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

Chapter XI. Effie

page 118

Chapter XI. Effie.

Time passed. January and February burnt themselves out in heat and glare and dust, and March came in with cooler days, but equally lovely.

One day Lucy had ridden over to Deepdene alone. She knew her way over the hills now perfectly, and the three girls went backwards and forwards between each other's homes almost regularly.

Louis never came to Maungarewa when he thought that Effie or Jeanie Lennox would be there, but once or twice he had been caught, and could not avoid a meeting. In such cases he devoted himself to Effie, and Jeanie tossed her golden head pri- page 119 vately, and thought him the greatest bear she had ever known. The little “blonde beauty” was used to admiration, and enjoyed it heartily.

Effie always took Louis' part when her sister attacked him, but otherwise never spoke about him at all. Only Lucy thought it a suspicious fact that just about this time Effie refused an excellent offer from a distant cousin of her own who had been attached to her ever since they had played together as children, and whom her father and mother had always hoped she would marry.

“It's odd,” said Jeanie thoughtfully, when her sister was not in the room. “Effie seemed to like poor Jack till quite lately, and then suddenly she grew as cold to him as ice.”

It was odd, Lucy thought; but to Effie herself she did not venture to say a word, only she found herself constantly hoping that Louis after all would change his mind and gratify both his father and herself by choosing the wife they both so eagerly desired for him.

On this March evening, when Lucy had ridden page 120 over to Deepdene, the three girls were sitting by one of the long open windows of the drawing-room.

They formed a pretty group. Lucy was seated in the middle, wearing her dark-grey riding habit, set off by its little white collar and scarlet tie at the throat. It was a costume which suited her figure, and the sober-coloured cloth of the habit seemed to make her great coils of glittering waving hair a richer coronet than ever to her small, well-shaped head.

Jeanie was sitting on a footstool at her feet, in a blue-spotted muslin which just suited her delicate pink-tinted cheeks. A scarlet carnation was coquettishly fastened over her left ear, and another in the belt that surrounded her neat little waist 156

Effie was the farthest back of all, and was dressed like her sister, but without the flowers. Her eyes, less lovely in colour than Jeanie's, but with far greater capacity of expression, were fixed on the sunset sky without, and she held one of Lucy's hands in hers.

The soft air came in at the window and fanned page 121 their faces, and once wafted in a shower of rose-leaves from the full-blown flowers which twined around the sill 157 . Effie caught some of the leaves in her hand, and played with them unconsciously while she was speaking. Ah! there was one rose there which was to fade gently before its bloom had fully come!

Jeanie looked up with large blue eyes when the conversation of the others, as sometimes happened, got beyond her depth, but she admired all that they said, whether she understood it or not, and was happy and loving as usual.

At last they saw a horseman ride through the paddock and up to the garden gate.

“It is Mr. Meredith!” said Jeanie and Lucy in a breath.

Lucy thought that he had found out where she was gone, and had come to fetch her home. Jeanie believed that he had come to see her pretty little self. It was not the first time by any means that he had done so. She had no more idea of any engagement between Clinton and Lucy than she had of the page 122 geology of the district. Even Effie had not found it out.

Jeanie jumped up in a moment, saying, “I'll go and find papa,” and she ran out of the room. She came back in a few moments with her hat in her hand, and reported that papa had gone up the gully, and that she was going to find him. Somehow papa was very apt to be up the gully whenever Mr. Meredith came to Deepdene, but fortunately Effie did not think of remarking upon this fact to her companion.

Presently they saw Jeanie guiding Clinton across the lawn to the little gate which opened on to the path leading up the gully among the trees.

“He doesn't know I am here,” thought Lucy. “But I wonder Jeanie has not told him,” she added to herself a moment afterwards.

Somehow or other she felt suddenly sobered, and she looked out at the fading light in the sky with a feeling of sadness at her heart for which she could scarcely account.

In a few minutes Mrs. Lennox came into the room.

page 123

“Where is Jeanie?” she asked.

“She has gone with Mr. Meredith up the gully to find papa,” said Effie.

“But papa is not up the gully,” returned her mother. “He has gone over to the manager's house to speak to Mr. Hood. I could have told Jeanie that if she had asked me.”

Lucy felt more sober than ever as Mrs. Lennox spoke. But her faith in Clinton was too great not to resist the first slight shock it had received.

“I suppose they will soon be back,” went on Mrs. Lennox, “when they find papa is not there,”—and she went out of the room again.

Almost at the same moment Effie shook down all the rose-leaves from her lap on to the floor. “There,” she said, “I'm tired of them; they are withered. Let me throw them away.”

“Their day is over, poor things!” said Lucy, with an involuntary sigh.

“There will be more next summer,” Effie returned, looking up with a smile.

“Ah, yes!” said Lucy, “but not the same.”

page 124

She scarcely knew what prompted her to this little bit of sorrowful moralizing, but afterwards she remembered those words with tears, for they were only too true.

“It's well Louis doesn't hear us,” she went on in a moment, quite in her usual manner. “He would call us dreadfully sentimental."

Effie stooped to collect together the scattered rose-leaves on the ground. Still bending down she said, “Mr. Louis has not been here for a long time. I suppose he is very busy?”

“Very busy indeed just now,” returned his sister, thinking she could guess what was passing in Effie's mind. “He has just had to buy a new horse. One of his others was quite lame from being ridden too much. The new one is a beauty—dark bay, and called ‘Llewellyn 160 .’”

Wise as Lucy thought herself, she was not quite as much behind the scenes as she imagined. One day she learnt this, but that day was far in the future yet.

There was a slight pause. Effie did not seem to page 125 take much interest in the bay horse. At last she said suddenly and rather shyly, “I wonder if any one ever marries their first love? Papa told us one day that he did not, and he did not believe people ever did, except in books.”

Lucy felt that she could quite understand this. It would indeed have been difficult to picture plain common-place Mrs. Lennox as any one's first love. In her girlish arrogance, which was really ignorance of life, she did not allow for the changes brought to Mrs. Lennox by the “slow, sure discipline of years.”

“Some people do not seem to have any first loves at all,” she said, in answer to Effie's remark. “My brother Louis for instance.”

She intended Effie to understand that at all events she had no rival to fear; the field was clear before her, and who knew what might not come to pass in time? But she was a little startled at Effie's reply.

“I do not think that follows at all,” Effie said, “—about Mr. Louis, I mean. Men are just as careful sometimes not to let any one find out their secrets as we girls are; and you know, when they page 126 travel about much, they make many acquaintances we do not know of at all.”

“That is quite true,” said Lucy. “But still I am sure I am right about Louis.”

Remembering this conversation in after days with a wider experience of life, the confidence with which she had spoken seemed to her unutterably ridiculous. Effie, from whatever reason it sprang, had proved in this instance a keener judge of Louis Cunningham's character than his sister Lucy.

The two girls remained seated by the window, talking together for a long time. Both felt during that hour that the bond of their friendship was signed and sealed for their lifetimes.

Would it have been so, and would it have lasted? I think it would; but it was never put to the test. The wear and tear of life never touched it, and time had no power to try it, because one of these two was soon to pass for ever out of the region where Time holds sway. A little longer, and there was to be no thought of marrying or giving in marriage for Effie Lennox.

156 A small waist, often a desired feature of Victorian feminine beauty, was enhanced by tight corsetry. See North Otago Times for 19th century advertisements for Womenswear, 6 October 1874. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

157 For more reading of "idyllic" colonial homes and gardens see 'Distant Homes: Or the Graham Family in New Zealand' by Isabella Aylmer NZETC literature collection. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

160 A Welsh name or originating in the country of Wales on Britain's West Coast.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]