|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Tales of Our Township|
I THE STORY-TELLER.
1 TALES OF OUR TOWNSHIP.
[By Lindsay Dunoan.j
It baa often struck me that to apeak of any place as " dull," no matter how quiet and
bow far removed from external excitement and gaiety it may be, is to make use of a mis
nomer. To the student of human nature every roof shelters an inexhaustible fund of interest and entertainment. Kvery dwel ling ie in itself asocial stage, upon which the varied characters daily play their unoonsoious
Sart in the unfolding of their individual life
ramus. But'1 apart from this, however small
and insignificant a plaoe may be, it is rarely found on investigation that it has no "stories" connected with it—that it has known nothing more strange, more tragic, or more humorous than the common round of
every-day experience. It has therefore
occurred to me to collect a few incidents
which have happened in connection with our township, in the hope that they may be in teresting to others besides myself. Our township, which rejoices in the appellation of Scrubhilltown, is not to be found on any map, and its inhabitants are not likely to be identified by even the most perspioaoious of those got d readers who are pervaded by the idea that every pm ted description of oha racter or appearance must necessarily be " meant for" Bomebody.
With this preamble I will proceed to relate, at intervals, some of the unpretending
TALES OF OUB TOWNSHIP.
I.—Mb. Coulson's Qubkb Client.
Mr, James Coulson, solicitor and notary pnbiio, is a deservedly respected inhabitant of our township. Bluff, frank, and hearty, he is abont as far removed from the old - taihioned, conventional style of story-book lawyers, as — well, Buppose we Bay, as any class of living men can be unlike their literary prototypes. With a fairly good practice and a little private property, he is able to live in a very comfortable way, in a quiet, inexpensive place like Scrubbilltown; and as he ib un doubtedly popular, bis neat, verandahed
house, with nis trimly kept garden, his
sturdy cob and tidy buggy are regarded as matters for vicarious pride by the less fortunate members of our community. Some what late in life he married a pleasant-faced lady, paBt the first freshness of youth, and increasing years added three nioe little girls to his family responsibilities. At the time with which we are concerned these little girls bad reaobed an age at whioh it had seemed desirable to engage a nursery gover ness, with the view to their introduction to the preliminaries of education; and, as .the result of an advertisement and some corre spondence on the subject, a young person called Bachel Gardner had been an inmate of their household for Borne five or six months.
"I can't make MisB Gardner out at all, James," obseived Mrs. Coulson to her husband one day about this time, a pnzzled line defining itself on her placid forehead. Mr. Coulson looked np from his Jtegider in some surprise.
"You can't make Miss Gardner out, Sophy?" he repeated. "How do you mean, my dear? She seems a very quiet, straightforward sort of a girl, 1 think."
"She certainly seems straightforward enough," assented Mrs. Coulson. " And yet —don't laugh at me, JameB—I'm convinced that there is some mystery connected with
But in spite of his wife's appeal, Mr. Conlson not help laughing.
" Well, feminine romance beats all," he remarked. " I should certainly never have dreamt of associating the idea of mystery with a matter-of-fact young woman like Miss Gardner."
" She never speaks of her parents, James, nor of her childhood, either. One day last week I happened to make some chance allusion to her father—asking where he died, 1 believe it was—and she turned as white aB a sheet, and shivered all over, and made some excuse for getting out of the room without
Perhaps she can't speak of her father without emotion, and wished to hide it."
' Evidently. But it was not the emotion of simple regret, I'm quite sure. Besides in her first letter Bhe wrote that Bhe had been an orphan for some years—and however affec tionate girls may be, they get over such losses in the course of time."
" Well, well, my dear, so long as she does her duty by the children, 1 don't see that her l ast concerns us. The lady to whom she re ferred vouohed for her respectability, and she seems a nice girl enough."
" She is a very nice girl, and she answers our purpose admirably," assented good Mrs. CoulBon warmly. " She has no Belf-assertion, and I should hardly have belived it poBBible that we should experience so little disoomfort from the constant presence of a stranger in
the house. All the same "
But Mr. CoulBon was once more deep in his newspaper and the conversation dropped.
One morning during the following week a new client presented himself in Mr. Coulson's office.
"A queer-looking customer," thought the lawyer when the new client made his appear
He was a roughly dressed man past middle age apparently, of medium height, which was lessened by a stoop in bis shoulders. His features were ooarse and common-place, but his eyes were strikingly peculiar. Heseldom raised them, but frequently caBt furtive Bide way glanceB about him; when, however, his eyeB wsre lifted they were certainly start ling. Set in cavernouB depths beneath beet ling grizzled brows, they glowed with a curiouB geenish light, which Mr. Coulson fancied, rather uncomfortably, was unplea eantly suggestive of mental aberration. But the manY manner was sane and quiet enough. He wanted to coneult the lawyer about some business detail conneoted with the purchase of a piece of land some ten miles out of the township; and he gave all the needful particulars with perfect clearness and circumstantiality. There was some un usual complication about the matter, and the interview ended by the making of another appointment; and then the queer client sonified, in an awkward and seoretive manner, out of the office.
At the termination of the second interview Mr, Coulson stepped out of the office at the same time as his departing client His buggy stood at the door, and be was about to drive over to N , the nearest township, on pro fessional business. Robinson (for that was the name given by the queer-lookim; client) acknowledged the lawyer's nod of dismissal by a curiously uncouth gesture, which was probably intended for a bow, and turned to pursue his furtive way down the street Mr. Coulson bad the reins in his hand and one
foot upon the buggy step, when a heavy grasp upon his arm pulled him roughly back on to the footpath. Indignant at the liberty, Mr.
Coulson turned hastily, and met Robinson's strange eyes, ail ablaze with excitement. His lace was livid, and his coarse month worked convulsively. He pointed excitedly up the quiet street. " That gal—that young woman, there—with the children—coming this way.
bejupedi brokenly, still clutohlng the law
yers arm m a trembling grip.
looking In the direction indicated, Mr. Conlson saw his three little girls returning from a morning walk, in oompany with their
"Whois she? Who is she? What's her name ?" Robinson went on rapidly, evidently in a state of excessive agitation. -' -
His reoent conversation with ' Ifis wife flashed into Mr. Conlson'a mind as he an swered, elowly—
"If you mean the young lady who Is coming towards ns with three little girls, her name is Gardner—Miss Rachel Gardner."
" Rachel Gardner I" muttered the other. " I knew it was her. I'd ha* known her any
A new expression replaoed the frantlo excitement in his face—a look whioh Mr. Conlson thought was one of awe, as if the simply dresBed, quiet looking girl on whom hiB eyeB were fixed had been an object of terror to the strange man beside him.
" Don't let her see me," be went on, in a low.-shaking voice. " I don't want to have them big eyes of faer's upon me. I'll go now; but tell me first where she lives, wiii yon ?"
"She liveB here—in my house," replied Mr. Conlson. "She is my children's gover
"In yonr house?" ejaculated Robinson. " In yonr house ? And I come here to oonenlt yon, knowing nothing abont it 1 There's a fate in it, for a certainty. P'raps the time he a come for"
fle broke off, drew the back of his rongh band across his eyes as thongh to rouse him self, and mattering—
'She's a good girl—b rare good girl, ii
Eachel—be kind to her. I'll see you again
afore long," he harried away in the opposite direction, just as the laughing ohildren oame running up to their father, followed more slowly by the unconscious Rachel, whose grave lips were smiling at their eagerness.
In no way remarkable for beauty, Raohel was fairly agreeable to look at. She was slight and rather tall, with a somewhat sallow complexion and irregular features, which were nevertheless pleasing from their good-tempered expression, and the honest look of her grey eyes.
Mr. Coulaon critioized the girl more nar rowly than he had ever done before as she advanced towards him.
" It is certainly queer," he thought. " But I'm no judge of oharaoter it that young woman has anything personal to be ashamed of. ' A good girl,' the fellow said. But what the deuce should he know about her? A vagabond like him! If he hasn't at some time or other become acquainted with the tender mercies of the law I'm a Dutchman."
But he only made some trifling remark to the girl as she rejoined her oharges, and, springing into his buggy, drove hastily away, being already late for his appointment Later in the day, however, he remarked oasually—
" By-the-by, Miss Oardner, a client of mine was enquiring your name to-day. He thonght be recognised you—fancied he had seen you before. Bather au odd sort of man—his name iB Robinson. Do you know anything of him ?"
Miss Gardner's face was a trifle paler than usual, but her eyeB were steady and truthful as she answered—
" Robinson 1 No, I don't think so. It is not an uncommon name, though, is it? Still 1 don't recollect having known anybody
"No? Oh, well, probably it is a delusion on his part. He seeme rather an excitable person. A queer-looking fellow he is too, with stooping shonlders and a atrange, shuffling walk. Remarkable eyes, too—
Seenish, like a oat's, and very deep-set. He
is lost a conple of fingers from his left
band, by-the-way. I thought it must be a mistake. It is not likely you ahouid know anything of him, he is sucn a singularly un prepoeBesBing party,"
' r olos
Watching her olosely, Mr. Coulson saw
the governess gradually grow white to the very lips as be went on with hiB description. At its conclusion she attempted to speak, but the attempt ended in a painful gasp, and she rose unsteadily and hurried from the room.
" I'm afraid Miss Gardner iB ill, my dear," Mr. Coulson said, perplexedly, to his wife.
"toor girl, 1 will go to her," said that good lady, rising from her needlework, nuzzled, but pitifuL She was agood woman, but she could not resist—human nature could not have resisted—pausing just long enough to remark, "It is only feminine romance that
could posBibly associate mystery of any kind
with a matter-of-fact girl like that, isn't it,
James ?" before she disappeared.
For a few days things went on as usual outwardly, though there was an uncom fortable eeiue of constraint in the Coulson's household. MisB Gardner fulfilled her duties
sb satisfactorily as ever, but she was evidently
nervons and ill at ease. Mr. and Mrs. Coul ston weie perturbed and irresolute. They liked the girl, but they did not like the
w^ich so far she had made^no attempt to
Matters were in this state when Mr. Coul son's queer client turned up again. Mr. Coulson was alone in the office when he made his appearance.
" tike's gone out with the children," he half whispered, with a backward jerk of his thumb. "I've been watching, and I seen them go. They won't be back yet awhile, will tney ?"
"Hot for an hour at least," replied Mr, Coulson. "And now look here, Robinson, I'm glad you've come, for I want to have a little talk with you. It seems to me that the least you can do is to explain yourself. What do you know of this young lady, and why were you eo agitated at the Bight of her? Above all, why are you bo anxious that she should not see you!
Robinson, looked a little startled at this plain questioning; but presently a cunning leer spread itBelt over his heavy faoe as he
" Ho, no, gov'nor, you're not goin' to get it all out of me as easy as that. But this I will tell you. Rachel Gardner is a good girl—a mighty deal too good, I've often thought ana more than that, she's a lady born and bred, and the man that says she ain't, he's a liar, that's what he is. She ain't got nothing to be ashamed of."
Be said this defiantly, with one of those rare, sudden upliftings of the gleaming greenish eyes that were so startling,
"Why are you afraid of her? persisted Mr. Coulson, quietly.
"Afraid 1" he repeated, dropping his eyes again, with a nervous attempt at a laugh. ' Bless you, I ain't afraid of her. Do yon suppose I'm frightened of a girl? But never mud all that. I've come on business, and I want to get it over. I want to make my will. 1 suppose 1 might have done it, without coming here; but I want it all tight and square so that there can't be no mistakes about it after—after—when it's wanted, I mean."
Seeing it was useless to question him further just then, Mr. Coulson proceeded to
take his olienfs instructions. They were of rather a surprising nature, the testator
bequeathing all hla property, which me mostly basked in various Banks in the colony, and amounted to. between fire and eix thousand pounds, to Baohel Gardner, without any reserve or condition whatso
When the will had been properly drawn out, signed, and witnessed, Robinson placed
it in Mr, Coulson's hands, together with a 1 sealed envelope, addressed in an awkward handwriting to " Miss Baohel Gardner."
"I want you to keep these here papers for me," he eaid. "P'raps it may be a long time before they'ie wanted—p'raps it mayn't Anyhow, they're safe with you. When I'm dead give the letter to Baohel, bat don't tell her nothing about it beforehand, I ain't mueh of a scholar, but I've made out to say nil that's necessary. And don't you forget what I told you. She's a lady born and bred, and she ain't got nothing to be ashamed of. Mind that I No matter what she eays herself, you just take my word for it—arte ain't got nothing to be, ashamed of."
And with a farewell _ flash from his cavernous eyes the qaeer client departed.
Mr. CouIbou did not feel by any mearu convinoed that his client's word was to be relied upon, but his own belief led him to the same conclusion. In spite of her silenoe, her agitation, and her pallor, neither he nor hi • wife could bring themselves to believe that Rachel Gardner was guilty of aDy personal wrongdoing. The children loved her dearly. She waa a constant help and comfort in the household, and Mr. and Mrs. Conlson treated her with a consistent kindness and consideration that gradually banished her nervouBnes* and constraint. So for the next three mouths all went on quietly. Sud denly the township was startled and horrified by the news that a man had committed suicide by hanging himself in a shanty about 10 miles out of the township. The awfnl dis covery had been made by a man who was em ployed by the deceased to clear some land. Having ocoasion to consult the owner, he had gone up to the shanty in whioh the latter lived alone—and found him thus.
The unhappy suicide wae none other than Mr. Couleon'e queer client. Those who had seen him lately had remarked the strangeness of his behaviour for some time past. He had wandered aimlessly about muttering to him self; bad apparently eaten next to nothing for many days, and altogether there was no hesitation at the inquest as to a verdiot of " unsound mind,"
So Baehel Gardner found herself in pos session of . a handsome legaoy; but far more to her than the money, was the strange oon fession contained in the sealed letter. Badly written, oddly expressed it might be, but ft
lifted a bitter load from her heart,
i "You must have thought very badly of me, dear Mrs. Coulson," she said, tearfully, when she had read the letter. " But I could not bear any allusion to the past, and I dreaded any discovery of my secret. You aBked me once where my father died. Do you remem ber 1 1 ran away; I eould not tell yon a false hood, and 1 could not tell ycu the truth—that he died in prison. But now I know that he was innocent of the robbery for wbioh he was punished, I oau bear better to speak of it. My poor mother died when I was 12 years old—worn out, I believe, by worry and anxiety. She educated me herself, and we were never apart until I lost her. We had been well off once, but what with gambling and—and drinking, my father hadreduoed as to the most abject poverty before she died. Of the next few years I hardly dare to think. He sank lower and lower, and fell at last Into the company of men like Bowers—for that is the real name of the poor creature who lately called himself Robinson, and whom I recognised at once from Mr, Coulson's description. At last a robbery was com mitted—my father was arrested, found guilty, and sent to prison, where he died within three weeks from heart disease. By the help of a lady who had known my mother, 1 obtained a situation as pupil teacher in a sehool, and my life has sinoe been one long dread, lest the shameful associations of my past should come to light. I web glad to leave the colony where all this happened, and take a situation in South Australia."
"Then does that letter prove your father's innocence!" queried Mrs. Coulson, with
"It does. Bowers admits that he himself committed the robbery without my father's knowledge, and afterwards contrived to make him appear guilty while he esoaped. He Bays his conscience has long troubled him, and that he vowed if ever he found me again, he would try to repair the wrong he did my father. I don't like taking his money, though," she added, with a little shudder. " Who knows by what villainous means it came into the poorwretch'B poBBesBiou?"
" You need not be uneasy," said Mr. Coulson, to whom she had handed the letter. "There is a postcript which you haven't noticed. It says, " Don't be afraid of this here money. I'll swear it is all come by honest. The most of it was made at the diggings. I waBlucky enough when being lucky warnt no more use to me."
So Mr. Coulson's queer client had in some vague way repented him of his sia, and sought to make reparation.