|Chapter Title||THE POSTMASTER'S WOOING.|
|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Tales of Our Township|
TALES OF OUR TOWNSHIP.
Br Lindsay Duncan.
rr.—THE POSTMASTER'S WOOINQ.
There had been a change of postmasters In Scrobhilltown. We had lost a pleasant family by promotion, and in their .etead had come a Mr. Smithers, abont whoBe antece dents we were all profoundly ignorant, and some of ub at least proportionately carious. We had heard he was a bachelor, and that, of conrse, was a great primary recommenda tion ; for the acquisition of an agreeable and eligible bachelor is always regarded, in the light of a sooial triumph in an up-country township. But Mr. Smithers had not been resident in Scrobhilltown very long before it was generally decided that he was neither eligible nor agreeable.
"A perfeot fright, dear!" one of the younger ladies confided, to a friend, after a single disappointing glimpse of the new post master. And. indeed, he was an odd-looking individual. He was very short in stature, and remarkably thin. His neck was unusually elongated, giving his head an appearanoe of unsteadiness of balance, which was at first somewhat disconcerting. Of course, you became accustomed to this peculiarity in. time, and ceased to expect either °a sudden telescopic collapse or a still more appalling dislocation; but it was not prepossessing, and its effect was accentuated by his faBhton of wearing a very low dollar, apparently in tended to be in keeping with the poetic character. For it soon leaked out—the new postmaster was a poet!
' Do yon really mean to say that ugly,
totally insignificant, oarrotty little man actually
writes poetry?" asked Bertha Brownlow, in credulously, of Mr. Myers, the doctor's good looking assistant.
"He tells me he haB knooked off many hundreds of poems in his momenta of leisure and inspiration," responded Mr.' Myers, with becoming gravity.
"Dear me!" ejaculated Mies Brownlow, at onoe astonished and impressed. " He doesn't look as. if he could ao it, does he?
And can one obtain his poems ? Do they ap pear in any of the colonial papers ?"
" Ho," said Archie Myera in a mysterious whisper, "they have-never been published. Smithers has never yet oome aoross an Editor 'who would print his poems, because their insertion would at onoe dwarf the rest of the publication into such insignificance as to approach annihilation. Smithers told me eo himself, eo of oonrse it most be fame, yon know."
''Oh!" replied Miss Brownlow with- muoh. significance—and how muoh Bignlfioanoe that monosyllabio interjeotion can at timeB convey!
Meanwhile the new postmaster was proving a never-failing source of entertainment to the male portion of our little community. He professed a profound contempt for women, and an illimitable detestation of children; wfaioh opinions, being reported to the ladles, naturally placed their possessor on a very low plane in their estimation. Smithenrs latest boast (for he was undoubtedly given to self-glorification, and as an almost inevitable conBequenoe to an occasional "eoonomy of the truth") waB ourrently reported in Sorub hilltown as the latest joke; but perhaps his poetry formed the most unfailing fund of amusement. He circulated It in the form of minted leaflets among his male acquaintances, He prided himself upon a certain virility of style, and1 said that, in common with the'1 earlier English dramatists—Byron, land other distinguished writers—he wrote for men, and not for women and children. Mr. Smitners's. genius would doubtless have sympathized' with Mr. Rider Haggard's depreciation of the influence of "the young person," had he ever heard of. it—which would not have been probable, by-the-way, since one of his favourite boasts was that he never read any thing,for fear of impairing the originality Of his style by any unoonsoious plagiarism.
~ " "here's
Perhaps Mr. Smitners'smostdevoted admirers
could hardly have deemed him " a thing of beauty," but he certainly proved " a joy for ever" to the wags of the townBhip, who con stantly led him on by the very burlesque of flattery to the commission of fresh ab
surdities; while to the ladieB he was an object of disdain, not unmixed with a certain amount of smouldering resentment.
About this time MisB Brownlow received a letter from a distant cousin—a widow, young, attractive, tolerably wealthy, and extremely lively.
"Can you find a cottage any where in your neighbourhood which would serve as a tem porary shelter for me?" Mrs. Benton wrote —" The doctor says I want rest and change, and 1 believe that for once he is right. But I do not want to ruralize away from every creature I know, and it would be delightful to be near you."
Bertha was charmed, and quickly secured a neat little house for her coueio's use. Mrs. Renton and Bertha had been at school together, and there was but little difference in their ageB; but Mrs. Renton had been wedded and widowed while still a mere girl, whereas Bertha bad reached her aeven-and twentieth summer as the prop and stay of the Dootor's household. Dr. Brownlow waB not very robust, and his wife had died shortly after the birth of little MvBie. and thus on
Bertha's strong, willing shoulders had de volved the care of the large family nearly ten years before. But nothing could damp
Bertha's hearty, wholesome spirit. Frank, I outspoken, sometimes, perhapB, just a trifle brusque in her honesty, she delighted in life, and entered into any fun that was going with the keen relish of a merry, mischievous schoolgirl. On the whole it might be Eafely surmised that if Bertha Brownlow and Cissie Kenton were leagued together against the peace of mind of a common enemy it would be rather unfortunate for that in dividual.
Mrs. Benton came to Sorubbilltown, and was unanimously voted a great acquisition. After a while it began to be noticed " that the fascinating widow" (as she was generally called) very frequently had business at the Post-Office. She had numerous correspon dents, and generally posted and received her letters in person.
" The world mnst be coming to an end !" observed young Norreys, from the Bank, to Arobie Myers, meeting him one day in the obcmiBt's (a favourite lonnging-place in our township). "I've just come from the PoBt Office, and left Southern doing the agreeable to Mrs. Benton. The fascinating widow was in great distress abont a lost letter or some thing ol the kind, and to hear Smithers sym pathizing with her was as good as a play, fie isn't a beauty at the best of times, but when he tries to look killing—ugh!" Norreys' expression of disgust provoked a burst of
" Jealousy, my boy, sheer jealonsy!" cried Brookes, the auctioneer. " There's a rival in the field—a dangerous one, too. It isn't every man that can press poetry into the service upon the shortest notice, you'd better practise versification at once or you'll
be out of it."
" What an ass you are, Brookes!" said Aorreye, rather pettishly; whereupon Brookes roared again, while Myers rose, with s Bugbt contraction of bis brows, and left the shop, fie hardly knew why it annoyed him to hear Mrs. Benton's name mentioned in this way. The men had had no intention of disrespect, he knew; but he was annoyed all the eame. Mre. Benton was a bharming little woman, he thought—so pretty, so vivacious, and wearing an uncon scious air of fashion that w&b pleasantly dis tinctive. All this he had said confidentially to his friend and ally, Bertha; bat he had never talked of the young widow among the men, and it angered him that others shanld do so,
Meanwhile the little comedy was pro gressing. Mr. Smlthers emerged from his
misogypiatio shell, and distinctly angled for invitations to places where he would be likely to meet Mrs. Benton.
" Yon don't mean to say you've. asked Smithera;" said the young surgeon to Bertha, when she was oounting up the people who had accepted her invitations for a qnlet musical evening. "I thought you detested him 1"
"If a bear showed signs, of wanting to be tamed and civilized I should think it my duty to enoourage him in his praiseworthy ambi tion," responded Bertha. " I mean to be very civil to Mr. Smithera, and I ehall count on yon to haslet me."
"Don't, said Archie, with a slight tonoh of sulkinees. "I'd do a gocd deal for yon, you know; but I draw the line at Smlthers."
Bertha langhed, rather maliciously. "I hear he sings," she said. " And I've a
sings," she said. " And I've asked him to bring his masio. Mrs. Benton will lay. his accompaniments; won't yon,
"Ishall be delighted,"said Mrs. Ronton, " You don't sing, I believe, Mr. Myers ?"
"No," replied Archie. "And I erpeot you'll wish Smithera didn't either, whenonoe you've heard him. But I may be mistaken," he added, magnanimously. "I don't profess to' be a judge of musio."
Oddly enough, however, neither Cissie nor Bertha oould be. brought to acknowledge that ha was not mistaken when the party wm over, although every one else declared that they had been seoretly convulsed with laughter at the absurdity of hearing a very gruff basso profunao issuing from Mr. Smithers's smell person, and at the extraor dinary feats of flatnesB whioh that hapless basso pro/undo had been made to perform.
" I do believe that Mrs, Benton and Miss Brownlow. actually Hie Smithera," said young Norreys one day, with * compound expression of bewilderment and disgust.. '"They snub you like anything if you venture to eay a word about him. There's no.&ooount ing for women, is there, old man?"
"No, I'm hanged if there Is," ejaaalated Arohle, with considerable.ferocity of tone..
"Mrs. Benton had onnounoed that she would remain at home to receive visitors on Tharsdav afternoons. This was a novelty in Sornbhilltown, however old-established a ohstom in more advanced localities; and some of the elder ladies were at first rather inclined to look upon it as an impertinent. innovation.1 Bnt they soon fonnd that i< was' an agreeable way of spending part of a winter's afternoon, to drink a cup of tea, and bq entertained with plenty of lively conver sation in Mrs. Benton's little drawing-room.; and Bertha had from the first made.it a sort of half-holiday, and leaving mending and
making of clothing for. awhile had taken ? some pretty trifle of fanoy work in her hand and spent every Thursday afternoon with her cousin.
Shortly after the little party at the doctor's
Mrs. Benton and Bertha were, sitting quietly . by the fire one Thursday afternoon when Mr.
Smitbers was announced.
>« This is good of you 1" said Mrs. Benton with empressement. " My oonsin and I were beginning to tire of eaoh other, and to long for some one to come in and entertain ns. Bertha, dear, give Mr. 8anthers a cap of tea. Bo, don't take that chair—I'm sure it Isn't comfortable. Here is a nice low one closer to the fire. And you'll have a piece of cake, won't you?"
Smithers always vowed he abominated cakes and sweets of all kindB, but when the lovely widow handed it to him with the most graoeful and winning hospitality he felt that he muBt have eaten it haa it been a prepara tion of gall and wormwood. After all, he said to himself, he had been wrong to despise women. What a charming, homelike air the cosy little room wore that gusty afternoon, and how pleasant to be waited on and fnseed over by two good-looking women, one of them the most bewitching creature he had ever beheld.
J' This is—er—really most agreeable I" he said presently, in hie queer baeso tones. "A bachelor like myself is in a measure cut off from many of the littlo social enjoyments with which ladies so naturally surround
"Ah, we are frivolous creatureB, on the whole, I fear, Mr. Smithers," said Mrs. Benton, with a little Bigh of self-deprecia tion. " Yon see we have eo little to employ our minds—especially when we live alone— that we occupy ourselves with mere trifles, and are driven to seek distraction in after noon tea."
Bertba turned her bead away to conceal a smile.
•'Do not depreciate yourself, my dear madam/' entreated Mr. SmitherB, gallantly. "You, I am sure, conld never be frivolona and foolish. 1 am a judge of character, 1 asenre you. 1 have never known myself to be wrong in my reading of faces, and yonra is full of sincerity and earnestness of pur pose."
"You are a judge of character, indeed, Mr. Smithers." said Bertba, with serious admiration. "Few people are gifted withsuon accuracy of perception."
"It is a matter of temperament, Miss Brownlow," said Mr. Smithers, waving bis long neok. " There are beings to whom knowledge comes by inspiration. They know —but how they know they themselves are unable to explain. They see—they feel while the rest of the world are groping in darkness. What is bidden to others is mysteriously made known to them. Such men as these—are poets."
It was very impressive. Mr. Smithers's voice sank to its lowest depths—and ceased. Be stared at the fire, apparently in deep abstraction, and when Mrs. Benton's voice broke the intense silenoe it had a tremulous sonnd as of suppressed agitation.
" Snch men are poets 1" she repeated, olaso tag her bands together. " Ob ! what would 1 not give to know intimately one of those gifted beings, to whom, as you said, all know ledge comes by inspiration 1 Bow snoh a companionship would support one's trembling steps towards a higher life! But, alas I' snob beings are too rare."
" Bare, indeed I" said Mr. Smithers, gloomily. '"So rare that when they do ap pear the world, grown deaf and blind through constant association with the commonglacp, reinees to acknowledge them. They are~un heeded—flung aside. Thoir gilts-ore wasted.
I will give yon an instance. Listen. You are appreciative—you will understand."
He hastily drew out a bulky pooket-book, and selected, apparently at random, some half-dozen printed leaflets from a number of others. As a matter of fact, however, he had carefully arranged a few of his moat suitable effusions beforehand in anticipation of the result of his visit. Then he began to read.
What was the "poetry" like? Never having heard it myself I am incompetent to judge, but thoBe who have declare it to have been a mere farrago of senseless jingle, as defeotive in construction as it was deficient in meaning. But Cissie Benton, strangling her conscience for the nonce, exolaimea at intervals, "Beautiful!" "Charming!" "So true I" until the deluded reader paused from sheer laok of breath.
" You like them, I see," he said, compla cently, "Well, those are mine—I wrote them. They are good, L think—nay, I know; but they are trifles compared to some of my work. And yet, would you believe it! the blind, jealous, and bigoted editors to whom I bave offered them have invariably refused them; and, in order to do justice to the children of my brain, I, myself, have had to pay to bave them printed."
"It must have cost you a great deal," observed Bertha, sympathetically, as she roBe. " And now, Cissie, I muBt run away. The children will be waiting for their tea Don't disturb yourself, Mr. Smithers, I don't suppose there is any necessity for you to hurry away."
The poet was only too glad of an exouse to sink once more into his comfortable chair, and continue to bask in the sunshine of hii charmer's smiles. For there was no doubt abont it, Smithers, the woman-hater, had fallen over head and ears in love with the pretty widow—whose attractions were in no way lessened by the many little evidences of comfort, if not affluence, with which Mrs. Benton contrived to eurround herself even during a temporary sojourn. Carried away by the charm of his surroundings, be oast donbt and hesitation to the winds and pro posed. The arroganoe of tbe man was not to be disguised even at so supreme a moment.
"I don't disguise from yon," he said, " that until I met yon I had not intended to marry. I did not expect to find a woman worthy of my affection. Bat yon are fully deserving of a poet's love, and lam prond to bestow it on yon."
Mrs, Benton's bright eyes were down oast, and her handkerchief waB nervously pressed to her pretty lips.
"Oh, Mr. Smither*," she mnrmnred, brokenly, "you are really too good."
"No," responded Smithers, decisively. "No; too good for others perhaps—it would be false modesty to deny it—but not too good lor you. Mrs. Benton—Cissie, beautiful, adorable Cissie, I ask yon to be my wife, Tell me, can yon love me ?"
" I can"
Smithers attempted to seize her hand, bat somehow she avoided his tonch,
" think about it 1" she oonolnded, mo destly.
The poet looked rather disappointed.
"Is that all yon can say to me?" he asked plaintively, while his head looked even more UBeonre than nsnal, in his endeavonr to obtain an insinuating glanoe at her averted
" It is an important matter to deoide, Mr. Smithers," said she, ooqnettishly. "I don't mind confessing to yon that I have bnt little donbt as to wnat my answer will be, bnt I must ask yon to give me till to-morrow. To morrow 1 promise to let yon know what de cision I have come to."
" Well, if it muBt be so," he said, reluo tantly, and perhaps a trifle morosely, for he had rally anticipated that the objeot of his affeotion wonld fall into his arms in an im mediate eestaey of love and joy.
"Yes, indeed, it is better so," she said, with a sudden obange to gaiety of manner. "And now let us talk of something else. I don't think I ever showed yon the portraits of my ohildren, did I?"
" Your what!" cried Smithers, spring ing to his feet in the violenoe of bis astonish
" My children, my darling little ones," said Mrs. Benton, apparently not observing his surprise, as she took an album from a table near and opened it. where the likeness of two pretty little ohildren—a girl and a boy— faoed each other on the floral pages.
" Are they not little loves, Mr. Smithers?" she queried, looking at them fondly. "See, that IB Bora, and thiB ib Jaok"
Mr. Smithers' faee was a study. It wore a blank look of ntter horror and dismay.
" And this la Bnby, and this is Minnie, and this U Walter, and tnis is Tottie, and this is Harold"—she went on, slowly tuning the leaveB of the album, and quite absorbed in her loving contemplation of the bright young faces there deplotea, while the wretched poet straggled vainly for words.
"Mrs. Benton—madam," he gasped at length, "do yon mean to tell me that those children are all your—yonr darlings, as yon
call them ?"
" Certainly," she said, looking up at him with on expression of innocent surprise. "Didn't yon know I had ohildren of my own ? I didn't bring them here, because their grandmother wanted to have them at the seaside with her for awhile. Bat they are coming to me next week. Won't it be lovely? Are they my darlings? Bless them, of oourBe they are, every one of them."
Mr. Smithers 'struggled for words once more: then muttering something, probably some indistinct form of valediction, he seized his hat, and rushed from the house like a man distraught.
As the door closed behind him Mrs. Benton lay back in her chair and laughed till the tears rolled down her oheeks. She was still laughing when Archie Myers was announoed.
" You seem very oheerful," he said, rather ,
f am glad^to see it, because I feared^you were
I1L 1 met Miss Brownlow hurrying home just now, and she told me to come to you, as she thought you would like me to oalL She said she left Smithers here," he added with evident distaste, " but I suppose he has gone."
Tide allusion only made Mrs. Benton laugh
" Oh, yee, he has gone," ehe said when she could speak again. " And I don't fancy he will be in a hurry to oome back. Oh, poor fellow, I could almost find it in my heart to pity him when I think what a time he will have of it till he is put out of Mb misery to
A gleam of satisfaction appeared on the young surgeon's face.
" Do you mind telling me all about it?" he asked quietly. "I know I've no right to ask, but I fancy from Bertha's manner that it is not altogether a secret."
"I will tell you, Mr. Myers, only I must first ask you to believe that I would not be tray any man's confidence were he not so insufferably conceited and _ arrogant as to make it seem justifiable. Still I don't defend myself. I know I've acted shamefully, I
folly intended him to propose—please don t be too utterly bonified—and when he did. I pot off giving a decisive answer till to morrow. Then I showed him the children's
photographs—my little Dora and Jack, -yon know—and the expression of his face when
he looked at them was enough to make any | true mother positively hate him. And then 1 went on showing him the portraits of my two sisters' children—there are eight or nine of them in the two families, and he said, " Are thoBe your darlingB, too?" and I said " Yes," for they really are, yon know. I love them almost as mnch as I do my own two— and then—and then—he mattered something —and ran away. Ohl it was really too fanny."
Archie conld not refrain from joining in her mirth, mnch as he was inclined to condemn the whole business.
"Bertha began it, yon know," said Cissie, presently. " It was ner soheme. She has the most deadly hatred for that unhappy little man. I was merely the instrument. Yon mnst scold her, not me—thongh I Buppose 1 deserve a share, too," she added, with comio penitence.
'Be that as it may, Arohie contrived to for give thom both. He is now in partnership with Dr. Brownlow, and pretty Mrs, Benton is his wife. He has no objection to little Jack and Dora, and makes no difference be tween them and his own small boy. Perhaps it is needless to say what was the answer finally vouchsafed to the Postmaster's wooing. Mr. Smithers did not remain very long in Scrnbhilltown. He said the climate did not enit him.