|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Little Tommy's Christmas|
sPttte Sammy's (Sftristmas.
[Continued frooi yesterday.] CHAPTER II.
Mrs. Well bo urn continued ill in bed, having, as tbe Doctor said, nearly worked herself to death and drained her constitntion of any strength it might have possessed. True, she did not get worse, but she did not get better, being for three months completely disabled. On New Year's Day she was up and had dinner with Tommy, bat even for some time afterwards could do nothing but the very lightest things pertaining to housewifery. Doctor Jessop called once or twice and supplemented Ins previous gifts, or indeed they most have starved while Tommy was new to the work; but the care of other patients probably occupied all his time and kept him away for the remaining period of Mrs. Wellbonrn's sickness; besides, doctors must receive fees sometimes or how are they to be charitable ? Perhaps lie concluded that Tommy would come for him again if anything critical happened, or, knowing rest was the only cure, felt puzzled to prescribe how that rest miglit be obtained. Tommy commenced selling papers daring one of the wettest seasons ever remembered in South Australia. The quantity of rain which fell, as established at the Government Observatory, was so large that it would be best perhaps for the colony's credit to omit particulars, and content ourselves with repeating that South Australia conld not remember a wetter season. Day after day clouds darkened the sky, lodged there as it were, until they showered themselves away in storms or bail. The steady downpoar was something marvellous for what is supposed to be a dry climate. The. roads were
changed to mud puddles, the garden paths to gutters, streets to bogs, the Torrens to a river, and suburban creeks to roaring torrents. The sun tried to shine at intervals, but generally failed, consoling himself doubtless with the idea that he could take certain revenge next summer. Even farmers (contented souls!) growled at the over-abundant rain; and as for Tommy, why Tommy usually reached home with clothes wet through, and his boots (old by this time) doing duty as syphons and squirts in a highly uncomfortable manner. Unfortunately it wasn't only against the wet that Tommy contended, but the chill breezes also, which would blow away a saturating shower from him, apparently to have the pleasure of making his face and hands a bright blue colour, and hearing his teeth chatter somewhat like the " bones" of a Christy Minstrel. For a few days "Tinker" accompanied Tommy, but, like a good-for-nothing little mongrel as he was, soon gave up companionship, leaving his master to trudge it alone. There are good and bad dogs. "Tinker" was a bad dog, and unworthy a biographer, therefore this history shall know little or nothing of his future. Fourpences came slowly during the first month or two. There is a great deal to learn even in selling papers, and for long enough Tommy found literature as a profession anything but paying. Dreadful necessity pressed upon the. boy, and made him desperate in his endeavours to earn money. Nothing was left undone that might be done, and at last the result of his perseverance was seen in a good number of regular customers. Rubbing against the world's grindstone sharpens one's nose generally, and few boys in the business were sharper than Tommy when, so to speak, his apprenticeship ended. He sold many dozen Journals weekly, yet every penny obtained was sadly needed ; and after all, his gains served but to keep food in the house and pay rent. Tommy, with all his knowingness, was not Goliath of ' Gath or Hercules—he certainly did whatever he
could, but remember his weakness, and say if it were possible that he should do more. Certainly success, so far as it went, rewarded his efforts; and though the summer when it came found him possessed hy a cough which seemed to grip his chest with vulture's talons—found him feebler, paler, and biggereyed—why, food was bought and rent was paid, and here Tommy conquered. His mother benefited much by his exertions, for time being given wherein to rally, she so improved in health as to make the resumption of her labour not unlikely, when again the fortune that appeared perverse and dark visited them in the shape of a whitlow on one finger of her right hand. With such an envenomed enemy to oppose any use of the indispensable hand, washing was simply impossible. "Oh, Tommy," she groaned, looking at her swollen linger. "My poor lad; what mun 1 do ?" She had hoped so fervently to ease his distressful struggling. "Nevermind, mother," says Tommy very brave; "it won't last long, will it " I'm afraid so, Tommy; I've had one before, and it laid me up a long, long, time." "Well, mother, I s'pose we can do. I'm getting along—getting along—well." Tommy would have said more, but the cough broke out and stopped him from speaking—bending him down, grating in his throat, cutting his lungs, and pinching his face; therefore, afraid lest his mother might not like the look of him, he ran out to go on his afternoon's round. That whitlow seemed the largest and most enduring of all whitlows which ever attached themselves to poor humanity—poultices were powerless in the matter, ivy-leaves, local charms, and what-not were applied in vain— there it stuck, not bad enough to keep Mrs. Wellbourn from making Tommy comfortable when he returned home after work, but bad enough to keep her from the washtub, and prevent the earning of more money to buy Tommy and herself the boots and clothes
they needed. However, "'tis a long lane that has no turning," the old soothsaw says, even whitlows yield (unwillingly) to the rule, and Mrs. Wellbourn recommenced her drudgery at last, though not till winter was nigh. Now came the pleasantest time. Tommy, freed a little, could spend his evenings at home, being able to finish by nightfall; things being far better by reason of their united effort that decenter clothing and a bright fire were afforded. After tea they sat by the hearth, and Tommy, self-taught, would spell over the news, skipping long words or supplying queer facts of his own imagining in their places. He was always cheerful as could be, full of rumours and tales about this body or the other, ready as ever to give a helping hand, and punctual in wood-chopping. Love's eyes are blind they say. O why could not love's eyes see as they watched the smile on his thin cheek, and heard the cough which too often checked the flow of his mirthful talk, why could they not see that in his hard fight with the world, the world, yielding him a few paltry shillings weekly, had in return dragged him into the fell clutch of consumption, and craved his noble young life? These children, these children! Let us hold them to our hearts while the dew of early youth is theirs—let us shield them from the fierce winds which blow the trouble and storms of life; or, grown weak before they are strong, or grown old while yet they are'young, they wither "on our hearts, and leave our homes desolate. Love's eyes are blind, and so Tommy's mother -went her usual way, and Tommy trudged his usual rounds, only stopping now and then to lean against some friendly wall,
when the cough came on which tried to tear him .to pieces. He couldn't get up one morning. The fire was: unlit when Mrs. Wellbourn awoke, and no breakfast ready.. He felt poorly, he said; it would soon go away; perhaps he'd better stay in bed an hour or two. Days went by and still Tommy was in bed, held fast there by an insatiable ..disease, which would never loosen its grip. How sorry he was that mother should have to work harder now they were getting along so nicely! how fearful that his congh might keep her awake at night! how patient and brave! how good and gentle, the Great Father of us all alone may know. Folks about came to see hiin. Everybody knew Tommy. The bond of poverty bound them together. Mr. Mclnnery often sat by him and read to him in his rich brogue, and •racked jokes, and cheered him in all goodwill and kindliness ; but, strangely enough, neither mother nor the others knew how cruelly ill he really was—only a bad cold; "Tommy's laid up with a bad cold;" that was all. Sometimes, indeed, his mother, when wiping the damp from his face, wondered whether all were as well as Tommy would fain have her believe; yet, although he could not do this for himself, his weakness seemed so.purely bodily that, knowing no better, she thought his gleeful words and pleasant savings were sure promises of strength,.to return sooner or later. How could she dream that this strength of the spirit arose from feebleness of the flesh? Do we not all fancy our fleeting dear ones must stay longer on earth because they are our own ? Tommy, farther on, felt such a calmness, such a freedom from the old pain, that the way became easier; but whither that way
would lead him he knew not. Days and weeks flew past, Tommy wasting so gradually that the few people who saw him scarcely perceived any change, and would have been shocked if one who, meeting the boy a year ago and looking at him now, had told them how surely he was passing away. The summer hours were very hot, making their close little room almost unbearable— wind and dust blowing in through the old shingles and doors, bringing on his cough oftentimes when he had gained a few minutes' sleep. A strange longing for Christmastide possessed him, and gladly at hut he turned his head at dawn, and saw the sun arising to light the day before Christmas £ve. It could not be from much knowledge of its sacred associations that the coming of Christmas made him so happy—Tommy's information on the subject being very vague—nor would the approach of a season dedicated to joy of itself bring pleasure, if the things which make such a season joyful are lacking. The day before Christmas Eve went as other days—in hard work for Tommy's mother, in dreamy weakness for Tommy. Yet to him the evening shadows brought a deeper peace, a diviner calmness, than any night had ever done. ' • Good night, mother dear," he whispered, as she bent over and kissed him; " a merry Christmas and a happy New Year." Sweet sleep fell upon him, unbroken by the racking cough which generally divided his nights into weary watches, and hfe dreamed his feet had wandered to some far-off land, where the light was like a spring day's soft splendour, and kind faces he knew well crowded round and smiled a welcome. He trod through green meadows, where the flowers resembled stars; a river, broad and smooth, flowed on one side; by the brink grew stately trees, bearing wonderful fruit and masses of fragrant leaves. Away beyond all these, and higher, it seemed as if there were an exceeding great brightness, whose rays reached him even where he stood. A white-robed ONE led him by the
hand towards this glory, which greatened as he drew nigher. A crash—a voice—the vision vanished. Tommy knew he had retnrned to the little room and was sitting up in bed, awakened by the door being opened and hoarse mutterings of a man's voice. His mother slept soundly near him, completely tired out by her day's toil, and was at all times a heavy sleeper. His first thought was to try and wake her, bat he found himself held by a chill terror, which would not allow him the use of any faculty but sight. Another moment passed, then a man lurched through the door into the room—a dirty, drunken man, even when seen by moonlight. " Susau! Tommy!" the man called, though not loudly, propping himself up against the wall; "Susan! Tommy!" Then Tommy knew that his father had returned, and, overcome by the shock, sank back insensible. Yes, Tommy's father—Robert Wellbourn —had returned, and returned quite drank, for he reeled forward, Ml on the floor, and directly afterwards was fast asleep. The dawn of Christmas Eve broke through the window, and lovingly kissed little Tommy's weary eyes. He turned them, and saw his father still prone where he had .fallen, and his mother unconsciously slum- 'bering. The heap on the floor moved at last, -stretched out its legs, yawned, waved its arms, rubbed its eyes, and finally gathered iitself up and stood on its feet. It would hardly be credited that this beersodden miserable wretch had ever been the smart, decent mason, Robert Wellbourn; yet now, degraded as he wafe, a sigh of repentant shame escaped him as his gaze took in that little room, its mean belongings, and the thin pale wife asleep by his wasted, dying boy. He could not endure it, and laid his hand on the latch, intending to steal softly into the outside room. "Father!" The pleading tone smote on his ear and
heart. He left the door and came near the bed. "Father, you mustn't go away no more." " Why, Tommy, my man, how are you ? Are you bad ?" "Yes, father, very bad; that's why you mustn't go." " Oh, Tommy, what a fool I've been," and he wept like a baby. " Don't, father; you'll wake poor mother." But Susan Wellbourn has wakened at the sound of the voices, and, half-incredulous, cries— "Robert!" "Yes, Susan—Robert." " Oh, Robert, Robert! you are a bad man." Perhaps it is because the fumes of drink are not all gone he is unable to make reply; perhaps because he feels how well-deserved is the accusation. Susan WeUbourn remembers her wrongs, and what this man has made her and her child suffer in order to gratify his selfish debaucheries. Womanlike she continues— " Yes, Robert, you are a bad man. Oh, that you were ever my husband! A fine husband indeed, to leave his wife to starve! —a fine husband! What have you come back for?—to live upon our earnings, and spend them all in drink?" Excitedly she dresses herself, raging at him meanwhile. He sits on the bed holding down his head. Tommy comforts him, poor fellow, and puts a worn hand in one brawny fist. "Hadn't you better go back where you came from? What are you doing here, near my dear sick child ? What right have you to be here? I tell you what, Robert Wellbourn"—she gathers strength like a whirlwind as she goes on—" I tell you what; if you don't leave this place, you bad, drunken man, I'll have you turned out."
"Ob, mother, dear." from Tommy, "this," caressing the big brown hand, "is father." "A pretty father he's been to you. Tommy! —a pretty father indeed! What are you doing there?" "So help me God," he says humbly, "Susan and Tommy, if you'll forgive me T'll try and be better. I know I've been a brute." "Hear him, mother," pleads Tommy. " Hear him. I do hear him—it was always his way—drunk, drunk, drunk, morning, noon, and night; and if a body spoke a word, he would whimper like Tinker there—jnst as useless—and swear he'd never touch another drop of drink, and next hour be drunk as ever. Hear him!" says Susan Wellbourn, determined to speak out, and forced to do so by the remembrance of his cowardliness; "hear him! I've heard too much of him." There is a pause after this. Robert Wellbourn does not speak; Tommy breaks the silence. "Mother dear, father's come to take eare of you; haven't you, father?" as she makes a gesture of impatient disbelief, although knowing nothing of his coming back drank. "Father's come to take care of you instead of me," Tommy continued calmly. " I'm going away, and you must be good to poor mother, and never get drunk again." Father mutely promises, but mother releutingiy sobs. " Stuff and nonsense, Tommy. You going away! Why, where would you go ?" "I don't know where I'm sroing to, mother, except where I dreamed. It might be there, because of the light." She is so used, to his wanting^ that barely a mistrust comes into her mind, but father, a comparative stranger, sees the danger.
" Susan," he says, "I deserve it all; but do forgive me, Tommy's so bad." " Mother," says Tommy, far fainter than before; "Mother! come here; please come quick." She obeys. There is a wild brightness in the child's look which commands her. Tommy takes her hand, and places it where his own had lain—in one of Robert Wellbourn's homy palms. "Be friends, dear mother—father!" and thus makes peace between them, but faints again, nor can see the embrace which seals this new betrothal. His mother had never seen him insensible, and is terribly alarmed. "O Robert! Robert! look at Tommy! Try and get a doctor! Run for Dr. Jessop! Run. Make him come with you!" Robert Wellbourn rushes off, and a dreary while elapses before Tommy's eyes ate opened. "Where am I?" he asks faintly—very faintly. "Oh, mother! I saw the light again!" "O Tommy! dear Tommy!' don't look like that. Father's gone for Doctor Jessop." His great eyes glow with unearthly brightness—he smiles, but cannot speak, as she hangs over him weeping piteously and calling on him to tell her what the light is—to talk to her once more; and so remains till gigwheels grate on the road in front. "Tommy !" the doctor exclaims on entering the room, " poor little fellow! how changed ! . . . Why, the boy's dying ! Why~didn'tyou send forme before? .Confound you," to Robert Wellbourn, "this is your handiwork. Sir ! By God! if I were a Judge, I'd have a man like you strung up to the nearest tree." In other days Robert Wellbourn would have felled to earth any man who had dared to reproach him in this fashion. Now lie has no reply but, " I deserve all you can say. Sir! I've been a brute, but by the help of Almighty God this grievous lesson will not be lost on me."
The impetuous doctor stood nearer Tommy, who lay stiU before them with the flush of another morning on his young face. "Oh, Doctor Jessop," wailed his mother, " can't you do any thing for him, Sir ? Can't you do anything?" " Nothing, my poor soul! Nothing. It is too late." «' Doctor, belike you could bring round for a time," his father put in. " Nay," and he shook his head solemnly, " he is in other hands than mine! We doctors can do nothing in such a cabe. God forgive you, Wellbourn, for this ! Hie way with you fellows—anything to satisfy your cruel selfishness. Wife or child may kill themselves in doing the work you are too lazy and vile togdo. Drink! drink! Why, do you think I'd call myself a man, and sacrifice a child to such an idol ?" It was the time for Doctor Jessop to draw his moral, and, although roughly do'iie, a deep earnestness in the tone,' a tearful mist about his eyes, showed how sincere a feeling prompted him. " To throw a tender woman and child on the world to earn their bread! was it right of yon, their lawful and able bread-winner? You may drink and be damned, Sir, (if you're fool enough, but remember yon have no right to make other people suffer the consequences." Silence ensued as they all stood round ; Tommy, waiting for the end. Suddenly, clear and musical as the song of birds, his voice rang through their hearts— " Oh, mother! mother! 1 see the light! 1 see the light!" No more—for so fleeing to the Light—with a look of untellable love, a sweet smiley a happy sigh, little Tommy went to keep his Christmas with our Father which is in Heaven. Robert Wellbourn became a new creature from that hour; it seemed as if the boy's death had been the man's life -a bitter lesson, a cruel sacrifice ; 'but better thiB by
far than eternal ruin! -Other children grow up around the Wellbourns fair and sturdy as the years roll onwards; but these, howsoever dear, have no part in the tender memories, the sweet regrets, the yearning hopes which make Christmas Eve the holiest, the most beautiful, the best part of Time, for THAT is the work of little Tommy.
EQUESTKIAHISM.—Burton's Circus company has been performing successfully at Mount Gambier.