|Chapter Title||AN IMPOSSIBILITY.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Tom Hellicar's Children|
Tom Hellicar's CMldren.
Bi L. C.
Chapter XIV. — An Irn'osstBixirr.
Richie had reached his twenty-first year, and his uncle and Mr. Ibotson, with great ceremony, handed over to him the estate of Biribang, and a small sum of money, very insufficient to meet his wants, which, by will, he was to receive at that time ; all future divi sions were to be made as Jack and Euth successively came of age. And he was to leave Gindion and Mr. Heland' s office — that was no grievance, and yet it gives a pang to say ' good bye, for ever,' even to one we dislike ;
or to an old cane, grown familiar trom habit, lney tell us that there have been prisoners who, released in old age, have gone back to their gaolers and begged to be re-admitted. Richie made no such request to the lawyer ; but he did pause on the threshold of the office, and look at the little deal stool he had perched on so long, hacked round the edge by his knife ; on the desk in its dusky corner, and the row of law books in parchment and pale brown leather. He looked at them for the last time, and they had lost their hateful air. They no longer made taunting faces at him in the twilight, but they looked regretful to part, so he thought, looking on them by the dim light, and he muttered ' good bye, old room, we have been bad friends hitherto— better times to you, old room, and a lighter heart to inhabit you,' and then he turned away. Should he or should he not wish Mrs. Heland good bye ? It was a tough battle. Nature said no. The better voice whispered yes. Essie's gentle face rose up before him with her large soft eyes pleading for forg'veness for the hard, selfish woman — so he ?went to the private sitting-room door and knocked. ' Who's there ? ' uttered an irritable voice. 'Richie Hellicar.' ' Oh, come in, Mr. Hellicar.' The title rather surprised the youth, bat he entered. Mrs. Heland, very fat and untidy, was lounging in a large chair, with* a print cover, much soiled and greasy. A 6mall stand was by her side with a tumbler, sugar basin, and jug, still steaming with hot water, on it. ' Come in and take a seat, Mr. Hellicar. I am so unwell to-day, you must excuse nay rising. I get ?worse every day, Dick, much worse, I have just been trying a little of the tincture, with hot water and sugar, trying to make it more palatable. Doctor Leary ordered it, Dick — my strength's failing, Dick. I couldn't walk a step, if you believe me.' The young man muttered something about regrets. He did not believe in Doctor Preslau. and the mix tures now. ' And you're going to leave us— I know it — don't deny it, Dick. I beg you won't deny it ; you're go ing too — and Jack's gone — and my health, gone — and — and — ' a sort of sobbing fit came on. Richie rose and said he feared, his presence fatigued her, and he would say good bye, and very hasily retreated. ' Now for the parsonage and Essie,' he thought, ' who could think they belonged to the same sex — the same world.' Very few men get over the first few years of man hood without being a bear or a dandy. Richie would have been a little fastidious, had not poverty stept in with its iron visage. A bear he could not be, so he passed along, notable for neither extreme. It must be owned he had paid great attention to his glossy brown hair, and more than once retied his neck-tie, and been particular in the set of his collar that even ing. After all these are but symptoms, and have been found to exist in those of more advanced age also. The walk to the parsonage was rather a long one. The short twilight was already over, and the shades of night drawing in as he stepped quickly along the bush path. Opossums were jumping about in the branches, or scurrying along among the grass, as his steps startled them. The laughing jackasses uttered their last noisy guffaw ere they settled down for the night, very likely there are wags among them— Tom Hoods or Sydney Smiths, who turn many a joke upon the doings of mankind, as seen from the branches of a dead tree, or the top of a garden post. Just then the lights from the parsonage windows, and the sharp bark of the favourite terrier saluted him. Richie paused. That night was to decide his future — and now the time had come his hopes died away, and a choking feeling rose in his throat ; he leant on the wicket and recalled the past few j'ears since Mr. Thorell had been the clergyman there. His growing acquaintance -with the family, and love far Essie° Every word and look, fondly treasured, was recalled and weighed ; at one moment encouraging hope, at another dispelling it. The sound of the tea-bell startled him, and he walked on through the evening air, heaving with the perfume of orange blossoms and roses. The welcome at the parsonage was always warm and hearty. The children were attached to Richie, and demonstrative in their regard ; and Mrs. Thorell, in her motherly way, used to call him 'my dear,' often, and was a little determined in regard to the use of a favourite remedy oi her's for cough — he was sub ject to coughs— and in other little -ways had adopted him into her family circle, and tyrannised over him with those little kindly tyrannies which make us feel we are valued, and considered in some way as personal property. They knew he had come to say good bye, and were unusually kind — but Essie was not in the room, and when she did slip into her place at table seemed rather reserved and quiet. Richie did not very well under stand human nature, and so he, too, grew silent, and all his new-blown happiness nipped and withered away. . ' And so you are going to leave us, Richie. I shall miss you in many ways, and particularly in the school — still Biribaug is not at the aatipodies, and we shall hope to meet again.' ' I hope so, sir.' ' Certainly, Richie — you must come to us at Chris uias,' interposed Mrs. Thorell. ' The idea of a boy sitting down to a solitary Christmas dinner ! — a whole goose, I suppose, and a plum pudding.' ' I do not look forward to such holiday fare — niy path will be ratker a thorny and struggling one for some years,' he was trying bravely to speak the truth at any cost, but he looked at Essie as he Bpoke, and the srirl dropped her eyes in silence, ''TerEevcrar.ee and prudence work wonders t
Richie. Remember half the millionaires have walked to London ?with sixpence in their pockets.' ?? And Whittington and his cat,' called out the youngest son: 'and his name was Dick — hurrah! you will be Lord Mayor of London.' Then there was a chorus of laughter, and the conversation tided away from the young man's affairs. The family was too large, and the room too small for private words ; and the evening had closed with out matters taking a more important shape for Richie, and when Mr. Thorell claimed him fora quiet half hour in his study before they parted, Mrs. Thorell said they would bid him good bye, as they had already had prayers, and it was time the young people were at rest* So with kind wishes they parted ; only Essie offered her hand in silence, and without one parting sound of that soft voice, he went out after her father. The pastor had much serious advice to offer, and he did so well ; and there are fewer can give than receive advice ; he talked of the young man's future life and plans, and then the full heart overflowed, and Richie confessed that every hope and plan was wound up in Essie, and that apart from her he had no aim, that she was his world and his type of the angels ; for Richie was but twenty-one and farther prone to enthusiasm and poetic imaginings. The clergyman looked grave, and passed his hands over Iub full shaggy brown and. thick grey hair. The Thorells were a family that held councils in full con clave on all matters, and this was one in which the mother's voice must be heard ; so the promise of a written reply following him was given, and Richard Hellicar went out into the darkness of night with a great anxiety at his heart, to get through the hours till the coach should take him on his way, as best he might. Caroline Thorell, the eldes't by six years of the family, was a woman of strong mind and will, who carried great weight in the family ; and when, to the assembled mother and her two elder girls, the pastor made known Richie's matter, all eyes turned on her. 'Mamma, it is impossible — perfectly impossible. I do not see how such a thing could be thought of.' And Carry spoke ?with a decision which was not to be gainsaid. Was he, the suitor, not an untried youth — no one could say how he would turn out yet — over- whelmed with poverty, and not very strong either ; and Essie so happy and contented at home, so neces sary too; the childrens' education unfinished — the schools, the sick, all needing her. It was impossible. In all which it will be seen that Carry was uncom promisingly adverse to her sister's marriage with Richie, or indeed, at that time, with any one else. Mrs. Thorell fondly loved her children, and perhaps was willing to be convinced that she might, and ought, to keep her little circle unbroken. Essie ventured a few -words in the young man's praise, but they were timidly spoken ; and the pastor looked uneasy and grave as his eldest daughter made it clear to him that the task of nipping all the youth's fond hopes had devolved on him. Afterwards he never referred to the subject; and indeed, by common, though tacit consent, it was understood to be a theme to be passed over in silence — only it was known that Richie would not eat his Christmas dinner with them, but would sit down to that goose Mrs. Thorell had pictured, in his lonely dwelling at Biribaiig. Essie was not very well that summer. The heat was unusually great, and there was a good deal of sickness, and as she was the family almoner, she was often exposed to it, and it tried her ; she had had headaches often, and lost that smooth soft look in the skin, and ready smile. Not that she turned into a wrinkled old woman ; far from it, but girlhood gave place to womanhood, and the indescribable something, which gives the beauty to youth, faded slowly away. Chapter XV. — ' Is it Night or Morning r ' Jack Hellicab. had been some time with Mr. Pran kerd when a general meeting took place to drive wild horses from certain runs, and rescue a number of stock horses which had joined them. The young Prankerds were famous on such occasions, and readily accepted the invitation sent them to join in the fray. Jack was delighted when Charley declared that he was such, an active, game little fellow that he should go also. It was a lively scene, that bright early morning, when the youths were saddling their horses, and lading the pack-horse with blankets and provisions, for they were to be absent some days, and the place of meeting was a long day's journey. The horses were fine animals, with clean limbs and full eyes — and stock-whip in hand away the party started, followed by several dogs, colley and bull. ' Remember old Durant and the Stuarts will be there,' remarked Fred. ' All right. I say, Jack, keep your tongue still — there will be a chap or two there of the stiff sort.' The boy gave a knowing wink. ' We mu6t get some horses — there is a lot of strong ones over there — some good uns too. When Ted Pittman sold out he told me he had twenty horses straying at Bunga ; there will be no one claiming them.' ' Yes there will, Fred. I bought them.' A burst ot laughter followed Charley Prankerd's words, and then Jack understood that they were not going to assist their neighbours only— but he was not shocked, he had understood some stock-yard jokes before that, at branding time, and he joined in the mirth. Evening found them in a mountainous tract, far from their home. The heights were rocky and steep, wooded, and occasionally clothed in hopwood scrub. The trunks of the trees were hung with silvery lichens, waving in the wind like the tassels of wood nymphs ; the very rocks were grey, and the streams they crossed, dashing over pebbly beds, were clear as crystal, and icy cold. Native oaks, huge and pine like, grew on either side. The shadows were falling sombre, for the sun had been hidden from their view behind a mountain peak, and a profound shade filled the valley— the horses were fagged, they had come the better part of a hundred miles that day, and for the last hour the youths' pipes had scarcely been suffered to grow cold ere relighted, when a curl of blue smoke rose up before them in a thin, spiral column. Their comrades were already encamped. Horses were hobbled out, and a bell or two tinkled, as it depended from the neck of ahorse more prone to stray than the others. The party which the young men joined was rather large, and, with one exception, young. White hairs were mingling with the black in the huge beard, yet Mr. Durant was a powerful, active man still. It was his run the horses were to be driven from. Two sable faces showed by the firelight as their owners lounged at full length on the sward. The young men were known to all, their companion was briefly introduced as ' our boy ; a first-rater after horses,' and the business of unsaddling and hobbling began. Already 'billies' were boiling by the fire in which tea was being thrown Mith no niggard hand. Panikins and pocket knives, a trifle flavoured by tobacco — but what of that r — completed the table fur nishing, while several dampers, joints of salt beef and bacon, and small bags containing each a pound or more of brown sugar, promised a hearty fare. Jack drew to the side of the black stockmen, and shared their billie of tea and provisions, while their masters lounged round the opposite side of the fire, and '
betrayed equal zest in supporting the inner man ; conversation, strictly, there was none. The course to be pursued on the morrow was briefly laid out, and then pipes and a monosyllabic style of interchanging thoughts succeeded. ' A grand scene, or rather situation,' soliloquised Mr. Durant. ' I enjoy a few days in the mountains here, the scenery is so very grand,' returned the eider of the Stuarts. ' So do I, Will. Although our house stands so high, there is a freshness here which invigorates, and brings back more youthful feelings. How gracefully the smoke curls up among the tall oaks — ttiey are higher just here than anywhere, I think — and against the sky we can just see that rocky peak. We shall have rough riding to-morrow. I do not like to see a little fellow, like that with the blacks, at such work. I would not let my boys come, although they pleaded hard for it.' ' I thought there was something rather superior about that boy,' chimed in the younger Stuart. ' Who is he, Charley ? ' ' Hang me if I know. He does not seem to know himself. We got him from an old chap who was a drover, and he said the boy was his cousin, and had no one belonging to him. So we took him. He's all right now.' Neither of the three gentlemen replied, but a brief interchange of eyes implied that they did not think so. The two young Stuarts were splendid men ; tall, handsome, and with the stamp of mind on the features. Even Jack's unreasoning impulses had made him aware that they belonged to a very different class of squatters to those he was employed by, and had drawn out an answering manner, which Arthur Stuart had remarked. The near call of a black squirrel gave rise to a re mark, and led the conversation into another theme. In that elevation the air was always keen, and so near the water a heavy dew was falling. Fresh logs were piled upon the fire, lighted in the trunk of a fallen oak, and the ruddy glow sprang up, and myriad sparks rose, crackling, towards the black sky, only to go out in a moment. Each of the party wrapped a pair of blankets round him and reposed himself in the attitude most agreeable to his ideas of comfort. Several reclined their heads on their folded arms, and soon gave nasal testimony of sleep ; while the soft rush and swirl of waters, and the calls of wild animals, mingled with the cropping of the horses among the herbage and the tinkle of the bells. ' Mr. Durant, do you know if any of Ted Pittman's hoi-ses are about here ? ' ' Yes, Charley. I saw three as I came up.' ' I bought them when he left.' ' Bought them ! He lamented to me his loss in having to abandon them.' ' So he told me. I gave him £10 for the chances of mustering them. Didn't I, Fred r ' ' You will be able to muster them without my as sistance. I cannot stay up here long,' coldly resumed the elder man. So coldly that Charley dropped the subject. Daylight found the party astir. The wild herd were ensconced on the higher peaks, which being very rocky and steep, were almost inaccessible ; and the labour of driving them from the strongholds was immense ; the risk imminent. One young man from a neighbouring station had so many falls that he was named the tumbler, which was playfully varied by the pigeon, the turtle dove, and so on. Tom Pran kerd returned to camp with a dislocated wrist ; and one horse had its neck broken in a somerset over a mass of stone, hidden among the long, wiry grass ; its rider barely escaping the same fate. Thus the first night drew in. A large mob had been forced into a naiTow gully, and ending in a stockyard, where the unbranded were shot; while the branded were left secured there, snorting and scared, among the carcases of their slaughtered comrades. It was evident that most of the party were men of few words — perhaps few ideas beyond horses, dogs, and bullocks ; the bivouac was even more silent than on the previous evening. During the ride home Fred Prankerd had bade Jack take notice of a black mare which had given them great trouble that day, break ing away and leading the herd again and again. She was evidently broken, but none of the party present either claimed her or knew her owner, and Fred had determined to become possessed of her, if he could unknown to Mr. Durant and the Stuarts, who would not have permitted the appropriation, when all had confessed they did not own her. But Jack soon forgot the past and future in sleep, and dreamt his mother was tucking his bed, in the old nursery at Biribang, and kneeling by his side repeating a prayer. If the little black mare had proved rebellious the first day, more so was she the second. Everywhere foremost in the flight might be seen her flowing mane and glossy sides ; all were eloquent in. praises, if annoyed by her perversity. Every where foremost in the raid was Jack Helli car's daring among the daring, till at length he had singled out the black mare, and it became a combat between them. Away she bounded, lashing her sides flaked with white foam with her long tail, and took down a steep point bounding in mad springs over the detached boulders, and hard pressed by Jack on his excited steed. Steeper each minute grew the way. Cooeys of warning were uttered behind kim, but he heeded them not — indeed to stop was impossible, even when a creek rushing in a narrow chasm revealed itself before him. The mare gave a mad plunge, fell into the water, struggled out, and staggered on her way, with a broken fore leg. Burdened by its rider, Jack's horse fell headlong, shooting him on to the op posite bank, and killing itself. It was a full hour before those of the party who had witnessed the chase could make their way round to ascertain its result. The boy still lay where the fallen horse had cast him. Lay with that peculiar posture of arm aud leg, so widely thrown asunder, so unbent, that to the practised eye betokens spinal injury. ' It's all up with him,' exclaimed Charley Prau kerd, in a tone of horror, for the white face led him to suppose the boy a corpse. The Pigeon sprung from liis horse and raised the prostrated form in his arms ; a groan broke from the white lips, less of pain than oppression, and as the black eyes, dull with a blue film, opened, they met the pitying gaze of Mr. Durant, who also had reached the scene. ' I dreamt last night I saw mamma, and she kissed me, and said ' Our Father,' by my bed, as she used to do,' he slowly murmured. ' Can some one pray?' Mr. Durant was already on his knees, the better to inspect the expression of the countenance ; slowly and solemnly he repeated that prayer so dear to most of us, and then a few fervent petitions for mercy on the de parting soul. ' Lay him down— softly — softly,' he said, as the eyes closed again. Once more he spoke. ' Is it night or morning,' he queried, and then there was the silence of death. ' God grant it be morning — and the night passed for ever,' breathed the squatter, as he bent over the young white form ; the tears coursing down his cheeks. Mr. Durant was a magistrate — a statement of the accident was drawn up and signed — and ere sunset ' the boy was consigned to his iouely grave in those
?wild mountains. Often would winter's mow rest there ; often would the wild flower bud and bloom ; but the eye of man would rarely light on the rude carving, or the pile of stones above his shallow grave. What matter, if the last cry for mercy had been heard if to him it was morning,