|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
It was the body of a man, bat alive and powerful. We rolled together in one another's arms for a moment, and it would have been difficult to say which was the more frightened of the two. I called to be allowed to get up, and then mutual explana
The man I had fallen upon was one of the station men. He had been sent with a wagonette and horses to meet the coach, and had arrived much too eBrly, He had fastened the horses to a tree and had lain down in the shelter of the bushes and had fallen asleep. I might have waited on the road* till dawn, I expect. The man had a rug with him and was oomfortable. The buggy was close by, and in a few minutes we were on the way to Pam&tta. The distance from the road was about 3 miles, and was soon overcome. The place was dark and Bileut, but the man opened a door at the end of a low building, and, lighting a candle, Bhowed me the room I was to occupy. I was dead tired. The long journey and the cold had tried my newly recovered strength. In a shorter space of time than it takes to write it% 1 had plunged beneath, the clothes of a comfortable bush stretcher and fell asleep.
Whether it was due to being overtired or to more occnlt influences, X cannot say, but my Bleep was marked with most vivid dreams in which my wife and boy were the chief characters. The ringing of a bell awoke c&e at lasts and looking at my watch I saw tnat it was 12 noon. The window had been darkened by a thick curtain, and except for my watch 1 should have supposed it to be early morning. I lay still for a minute or two. There was no sound but the gentle clatter of crockery some little distance away, and now
and then a murmur of voices.
Dressing quickly I left my room and looked about to see all there was to be seen. The room I had occupied was in a long low build ins, placed parallel to and a little distance from the bank of a wide creek. The oreek was tbickly timbered with gumtrees, and a strong muddy coloured stream of water covered its bed. Half a mile further up the creek stood a large comfortable stone house surrounded by a garden, evidently Hardinge a residence. At the baca of the building I had just leit, and which I soon understood to be Bachelors' Hall, stood a variety of buildings, comprising a store and office, blacksmith and carpenter's shops, stables, and other out houses. On the opposite bank of the creek, a quarter of a mile back, stood an immense building—the woolshed—and not far from it
several stone huts for the men.
The homestead was situated in a gorge amongBt the hills. These snnounded it on three sides, but on the fourth they opened out, and gave an unlimited view of plains and hills beyond. The tree-fringed creek
could be traced for mileB, winding its way ; eastward. The hills about the station were 1 high and of rugged and fantastic outline, ' very rocky, and in the crevices and ledges
irew native pine-trees, sheoak, and a lew ! lushes and shrubs. The sun shone bril liantly upon the rich green grass and herbs, the different shades of foliage in the treeB
contrasted harmoniously, the creea ran | merrily over its pebbly bed, and birds and jarrots with plumage that rivalled the rain low or Joseph's coat In colours wheeled and flashed in the light Like living jewels.
As I stood looking about me and taking in
all the beauty of the scene a step Bounded on j the path behind me. I turned and met a neatly dressed woman coming towards me. She proved to be the presiding goddess of Bachelors' Hall, the housekeeper. In ten minutes I understood many things which up to that time had puzzled me. The chief of
these wu the absence of nen ftod noise from ; the place, and this was owing to all the j men being out at some special work on the run. And Hardinge and the ladies were away also—had gone out for a drive. None would return until evening, and then 1 was invited in to dinner and requested to make myself comfortable in the hall for the remainder of the day, and very glad I was of thereat. ..... ,
It was quite dark before the Btation people came home. The first person to meet me was McPherson, the head overseer. He ranked next to Hardinge, and had the practical management of the station. _ la appearance he was tall and spare, a light weight on horseback, but muscular and sinewy, and possessing a constitution, as 1 afterwards found, which was proof agaiuBt hardship and exposure. _ His cheerful and cordial manner was irresiatable, and by the time our tea-dinner was finished, he had made a breach in the reserve which had almost insensibly grown around me. And ! was glad to be forced as it were out of myself.
I suppose a man cannot too greatly repent of any evil he has done; but I doubt if the constant brooding over it in solitude as I had been doine tends to reform a man. Looking back on that time, I fancy that my morbid ness of thought and the continued silence of my wife was more inclined to harden my heart against any better influ ences. I know that as I smoked my pipe that evening after tea, sitting opposite McPhersoD, I, experienced a greater yearning for the better life I had thrown away than I had ever done before. Why it should have been so I am at a loss to determine. Perhaps it was due to the unex pected kindliness of the welcome given me. It was the first of its kind I had met with in the colony, and I daresay the cheerful home liness of the whole scene tonched me with the memory of my own home. .
I have often wondered since whether McPherson would have acted very differently if be had known my history f I suppose he would have. I don't suppose that even now I should feel very cordially towards, or care to shake hands with, a man who had done a deed which I condemned and despised. But at the time I had forgotten that McPherson must be ignorant concerning me, and the
he so frankly held out in welcome ap peared to be offered to help me toil back to the position I bad forfeited.
When our pipes were ourntcut, MoFherson suggested that we should go up to the House _»• Government House us it u termed by bushmen-Mr. Hardinge was expeoting to see me. He generally came down to the Hall of an evening for a smoke, but something had evidently prevented him doing so this evening—very probably he was tired.
The pathway to the house ran along the bank of the creek, then we entered the garden by a Bmall gate, and made our way to a aide door. McPherson had been many yeaTBon the station, and was a privileged person in many ways. He held amongst other things the right of private entrap as it were, to the house, and entered without knocking. He tapped at the drawmg-room door, however, before entenug. Mr. Hariinge'e voice bade uscomein, and as we entered he came forward to meet me. The two girls, and a boy of 15 or 16 years of age, were the only other occupants. No one oould have desired a warmer welcome than was Riven to me. It seemed to be the desire oi every one I met to endeavour to make me feel at home. And the Baroe strong feeling of hospitality is to be met with oa almost every station in South Australia.
I had so many questions and kiud en quiries to answer about my health that it was a few minutes before I could look about me.
The boy had not come forward, and Hardinge had not introduoed him. I knew it could not be his eon — a nephew possibly. But there was something about him that seemed to be' familiar to me. I felt that I had seen him before, or some one very much like him, though younger. Then the thought occurred to me that my own boy must be about the same height and age as this one. He had so drawn my attention by this time that I was making very heedless replies to Hardinge's remarks. I felt that I should be impelled to go and speak to the boy. He was making sketches of some kind upon a piece of paper. I remember every little incident and detail of that evening. I was on the point of going to the table where the bov sat when the door behind me opened and Hardinge spoke. He was introducing me to his wife. I turned to bow, and there in front of me stood not Mrs. Hardinge, but my own wife!
Surely I was dreaming This must be some intangible vision, or 1 must be going out of my mind. It was a case of mistaken identity ? No! none of those. I could still hear Hardinge's voice. He oalled her "his wife!" Mm. Hardinge—my wife—the woman standing before me, spoke. There was no mistake, there could be none now. I knew and could recognise my wife's voice amongst a thousand. And it was her voice that spoke to me ; it was her—my—son that sat yonder by the table.
My wife's hand lay in mine for an instant. The room waB in a whirl. There waB a con
fused sound of voioes. What words I spoke, or if I uttered any I do notknow. A strange feelingof numbness and laintneBB came over me. Then came darkness. I must have fainted I suppose. I remember that on coming ronnd again, I was lying back in an easy chair. Hardinge and McPherson were standing near, aud the three ladies beside them. I had evidently shocked them. I look at my wife. She was deadly pale, and there was in her eyes a look of half fear and balf-troubled, puzzled expression. The boy Walter stood beside her.
Then I rose from my chair; I was weak and tottering. I murmured something about not feeling very strong yet. Hardinge and his daughters were all kindness and compas sion. They declared I must go baok to the Hall and go to bed. Sleep would do me good,
they were sure.
Yes, if it could have been eternal! Nothing but that; no juice "of poppy nor man dragora" would bring sleep to me for that night at least. As stolidly as I could I bade them all good night. I escaped Bhaking hands. I felt I could not take my wife's hand at that
I had read the story of " Enoch Arden," as told so beantifnlly by Tennyson, but I had never realized or tried to realize his feelings when on his return he looks through the window of Phillip's cottage.
I began to understand it now. The cold night air revived me, and with a curt good night to McPherson I entered my room and locked the door. I wanted to think, and yet I knew that I conld not do so just then. 1 was too confused and upset,
I threw myeelf on the bed, I remember, and allowed my thoughts to come aud go without endeavouring to shape them into any course. That night is as fresh now in my memory as though it had been but yesterday. The agony of doubt and pain, of wounded vanity and self-love, is as keen now, I verily believe, as it was then. £ lay upon my bed in a semi-dazed state for au hour or two. I heard McPherson moving about in the adjoining room until he retired to rest. Then when 1 thought he was asleep and everything quiet 1 noiselessly opened the door and went out into the night. The sky was without a cloud and the stars shone coldly and clearly upon the earth. A sheepdog, awakened by my footsteps, barked loudly and came and sniffed at me. It was McPheraon's dog. He evidently recognised me as a friend, and after wagging his tail and licking my hands be went back to his bed on the doormat.
I crossed the rude bridge which spanned the creek and wandered aimlessly towards tne bills on the other side.