Chapter 160795765

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Chapter NumberNone
Chapter TitleMRS. CONNOR'S COW.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160795765
Full Date1892-08-13
Page Number42
Corrections0
Word Count4126
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.]

MRS. CONNOR'S COW.

" That cow will be the death of me: Mrs,

Connor need to ejaculate, on an average, three times a week, driven to a mild frenzy by some fresh ontrage committed by the harmless looking Miimiiij of which ehe was the unfortu nate possessor. It was so very harmless-look ing J its ruminative gaze so "ohildlike and bland j" its movements so slow and deliberate; its whole aspect so suggestive of ill-nourished placidity and innocent long-suffering, that it was difficult to credit it with the almost fiendish ingenuity of device and malignity of disposition, which were generally attributed to it. It was a large-framed animal, with thigh bones so prominent that they stood up like rooks upon the dingy-white desert of its lengthy back. Indeed, one's earliest impres sion was that the oow oomiisted chiefly of horns and hips.

The first time I ever saw Mrs. Connor's white cow—before it had achieved thi notoriety, which afterwards made it a pro minent charaoter in the peaceful annals of Scrubhilltown — was on a windy, dusty day, towards the close of summer. My attention was attracted towards it, partly on aocount of its extreme attenua tion, but principally because of the un promising nature of the material upon which it appeared to be gratifying its appetite. Ic seemed to be browBing contentedly upon a pile of rubbish collected in one corner of a yard, and consisting chiefly, to all appearance, of broken hridie, old boots, and empty fish-tins: but presently it fixed its meditative gaze upon a half-sheet of newspaper, which, in obedience to the will of the imperious wind, was career ing wildly about the yard.

With a nicety of calculation which struck me at the time as remarkable, the cow waited

till the eddying breeze drove the sheet of news paper into her particular oorner, when Bhe cleverly seized it in her mouth, and proceeded, with much apparent gusto, to devour it. I remember being much impressed by tbie inci dent, and the evidence it seemed to offer of the widely Bpread hunger for journalistio literature prevailing in this enlightened colony.

It would be ubbIbbb to attempt to tell you of one-half the exploits of this extraordinary ani mal. It is probable that, in common with other great historical personageB, deeds have been attributed to her of whioh she was guilt

16B8, dug quite enougn was eneetea noma to

Mrs. Connor's cow to give that quad raped a most unenviable reputation, and many a bad quarter of an hour to its possessor. If anybody's garden was plun dered it was sure to be Mrs. Connor's cow that had committed the depredation. She certainly did like young cabbages; and rose-trees and ornamental shrubs of various kinds were her "particular vanity." In vain people wished that some of their plants might prove poisonous; nothing seemed to affect the

iron constitution of Mrs. Connor's cow. Mrs. Connor herself was a respectable Irish widow with a large family of children, and of course nobody liked to be " bard on her." It was no use impounding that cow. It would not learn to behave itself properly, and the people used to say that no enclosure was sufficiently strong to restrain its vagaries. I should like to tell you about how it once attempted to assist our revered Stipendiary Magistrate in the admini stration of justioe—but -that is another etory, as Rudyard Kipling is so fond of saying.

The story I prefer to tell you is of the one good deed by whioh the cow is immortalized in

Scrubhilltown.

When old Mark Harrison shuffled off this mortal coil it would have been difficult to find a sinoere mourner. The old man was of so singularly aggressive a disposition that the neighbours regarded him with a fairly propor tioned mixture of fear and dislike. He was gruff, grumbling, and discourteous, and of eo eeoretive a nature that no one could boast of having been taken into his confidenoe with regard to the moBt trivial ciroumBtanoe con nected with himself and his position. His own son, "Young Mark," as he was generally called, was certainly no exception. His mother had died in his early childhood, and the boy bad grown up, under hie father's relentless rule, into a very much finer fellow than oould have been reasonably expected. Thwarted, snubbed, and tyrannized over from babyhood, it wae a wonder that young Mark was not as sulky, morose, and ill-oonditioned aB his immediate progenitor. But a frank and generous nature shone through the lad's honeBt grey eyes, and if his face was not a handsome one, it was a good and wholesome face to look upon.

And so, without a doubt, thought Madge

West.

Now the Wests (with the exoeption of Madge) considered themselves to stand a rung or two higher on the social ladder than that occupied by the Harrisons. Mr. West was a timber merchant, with a flourishing and lucra tive business. Consequently the twodaughters, who were good-looking and fairly educated girls, were expeoted to eventually divide a tidy little sum of money between them.

" Well, I suppose you won't be such a goose as to think any more of Mark Harrison now!" said EUen West to her sister a few days after old Mark's demise. "It never was the sort of

thing I oould approve of, you know. _ We ought to look a bit higher. But tbey said old Harrison was a miser, and that Mark would be well off aome day, so ib didn't seem eo bad. But cow "

" It is just the same as it ever was!" flashed out Madge, warmly. "It's Mark I oare about and not hiB horrid old father's savings."

"That's a good thing, as there don't seem to be any!" retorted Ellen, "But you may as well give it up at once, for youll never get fathers consent now. I overheard him and mother talking about it only last week, and he said then that he had only allowed it to go on at all beoause they said Mark would oome in for enoh a good thing when his father died."

"How abominable 1" cried Madge indig nantly. " I never thought father could be so mean and mercenary. But I don't care 1 I know they want to make me like John Merry, but they won't suoceed. If I can't marry Mark I won't marry anybody."

" Then youll die an old maid, my dear,"said her sister airily, and she sauntered from the room humming a little tune, and leaving poor Madge in tears of anger and despair.

" They are all against ub," she said bitterly. "They all think more of money than anything else. As if I wouldn't be happier in a oottage with Mark than in a palace with anyone else! And Mark is doing very well on the railway, and hell be a etationmaster some day. As for John Merry—I hate bim!"

The unfortunate John Merry, whose only offenoe was a warm admiration for Mr.

West's younger daughter, was a young solioitor in a neighbouring township, who was regarded by Mr. and Mrs. West as a very desirabl parti for the unwilling Madge. But warm admiration, backed by parentalapproval, is an altogether unforgivable offence in the eyes o a girl who has given her heart to eome on5

else; and so love-crossed Madge cried angrily, " Ab for John Merry, I bate him 1"

Now, there really was nothing at all hateful about poor John Merry, He was a smart young fellow, the eon of a tradesman, who had raised hiitiBelf into the professional class by dint of perseverance and determination and the exercise of a very fair share of brains: and he was, in reality, by far the intellectual superior of little Madge West, whose pretty face and lively ways had bewitched him rather against his better judgment. But that, of course, made no difference. Madge loved Mark Harrison with all her warm, wilful, im pulsive little heart; and bo just at the present time she naturally hated John Merry in similar proportion,

Madge cried a good many hot tears, partly for herself and partly for her lover and his dis appointments ; then she looked in the glass, ana was horrified to ;see that her nose and eyes were red and swollen by this indulgence in grief.

"Goodness !—what a sight I look 1" she said, making a little grimace at the unflatter ing reflection. " I shouldn't like Mark to see me like this; and yet it is all on his acoount, poor fellow 1"

Then she ran into her room and bathed her face, and pulled out her curly hair, and donned her prettiest hat, and wandered carelessly out into the passage.

"1 am going for a walk if you don't want

me just now, mother," Bhe said, putting her j head inside the sitting-room door. " I have a I little headache"—which was quite true, and no wonder—" and I think the fresh air will do me good."

" Very well, dear, go by all means," the mother said, looking up from her sewing with rather an anxious expression. She was a good woman and an affeotionate mother; but worldly wisdom swayed her sometimes away from her trusBt instincts, as it does

most of us.

So Madge went out, and walked in a slow and objeotlesB way until she had passed the last house of the township, when she quiokened her pace towards a little thioket of mallee. Here she found Mark Harrison awaiting her, so that it would appear that the meeting was preconcerted.

"It is no use, Madge, my darling," the

young fellow said gloomily, after the first

greetings had passed and the gladness which a meeting between true lovers must always en gender had died down. "It is no use. I must give you up. Your people will never consent, ana I can't expeot it. I shall leave the place; for I couldn't bear to stay here and never see you—still less see you married to some one else, for I suppose that is how it will

end."

"How dare you, Mark? How dare you?" died Madge, excitedly. "Have you suoh a poor opinion of me that you don't believe I could be aa faithful as you? I will never marry anybody else but you, Mark. Do you hear? Never, never. If 1 can't have you, I'll die an old maid, as Ellen says I shall. But III never marry any one else. I'll swear it if you like."

"No, no, my dear, dear girl! My precious Madge!" the poor lad cried, throwing his arm around her, and kissing her flashed little face with very sad and earnest kisses. " You mustn't swear anything of the kind. You don't think I could love you as truly as I do, and wish to see you spoiling your life for my sake, do you, darling? No, no, indeed. I shall go away; and in time you will forget me and be happy. And per haps some day I shall oome back and find " But here a great lump seemed to rise in Mark's throat, and it is no shame to him to say that the surrounding trees, and the bright evening sky, and even Madge's figure, grew blurred and indistinct to his tear-dimmed eyes. The poor young fellow had suffered sorely during the past few days, and now he felt as though his endurance was fairly break ing down. And here Madge, like a true woman, brought all her strength to help him.

" Very well, dear," she said, in a brave, steady voice, taking one of his hands in both her own. *' I wont swear anything; and you shall go away if you think it is best. But I will be true to you, and whenever you are in a position to marry, and you say, 'Madge, I am ready for you !' I will go to you; and we shall be as happy as possible, however poor we are, because we love each other, and shall always love each other. And now that is settled, and we needn't talk about it any

more."

"Madge, you are an angel!" cried her young sweetheart—which was hyperbolical in the extreme, but perhaps exousable under the

circumstances.

"Do you know, Madge." said'Mark, a little later. " It seems to me that one of the most dreadful things about it all, is that I oan't feel sorry for father. I know I ought to be grieving because he is dead, but I can t. You

oan't think how bad and heartless it makeB me feel. I look at his chair sometimes and try to wish he was back in it again— but I can't. It sounds horrible, doesn't it? I wouldn't tell any one but you,

Madge—but jou are like a bit of myself.

you know. I am his son—the only child

he ever had—and I'm not really sorry in my heart that be is dead ! I sometimes think all this disappointment ahout the money is a fitting punishment for me for being so un

natural.

" I don.t think it iB unnatural at all," replied Madge. "I should think you were a hypo crite if you pretended to be sorry. I don't believe he ever spoke a kind word to you from the hour yon were born. A pretty sort of a father 1 And he crowns it all by deceiving you to the end, and making yon believe he had something good to leave you, so that you might be disappointed after his death."

"Don't, Madpe, dear 1 He is dead, you

know, after all,' said Mark pitifully. " And I can't remember that he ever exaotly said

anything to me to make me snink 1 snouia tie rich some day. I am Bare we always lived poorly enough, and until I was able to earn for myself I never got a sixpence without a leo tare on the sin of extravaganoe, and he was for ever saying how poor be was, and what an expense I was to him. But sometimes he used to say things," Mark went on, with knitted brow and a puzzled expression, "that cer tainly led me to think he had money put away somewhere. I remember once, for instance, when he saw Mr. Coulson driving past with his new buggy and that pretty pair of bays"— Madge nodded comprehension—"he growled ont something about 'Beggarly upstart 1 I could buy him ten times over]' But then he had an awful down upon Mr Ooulson. I never could tell why, and it might have been only his temper. He didn't know I heard him, I am sure. And there were other things too— but there 1 I feel like a wretch to talk about it. I have health and strength, and I oan work for myself. Only you might have been my wife vety soon, Madge, if Z had been well

off!"

There was silence for a minute or two, and then Madge said—

" It is so strange that there should be no will to be found. One would think that a man of your father's disposition would have been sure to make a will however little he might

have had to leave."

" We have hunted high and low, and have found nothing at all in the shape of a will,"

eaid Hark. "There is the house and furnitur

—which doesn't amount to much—and one hundred and seventeen pounds odd in the Bank here. And, so far as we can tell, that is every fraction of my inheritance. You oan't wonder that your people don't oonBider me a suitable match for you, who have been accus tomed to all sorts of comforts all your life," he added, bitterly acquiescing in the wisdom of those against him.

"I don't understand it 1" Madge said.

"Your father had retired from business for years, and although you say you paid for yonr board, I don't suppose that kept the house altogether."

Mark smiled grimly. His lady-love little knew how coarse and scanty was the fare in the Harrison household, nor bow often " young Mark" had found it necessary to stay his vigo rous. youthful Btomach with a good, square meal at an hotel, the payment for it having been surreptitiously reserved from his own pay, at much riBk of his parent's displeasure in case of disoovery.

" Anyhow, 1 can't believe that £117 was all Mr. Harrison had, in addition to the house," declared Madge. "It will turn up some day,

>ily you'll see, Mark, and we shall all live happily

ever afterwards, as the stories say."

" God grant it, my darling," said Mark, very solemnly. And then they kissed again and parted, with very heavy hearts, in spite of all their courage ana hopefulness.

And it was just at this point of the story that Mrs. Connor's oow appeared as the dcus, or. I suppose I should say oeu. ex machina /

When Mark, with bent head and lingering steps, sought his lonely home in the Bummer dusk; he heard a moBt extraordinary commo

tion in the rear of the little house.

Entering by a gate which led into the back yard, he discovered that these sounds pro ceeded from a little outhouse, ordinarily used as a laundry and place of general storage for all sorts of lumber. There was much thump ing and stamping on the worn concrete floor, and Mark had already divined the oause of the

disturbance before he looked in.

Poultry-keeping bad been the one hobby and employment of old Mark Harrison, during the last few years of his life ; though what became of the eggs and chickens had always remained an unsolved mystery to his son. They cer tainly appeared but rarely upon the domestio board. However, in this outhouse (carefully locked up, save on washing days, and then jealously watched) it was his habit to keep a small sack of grain, and another of bran and pollard, which he dealt out gingerly, and with elaborate calculation of their absolute require ments, to the denizens of his poultry yard. On one occasion, not very long ago, Mark the younger had inadvertently left the door of this storehouse open, and of course Mrs. Connor's cow had got in and devoured the greater part of the contents of the two bags. Find ing this irrepressible quadruped at the same tricks again, Mark smiled Badly to think of what a life he had led for a week after the cow's first raid. Then, looking in, he saw the cow wildly plunging about in the endeavour to disentangle her long horns, from something which held them in spite of all her attempts to regain her freedom.

" Hi! steady, old girl 1" said Mark, going to the rescue. "You'll have the old plaoe down, if you knock about like that.'

Tho cow seemed to recognise that assistance had some, and stood still, trembling in every limb, but with her head held in an obviously uncomfortable attitude. The rescue was

simple enough. Her horn had caught in the iron support of a rough wooden shelf, under which the tempting food was lying, and with a little coaxing and soothing the frightened animal was released and led out of the laundry and out of the yard, and dismissed to seek her belated way to her own abode.

Then Mark, more for want of something to do than for any particular interest in the matter, went back to ascertain what amount of damage had been done.

Not much, apparently, but the grain and bran were scattered about, and, with the

instinct of one trained to carefulness and orderliness, Mark began to gather the food together and replace it in the bags. _ As he did

this he noticed a distinct crack in the con crete just beneath the spot where the bags were lying.

"She has knocked the floor about a bit with all that stamping," he remarked, mechani cally, going on his knees to ascertain the extent of the damage. Then he saw that the cracked part deBoribed a small irre gular circle, ending with the wall.

" That surely isn't a new crack," he said to himself. " It looks as if it had been done for ages. And the pieces are quite loose!" So saying, he lifted apieoeof the broken ooncrete out Of its place, and laid it on the floor beside him. Then he found that several other small pieces which had been fitted into their places as ingeniously and carefully as if they had formed part of apuzzle, came away without any difficulty. Underneath, the ground was soft and dusty, as if it had been recently dis turbed.

" It is guoer the earth len t harder! Mark thought, idly turning over the loose pulverized soil with hie hand.

Ab he did so his fingers touched something cold and hard. He started at the chilly oon taot, and then, with a curious excitement which he could not explain to himself, he began eagerly brushing away the earth with both hands.

There was certainly something solid among the dust — something that felt hard and metallic. Hurriedly striking a match—for the light "was fading—he discovered that his trea sure-trove was a battered old oashbox, whioh had evidently been hidden there with a view to secrecy. Mark could not repress a shout as he drew the box from its hiding-place, though he assured himself the next moment that, he did not at all suppose it contained anything worth having. All the same, he hastened [into the bouse with it, and hiB hand so Bhook with eagerness and anxiety that he could hardly obtain a light and seek a key to fit the battered

lock.

The former was easily procured—the latter with more difficulty ; but after trying every key but the right one upon the bunch which had been found beneath the old man's pillow after his death, he discovered one at last, which opened the cashbox, and revealed his deBtiny.

* • * • •

Well, Mark Harrison turned out to be very much richer than any one had expeoted. The oashbox not only contained an informal bnt perfectly valid will, leaving. all old Mark Harrison's worldly possessions to his only son, but a number of reoeipts for fixed deposit* in Banks remote from our township. Also was there a very goodly sum in notes—and it is astonishing, when you come to think ofit, into how small a space an enormous sum can be condensed in the form of Bank notes—which was only another mstanoe of the ouriously illogical fasoination which cash, unproductive of interest, possesses for the miser. Doubtless had old Mark dwelt in a land where fat gold pieces were in constant circulation he would nave revelled in the accumulation of golden coins. Even as it was, the little box was

weighted by some considerable number of half sovereigns; whioh, no doubt, had been fondly turned about and gloated over by the clutch

ing fingers and eager eyes of the now dead

miser.

It grieves me that as a veracious BtoryteUer, I have not been able to give you anything that is very new in the description of the disoovery of old Mark's hidden hoard. History repeats itself; and misers have hidden their savinjgs in nnlikely plaoes, but with a distinct preferenoe for holes beneath the floor from time

immemorial, and if the story iB hackneyed, I really cannot help it.

At all events, I do not believe that a South Australian cow was ever before the means of bringing prosperity and happiness, in a super lative degree, to two such nice, true-hearted young people as Madge West and Mark Har rison. They always, rightly or wrongly, attributed their happy union to the opportune intervention of Mrs. Connor's cow, and though I cannot help thinking the discovery of the cashbox might have been made eventually without her interference, there can be no reasonable doubt that she hastened that desir able consummation. So Mark and Madge were married, with the full consent of the latter's family, and they bought Mrs. Connor's cow for a price which caused the worthy woman's face to beam with astonishment and satisfaction.

And I fearlessly aver that you might travel through the length and breadth of this " island continent" of ours without enoountenng another quadruped who "puts in" such a perennially " good time" as the ci-devant Mrs. Connor's cow.