[Editor: This is a chapter from The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia (1895) by Kenneth Mackay.]
Waiting for news.
‘Surely they will not race to-day?’
The speaker — a tall, white-skinned woman with hair of gold — rose as she spoke and walked to the window.
The child, unformed alike in mind and body, who nine years before had brought to Philip Orloff the unwritten message of the gods, had now developed both mentally and physically into a fit companion for a lover such as he.
‘Of course they will!’ exclaimed a smartly-dressed brunette. ‘The wretches never think of us. My dream of a frock is born to blush unseen in that stupid stand.’
‘Ted can admire it, dear,’ murmured Heather Cameron a little mischievously; then, turning from the window, she dropped into a chair and, taking a racing-cap from the table, added: ‘Do let me try this on you, Edith. It will not go right.’
Kneeling beside her friend, Edith Enson bent her dark head obediently, saying carelessly:
‘Ted indeed! Why, his tastes don’t soar above a horse-cloth!’
While the two girls were talking, the third occupant of the room — a stout, well-preserved old lady — sat hidden from view by the morning paper.
Mrs. Enson was a widow, her late husband having been a partner of Cameron’s in the good old days. Unfortunately, the want of character which had tended to make of his wife a model British matron had a decidedly opposite effect in the case of John Enson. Finding his wife absolutely colourless, and consequently woefully conventional, her husband first chafed under her unimpeachable respectability, and then somewhat illogically drank himself to death; but before he died Enson succeeded in establishing a reputation as a jolly good fellow, and in common with every member of that selfish, and in many instances utterly contemptible, fraternity, left his wife and baby-girl little by which to remember him save his debts. About this time Cameron, through the loss of his own wife, found himself in pressing need of someone to look after his own little daughter. For the sake of the old partnership he offered the position to Mrs. Enson, and ever since she had controlled the domestic destinies of Isis Downs. Growing up together, the two girls — Heather and Edith — though widely apart as the poles in disposition, became more like sisters than many who boast that tie; while in all things save in actual relationship Mrs. Enson filled the place of Heather’s dead mother. Somewhat conventional himself, the squatter held the old lady in the highest esteem as a model woman, and, if people were to be believed, the daughter when she married would not be forgotten by her father’s one-time mate.
As Edith began her somewhat contemptuous summing-up of her lover’s tastes, her mother, having run her eyes over the agony column, found herself free to listen to what was going on.
‘I am surprised at you, my dear!’ she remarked severely. ‘I am sure Edward is prouder of you than you deserve.’
‘Possibly. But, then, some men are so good at hiding their feelings, mother. How would I look as a jockey, Heather?’
‘Splendid, dear! But don’t you think you are — well, a little plump for the profession?’
‘Don’t be spiteful — that’s just like Ted. He says I want steady exercise every morning, the brute!’
‘I wish Edward would remember that you are not a stable boy,’ interposed her mother, in a voice of deep disgust.
‘By the way, isn’t it time they were back?’ remarked Heather, glancing at the clock.
‘Oh, they won’t hurry,’ grumbled her companion. ‘Once let men get into their beloved racing haunts, and they’ll gossip about condition, and pace, and “hot pots,” whatever they may be, for hours. We are of too little importance to be worth a thought when horses are under discussion.’
‘Well, I don’t much wonder; I love a good horse myself,’ murmured Heather reflectively. Then, as she looked out into the gloomy street, the girl added wearily: ‘What maddening weather; I almost wish that we had stayed in Queensland.’
‘It does seem a pity to miss our best three months for a season like this,’ admitted Mrs. Enson; ‘but remember, Heather, it was your wish to come.’
‘She’s a humbug, mother! don’t take any notice of her,’ interposed Edith. ‘Why, she’s just dying to see Io show them all her heels.’
‘Her what?’ gasped the old lady.
‘I know I am,’ said Heather, her face flushing with excitement. ‘How the men from the North will cheer if she does! They’ve all backed dear old Io!’
‘I am afraid that foolish young man has risked more money than he can afford,’ remarked Mrs. Enson, as she ran her eyes down the social column.
‘He’s put every penny he has in the world on the mare.’
‘How do you know, dear?’ queried Edith.
‘Because Dick told me,’ answered the girl, in such a natural, matter-of-course tone that her friend concluded she was either very dull or very deep.
In reality she was neither. She certainly knew, with the knowledge that comes to all women, that Hatten was fond of her, and she returned this feeling, but with one important difference. She liked him as a friend; he loved her as he had never loved any human being. Still, as no word had so far fallen to sweep away the sweet uncertainty of the present, they remained but chums.
Just as Mrs. Enson was about to deliver a few words of general wisdom founded on her past knowledge of men, Hatten and Johnson walked in.
‘You both ought to be ashamed of yourselves!’ cried Edith, half in fun, half in earnest. ‘A nice time you have kept us in suspense. I suppose you expect us to get dressed in five minutes.’
‘I am exceedingly sorry,’ interposed Hatten, before his friend could reply. ‘If any inconvenience has occurred, I am to blame. To be honest, we got on the subject of Io’s chances.’
‘And forgot all about us?’ laughed Heather.
‘Not so. Merely forgot what time it was.’
‘I fail to see the difference; but never mind. What is your news?’
‘The races are postponed till Saturday.’
‘Are you glad?’
‘Well, yes; on the whole I think I am. You see, though Io’s a regular mud-lark, I don’t quite know how she’d shape in a swimming contest.’
‘I’m glad, too,’ said the girl, with a look of comical despair at the cap. ‘I would not have had it ready for you to-day.’
‘Let’s see how it looks,’ said Dick, walking over to a mirror. ‘Now, you tie it. Not quite so tight, please; you’ll stop circulation. Ah! that’s a trifle loose; just a shade firmer, if you don’t mind.’
Standing before him, the girl kept obeying his instructions with an anxious desire to please. She was evidently interested in securing a good fit; but, despite his wish to think otherwise, that, he felt, was all — a somewhat poor result, he had to admit, after his elaborate and highly improbable story as to the loss of his old cap, which even now lay stuffed into a corner of his portmanteau. Still, it was something even to wear what her hands had made; they were kindly ones at least.
‘When you young people have quite finished,’ said Edith, who had apparently forgiven her lover’s neglect, ‘I wish to make a proposition.’
‘We are all attention,’ replied Hatten.
‘It is that, in punishment for your sins, the pair of you take us for a drive this afternoon.’
‘What do you say, mother?’ asked Heather.
‘I see I am in such a decided minority,’ laughed the old lady, ‘that I had better say I am delighted.’
‘That’s a good old soul!’ said the girl; ‘and I propose we go and call on Miss Io.’
‘Agreed,’ laughed Johnson. ‘Come on, Dick, and let us hunt up a decent team; the last lot we had make me tired when I think of them.’
‘Mind you pick quiet, respectable animals, Edward,’ Mrs. Enson called after them.
‘A nice thing to warn a man about who is going to explore a Sydney livery stable, eh, Dick?’ groaned Ted.
Kenneth Mackay, The Yellow Wave: A Romance of the Asiatic Invasion of Australia, London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1895, pages 41-46