|Newspaper Title||The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)|
|Trove Title||Ria. A West Australian Story|
It was now night, and their supper over, the women and the man went down towards the Halfway Greek to see that all waa safe,* to throw in burning logs, and make sure that the flamea would not spring op again uplon them in the night
The sky was thickly charged with smoke, and browny-black; bat down below the Half way Creek, and across the river, all along the wide track of the morni ng's fire was a grapd, rich, red illumination. t
The burnt, ashy ground was streaked with splashes of vivid crimson from glowing less, and against the glare stood out in bead, stark Blackness the trunks of the charged forest trees, while up them now and ttyen rail sportive tongues of flame, crackling and flashing up in the loose hanging bark of tqeir dead limbs, spluttering showers of fire-sparks around, while through the broken funnel of many an old tree trunk the flames were wildly rushing, breaking out high aloft in a
prent flnring blnr-p, im|»n<icnf- to /imsli off their work atid to briiif? down t-Iio towering ninsB in crashing ruins to (lie uroiinu.
Crash ! crash! they came, to right, to left trees Hint had stood upright against J'10 winter wind for ninny yours-n storm of (ire, osh, nnd smoke dashing up from them na tlicy fell. And (lie vivid Mashes, mid the shifting lights, mid showers «f red sparks, and eliootin^ Humes, tilled the old forest with what Beenied n wild, grotesque, satiinic, life, while through the thick brown gloom spread overhead the moon looked down like u dusky blood-red ball hung over it.
Tlie weary workers thought »iot of the strangeness or the beauty of the scene; mechanically they moved their tired limbs, and finished otV their tasks and went up home. And 'Ria, when she siuv that Sullivan was getting on all right, and lier hoy sleeping peacefully, sot down outside in the cool air, to rest and think upon the troubles of the day.
Old Mother Pitman had spoken right that tirue at Baylup, when she said it was not for young women to be minding of a place ; the
men-folk were Borne use to see to things. It was all very well, she thought, having a good serving-man like Sullivan to do the work, but the bothering when lires came, and such like, and the worry of the thinking and the ordering of what was to be done, was more than she could stand with the baby on her bands, and the cooking and the keeping of the house. And 'Hin felt very miserable this night, and wished that poor old Jim with all his faults were alive again, and with her. But Jim was dead and gone, and then she thought of Geordie.
She often thought of Geordie now; she had tried to banish him while Jim was living from her heart, but now she wondered if he would come back to her; she thought that it was cruel of him to leave her thus alone with all her cares. He had never come to see her, never let her hear a word of him, and he was living only four miles off, for his father had gone to live in town, and he had taken the old place up the river.
She was free now, why did not he come to her? Two years ago, when she last saw him, he had been mad to have her; had her possession by another so cooled his ardour ? 'Ria did not think so, she had more to bring him now than she had then, and she smiled sadly as she thought that that would bring him back. She knew Geordie well by now.
But she felt sure that, if he took her, he would work for her, and do well with the
Elace for his own sake. And he would
e her husband ! And 'Ria trembled and
cried with pleasure when she thought of that, her one ambition since she was a little girl. She forgave him all his selfishness, his violence at their last meeting; she felt herself the little 'Ria of old days, and he, her lord and leader, her only love through all these years. She was so weak and tired to-night, so weary of her loneliness.
When she had first been widowed, she had thought she rvould be prudent, would not blindly risk her fate with him, but then Bhe
had felt sure that he would come at once and seek her. But now he kept away, and left her to herself, and showed no sign, she longed for him, and thought if he would only come, and say a word of love to her, she
would risk all and take him.
And while she sat, and cried, and thought, Sullivan on the couch inside was groaning out in pain and heaviness. And 'Ria listened and was sorry for him. She knew he thought that he would get her, and the place-for that it was that he was working like a slave, for that he was now lying wounded in her room ; and she pitied him, and-sighed and smiled as she thought about the ways of men.
Bnt Sullivan, with all his pain, was happy; he thought that this would conquer her, that he had nearly met with his death in working for her service.
When he first came to Woodhill, while Jim was living, he stopped on for the missis' sake ; she always gave him a kind word, and looked well to his comfort and his victuals. Bred up in vice, and crime, and ignorance, with the good side of him lying dormant, used to evil thoughts and evil ways, he thought bad things more readily than good; he thought all men were bad, and women, too, only that Borne were lucky, and had not the ill fortune of poor devils such as he. And so, when 'Ria was good to him, and kind, it never struck him that it was simply because she was good-hearted, and would be kind to any poor dog that might cross her path-he thought she had a fancy for him, and he would stop, and reap the crop that it might bring; and when Jim died, he schemed how he might take his place.
But the missis was more wary than he had supposed-it was not cheap that she was to be had-she would not see it, when he tried to make advances; and, afraid to lose the precious prize, the poor fellow worked, and slaved, and laboured anxiously to do her pleasure.
It was a prize worth working for to him! He had never but a pound or two to jingle in his trousers pockets, and it had been hard work when he got that, and the bit of money was no use tolhim, except to have " a drunk." What was the use of a poor man like him try ing to get on and save ? He might save the few pounds wages he could screw together, after he'd filled his pipe and clothed his back, for many a year, and be no better off to speak of. But here was a wondrous chance of a big fortune, ready made to hand, that he might pick up if he only willed and set about it right. Ana a fine woman with it, too, and he'd show her it were best to have him. He set about to do it, and anxiously he brooded, and he thought, at night after his day's work was done, over the progress he had made, and how to make the best of the next day. And when the task seemed hard and Blow, and the end no nearer, a creeping heat would sometimes run along his back and neck, and break oat on his brow in a cold sweat of fear and indignation, when he thought his%ork might be in vain, and he might not get the widow after alL And then he awore and cursed her for a deluding jade.
But as the time wore on he began to think much less about the place, and more about the woman.
Hitherto a woman, any woman, had been to Sullivan-but a woman: if young and fresh, so much the better, but one and all about the same, and held at a cheap rate.
Bat he began to think the missis was dif ferent from the rest. In the first place, she was hard to get, and the getting of her in volved the possession of so much more, that her personality acquired fresh importance in
his eyes. He began to see what she was like; to feel pleaaurp as he listened to her voice, and looked at her; his untutored eye wandered down the 'graceful outlines of her
d was satisfied and pleased; his dull on began to work, and lifted her in Out of the herd off common women, ethins; that he did not understand,
for-something graceful, good, And thiQ ttfew feeling even sub the passionate desire that he now began to feel for her .possession, and made him timid. Sullivan was in love!
He combed and greased his stubbly hair; he washed hia face until it shone again; he
even washed his body, Itcpt his clothes clean, and made himself ue pleasant looking ns ho could ; but still he had a dissatisfied, vaguo feeling that lie \vna not 1111 to nuuli benido her. IJut then ho worked like 11 slave, and vowed ngain that he would hnve her. She could not Ret a man to do for her belter than he could do, nnd but for his misfor tune lie wns as good bb any, and hotter, too, thaii many he knew, who had kept out of trouble. And now that he was lying sick, and Bore, and wounded for her sake, she must hear him, she must pity him. and yield. And when the missis came inside, and ho feigned to be asleep, and when she laid her small, cool hand compassionately on his head, to see whether the fever waB abating, nnd Be tiled the bandage comfortably, poor Sullivan's heart and body thrilled with a strong yearning. He would have caught her, had he dared, and drawn her down to him, and then and there have told her that she must be his missis, and have kept her imprisoned in his arms until she said she would ; and then he felt what a proud man he would be. and how he'd Bnap his fingers at the world and its ill-usage. But inBtead of that he lay quite still, and ahivercd as her hand rested on his head, and lightly touched his hair, as she smoothed the ban dage. And when she went away the salt tears started from his eyes when he thought of the miserable poor devil that he was ; and being weak, and ill, and faint from loss of blood and fever, he doubted that she would ever care for him, or have him ; and his dull life wou Id go on as it had before.
So he lay back through the night watches, nursing his misery and self-pity.