|Chapter Title||THE OFFICE RULER.|
|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 IV. — The Office Ruler
Seven miles from Mount Hellicar was a small town- ship, just a scattered row of houses on either side of that public road forty miles from where it passed by Biribang. A store occupied a prominent position, and not far off was the blank wall of an inn yard, and be- tween these rose a low edifice, dusty and dull coloured. It had been a shop evidently, for there was one large window, now partly closed with, fixture shutters, and the remainder was dimmed with starch. There was a dust-coloured door near by, on which the paint had risen in blisters, suggesting the idea of a cutaneous affection, and on the centre was a brass plate. with the words ' Heland, solicitor,' engraven
thereupon. It is just possible that clients did sometimes raise the knocker to strike the pimply door, for sometimes it stood ajar, as though inviting passers by to enter, or as if it had not yet closed upon some one who had entered, but, as Max Ibotson had said, Mr. Heland had much leisure. Behind the starched shop window was a three-sided room, with a desk in it, and an office table, and book case, and here on an inverted box sat Tom Hellicar's two sons ; the one, with a slate in his hand much be grimed with tears and erasures, his face bearing a corresponding hue ; the other fiercely dog's-earing a book. Some months had passed since they became Mr. Heland's pupils, during which period they had lost their free-hearted look, and gained nothing worth replacing it. ' I am tired of this horrid lesson— I can't learn it,' at length grumbled Jack. The other sighed, but said nothing ; so he amused himself with kicking his heels on the floor, till that recourse failing to interest, he rose and walked round the room. Presently he pos- sessed himself of a long ruler, the weight of which he perfectly knew, and suggested to Richie that they should, by the aid of pens, stick it up erect, and then kick it down, supposing it, meantime, to be ' Old Heland' himself. The grimy slate was laid aside instantly, and they used their 'feet with a vigour most satisfactory to their feelings. Indeed, the novel play, proved so absorbing, that it was not discontinued till the key turned in the door-lock, and there stood before them a tall, wiry man, with a large frame and great iron hands, with a hard, dry face, free from whisker, and light sandy hair hanging back from his face. His black suit was rather dust-coloured, and thin at the elbows, and there was a parcel of papers protruding from liis coat pocket. ' What was the noise I heard as I came in,' he demanded, in a broad Scotch accent. The boys hung their heads in silence. ' What were you doing? ' ' Kicking down the ruler,' retorted the younger, stoutly. 'What for?' 'Play.' ' Fool's play. Have you learnt your lessons.' 'I don't know,' 'I will,' Most certainly they had not; so the ruler was brought to bear across their extended palms. ' I wish mama was here, oh ! I wish mama would come,' groaned Richie. A week after the boys became students at Mr. Heland's, their mother came in a neighbour's cart to see them. Her knock at the front door was answered by the lawyer, who popped out of his office, and perhaps disappointed in the expected client, his countenance assumed an expression of cold severity, as he waited in silence her request. She had come to see her boys. They were engaged at their studies. ' She would wait till they were at leisure,' she said, in a despond- ing tone. ' The boys are evidently the victims of mismanage- ment,' the man of law said, 'and have given Mrs. Heland, who is in extremely delicate health, so much trouble from their violence, that even were I disposed to infringe Mr. Hellicar and Mr. Ibotson's strict in junctions with regard to no one being permitted to visit their wards, I should not feel it my duty to do so.' She pleaded hard, promising that the children would be quiet and good, unavailingly. Mr. Heland was entirely a creature of the men who employed him, and she had to retire, almost shown to the door. Busy stoning the passage was a dirty over- worked maid-of- all-work, with a shock head, and great red unshod feet ; but under this homely exterior the girl had a great warm heart beating, and she contrived to follow the unwelcome visitor and arrange certain days on which she should come to town, and walk in a bush paddock some little distance from Mr. Heland's, where, the girl, having the privilege of sending the children messages whenever she liked, would find an excuse to dispatch them for an hour to meet their mothers. Once a fortnight she walked those seven long miles to clasp her boys to her heart, and kneel on the scant sod beneath the sombre gum trees praying with them, and for them ; reminding them of their father, and trying to keep alive their love for their sister, who was too young to walk and too heavy for her to carry so far. Sometimes the weather was wet, sometimes intensely hot, for it was summer, but bodily sufferings were unheeded ; and so, time after time, she found them with increasing holes at their elbows and knees, how she longed to mend them. She even ventured to write to Mrs. Heland, and, expressing sorrow for her ill health, offered to mend the children's clothes, or assist her in any way she could, but her letter was unanswered. These clandestine visits had been so many fort- nights, that they were growing into months, when some person informed Mr. Heland of them. The shock-haired girl's part was discovered, and sent about her business,' while Mrs. Hellicar re- ceived a severe and awful reprimand from Richard Helicar, and a long lecture upon training her chil- dren in deceit. But she was a mother— and the mother s heart yearned for her children ; one month passed, and then she visited the town again, and plating herself in a lane leading along a small tield behind the lawyer's office, watched for her bovs Hours ot waning were at length rewarded, they came to play in the field where the bony horse 'fed, or wandered in search of food, and she succeeded in attracting their attention, and loosening a paling, so that they could creep through the fence to her,' and tlicic, sheltered by the high Bathurst burrs and
Scotch thistles, they clung around her neck, telling all their little troubles, and received passionate kisses and treasures of sweets which her pockets con- tained. Such a visit dared not be soon repeated, besides, she was growing weak, and that startled deprecating air was assuming a more marked and constant form.