|Chapter Title||MARY CHARD.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Tom Hellicar's Children|
Tom Hellicar's Children.
By L. C.
Chapter XVI. — Mary Chard.
That most active and busy individual, Mrs. Susannah Page, was standing, according to her wont, at the open door of her small store, watching the deserted road which led past her dwelling, and the sun-set alternately. Not that a poetical spirit had surprised her, or that, like the rustic Bard, her ' Poetic genius found in the glen, Musing o'er the miseries of men.' But she was calculating whether her other half would have time to reach home before dark. ' He is such a crawler,' mused the wife, not at all undutifully, but just as an indisputable fact, ' there's no knowinar when he will be alone : it's well I aint as
slow. Here comes a tramp.' While she watched, an elderly woman with a small bundle in her hand, a well-worn shawl over her head and shoulders, and a plaiu but neat dress, ap proached. 'If you please, mam, can you give me a night's shelter. I can pay for it — if it's not too dear,' she added, correcting herself. Mrs. Page eyed the stranger keenly. ' I aint over fond of giving lodgings to] women on the tramp,' she returned, not graciously. 'I am respectable — indeed I am,' pleaded the traveller ; and she looked so. 'Well — come in, missus — it's hard turning a dog out in the bush of a night, let alone a Christian,' and she led the way within. The shop was a long narrow room, occupying the front of the cottage, a wooden one. Its contents were heterogeneous. Here a bag of sugar, there a pile of prints. Before a window, with a slit in it for the ad mission of letters, was piled bottles of sweets and castor oil ; tins of fish imparted a pleasant variety to the scent of tobacco ; and a cask ot treacle stood with its mouth yawningly open, from which receptacle more than one letter had been tished ; while others occupied a little fancy wicker basket, and when the post was ' uncommonly heavy,' as Susannah Page described it, the superfluity was thrust into an empty cigar box. Should the writings be perplexing, Mrs. Page would scatter the letters, then on hand, on the counter, and request the person inquiring to take their own ; and that failing, would slip the unclaimed epistles between the canisters on her shelves, awaiting the next visit of the Master of Biribang, who was ' a great scholar, and wonderful sharp in making out hard ?writings, which beat her altogether. As to the old man, he was neither here nor there — for he saw nothing without his specs, and not over-much with them.' ' It's cold this evening, warm yourself by the fire — the kettle's amost boiling.' This was said in a small room at the back of the shop. The old woman crouched down by the hearth, and spread her thin bony fingers to the blaze. In that strong light the features showed delicate, and once fine, but now too thin and sharp. The black eye had a scared look, as though trouble had unseated reason, and the few hairs straggling from under the shawl were silvered. ' Have you come far, missus ? ' ' Yes — a long way — a long way ? ' ' Are you going much further ? ' ' I don't know — I have some relations up the bush, and I was trying to make to them, but I am weary with walking, and would like to rest a few days.' 'You're not past work — you're a likely strong woman yet.' ' Oh yes — I have always worked for my living. I want to get into service — when I get up the bush.' ' There is a gentleman near by here as wants a housekeeper — he asked me to look out for him — a decent sort of elderly body ? ' 'Near here,' faltered the traveller, in a tone showing little satisfaction at having her wish so readily granted. ' Not two miles off. That's his bush joining my paddock. We bought this place off him. I says to my husband, says I, you're past a day's work now, and it don't do these times for me to be a sitting with my hands afore me ; if we moves, says I, to a place where there's an opening, there's those few pounds, and we can open a small business. And that's how I started the scales. It's time he was home ? ' She interrupted her narrative to go to the outer door and look up the road, where the loiterer was seen advanc ing at a pace which made it a question whether he was advancing, or if he and the old mare he drove had not fallen asleep. Susannah was, however, satisfied, and returned to get the tea. 'He's getting up in years,' she said. 'The gentleman?' ' No, my old man. He's seventy and 1 am forty, so there's a great difference atween us.' ' Yes— have you been lorg here ? You know the people all rouEd.' ' Every soul among 'em. There more about than you would think, 'cause their scattered in the bush. Mr. Hellicar's the gentleman I was asaying wanted a servant — you needn't move, I can put the pan on without being in your way, or you in mine. Yes, Mr. Hellicar's the gentleman, and as pleasant spoken a man as I'd wish ; as free and friendly when he comes for his post as can be. He says, says he, the quality are always that way at home,' but I don't know, 'cause I be a native.' After awhile, when Susannah Page had emptied her pan cf well-browned rashers, and was breaking eggs into the sputtering lard, the traveller asked if he was an old gentleman. ' Not at all — not above two and twenty, or there abouts. Well, here you are again — tired.' The latter remarks were directed to a feeble old man who just entered the room, well laden with parcels. ' Take um in the shop — he's quite deaf, missus.' The old woman had risen, and acknowledged the entrance of the master of the house with a respectful bend, and good evening. During the evening her quiet, yet useful ways, her willing assistance and light step, quite charmed the bustling house-wife, and she insisted on. recommend ing her to the gentleman whom she had mentioned, although the traveller raised every objection. Mrs. Page regarded it as retiring merit, the sensations of which she could not speak of with the accuracy of experience, and started early next morning to Bin bang, dragging the unwilling traveller with her. The road led through the forest grazing land most of the way, and then, when they emerged upon the meadows the house stood on a brow not far distant. A large house, but built in the cottage style, with verandah and French windows. Richard Hellicar was saddling his horse as they entered the back yard, and the stranger drew back. ' Ycu will speak,' she said, and turned away. Mrs. Page bustled forward, and opened her mission. ' She's as handy a woman as ever I saw. I con ceived at once she would suit you. She's a bit cranky, but no bother— just as handy round a place as I would be myself. It's my belief she's seen a sight of
trouble — 'There's more ways of killing a dog than hargiEg him,' and I think, from what she lei drop, she's had her troubles. She's a widow — but dear heart, a man may be bother enough alive — though perhaps a bad man's better than none.' Richie knew his visitor, and did not for a moment fall into the error of classing old Page so low in the scale of domestic comforts as she seemed to imply ; with a smile, he inquired where the woman was, and, being informed, walked to meet her. A few questions settled the business arrangements. ' Have you lived in these parts before ? I seem to know your face, as if I had seen you when a child.' ' You do not know me,' the new domestic answered curtly, and ltichie, seeing she ap peared disinclined for further remark, mounted bis horse, leaving Mrs. Page to induct her into the mysteries of his kitchen, and promising to return in. an hour, to further make her acquainted -with his dwelling. A great comfort Mary Chard proved to the young man. Never weary Jf working for him; scouring, washing, and cooking by day, and patching all the evening ; making the most of everything. That for lorn, neglected look forsook his dwelling, and in great measure his heart. He could no longer feel that no one cared for his comforts ; and before long he had grown to consult the old woman onmanymatters, and to suffer her to rule in his domestie affairs paramount. Susannah Page took great credit to herself, and tried to open up friendly relations with the housekeeper, but vainly. ' She was as deep as a well,' the post mistress grumbled; and whatever she knew of Richie's affairs went no further, nor was she more communicative on her own letters. She neither sent nor received, but appeared to settle down to a lonely life of toil, without a desire to alter it. Her visits to the store were rare, and made at night, when the work of the day was over, and the little counter was deserted by chattering housewives, dealing in gossip as well as tea and sugar, and as eager for tae last bit of news as to cheapen the yard ot calico. CUAPTEE XVH. — HOW THE LITTLE MATTER OP Mil. IBOTSON'S WOOING SETTLED ITSEL1'. Six months and Ruth would be of age. Six months. Something must be done. The girl would net die there was a rich blossom of health on her brown cheek, a roundness in her slender limbs ; rosy tips to the fingers — not an indication of death — that hope it had been a hope in her childhood — had perished. But if she did die there was Richie, a young man with musical mental development— clear, firm, true. Something must be done. Hour after hour the old man sat in his dingy study, his white head buried in the long bony fingers, considering this subject. The eight thousand pounds Ibotson must account for ; there was relief in that— but he, Richard Hellicar had an arrears of rents, and herds of cattle, and house hold goods to account for ; and only six months. So 6at he pondering, growing every day more mummy-like and crabbed. Those long legged, freckled sons of his were turning out bad. Maud had offended her mother by positively refusing the Knight of the Round Table — why could she not have done it before ? the father groaned, while a marriage with Richie might have been brought about. There was civil war in its worst form in the family — no resting place ; if the poor dove of domestic peace had fluttered round with an olive leaf in its bill, it had found, the window closed, and flown elsewhere. The mother did not speak to her daughter, but march about the house looking as if the blue blood of her patrician descent had frozen in her veins ; and Maud was attacked with hysterics. Even Esther, with her gentle presence, never came, for Maud had quoted her when she refused the connection, as the one who had made her feel that a woman must love and respect the man she weds, or, in wedding him, commit a grievous sin. Therefore, Essie Thorell was informed her acquaintance was not desired ; and this, of course, separated the two families in all their members. Six months. At this junction came Mr. Ibotson, and the two trustees had a long conference in that terri ble study, and things grew yet blacker. That Ibotson could repay the eight thousand pounds Richard Hellicar never doubted ; but Ibotson could not meet that claim — during the last five years he had plunged into endless speculations ; had gone out of his way into other men's lines of action, and taken up matters he did not understand ; and not only had he no eight thousand, but he owed other eight thousand, twice told! Something must be done. Both men repeated it— but what ? ' Some sacrifice must be made,' the wine merchant said. 'What?' ' 1 have thought of a plan ; it comes very hard on me— still there must be a sacrifice. The eight thou sand is the girl's — I will marry her, and that will get rid of that difficulty. I don't say I like it ; it will be a great pest to have a puling girl about my house, interfering with all my arrangements, but she must be kept in the back ground ; with her country manners she is unfit for society — so thoroughly colonial. How ever, I will make the sacrifice.' Lovely and lovable Ruth ! 'It won't answer — she won't agree,' said the uncle — thinking of the simpleton daughter whom they had planned for Richie, and the recent rebellion in his house in regard to the Maud and Tristam treaty. At this the purple face of the wine merchant grew very black. He to be refused by that nursemaid. He, Max Ibotson ! — and he swore an oath such as his swollen lips were used to utter in anger. Then it was agreed that the uncle should inform Ruth of the honour proposed her, and present a large gaudv brooch which the suitor had brought to bait his hook with. So Mr. Ibotson left the room wandering under the orange trees in.the garden, with a cigar in his mouth, and strange uneasy sensations under his wide waistcoat ; and Ruth was sent for. She came, nervous and scared, and looked actually relieved when she heard that such an honour was iri store for her, and that her aunt would take her to Sydney to purchase a suitable outfit, and that she should have the assistance of a needle woman to help her with the trousseau ; for, as she had known. Mr. Ibotson all her life, no long delay was necessary, and he was quite willing, indeed anxious, for as little delay as possible ; and as token of his regard he had requested her acceptance of that valuable jewel, and Richard Hellicar placed it in her hand. The girl's great black eyes opened wide, but she said nothing, and when her uncle added a fearfully for mal kiss and hoped that she would be happy, she left the rcom, still silent, with the jewel in its open case in her hand. A few rapid steps brought Ruth to her own room, where, with locked door, she flung the present on the table, and rubbing the palm of her hand violently on the coverlet of the bed, fell on her knees. ' I hate him — I hate him,' the girl kept repeating. Yet life at Mount Hellicar was so cheerless, that doubtless she would have raised no opposing voice, had not Richie's parting words rung in her ears, ' when you are of age no one can control you, and then you shall come to me, and I will love and pro tect you, and my poor sister Bhall know happiness, God helping me ; ' and the last words, in. their deep reverent tone, had been as an oath registered in heaven ; and from that day Ruth had walked as one
consecrated to a baby life of home love and peace— no cloiBtered cell, no anchor-house, but home, the faint reflection of the Eternal Home ; where the law should be love, the service willing, and a joy. How, then, was this Vestal Virgin to beat out her torch and walk in darkness ? Ruth knew of the course Maud had taken, but she was not prepared to follow it, and native delicacy prevented her consulting her cousin, although the girls had become warm, deep friends, to the ripeningj and improving of both characters. Essie was the first thought, but she knew Essie could not save her, and it was not fair to draw the girl a second time into family feuds. Then she thought of Richie, and resolved to abide by his decision, but how was she to obtain it ? She had no private means of ?writing him, and he never came to Mount Hellicar — that had been tacitly understood some time before. She must go to him ; then the when, and the how, presented itself. There was a public road leading in the direction — she knew just so much. She had no money to pay coach fare, and the distance was beyond a walk, that is a day's walk, or even two, and where could she pass the night, and how escape pursuit ? In the midsc of all these perplexities she heard her name called, and hastily adjusted her hair and ar ranged her appearance. At the foot of the stairs stood Mr. Hellicar and the wine merchant ; looking, for so imposing a gentleman, a trifle sheepish and victimised. At a glance Ruth saw that she was descending to meet her future husband ; that silence had given con sent, and her woman's nature roused up. Never had she held her head so high, and looked so exqui sitely lovely. Even to Max Ibotson, the graceful form and beauty of the girl was apparent ; and a sort of pride in his new possession made him 6tep forward with an attempt at youthful gallantry — he was fifty years of age — and take her hand as it loosened from the banisters. ' My dear Ruth, I am happy this little matter is s© satisfactorily settled,' he said, in a tone the continuation of that step, and then he saluted her brow. A burning glow of shame spread over the face, and sent a hotter tide of dislike to the girl's heart. After that kiss she never thought of the length of the road, or the homeless nights — she would go to Richie. So passing the gentlemen, with a short curtsy, she betook . herself to the little parlour where her days were commonly spent, and in the whim of the sewing ma chine, made love speeches impossible, unless made in the key of a war bugle. The victory, however, was sufficient for the gentle men, and she was not further molested, but took her tea, as she frequently did, in the nursery, and retired early to bed. Richard Hellicar deferred till the morrow informing his wife of her destined trip to Sydney, and filling in a check for the draper's bills in expectation. Morning found Ruth absent, an untossed bed ; the wedding present where she had flung it, and by its side a strip of paper with these words : — ' I will not marry old Mr. Ibotson. I hate him.' There was no mistaking the meaning of this very blunt announcement, the thorn of which, to the wooer, was the adjective, if the eight thousand pounds was the burden. Where was Ruth ? ' At the parsonage, of course,' stormed Mr. Helli car ; ' and he would let the parson know that it was no part of religion to make girls disobey their parents and lawful guardians.' ' Papa,' said Maud, who felt this remark thrown at her, ' you had better look for poor Ruth iu the pond — of course she was driven mad with such an absurd idea,' and she darted a fierce look at the wine merchant, for, I am sorry to say, Maud Hellicar was in a mood which made it an absolute comfort to shoot poisoned arrows. The dreadful suggestion paled every cheek. The gardener was called, and with his longest rake inves tigated the garden pond, while Richard Hellicar stood by with limbs trembling as in an ague fit ; while Mr. Ibotson was scouring the country on horseback, or, correctly speaking, going at an uneasy canter along the various roads ; the young Hellicars doing the galloping and fence-taking, in which matters they were at home, and, with the present stimulus, quite enjoyed the chase. Maud, unbidden as unchecked, had betaken herself to the parsonage, to make inquiries there. But they had seen nothing of the missing girl, 'Poor child — poor child,' the clergyman said, and started in the search ; while the sisters and their mother sobbed. 'But we must do something,' the mother sail; and then the girls put on their hats, and the three started on a round of visits among the cottagers, in hopes of finding the fugitive. ' Maud, you had better bring her back to me tiil peace is restored,' was Mrs. Thorell's parting injunctions ; but they did not find her. ' Esther, was that a wedding dress you were mak ing ?' suddenly inquired Maud. The sisters were surrounded with laces and white muslins when she entered the room. ' Yes. But not mine.' The low tone of the latter words, and something in the clear, blue eyes, revealed Essie's secret, and from that moment Maud knew she loved her cousin. A silent pressure of the hand com municated her discovery, and no more was said. Even a wedding dress, unless Essie's, was a matter of no interest on that forlorn day. Ruth, with her loving heart, and uncultivated mind, might, at that moment, be lying a mere white mass of nature's fairest sculp ture in some oozy poll. Oh! the agony of the thought.