|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||In a Hollow Stump|
I Australian Mpxn; stories!
IN A HOLLOW STUMP.
By M. FORREST.
"Somebody said to me the other day, 'Do you ever condescend to observe that there are men in the world? Do you ever see any- thing but book heroes? Except for those long, solitary, walks of yours that you take among the leopard gums, one would think your world was bounded by study; and no man can interest you who hasn't been dead at
least a hundred years.' "I smiled. I answered at random, for my thoughts were following that same walk among the grey boled leopard gums. It is a pretty little bush track, for at the further end it opens into a glade of lightwood trees on sandy rise, and there between the trees is the hollow stump which used to be our letter-box. Our letter-box. I remember stealing there one dewy September morning, when the silver wattle was gold-topped in the station paddock, stealing there to post my first answer to you. I remember drag- ging my feet away when the ground was sodden with February rains and the floods were out on the ti-tree flat. I remember your bitter pencilled words, and the blots that were not only raindrops on them. I remember. You would not understand— and I was too proud to write the explanation I might have made — you would not understand, my big Scotch man, that I always loved you best. But you spoke caustically of my taste for luxury, and the better opportunity of gratifying it that offered. The better opportunity. I wonder if you heard long afterwards that I did not marry him after all. I wonder if a glimmer- ing of the truth came to you— to you far away behind the coral reef where the screw palms grew? If so, you made no sign, and our post-office stood empty in rain or sun till a boundary-rider stuck an uprooted prickly pear plant in it, and derisively it refused to die; so, to-day, when I take this letter there —the letter you will never see — I shall have to tuck it under the straggle of prickly cactus. Perhaps there will be an impudent bloom or two, since the prickly pear is not like man's love — it dies hard. Why, once Aunt Kate actually boiled it in some fat, to hard- en the candles she was making, and, thrown out into the yard, it began to sprout one day. ?'?Ehe wind is chasing ths cloud across a sky of royal blue. I can hear the ring of axe -on. ..wood. -The new-ohum knockabout is Chopping ?wood, and thB cook is talking to him. She is a widow, old in bush ex perieiipes. Years ago she lived in Bowen,, when the 'blacks were . bad. 6he 'kept a baker's shop there, and is telling him . of an adventure she had with a blackfellow. 'They had no notion of the value of money,' she says. 'One day a nigger came into my ghop yHtti half a sovereign; he wanted flour and tobacco. We never gave change in those days, because they did not understand it.; but me., jbeing honest like, I gave him fifty of flour and -a stick of tobacco. That was how prices were in those times. Next day another from .the «amp came with sixpence. He wanted bread and matches. I handed out a loaf anfl two boxes; and he was tearin' mad. That night he came for me with a .nullah .nullah, ifeure ^enough if I had not slipped out at the back as he came in the front, and hid up at » neighbour's, lie'd have done for me. He sbouldri't b© made to understand 'why the tlther fellow got more than tie for his. money' JEThere is a smell of burning from thB kitchen. She hurries away, I. expect iths ricB pudding -wili.be scorched to-night. . ; . . 'Vpn a flay like this you would 'have saddled jour Tibraes, and we would have ridden to the *dge of ths scrub, up by the spinifex corner, janflioiit to the Bottte Tree line. You would Ijiave stretched yourself on the grass at my . feet,, and watched the racing cloud. You were n Highlander, and you lovefl cloud, while j Jind best the clear Australian skies,, that are like a hollowed turquoise above me. '51'shall carry this letter to our old trysting iHace to-day, deaf, I shall leave it ? there to-night, and to-morrow I shall go again and take ft match with me — and there shall its ashes lie. Just for to-night I like to think that it is there, hidden, away under the altars, as though you were coming as of yore, fit flay-dawn, to look for it. Little winged messenger, who shall newer reach your goaL gTplant a. kiss low down tm the page. There, dear, unjust, unforgottsn, beloved., I love you— love— Ioto. you!' .''..'' HIS 'LETTEH. 'JAre-you -still at the station, lassie? Are you 6 till the same grave -eyed girl, with the dainty ways that I thought would never do for a poor man'« wife? Has somebody married you and Bownefl you in silks and laces; has somebody made the .path easy tripping Tor your little feet? Well, 3te -could not lov» more than I— and bo — % ''?I am passing the olfl homestead to-day, go ing ^eastwards, and somehow my horse's feet (turned aside from the main road, and found ihe way to the slip-ran, and the little track &mong the llghtwoods, where the olfi post tbox still stands. For old sake's sake I will Jeave this memory letter here — tuck it away lest some sly bower bird spy it and drag it out to make a carpet-square for his play-house. -I shall place it there, Lassie, love, and per jiBj)s say a prayer over it for the girl I cannot forget, then. set fire to it and make it cinders. But first I i&all leave it for one night in the old way — dreaming, trying to cheat myself in to the belief impossible, that you come light foot at morning, to snatch it from its cosy nest and hold it to. your' heart. For I think you cared— I think you must have cared a little, after all— and I was an obstinate fool, who stood aside because there was a rival in the field. Now I know that is what a man should
never do; for so he proves himself but fit to be beaten. You. have forgotten long ago, sweetheart mine — long, long ago. But oh, dear one, I want the old post-office to know that I at least have not forgotten.' It was a fair day. Little crosses of dew lay over the slanting grass blades. The leopard gums swung green-glossed heads above their lizard-grey trunks; -Among the tree-walks the echo of the- magpie's' matins -rang. The torfk a-tonk of a bullock bell came from the station, and a dog yapped excitedly, straining at his collar. There was a delicious morning- taste in the air, and the sun was warming the grass flats. In the creek a spoonbill crane fished cheerfully, and the Ibeefwood flowers hung heavy with dow. A mob of galahs strutted across, the little clearing by the old post-box, and through the timber came the thud of horses' hoofs — nearer, nearer. The galahs mov ed on, and they flew low in the path of the girl in the holland frock, who came stepping eoftly to the lightwood grove. The man on the other side of the clearing swung from his horse and strode forward. She stopped dead, and her hands were over her heart. In one hand she held a box of wax vestas. In one the man clasped a silver matchbox- They stared at each other. 'You!'1 she said; and her voice was like the ripple of the river oh a calm day. 'You!' he said, and his voice was harsh 'with feeling. 'I came for my letter,' she said, and she swayed where she stood. 'And I for mine. How was it I did not see yours?' 'It was covered with dead leaves; I was afraid the wrong person might find It.' 'Then mine is on top of yours, I suppose. So you used the old letter-box for a fresh lover I Oh, well, experience teaches, and ? ' 'I did nothing of the sort.' Her eyes were fierce now, and she crushed the matchbox in her fingers. His brows were drawn together. He took a step. 'If you will permit, I shall destroy mine,' he said, 'because mine belongs to the past.' 'And so does mine.' He seemed puzzled. She moved aside and seated herself on a fallen tree, where the mus tard-coloured lichens clung. She sighed, ''I don't understand,' she whis pered. He was holding an envelope between his fin ger and thumb. 'It is damp from the soaking dew,' he said. 'I am afraid it won't burn.'* He put it on one side of the stump and set a match to it. The paper smouldered and went out. She sprang to her feet. 'Mine will be dry,' she said. . 'But why do you want to burn yours? He may come for it yet.' 'And so may she.' 'Go, no v she cannot now.' He was looking at her curiously. 'Nor can he.' There was a little fern at the foot of the stump. He kicked at it and bruised it's fragile emerald with his riding boot He still finger ed the letter. He took a sudden resolution, held it out to her, then turned to his horse, whose bridle rein hung on his arm. 'Read it,' he said, 'It is old history now; but I want you to see that the years do ? not always cure a man of— being a fool. Good bye 1' . She dived down among the sodden leaves in the hollow, under the hardy green of the prickly pear. ? 'Walt a minute,' she answered. She had both letters in her hands now, her colour changing. He stood rigid, watching her as she opened his unaddressed envelope. Then the red was fixed in' her cheek, and she lifted blue, laughing eyes to his. 'You came back for this?' she said. 'Oh, man!' Then she gave what she had written to him. 'Mine would burn easily — it Is quite dry,' she said. 'But somehow I think I will let you see it first.' And his arm was round her as he read the letter.