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A TIGER LILY : A GOLDEN ROD.

CHAPTER I.—The Two Groups. [continued.]

The brother and the sister were passing their comments and chaffing each other. As they did so, the man’s face was puckered and crumpled into more wilful lines and hollows of humor ; but in the woman’s battered, yet still quite womanly face, there were more indications of lingering youthful impulsiveness and passionate faith, hope, and charity. Gregory turned away from his glass gable whistling to his work, summarily dismissing from his mind the spectacle which the two had been contemplating, unless he had an idea of recalling it and trying to fix it as an illustration of the lust of the flesh.

Lauderdale continued pondering on the distasteful pair caught in each other’s trap, for if ever the widow lost sight of her cunning and married her minion, the world might trust him to pay his debts in two senses —like all crushed, degraded slaves, to retaliate when his day of vengeance came, in brutal frenzy and devilish cruelty.

Yet Lauderdale had some remorse where he was concerned; she was suddenly reminded by his effeminate, half effete traits of young Captain Featherstone, of whom she and Gregory used to know something, and of whose graces, weaknesses, and follies they had taken ample interest in jests and laughter up to the day of his regiment’s march out of a garrison town, the first stage of its campaign on active service, in which, at an early date, in a nameless skirmish with the crouching, savage Maoris, the dandy captain was shot dead in the scrub. Lauderdale could never again think of his locket on his breast, his glass in his eye, his drawl and his strut, without having another vision of him, stripped of his elegancies and affectations, a poor, simple young fellow of no more than three or four-and-twenty, rolling on the bloody earth, clutching at the thorny bushes for lack of friendly hands to hold by, and with nothing but the night wind over a wilderness to dry the sweat breaking upon his brow and the froth bubbling from his lips. And that wide, yet close, wonderfully tender saying on hard Scotch lips, ‘ aye somebody’s body,’ would hover before her imagination. Lauderdale drew a great sigh. ‘ Greg,’ she apostrophised her companion abruptly, ‘ surely there is no yoke so base, no bondage so bitter, no toil so hard, as that to which a man bows who thinks to get a vain, selfish woman’s goods to endow himself withal, by wooing her idle pleasure.’ Gregory looked round, and raised his bushy eyebrows and hunched his round shoulders in a little surprise. It was not often that Lauderdale’s staid and crushed-down woman’s nature rose so vehemently to the surface. 1 Laud, my daughter,’ Gregory addressed his two years younger sister,

•' don’t you go in for fallen men. The next thing you will be setting up a follower yourself, breaking him in as your helper and successor on a new and approved plan, just to show other independent women the proper method, kicking him, and ,getting kicked ,in turn, and ibat-would hot' suk itfy-boole-af all, at all. Two are company, three none. There’s room for a pair of us, but there ain’t room for an interloper, mv chum.’

Lauderdale laughed with a whole heart and a clear conscience, and shook off the cloud shapes of vague yearning and incipient discontent and indignation which had beset her fancy. The artists were not to get rid so easily of the rampageous, rollicking widow and her pitiful prey—nor to be rid of them at all till they had cost them dear. It was afternoon at St. Boville House —the hereditary great house—stern and narrow, dark and dismal in its hard, cold stone square, with its court and its pillars bearing urns, looking as if they held in perpetuity the ashes of the old Wainwrights of St. Boville’s, and its walls bursting into a dank dew and flushing into a darker red of lichens, as though in horror and contempt of the struggling masses of rickety, garish, fantasticallyshaped shells of flowery villas springing up like dragon’s teeth, in a night, all round it.

At St. Boville’s House, dry David Hume had speculated acutely, summed up caustically, touched formally the dead bones of history, himself in wig and ruffles, paying homage to a great lady of the old quality. Home had ranted grandiloquent tragedy, taken lightly his deposition from the priestly office by his Presbyterian fathers, and had been bear-leader to the bravest boy and man, the tenderest, most faithful heart—which would not lie in Westminster Abbey as Lord Lynedoch, but would lie as Thomas Graham of Balgowan in Methven kirkyard, by the bride dead for half a century —in broad Scotland. St. Boville’s House retained a faint flavor of those wonderful people. Gregory and Lauderdale Wainwright had dined, to the scandal of the snappish, over-bearing servants, at the antediluvian hour of noon, and repaired not to the gaunt, white, dimity shrouded drawing-room, but—taking advantage of the very best part of old St. Boville’s, its capabilities for life in the open air—to the terraced garden and green grassy slopes studded and bordered by big umbrageous trees descending to the

SBwmnvater. ‘There word was brought to the brother and sister that a party were at the photographic establishment wanting to be taken on the spot, demanding the instant attendance of the performers, and impatient and indignant that such small folks as photographers should have bodily wants and think of relieving them by

dinners, while such great folks as distinguished sitters were kept waiting. So Gregory and Lauderdale turned to walk back, Gregory insisting that he would take his own time to put hinaself in [and Lauderdale expediting

him by all the means in her power. Arrived at the glass house,, Lauder? dale and Gregory found the widow, Mrs Somers, flying aboiit likea caged magpie (for already there were. littlfe

bits of white let in here and there, tor relieve the sombreness of her rustling crape and silk), stopping short to deliver ; audibly her decided opinion upon the personal appearance of the photographers —‘ What a scarcrowWhat a, tabby ! ’ She had with her the.aspirant to her heart, hand, and income, Mr Hopkins, trying to cool and compose her; and so heated and ruffled was he in the fruitless effort that he was constantly fluttering his white handkerchief , out of his coat-pocket like an ineffectual flag of truce, and lifting and replacing his hat on his head, the silky brown hair of which was worn and getting thin on the temples—but not with thought—as if it were a safetyvalve for his feverish unrest and deadly weariness. And there were Mrs Somer’s promising progeny, four jn number, the queerest, most repulsivenondescript of three long-limbed boys (if the widow were only as she gave out, she must have married from the school-room),; in frock-likes kilts with braided jackets, which might have been made for their sister, by the same dressmaker, showing long drawn out bare throats decked with crinkling neck-ribbons, and surmounted by heads having the hair divided up the centre, and curled in rows ; and of one girl wearing navvy boots, long white trousers, a regular little coat with pockets, and a sailor’s hat above short-clipped hair—the only boy among them. They had dispersed to mischief the moment they had entered the room •, had already smashed a jar and evolved an awfully Plutonic smell, and were then engaged in hunting an unhappy long-haired little dog, which was their property, and that had grown querulous by human worrying,' round cameras and tables, in among halfdried plates, prepared to dip it bodily in a pail of strong scid with which they were liberally sprinkling and burning the matting. * Hallo ! ’ cried Gregory, without restraint, standing still on the threshold j * I cannot understand this.’

Mrs Somers, in defence of herself and her young, attacked him with the loud volubility of a common, brawling scold ; ‘ I read an advertisement in the well-room; and I came here, like a fool, I may say, to patronize you, and found nobody.’ ‘Some patronage is so overwhelming,’ suggested Gregory, coolly. . ‘ The advertisement was of specimens of landscape photography to be had here,’ put in Lauderdale ; ‘ and the hours appointed for any sitters were from four to six.’

‘Oh ! I daresay; but who minds hours in attending to business, I should like to know ? I can tell you anything else won’t do, if you wish to get on. What I wish is to be back at my house-—lvy Lodges—for tiffin at three, so you will make haste and take us at once. Charley, don’t untie your ribbon, you slovenly hobbledehoy. Missy, put on your gloves this minute, you nasty, naughty girl! you have , smeared your hands as black, as a 1 native’s. Mr Hopkins, I wonder at you, that you don’t look after the children, and prevent them making frights of themselves, when tend you wished our likenesses.’ There was a simper brought in here. “ Certainly the widow had been a wife in her Majesty’s oriental possessions. It reads like a libel on the land of great, gentle elephants, gliding, salaaming Hindoos, even of flowerstrewn heathen temples, but all such women do come from India, as all such baited, forlorn men, like her admirer; ? aie round m-seme-leamed profession—advocates without briefs, doctors without patients, priests without cures. Mr Hopkins lifted his hat, and replaced it more helplessly than ever j glanced at Lauderdale and Gregory ■ furtive looks from eyes wandering slightly, glazed, surrounded by crows’ toes, though assuredly, he was not older than Mrs. Somer said she was.

* Upon my word, Mrs Somer, I can-,,, not help them ; they will not attend to me. Freddy, let that slide alone; Missy, put on your gloves when your mamma bids you.’ ‘ You’re a muff, Mr Hopkins, not to touch what you like,’ shouted Master Freddy. ‘ You’re an impudent, rude wretch to meddle with me,’ protested the still more demonstrative young lady. ! ‘ They don’t attend to you, naturally,’ explained Mrs Somer; * for they don’t attend to. me, not one word. There

never were such children, nor a woman so tried. I know they will live to break my heart, and bring my grey hairs in sorrow to the grave, where the grass on their angel of a father’s is not green, and he has left me alone to fight with

them,’ cried Mrs Somer, sinking into a chair in the most astounding paroxysm, actually raging, panting, quivering, whimpering 'in one breath; while of. the culprits, two turned their backs not to see mamma in one of her tantrums, and two looked on in stolid indifference. One of Mrs Somer’s idiosyncrasies was this rapid, violent change of mood. She was a creature who lived in scenes, whose native air was squalls, all the more degrading because of their petty origin. (To be continued ,)

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Permanent link to this item

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18810328.2.14

Bibliographic details

A TIGER LILY : A GOLDEN ROD., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 304, 28 March 1881

Word Count
1,816

A TIGER LILY : A GOLDEN ROD. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 2, Issue 304, 28 March 1881

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