|Chapter Title||THE ENCHANTED PRINCESS.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Tom Hellicar's Children|
Tom Hellicar's Children.
CHAPTER XIX. — The Enchanted Princess.
Night had gathered in, black and stormy. The wind was fitful, and the curlew wailed in the meadow land by the creek. 'It's time he was home,' said Mary Chard, and she built up the fire and gave a finishing toueh to the table cloth, not that it was crooked on the table.
The old woman had a habit of talking aloud, and then she would start and look nervously over her shoulder, as if she feared she had betrayed some mighty secret. She kept passing in and out of the sitting-room to the kitchen and back again, when she became aware that there was some one in the darkness peering into the room, half lighted by the glow of the fire. She shaded her eyes with her hand and piered out, but the face had disappeared. Presently it was there again, and then Mary Chard went to the front door and opened it. A gust of wind drove the rain drops towards her, and in the darkness she could hardly discern that a female figure was cowering on the verandah. 'Who are you? 'she spoke in a low, troubled tone. ' I want to see Mr. Hellicar,' the crouching being uttered in a faint voice ; but even the low tones re assured the old woman, who had grown white and scared, and she advanced and took the stranger by the hand, and took her into the room where Richie's supper was spread. ' I want to see Mr. Hellicar — only him — please let me. Oh, do let me see him,' pleaded the miserable being ; dusty, disordered, and half hidden in masses of wind tossed hair, which fell from under an old brown hat in wavy richness. ' Young woman, who are you ? ' ' His sister ; oh ! don't betray me. I have run away to him for protection. They may be following me now,' and Ruth, faint, and sick, crept to the feet of the old woman, and clung there. She lifted her up and kissed the dusty brow and lips, putting her, oh so tenderly, into the arm-chair by the fire, and then sprang to the windows and closed the shutters, then she went out and Ruth heard locks turning, and knew that she was guarding against a surprise. The warmth of the fire and excitement made her feel faint, and for a little while she lost conscious- ness ? so Mary Chard found her. A cup of tea, and the poor white face bathed, restored some strength, and then the old woman, with loving hands it seemed, brushed the tangled masses of hair, asking no ques tions the while, only listening and pausing sometimes when the wind shook the doors as though some one sought admittance, By the time llichie returned the fugitive looked less haggard. Tenderly the young man folded her in his arms, while his cheek glowed with anger as she sobbed out her story on his shoulder. ' You are safe here, Ruthy. We will conceal you. For months if needs be. Mary is trustworthy, and there is no one else about the house. It will be irk some for you, but a very few months more, and you will be out of their power. Mary, can you give this poor girl something nice to take? ' How they petted her— seated in the warmest corner, for the night was chill, with such hot cups of tea pressed upon her, and brown, crisp, toast, and new eggs. Mary Chard stood behind her chair watching on her, it seemed so natural that she should be there attending on the young lady, and when at times she passed her withered, brown hand over the masses of hair, it seemed only right and proper that she should do so : and when, later in the evening, she came back to the room again, and sat down on the hearth, it had no rug, but what of that r and took the tired feet into her lap and rubbed them, that also seemed quite the right thing for her to do, and Richie felt as if it was the very ar rangement he had made himself, and only told Ruth that Mary was ' the best old Mary in the world, and as good as a grandmother, and two maiden aunts into the bargain.' So they were a happy little party, Ruth quite enjoying the unusual attentions paid her, and luxuriat ing and growing more beautiful every minute, for hers was an eastern style of beauty that ease and . luxury suited, and that jewelry and rich silks, and soft muslins would have suited ; but her dress, that soiled, dusty, torn point with washed out colours, was forgotten ; Richie only, he thought of everything, sayuig ' we must see if Mrs. Page has a bit of some thing pretty to make this poor girl a new frock, Mary, and you must buy it, or our neighbour will be all questions and curiosity.' Then it was found that Ruth's boots were worn through -with her loug walk ; and, in fact, she was by no means a rich princess, dropped out of fairy-land into die little household. Richie asked no questions, he waited till the full heart should overflow, which, in the genial atmos phere, it did before long, and half-crving, half laughing, the story of Ruth's first suitor was told, and the girl wound up with flashing eyes, 'I hate him, Richie ; I hate him.' ' Hush, dear, Hatred brings sad things upon people. You know whc-n people curse others, the curse falls back on- themselves, because God 'will not have us take vengeance into our own hands. So, dear, when we hate any, bitterness comes into our own life.' 'Richie, you would not have me marry liim. Oh ! Richie, not that.' 'Not that, certainly, love ; not that, or any tiling like it. You shall stay with me, and be as happy as a poor bird in a cage can be. Mary, we must hide this girl for nearly six months. Can you find some dusty old garret for her r ' ' Hide her, eh, in my own heart,' the old woman murmured, rubbing the swollen feet once more. ' But Ruthy, how did you get here 5 It is forty two mile to Mount Hellicar from here. You never walked that.' ' I did, every step, Richie. When I saw any one coming I used 'to creep behind a tree and hide ; and till it got quite dark I walked on, and then sat down near the road tdl morning ; I was afraid to go into the bush far, for fear 1 should lose myself. Oh, Richie, I was so frightened those nights, and days too.' She caught her breath sobbingly. Tlie young man bent down and kissed her fore head. ' Mary, what about Mr. Gray r ' he suddenly ex claimed. ' We'll trust him,' she said, very decidedly. ' Who is it, llichic-, ' sobbed Ruth, suspicious cf every body. 'Mr. Gray, dear, is a gentleman who lives with me. You remember that Mr. Thorn who was so kind to me when he came to Heland's office ? We did business for him ; he had a brother in Sydney. I 6tay with him whenever I go to town. A first-rate fellow. This Mr. Gray is an old friend of his. He is an invalid, and was ordered to a warm climate, so he
came out here from. England. Some persons had . swindled him out of a deal of money; that is easily ' done, for he knows nothing of business, and lie sold out of the Funds and brought rather a large sum of * :? money to the colony to invest. Mr. Thorn recom- ; i mended sheep, but Mr. Gray could not manage any- i thing of the kind himself and determined to go into partnership with somebody. But, after his farmer losses, was rather nervous in trusting strangers. So he is staying with me, and if he thinks me trust worthy he will put this money in my hands, if not, he ?will go elsewhere. Mary would have him come ; for I was rather opposed to the idea, but he is a worthy man. A little odd, dear, but you will like him.' ' Where is he, Richie f ' she said, looking round. 'Travelling just now, but he may be home any day. His movements are very uncertain.' ' I need not see him — I would only come out when he was away.' 'Not needful, child — not needful. He can be trusted,' the old woman replied. So it was settled that Mr. Gray was to be entrusted with the important secret, and so much of the affair generally as seemed necessary, and that Ruth was to have the freedom of the house ; a very strict guard being kept by Mary, and shutters closed, and doors locked by night. Richie tried to put a merry light upon it, and called Ruth an enchanted princess, and the cottage a giant's castle, and Mary was the good genii, and the guardians the ogres ; and lluth laughed a merry laugh, and a smile passed over the old woman's face, half-pitying, as one looks at the gambols of a child, unconscious of all the cares and pains of life.