Chapter 18985783

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Chapter NumberXXXVIII.
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18985783
Full Date1890-10-11
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count2938
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleWedded to Death
article text

WEDDËD TO DEATH.

I CHAI'IKH XXXVIII.

Not only wns Mrs. Saturn ie menially stronger than her spouse, but physically ehe was inßuitedy his superior.

Onco hnving got outside tho cottage without awakening its mistress, she strode oil, carrying her implements with her, to the stone in tho wash-house boncnth which she had ascertained that tho money was secreted. With her strong brawny arms it would not htiTo taken hor Ato minutes to disem- barrass thnt stono of tho mortar with which the

old gammer had Bomowhat untidily smonrcd it, but noiso was to bo specially avoided. True, tho Aston Itoynl folk worn good slocpors, nnd tho cottage was sorco distnncu from any other habitation ; still pick- axing in the dend of tho night might attract some unexpected attention, so Urs. Saturnio judged it expedient to go to work slowly but quietly.

Everything, however, is a matter ot degree, and tjuicttido in tho matter of digging up a large stono in, after nil, only a qualified noise.

If iinyouo chanced to bo in that neighbourhood it would be impossible so to deaden all sound that thoy should hear nothing,

Mrs. Smumio had by no means calculated on prowlers being about in so quito a placo ns Aston Koyal nt such an hour. Yet once when she left off her manipulations to listen, she felt certain that sho heard a footstop.

"It'a that fool, Sam," she muttered. "Why can't ho lie in his bed and shako instead of cooming out hero to gire I the jumps."

And " the jumps," as oho designated fright, she scorned destined to have in terrible earnest, for at that moment a hand wns laid on her and a strange voice demanded, "Why she was digging there in the dead of night-had sho by chanco somo infan- tine corpso of which abo wishod to dispose ?"

A blow first and a word afterwards had through life been this athletic woman's plan of campaign,

nor was sho falso to it now.

She throw up tho hugo implemont with which she had boen striving to heave the largo stone from its resting-place, and, before he had time to defend himself, hit tho intruder such a severo blow on the head that ho was follod to the ground and lay in- sensible at her feet,overthrowing and extinguishing in his fall the small lantern which usually hung on the tinkering machine, and the light from which guided them when they tramped o' nighta

No sooner had Mrs. Sammio struck this sudden blow and felt tho darkness and uilencethatBucceeded it, than a terror carne over her such as she had never before experienced in all her hardened

career.

Great drops of agony stood on her swarthy weather-beaten brow, her knees seemed to give way under her somewhat ponderous weight, and she was compelled to lean against the wall of the shed in order to recover herself from a faintnesB which, as sho experienced it for tho first time, bowildered her.

No one had heard anything, no one came no oven Sam-and there was not a sound Bave that of the running water of the mill, which gurgled on as it was wont to do, as though in mockery of

her trouble.

Natures like Mrs Sammie's aro not daunted for ayo. Something she must do-something in self defence. Who was tho man, she wondered, and

was ho dead ?

As soon as her general shakiness would permit, she fumbled in a torn old pocket of her begrimed garment and found i box of matches. Having struck a light, alto managed to see the body of tho man-his head lying on the stone at which she had been working, and on to which a pretty consider- able pool of blood had now dribbled.

The worst she must know, the worst or the best so she lighted the lantern and then turned tho man over, bo as to sec his face.

" Looks like a gentleman, he do. I wonder who- ever ho bo. Lunnon swell mob, that's what he is ; cooracd her to steal poro old Gammer Leader's savins, I'll warrant, tho blackguard-and mo as

has saved 'em."

And almoBt persuading herself that the story she meant to tell was gOBpel truth, she set up a shout of " Murder !" that seemed loud enough to wake the dead, but did not arouse the unconscious maa at her feet.

Sam was the first porson who appeared on the

scene.

'* What is it, Sammio ; whatever is the matter ?" " Here's a man, who's been tryin' to rob the old dame and strnnglo me, but I've gi'en he a clout o' the head that as well nigh druv in his skull and adonc for he altogether."

Sam did not believo in the absoluto veracity of this statement. How could he ? But he know he was bound to endorse it, so he began to whimper

" My poor wife ; my pore, brave, injured

Saminie !" |

To an analyser of character tho scene would indubitably have had its comic side, had it not been for the battered interloper who was still lying

senseless on tho washhouse floor.

My this time the old Gammer, who, deaf though she was, had been at last awakened, came out rolled in old Bhawls and petticoats, till she looked like a perambulating mummy.

"Lucky as we was here," said Mrs. Sammio. They've been atryin' to break into your premises. There was a reg'lar gang, but I and Sam has done for this yero one, nnd tho rest haB run away."

The old woman was not easily dazed. She snatched the lantern from Mrs. Saminie, who was holding it, and went forward to see what had really happened.

The sight staggered her, and she uttered a loud

shriek.

" My grandson, Matt-my boy Rob's only child -lyin' there in a pool o' blood."

This cry brought Sam forward ; he had not yet dared to look at the dead or wounded man.

Yes, it was Matt Leader sure enough, spick and span in attire íib when he had last soon him on tho steps of the Vagary Theatre, but with the blood still flowing from a severe wound in his head.

" Best got a doctor," said Sam, shambling off as fast as his unsteady steps would take him j for Sam was in a terrible fright, and had visions of the police all tho way as ho went across the meadow to a villa whero ho remembered to have Been " Mr. Pocock, surgeon," on a brass plate.

.I told horns thom cursed plottin's and thicv ngs wouldn't como to no good ; a little pecoolation in the way o'trade is well enough, but this is too much, Sammio; too much, and you'll swing for it if you ain't sharper nor most. And then to say as he dono the thievin' hisself-my lord, hut that there Snmmio o' mino has cheek."

So wandered Sam's thoughts while he was reach- ing Mr Pocock's abode. Meantime, tho two women did what they could for tho hclplcBs Matt, who

still lay prone on tho washhouse fluor, for it was quite impossible for them to move him unassisted ; all they could do wns to staunch the blood as much as possible, nnd wish the doctor would raako haste, for they could see that life was not wholly extinct.

Samnite said never a word ; what could abo say? This was a chock unlike any elie had ever received in hor life before, but to make up for her silence old Gammer Leader had never ceased talking.

" To cotna back to me liko this. Well there, it he a bit hard, it be. If ho Batd, Granny, gi'e us a few pun's o' yer savin's, 'eos I've dipped ii bit, I'd a give him tho lot, I would. Ain't he my own flesh and blood P But to coom and pick-axe 'em out o the cornor where I'd bid 'em for him-well, it bees a bit hard, it be. But lor', there, I was fulo to save 'em ¡ moight a had some cheese wi' my crust, and real Fronch brandy instead of that British

muck."

It was evident that Gammer Leader, though an astute woman in moat things, had believed Mrs. Sammie's talc. But then, after all, Matt had only himself to thank for this belief, since no one know better than the old grantvy what a good-for-nothing specimen of humanity was this Baute unprincipled

Matt.

At laat, after a weary watching which seemed to the two women as though it would never end, Mr. Pocock arrived, followed by the fearsome Sam.

Tho young mau waa alive, that was all the surgeon could eay ; though whether he would long be among the living was very, very doubtful.

" BeBt lift him into my bed," suggested the

gammer.

But Mr. Pocock, who had been in the cottage on more than one occasion, shook his head. It pos- sessed neither comfort.'nor light, nor fresh air, and was, therefore, by no means a place in which a dangerous case was Hkoly to do well.

" Sam, here, had better run on at once for an ambulance, and wo will have him conveyed to the Cottage Hospital ; there ho will get scientific nurs- ing and all he can require."

" She as is his granny is surely the belt nurse," objected the old dame; but Mr. Pocock wbb by no means of the same opinion, and was very determined that Matt should be taken to the hospital.

So, while Sam went for the ambulance and somo further assistance, Mr. Pocock did all that could be donn for Matt in the miserable shed where ho lay, Bonding the women into the house for pilUws, which they had not even thought of fetching.

By the time morning dawned, Matt was in bed in the hospital, his wound dressed, and everything that the faculty of Aston Royal could think of had been dono for him. But he was still absolutely unconscious ; and the question was : Would con- sciousness ever return, or would he pas» away into the great " Unknown Land" without vouchsafing a word which should throw light on the mystery of his appearance at Aston Boyal at such an undue hour and in so strange a manner P

Mrs. Sammie, devoutly hoped that this wonld be the end of her troublo, for she did not contemplate any chance of receiving an unpleasant and pro- longed viait from remorse should Matt Leader's sudden removal from the sphere in which he had hitherto moved be solely owing to her rapacity and

greed.

As for the Aston Boyal police, it occurred to none of them to arrest Mrs. Sammie ; on the contrary she was spoken of all over the little place as a brave woman, who had most ably defended Gammer Leader's property; while in whispers, because while he was in so dangerous a condition they did not like to Bpeak out loud, all the townsfolk com. mented most severely on Matt Leader'a dastardly behaviour, and truth to say more than one of these thought that ho had only got his deserts.

The worthy draper, who had meddled so officious- ly, yet with such good intentions, said the least, for he attributed the whole nffiair to his own fault nnd yet he did not choose to acknowledge that he had ought to do with it.

Naturally, the return of the blaek sheep under such strange mysterious circumstances did not fail to reach tho ears of Sir John Meade, who, as the father of Aston Royal, went at once to the old grandum's cottage to enquire into the truth of matters, and insisted on the stone being removed, and the money which amounted to ninety-two pounds, being properly deposited in the bank, promising himself to give the old women five pounds a year for it as long as it remained there.

Sir John not feel thoroughly satisfied with Mrs, Samo ie's tale, which was not always related with exactly the same details ; still, he was not sufficiently suspicious of her to prevent her and Sam from leaving Aston Royal, which they were preparing to do, never to " coom within twenty miles a-nigh it agen as long aB they weie tramp3," as she told Sam when they were at last fairly on the high road with their faces towards London.

"I'd like to know, though, whether that chap dies or lives," said Sam, who had a much more

tender heart than his spouse.

It was this desire on Sam's part that brought about events of no little importance to several of those who were connected with Matt Leader and

his fortunes.

London, both Sam and his wife considered, the safest place for them to go to, if they would remain lost for a time, their fear being that should Matt recover, and give his version of the affair, he might bo believed ; though, so low was the general Aston Boyal estimate of Matt, that Iilrs. Sammio hoped her word was as good as his.

Still, she wae anxious to find herself among the mazy labyrinths of London streets, and in order to get there quickly, after they had tramped about ten miles, they deiided on taking third-clasB railway tickets to the metropolis.

They, therefore, arrived on the evening of the very day they hod left ABton Boyal at the grimy quarters in Drury Lane which belonged to Mrs. Sammie's cousin, and where they usually put up when their perambulating business brought them

to London.

Mrs. Sammie was tired. She was worrited, as she would have havo expressed it, by this affair, though she would nott own it, even to her husband. Sam was worrited too, for the matter of thot-his " worrits" took him out for a walk, and, of course, ho strayed in the direction of the Vagary Theatre. Matt Leader was not swaggering on the steps in full evening dress as he had been when Sam was lastytbat way ; but there was another fine gentle- men, rather like him, Sam thought, talking to an elderly individual, who apparently was asking for

Matt.

" Ho went off early about four nights ago, saying he had a bit of business in the country, and would be back by six the next day. Not a line or word

have we heard from him."

" Bolted with the cash-box, eh ? Our friend Matt is not too particular."

" No, no, nothing of that sort, I am inclined to think foul play."

" Bless tis ! I wonder where ho went to ?"

" That I don't know. If he does not put in an appearance to-morrow I shall advortiae."

" Bost not. My friend Matt's deeds won't hear being looked into with searching eyes."

I " Ile is engaged to be married to your daughter,

isn't he?"

" YeB. One cnn't control yosng folk's affections yet I don't think Matt's a paragon of virtue, though he is to co.no be my Boo-in-law.

The acting manager pro tem. waB guilty of a sneer. Ho knew more about this enforced engage- ment than Dick Churchill thought for, and he waa proportionately disgusted at the father's humbug and duplicity.

" Please, sir, if I may bo allowed to speak-*-" interrupted Sam.

" Nonsense, nonsense., mau ; go away : I have no coppera."

" Tant coppera, sir, as I wants ; its saramat as I'd like to tell you about Mr. Leader, sir."

"WellP"

" He's a-lyin' like to die in tho hospital at Aston Royal."

" Merciful powers ! Whatever did ho go to Aston Royal for, and why ia he like to die ?" old Dick exclaimed, in a tone which a highly-observant in- dividual might have designated aa rather joyful

than otherwise.

" Went down thero to rob his grandmother, and got cotched," was the sententious explanation,

which aent the gentleman in evening clothes into a " fit of laughter.

He had not much belief in the tale, experience having taught him that such stories were for the) most part gross exaggerations.

But old Dick took off his hat and scratched hia head.

" Heard he was hard up, and begging around foe coin," he said ; " hut he must have boen in queen street before he went to ABton Royal. What as ass he wbb to go there."

Seeing that Dick was a believer in the statement, the acting-manager put Sam through a very stitt cross-examination, and thus elicited all the fact» which that somewhat wary gentleman chose to voucbB&fe. And then, after giving him half-a crown for his information, he dismissed him : and Sam, feeling highly elated by his evening's worki turned into the nearest public-house, resolving, as he did so, that not one word about what had taken place would he tell Mrs. Sammie, who would probably teach him, and with jnstice, that he had much better have kept his tongue between his

teeth.

But then, as Sam argued in his small-minded way, he would never have got that half-crown.

The outcome of this interview on the step» o£ the Vagary Theatre was that, on the followinj; afternoon, a well-dressed woman, with a good deal of chic and assurance about her, though she evidently did not belong to the "upper ten," entered the worthy draper's shop, which was the largest in Aston Royal, and asked to be directed to the Cottage Hospital.