THE STORY OF A SELECTION.
CHAPTER IX.—Mortimer Stevenson.
By ETHEL TURNER. Author of " The Story of a Baby," " Seven Little Australians," &c.
" He was a man, take him for all and all," Morty came up to the selection the next Sunday—Mortimer Stevenson. " Glad to see you, Morty," Cameron said.
" What's the news of the war ? It is a week since we have seen the paper." Mortimer fastened his horse's reins to the veranda post, then drew half-a-dozen papers out of bis saddle-bag—a daily or two, a couple of weeklies, one or two Eng- lish special war numbers. " I'd rather you read for yourself," he said, handing them to the older man, " it's not pretty enough to talk about much. Those Boers take a lot of beating. Of course, it will be all right as soon as Lord Roberts takes charge." The crisp papers were in Cameron's hands ; a few yards away an old canvas chair stretched itself out invitingly. " Hermie, my dear—Miss Browne—here is Mr. Stevenson," he called down the pas- sage of the little house. " Don't mind, me ;I'll just sit down here and have a smoke while you read," Steven- son said ; " don't disturb any one, perhaps they are busy." He sat down on the veranda steps and began to fill his pipe, and Cameron, re- lieved, opened his papers and was in the Transvaal for the rest of the afternoon. " To look at, Stevenson was a typical young bushman. He had added inches to his stature so rapidly and breadth to his shoulders that he was ill at ease anywhere but in the saddle. His complexion was burnt to a deep copper. Gray, good eyes looked squarely at you. Used to cities, you would not like his dress. A serviceable tweed suit, country cut, one of the brilliant ties the store keepers persuade the bush are worn in Sydney, a soft brown hat with its dangling, string-coloured fly veil. His father was a vigorous old man of 70; his type occurs again and again on the out- back stations. He had gathered great wealth during all those laborious years, and he spent it, if not frugally, at least with full respect for its difficult garnering. He had been a member of the Upper House, and his wife, during her lifetime, had much enjoyed the dignity of seeing his letters addressed "The Hon. Matthew Stevenson, M.L.C." He had had but a rudimentary education, yet his plain, common-sense, and clear intellect had made the loss only a slight one to him. To his sons—six of them he had—he offered education, or, at all events, its equivalent—the money for it—liberally, and three of them had taken advantage of it, and gone finally into various profes- sions in Sydney. The others—the duller three —had assimi- lated just as much of the tonic waters as does the ordinary youth of 18 ;. then they shook the dust of Sydney, off their feet, and returned thankfully to the station, where their hearts had always been. Mortimer was youngest of this latter three, and the only one now unmarried. Bart came down the passage, and his eyes brightened at the sight of the figure smoking on the veranda step. "Hello," he said, "just the fellow I wanted. Look here, Daly gave me a whole lot of new seed—Sheep Burnett, I think he called it ; will it hurt to sow it on that place where the sorghum was ?" " Oh, any place will do, old chap, but you needn't waste your best ground. It's great stuff, you know—it would grow in the Sa- hara. Just sow it along with your grass or clover seeds." " It comes up quickly, doesn't it ?" Bart said anxiously. " Do you think it would make all down there look smooth and green and nice in a month ?" Mortimer laughed. " Are you taking to landscape gardening, Bart ?" he said. " I never knew before you had an eye for ef- fect." Bart sat down on the step. " It's no joking matter Morty," he said. "My mother and Challis will be home in a month—we've got to make the place look up a bit before they come. The governor's been making bonfires of all the rubbish since breakfast. It does look tidier, doesn't it ?" Mortimer looked round. " It's not the same place," he said heartily, and added, for encouragement, " And, after all, per- haps they won't come, old fellow. You know you've had a lot of false alarms." " Oh, but this time it's certain," Bart said, and not without unhappiness; "they've actually started by this." Floss came clattering out in her rough boots. She sat down on the other side of the family friend. "I knewed it was you when I heard Pup bark," she said. " You came last Sunday, too, and the Sunday before that." " Did I, Flossie ?" he said. That sounds as if it were a Sunday too many." " Oh, no ; no one minds you," she an- swered. "If it were your father, now, or the Referring Mr. Smith, it might be a nuisance. We'd have to put a clean table cloth on for them." " And that sounds as if I am going to be asked to stay for tea. Floss ?" Mortimer said. " Of course you are," was Flossie's reply. " Miss Browne says it's the least we can do, considering all the papers and things you give us. Only she says she doesn't know how she's going to make the butter spin out. We don't get it from the store again till Thursday." " There, hold your tongue, Floss," said Bart ; " you'll make Morty afraid to take any." " Oh, no, he needn't be," Floss said. "Me and Roly's going to say we don't like it under our jam." Roly came stealthily from behind some trees. " Where is she ?" he whispered. " It's all right," Floss said. " She's got to change her dress, and her hair was pretty awful ; so she'll have to do it again."
Thus reassured, Roly; ventured to the step and took up a position at Mortimer's shoul- der. He was attired in an orange and blue striped football jersey and the most re- spectable pair of knickerbockers he pos- sessed. Mortimer had given him the jer- sey on his last birthday, and it was the boy's dearest possession. " Why," said Mortimer, " what have you been after. Is Miss Browne laying wait for you for stealing her jam ?" " Oh, no," said Roly, " it's only this," and he pointed to his jersey. " She doesn't think it's religious to wear football things on Sunday." " Well," said Floss, in the virtuous tone a clean pinafore made justifiable, "I don't think it is , either. Look at me. I learnt a collect for this morning." " A what ?' said Roly. " A collect," said Floss, " Collect for the thirteenth Sunday after Trinity. Hermie wasn't sure if this was the right Sunday, only it was a nice short one to begin with." " Does Miss Hermie teach you your col- lects ?" asked Mortimer, his head turned away a little. "She wants to," said Floss, "but I don't know if she'll always be able to find me. She was looking for Roly to this morning, only he was playing Boers somewhere so he got off." " Wasn't playing Boers, " said Roly. " I was putting a new name on our gate." " What a story you are," cried Floss ; "I saw you creeping along with father's gun." " Wasn't," said Roly, " hadn't I got this jersey on ?" " That's nothing—you, sleep in it —truly he does, Morty. As soon as Hermie or Miss Browne, go out the room he puts on the jersey over his pyjamas. Why he hates school is " cause he can't go in it." " What name were you writing on the gate, old fellow ?" said Mortimer to save the situation. " Transvaal Vale, " said Roly—" come on down and see—it looks great. I rubbed Her- mie's silly name off." But Mortimer did not move. Dunks's Selection, the place had always been, and always would be called, but Hermie in pite- ous rebellion had written years ago in violet ink on the sliprails, "The Rosery." Mortimer would not go and look at the poor little name defaced. Miss Browne came out, Miss Browne with her face shiny with recent washing, her hair almost tidy, the better of her two colourless gowns on her back. " Very glad indeed to see you—very sorry to keep you waiting so long—hope you, your father is quite well—Bart, my dear, a chair. What are you thinking of to let Mr. Steven- son sit on the step—very sad about the war —Flossie, don't tease Mr. Stevenson, my dear—quite a cool day—providential thing the drought has broken—hope you will stay to tea." These and sundry other remarks she de- livered breathlessly, and at the end put her hand to her side and gasped gently. " I shall be most pleased to stay, Miss Browne, if it will be putting you to no in- convenience," Mortimer said. " Most pleased—most happy—an honour. Who is so kind, so thoughtful—those Eng- lish magazines—and she had never thanked him yet, and those delicious chocolates— too good of him ; most glad if he would stay—uncomfortable house—unavoidable— bush—no comforts—he would understand——." '"He knows he's not to take more than two helpings of butter," said Bart, with a twinkle in his eye. " Bart—my dear —oh, my love—your mother —what would she say—Mr. Steven- son—what can he think—my dear —oh my love," and the poor lady withdrew in hot haste to hide the embarrassment Bart had plunged her into, and to laboriously pre- pare tea. " I see your father's come down gener- ously," said Mr. Cameron, glancing up a moment from his papers, " Matthew Stev- enson, that is your father, of course—five thousand pounds and more if wanted, to the fund for the Bushmen's Contingent. " Yes, that's the governor," Mortimer said, " he's red hot on the war. I believe if he were five years younger wild horses wouldn't keep, him back from volunteering himself. You must come up to Coolooli, and have a chat with, him over it, Mr. Cameron." But Cameron was deep again in the war correspondent's letter. Bart went off to feed the calves—Roly had vanished at the sound of Miss Brown's footstep. " Did you know our mother, and Challis was coming home, Morty ?" said Floss. " Bart just told me—yes, that will be very nice for you, Flossie. All will be well, now, won't it ?" said Mortimer. " Oh, you're like the rest, are you ?" Floss said, " every one going to live happy ever after, eh ? No, thank you, not me, I'm always going to hate them. They don't get over me. No, thank you. I know them bring me a doll, won't they, and there, you are, Flossie darling, sweetest, come and kiss us. Not me. See my finger wet, see it dry, cur my throat sure's ever I die if I have anything to do with them. Stuck-ups, that's what they are." Mortimer gazed on the child, a little uncomfortable horror mixed with his amusement. His bringing up had been orthodox, and reverence for parents was entwined with all his life. " Why, girlie," he said, " this is shock- ing. Your own mother !" " Challis's mother," corrected Floss— " didn't she go off and leave me ? Lot she cared—l was only 2, Lizzie says, and I might have picked up anything and eaten it and died. Even Mrs. Bickle minds her baby, although she does get drunk at times. S'pose I'd had measles ? Or Roly ? We'd have died, or at least got dropsy, Lizzie says, having no mother to nurse us. No, thank you—no getting round me with a doll. As for that Challis, I'll give her a time of it —just you see." " But, but, but," cried Mortimer, greatly at a loss, " your mother is as fond of you as anything of course. I expect it is very hard for her to go so long without seeing you—she doesn't do ii on purpose, old woman—you see Challis was so clever they had to give her a chance." " How do they know I'm not clever ?" demanded Floss. "I believe I am. You should have seen the man I drew on my slate this morning. Or how do they know
I couldn't play before the Queen ? I'm up to 'What are the wild waves saying,' and it's got two flats." Mortimer had no answer for this ; he could only gaze at her. There was another step in he doorway, and Hermie came out, a very slender looking Hermie in the let-down white frock that had made a woman of her in a day. Floss leaned back and giggled as her sister shook hands with the visitor. "He ! he ! he !—she's put her long dress on," she said. "Marty, look, it's as long as Miss Browne's—you'd think she's never had short ones, wouldn't you ; she's 'tending she's growed up." " Flossie," said Mortimer, " would you like to look at my watch—you haven't seen the works for a long time." " Me holding it then," stipulated Flossie. " Alright," said Mortimer, and gave up his valuable timekeeper into the bony, little, outstretched hand. "You spoil that child shockingly," Hermie said. Floss looked up from the entrancing little wheels. "He spoils you worser," she said. "Look at the books and flowers and chocolates he brings over and gives you, no matter how bad-tempered you may be." Hermie looked vaguely disturbed. " Spoil me—do you spoil me—surely I'm too big ?" she said. The man's heart leapt to his eyes. " Wish I'd the chance," he muttered. " What did you say ?" said Hermie. "Nothing," said Mortimer, and began to smoke furiously again. " Morty," said Floss, " Morty, how many times does the littlest wheel turn while the big one turns once,?" " Thirteen," Mortimer said recklessly. " I hear your mother is coming home, Miss Cameron." " Yes," sighed Hermie. " This is surely very good news." Hermie gave a troubled glance around. " Y - yes," she said. " Why, what a story you are, Morty," said Floss ; " it doesn't turn thirteen times." " I meant thirty," said "Mortimer. " Miss Cameron, I have three men loafing around the sheds, and can't find work for them to do—it would be doing me a real kind- ness if you'd let them put in their time straightening up this place." " Thank you," Hermie said, " but we should not like to employ men we were not paying." "Not when they're eating their heads off in idleness." replied Morty. "No thank you," Hermie said stiffly. "I beg your pardon, " Mortimer said dejectedly. "I should think you do." cried Floss ; "it doesn't turn anything like thirty, times. I wouldn't have a watch I didn't understand—here, take it." " I'd like to see the ground Bart spoke of sowing Burnett on," he said, plunging away from his mistake ; " will you walk down with me, Miss. Cameron ? It is quite cool and pleasant now." Hermie rose to her feet —then remem- bered her shabby little shoes that she had all this time been successfully hiding be- neath her long dress. " Oh," she said, " it's too far—Floss will go with you, won't you, Floss ? I will go in and help Miss Browne with tea." (To be continued.)