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

Chapter VIII. The Lennoxes

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Chapter VIII. The Lennoxes.

In the verandah of a long wooden house, roofed with shingle, and lying at the head of a wide valley, Lucy was standing in her riding-habit about ten o'clock on a bright morning in January.

The ground from the verandah sloped gradually downwards to the fence which enclosed the garden, and divided it from the paddock beyond. The slope immediately beneath Lucy was covered with English grass—a rich contrast to the pale tussock grass clothing the hills on all sides of her.

In front of the house the valley stretched away far and wide. Behind rose a hill, from which Maun- page 80 garewa—Maori for “the steep mountain”—Mr. Cunningham's station took its name. It was high, and rather abrupt, rocky too at the top, with huge stones, which Mr. Cunningham was wont to say reminded him of Cornish boulders—partly, I suspect, because it was so long since he had left England, that his memory of places, well known of old, had grown visionary.

On the left the valley opened, showing a grand range of mountains stretching away towards the sea. They towered solemnly up in the summer calm. Lucy had learnt already to love those mountains, though she had not yet seen them in their full glory —Alp-like under a veil of snow.

Louis was catching the horses in the paddock beyond the garden; and his sister was watching with much interest from the verandah above. Robin Hood, the handsome black horse which Mr. Cunningham had just bought for his daughter's riding, was amongst them, and was leading off the cavalcade in an undisguised defiance of Louis' attempts to approach them.

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But assistance was at hand. Two riders were descending the hill behind the house, and Lucy, catching sight of them, advanced joyfully to meet them at the gate. One, a man about fifty, sunburnt and bearded, was greeted as “Papa.” The other, a remarkably handsome fair-haired young fellow, received a silent shake of the hand, but appeared satisfied with his reception, notwithstanding.

“I was coming over from Prior's place,” he said, “and I met Mr. Cunningham on the way. Are you going anywhere, Lucy?”

“Louis and I are going to ride over and spend the day with the Lennoxes. Won't you come too? Do come!”

“Of course he will,” said Mr. Cunningham. “She doesn't coax badly, does she, Meredith? It's about eight miles over the hills. Louis knows the way, and I suppose you'll all be back to-night?”

He slipped his horse's bridle over the gate-post, and sauntered away towards the house, leaving the other two standing together, Meredith still holding his horse.

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It was rather too public a place for making love, however. Clinton glanced round, and saw that Mr. Cunningham was standing in the verandah, that the Scotch cook was looking out of the kitchen window, and that Louis, in the paddock below, had his attention visibly turned towards them. So he only contrived, swiftly and dexterously, to touch his lips to Lucy's gauntlet, under cover of his horse's neck, and asked her what she thought she deserved for running away as soon as he arrived.

“Don't flatter yourself you'll escape me, though; of course I'm going too. And I shall have my revenge, but not now.”

Lucy laughed, and flushed over her retort. “You ought to be very much obliged to me. I'm going to introduce you to two young ladies, and one of them is the belle of the district. There—you ungrateful boy!”

The “ungrateful boy” said he was at her service, and she might do what she pleased with him. But about the young ladies he did not care; his heart was steeled to all but one.

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“Ah! but you're going to like them, I know,” said Lucy. “I've only seen them once, when they came here to call on me, but I quite fell in love with them, particularly with Effie, though she isn't as pretty as Jeanie.”

Then she added, with a sly hesitation in her tone, “Clinton … are you quite sure … you won't like them better than me?”

Clinton rejected the notion with disdain, and his answer was eminently satisfactory.

By this time Louis, out of all patience, was making irantic signals to them from below; so they went down the hill together into the paddock, and Robin Hood, having been captured by the two men, was made over to Lucy's guardianship.

Thenceforward there was no further trouble with him; in fact, his behaviour to his mistress was always marked by a sense of chivalry, greatly to his credit. Considering himself put upon his honour, he followed her like a lamb to the house, and affably stooped his head to assist her in the novel feat she had undertaken of bridling him.

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“In a quarter of an hour the three riders were well on their way to Deepdene, Mr. Lennox's station.

Their course lay over the hills, just then of tissue paleness, relieved here and there by a few small cabbage-trees or a little flax. There was no brush in that neighbourhood, nor had cultivation as yet relieved the wildness and desolation of the scenery.

Riding through one gully, Louis pointed to where a sheep-path struck sharply off to the left.

“That is the way to the out-station, Lucy,” he said, “where my life, for the present, will chiefly have to be passed.”

She looked up the wild ravine in the direction he indicated, wishing she could see through the hills which barred her view of Louis' future home. But she never dreamt for a moment of the important part which that cluster of wooden huts, ten good miles away, was to play in her life's story.

They cantered on. And then they saw some cattle at a distance, and Louis with his opera-glass descried, or thought he descried, one or two of his own among them. He rode a little way towards page 85 them to make sure, and left Lucy and Clinton halted near an oasis of flax plants. They bent down the tall co-raddies, and sucked the honey from the flowers, agreeing that they were equal to the most superior French bonbons, and streaking their lips and noses with the golden dust.

It was a beautiful summer morning. Everything new and colonial was enchanting to the two just fresh from England. This ride, and a few others, lingered in the brightest tints on Lucy's memory, until there rose up in her heart a great wave of pain, and washed all the colours out of them for ever.

They descended at last on to the plains, the great yellow level stretching for miles between the hills and the sea. They rode on, always skirting the hills, for what was really a considerable distance, but on the plains they could go faster, and Robin Hood's great strides left the ground behind him so rapidly, at such an easy, regular pace, that Lucy's idea of space became confused, and she could not have made any correct guess at the number of miles they had traversed, when Deepdene came in sight, page 86 nestled snugly among gum-trees at the outlet of a gully between the hills.

Of course they were very welcome. One of the prettiest little golden-haired Scotch lassies imaginable opened a long bow window of the drawing-room, and came dancing down the lawn to meet them. It was Jeanie Lennox, and behind her came her sister Effie.

They were called after the heroines of Mr. Lennox's favourite novel, “The Heart of Mid-Lothian,” and, as a matter of course, their names did not fit them in the least.

Effie was the older of the two, and had grown up the plainest, with by far the most strength of character and intellect. Lucy was not long in discovering this, but still she loved Jeanie. Who could help it? She was the smallest, prettiest, most loving girl in her manners Lucy had ever met with, altogether a fascinating little piece of childishness.

Effie was taller, larger, graver; less gold in her hair, less violet in her eyes. She walked quietly to meet them, with a step which did not dance.

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They were both delighted to see Lucy, carried her off to their room, and offered her everything they could think of to assist her in her toilet. She must take off her riding-habit, of course, and she must wear instead a polonaise of Effie's, and a skirt of Jeanie's, by way of being strictly impartial. Finally they insisted that she must not dream of returning home that night.

It was an understood thing in the colonies, Jeanie assured her, with her lovely blue eyes all earnestness, that people always stayed the night.

She was so urgent in her entreaties, and Effie too so determined, that Lucy agreed at once to stop.

It becomes necessary here to explain that, though Mr. Cunningham had laid no obstacle in the way of his daughter's engagement to Clinton Meredith, who came of a good family, and had “expectations” from two old uncles at home, he had stipulated that it was not to be made known to the world in general at present. They were too young, he considered, and Meredith had not as yet invested his capital, or decided where to purchase land. Probably Mr. Cun- page 88 ningham had reflected that, if some wealthy squatter were to take a fancy to lay his heart and his wool-bales at Lucy's feet, it would be a pity for a boy and girl kind of affair such as this to stand in her light.

Therefore the Lennoxes knew nothing of any link so far between Lucy and Meredith, and Jeanie at all events was never likely to find it out for herself.

They dined, and strolled up the beautiful gully behind the house in the cool of the evening. Mindful of some vague ideas which had crossed her mind during the voyage, Lucy had her attention roused to note her brother's manner to these two girls, whom he had met to-day for the first time.

She soon discovered that Jeanie and Louis were utterly unattractive to one another. “Not bad looking, but not my style at all,” he said of her afterwards; and Jeanie told her sister in confidence that she loved Lucy Cunningham, but thought her brother was not much good in any way.

Jeanie's eyes were certainly prejudiced. Louis was a fine looking, rather attractive young fellow, tall and fair, with dark eyes, and a silky yellow beard, page 89 never degenerating into the slightest tinge of red. He was not as decidedly and undeniably handsome as Meredith perhaps; but, to atone for this, he possessed a larger share of that subtle indefinable essence of manliness which will always, in the long run, prove more irresistible to a woman's heart than any mere attraction springing from good looks alone. Then, too, Louis was a man of a very resolute, very independent disposition. Had he chosen, he would have set his opinion against the world's, and stood by it without flinching. Characters of this type are apt to be stubborn at times to an excess, and Louis was by no means an exception to the rule; nevertheless, the obstinacy of his temperament was a part also of its strength, and in many feminine minds would have roused only a greater longing to subdue a fortress apparently so impregnable.

Lucy, walking by his side that night, felt a shade of disappointment at the discovery that Jeanie Lennox and her brother were never likely even to appreciate each other's society. Perhaps, however, Effie might be his “fate” instead, thought the young page 90 match-maker by his side. That would be better still; for of the two sisters Lucy was the most attracted by Effie.

No. Louis, courteously attentive, was cool and unimpressed as ever in this direction also. “I do believe he'll never marry,” thought his sister with a spice of indignation at the failure of all her castles in the air, mingled with her disappointment. She felt a little comforted, however, when she noticed that Effie's interest seemed slightly roused by the brother of her new friend, and that she was not inclined to be so utterly indifferent to Louis' merits as her sister Jeanie.

Lucy had fallen behind with these two as they walked up the gully, so, with all her quickness and clearness of intuition, something else happened which she did not see. Jeanie had mounted on to the top of a huge stone, and was balancing herself on its sharp summit with the most perfect grace, utterly regardless of Clinton's entreaties to her to come down before she fell. As her especial cavalier, he considered himself responsible for her welfare.

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“Nonsense,” she said; “I've often done it before. I shan't fall, I know.”

She looked lovely as she spoke, in her frilled pink and white muslin dress, a great Dolly Varden hat swinging in one hand, and her high-piled rolls of golden hair—glossy, satin, smooth hair, without wave or flaw in its perfectly-arranged order.

“You little beauty!” Clinton said to himself under his breath. “I'd no idea the colonies contained anything half so perfect!”

Jeanie, spite of her confident assertion, overbalanced herself, and nearly fell. She turned quite white in one moment, and looked at Meredith with the most piteous expression in her blue eyes.

“How am I to get down?” she said, transformed in an instant into a veritable little coward.

He held out his hands. “Jump,” he said, “and I'll take care you don't fall.”

She placed her hands in his, and sprang down as lightly as possible. He detained her a moment and said audaciously, “Now may I claim a reward?”

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There was no anger in the soft eyes he looked down at, but she laughed a little and blushed.

Clinton saw he was sure of his ground. He glanced round to ascertain that the others were not in sight, then bent his head, and swiftly and stealthily touched one of the little hands with his lips. He had once before that day gone through the same little drama, when he met Lucy in the morning.

“It was dreadfully cool of him, really,” Jeanie said to herself afterwards; “but he is very handsome, indeed; and, on the whole, I think I won't tell Effie!”

It was Effie whom she wished more especially to remain in ignorance concerning the little flirtation just described, not her mother. Mrs. Lennox, who was now seated at her sewing-machine in the drawing-room at Deepdene, was just another Jeanie—a matronly Jeanie, and much plainer, with only the germ of the beauty, in fact, which had developed so remarkably in her little daughter, but with no clearer head or stronger spirit.

They both looked up to Effie, went to her for page 93 advice when in any difficulty, and left her to do the thinking for all three, adopting her opinions readymade. Even Mr. Lennox scarcely exercised as much influence in the household as his elder daughter. The two Jeanies looked up to him too much. Effie's girlishness and inexperience made her nearer, and more easily clung to, than the grave elderly head of the house.

The next morning the two girls escorted Lucy to the gate of the paddock, and after much kissing and embracing on Jeanie's part, she rode off with Louis and Clinton. When they had gone a short distance Lucy looked back; Effie, still faithful, was looking after them; Jeanie had already turned away. Involuntarily Lucy spoke.

“Jeanie is a dear little thing,” she said, “but I love Effie best. What do you think of them, Clinton?”

He answered with the most languid indifference of tone and manner, “I don't think I quite agree with you, Lucy. I don't take much to Miss Lennox. The other is a pretty little thing, but page 94 those regular faces, with no change of expression, are horribly insipid.” Did he think so last night, beneath the blue gums in the gully at Deepdene?

“One foot on shore, and one on sea,
To one thing constant never.”

But you will find it safer in the end, Clinton Meredith, to be off with the old love before you are on with the new!