|Chapter Title||THE ROBBED NEST.|
|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 III. — The Robbed Nest.
Shortly after this came a brief, formal note to Mrs. Tom Hellicar, signed by the two executors, requiring her to prepare to leave Biribang, as it was let. She laid down the note with a bewildered, frightened air. ' Oh, Richie, my darling,' she said to her eldest boy, ' they have let our house, papa's house.' 'They can't let our house,' exclaimed the boy.
' They shan't,' shouted John. ' But they have. They say they have. Read this, my darling.' The child took the letter, and read it aloud. 'Mama,' he said, thoughtfully, 'could you not say you could not leave dear papa's place? ' ' I will, pet.' She stooped and kissed his brow, and little Jack's also, and then sat down to write. It was rather an indignant letter, breaking at times into pitiful pleading. She wished to bring up her children in their father's home, where everything was asso- ciated with him, and would prevent their forgetting him. 'Think how dreadful if they should forget their father,' she added. To this appeal came a reply to the following effect : — ' Madam, — In consideration of your evident ex- treme ignorance, I will inform you briefly on some matters referred to in your favour of the 12th instant. The children's interest must be first considered, before such weak sentimentality as you advance ; and I may now inform you that your two sons go immediately to the care of a gentleman who will conduct their educa- tion. Please, therefore, to have their attire in a suitable state. A cottage on the Hellicar estate is under preparation and repairs for the reception of yourself and daughter.' With a cry of anguish she dashed the letter on the ground, and rushed wildly through the house seeking her boys. What was the loss of cows or horses, eh, or house and lands to this ? ' My boys, my darlings,' shrieked the distracted woman. ' Oh, Mary, where are my boys,' she cried of the servant she met on the stairs. 'My patience, misses, what's the matter ?' and she dropped her broom, which went bump, bumping from stair to stair down into the hall. But the mother could give no explanations, and followed by the girl she ran across a wide grass plot before the house ; it might be called a lawn, dotted over with flowering shrubs and surrounded by a laurel hedge. Here the boys were running a race on sticks, which proved rather restive chargers, and required much shouting at and stamping, so that their mother approached unheeded, but when, with arms encircling them, she said ' they were to be taken from her, and go to school,' a perfect howl of sorrow greeted the announcement. Their ideas of school were vague enough, but the awful words ' leave mama and baby,' were intelligible enough, and they twined her skirts around them, and threw their tiny arms round her neck, as if safety consisted in being close to her. ' Oh, mama, save us. I'll never be naughty any more ; indeed I won't.' Words and tears were struggling for mastery, but the tears were too many for utterance for some time. ' Mama, cannot we hide, cannot we go away into the bush ? I know a cave, up in the hill, and we could take a whole loaf and a blanket with us,' pro- posed Richard. ' I'll knock uncle down, I will, when he comes,' sobbed Jack, clenching his fat fingers in impotent rage. The mother was almost ready for Richie's plan of flight, on a grander scale than the loaf and blanket supply, but reality could not be turned into anything so unreal. After a while the children went back to their play ; not so the mother, she followed their every step, she registered their every word and laugh in her heart. How long should she have them ? That awful question kept forcing itself upon her considera- tion. It was not till they were in bed, till she had tucked them in and kissed them again and again, and after closing tbe door had opened it te look once more, and ask if they were quite comfortable ; it was not till then that she emptied their drawers, carefully darning little holes before unnoticed, and strengthen ing strings and buttons. All night she sat at this task, it was some comfort in that drear waste of worse than bereavement and sorrow. Of a day she was always laying this injunction upon them or requiring that promise. They were to remember how their father always acted — how truthful and honourable he was; then they were to write such long letters, at least Richie was, till Jack could write too ; and in holidays there was this and that to be done, when they came home to her. Amidst all these injunctions, the boys became such objects of consequence, that they were not a little soothed, and strutted about with their hands in their pockets, looking rather important and big. But she went on counting the hours, shuddering at every step on the hall floor, turning sick if a servant approached her, dreading the post and thanking God each day when the post was received and the crisis past without the expected communication. Counting the hours. Oh, weary work. The grounds of Biribang stretched away to a public road which led — anywhere — and beside this road was a small store. The children thought it a great treat to go there with a few pence for sweets, and now she denied them nothing in her lone and anguish. She took them there to fill their pockets with marbles aud sugarplums, and Jack purchased a squeaking parrot, and Richie a little slate, and being nothing but human children, though their mother often whispered 'my darling angels,' they began to think going to school not so bad after all; but this was the sunny side of the question. Richie and Jack had settled how they were going to make friends of the boys ; and how Richie was to help Jack with his lessons, and that young gentleman, having more spirit than industry, was to return the favour by punching any fellow that teased his brother. In her heart of hearts, that weary woman was counting the hours with a deadly fear. At length came Mr. Hellicar, and then the sun went inteototal eclipse. He was not alone — a young gentleman ac- companied him, one of the Tristams ; he was so very weak about the eyes, and had such very weak hair and moustache, that he looked as if that illustrious line was rather failing. Mrs. Hellicar received the gentlemen with trembling attempts at hospitality ; she had the best the house contained spread before them, and was very anxious to make them comfortable and incline them favourably towards her boys, but Richard Hellicar said aside to the Tristam that ' it showed the wo- man's extravagance and unfitness to manage the chil- dren's property ; the style at which she was living.' ' This is the last visit I can make to Biribang, madam. You will, therefore, pack up such things as you wili require, and intimate to me what furniture you will wish removed — the rest will be let with the house : and I will see to their being conveyed to the cottage I have prepared for you.' 'Yes, sir, I will pack up at once,' she said hur- riedly. ' The boys will not want their winter cloth-
ing at present. I had better take it with me, and when they come home at the holidays I shall see if they have grown, and anything requires altering.' She had mentioned the holidays once or twice before. ' Mr. Heland has consented to take them per manently,' remarked Mr. Hellicar, in his cold manner. She turned very white, and said in an hysterical tone, ' But I shall see them often ? ' No answer was made. The young gentleman blinked his weak eyes, and looked bored. The deadly fear grew stronger at her heart, and she stole away up to the nursery to clasp her baby to her bosom and sob in a wild way, and talk incoherently, till the maid declared it a shame and downright murder, and expressed a desire ' to lay her broom stick about them fellows' backs.' . ' You won't go away from your house, misses ? ' she added. 'Yes, Jane. Oh, yes, I'll do whatever they wish. I won't thwart him any more ; I'll do everything he requires.' ' More fool you — the more you do the more you may ; ' and Jane bounced into the corner of the room and clutched a water jug as if it were the throat of a personal enemy. Next day came Mr. Heland, and carried off the weeping boys in a very shaky, unvarnished dogcart, with torn cushions, drawn by an attenuated horse with staring hair, and their trunks were put on to a carrier's dray, and followed them. Then, with an ashy white face, Mrs. Hellicar selected such furniture as a four-roomed cottage, in cluding kitchen, required ; and that, too, was taken by a carrier ; and she and her child and one servant were mounted on a coach which would take them within a mile of their journey's end. So Biribang faded from sight. Had Ruth been a duchess or the rat-catcher's daughter, however high, however low, the executors would have regarded her in the same light. She had married Tom Hellicar, aud borne him sons and a daughter, who would inherit his wealth. This was the root of bitterness ; not her social position ; al- though that made her an easier victim. The woman was so helpless, and friendless, and simple ; had been treated as a child, and petted and fondled, and kept ignorant of business, that from very habit she deferred and left things to them. The easy, book-loving, careless Tom Hellicar had left her to the care of those very men who, a few years before, had cursed her as an interloper and robber.