Chapter 160152351

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberI
Chapter Url
Full Date1881-12-24
Page Number33
Word Count3452
Last Corrected2018-03-05
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleHow I Pawned My Opals
article text


[By H. Derwent.]



A few years ago there was not a railway station within a hundred mlles of Hamllngton. But we had a daily mail from Melbourne, which was delivered at 7 p.m, when the coach arrived at the fixed time. In winter, however, this was very seldom, and the safety-valve which was thus afforded for the Ill-temper and uncharitableness of the township was invaluable. "'What I want to know is, how much longer are we to put up with this sort of infamy!" Captain Goring would say, with an incipient tinge of purple in the tip of hie nose. It was rather a prominent organ, and was always the first to show any emotion In the old Captain's faoe. That he rarely got letters from anyone beyond the confines of Hamlington, and that his correspondence was chiefly confined to missives which had a neat slit at each end, and " Invoice only," printed on them, did not In the least allay the old gentleman's wrath. The "shameful irregularity" of the mall was a kind of red rag, which he kept by him for chronic nee, and waved vigorously when the monotony of life at Hamlington threatened to derange his liver. For no doubt Hamiington was monotonous, though those of us who were bred in its atmosphere of quiet and leisure were not much affected by the want of excitement. We had croquet and evening parties in abundance, and twice a year we launched into the extravagance of subscription balls, after which two certain events happened. The Rev. Nicodemus Pash delivered what his admirers calied an "earnest and stirring discourse" on the evils of dissipation, in whioh "ashes and cinders," and " apples of Sodom," and many other striking metaphors figured largely if not very coherently, for the Rev. Nicodemus was a man with a large gift of fluency which was repressed by no consclousness of limited knowledge or neccesslty of logical sequence. He prided himself upon being low church, and particularly insisted on the certainty of damnation for the large majority of his fellow-beings. But on the other hand he was much given to dwelling on the joys of Paradise,

and used to draw most florid pictures of the

felicity of eternal reunion with our " beloved ones." As the Rev. Nicodemus was married to his third wife, it was a moot question with Bess and myself how he would manage about reunion. We had a very vivid mental vision of Nicodemus with the three Mesdames Pash In a circle round him. The other event was that Mrs. Squareup emphatically declared to each of her friends in confidence, that she really did not think she could allow Emmeline and Jane to go to the subscription bails any more. Too much champagne was drunk, and the young men— "now, didn't you notice yourself, my dear, some

excitement in their manner before the ball broke up?" Mrs. Squareup would say in a tone of tha deepest concern, as if fearful that

Emmeline at thirty-six and Jane at thirty-eight

might discover how black was the world from which she protected their dewy innocence. And then amateur concerts were by no means rare, at which our music-master Herr Bohn used to play severely classical music for an unbelieving and unregenerate audience seeking novelty and fire- works, and where Mrs. Warbler, after presslng solicitation, sang" Why do summer roses fade?" in a pale-blue silk dress, with what is technically termed a V, and a surprising train, "So unbecoming to her, you know, a woman of her

age," Mrs. Ashgrove would invariably remark. But this was such a constant phrase with the

latter that no one attached much meaning to it on her lips, except, perhaps, her husband, who understood it to mean" a young and far prettier woman" Mrs. Warbler really dressed well, while Mrs. Ashgrove, with three sandy- haired, freckled daughters, was always making frantic efforts at once to lead the fashions and make their dresses at home. " Ah, yes, my dears, they are pretty dresses in a way; but to my mind the Melbourne dressmakers always gives a frlvolous effect to the skirts," he would say, when Bess and myself returned from a visit to the metropolis. But next time we saw Mrs. Ashgrove and her daughters ten to one lf she had not clothed them in disguised copies of our Melbourne dresses, "with all the frivolity in the skirts and the good taste left on, " Bess declared. Mrs Ashgrove was not the most favourable specimen of Hamllngton society; but as her husband, Dr. Ashgrove, was in partnership with onr father, we were in a manner

obliged to see more of her than we wished. This partnership had been entered into three

yean previously on account of our father's delicate health. It was this delicacy of constitution —weak lungs—which had in the spring of 187—decided father to take a trip to England "and the Contlnent," as we have learned to say, with a kind of vague grandeur. We were all to go, that is all of us who were at home, besides our parents, to wit, Bess and myself. The eldest of us, Mabel, was married to a doctor, settled in Queensland, and James, an only brother, was making his way as a squatter on a small scale in the same colony.

We were within a week of leaving Hamlington, when father lost a large sum of money he

had invested in Ballarat mining shares. The day after this news reached us something occurred that put an end to all prospect of travel and sight-seeing as far as I was concerned.

I left my mother in the dining-room with her accounts, and went out to Bess in the garden, where I had left her half an hour previously. In that interval she had been joined by Dlck Fitzgibbon. Parentheses are hateful, but I must explain that Dlck had come to the National Bank in Hamlington five months previously, that he was the son of an old Collage friend of father's, and had been in consequence a constant visitor at our home since his arrival in the place. He was a merry good-looking young man of twenty-two, Bess was a girl of twenty one with a ready wit and lovely brown eyes. Dick had nothing but a miserable salary of £90 a year; of course they fell in love, and of course the approaching departure brought matters to

a crisis. Dick had "spoken" to Bess five days ago, and Bess though she was reckless enough to admit that she re turned the young Irishman's passion, was not quite- hardened enough to add to her father's troubles by allowing Dick to speak to her parents. They were standing beneath the Moreton Bay fig-tree — the pride of our garden—when I seme out, with a look of ineffable "spooniness" on both their faces.' Needless to say that they tried to look as grave and abstracted as if they had been discussing conic sections. As Bessie was my senior by a year it was only fitting she should set me an example of

unimpeachable decorousness.

"Weil, Nell," she said, with a surprising assumption of not being caught, "have you been reading Murray and making the sign of the cross

over ancient cathedrals."

"Nothing of the sort, I am not going at ail,'

" Not going at ail!" echoed Bess and Dick simultaneously.

"Oh, but what a shame, Nell," continued my sister.

"No, its my own fault," I replied drearily. " Oh dear, what a dreadful thing it is to be such an idiot ai I am. Five minutes ago I suddenly volunteered to stay, and now I'm in suoh a state of despair I can't even cry."

" But how came you to make such a melancholy offer, Nell ?" asked Dlok.

"Well,' mother sat there adding up columns of flgures, and looking so worried and horribly meek and long-suffering, as If she felt acutely how criminal it is to hare two expensive girls to take abroad, but couldd not really help it. I thought of offering to go as a stowaway, but the thought of the aldermanic rats,with a paunoh, ' wie Dr. Luther,' that infest the holds of ships damped my spirits; then I felt sorry she had not sent us to a baby farm in our infancy. I could not get a gleam of satisfaction out of our existence from any point of view."

" Oh, you raging heathen," said Dick folding Bessie's hand in his long brown fingers.

" Now don't you interrupt, Dick," returned Bess gravely. " Well, Nell - I understand—you were rather low-spirited all day; and I notice it is always when one is most depressed that ohe le apt to rush unthinkingly into the vortex of virtue. But go on."

"At last mother laid down her pencii, and gave a great sigh that turned the scales. 'Mother, I said,"will it make much difference it I stay.' 'Oh, my dear, you would not like to do that !" said the mother with a sudden light in her face, 'Yes' I said qnite brazenly. 'I can pay my long promised visit to the Harrowbys, and then go to see Mabel. I shall be quite happy." Here Dick threw up his hands with an expression of tragic horror at my mendacity."

"And what did mother say then?" asked Bess. "She thanked me in a broken voice and folded me in her arms, and then the last linger ing hope died out of my heart. You know when one contemplates a stupendous piece of

self-sacrifice a mean little expectation remains that at the very last something will interpose to save one—like the cloud that hid Sphigenia from the sacrificing priests."

"I didn't think the loss of a thousand pounds would have reduced us to such abject poverty" said Bess reflectively, " Perhaps I ought to offer to stay as well?" '

"Oh, no that little cough you luckily get

occasionally will save you," I returned, half indignant at the robustness of my own constitu tion which obstinately refused to betray the slightest symptom of delicacy in any direotlon.

" Weil, now, Nell, it's really frlghtfully good of you to give up your trip like this," said Dick in a tone of mournful sympathy. "And will you really like staying with the Harrowbys ?"

"Oh yes; the only drawbacks are that Hester and Louise are ferociously learned, that John Harrowby and Nell hardly notice each

other of late, while this Professor is

simply oblivious of the existence of anything more youthful than a Sanskrit verb. He is a Professor of the Dead Languages, and has an abstracted dried-up look as if he lived on Greek and Latin roots; aid Mrs. Harrowby (she is mother's first cousin, you know), considers that the whole of us are brought up on wrong principles," sald Bess,answering for me.

" Faith, you wouldn't be so plump, my pigeon, if you weren't brought up on something more nourishing than prlnclples," returned Dick, langhing.

"Well, Bess, lt'a hardly fair of you to sum up the family like that," I put, in. "Certainly, John and I are not such fast frlends as we used to be; he has had too much to take up his atten tion, what between his work as a rising lawyer and his engagement, and breaking it off.*

"That is such an odd affair you must know," said Bess, addressing Dick. "John Harrowby two years ago got engaged to a Miss Vandome—an heiress -with thlrty or forty thousand pounds of her very own. She is rather good-looking, but with such a very strong dash of vulgarity. John is extremely fastidious, and you couldn't see them together without being conscious that she was constantly irritating him in one direction or another. They had been engaged for six months when quite suddenly it was broken off, and no one ever knew who took the initiative. Miss Vandome went with an aunt for a trip to the old world. She returned six months ago, and now she and John are quite good friends again, and what will be the end of it no one knows, except perhaps Mrs. Harrowby, in whose eyes thirty or forty thousand pounds

ls an ample atonement for all kinds of deficiencies."

"Louise—that's the one I saw here when I came first to Hamlington, I think—is a very nice girl, only you always felt that you stood upon a vast abyss of ignorance into which you might at any moment plunge headlong, when you were talking to her."

"Oh, but you know, Dick, its the proper thing for glrls now to be up in the sciences and the old religions and the modem languages and mathematics. I feel quite ashamed when I think how Nell and myself idled away our time over the old poets and writers, and a little French and German. Sometimes we made up our minds to attack Euclid, and so we used to begin a preparatory course of arithmetic, but oh dear, we are so shamefully backward in sums. There it one about so much money to be divided among men, women, and children."

"Bedad.I wish there was a little more of it floating about . But, my angel, what would become of a poor ignorant spalpeen like me if you were perched upon the topmost bough of the tree of knowledge? I'll never forget the shame and confusion that fell on me once talking to a sweet glrl graduate a few weeks before I left home. She was my brother's slster-in- law more by token, and I felt no diffidence in trotting off on the1 broken-kneed old conversational hacks—the weather and the shooting. In fact, I had just launched out in the history of one at my father's old parishioners, when she brought me up short with some quest about the Archaeological SocIety. A party of them had been prowling about our district looking after some 'remains' or another. Did you ever hear of such a term? I get a kind of clammy feeling at the very mention of it. Well, in a few minutes Miss Gray was soaring miles above me. Yes girls, dear, it was exactly as if she was at at an immense altitude overhead; now and then some such term as 'cosmlc emity' and 'protoplasm' came booming down on me, and I just sat there with my mouth, agape, vowing cartloads of the largest tapers to all the saints in the calendar if only they would deliver me. Yon know how in what the novelists call a supreme crisis one involuntarily goes back to the old faith. Weil, there I sat, and never a saint took pity on me, and at last I became dimly conscious that Miss Gray asked

me a direct question, ending in microcosm. Mlcrocosm? I grew hot and I grew cold, while a wild whirl of thoughts passed through mybrain. Was it a new tribe of savages discovered by Herbert Spencer? a modern sort of wall-paper? or stay, was it not a kind of blscult? Ah, thank goodness, I had it at last. Miss Gray had taken pity on my darkness and at last breached a subject on which I could make a rational remark. ' Yes they are very nice,' I responded cheerfully. "What is very nice?" retorted Miss Gray with a look of profound amazement. 'Microcosms" I faltered out, and then a horrible suspicion flitted through my brain that there might be no real connection between maccaroons and microcosm. Ah, but that was a mal puart


There was an irresistible drollery about Dick's method of telling a story, a raciness in his brogue that always provoked laughter of


"Weil, it seems to me we shall all be very dull after the jolly times and the fun we have had; the father and mother are always so wrapped up In each other, I shall feel little like a third party in a honeymoon trip," said Bees, rather drearily.

"Faith, we'll have no third party when our honeymoon comes," said Dick, looking unutterable things.

" Dick, don't you think you had better speak to father before he leaves," I said, prosaically breaking in on this rapturous prospeot.

"Ah, my dear girl, that's what I want to do badly, but Bess shrinks from the thought of it, while your father has so much on his mind ; if I could only get that rise of £15 or £20 a year I should pluck up courage at once."

"Well, how an additional £15 a year could appease the anger of an indignant parent, I am at a loss to understand," I answered a little crossly.

"Ah, but it does Nell," answered Dick, earnestly. "I have wrltten heaps of letters, and its always when I come to that part I get stuck. And how often have I, in thought, and with Bess, 'rehearsed the scene till both our hearts beat. I would come outwardly resolved to speak to the Doctor, but inwardly hoping he was away. Just as I came in at the gate here, however, there would be a light in the surgery. As soon as I asked for your father, and flnd my self shown in, there every scrap of my native eloquence would desert me. Nothing of the English language would remain in my memory, save the most brutal idioms and proverbs which attest to the grasping Saxon's adoration of wealth. It would be with difficulty that I

could say 'how do you do ?' instead of 'when want comes In at the door, love flies out at the window.' Then your father would notice an unusual pallor on my manly countenance, give me one of his rapid professional glances, and say --

"'Well, Fitz, has the muscular Christianity of the period been too much for you, knocked yourself out of gear with cricket, eh ?'

"'Well, no Sir, but the fact of the matter ls— I— my heart.'

"'Pooh, your heart—what about it?' your father would say, taking up hls stethoscope.

"'What can minister to a mind diseased?" I would gasp.

"'Tush, boy, it's nothing more than a slight derangement of the digestive organs, a couple of liver pills.'

"'Oh ! not liver, pills, Sir, but Miss Bessie,' I would at last stammer out, and then the Doctor would plunge his hands deep into his trousers pockets and smile that half ironical

little smile that fathers keep in stock for such occasions*. 'So that's the way the land lies, is It? And what do you think Miss Bess herself will say?"

" 'Oh, Sir, we adore each other—we have loved from the first moment we met' .

""Indeed! Well, Fitzgibbon, you're the son of my oldest and dearest friend; personally I have no objection to you as a prospective son- in-law—but what is your income? how do you propose to support a family ?. what prospects have you ?"

"'My great aunt has a tidy little property worth five hundred a year.; she has quarrelled with all her relatives except myself. Never haying seen eaoh other we are the best of friends,' '

"' Yes, yes, but in the meantime—now ?'

"' Now, Sir, I have a sage-green tea-cosy, with is sunflower on it—bought at a Church bazaar, and £90 a year;' and then, glrls.would come that awful glance of your father's, under which I would feel myself slowly dwindling into nothlngness—my last recollection of this sinful world being that strange enlargement cut off some unfortunate man's tibia, that your father keeps in spirits on one of his shelves. Now, girls, I put it to you—what man could stand such an ordeal as that? But, Bess, if you'll allow me, I'll speak to your father this very evening.'

Everyone knows how obstinate a girl can be. Bess had taken it into her head that Dick's proposal on his very slender income would be the last straw in the culmination of troubles that now worried our father.

Nothing of the kind, Dick," she said, promptly getting up from the rustic spindle-

legged bench, on which we had been sitting under our favourite flg-tree. "Some day when we are on the voyage," she said, picking a leaf to bits with her pretty filbert-nailed fingers,

"when the sun is shining, and the waves are

dancing, and father has recovered some of his old spirits, and is rejoicing at tne prospect of

soon seeing grandma once more—then I'll tell

him all about It, and I'll forthwith write a letter to you both, that will make you weep for joy—at least Dick will—as for Neil, she's an awfully hard thing at times —no sentiment can melt her."