|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||A Life's Punishment|
A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.
By E. Davenport (Jleland,
It bad been impossible, while the shearing waB in progress, for me to fully attend to my bookkeeping duties ; consequently they had fallen in arrear, and I now had to work con stantly to make up for lost time. I had been hard at work all the forenoon of the day fol lowing the last evening I had spent at the
house. MoPherson had gone away to some distant part of the run on business. #Har dinge, the two girls, and Walter had ridden out after dinner, leaving Mary, who could not ride, at home alone.
I bad finished my after-dinner pipe, ana had begun work again, when glancing out of the window I saw Mary coming towards the office. I guessed her errand in a moment, and trembled at the prospect of the coming interview. Hardly conscious of what I did, I bent my head over my work and tried to add up the columns of figures before me. The day was warm, it being the month of November, and the office door was unfastened and partly open. First I could hear Mary's footsteps, then the rustle of her dresB; she croBsedtne verandah, pushed open the door, and addressed me by my name—my real name.
The intense excitement of the momen -braced me up and gave me courage. 1 fel determined to maintain my position. Afte having endured so much pain I would no - give in and cry out at the laat moment. But . that Budden calling of my name by a voice which I had not heard utter it for years produced sensations within me such as £
I looked up from my writing; Mary was . standing by the door, holding by itB handle.
Her face was white, and had a drawn, pinched look, but her eyes were intensely bright. They looked dry and hot, and gazed at me aB though they would read my very thonghtB,
I got up from my chair and went towards her. My pulses were throbbing painfully, but I could control my voice. I asked her if she was in want of anything—was there any thing I could do, or get for her; and thus noticing her appearance, as if it had just struck me, asked if she were ill; would she not sit down. My coolness gave her time to collect herBelf. I could see that she began to think that she had been mistaken, and that she was relieved at the thought.
She took the chair I ottered her, and eagerly drank the glass of water I brought
from the waterbag hanging in the room. It 1 revived her a little, and then she told me that she was not feeling well, but that it was nothing more than over-excitement. She had had a friend, a cousin, who some years ago had left England for America; but the ship he sailed in had foundered and all hands were supposed to have been lost. But from the eveniug Bhe had first met me at Pamatta she had been struck by a strong
and curious resemblance in my voice and j
manner to those of her friend. So strong had been the resemblance that she had thought that possibly I might have been that person in diBguise.
Then, as she paused, I asked what reason J
there could be tor any disguise on his part. If he had escaped from the wreck he would surely have written to his friends on the first opportunity.
I longed to know if she had been told of the errors I had committed in London. My back was towards the light, and I felt that now I was face to face with danger I could play my part.
Yes 1 She had heard. She had been told
of what I had done. The pale face flushed as • I asked the questions. Nothing short of a feeling of shame or "embarrassment could have called up such a colour as that. But it faded as quickly as it came. Her voice was
low and tremulous as she answered that there ] were reasons why her friend might not care to , let any one know his whereabouts, and then, aB if speaking to herself, she said " But there were some who would have rejoiced to know that he was alive, some, who out of love for him, would have shut their eyes to his faults who would have treated him even as the father treated his prodigal sod."
The hands tightly clasped lay in her lap,
her voice was almost inaudible as Bhe finished
speakiDg. I turned away. I could not utter | a word, I dared not. When I looked round again Mary had goDe. She was walking slowly homewards to her home, to Har dinge s—not to mine ! Fcol that I had been ! I watched her until she disappeared through the wicket gate in the garden fence round the ? house.
Then I closed and locked the office door, and went back to my books. I sat down before them. I was there when the 6 o'clock bell rang at supper-time; but I had done no work, had made not a single entry from the time I had seen Mary coming towards the office.
Hardinge came down to Bachelors' Hall - after supper, and smoked hie evening pipe. Walter came also and stayed with me after Mr. Hardinge£had gone back to the house. During the evening it came out in conversa tion that his mother waB not very well. She had not been present at dinner. From that I led him on to talk of his wife in England. Hie original reserve towards me had by this time quite worn away, and being alone -'together he spoke freely and openly. He
little knew how interesting to me was the topic upon which he spoke. Of his father, as he remembered him, he spoke with a love that made me long to tell him that I was his father. Whether he had been told or had heard of bis father's dishonour I could not
tell. If he did know he kept a loyal eilence. No word, not the slightest hint, escaped him to Bhow that he knew his father to be any ' thing but a good and honourable man.
He left me as the clock strnck 10, aud after -one more pipe 1 turned in. I had hardly
closed my eyes, as it seemed to me, when 1 wsb awakened by some one shaking me by the shoulder, and calling to me. It was ' Hardinge. Mrs. Hardinge was seriously ill.
I was to ronse up one of the lads, and send him off to Yelta for the doctor. " Tell him • to take The Don," said Hardinge; " he iBthe beBt horse for the journey, and tell the fellow to ride like the devil."
It was seldom that Hardinge made use of | strong expressions, but he was at the moment
-greatly excited. While he was speaking he
had endeavoured to light the candle, but the matcbeB broke and missed fire in his nervous
. fingers. I took them from him, lighted the . candle, and began to dreBB. In answer to a question Hardinge told me that Mary was in a1 high fever and was delirious. With a part ing request that I would send the boy off without loss of time, he left me and harried back to the house.
There was -small need to tell me to be quick ! Was it nr>t my wife who was in danger ? And I could guess the cauee of her
The working horses ran loose in a_ small paddock adjoining -the stables, and in ten ivninutes from the time I was called I was out
looking for them. No man should go on this errand but myself. Time would be lo3t in going to the men's huts to call one of them, and besides, who could be expected to ride more quickly on such an occasion than myself? The night was cloudless and the stars shone brightly. The horse-paddock was not large, and had no bushes or trees which could conceal or be mistaken for horses. I soon found them and ran them into the yard. It was a new experience for them to be dis turbed in the night, and great was the SDort ing and excitement amongst them.
The Don was a small compactly made horse, in cclour a dork-bay with black points. His temper was uncertain and cross-grained. There were times when he would kick and rear, and so prevent his rider from mount ing, or perhaps after a hard day's work, returning home he would get the bit between bis teeth and madly bolt across conntry, and, on the other hand, he would be gentle and docile for weeks at a stretch. For hard galloping over rough cruntrybour upon hour no (other horse on the run could equal him. He was strong and Wiry, and hod legs of steel.
I was not much of a rider, but sufficiently good to sit The Don as long as he did not take to rearing when I w&b mounted. Happily on this occasion he was in one of his gentler moods, and allowed me to catch and saddle him without trouble. I had neither whip nor spur, and none were needed.
Yelta, the township where lived the doctor, was a good 30 miles from Pamatta. I had been there once or twice before and knew the road. I had heard of there being a short cut across country, but as I had never traversed it I determined to keep the beaten cart track.
Don stood quiet and allowed me to mount him. I walked him down to the first gate out of the home paddock, about 200 yards
away, and then heading him in the direction i of Yelta, Blackened the rein. Giving a pnll with Mb head that nearly dragged the reinB from my grasp, and a plunge that loosened my seat in the saddle, Don darted away like an arrow front a bow. The road I was unmetalled and in capital order for ! galloping. Don went a little wildly for | the first half mile, and then I pulled on
his month and he sobered down to a steady swinging gallop. In spite of the errand I was going, 1 experienced a feeling of pleasure dur ing the first 2 or 3 miles. The air was fresh and invigorating without being too cold, and I was upon the back of a horse whioh was carrying me at a rapid rate, and without auy apparent effort. 1 had heard many Btories about the wonderful staying power of The Don, some so marvellous that I doubted their truth in my own mind. Bat now I was gain ing actnal proof of his capabilities. Mile after mile was being covered and still he kept on without a break. He was not palling on tbe bit, but going easily. The first Half of the way lay across a plain, then we entered a low range of hills. The road ran around its spurs, sometimes up tbe gullies and again along the crests. I steadied him here, but still we went at a rapid pace. Sandal wood and other trees flitted Dast. We dashed through creeks, and still I had had no occasion to urge him on. Getting through the range the road ran along its foot for some distance and then struck across another plain. Yelta lay on tne other side under another range of hills.
Daylight began to appear, and as the light became stronger I could see where the reins had chafed the sweat into foam upon the Don's neck. Still he kept on, but his breath was coming heavily now, and beneath my knees I could feel the violent throbbing of his heart. Now and then he would throw up his head, sending hack a shower of snow white foam ,fiakes. We crossed the second plain. The sun was just rising, and his rays lit up the iron roofs of the houses in th» little town. Nearer and nearer we came. Don breathed in gasps; he rolled slightly In his stride. I drew the reinB tighter to Bteady bim, and now I touched him with my heel. He responded gallantly, and in a few
minutes 1 was at tbe doctor's door.