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Chapter 29
Sam Meets with a Rival, and How he Treated Him.

That week one of those runs upon the Captain’s hospitality took place which are common enough in the bush, and, although causing a temporary inconvenience, are generally as much enjoyed by the entertainer as entertained. Everybody during this next week came to see them, and nobody went back again. So by the end of the week there were a dozen or fourteen guests assembled, all uninvited, and apparently bent on making a good long stay of it.

Alice, who had expected to be rather put out, conducted everything with such tact and dignity that Mrs. Buckley remarked to Mrs. Mayford, when they were alone together, “that she had never seen such beauty and such charming domestic grace combined, and that he would be a lucky young fellow who got her for a wife.”

“Well, yes, I should be inclined to say so too,” answered Mrs. Mayford. “Rather much of the boarding-school as yet, but that will wear off, I dare say. I don’t think the young lady will go very long without an offer. Pray, have you remarked anything, my dear madam?”

Yes, Mrs. Buckley had remarked something on her arrival the day before yesterday. She had remarked Sam and Alice come riding over the paddock, and Sam, by way of giving a riding-lesson, holding the little white hand in his, teaching it (the dog!) to hold the reins properly. And on seeing Alice she had said to herself, “That will do.” But all this was not what Mrs. Mayford meant — in fact, these two good ladies were at cross-purposes.

“Well, I thought I did,” replied Mrs. Buckley, referring to Sam. “But one must not be premature. They are both very young, and may not know their own minds.”

“They seem as if they did,” said Mrs. Mayford. “Look there!” Outside the window they saw something which gave Mrs. Buckley a sort of pang, and made Mrs. Mayford laugh.

There was no one in the garden visible but Cecil Mayford and Alice, and she was at that moment busily engaged in pinning a rose into his buttonhole. “The audacious girl!” thought Mrs. Buckley; “I am afraid she will be a daughter of debate among us. I wish she had not come home.” While Mrs. Mayford continued —

“I am far from saying, mind you, my dear Mrs. Buckley, that I don’t consider Cecil might do far better for himself. The girl is pretty, very pretty, and will have money. But she is too decided, my dear. Fancy a girl of her age expressing opinions! Why, if I had ventured to express opinions at her age, I—— I don’t know what my father would have said.”

“Depend very much on what sort of opinions they were; wouldn’t it?” said Mrs. Buckley.

“No; I mean any opinions. Girls ought to have no opinions at all. There, last night when the young men were talking all together, she must needs get red in the face and bridle up, and say, ‘She thought an Englishman who wasn’t proud of Oliver Cromwell was unworthy of the name of an Englishman.’ Her very words, I assure you. Why, if my daughter Ellen had dared to express herself in that way about a murderous Papist, I’d have slapped her face.”

“I don’t think Cromwell was a Papist; was he?” said Mrs. Buckley.

“A Dissenter, then, or something of that sort,” said Mrs. Mayford. “But that don’t alter the matter. What I don’t like to see is a young girl thrusting her oar in in that way. However, I shall make no opposition, I can assure you. Cecil is old enough to choose for himself, and a mother’s place is to submit. Oh, no; I assure you, whatever my opinions may be, I shall offer no opposition.”

“I shouldn’t think you would,” said Mrs. Buckley, as the other left the room: “rather a piece of luck for your boy to marry the handsomest and richest girl in the country. However, madam, if you think I am going to play a game of chess with you for that girl, or any other girl, why, you are mistaken.”

And yet it was very provoking. Ever since she had begun to hear from various sources how handsome and clever Alice was, she had made up her mind that Sam should marry her, and now to be put out like this by people whom they had actually introduced into the house! It would be a great blow to Sam too. She wished he had never seen her. She would sooner have lost a limb than caused his honest heart one single pang. But, after all, it might be only a little flirtation between her and Cecil. Girls would flirt; but then there would be Mrs. Mayford manoeuvring and scheming her heart out, while she, Agnes Buckley, was constrained by her principles only to look on and let things take their natural course.

Now, there arose a coolness between Agnes Buckley and the Mayfords, mother and son, which was never made up — never, oh, never! Not very many months after this she would have given ten thousand pounds to have been reconciled to the kind-hearted old busy-body; but then it was too late.

But now, going out into the garden, she found the Doctor busy planting some weeds he had found in the bush, in a quiet corner, with an air of stealth, intending to privately ask the gardener to see after them till he could fetch them away. The magpie, having seen from the window a process of digging and burying going on, had attended in his official capacity, standing behind the Doctor, and encouraging him every now and then with a dance, or a few flute-like notes of music. I need hardly mention that the moment the Doctor’s back was turned the bird rooted up every one of the plants, and buried them in some secret spot of his own, where they lie, I believe, till this day.

To the Doctor she told the whole matter, omitting nothing, and then asked his advice. “I suppose,” she said, “you will only echo my own determination of doing nothing at all?”

“Quite so, my dear madam. If she loves Sam, she will marry him; if she don’t, he is better without her.”

“That is true,” said Mrs. Buckley. “I hope she will have good taste enough to choose my boy.”

“I hope so too, I am sure,” said the Doctor. “But we must not be very furious if she don’t. Little Cecil Mayford is both handsomer and cleverer than Sam. We must not forget that, you know.”

That evening was the first thoroughly unhappy evening, I think, that Sam ever passed in his life. I am inclined to imagine that his digestion was out of order. If any of my readers ever find themselves in the same state of mind that he was in that night, let them be comforted by considering that there is always a remedy at hand, before which evil thoughts and evil tempers of all kinds fly like mist before the morning sun. How many serious family quarrels, marriages out of spite, alterations of wills, and secessions to the Church of Rome, might have been prevented by a gentle dose of blue pill! What awful instances of chronic dyspepsia are presented to our view by the immortal bard in the characters of Hamlet and Othello! I look with awe on the digestion of such a man as the present King of Naples. Banish dyspepsia and spirituous liquors from society, and you would have no crime, or at least so little that you would not consider it worth mentioning.

However, to return to Sam. He, Halbert, Charles Hawker, and Jim had been away riding down an emu, and had stayed out all day. But Cecil Mayford, having made excuse to stay at home, had been making himself in many ways agreeable to Alice, and at last had attended her on a ride, and on his return had been rewarded with a rose, as we saw. The first thing Sam caught sight of when he came home was Alice and Cecil walking up and down the garden very comfortably together, talking and laughing. He did not like to see this. He dreaded Cecil’s powers of entertainment too much, and it made him angry to hear how he was making Alice laugh. Then, when the four came into the house, this offending couple took no notice of them at all, but continued walking up and down in the garden, till Jim, who, not being in love, did’nt care twopence whether his sister came in or not, went out to the verandah, and called out “Hi!”

“What now?” said Alice, turning round.

“Why, we’re come home,” said Jim, “and I want you.”

“Then you won’t get me, impudence,” said Alice, and began walking up and down again. But not long after, having to come in, she just said, “How do, Mr. Halbert?” and passed on, never speaking to Sam. Now there was no reason why she should have spoken to him, but “Good evening, Mr. Buckley,” would not have hurt anybody. And now in came Cecil, with that unlucky rose, and Jim immediately began —

“Hallo, Cis, where did you get your flower?”

“Ah, that’s a secret,” said Cecil, with an affected look.

“No secret at all,” said Alice, coming back. “I gave it to him. He had the civility to stay and take me out for a ride, instead of going to run down those poor pretty emus. And that is his reward. I pinned it into his coat for him.” And out she went again.

Sam was very sulky, but he couldn’t exactly say with whom. With himself more than anybody, I believe.

“Like Cecil’s consummate impudence!” was his first thought; but after he had gone to his room to dress, his better nature came to him, and before dinner came on he was his old self again, unhappy still, but not sulky, and determined to be just.

“What right have I to be angry, even suppose she does come to care more for him than for me? What can be more likely? He is more courtly, amusing, better-looking, they say, and certainly cleverer; oh, decidedly cleverer. He might as well make me his enemy as I make him mine. No; dash it all! He has been like a brother to me ever since he was so high, and I’ll be d —— d if there shan’t be fair play between us two, though I should go into the army through it. But I’ll watch, and see how things go.”

So he watched at dinner and afterwards, but saw little to comfort him. Saw one thing, nay, two things, most clearly. One was, that Cecil Mayford was madly in love with Alice; and the other was, that poor Cecil was madly jealous of Sam. He treated him differently to what he had ever done before, as though on that evening he had first found his rival. Nay, he became almost rude, so that once Jim looked suddenly up, casting his shrewd blue eyes first on one and then on the other, as though to ask what the matter was. But Sam only said to himself, “Let him go on. Let him say what he will. He is beside himself now, and some day he will be sorry. He shall have fair play, come what will.”

But it was hard for our lad to keep his temper sometimes. It was hard to see another man sitting alongside of her all the evening, paying her all those nameless little attentions which somehow, however unreasonably, he had brought himself to think were his right, and no one else’s, to pay. Hard to wonder and wonder whether or no he had angered her, and if so, how? Halbert, good heart! saw it all, and sitting all the evening by Sam, made himself so agreeable, that for a time even Alice herself was forgotten. But then, when he looked up, and saw Cecil still beside her, and her laughing and talking so pleasantly, while he was miserable and unhappy, the old chill came on his heart again, and he thought — was the last happy week only a deceitful gleam of sunshine, and should he ever take his old place beside her again?

Once or twice more during the evening Cecil was almost insolent to him, but still his resolution was strong.

“If he is a fool, why should I be a fool? I will wait and see if he can win her. If he does, why, there is India for me. If he does not, I will try again. Only I will not quarrel with Cecil, because he is blinded. Little Cecil, who used to bathe with me, and ride pickaback round the garden! No; he shall have fair play. By Jove, he shall have fair play, if I die for it.”

And he had some little comfort in the evening. When they had all risen to go to bed, and were standing about in confusion lighting candles, he suddenly found Alice by his side, who said in a sweet, low, musical tone —

“Can you forgive me?”

“What have I to forgive, my dear young lady?” he said softly. “I was thinking of asking your forgiveness for some unknown fault.”

“I have behaved so ill to you today,” she said, “the first of my new friends! I was angry at your going out after our poor emus, and I was cross to you when you came home. Do let us be friends again.”

There was a chance for a reconciliation! But here was Cecil Mayford thrusting between them with a lit candle just at the wrong moment; and she gave him such a sweet smile, and such kind thanks, that Sam felt nearly as miserable as ever.

And next morning everything went wrong again. Whether it was merely coquetry, or whether she was angry at their hunting the emus, or whether she for a time preferred Cecil’s company, I know not; but she, during the next week, neglected Sam altogether, and refused to sit beside him, making a most tiresome show of being unable to get on without Cecil Mayford, who squired her here, there, and everywhere, in the most provoking fashion.

But it so happened that the Doctor and the Major sat up later than the others that night, taking a glass of punch together before the fire, and the Major said, abruptly —

“There will be mischief among the young fellows about that girl. It is a long while since I saw one man look at another as young Mayford did at our Sam tonight. I wish she were out of the way. Sam and Mayford are both desperately in love with her, and one must go to the wall. I wish that boy of mine was keener; he stayed aloof from her all to-night.”

“Don’t you see his intention?” said the Doctor. “I am very much mistaken if I do not. He is determined to leave the field clear for all comers, unless she herself makes some sort of advances to him. ‘If she prefers Mayford,’ says Sam to himself, ‘in the way she appears to, why, she ............
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