|Chapter Title||SAM'EL FEAGAN.|
|Newspaper Title||The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Tom Hellicar's Children|
Tom Hellicar's Children.
Bt l. c.
Chapter VII. — Sam'el Feagan.
John Hellicab was a short grown boy, but manly in his ways, or rather boy-like ; a thorough boisterous spirited boy, who was suspended by a thread over the brink of ruin ; all the good in him was so vigorous that it had a tendency to run riot and become very
bad. The meanness and falsehood, the eold-bleoaea avarice, which he had daily witnessed for years, had given bim a detestation of every approach to prudence, and caused him to glory in everything daring and lawless. No prospect of caning could have induced bim to pass a dog-fight or boy-fight. Whenever he found himself on Heland's old lean horse, he aston ished that aged animal by urging it into _ an unwonted fieetness, and insisting on its taking impossible leaps, which not unfrequently brought both to the dust. You hardly ever saw little Jack without the skin off his knuckles, or some cuts on his fingers, or some other form of minor martyrdom. Under these circumstances the present adventure was quite to his liking. The possibility of pursuit did, however, induce bim to avoid the main road as long as his way led bim along its direction. Fifteen miles stretched between bim and Samuel Feagan's dwelling, and it was now 3 o'clock on a winter's afternoon. It would soon be dark after he had entered a lonely bush road, and except for the deep ruts made by dray wheels, there would be nothing to mark the way, when daylight faded. Sometimes a rough fence enclosed a stumpy field on one side or other, and a rude bark hut would be seen ; then a lot of dogs came clamouring out, followed by a number of dirty children : all very curious and uncombed. There was not tlie least variety in the way or the scene ; perhaps a botanist would have found many an interesting plant or tree where little Jack thought all alike. He had began to ask how many miles more it was to the drover's, and to feel weary and conse quently depressed, and when darkness fell over the earth, iike the pall of the dead to-day, a sad loneliness made itself felt, and he began to feel lonely, and no more, and wished he had his mother's hand in his. The nursery at Biribang rose up before his eyes with strange evidences ; he saw the beds with their pretty white curtains, and the great rocking horse, and re membered the day when he upset it and broke off one of its ears, and his father saying as he left the room, after going to the library to confess his misfortune, ' That boy will be either a very good or a very bad man.' Then the scene shifted to the little gardens under the sweetbriar hedge, and the strawberry bor ders, where it was such pleasure to watch the first reddening berry for mamma. It was all too present, and yet absent ; the tears flowed down his dusty cheeks, and the rest of the way appeared so long that he was quite convinced he had lost his way in the darkness, and was so depressed that he did not feel pleased when he stopped at a cottage which, he knew from the description, was Samuel Feagan's. Through a window, unglazed and closed with a shutter, a ruddy light was streaming out into the darkness, and he could hear a woman's voice singing, and the sound of an iron, which she was bringing down on the linen with a force suggestive of crushed buttons. Indeed, she made so much noise, that he had knocked twice before he was heard, and then the woman's voice 'Take a bit of a stick in your hand, Sam, an' I'll show a light. Who can 'it be at this hour o' night r' The opening door revealed a tall man with a 'bit of a stick ' like a giant's club, and a stout woman with particularly well-developed cap-borders. 'Is this Mr. Feagan's,' inquired the boy, faintly. ' Sure it's the old man that's afore you,' inter rupted tlie lady, who was evidently the most liuent ot speech. ' Dr. Leary sent me ? ' ' May tlie saints preserve us ! What's happened him : ' li Nothing, ma'm. He told me to come to Mr. Feagan, and see if he would take me with him up the country. I can ride.' The woman darted at him, caught him by one arm, and had swung him into the room in full blaze of the candle and fire light, before the drover had done more than scratch his head. He had not uttered a word yet. A little inclined to sob, but quite ashamed of such weakness, Jack told his tale, closing with his determi nation to return and thrash the lawyer when he was a man. This closing sentiment had such an effect upon the drover, that he sank suddenly into a chair, as if he had collapsed, uttering such wheezing, grunting, and hoarse sounds, and making such grimaces, that the boy looked alarmed, fearing that he was taken sud denly ill, and turned to Mrs. Feagan for an explana tion ; she had fallen into another chair, and placing one hand on each knee, laughed till the tears streamed down her plump cheeks, and Jack, infected, laughed too. I am 6orry to say that I fear it was the lawlessness of the whole thing', that met with the support of Dr. Leary and the drover. Sam, who appeared a little hoarse and asthmatic, continued throughout the evening to mutter, ' Ihrash him when I'm a man,' followed by a return of the previous convulsions. Sam was a very extraordinary man ; he looked as if some one had been throwing away a lot of dismembered limbs, and they had tumbled into a pile, surmounted by a rough, red head, and a face with lantern jaws, and cunning little blue c-yes. Jack could not help looking at him, unless his attention was claimed by Margaret, who had swept away her linen and ironing cloth, and was breaking eggs into a pan of frying bacon ; the kettle was beginning to sing cheerfully already, interlarding her operations with 'You'r tired, mi jewel — take off your boots, and warm your feet, honey. An't he a sweet boy,' in an aside, with an appealing look at some very bright tin dishes hanging on the wall, which blinked back, ' very much so.' By the time the wanderer had eaten enough to make him ill, and was well warmed and seated on a low stool before the blaring fire, he was quite at home, and any little misgivings about right and wrong he might have had during his lonely walk, had fled up the broad chimney on the curling blue smoke. Margaret could not sit still. She was every few minutes darting up and going about her cottage in an aimless manner, as if looking for some fairy gift to present to the little adventurer, and then brought back by some remark of his to a stand just before him, where she would clap her hands and pronounce him a jewel. Li the midst of all his clever speeches, and heroic intentions, sleep overtook bim, and he went back tj simple childhood. He had slipped off the block of wood which served as a stool, and his weary head had nodded down on to the invitingly clean apron of Margaret, which spread across her knees, presented no insignificant plain. Aa
admonitory shake of the ? fist had reduced Sam to silence, and his second pipe. with eyes riveted on the fire, or occasionally wandering to the face, pillowed so comfortably, and looking co mournfully childish to be alone in the woed. # ? - ? 'Sam'el Feagan,' suddenly exploded his wife — it could not be said she began to speak— the previous strain on her pewers of silence being so evident, in the shattering of her resolves not to have the boy awoke. ' Sam'el Feagan, you'r only a slob of a fel low,' she pursued in an indulgent, pitying tone, as a superior power might use to an inferior, ' and this ia a ointleman. You take care of him, poor jewel, an' don't lead bim to no ways bemeaning hisself— when 1 vou get a drop of the crature you'r sure to be at some divilment — but mind, he's a gintleman born.' Slowly he took the pipe from his lips, and with be coming gravity ejaculated, ^ ' Margaret,' I knows my betters.' And resumed his pipe. The mixture of admiration in that woman's homely flat face, and motherly tenderness for the desolate child, was a sight for better than human eyes. However, it was late, and the boy must be awoke and sent to bed. It was a bleak, sleety sort of night, with wind blowing in gusts, that made Sam's cattle dogs whine and scrape at the door for admission, which they ultimately gained, and created a grand disturbance, jumping and howling round their mas ter, while Margaret seemed to feel called upon to apologize for, by observing that ' the bits of bastes were perished.' It was deemed prudent for the drover to start next day, taking Jack with him, in case search should be made : for the old people were staunch in their resolve to resist capture. »- * Yes, she was gone ; the poor cowering thing with her bruised, crushed heart — gone, and where : No one knew. She had passed the night at a small tavern in the town, sitting in a chair they had placed for her by the fire, all the evening— not asking for supper, only a night's shelier — so they did not show her to a private room, but she sat in the parlour at the back of the bar ail the slow hours till 10 o'clock, never speaking, never looking up, although there were boisterous men drinking and smoking around her : foul of mouth and quarrelsome over their cards, she did not heed it : the outside world had done with her, there was a child's shrill cry of sorrow ringing in her ears ; a cry she should hush no more — her hands were useless now, they should smooth its way in life no more — what had she to do with them ? Those men with their cards and black pipes — ske never saw or heard them ; well for her, for their words were wicked and impure. Among the group round the table was a young man, perhaps four-and-twenty years of age, with long heavily-oiled hair curled inwards to his neck, and a brilliant satin waistcoat, much worn and soiled, and a large brassy ring on his finger — a man who aspired, or had aspired, to be a gentleman, and had gone down, and down, to tawdry ruin. He, too, w as drinkuig and playing ; but sometimes, when a volley of dispute and blasphemy rose over the game, he checked them, and pointed to the white-faced cowering woman. He did not know her history, but perhaps he had a feeling that she, too, was wrecked, on some sunken shoal in life, and he pitied her. By-and-bye, as the hours wore on, he groped in his pockets and found a six pence there — his last — and tossing it to a tired, red faced woman, with a rough head, he bade her bring a glass of hot wine and water ; then, with a respectful kindness shining through his wretched manner, he crossed the room to Ruth, and bade her drink it. The words were repeated more than once before she heard him, or hearing understood, and then she raised her hand to put him aside in silence. ' No, no, take it, misses, take it,' he urged. ' Yrou look faint, it will put a little warmth in you, and do me pleasure.' He added that rather low, but that alone she heard, a consciousness of misery by her side — misery wliich, even momentarily, she could throw a feeble gleam of light upon, made her take the mixture, bad wine enough, and yet grateful, as the warmth roused anew the lifeless pulse. That night Mr. Heland had an appointment with the landlord of the Stockman's Arms. He had the man in his clutches in some way, and he had just passed through the room as Ruth took that glass from the dirty hand with its great ring. He passed, but not before he had seen who was there, and how em ployed ; but she did not see him, for he had looked at her from the bar, standing behind the painted casks, and peering through the lattice. He saw, and re membered. He, with the greasy hair and ring, went out ; out into the dark night, to shrink away before debt and difficulty ; to go anywhere, away from that load of poverty and obligation. Not anywhere, however, for in many another town was the unpaid score ; and his travels had black spots on the chart ; spots to be avoided, and wide circuits made round them. Heland had what they had long wanted. He saw the way to crush that innocent, bleeding heart under men's feet, and give a colour of justice to the mother's treatment. ? ?