sat Moya Bethune, the admired of all the most admirable admirers elsewhere, baking and blinking in solitary martyrdom, while, with a grim and wilful obstinacy, she stoically waited the pleasure of a back-block overseer who preferred a disreputable tramp's society to hers!
The little fool in her was uppermost once more. There was perhaps some provocation now. Yet a little fool it indubitably was. She thought of freckles. Let them come. They would be his fault. Not that he would care.
And her short lip lifted in a peculiar smile; it was the war-smile of the Bethunes, and not beautiful in itself, but Moya it touched with such a piquant bitter-sweetness that some of her swains would anger her for that very look. Her teeth were white as the wing of the sulphur-crested cockatoo, and that look showed them as no other. Then there was the glitter it put into her eyes: they were often lovelier, but never quite so fine. And a sweet storm-light turned her skin from pale rose to glowing ivory, and the short lip would tremble one moment to set more unmercifully the next. Even so that those who loved and admired the milder Moya, feared and adored her thus.
But this Moya was seldom seen in Toorak, or, for that matter, anywhere else; and, of course, it was never to show itself any more, least of all at Eureka Station. Yet it did so this first, this very afternoon, though not all at once.
For the next thing that happened she took better than all that had gone before, though those were negative offences, and this was a positive affront.
It was when at last the store door opened, and Rigden went over to the kitchen for something steaming in a pannikin, and then to his room for something else. He passed once under Moya's nose, and once close beside her chair, but on each occasion without a look or a word.
"Something is worrying him," she thought. "Poor fellow!"
And for a space her heart softened. But it was no space to speak of; intensified curiosity cut it very short.
"Who can the horrid man be?"
The question paved the way to a new grievance and a new resolve.
"He ought to have told me. But he shall!"
Meanwhile the dividing door was once more shut; and now the better part of an hour had passed; and the only woman on the station (she might remain the only woman) had carried tea through the verandah and advised Moya to go indoors and begin. Moya declined. But no one ever sat in the sun up there. Moya said nothing; but at length gave so short an answer to so natural a question that Mrs. Duncan retreated with a very natural impression, false for the moment, but not for so many moments more.
For presently through the handful of pines, red-stemmed and resinous in the sunset, there came the jingle of bit and stirrup, to interrupt the unworthiest thoughts in which the insulted lady had yet indulged. She was thinking of much that she had missed in town by coming up-country in the height of the season; she was wishing herself back in Toorak. There she was somebody; in Toorak, in Melbourne, they would not dare to treat her thus.
Her fate was full of irony. There she could have had anybody, and, rightly or wrongly, she was aware of the fact. No other girl down there—or in Melbourne, for that matter—was at once a society belle, a general favourite, and a Bethune. The latter titles smacked indeed of the contradiction in terms, but their equal truth merely emphasised the altogether exceptional character of our heroine. That she was herself aware of it was not her fault. She had heard so much of her qualities for so many years. But all her life it had been impressed upon her mind that the Bethunes, as a family, were in a class by themselves in the southern hemisphere. In moments of chagrin, therefore, it was only natural that Moya should aggravate matters by remembering that she also was a Bethune.
A Bethune engaged to a bushman who dared to treat her thus!
Such was the pith and point of these discreditable reflections when the jingle of approaching horse put a sudden end to them. Moya looked up, expecting to see her brother, and instinctively donning a mask. She forgot it was in the buggy that Theodore had been got out of the way, and it was with sheer relief that her eyes lit upon a sergeant and a trooper of the New South Wales mounted police, with fluttering puggarees and twinkling accoutrements, and a black fellow riding bareback in the rear.
They reined up in front of the verandah.
"We want to see Mr. Rigden," said the sergeant, touching the shiny peak of his cap.
"Is he about?"
Moya would not say, and pretended she could not. The sudden apparition of the police had filled her with apprehensions as wild as they were vague. The trooper had turned in his saddle to speak to the blackfellow, and Moya saw the great Government revolver at his hip. Even as she hesitated, however, the store door opened, and Rigden locked it behind him before sallying forth alone.
"Yes, here he is!" exclaimed Moya, and sat like a statue in her chair. Yet the pose of the statue was not wholly suggestive of cold indifference and utter unconcern.
"Glad to find you in, Mr. Rigden," said the sergeant. "We're having a little bit of sport, for once in a way."
"I congratulate you. What sort?" said Rigden.
And there were volumes of past boredom and of present zest in the sergeant's tone.
"That so?" said Rigden. "And who's the man?"
The sergeant glanced at the young lady. Rigden did the same. Their wishes with respect to her were only too obvious. Moya took the fiercer joy in disregarding them.
"I'd like to have a word with you in the store," said the sergeant.
"No, no!" said Rigden hastily. "Sergeant Harkness—Miss Bethune."
It was a cold little bow, despite this triumph.
"Miss Bethune will be interested," added Rigden grimly. "And she won't give anything away."
"Thank you," said Moya. And her tone made him stare.
Harkness touched his horse with the spurs, and rode up close to the verandah, on which Rigden himself now stood.
"Fact is," said he, "it oughtn't to get about among your men, or it's a guinea to a gooseberry they'll go harbouring him. But it's a joker who escaped from Darlinghurst a few days ago. And we've tracked him to your boundary—through your horse-paddock—to your home-paddock gate!"
Rigden glanced at Moya. Her eyes were on him. He knew it before he looked.
"Seen anything of him?" asked the sergeant inevitably.
"Not to my knowledge. What's he like?"
"Oldish. Stubby beard. Cropped head, of course. Grey as a coot."
"Height 5 ft. 11 in.," supplemented the trooper, reading from a paper; "'hair iron-grey, brown eyes, large thin nose, sallow complexion, very fierce-looking, slight build, but is a well-made man.'"
A dead silence followed; then Rigden spoke. Moya's eyes were still upon him, burning him, but he spoke without tremor, and with no more hesitation than was natural in the circumstances.
"No," he said, "I have seen no such man. No such man has been to me!"
"I was afraid of it," said Harkness. "Yet we