewa to return Lucy's call. Mrs. Prior, in spite of her majestic figure, and the atmosphere of strong-mindedness which appeared to surround her, was no rider, so her husband drove her over, and Arthur Winstanley rode his brother-in-law's grey horse.

They found Lucy and her father both at home. It was Lucy's first introduction to the bride, as she had happened to be out on the day of Lucy's visit. Mrs. Prior was very like her photographs—a handsome girl with a Roman nose, and on a large scale altogether; but she was common-place-looking after page 111 all, which was just the thing that her brother was not.

Both of them had dark hair and eyes, and there all resemblance between them began and ended. He was as utterly unlike his sister as could well be imagined.

Arthur Winstanley was a man of about the medium height and size, but, instead of Mrs. Prior's aquiline nose and wide mouth, he had delicate, regular features, which would have made the fortune of a girl's face. He would have been a handsome man but for his eyes; they were so light in colour, and so expressionless.

The most striking thing about him, however, was the utter want of interest or animation in everything he did or said. He looked like a man half asleep, without energy enough to rouse himself, and he never once brightened up the whole time he remained at Maungarewa. The same weary indifference characterized his manner as his face. It was not a sad face at all, but more like that of a person who has page 112 received some shock, under the influence of which the spirit remained stunned, and without sympathy in what took place around it.

When I said that Mrs. Prior brought her brother with her, I used the words advisedly. He was evidently entirely at her disposal, and too lazy, or too tired out, to have any will at all of his own.

Lucy found afterwards that the impression he had made upon her was of a person suffering from a violent and prolonged fit of sulkiness.

Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Prior plunged into an animated discussion of colonial politics 148 , in which the governor's name repeatedly came uppermost; Lucy and Mrs. Prior compared notes as to their respective voyages; while Mr. Winstanley sat quietly back in an easy chair, listening to the conversation of the two ladies, but without making the slightest effort to join in it himself. Only when they were going away, and Lucy patted the neck of the grey horse, he asked her if she was fond of riding. When she had replied in the affirmative, and by way of politely prolonging the conversation for a moment or two, page 113 had inquired whether he shared the same taste, he said, in his sleepy way, “I did once; but I had a little too much of it when I was at home at one time.”

Mrs. Prior turned sharply round, just as she finished shaking hands with Mr. Cunningham.

“Why will you speak of that time, Arthur?” she said, with asperity 149 ; “you know it is nothing to your credit.”

Arthur took the rebuke very calmly, and did not seem to care about it in the least. But he said no more.

Lucy gathered, however, from the frown upon Mrs. Prior's face, that he might at one time have been the black sheep 150 of his family, if so quiet a young gentleman could ever have found energy enough within him to be anything decided at all.

It appeared, in course of time, that she was partly right in her conjecture; for afterwards, as she learnt to know more of Mrs. Prior, little scraps of that lady's family history from time to time slipped out.

page 114

“Arthur has given us all such trouble,” his sister said, in her superb, majestic way. “I assure you, papa says he would rather have had ten daughters than such a son! Fancy! we sent him to read with a clergyman in Devonshire, and he ran away! We heard nothing of him for a long time, and we could not trace him; but at last he wrote to papa, and then—only imagine!—we found he had enlisted in a cavalry regiment 151 !”

She paused here, and waited for some show of horror and amazement on Lucy's part, which Lucy, as in duty bound, proceeded to give.

“Papa bought him out,” Mrs. Prior then continued, “and went to him; and there he was in miserable little lodgings, sitting with his face hidden in his hands, and the table all covered with bits of letters, torn up. When papa spoke to him he started as if he had been shot, and then suddenly fainted away. He had a bad illness—brain fever, I believe—but got over it, and has never given us any trouble since.”

Lucy said she was glad to hear it, and won- page 115 dered, privately, whether it was at that time that Mr. Arthur Winstanley had lost his interest in sublunary 152 affairs, and ceased to care enough about anything to have a will of his own left.

She grew to like him very well, as time went by, and she saw more of him; and for his part, he appeared to take quite a fancy to her. He always singled her out whenever they met, and showed a greater respect for her opinion than for that of any one else. In fact, he paid her a good deal of attention in a quiet way.

Mrs. Prior observed this with delight, hoping that Arthur might really make up his mind to marry, and settle down near her at last. She felt perfectly satisfied with his choice, for she, too, had acquired a genuine liking for Lucy.

She was strongly confirmed in her idea by an accidental discovery which she made about this time. Arthur Winstanley had one curious habit. When he was thinking, or listening to music 153 , or to a conversation taking place near him, he had an odd, absent fashion of scrawling over every scrap of page 116 paper he could lay hold of, the letter L. He would form it into a monogram in every variety of character and design—sometimes really graceful ones. Occasionally, but not often, he joined with it the initial of his own name, A. But he always crossed these out with heavy pencil strokes afterwards.

Mrs. Prior found one morning a half sheet of note paper thus ornamented; and, remembering that Miss Cunningham's Christian name began with an L, she regarded it as proof positive of the manner in which that young lady occupied her brother's thoughts.

By way of ascertaining how far the admiration was mutual, she, with much concealed artfulness and great outward innocence of manner, showed her discovery to Lucy the next time they were alone together.

“Arthur is so absurdly absent,” she said, “but I suppose we must excuse him! Only imagine! he was amusing himself by scribbling these monograms all the time that I was talking to him about getting the new carpets we want for this house 154 in Dunedin! page 117 So stupid of him! I don't believe he heard a word that I said!”

She placed the half sheet of note paper she held in Lucy's fingers, and watched with secret anxiety for the expression of her face as she looked it over.

“It seems to be all designs of one letter,” Lucy remarked calmly. “These are very pretty, and would look well embroidered on the corner of a handkerchief. Where have I seen an L like this before, I wonder? Oh, I know! it was on the back of a watch.”

She did not blush or look in the least conscious of any possible connexion between Mr. Winstanley's fits of absence and herself; and Mrs. Prior, to use her own words, “could not flatter herself that Miss Cunningham so far evinced any reciprocity 155 .

136 See Notice for postal services in 1874 North Otago Times. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

137 The geographic area in which New Zealand is situated, is also called 'Oceania'. New Zealand faces the Pacific on its eastern coastlines.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

138 For references to 'masculinist' or male culture in the colonies refer to Literature Criticism and History section (NZETC collection), http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/subject-000006.html.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

139 Local boarding houses provided accommodation for single men in colonial society. See North Otago Times 6 October 1874, http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

140 See 'The Canons of "Genteel" Society', North Otago Times, Volume XXI, Issue 988, 31 October 1874, Page 4. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

141 A 'gentille' recreational pastime in English society. See 'Nineteenth Century NZ Artists: A Guide and Handbook'. See: http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/search/search.html?text.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

142 Beef was a primary New Zealand export well into the 20th century. With the development of the colony, New Zealand meat produce became a main export to Britain. See: http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/search/search.html?text=meat+industry.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

143 Also a common Christmas meat dish.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

144 See note page 32.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

145 Meaning those who ought to prosper thereby.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

146 See 'Station Life in New Zealand' (1870) by Lady Mary Anne Barker. See: http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/search/search.html?text=lady+barker.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

148 See column regarding provincial government in New Zealand in North Otago Times, October 6 1874. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

149 Spoken in a sharp tone or with severity.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

150 The 'black sheep' emigrant, not an uncommon character in the colonies, was often the youngest of the family or the 'disgraced' son of an aristocratic family. Also a character stereotype found in the New Zealand Novels Digital Collection. See: http://www.New Zealandetc.org/tm/scholarly/subject-000005.html.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

151 See New Zealand Novels Digital Collection for stories of regimental life in the colony, http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/subject-000005.html.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

152 Refers to 'unconscious' or 'beneath the surface'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

153 See letter about 'Choral Singing', North Otago Times, Volume XXI, Issue 977, 6 October 1874, Page 2. Also letter concerning 'The Organ Fund Concert', Volume XXI, Issue 997, 24 November 1874, Page 2. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

154 Dunedin houses were built of timber in immitation of English style homes. See Kirkpatrick, Glendining Co advertisement, 6 October 1874. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

155 A mutual exchange or "rapport".

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]