Chapter 160172221

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Chapter NumberXVII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160172221
Full Date1886-12-04
Page Number44
Corrections0
Word Count1775
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

CHAPTER XVII,

Life on a Bheep station runs on through the year at a very sober jog-trot pace. Those people who are blessed with oheerful and contented dispositions can make their lives

happy and pleaBant enough if they try, but they must he able to draw upon their own resources for the means; they will not have help from such things as dances, ooncertB, &c., neither will they have many visitors of

their own class to break the sameness of the

days. These drawbacks to an otherwise desirable life preBS more heavily upon women than men, because the latter have their work on the run to attend to and to interest them.

Life at Pamatta was no exception to the rule at the best of times, and now that sick ness was In the house the quietness of the place was increased. Mary did not appear to make any headway against the Bickness that had fallen upon her, and Hardinge began to feel very anxiouB. No one seemed to know exactly what was the matter, except that Mary was gradually fading away. Hardinge had taken the advice of another doctor, in addition to the one who generally attended. They had prescribed tonics and different diets, but to no purpose, and at last confessed that they could do nothing more by the aid of medicine. I heard this from Hardinge, but more in detail from the two girls. I passed more time in their com pany than formerly, owing to the fact that there was no one but myself to take them for rides.

Hardinge never loft the homestead now unless some very urgent business oompelled him, and bis daughters did not care to ride alone. Only one could go at a time, as they took it in turns to attend to Mary. They would probably have left offridiug altogether had not Mr. Hardinge thought of enlisting my services.

I looked forward to those rides with a feeling akin to pleasure, cue reason being that the Misses Hardinge were agreeable and unaffected, but chiefly because I could turn the conversation on to the subject o) Mary's illness, and le&rj a great deal about her of which otherwise I should never have heard. I daresay thatmy companions often wondered at the interest the subject had for me, but that did not matter as long as I gained my

end.

Another change on the station took place just |before shearing began. McPherson re ceived letters from England telling of the death of a rich relatwe, and that he was the heir to a fortune. Naturally he wished to go home to his friends and property, and Har dinge had to see about getting another Manager. He soon succeeded in this, and the now Manager came just as shearing began. McPherson, to oblige Hardinge, had agreed to stay on during this period, so that Watson, the new man, might have time to get accustomed to the place.

Watson and I conceived a dislike to one another from the first. I don't know why he should have bad a feeliDg of that sort to me, but I disliked him chiefly from his being off hand and brusque in his manner. He had the reputation -of being a first-class Manager, but the more I saw of him the less I liked him. He seemed to take a pleasure in telling me to do certain work about the shed which properly belonged to one of the workmen, and I naturally ob jected to obey him. He referred the matter to Hardinge, with the result that he took my part and told Watson in plain terms what my work was, and that I was &ot to be taken from it unless on very special occa sions. This snubbing did not help to make WatBon more friendly to me, and at last we seldom spoke to eieh other on matters apart from business. It was an unpleasant state of affairs, and I felt it more keenly when McPherson had left us. I spent many of my evenings in the office with only pipe and book for company. Sometimes Hardinge would come to sufoke his pipe with me, and then, as a rale, I returned with him to the honBe and passed the remainder of the

evening there.

As the winter passed away and November came in, bearing the first signs of the ap proach of summer, the gloom about the household deepened. We knew that Mary was slowly bat surely drifting away from us to the beyond. Hardinge's manner altered visibly, and despite of jealousy I was forced to feel kindly towards him for the gennine affection he showed for Mary. He was at

lier side a hundred times a day, while I, he real husband, wbb (oreed to stand aloof and hear from any lips than hers the record or

her illness.

There were times when I felt that I must rebel against this nnnataral state. I wonld tell Hardinge my story, and the secret conid still be kept between Mary, Hardinge, and myBelf. The outside world would never know, and X could share the watch beside Mary s bed. It was a mad idea of course, and most impracticable, but, thank God, I never allowed the desire to master my better judgment, I had held out all this time, aud it would now be cruel indeed to embitter the last of Mary's days on earth.

I wonder if death tasted as bitter to her as

life did to me ? The end came more suddenly than we had expected. I had ridden oat with the younfgeBt girl in the afternoon of a beautifully bright day. She told me that Mary showed no sign of change, did not seem to be weaker than usual. But when we re turned at sundown the men stood in groups about the stables and yards talking in lowered voices. One of them oame to take the horses, and told us that Mary was dead.

Hardinge came to me in the office, and as. well as he could told me of the last moments of her life. She bad remained conscious to the end, and amongst other messages had Bent one to me, saying that she laid no blame on me for Walter's fate—she was sure I had

done my best to protect him. The last rites were to take place on the following afternoon.

In Australia the climate forces the funeral close upon the skirts of death.

To-morrow, before the sun went down, all that remained of her I had loved would be hid from view. I longed to enter the room where she was laid, and take a last, long look. But I shrank from asking this favour from -Hardinge. He might refuse. Why should a man who was comparatively a stranger wish this thing? And, again, why should I who had the right ask a favour ? Was there no other way by which I could gain my wish?

Yes, I found one, and urged on by the intense desire I felt to look once again upon Mary, I committed an act which might appear almost like sacrilege. The window of the room in which she lay looked out upon the garden, and, on account of the heat, wsb left partly open. It was the only window on that side of the house, and that part of the garden wob little frequented.

That night 1 waited impatiently until the time came when I might suppose the whole house to be safely asleep, and then I stole from my room, entered the garden, gained the window, and quietly pushing it up climbed within.

I used caution in all my movements for fear of disturbing any of the inmates. £ had no wish to make a scene. 1 carried a candle with me, and lighted it as soon as I had entered. Its rays lit the room with a feeble light, but sufficient to Bhow me the bed where they had laid Mary. Shielding the light so that it could not be seen under the door, I went forward softly aud uncovered the fane of " the blissful dead." Once more I was face to face with my wife, and no one to interfere between us. It seemed as if I

could feel her living presence in the room,

once more hear her voice as I used to hear it in our little house at home; her face seemed to smile upon me as I gazed, bringing to my mind innumerable memories of the past ana filling my eyes with tears. The wind blowing in from the open window caused the light to flicker. I extinguished it, and fell on my knees beside the bed, burying my face in the clothes.

The morrow came, bringing with it its sad and solemn ceremony, one that lost nothing by the absence of hearse and nodding

plumes. Simplicity gave it a grandeur of its own, and the unfeigned sorrow of the chief mourners added pathos to the scene. The service was read by a clergyman from the township—"dust to dust," "ashes to ashes" —the earth fell quickly, aud when all was hid from view we turned away.

The home at Famatta was broken up soon after Mary's death. Hardinge and his daughters lived in the city, occasionally paying a visit to the old place; and when he comes he goes tD the cemetery, and after wards thanks me for the attention I pay to his wife's grave. I simply acknowledge his thanks and say nothing more. Why should I disturb him now by telling him that it is not the grave of his wife, but of mine ?

Since Hardinge has lived in the city I have occupiedan old hut a little distance up the creek. VVateon's society became unendur able, and I could not live under the same roof with him. I might have gone away else where—indeed, 1 determined to do so many

times—but then who would attend to the grave over yonder in the clump of pines ? I am getting on in years, and am unfit for harder work.

Better times are in store for me, perhaps. Watson has accepted a better managershiD on a neighbouring [station, and Mr. Har dinge has chosen another. I hope we shall live together on more iriendly terms than Watson and I have done.

I feel solitary and alone sometimes now of an evening, and would be glad of some one to talk to. _ Mary and Walter come, but though they smile upon me they never speak.

The End.