Chapter 160777963

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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter TitleMILLER'S MORTGAGE.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160777963
Full Date1888-06-02
Page Number42
Corrections0
Word Count4092
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleTales of Our Township
article text

THE STORY-TELLER,

TALES OF OUR TOWNSHIP.

[By Lindsay Duncan.]

UL—MILLER'S MORTGAGE.

"I shouldn't mind so much if it wasn't foe your mother, Fatty," said the farmer drearily, momentarily raising hiB head from itB drooping position of utter dejection, and looking Badly at his daughter, " It'll be a terrible shock to her."

"Of course it will be a shook, but mother must hare been prepared for it, I should think." said Patty. "She must have seen how things have been going for a long time. She has been with you through it all, father.''

"Yes, my dear, yes," said John Miller, hesitatingly. "But she don't know much about busmeBB, your mother don't, Patty. You see she isn't over strong, and she's easily worried. She can't take things quietly, like me and yon can. She — she's nervous — that's what it is, and she isn't over strong, you know Patty," he repeated, weakly! falling baok into that attitude of profound despondency which seemed so terrible in the eyes of the vigorous, energetic young girl before him.

"And so you have told her nothing. Is that what you mean, father?" she asked gently, stepping to his side, and laying her fingers oareBsingly cn that bowed grey head.

" I couldn't, my girl, I couldn't, replied her father. " I've dropped a hint or two at times, you know, thinking to break it to her easy, but she didn't take no notice. I sup

fose I didn't put it clear enough. And then

thought I'd wait till you came home again.

You women understand each other's ways— yon'll be able to break it to her better than I should, Fatty."

A faint smile curled Patty's lip for a moment, but it was quiokly lost in a look of pity as she bent her head and kissed her father on the brow, " Cheer up a little, father, dear," she said, enoouragingly, " After ell, you know, this iBn't the worst that might have happened to us. We have eaoh other still—and—and mother, too—and I'm strong enough to do any amount of work, and we'll pull through all right, never fear. Seeing you so cast down is the worst of all to me."

"You don't know what poverty is, ohild," muttered the farmer, gloomily, " You don't

know what it iB not to have a roof to shelter

your head, or a bite of food to eat. You were to be made a lady of, your mother always said; and now you'll just have to starve, it seems to me."

Patty laughed a laugh which bravely strove

A intmnola SnAMilnlAiia '* Mfai>na 9"

to sound joyously incredulous. "Starve!"

'" ''Wot I—n

Bhe said. "Not I—nor you either, father.

Don't think of suoh things. You'll make yourself downright ill if you sit there brood ing like that. Fm going to mother now, for I don't think it would be treating her quite fairly to keep her in ignorance any longor. Oh, yes, don't be afraid. I'll tell her as gently as possible. And oh, by-the-by,

ither," she added, pausing at the door, "I wish you would go and "have a look at Pansy s legs, I fancied she

was just the tiniest trifle lame when we were out this morning,"

"All right, my girl," said the farmer, mechanically rising from hiB ohair and

taking up hiB hat.

" 1 nope I shall be forgiven for that small fib!" said Patty to herself, as she watohed her father go out of the house. " Poor dear Pansy 1 She never went better in her life. But 1 conldn't go and leave him Bitting there in that dreadfully hopeless way, and nothing rouses him like something to do with the horses."

Patty heaved a deep sigh and turned to seek her mother, with an expression on her fair young face as of one who is braced up by stern resolve to the fulfilment of a duty, whioh is certain to be painful and likely to be intensely so.

Urs. Miller waB precisely one of those women who seem: to have been sent into the world for the chastening of their fellow creatures—women of a cast of character, which would appear to be impartially dis tributed, luckily only very sparingly, through all classes of society, from the highest to the lowest. Vain, selfish, frivolous, extravagant, and fretfnl, Bhe had always contrived to exact compliance with her caprices from her quiet, yielding husband, who had fallen in love with her pretty shallow face when she

was young, and he already almoBt midle-aged,

and had remained the weak slave of her temper, when Bhe had herself long destroyed the bonds which had held him the willing captive of love and admiration. She was capable of terrible outbreaks of passion when thwarted, and the farmer had grown in time to think that nothing was too costly which would serve to avert such an outburst as converted the mother of his child into a flaming furious virago. Onoe or twice only had PaUy been a witness of such an ex hibition of temper, her childhood and girl hood having been chiefly passed at a_ school near Adelaide; for Mrs. Miller had insisted upon the girl's being educated " like a lady," andlthougn the farmer had sometimes groaned inwardly at the expense, he was too fond and proud of his daughter to begrudge anything which might prove for her advantage. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Miller had no great affection for her only child, being indeed absolutely incapable of any strong altruistio emotion, and she was glad to keep_ this

evidence ot tier increasing years out 01 tne

way as much as possible: so that when at lost Patty readied an age at which it was hardly deoent to keep her longer at school, her mother always encouraged her accep tance of invitations to visit former school

fellows, which, since pretty merry Patty Miller was a general favourite, were by no means unusual. It was on returning from a long visit of this kind that Patty noticed how the farrows had deepened on her father's brow; how his shoulders nad bowed and his hair whitened during her.absenoe. And then in answer to her eager, loving queries, she had drawn from his reluctant lipB a sad and doleful record of struggle and failure aud disappointment, fie was ruined, he said— a beggar! fie no longer owned the house and land. They were heavily, hopelessly mortgaged, and he could do nothing but helplessly watch them pass from his pos

session.

Patty had given a little cry of dismay. " Oh, to think how muoh 1 have been costing you (dl this time! Schooling, dresses, pooket-money J Oh. father, father, why did you not tell me all this before, and let me try to help you, instead of being a useless, ex pensive burden 2"

This was the bitterest pang of all to poor Patty. Her father had gazea at her, dazed and wondering, but with an odd feeling of

comfort stealing aronnd his tired heart, to find tbat ehe blamed him for nothing bnt for

sparing her.

It were better perhaps to draw a veil over the interview in whioh Patty songht to "break the news gently" to Mrs. Miller. Frenzied lamentations, bitter reproaches, cruel aooneatioaB, filled the air; and when at last tbese died away into hysterical sobs of utter exhaustion, Patty stole out of the boose,

pale and wearied as though from a night's watching.

It was refreshing to breathe the free atmo sphere ; and although the son was hot, there was a cool Bontherly breeze, which carried the delicious scent of distant wattles to her nostrils.

It was not a beautiful spot, but the thought of leaving it brought the tears into the girl's bright brown eyes. The farmhouse itself was just snch a plain, unpiotureaque, white washed building, as may be seen by the hundred in the agricultural districts of the oolony. Originally only a " lean-to" of two rooms, built when John Miller had first begun to clear the ground some five-and twenty years before, it had been added to as his mi s permitted, and now presented a square ...lidity of aspect, and a remorseless rigidity of outline; which latter was only partially relieved by a gaily painted veran dah, a luxurious addition not so common to isolated country dwellings of this class as might be supposed, A rough track led to the smooth high road which ran to ScrubhlU town on the one side, and Newville on the other, .the farm standing at a distance of some six or seven miles from either township. The country was fairly level, and almost as far as you could see on either hand, aB you stood at the door of the farmhouse, the laud was known as " Miller's Section." And no w. after all these years, there had been a suc cession of bad seasons, together with a course of reckless, heedless extravagance, with the usual corollary of heavy loans hastily nego tiated, and the land was passing away front him. Patty could hardly believe it. She wandered listlessly down the grassy track, out of which the vouoz summer had

not yet burnt all semblance of greeh ness, her mind fall of a vague wonder as to what was to become of them. Her spirit waB brave enough, but just then she felt too utterly weary to plan any future course of action. She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she failed to notice that a horseman had turned from the road into the track on whioh she walked; and the horse's hoofs making but little sound on the soft ground, she was startled to find him close upon her before she was aware of his ap proach.

" Sam Thompson from the store!" she men-' tally ejaculated. " What does the horrid creature want, I wonder ?"

Then with a sudden ruBh of colour to her brow, she remembered that her father had told her of long bills owing in Sornbhill town, and no means of paying them.

"He has come for money 1" she thought hurriedly. "Itwill drive father out of nia mind. Can I get rid of him, I wonder ?"

So the poor little diplomatist forced a smile to her lips and greeted the horseman with a grarions bow.

Mr. Samuel Thompson lifted his hat with what he felt to be a very superior salute for the country districts. This young tradesman ran up to Adelaide occasionally on business, and contrived at the same time to give a good deal of attention to enoh of the ways of the neat ones of the earth as might be studied in Bundle-street; resolved, for his own part, to be nothing if not elegant. For the rest, he was tall and angular, with a pale, jpimply face, a bony kind of nose whioh persisted in shining as though polished across its knobby bridge, and lank light hair which always had the appearance of being more or Iobb damp,

He noted the bright blush and the gracious bow with muah inward satisfaction. It was true that Miss Miller had seen fit to snnb him most unmeroifully on the last oocasion on whioh tbey had met; but oircnmstances had altered since then, and she had probably come to her senses, and learnt how to appre ciate him. He sprang from his horse and hitohed the bridle to a post in the fence.

"I'm glad I met you, Miss Fatty," he began with extended hand and engaging Bmile. " For though you mightn't think so, it'B yon I wanted to see."

" Me 1" said Patty, with a mixture of surprise and relief. " I thought perhaps yon were going to see father, and he really isn't well enough to see any one to-day"

Mr. Samnel Thompson shook his head significantly.

" Ah, the old gentleman's a bit upset, £ expect. No wonder, either. Upon my word, I'm very eorry for it, Miss Fatty."

"You are very good," responded Patty,' frigidly, humilitatea and disgusted beyond measure to find that their misfortunes were

apparently so generally known.

"Yes, it's a great pity," be continued,' " But 1 don't know how it is some people never seem able to keep what they've got. Seasons have been bad enough, it's true, but with a little ordinary prudence and manage

ment"

"I'll tronble yon not to disparage my parents in my hearing, Mr. Thompson,", interrupted Fatty fiercely.

"Ob, I beg your pardon, Fm Bure. £ didn't mean any harm, I wouldn't make yon angry on any acoonnt. I like you far too well for that. You know I like you, don't you, Patty?" replied Mr. Thompson insinuatingly.

Now, it unfortunately so happened that Mr. Sam Thompson waB Fatty Miller's pet aversion. She had feared and disliked him as a boy, when he had been both a tease and a bully: and ehe cordially detested him in his manhood, the more so that he had always seized every occasion of paying her attentions which were profoundly distasteful to her. However, ehe thought of her father and the long bill owing at the store, and she choked down her indignation at the familiarity of this address, and said with oold politeness—

"Itis extremely kind of yon, Mr. Thomp

" Not at all," he said, eagerly, convinced of encouragement, "I've always liked yon, Patty, and I'm going to prove it. That's what I came ont for to-day. I ought to be in the shop by rights, but 1 gave them the slip on pretence of business. I heard yon had come home, and 1, wanted to see you at onoe. I've always thought you were the nioeBt girl I know, and I oame here to-day on pnrpose to ask yon to marry mo. I didn't like to think that yon might be worrying about the future, and so I thought I would let yon know at once that there was a comfortable home waiting for yon whenever yon like. YouH say 'yes,' won't yon, Patty r

Sam Thompson was evidently in earnest, bnt somehow his oiler was not gracefully expressed. He really liked and admired the girl, who seemed to him so much more refined and bo much better ednoated than any others of his acquaintance; hut he was consoious of a certain magnanimity in proposing to the daughter of a man wno was on the verge of bankrnptcy, and in spite of hia lover-like air this consciousness orept into the tone of his

8p66che

Poor Patty's diplomacy was at an end now. " You are very good, Mr. Thompson," she said, with a vivid flush which arose more from indignation than gratification, "But what you ask is quite impossible."

"Impossible 1" he echoed incredulously. 'No, no, Patty, yon don't mean that, I'm sure. That's only one of the pretty tricks that yon ladies are so fond of playing when yon know a fellow likes you. Of oouree, yon mean to say * yes.' Now don't yon, Patty ?"

This, with a quick movement of his right

ann towards the girl's slight waist, whloh caused her to spring away from him with flashing eyes and flaming cheeks.

" liow dare yon?" she cried, breathlessly. "How dare yon try to tonch me? What en couragement have I ever given yon to think that I liked yon—that I could endure yon even? What do yon mean by venturing to think that of course I should say' yes' to your offer? I mean what 1 say, Mr. Thompson, and I mean this, too. If there were not another man in all the world except yourself I wonld not marry you!"

Having given utterance to this vehement and imptndent speech, poor hasty Patty felt extremely inclined to cry. Meanwhile, Sam Thompson's pale face had grown paler than ever from rage and disappointment. Then he proceeded to verify the proverb abont " scratching a Russian and finding a Tartar" by showing how the rasping of a thin veneer of good manners may reveal the boor.

" Oh, yon wouldn't have me if there wasn't another man in the world, wouldn't yon, Miss Patty? Well, I hope you'll get a better offer, that's all," he said, coarsely, " It isn't every one in my position who'd be ready to marrya beggar s daughter, I can tell you. I knew I was a fool to think of doing it my self, but I did expect a little more gratitude than I've got, I muBt say. It won't be long before you come to think that this is the worst day s work you ever did, I'll take my oath of that. Perhaps you aren't aware that my father and I hold the mortgages over the best part of this property. Father's threatened to foreclose time after time, bat I've always kept him off, on yonr account, up to now. Even now it wonldn't have been too

late, if you'd chosen to treat me properly. I'd have made some arrangement; for of course I wouldn't have let my intended father-in-law go insolvent—it isn't likely. As it is, things must just take their course; but you 11 have the consolation of knowing that it's chiefly your own doing. It'll be a comfort, no doubt. Good morning, Miss Miller." So saying, he bowed with exaggerated politeness, remonnted his horse, and rode off furiously in the direction of Sorubhilltown; leaving Patty standing white and trembling, a prey to contending emotions.

She was giddy and bewildered with all that she had gone through daring the day. She muBt be qniet, Bhe felt, to think it all over. She wonld Bit down somewhere in the ehade and rest. A rapid glance abont her, showing that she was unobserved, she slipped deftly between the wires of the fence on her right,

ana found herself in a patch ot unoieared ground, where the graceful mallees lifted their slender stemB and tufted heads above the luxurious growth of yellow-flowering bushes with their grejr-green foliage. In spots the ground was white with '* everlastings," and feathery grasses shook and swayed with every breath of wind. The warm air was laden with taint sweet scents, and musical with the drowsy hum of insect life and the soft, low, gurgling chant of distant magpies.

Here in a shady spot Patty flnng herself down to think—and cry. Oh! the blessed relief of tears 1 After some time she sat up calm and composed again, though with red eyes and swollen features.

"It is awful to think that I've been the means of making matters worse," she said to herself ruefully. "But, after all, what could I have done ? I oouldn't possibly have married Sam Thompson. I always detested him. Father would never have let me marry a man he knew I hated. What would mother say if she knew, I wonder J" she added, doubtfully, with a significant dubiousness. " Well, anyhow, I might have been gentler," she soliloquized regretfully, presently. " I might have refused him with out being so angry about it—without offend ing him so dreadfully. But it was just like my shooking temper to flare up like that 1"

During her penitent soliloquy she had been mechanically digging small holes in the ground with the point of her large cotton snnshade, and turning over little bits of the soft dry turf. Most of us, when we are deeply absorbed in thought, are ant to per form some trifling action of that kind in a vague, unconscious sort of way; and it is extraordinary with what pertinacity we will pursue an unacknowledged purpose while our whole minds are seemingly absorbed in something else. Just in this way, Patty gradually awoke to the conBciousneBB that Bhe was endeavouring with much earnestness to remove a tuft of grass which adhered with unusual firmness to the ground, and stnrdily resisted the growing vehemenoe of the attaoks which her parasol point was making on it. We all know now the resistance of inanimate objeots provokes us to determination, and so Patty said, with quite a vioious dig, " It shall come up, the ODBtinate thing 1 I'm resolved it

shall I"

She was laughing a little at herself for her interest in such a trifle, in view of all her weightier matters for thought, when the tuft suddenly gave way, tearing up with it quite a mass of matted grass and roots of weeds. Underneath lay something whioh sparkled in the slanting rays of the sun.

" What pretty stones!" she exclaimed, picking up a piece of the shining stuff. It Bparkled here and there with a silvery radiance, and it was thickly studded with minute fragments of some different substance of a greyish black.

..f, -

don't remember seeing any stones like

these before," Patty thought. "I'll take some home and show them to father." So saying, she carelessly picked up two or three loose pieces of the " pretty stone," and started on her homeward way.

Arrived there, she found John Miller in deep and earnest conversation with Mr. Brookes, the auotioneer and estate agent

from Scrubhilltown. He was a kind hearted, jovial young man, and Patty had alwayB liked him. She hardly knew why it seemed so pleasant to find him there. His cheery face was graver than usual, and as she went in he was saying—

" i ve always hoped we might get them to renew, yon know, if the arrears of interest were paid up, but I met young Thompson just now, looking about as amiable as a bear with a sore head, and he said they Intend to foieolose at onoe."

John Miller's sigh went to Patty's heart. She felt herself to be a dreadful culprit, somehow. " No doubt it will be a consola tion to know it's your own doing." The horrid, cruel words rang in her ears, as she began to talk with rather a feverish rapidity,

Fred Brookes, looking at the father and daughter, pitied them with all his honest heart. Did something more than pity for one of them begin to grow even then? Anyhow, some few months later he said that it did, and I suppose he ought to have known. Just now, however, merely for something to say, he asked,

" What is that in your hand, Miss Miller? Have you been geologising?"

"No, hut I picked np some pieces of broken rock, or something of the kind, out in one of the paddooks, and brought it in because it shone so prettily," she replied, handing them to him.

Mr. BrookeB took them and looked at them careleBBly at first, then with growing interest, and finally with visible exoitement.

"Tin, by Jupiter 1" he ehonted at last, after a minute examination. Hie com panions were by no meanB eo excited as himself. John Miller was too spirit broken to take much notice of what was going on, and Patty for the moment failed to see the drift of his enthusiasm.

" Is that shiny stuff tin ?" she asked.

"No, Miss Miller, but those blackish specks are, to the best of my belief. I'm a fair mineralogist, you know, but I ma^ be mistaken. These things are very deceptive. However if you'll allow me I'll take these specimens back to the township and have them assayed at once. Cheer up, Mr. Miller; if there's a good tin mine on the plaoe, you're a made man 1 Don't breathe a word of this to anybody, or the Thompsons will he down upon you at onoe. If it's as I hope, I'll under take to get enough money advanced to clear them off, and then you'll be all right. Jupiter! what a sell it will be for them!"

And so it was. Patty's parasol-pokings had been the means of discovering a valuable mine, and the discovery had come just in the hour of their utmost need.

Before long the Mfllers became compara tively wealthy people; but Mrs. Miller did not long enjoy their new prosperity. She died a few months after her daughter's wedding, and John Miller went to live with Patty and her husband in Scrubhilltown. For, less than a year after the finding of the mine, the local newspaper contained an announcement to the effect that " Martha, only daughter of John Miller" had become the wife of " Frederick Brookes of Scrubhilltown."