Chapter 160139462

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter TitleBARBA.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160139462
Full Date1880-12-25
Page Number36
Corrections0
Word Count4919
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleClare's Christmas Eve
article text

CHAPTER VI.

Barbija was a low-lying, thickly populated place, whioh straggled ronnd corners, shot oat in irregular lanes, peeped oat at unexpected angles, and bad a general air of taking np more ground than it conld rightly claim. This appearance Was chiefly owing .to the large number of disused and active briokfielda whioh were to be found in its outskirts. These brickfields were sur rounded by> small mean habitations, crowded into the least possible space—some of them on the very verge of the worked-ont pits, which gave them a pathetic air of peering over with their grimy,-often broken windows, to see how far they would have to fall when their present .precarious foundations would finally give way. -A stranger walking through Barbaja would sometimes come on a desolate-looking exhausted •clayfield, and fancy that he was at the extremity of the place; but, lo! a little beyond he would find that a fresh architectural start in. dis coloured bricks and dust-coloured shingles had been made. He would find more two and three roomed little tenements perched up and down on minute plate&UB, and overlooking yawning chasms; more low, narrow, endless-looking rows of small houses with dirty windows, with paint blistered and falling off, with tiny yards behind them, and still tinier scraps of land in front, where nowsnd then a few flowers drew a languid existence, till a strong sense of discouragement overtook them, and they faded off in an apolo getic kind of way. They seemed to say, " We have done our best to be as white as the moon and the stars, to be as pink as the clouds of sun rise, to be as blue as the far-away sky. But hot "dish-water thrown suddenly over us is injurious to our constitution. So are goats. So are the little chubby hands that tear us up to see what we are made of. So are the strong-nailed boots of heavy men that stagger and trample on us." Alas t the pale little blossoms were not the only creatures of God mortally hurt by the men who staggered.

The principal industries of Barbaja besides biickmakiag were tanneries, fellmongering and boiling-down establishments, gasworks, mid aerated-water manufactories—industries which

for the most put were either very noisy or very UDBavoury. Indeed, the Barbsja, the little river from which the place took its name, and which flowed through the suburb, dividing it into Barbaja East and Barbaja West, was aa foal and discolonred as the most civilized stream to be found in the " Black Country." When the esta blishments named were in full work, when the hides were tanned, the wool scoured, and rancid fat boiled down—besides many a small business which had a fierce perseverance of their o=m_in smelling— the atmosphere was impregnated with odours that more than rivalled the_ forty smells of Cologne, Perhaps under these circumstances it is not surprising that a strong belief was cherished by the labouring men who comprised the bnlk of the inhabitants, in number between two and three thousand—that strong doses of beer and spirits were indispensable to keep the human Byetem in fair working order. Doubtless this was one reason why public-houses were so numerous in Barbaja. Xhey were in the main streets, in the back streets, in the lanes, and by the roadsides. From the tall three-storied, im portant-looking building with stuccoed front, shining plate glass, and newly hung signboard in the principal streets, down to the old squalid wooden shanty with its ill-omened narrow front, its dreary look of combined dirt and vice, in the midst of a cluster of miserable dwellings—all these public-bouses bad their customers and | made their gains. At the bars, in the tap

rooms, in the grimy parlours redolent of vile tobacco and viler spirits, there were always to be found after work hours groups of men in their labour-soiled clothes — some in eager talk, others quarrelling noisily, a. few in moody silence, but all having something to drink,

On Saturday nights these groups swelled into crowds, the quarrelling ended in fighting, and " something to drink" went Jon to hard-and-fast potations till a number "of the men were riotously or helplessly chruuk. No public-house in Barbaja was more noted for these Saturday night orgies than the " Black Panther." It wss a low one-atoried building faring Ohapei-road— one of the main thoronghfarea of Barbaja. Exactly opposite to it on the other aide of the road stood the " Golden Lion," newly built ou the Bite of the first inn which had flourished in the place. The two houses were not by exact measurement more than 100 yards apart. Five honses beyond the "Black Panther," on the western side going down Chapel-road towards Millhaven, you came to yet another inn —small, grimy, and black-looking, with " The Brick makers' Best" gleaming in bold gilt letters above the door. But neither the "Golden Lion," with its glistening bar, its large tap room, with a green and scarlet wall paper adorned with flaming pictures of Heenau and Sayers engaged in brutal fighting, and similar works of art; nor the " Brickmakera' Bast," with its seductive title, and underneath a legcad in small letters of "Good meals for 9d," drew so many customers and drove bo large a trade as the " Black Panther." It was reckoned among local statislicmongers that more heads were broken, more constitutions rained, and conse quently more money made in the latter than in any other too inns in Barbaja put together. Asa matter of fact, no other iun was hauuted to the same extent after nightfall by anxious and miserable-looking women with children in their arms and at their side. They would stand, those wives and mothers, at a little distance and gaze timidly in at the flaring bar, listening with a loud beating heart as voices rose within in boisterous mirth or angry altercation. But as a rule they did not go very near, and few, indeed, were bold enough to go to the bar-door or in at the side entrance to ask

for any reveller who might be within. For Host Bampton, with his rubicund nose, his heavy cheeks, his shock of red hair, and his thick gruff voice, knew well how to keep those women with their careworn haggard faces at a safe distance. " A passel o' wimen pokin' round with red eyeses is enough to give any one the mollygrums," he used to say, with a fine touch of indignation. From this it may be in ferred that " mollygrums" was not the highest form of jollity known to the landlord of the

Black Panther.

One Monday evening in the early part of December, just one month after the Rev. Harleigh Boxburghe had taken charge of St. Christopher's, the bar of this inn was half-filled by labourers, mechanics, and others, who in passing from their work had called in to have a glass of beer.

Like all hostelries that make a large trade, the Black Panther had many frequenters who were not always nndeviating in their atten dance. Among these it may suffice now to note Larry O'Donnell, who was viciously teetotal till he fell into temptation, and after spending bis money loudly sorrowed over his fall, vowing amendment with many tears. "It's thim public-houses, me jewel," he would say to his wife Bridget, with solemn certainty. " They blazes into a man's oies as it were whin he's comin' home from his work, an' wan afther another goes in, an' he calls on the saints to help him; but bedad they're too cosey or too far away to moind. And thin he feels that he's just a poor mane-spirited blackguard if he doesn't take a dhrop o' the crather loike Pat and Mike and the rist o' the bhoys."

There was James Olenrice, the broken-down gentleman, who in his sober moments wrote those diffuse, eloquent begging-letters which brought the tears into the eyeB of pitifal chari table ladies—letters in which he imprecated the wrath of Heaven on himself if he ever again gave way to his " besetting sin," as he glibly termed his drunkenness. But once fairly started again with a pound or two in his pockets, and a tumbler of spirits before him, none so vituperative as he about meddling legislation, and interference with the t>oor man's liberty. " Let as beware of those who would try to rob ns of the' good gift of God,'" he would say pathetically as he drank Banlpton's adulterated brandy. And then when his band shook with incipient deliriam tremens he woald give a forcible oration on the text that people are not to be made sober by Act of Par liament. There was, farther, Dick Brown, a clever house-painter, who in his time figared at many temperance meetings as a man whe had seen the evil of his wayB, and held all intoxi cating liquor as accursed. Dick kept sober sometimes for six and nine months at a time, and then the Black Panther saw nothing of him. But Bampton did not despair. " Dick is making money fast; I'll have a good haul soon," ho would ssy with a chuckle to his more intimate cronies. And poor Dick generally fulfilled this expectation. Yet he was never one of the Black Panther's most desirable customers. There was a moodiness about him, a feeling of sullen discontent which was apt to find expression in savage speeches and in acornfnl tirades upon his own weakness and that of others. " Dick is one o' them as allays spiles a spree by counting np the coat when he onght to be injying his lioker," an associate of hiBsaid once; and there was truth in the saying.

On this evening the talk in the bar turned on tbe innovations the new incumbent of St. Christopher was introducing.

" He's got some chaps round Mason's corner to sign a pertitlon agin another public-'ouse bein' built there," said one.

H Yes," chimed in Dick Brown, " he has the people to meet in the Sunday-school moat t-very evenin'—not Bible classes or Catechism affairs, you know, but just to ait round quite homely like, with views and pictera to look at, and

coffee to drink, and then he leads 'em on to talk of Parlyment, and the sort of men that ought to be there, and hew working men should save money "

"As if a passon had anything to do with the likes o' that," broke in the landlord, with a voice fall of lofty scorn.

"Why, didn't yoa hear what he said in the pnlpit two Sundays ago?"said Glenrice.

" Let's hear it, Glenie," said one or two.

"Well, yon see, I was at low ebb—no money, no tobacco, no credit, no shoes to speak of, and no work. So there was nothing left for me bnt to go in for repentance and the respecta

bilities "

« Doesn't agree with yonr constitootion, that, does it ?" said the landlord, winking.

"Mot very much," answered Glenrice re flectively. "Bnt yon see, thongh yon are a good fellow in yonr own way, Bampton, yon don't overflow with the milk of hnman kindness when a poor devil is so completely ont at elbows. That was my plight. So I just wrote a letter. I was on the brink of starvation; I was snrronnded by temptations (thafs yon, my friends) ; I was sick of wallowing in the mire (that's Scripture) j I was sick of myself and tired of life; I wanted one more chance to retrieve myself; and so on. So the old lady 1 wrote to gave me a nice light job,pickingnp faded rose-leaves and looking after a couple of dncke. Of coarse she expected me to read tracts at night and go to church on Snnday. Behold me, then, clothed in a second-hand coat and seated in St. Christopher's, and I'm blessed if that 4 passon,' as Bampton calls him, didn't pitch with tooth and claw into the national vice of drunkenness. He stood np straight, with his eyes and his voice going through a fellow; and didn't he describe the scenes that might be witnessed any evening at the Black

Panther."

44 What!" roared Bampton, his face purpling.

44 Well, I'm not snre that he named tbB place, bnt one who knows it as well as I do conldn't mistake it. And then be said—4 Perhaps some of my hearers may think that on this holy day ofreBt—this beautiful calm Sabbath—it might he more fitting to speak of the joys of heaven and the blessedness of immortality than of the vice and misery that stare as in the face. Oh! my friends, if the life that is given ns here is mis used and debased by low indulgence—if God's be&ntifnl earth here is stained with our crimes and onr nncleanness—to what purpose should we speak of the eternal city paved with gold, and the white-robed saints who bear palms of victory in their hands ? Is not this world as grand and wonderful as any that can await ns beyond the clouds ? Is not this life as precious as any hereafter ?'"

" There, that's wbat I calls the words of a hinfidel!" cried the landlord in a tone of triumph.

" It's curns prachin', that, to say this woorld, where so many av us has to work at six bob a day and no beer, is as good as the blissed abode &v the Almighty and all the Saints," said Larry reflectively.

44 And then the cheek of a mau like him, as don't know what a 'ard day's work is, to go cry in'ont sgen as poor chaps injyin' our beer," said a bent elderly man with brick-soiled clothes and red blinking eyes.

44 Well, Jim, you've had as mnch beer in yonr day as any man going, and I'd like to know what good it's done yon in the long ran," said Brown gruffly,

"I've been a misfortnnate chip, Dick, what with my poor missus in the Destitute and my youngsters scattered abent here and there," said the bricklayer, with a quaver in his weak

voice.

Hampton did not relish such eicursions into

the histories ot his staunch supporiers,and tried to divert attention by saying, "Is'pose if this 'ere new passon gets his way much we poor pub licans nil hev to shut up shop."

" True for yod, Mr. Bampton," said a new comer, a short thickset man in the prime of life, whose lime-stained hands end clothes pro claimed his calling to be that of a mason. " True for ye, my boy. If you want to earn an honest penny you must buy some Testaments

and tracts and write ' Milk and coffee sold here' over your door. If you do I'll warrant you old Nick will be one of your first customers. He's not so easily taken in as Harry Barnwell."

3. he men who had paid their score on Satur day night laughed at this, but those who were in the landlord's debt were not prepared to find any fun in the joke till they saw how Bampton

took it.

" I takes any man in, Ben Davis, what pays 'is way and keeps a civil tongue," growled the

landlord with a scowl.

" And has a soft head and a fall pocket, eh ?" retorted the carpenter.

" Well, your head may be soft, but I'mblowed if your pockets are very full," said Barnwell, in a blustering tone.

" Tou're right thereabout, Barnwell," returned Davis quietly. They're never so full that they'll need emptying here, while the man who has filled them is lying helpless with a broken leg, unable to look atter his own."

" What do you mean by that?" said the land land, in a semi-threatening tone.

All eyes were now fixed on Davis, who had finished his pot of beer, and was filling his pipe, outwardly calm, but with a certain look of in dignation about the eyes and a little tremor in his hands, which, to a close observer, would in dicate that he was labouring under some re pressed excitement.

"Ton want to know what I mean, do you?" be said, speaking in rather a lower tone than was usual with him. " Well, Til tell you. Last Thursday Harry Barnwell and bis stepson, John Patterson, finished the contract they had from Jenkinson. They were paid the balance due to them, about a hundred and fifty pounds, by cheque. John went to town to have this cashed; when he was on his way to the Bank he saw a runaway horse and trap dashing down the street, and a child of five or sir standing directly in the way. He rushed to save the child, but in doing that be got knocked down himself, a wheel of the trap went over bis leg, and smashed it just above the ankle. Tou've all heard that, haven't yon ?" said Davis, looking round.

" Yes," said several voices.

" Perhaps you don't know what took place alter wards, though," said Davis. "John was taken home; Barnwell, in the confusion, got hold of the oheque, and what do you think he did with it ?"

There was no answer to this, but one or two looked at the landlord in an enquiring way, and be, purple with rage, said, with some expletives, which we need not record here—

" I don't want to hear any more of your yarns, Ben Davis, and the sooner you clear out of here

the better."

" Well, my yarn is nearly told. Harry Barn well, who wonld be a penniless loafer if it weren't for his stepson, took the money, and after paying something like eighty pounds of it away, be made straight'for the Black Panther, and he has not gone home aince—not once; and for my part I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed here till bis money is dene."

11 Come, come, Ben, a feller couldn't swaller all that money in a few days," said the man who

had been addressed as Jim.

" I've known a man swallow]® row of four neat cottages and flower gardens in five days, Jim, when be was .under the care of a landlord," answered Davis, solemnly, es he shouldered his bag of tools.

"Now, Ben Davis, yon just remember that your room is'a deal more walaabler nor your com pany here, for the futoor," s$id Barnwell, as the carpenter went oat.

" Well, I don't suppose the loss cf my three pence now and again will break yon; hat maybe if I get a pocketful of'some one else's money, and make, up my mind to let the old woman and my young uns take care of themselves, you'll give me a sweeter welcome," answered Davis, marching ont.

"It's jnst as I thought," he mattered to himself. "That fiathead Barnwell got the money, and made up his mind to go on the burst; he trumped upa story about having to go on some business, and now that old villain has him in there. Lord Love us, what with the fools and rogues in this world, there's not so very mnch to be cocky abont."

An hoar after Davis had left the Black Panther, Harleigh Roxburghe came up Ohapel road, on his way to the house in which he lodged, half-way between Barbaja and Millhaven, and as he passed the inn he saw a middle aged woman, decently clad, coming ont of it, her face very white, and the team falling down her cheeks. There was an air of snch hopeless misery in the poor woman's whole appearance— she looked so desolate and helpless, that Har leigh's whole heart was moved with pity for her. There was no room for speculation as to the cause of her wan face and her fast-flowing tears, as she slowly walked away from the inn, with its gronp of noisy revellers in and aronnd the bar-door. When she had walked a few paoes, she Btook and looked at the Black Panther, as if undecided whether to go on or turn back. It was then that Harleigh overtook her, and, taking off his hat as he stood bgside her, said,

"i am afraid yon are in trouble. Is there anything that I can do for you ?"

"Oh, Sir; I don't know whativver I'm to do," answered the woman, who had a soft, plaintive voice, and spoke with a broad Lancashire accent. "My mon went away o' Thursday neet wi' seventy pounds on him. He said he mun go out to Warrarra, a place fifty or sixty moile ont o' town, and that he wonld be back on Saturday neet or Sunday morn. But he hasn't coom, end we're afraid, my son John and me, that he's in the Black Panther."

"Docs he—is yonr husband apt to be un steady, then?" asked Harleigh.

" Happen now and again, Sir; bat he wor main careful and peaceable for more'n five months back. My eldest son is so hard-workia', and most niver tastes a drop o' drink; he helps to ketp his stepfather reet. Ton see, Sir, Harry Barnwell is my second husband. Oh, if he has broke out wi' the drink now when my poor boy is down wi' a broken leg, and more'n half the money is due to people who worked for

them!"

"Have yon asked the landlord if yourhus band has been at the inn since Thursday."

" Yes, Sir; but he jist flared up and said he'd have no wimen folks come botherin' about, and be'd no contract to look after my husband. Then I asked him direct, had he or had he not seen Barnwell. But he wnnnot answer; be made believe some one was callin' him in, and he went out o' the bar. What can I

do, Sir, if he spends that money, and my poor boy not able to look after things ?"

" Just wait here a little, Mrs. Barnwell. I'll go and ask the landlord whether your husband is on the premises. If not, you must see the police."

" Ob, Sir, I daren't. My husband would he wild wi'me, an' he's so violent when the drink is on him. Perhaps if you're so good as tospeak to Bampton he'll be frighted to tarn yon away as he did me, Sir."

Harleigh, without further delay, strode back to the Black Panther, and went in at a side door which stood open. He found himself in a loDg narrow passage, dimly lit by a kerosine lamp that was burning above the door. A red faced woman in a dirty flounced silk and a huge mass of false hair tied up with a flamiDg ribbon stood at the door of a room opening on the passage to the left hand.

"I want to see tlie landlord tor a tew

moments,"said Harleigh, addressing this woman.

" Will you step in here, and I'll send him to you," she answered, eyeing the visitor with a half-suspicious glance.

Harleigh stepped into the room as desired. It was a small parlour, with a square table in the middle, on whit-h there were one or two empty decanters, a greasy pack of cards, some soiled glasses, and clay pipes ; there were a few cane-bottomed chairs round the table, frayed Indian matting on the floor; on the mantelpiece a tallow candle in a dirty tin candlestick was burning in a low-spirited sort of way. The atmosphere of the place reeked with the heavy fumes of tobacco and spirits. Through the half-open door came tbe sound of mattered curses and drunken laughter. Presently the landlord came in. He recognised Harleigh at once, and an evil light came into his eyes. Before he had time to say anything Harleigh spoke.

" Excuse me for trespsssirg on your time; I want to know whether Ur. Barnwell has been

here* since Thursday last, or if be is now on yonr premises ?" The clergyman's stately bearing, calm manner, and businesslike speech rather staggered the publican, so that he did not burst ont with tbe hasty expletives which first rose to bis lips. But there was an accent of unmistakable fury in his coarse voice as he answered in a loud blustering tone, " I'd just like to know what right you have to come pryin' into my place arter my customers. If you wants a glass of beer or rnm or colonial wiBe, or any other licker, I'm ready to obey your

orders."

As the landlord spoke there was a heavy shuffling step in the passage; it paused at the door, and then, in a state of partial undress, a powerful-looking man, tall, and stoutly built, with bloodshot eyes, dishevelled hair, and un steady gait, came in.

" Bampton, Bampton; I say, Bampton, where's that money?" he said in a rapid thick voice, looking round him with a half-frightened stare. One quick glance at the landlord's face, with its look of mingled rage and consternation, told Harleigh all.

" Harry Barnwell, come away home with me," he said in a firm gentle voice, laying his hand on tbe man's shoulder, and looking him foil in tbe

face.

" Home to the old woman, d' you mean ?"aaid Barnwell, with a dark frown, throating his hands with s dazed look into his trousers pockets.

" Yes, home to your wife and children; you have been away since Thursday; they are frightened abont yon; they want you to take care of them, to work for them—to love them." Harleigh spoke these words with slow delibera tion, bis band still resting on the man's shoulder.

" If you're soft-sawdered over in that manner you're a bigger fool than I took you for," Bneered the landlord, drawing nearer to Barn

well.

An angry flash rose on Harleigh's face. It was at snch momenta that the old military habit of

commanding implicit obedience, of instantly . quelling the impertinence of an inferior, was apt to reassert itself. "I don't think you quite understand your position in this matter," he said to Bampton, with sharp inciaiveness. " 'What motive have you for keeping Ur. Barn well away from bis family ? . He came here with a considerable sum of money in his possession. If it is lost, who is accountable for it

" Lost—my money lost!" repeated Barnwell moodily. " Bat don't yoa see, it's not my money/' fumbling in bis pockets with trembling hands. " Gone !* he said with a low cry, as all at once his confused besotted mind grasped the terrible thought. He sank down on a chair trembling in every limb, looking round the room, peering with a terrified aip.into the corners which the insufficient light of the solitary candle threw into.Bembrandtesque shade,

" If yob mean's that five pun' note I changed for you yesterday"—The landlord had time to say no more, when Barnwell sprang on him with the fury of a hungry lion. "You have nay money: yon have it, give it to me— give it to me!" he cried, his whole frame con voked with passion, the strength of a giant in his rigid arms. Bampton had not kept a public house for twelve years without knowing what

the set look on Barnwell's face meant.

" Come, come mate, if you're really sober, and able to take care ot yourself and your money, wby yon can have it," he Said in a wheedling tone. Barnwell relaxed his hold while the landlord drew a soiled Russian leather pocket-book from a breast-pocket.

" In coarse, now you're sober," he said coolly, handing a roll of notes to Barnwell, "yon'd better keep it yourself, and if yon take my advice you'll not fool it away on passonses nor churches." Harleigh could not forbear a smile at this thrust, and seeing that Barnwell looked quite sober, as be slowly counted his money over, he left the Black Panther, followed by a look of vindictive hatred from the landlord.

At a little distance from the inn Barnwell's wife still stood, anxiously waiting the result of the clergyman's visit to the honse. Her heart sank when she saw him come ont alone. But be had scarcely told her that he had seen her husband when the latter came out of the inn..

" Oh, Sir, how can I thank yon," she began, the tears starting in her eyes.

But Harleigh took ber hand in his, and raising bis hat said, "I want to know your son. I shall come and see you to-morrow afternoon, if you will let me."

" I shall be only too glad, Sir, and so will my boy," answered Mrs. Barnwell warmly.

Harleigh gave a glance at the haggard unkempt looking man, who with a downcast face and lagging steps approached them, and with a part ing salute to the unhappy wife he went on towards his lodging with a saddened look on his face. " Always the same old story," he thought; " sin and misery abounding on every side, and when we try to make one little corner less sinful, less miserable, we are for ever confronted with onr overwhelming national vice, with places like the Black Panther—licensed centres of pauperism, crime, and lnaaoy—sown broadcast over the community, with their desolating trade

in human lives and human souls."