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

Chapter XXVII. Good-Bye

page 275

Chapter XXVII. Good-Bye.

Little Mrs. Meredith had come in to luncheon in an unhappy frame of mind. Her yellow locks were slightly ruffled out of their usual satin sleekness. Dreadful to relate, there was a suspicion of a frizette visible at one side of her head, and she had forgotten to put on her long gold and coral ear-rings. All these were very unusual circumstances with her, and signs of some uncommon mental disturbance.

But, in addition, she ate her mutton chop with a woe-begone countenance, and sighed so deeply as page 276 she helped Clinton to green peas, that he felt obliged to ask her at last what was the matter.

Then out came a tremendous grievance. “It's nearly a fortnight since my picnic,” Jeanie moaned, “and during all that time I've never seen Lucy. I thought she would certainly have come over this morning—such a lovely day too!—but she hasn't, and I think it's very strange. She knows I wanted her to help me to make my new silk dress, for I told her so while you were mixing the salad and Doctor Dacre was unpacking the knives and forks— don't you remember?”

“No, I don't in the least,” replied Clinton; “and I think it is very likely that the knives and forks put it out of Miss Cunningham's head.”

Jeanie did not catch the point of this speech at all. She cast a regretful glance at her sewing-machine in a corner of the room, with a pile of glistening gold-coloured pieces of silk beside it, and went on with her remarks,—

“I've had to cut that dress by myself now, and I've cut the back wrong, and wasted ever so much page 277 of the stuff. I shouldn't have done it if Lucy had been here, and I think it is very unkind of her, and she does not love me as she did Effie.”

This was quite true, if Jeanie had only known it. Lucy never did love any girl again like she had done Effie. Unto her there was “no second friend.” But Jeanie did not in her heart believe anything of the kind, though she professed to do when provoked.

Clinton sat at the foot of his table, listening very passively to his wife's grievances. He was thinking, while she spoke, what an excellent kind were the new potatoes he had just bought, and how many dozen of plum-trees he should send for next week to stock an unoccupied corner of his garden.

He knew by experience that Jeanie's troubles were not likely to be very weighty ones, but he admired her extremely when she pouted and assumed her injured air. It gave her round, soft, childish face more expression, and was a kind of playing at being angry which always struck him as rather charming.

So, having finished his lunch, he sat back in his page 278 chair watching her, encouraging her to chatter to her heart's content, and rather wishing that some one might drop in and see her before the pink flush faded out of her cheeks and her blue eyes lost their pathetic expression.

Jeanie was a dreadful little gossip. She told him a long story of how Mrs. Prior had quarrelled with her new cook, to whom she was giving 40l. a year; and how Mr. Cunningham was reported to have gone into a passion because some one had left his garden gate open, in consequence of which a cow had got in and eaten all the blossoms off the solitary quince-tree, so that no quince jelly could be made that year.

“And I'm not sorry,” she added, “for it's horrid stuff, and always tastes as if it were flavoured with onions.”

After this came a long account of Mrs. Somebody's baby, which had got red hair; and, lastly, she informed her husband that every one was saying Lucy was engaged to Doctor Dacre, and asked if he believed the report to be true.

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“For it's very odd I'm not told—if it is so,” quoth Jeanie, bridling up with a fresh sense of injury.

Clinton winced a little—a very little. It was only a twinge of wounded vanity. He got up, went over, and kissed his little wife.

“She's a jolly little thing!” he said to himself, “and prettier than Lucy, after all.”

Thus fortified, he felt capable of continuing the subject. “If they're not engaged, I should say they soon will be,” he replied to the question put to him. “It's one of the clearest cases I ever saw in my life.”

And, behold! the words were hardly out of his mouth when, looking through the window, he perceived Dacre himself riding up the gravel drive to the front door.

Clinton ran out to meet him. He had a real liking for Dacre, in spite of the jealous pangs which the other man had once or twice caused him. He did not wish Lucy to remain faithful to himself any more, but still it was mortifying at times to find how completely she had forgotten him.

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Still, in spite of this, he could not help liking Dacre, and would have seconded Mr. Cunningham's opinion of him—“a thoroughly good fellow, and a gentleman”—any day. There must have been something loveable about Rylston Dacre.

The two men came in together, and Jeanie, who had discovered meanwhile that her ear-rings were missing, and flown to put them on, received Dacre very cordially.

“I'm so glad to see you,” she said. “Sit down and have some luncheon, please. Have you been to Maungarewa, and have you brought me a message from Lucy?”

Dacre was all but guilty of the rudeness of turning his back upon her. He had dropped his whip, however. When he had picked it up he looked round and said, “No; he had not the pleasure of seeing Miss Cunningham since the day of the picnic.”

“Well, I wonder whatever she has been doing!” said Jeanie indignantly. “She seems to have cut all her friends lately. I think I shall go over to page 281 Maungarewa to-morrow, and give her a piece of my mind.”

While Dacre took his luncheon Jeanie seated herself opposite to him, in her favourite easy chair, with some delicate lace embroidery, which she was rather clever at executing, in her hand. She chattered away briskly, according to her custom, upon all sorts of subjects, and Dacre listened, and was as much amused as usual. He liked Mrs. Meredith, partly, for her own sake, and partly because, “if not the rose,” she had dwelt near her. So, a little for the sake of seeing again Jeanie's pretty face, but chiefly in order that he might at least hear a few words about Lucy once more, though he might not see her, he had come to wish Jeanie “Good-bye!” before he sailed for England.

He told her, when he had finished his lunch, that it was a farewell visit, and asked her if he could do anything for her at home.

Jeanie was really grieved at the idea.

“Going home?” she said. “You are not in earnest, surely?”

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“Yes I am,” returned Dacre. “I am really going home.”

Jeanie had by this time become impressed with the idea that some change had passed over him since she had seen him last. She could not make out wherein it lay, however. There was no decided difference in him that she could see.

Perhaps, if anything, his brown face was a trifle thinner, and his manner graver than usual. But even of this she grew doubtful when he smiled, just in his old way, and said he was waiting her commands. “What might he have the pleasure of sending her from London?”

“Oh!” said Jeanie, with the delighted flush and wide open eyes of a child at the thought, “I should like a set of croquet just like Lucy's.”

“It shall come out by the first ship,” replied Dacre.

The Merediths wanted him to remain the night at their house, but he refused.

“I am going on to-night,” he said, “to see Louis Cunningham before I go. I must be on board the page 283 steamer in two days, so my time is growing very short. Good-bye, old fellow! Good-bye, Mrs. Meredith! I hope you won't quite forget me.”

Jeanie had never known before how much she liked him; she was ready to cry.

“Do, do come back again some day!” she said, clasping her hands, and looking up into his face.

Dacre smiled again—a strange smile.

“No,” he said; “when I go I shan't come back. But perhaps you will follow me, Mrs. Meredith, some day, and I shall see you there. Good-bye again! Mind you bring her to England some day, Clinton; and don't either of you forget me meanwhile.”

The instant the two gentlemen had gone out, Jeanie burst into tears.

“Lucy has refused him,” she sobbed. “I am sure she has. And oh, I wonder how she could have had the heart to do it!”