But they thought not. “No use,” said they, “to shut the stable door after the steed is stolen.” Danger, or the beginning of danger, had distinctly declared itself, and it was their part to guard the threatened point. So they took steps to guard it. The name of Breen was not mentioned, but its flavour lurked in every mouthful of conversation, like the taste of garlic that has been rubbed round the salad bowl in the salad that has not touched it; it filled the domestic atmosphere with a subtle acrimoniousness unknown to it before. And Rose was watched—not openly, but systematically enough for her to know it —never allowed to go out alone, or to sit in the attic after a certain hour; driven into brooding loneliness and disaffection—in other words, towards her fellow-victim instead of from him.
Now that she could no longer entertain, Deb refused to be entertained, much to the discontent of Frances, who pined continually for a larger and brighter life, so that the invitations fell off to nothing before the excuse of the deep mourning was worn out. But when Mrs Urquhart, always maternally solicitous for her poor Sally’s girls, wrote to beg them to spend Christmas at Five Creeks, Deb and Frances, who did not, for different reasons, wish to go themselves, agreed that it would be ‘the very thing’ for Rose to do so. She would be absolutely safe up there, and with her old social world about her, and old interests to occupy her mind, would recover that respect for herself which seemed to have been more or less impaired by association with suburban villadom. They hoped she would stay at Five Creeks a long, long time.
“And if only Jim would keep her altogether!” sighed Frances. “I would be content with Jim now.”
“I wish to goodness he would!” said Deb, with fervour—not thinking particularly of her sister as she spoke.
The matter was put to Rose, and she consented to go. Five Creeks was better than Lorne, which had been spoken of, and the companionship of Alice than the shepherding sisters in the close limits of seaside lodgings; besides, Rose was a born bush girl.
She was tenderly escorted to Spencer Street, and put into the hands of Jim himself, in town on station business. Alice met them at the other end, and the two friends slept, or rather bunked, together—the house being full for the Christmas dance—and talked the night through. But not a word about Peter Breen passed Rose’s lips, so full of words as they were.
Next day the trestle-tables and Chinese lanterns, the sandwiches and creams, and what not, occupied her every moment and thought until it was time to dress, when the interest of the ball itself became supreme.
“Well, there’s one good thing,” said Alice, as, hemmed into a corner of a small room crowded with girls, she laced Rose’s bodice, “we shall not want for men. There’ll be one to each girl, and three over. The Simpsons alone have promised to bring six.”