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Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138631761
Full Date1897-12-11
Page Number30
Corrections0
Word Count2630
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitlePeggy's Ball Dress
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

PEGGY'S BALL DRESS.

By ADA A. KIDGELL.

Shapely Peggy Lindsay was the daughter of I lie township shoemaker, who was addic ted to unsteady practices. Her individual standing was that of the one professional seamstress Dogleg could boast of. Dogleg s wives and daughters were not often in such moneyed condition as to be able to employ Peguv's ser\ iocs in the making of a whole new dress, though her charges were modest, but a rush of housewifely tasks and the tare of children would sometimes lead to Peggy "coming in for the day," and in that ;ase her fingers would fly like the sunbeams, and fashion marvellous and serviceable gar ments in the quickest possible time. An old dress of Mrs. Murphy's would find itself transformed into knickerbockers for littlfe Neddy, a school dress for Norah, with a good useful piece left over, that with a little contriving would serve as an excellent cape for Nell.

With all her enthusiasm and natural sweetness of disposition, the girl sometimes sighed that life should be so very dull, very hard, and very cruel to daughters who were worse than parentless. Mrs. Murphy, gazing with delight and pride at Neddy's new pants, could little guess how many hopeless tears had gone to their fashioning. But that was all before Dick Paler came into Peggy's life, changing its neutral tints to colours warm and glowing.

Dick was au absurdly cheerful being; his blithesomeness would have been remarkable anywhere, but in Dogleg seemed incompre hensible, and was viewed with suspicion in consequence. The charitable suggested that perhaps he could not help it, yet agreed that a short acquaintance with Dogleg and its conditions would soon cure him of his sense less tricks of laughing and whistling. In stead of this being so, Dick seemed destined to act as the little leaven that leaveneth the whole lump. For this, and other things, Peggy blessed him fervently, for she and Dick were sweethearts, and his happy heartedness communicated itself quickly to the impressionable girl. It came to her, through him, that life and youth were gifts to be enjoyed, and when, in course of time, Dick introduced pleasurings of various kinds into the township, Peggy's jgaiety grew quite expansive. True, her little world looked askance at first, and men whose one recreation was getting tipsy were scan dalised at dances and tea-parties for wives and daughters. But the festivities grew gradually in favour, and the young people began to wonder why they had thought it necessary to lead such dull, dismal lives

hitherto.

The best supported and most promising of all Dick's festivities was to come off at the end of one of Peggy's busy weeks. A day at the commencement of that week had been spent by her in turning, twisting, and con triving at Mrs. Murphy's, and she had gone from there in haste to start on wonderfully important work for herself at home. There she found Dick waiting, and for the first time in their acquaintance she was just a little sorry to see him. Her father was with him, and the men had a pack of cards out spi'ead on the table in Peggy's clean kitchen, which was her dining and reception room as

well.

"We are just waiting for you to have your tea, Peggy, to come and join us in a game of euchre," said Dick.

"I've had a cup of tea at Mrs. Murphy's," Peggy replied, "and I've got 6ome very par ticular sewing to do-you and father have a game by yourselves, will you, Dick?"

"Nothing of the sort, old girl," said Dick, affectionately stroking his sweetheart's hand, "you're sticking to work altogether too much lately, and I'm not going to let you sew in the evenings when I'm here; so, it you ve had your tea, come along and cut for deal. Look here, Peggy," he added, in a lower tone, "you ought to get into the way of playing with the old man of a night; it'll keep him in, away from the drink. He's awful fond of cards, and if you sit there Bew ing so busy he'll slink off to the Crown, and play and drink with the boy6."

Peggy smothered a sigh. Dick little knew the importance of the work she had on hand. She had only three days to do it in, and it wasn't begun yet. However, she was unable to resist any wish of Dick's, and perhaps it might be nicer if he were not to see the beautiful dress she was going to make till it was finished.

Peggy hated cards, and was always afraid of her father's bullying, because she never could understand why sometimes the red knaves were bowers, and sometimes the blacks, and never both together.

"Now, mind you look your very best on Thursday," said Dick when going away; "this is going to be a tip-top affair, and those two rich cousins of mine from Deep Lead are coming all right. I want them to see I've got the neatest, prettiest, smartest, and best sweetheart in New South Wales."

Peggy blubhed, and couid not keep her secret any longer.

"Dick, I am going to look nice, you'll see. At the other dances, of course, dress has not mattered much. They've got the people used to coming together, and that's tne chief thing, but all the girls are going to make an effort to look party-like this time, and do you know what I've done? I've goc up from Sydney a lot of lovely white nain sook-that's a kind of muslin, you know to make such a pretty frock, and lace to trim it too! You won't know me at all, Dick, I've been so wickedly extravagant, and I'll . be so proud. I've never had a party drew before, and it will be such a glorious feeling." She clasped her hands in an ecstacy at the anticipation.

Next morning Peggy sighed over the .mount of work she had to do before she could obtain leisure to cut into the soft white st^ff. It would probably be night be fore she started on the dress. Never mind, she was -a quick worker, and never made foolish blunders like the Bennett girls, whe invariably put their left sleeves into right

arm-holes.

About three o'clock in the, afternoon, as Peggy was down on her knsfl scrubbing the big kitchen, she was ^startled by the en trance of mxa. Murphy.

"Oh, my dear, njr "ear,' began hervui tor, "my sister's tirUM axe dead, and Mick s oome in with a neighbour's cart to see if you and I'll go out. He knows you re always so helpful, and, perhaps, wants you to lay out the poor things. Norah b clean

off ber head. I was son? enough for her when the babies came, but it's sorrier I am now they're gone."

Mick Phelan drove bis sister-in-law and Peggy through seven miles of fire-scarred country, till they came to his hut in the midst of his home. What he and his family lived on was a mystery. Poverty was the overwhelming feature of his home. Even Peggy felt it in her to wonder if the twins' [ de.ith were really a cause for sorrow. There

was no lack of children; five or six unkempt scarecrows of the flock stood staring open mouthed at Peggy, or with morbid curiosity at the new and proud possession of two dead babies. The cramped hut was a horror to Pepgy. Bedroom and living room all in one had not even that one essential in her eyes, cleanliness. Resting on two chairs was the tiny coffin, covered with a dull rea

FOURTH HEAT AUSTRAL WHEEL RACE : "GOING AWAY."

shawl. Seated on the only other chair was the mother, haggard, unkempt; her fea

tures swollen with crying, her expression" sour and repellent. There was a box at top side of the open fireplace that hlled one side of the room, and when the husband came back from tending the horse, he threw him self down on this, and sat grim and silent, thinking more of his own hopeless situation, of his inability to find food for the six starv ing living wights, than of the two dead baDies, who, after three months' trial of a pinched existence, had decided life te be not worth living.

Mrs. Murphy expended much sympathy on her sister, and the bereaved mother pre sently led her and Peggy to the home-made coffin.

The girl listened sorrowfully to Mre. Phelan's little history of the twins' brief career and final sufferings.

"I thought I'd 'a saved Lily, yesterday morning," she whimpered. ' Girls alius fight better for their lives than boys, but I'd gone clean out o' milk, and there wasn't a drop o' condensed in the place. She went five hours after Tim."

Peggy confined herself to administering comfort in the wav her instinct told her was the truest. She tenderly settled the

VICTORIA MILE : FINISH FOB FINAL. 1, C. B. KELLOW;

2, J. B. A. GARGUBEVICH; 3, L. BABKEB.

FINISH. FOR FINAL OF M.B.O. BOULE D'OB : 1, R. H. WALNE;

2, D. J. WALKEB; 8, A. tt. CLINTON.

AUStRAL WHEEL MEETING.

little white bodies, placed the few bitB of flowers she had managed to bring, and tried to impart some semblance 01 grace to the faded shawl that served a a pall to the bier. At this last act the mourner's tears burst

anew.

"Ah, Peggy, Peggy," she cried, "to think I've only a dirty shawl-and a red one-to drape my babies coffin with! If I only had a bit of waite now-only some pure white for my innocyit darlings, but I haven't even a sheet, nor a stitch of calico."

The poor woman knelt down and rocked herself to and fro. bemoaning not alone hec children's death, Dut her grinding poverty, her crushed hopes of airly womanhood, her miserable existence, and the hopeless scheme of things. With an aching heart Peggy watched her. Nobody could give comfort; nobody could do anything to help. Ah, yes, it was only a little thing, but sne could take away some of the sense of degra dation in the mother's cup of woe. She could send out her white nainsook, that bad not a cut in it yet, and the Mrs. Phelan could have the bodies clothed decently, and the coffin covered in the hue befitting the inno cent dead, when the priest and the neigh bour* came to help give "a proper funeral."

"Don't fret, Mrs. rhelau," ane said. "Try

to think of the other poor children, won t you? and when I get home I'll send you some nice white stuff that will make robes for the darlings."

The mother interrupted her sobs with "Oh, Peggy darling, how good you are! Are you quite sure you ve got a bit to spare?"

"Quite sure, Mrs. Phelan," said Peggy, bravely; "and now, lira. Murphy, don't you think you'd better be going? You said Jack Hamerton was going to drive us back, didn't you? I'll send out the parcel with him."

All the way home Peggy could not but dwell on her sacrifice, but never for a minute to regret it-only its necessity. She did want something pretty of her own so badly; she did want Dick to see her looking as she knew a becoming dress would make her look. "Oh, why is there any ugliness?" she was driven to passionately question.

"Everything ought to be lovely, and-oh, dear, that iudeoug grey,ophinere again!"

At'last came the nightj of the dance Dick had been at such paibs to make a success.

He had been favoured with a few hints re garding thf costumings of local belles, but he dismissed ail* such information with a contemptuous sniff. "As if it were a bit of use any of the girls trying to hold a candle to Peggy when she chooses to shine."

He had been boasting to his cousins of Peggy's charms, and of the way 6he could make a gown "equal to anything seen in Sydney," and, on the eventful Thursday, he took ms young relatives with him to call for Peggy, and get an early sight of her in dazzling array. A curious shyness had pre vented the girl from telling Dick of the fate of her nainsook, and it was with a heart beating painfully that she awaited her lover that night. She had done what she could to alter her everyday appearance by bestowing particular care on true dressing of her hair, and a touch of colour on the obnoxious, well worn cashmere, but she was cruelly con scious that to masculine eyes she was just as

usual.

She opened the door to Dick's knock, and he ana his cousins walked into the kitchen.

?eg,.nxen't you ready yet?" be £ gettftg fete. Ob, here are Ben 'thati've toldjrou about."

, shook bandj-fibyty, and then, with

qb^oyr, turned £o\ Dick and said ' "J am readyf I&dnJtthkve that white dressafter ail, Dick?'A /

"Why not?".hertijw$d/ aimoat angrily. "What are you'wfearigg^tiiiB old thing xor:" He felt that blfincsSems were condemning her as shabby, and would do so still more when they'came to compare her with the other girls.

"X can't tell you now, Dick," she said. "Won't you take me like this?"

"Of course, I'll take you any way. I sup pose, poor girl, you couldn't get it mushed that was me making you play cards that night."

"No, it wasn't that, dear-but your cousins will want to be getting along."

As they walked to the galvanised iron building, which was all Dogleg could boast of in the way of social ball, bttle was said. The young men from Deep Lead kept dis creetly ahead, and Dick thought to hide his disappointment under the cloak of silence. Peggy was afraid to speak, lest tears should come, and that would be too dreadful going

to a danoe. The big ball by which she baa so long counted time proved anything bub a joy. It was not that the other girls, superior in new finery, cast glances of pity or disdain on her humble gown, but the con sciousness of Dick's disappointment was galling. It was bad enough to be the worst dressed girl in the room, she told herself, without having to feel she had hutnblea Dick's pride before his rich cousins.

She and Dick, of course, went home to gether, and he, noticing his sweetheart's un wonted quietness, began to reflect on the rough speeches he had made to her.

"Peggy," he said, oomfortingly; "you're fretting because your dress wasn't finished. What a vain little woman! Why, for all their fine clothes, there wasn't a girl to

come near you, was there?"

"Oh, Dick," said Peggy, with a little sob;

"I must tell you about the dress. As if I'd be lazy enough to let anything stop me from finishing it, when you wanted me to look nice, and I love pretty clothes, I do. I am wretched in the mud-coloured horron they sell in the store here."

In a minute more she had told what had become of the muslin. She waited ner vously for some gentle reproof for her secrecy in the transaction. Dick said nothing. This was worse than she had an ticipated. He was surely angy that she had made his feelings of less consideration than Mrs. Phelan's. How miserable she was!

Dick had not spoken at once, simply be cause he could not; for, being a man, he be lieved emotion must be kept under at all cost. When he did find speech, it was of the briefest, but it somehow satisfied Peggy

completely.