|Chapter Title||THE RENBONUNA HOUSEHOLD.|
|Newspaper Title||The Port Augusta Dispatch, Newcastle and Flinders Chronicle (SA : 1885 - 1916)|
|Trove Title||Benbonuna: A Tale of Thirty Years Ago|
A TALE , OF, THIRTY TEARS AGO.
[All rights reserved by the author.] CHAPTER VI (continued). THE BKHBONUNA HOUSEHOLD.
BT EOBBRT BBUCE.
'/ No 1 oDjDet 8peak to yon now, Bena "'dear: I'll go oat and wait for yod'itf- the verandah. Something particolrir,' 0 he added, dosing' the door and going to the window by which he had entered, mattering-, ~ with a grin, as he went, " I thought that would fetch her." And then he walked out into the -darkness, where he .was .presently joined by Mrs Ashby. The pair paced by the window Bevera! times, looking in ae they so,,and.'then walked on ,the fiat, oot of eight and ear-shot of the houBe. What Hawley told Mrs Atihby must have been, of most interesting nature, tor when, after an absence of about a quarter of an hoar, they-retained to the house, they ,w$re talking pleasantly together, and. the cloud had vanished from the lady's face; '" 1 ] ',*''" " Well, I feel thirsty; 80 if J -you havfjany cold wajer, I'll rbave a drop of branay with it," 'said Hawley, with a augb, as he seated himself at the table. MrS'Abhby produced a bottle of "Martell" and a couple of tumblers : from a sideboard, observing as she did BO that the brandy wonld have bfe^n better if freBh oat of the cellar, bat adding, " It will have to do, onless you will take the trouble to fetch some more np; 'for Mrs Schlinke is in bed before this, lerpect." " It will do well enough," assented Hawley. " I suppose the waterbag is hanging id its usual place ; so if you will give me a jug I'll go and fill it." " I've iilat a jug here, but a tumbler will do as welli ' Hens, take this," giving one into his hand, which.he at once went to fill, Mrs Ashby taking another from the sideboard, and pouring into it a very respectable modicum of spirits, evidently for herself, for she held it towards Hawley, who, seeming to know how mnch water she required, -ceased pouring ere the word " stop" had left her lipB. Hawley helped himself, ami the pair, touching glasBeB and looking at one another in a curious manner, exchanged the word "Success," Hawley taking his liquor off at a draught, the lady drinking hers in successive sips, as if she loved iL " Well, I must go now, so good night Brfls," said Hawley, and saluting hie sister^r he departed evidently in a good hnmour with himself for having managed matters so cleverly, while Mrs Ashby, looking after him, muttered, " He's not to be 'trusted. I'll have to keep my eyes sharply on him !" She then put away the bottle and glasses and returned to her novel, to which, however, she did not seem to give much attention. Her thoughts otherwise engaged, her eyes followed the lines withont conveying the substance to her brain, and after taming back several times to pick up the thread of the narrative, she threw down the book impatiently and left the room by the same door through which Mary Ashby had entered it. Traversing a short passage, she entered an open door on the right which led into Mr Ashby's bed-room, where on a curtainless bed lay that poor gentleman wrapped in a thin, loose, dress ing-gown, breathing heavily as if in an uneasy sleep, but with his bloodshot eyes wide' open, and with a haggard expression in biB face which, but for intemperate habits, would still have been handsome, though his beard and hair were quite grey. On hearing his wife's footsteps he raised himself to a sitting position and, gasing into vacancy, exclaimed, "They're still there Mary ! What do they want ? Why don't they go away ?" " Hush, John ! there is nobody here but ourselves," said his wife as Bbe gazed, seemingly by a great effort,at her husband. "Why, look at them! there they are nnder the washstand, and -coming down the chimney I the room is full of them !" Then querulously breaking off, " Where is Mary ? why has she left me? I want a drink ; my throat is on fire." Mrs Ashby, 'much discomposed, poured ont a tumbler of toaBt-water, and put it into the trembling hands of her husband, who spilled part of the contents while raising the tumbler to bi6 lips, from which he immediately removed it with a look of disgust, saying " Why do you give me that stuff ? ! I 'want brandy 1 give me some'brandy! Don't you see them, Isabella? I want some brandy." " Why this it brandy" said Mrs Ashby, again tendering the toast-water—"Your taste is so out of order, John, that you do not know what yon are drinking!" " What is the use of yonr telling me that, .Isabella, and why don't you give me some, brandy, now that I want some so badly? When I am not anxious for it, then yon wantme to drink it— why don't you .get me some now? Mary would if sbewBsttere'; why has she left me?" " Here 1 am,dpar father" said Mary, entering the room and glancing suspiciously at the glasB which her step-mother still held in her hand. Mrs Ashby noticing the look, pointed to the jug from which y she had taken .the liquor, Baying at the same time. "Wonld it hurt him if we gave him just a little brandy ? He seems to crave for some so much*" " Yes, Mary, you hear what Isabella says. Give me some brandy. Perhaps they might go away then." " Oh, why is there such a thing as drink in the world ?" cried the poor girl. "Dear father, do not ask me for hrandy, for I cannot give it to you ; I should be helping to kill you. Drink a little of this, to please me," she added persuasively, and put the toast wa,ter to Lis lips. Mr Ashby drank a mdnthfnl or two, and again asked for brandy, adding " Where have you been, Mary ?" Mrs Ashby eyeing her askance at the same time. " 1 went to make some tea for yon, father, and I am sure it will do you good. I will et git for you presently. "Did yon see anyone when you were ont ?" asked Mrs Ashby with feigned indiference, while the invalid went on with his querulous demands for drink. " Yes," said Mary, in a low tone; " I went to the wood heap, and persuaded Moses to go in search of Mr HeBlop,whom I am in great hopes he will find. Moses tells me be iB sure he heard him shouting wheh passing the Holowelluna water hole with your brother." Well," said Mrs Ashby, "If Moses beard him, Stephen ought to have done so too, for his ears are remarkably sharp ; and I am quite sure that if he had thought in the least that the blackboy was right, he iJ would have been the first to go in search Of the yonng man. But of course," she added, "be never dreamed that Mr Heslop could lose himself after the very plain directions he gave him." As Mrs Ashby spoke as if she were defending her brother from an accusation, Mmy replied : " I did not wish in the least to impute any blame to Mr Hawley. But I should never forgive myself if Mr Heslop were lost owing to any neglect on our part, and therefore I was so glad when MoBes told me he was certain he could find him." Tbertf was euch an air of opm sincerity about the girl while speaking, that Mrs Asbby could only say, " Ye6, I em glad indeed"—adding with assumed calmness, " I suppose you did net see Stephen again, did yon?" "No," replied Mary, without embarrassment, " But I beard the dogB barking as iie crossed the flat." ?be 06k mac, who had bees very uu
easy during this conversation, now wished to know what they wore talkfng about, saying, " You don't care how I suffer ;*' and then peevishly turned his face to the wall. Mrs Ashby said, *'How very unkind yon are, John I am sure we are all dreadfully worried about you." Mary, though she looked greatly pained at her father's words, answered nothing, but, speaking quietly to her step-mother, she said, " If yon will stay with my father for a few minutes, I will go and get the tea. It will have drawn by this time, and I "will not be long." . " Of course," said Mrs Ashby in a tone of willing self-Bacrifice, "I don't mind how long I stop, when I feel that I can be >of the slightest service to your dear father: and ae the beat is dreadfully oppressive in this room, you might just as w.ell take a chair and sit outside for a little while, for I'm sure a breath of fresh air-would do yoa good." "Thank you, Isabella; but, indeed, I do not feel the.heat. I am so accustomed to it, you know," said Mary, quitting • the room as she spoke. Immediately her stepdaughter had gone Mrs Ashby, after casting a quick glance around, emptied the toastwater into a basin, and producing a small Bask from her dress pocket proceeded to pour its contents into the tumbler. She had about half filled it when a springy footstep was heard in the passage ; a premonitory cough •came immediately after from the open doorway, and was followed by a.sniff, as if the newcomer smelt something to his taste. The lady, who had started violently when she first heard the footstep^ awk wardly put down the tumbler, returned the flask to her pocket, and with an effort recovering her composure turned towards the visitor, saying affably— "Ah, Mict. Is that you?" " Yes, mem, and sure it's meself that's jist come to give Miss Mary a shpell wid the Masther; for sure, an' it's herself must be knocked up intoirely, so she musht.'* " How kind of you, Mick ;" said Mrs Ashby, adding, " but you Irish people are all so kind-hearted—Oh !" As Mrs Ashby uttered this interjection in an agonised tone of voice, and with a sudden movement of her hand to her side, tbe kind heart of the Irishman of course gave a great throb of sympathy, and its owner made a step forward, inquiring anxiously— " Sure! an' phwat ails ye mem ?" " Oh 1 said the lady, with the gentle resignation of a saint, " It's nothing— nothing but a sharp spasm. I had one just before you came to tbe door, and was about to take a little brandy. It giveB me instant relief, and is the only thing that does—Oh 1 Oh ! Oh !" "Sure, mem, an' don't moind me, at all 1 at all!" said Mick with renewed anxiety. Mr Ashby moved about uneasily muttering to himself, while the lady gave a Filent contortion, evidently resolved to suffer martyrdom rather than cause annoyance to her husband. Now Mick was an old bird, not usually to be canght with chaff—if scattered by a man's hand ; and yet be instantly flew to it as the best of grain, when the fowler was a woman, especially if she were young and comely ; and so he urged respectfully, " Do be afther takin' id mem. Id'll do ye good. Shur« an' id will now !" " Yes, I am afraid I must take a little," faltered the lady, as if greatly averse to the remedy ; and then just wetting her lips with the spirits, 6he gave a little sigh of relief, and artlessly remarked as she held up the fflass and gazed incredulously at the quantity of liquor in it, " I must indeed have had a sharp attack to have poured out 60 much without noticing what I was doing!" Then with an engaging pmile, and holding the glass towards the Irishman, she said, " Perhaps you would like to drink it; that is if you do not object to drinking after me!" " Dthrinkin' afther ye, mem ?" said Mick in an eloquently reproachful accent, as he accepted, with anything but reluctance, the proffered tumbler, and heid it up for an instant to admire its contents. " Id's bettber afther ye, mum, so id is! an' "—here Mick gave a reverential nod and a scrape of the foot, u;eant for a bow—" here's fortune, inem, an' may the masther soon be well intoirely, an' thank ye, mem!" handing back the glass. "Thank you, Mick, I hope he will indeed," said the lady, with gracious earnestness, adding, " But sit down, Mick, you must be tired after your hard day's work," pointiug, as she spoke, to a chair near the door, into which the Irishman obediently subsided, protesting, however, as he did so— " Toird is id ? Sure'n its little I've dona this good day, barring wool pressing." (A colonial term for lounging about on the sheepskins which usually do duty for bed and mattress in the bush). " Yes," replied the lady innocently (though she well knew what " wool pressing" meant). " But that is very hard work, is it not ?" " Sliure now, an' ye know fwhat I mane mem," replied Mick, with a little doubtful laugh, ae Mary Ashby entered the room with a tray, on which were a cup of tea and a basin of thin broth, " Lit me take it aff e, Miss Mary" he added, rising with great alacrity as lie spoke. " Oh ! thank you Mick !" replied the young lady, setting down the tray, however on the table ; then noticing the fumes of the brandy, she said, " What a smell of spirits ?" glancing inquiringly at Mrs Ashby as she spoke. " Sure an' it wus me, Miss Mary," said Mick, apologetically ; Mrs Ashby adding by way of explanation : " Yes, Marj', I had a sudden attack of spasms, and had to fetch some brandy ; but before I knew what I was doing I had poured far more than I required into the tumbler, and Mick, to save trouble, kindly drank it for me." Then, dropping her voice, she added, "You know it would never do to leave it about here." Mary, though she looked grieved, took no further notice of the matter, but going quietly to the bed, and finding that her father was awake—as indeed he had been for nearly a week, a few demon-haunted doses excepted—"Dear father, I have brought you a cup of nice tea, which I hope you will be able to drink, and I am sure it would do you a great'deal of good if you could." "Tea ? I can't bear it,"fitfully exclaimed the invalid. Then, in adeeply injured tone of voice, " It is strange every one else can have brandy, but I must go without; though I might be able to go to sleep if I had some." And then he went on mutter* ing to himself what seemed very like abuse of members of his family, till Mrs Ashby, who seemed uncomfortably out of place, observed, Well, Mary, now that Mick has come, I do not see that I can be of any further U6e, so I may as well retire for the night." Then taking her IIUBband's hand, she said with effusive sympathy, " Dear John, I do hope you will be better in the morning." Then with the plainly audible aside, " What a dreadful breath be has," she tore herself reluctantly away, kissed Mary, bade Mick good night, and departed. Tbe Irishman went gently to the further side of the bed, and speaking in a voice that had almost the soft persuasiveness of a woman's, said while assisting his master to rise, "Now MiBtbei Ashby, Bit up, that's a near man, an'just drink the tay Miss Mary lias for ye. Sure an' she made it herself, so id musht be good !" Mr Ashby, who in his ordinary condition had a great liking for Mick Cronin, was passive in bis hands so far as sitting up went, but when his daughter placed the the tray before him, and added her per-
suasions that he wonld take a little of either the tea or sonp, ho recommenced to invfigti against the injustice of his household in depriving him of brandy, and in endeavouring to emphasise hiR remarks with a shaking hand he upset the fluids, which flooded the tray and even invaded his dressing gown; on which he exclaimed with a deeply injured air. " How awkward you are." 1 Mick looked with a world of sympathy in his eye, at Mary, who snid apologetically. •" Poor father, he could not help it" adding, as tbe endeavoured to remove all traces of the accident. " Besides, it does not matter Mick ; I can soon get some more." " Sbure an' id's an angel she is, intoirely" muttered Mick to himself, adding aloud, " Will I go an git the tay for ye Miss Mary ?" " No Mick, you sit by my father please, and I will get it; for I know where every thing is, and shall not disturb the SpblinkeB," answered Marv as she left the room quickly but quietly. The Irishman, who was a spare, middle-sized, wiry looking man of about forty, with a grizzled head of close cropped hair, a pair of bright, frank looking hazel eyes, a nose like an inverted Y (for he had been a light weight member of the P.R), and a clean 6haved face, gazed in the direction in which the young lady had gone, and muttered while a stern look crept over bis countenance, " Av he times any games wid her, id will be Mick Cronin he'll have to tackle nixt. May hell be his bed." Then aloud to biB master— " Plase God, ye'll soon be all roight, sorr." " Bight! Of course I shall soon be all right, if they'll only give me some brandy," replied the invalid, recurring as usual to the forbidden beverage. Mick endeavored to look as if he had not heard what Mr Ashby said, and cunningly tried to draw his thoughts into another channel, an impossible task, however, for brandy, brandy, brandy, was Mr Ashby's almost unvarying cry, uttered with a peevish persistency dreadfully trying to his hearers, more especially to his daughter, now almost worn out with constant watching and anxiety. Mary soon returned with some more tea, which, however, her father would not touch ; and seeing that she could be of no further use, Bhe, at Mick's urgent solicitation, went to her room, leaving strict injunctions with her substitute that she should be called immediately if required. Those injunctions Mick promised implicitly to obey, muttering, however, to himself, " Pure thin, before I wakes ye, id's a foin shlape ye'll have;" and then turned to give his whole attention to bis maBter. (To be continued.)