"I could not help being well here," she answered. "Besides, Alice has been so good and kind to me. I should be ungrateful indeed were I to show no improvement."
But Jim had not brought his sweetheart out on the cliff to discuss his sister's good qualities.
"Helen," he said at last, "is it possible for you to be my wife in a fortnight's time?"
He took her little hand in his and looked into her eyes. The veriest tyro might have seen that the young man was terribly in earnest.
"It might be possible," she said softly, but without looking at him.
"Are you quite sure you _do_ wish it?"
"If you talk like that I shall go back to London to-night," he answered.
"You know very well that to make you my wife has been my ambition ever since I first saw you."
And then he went on to tell her of his dreams, winding up with this question--"I wonder whether you will like Australia?"
"I shall like any place where you may be," she replied.
Could any young woman say more to her lover than that? At any rate Jim appeared to be satisfied.
On the Monday following he returned to London to learn from the agent that a probable, though unexpected, purchaser had been found for Childerbridge. He proved to be a wealthy American, who was not only prepared to take over the estate at a valuation, but also to purchase the furniture and effects as they stood.
On the day following the receipt of this news, Jim travelled down with the would-be buyer, conducted him over the property, and was in a position to assure himself, when the other had departed, that Childerbridge would be very soon off his hands. To the agent's horror the matter was conducted on both sides with unusual promptness, and in consequence, when, a fortnight later, Jim stepped into the Devonshire train with a special marriage license in his pocket, the sale was as good as effected.
The wedding was solemnised next day in the quaint little village church, and excited no comment from the humble fisher folk. The only persons present were the bride and bridegroom, Alice, and the family lawyer, who had travelled down from London expressly to give the bride away. Then, no impediment being offered, James Standerton, bachelor, took to himself for wife Helen Decie, spinster. The worthy old gentleman pocketed his fee with a smiling face, congratulated both parties, and then hurried off to another parish to bury a fisherman who had been drowned in the bay a few days before. An hour later Jim and Helen started for Exeter, _en route_ for Scotland, while Alice accompanied the lawyer, whose wife's guest she was to be, to London, to wait there until her brother and sister-in-law should return from the north.
Four years have elapsed since that terrible night when Abraham Bursfield was found dead in the secret passage leading from Childerbridge Manor House to the Dower House in the corner of the Park. Those four years have certainly worked wondrous changes in at least four lives. One short sketch must serve to illustrate this fact, and to bring my story to a conclusion. The scene is no longer laid in England but on a rough Bush track on a very hot Australian afternoon. A tall good-looking man is jogging contentedly along, apparently oblivious to all that goes on around him. It is easily seen that he and his horse are on the very best terms with each other. He passes the Pelican Lake, descends into the hollow of what was perhaps a continuation of the same lake, and on gaining the summit of the next rise finds himself looking upon what, at first glance, would appear to be a small village. This village is the station of Mudrapilla, and the giant gums which can just be discerned some five miles or so to the right, indicate the spot where on a certain eventful evening, James Standerton first came face to face with Richard Murbridge. This same James Standerton, for it is he who is the rider of the horse, increases his pace as soon as the station itself comes into view. He passes the men's quarters, the store, the blacksmith's shop, and finally approaches a long and extremely comfortable looking one-storied residence, whose broad verandahs are confronted by orange groves on the one side, and the brave old river on the other. As he rides up one of the overseers emerges from the barracks, and hastens forward to greet his employer, and to take his horse from him. That overseer is no less a person than our old friend, Terence O'Riley, looking just the same as ever. Jim gives him a few directions concerning the sheep in the Mountain Paddock, which he has visited that afternoon, and then dismounts and strolls on through the gates, and up the garden path towards the house. In the broad verandah a lady is seated in a long comfortable chair, and playing beside her on the floor is a chubby urchin upwards of two years of age. Helen, for as may be supposed, it is none other than she, rises on hearing her husband's step on the path, and catching up the infant brings him forward to greet his father with a kiss.
"I didn't expect you for half-an-hour at least, dear," she says, when she in her turn has kissed him. "The boy and I have been patiently awaiting your arrival. Did you meet the mail?"
"I did," he answered, "and I opened the bag upon the road. There are two letters for you, one I see is from Alice."
"And you?" she asks, as she takes the letters from him.
"Well, I had one of some importance," he replied. "It is from Fairlight--my old solicitor in England, you remember him--and what do you think he tells me?"
Helen, very naturally, could not guess.
"Well, he says that Childerbridge Manor was burnt down by fire three months ago and totally destroyed. The American, the owner, is going to rebuild it at once on a scale of unparalleled magnificence."
There was a pause for a few moments, then Helen said:--
"What do you think about it, Jim?"
"All things considered I am not sorry," he answered. "Yet, perhaps, I should not say that, for it brought me the greatest blessing a man can have."
"And that blessing?" she asked innocently.
"Is a good wife," he answered, stooping to kiss her. After which he disappeared into the house.
"And pray what does Alice say?" he asked, when he returned a few minutes later.
"She gives us such good news," Helen replied. "She and Jack will spend Christmas with us. She declares she is the happiest woman in the world.
Jack is a paragon."
In case the reader should fail to understand who Jack is, I might remark that he is no less a person than Jack Riddington, the overseer, mentioned at the commencement of my story, and who was supposed to be Jim's best friend. Alice, after they were engaged, admitted that she had always entertained a liking for him, while it was well known that he had always been head over ears in love with her. During Jim's absence in England he had come into a large sum of money, had purchased a station one hundred and fifty miles south of Gundawurra, had married Alice within six months of her return, and was now living a life of undoubted felicity.
"They may be happy," said Helen, "but they can never be as happy as we are. That is quite certain, husband mine."