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

Chapter XII. Under the Blue Gums

page 127

Chapter XII. Under the Blue Gums.

Clinton and Jeanie were away a long time. It was a lovely evening, very cool and pleasant under the gum-trees and Australian shrubs, which had been planted with excellent effect on both sides of the gully; and neither of them were in any hurry to return to the house.

Clinton, to do him justice, had no idea that Lucy was then at Deepdene. He had not seen her since the week before, when he had spent two days at Maungarewa, and enjoyed himself supremely. It was business which had brought him that night to Deepdene, and he really wished to see Mr. Lennox page 128 before he went away. But still there was plenty of time, and Jeanie was a very pleasant companion, especially in that soft romantic gloom beneath the boughs of the trees, with the little creek, which flowed like an English stream through the gully, gliding gently by at their feet.

They came at last to the large stone, or rather rock, which was the scene of Jeanie's exploit alluded to in a former chapter. The grass was soft and green at its foot, and Jeanie sat down and took off her hat.

“I'm tired,” she said, “and I don't see anything of papa.”

Clinton, who had never expected to meet Mr. Lennox there at all, sat down by her side, and, pulling a few leaves from one of the trees, crushed them in his fingers, filling the air with their aromatic perfume.

“I shall always love this place,” he then remarked sentimentally, favouring Jeanie with one of those looks out of his blue eyes which he had before now found to be so irresistible.

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Of course the young lady immediately asked him why, and of course Clinton replied, “Can you ask me”? And this time he managed to sigh as he spoke.

Jeanie blushed, and her little heart began to flutter with delight. She was becoming only too much in earnest in these occasional meetings, while to Clinton it was all a pretty little game, which just kept his hand in for more serious business. She could think of nothing to say, however, except another remark of “I wonder where papa can be!”

“He will turn up in good time,” said Clinton quietly, and then he placed some of the blue gum leaves he was playing with in her hand, and managed to give it a meaning pressure while he did so.

It was beginning to grow quite dark beneath the trees; perhaps that was the reason Clinton had to bend down so near to see his companion's face. Neither of them had spoken for some minutes. At last Jeanie made a violent effort, and her first page 130 words broke the spell, for her companion at least.

“I really must go back,” she said; “Effie and Lucy will wonder what has become of me.”

It was so dusk that she scarcely noticed Clinton's sudden start.

“Is Miss Cunningham here to-night?” he inquired; and Jeanie was conscious that there was a change in his tone.

“Yes,” she said innocently. “Why do you ask like that? Don't you like her?”

“I like her?” replied Clinton, really for once feeling confused by this inquiry, and thankful that she could not distinctly see his face in the dusk. “Why, yes, of course I do. Every one does, don't they? But I had no idea you had any visitors. Perhaps, after all, we had better go and see if Mr. Lennox is in the house.”

Jeanie got up at once, feeling disappointed, and conscious that in some way, for her, the pleasure of the evening was over. Could she have done anything to offend him? She put on her hat, and page 131 Clinton did not offer to tie the strings, as she had expected that he would, and as they walked back very soberly and formally down the gully something extremely like tears were glittering in her pretty eyes. But she kept her head carefully turned from her companion; and he was feeling too provoked with himself, at the mistake he had unconsciously made, to notice anything unusual about her.

The lamp was not yet lighted when they entered the drawing-room, and Lucy and Effie were still seated by the window. Only the outlines of their two figures were visible, however, in the twilight.

Clinton had by this time perfectly regained the command of himself. He contrived, while shaking hands with Lucy, to whisper to her that he was feeling dreadfully bored, and so glad that she was there to put him to rights again.

Of course she was pleased with the compliment from her lover—what girl would not have been?— and, though Clinton had been flirting with Jeanie all the evening, it was not such an insincere speech after all.

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Jeanie was the prettiest of playthings—for a time —but she had not Lucy's intelligence and piquancy, or her power of keeping those in whose society she was interested and amused by her conversation. Clinton was thoroughly alive to this, and on that evening he managed to make Lucy understand that he was aware of it, in a manner which set to rest the unformed doubt at her heart for awhile.

But there was somewhat at hand which was to drive away all minor troubles just then.

The next day Effie drooped; they thought she had taken cold with sitting too long by the window while the dew was falling. Bronchitis came, bringing with it much suffering, borne with exceeding patience. Then, in a lull of the battle, Effie became aware that she was dying. It was about six o'clock in the evening, and Lucy was with her. She could speak a little, and she spoke of Jeanie.

“Jeanie will want me,” she said, somewhat wistfully. “What will she do without me? … Oh, Lucy! you are stronger than she is…. Will you page 133 help her? … Always, for my sake, do take care of Jeanie!”

Lucy answered, “I will … God helping me. Do not fear for Jeanie.”

It was a solemn vow, destined to be solemnly redeemed far sooner than she had any idea of then.

* * * * *

When Effie spoke again it was in a perfectly satisfied tone. Her last anxiety was gone. She said that nobody must grieve for her. She was very happy—knowing on whose love she rested.

At the end of the week she died. Her figure fades away from among the characters of mystery, and henceforth her place is vacant. Her life was a very short one; not remarkable in any manner; but her influence on Lucy Cunningham did not die with her.

If Effie Lennox had lived she might have continued to love Louis Cunningham, and that love would have been utterly hopeless. The shadow, lying lightly on her life then, might have grown very dark within the years to come; but, dying page 134 when she did, Effie escaped all this. It had grown to be with her,—

“If I had lived, I cannot tell, I might have been his wife,
But all these things have ceased to be with my desire of life.”

She was not to have her portion in this present world; but, doubtless, God had prepared some better thing for her.