know—if only anybody could!—how I would make up to you for all that you have lost, dearest. But nobody can. And I am full of the most diabolical faults—you can't imagine!"
And now she was all sincerity. But Rigden laughed outright.
"Tell me some of them," said he.
Moya hesitated; and did not confess her innate curiosity after all. She was still much too conscious of that blemish.
"I have a horrible temper," she said at length.
"I don't believe it."
"I certainly shouldn't believe him."
"Then wait and see."
"I will; and when I see it I'll show you what a real temper is like."
"Well, I suppose I've had more attention than I deserve. So I suppose you might call me unreasonable—exacting—in fact, selfish!"
This was more vital; hence the hesitation on his part.
"When I do," said Rigden, solemnly, "you may send me about my business."
"It may be too late."
"Then we won't meet our troubles half-way," cried the young man, with virile common-sense. "Come! We love each other; that's good enough to go on with. And we've got the station to ourselves; didn't I work it well? So don't let's talk through our necks!"
The bush slang made the girl smile, but excitement had overstrung her finer nerves, and neither tone nor topic could she change at will.
"Shall we always love each other, darling?"
And there was the merest film of moisture upon the lovely eyes that were fixed so frankly upon his own.
"I can only answer for myself," he said, catching her mood. "I shall love you till I die."
"Whatever I do?"
"Even if you give me up."
"That's the one thing I shall never do, dearest."
"God bless you for saying it, Moya. If I knew what I have ever done or can do to deserve you!"
"Don't, dear ... you little dream ... but you will know me by and by."
And he leant and kissed her with all his might.
"Meanwhile—let us promise each other—there shall be no clouds between us while I am up here this week!"
"I'll kiss the Book on that."
"My dear child, why should there be?"
"And then there are all those faults of mine."
"I don't believe in them. But if I did it would make no difference. It's not your qualities I'm in love with, Moya. It's yourself—so there's an end of it."
And an end there was, for about Rigden there was a crisp decisiveness which had the eventual advantage of a nature only less decided than his own. But it was strange that those should have been the last words.
Still stranger was it, as they sat together in a silence happier than their happiest speech, and as the lowering sun laid long shadows at their feet, that one of these came suddenly between them, and that it was not the shadow of pine-tree or verandah-post, but of a man.
It was not Theodore, however. It was a man whom Moya was thankful not to have seen before. Nor was the face more familiar to Rigden himself, or less unlovely between the iron-grey bristles that wove a wiry mat from ear to ear, over a small head and massive jaws. For on attracting their attention the man lifted his wideawake, a trick so foreign to the normal bushman that Rigden's eyebrows were up from the beginning; yet he carried his swag as a swag should be carried; the outer blanket was the orthodox "bluey," duly faded; and the long and lazy stride that of the inveterate "sundowner."
"Eureka Station, I believe?" said the fellow, halting.
"That's the name," said Rigden.
"And are you the boss?"
"Then Eureka it is!" cried the swagman, relieving himself of his swag, and heartily kicking it as it lay where he let it fall.
"But," said Rigden, smiling, "I didn't say I had any work for you, did I?"
"And I didn't ask for any work."
"Travellers' rations, eh? You'll have to wait till my storekeeper comes in. Go and camp in the travellers' hut."
Instead of a thank-you the man smiled—but only slightly—and shook his iron-grey head—but almost imperceptibly. Moya perceived it, however, and could not imagine why Rigden tolerated a demeanour which had struck her as insolent from the very first. She glanced from one man to the other. The smile broadened on the very unpleasant face of the tramp, making it wholly evil in the lady's eyes. So far from dismissing him, however, Rigden rose.
"Excuse me a few minutes," he said, not only briefly, but without even looking at Moya; and with a word to the interloper he led the way to the station store. This was one of the many independent buildings, and not the least substantial. The tramp followed Rigden, and in another moment a particularly solid door had closed behind the pair.
Moya felt at once hurt, aggrieved, and ashamed of her readiness to entertain any such feelings. But shame did not remove them. It was their first day together for two interminable months, and the afternoon was to have been their very very own. That was the recognised arrangement, and surely it was not too much to expect when one had come five hundred miles in the heat of January (most of them by coach) to see one's fiancé in one's future home. This afternoon, at least, they might have had to themselves. It should have been held inviolate. Yet he could desert her for the first uncleanly sundowner who came along! After first telling the man to wait, he must needs show his strength by giving in and attending to the creature himself, his devotion by leaving her alone on a verandah without another soul in sight or hearing! It might only be for the few minutes mentioned with such off-hand coolness. The slight was just the same.
Such was the first rush of this young lady's injured feelings and too readily embittered thoughts. They were more bitter, however, in form than in essence, for the notorious temper of the Australian Bethunes was seldom permitted a perfectly direct expression. They preferred the oblique ways of irony and sarcasm, and their minds ran in those curves. A little bitterness was in the blood, and Moya could not help being a Bethune.
But she had finer qualities than were rife—or at all events conspicuous—in the rank and file of her distinguished family. She had the quality of essential sweetness which excited their humorous contempt, and she was miraculously free from their innate and unparalleled cynicism. At her worst she had warm feelings, justly balanced by the faculty of cold expression. And at her best she was quick to see her faults and to deplore them; a candid and enthusiastic friend; staunch at your side, sincere to your face, loyal at all costs behind your back.
It was this loyalty that came to her rescue now: she stood suddenly self-convicted of a whole calendar of secret crime against the man whom she professed to love. Did she love him? Could she possibly love him, and so turn on him in an instant, even in her heart? Oh, yes, yes! She was a little fool, that was all; at least she hoped it was all. To think that her worst faults should hunt her up on the very heels of her frank confession of them! So in a few minutes sense prevailed over sensibility. And for a little all was well.
But these minutes mounted up by fives and then by tens. And the verandah was now filled to blindness and suffocation by the sunken sun. And there