|Chapter Title||PROLOGUE. 1. SHE. 2. HE. 3. COMMON TALK. 4. PER ASPERA AND ARDUA.|
|Newspaper Title||Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||Nancy. A Story of the Fifties|
TALES AND SKETCHES.
NANCY. A STORY OF THE FIFTIES.
By the Author of "The Man In the Iron Mask."
A long, straggling, up-country township, which seems to have fallen asleep In trying to drag Itself across the bare and sloping flank of the range.
So quiet is it- this dull grey little hamlet of ours, with its weary, trailing, irregular, one- sided street, that Geelong even, in one of her more pensive moments, might well indulge a passing pang of jealousy in the contemplation of so much absolute repose. From the general store - at the great business corner of the future - which greets the traveller on his first entry into Borak to the inn or hotel ( hotel with a very big circumflex to suit the latitude), and known as the "Borak ;" and right up past the police station and the wooden chapel to the blacksmith's forge at the end there is nothing in particular to arrest attention. Stores, huts and houses all of the one old- fashioned bush type ; slab or weatherboard, weatherboard and piaster, slab and daub, etc., some covered with shingles, but most roofed with sheets of bark, steadied, secondum artem, with heavy frames of peeled saplings rudely pegged together with tree nails. Yet there is one house here which has not only shutters, but regular doors and windows too - windows with real panes of glass in them, that wink at you in the westering sunshine while you go cantering lazily past, as much as to say : " Here we are, and not so bad for Borak neither, though it's only a bark roof that's above us after all." The rear of this otherwise unpretending edifice stretches down towards the bed of a waterless creek. one of those homely, old time gardens, which delighted equally the soul of the artist and of the pioneer. A good practical kitchen garden this one, the cabbages forming the most conspicuous (the green) element ; but three broad, dark crimson bauds of beet bring about a color contrast, the effect in all probability accidental, but really quite as good as if studiously thought out and artistically prearranged. Peas and beans swarm up the grey barked ti- tree sticks lent to them for the season's support, and monster pumpkins, marrows and water melons sprawl and trail across the paths, and even clamber, despite their weighty fruitage, quitehalf way up the low stone dyke that encloses all. The soil is virgin ; hence these pumpkins, gourds and melons, the like of which shall never be known in the gardens of the artificial and highly civilised future ; nor such flowers neither, for the old fashioned Brompton stocks, the wall flowers, the sweet peas, the mignonette and the French marigolds, were never to be seen nor smelt in rarer perfection or in sweeter combination anywhere else on the face of the wide world. Behind this fragrant garden expands a veritable orchard, with sturdy standard trees ; apple, peach, pear, cherry and plum ; a delicious little enclosure, pleasant and " eye sweet " from end to end ; the walks formal and straight but not too well weeded, and at the far extremity of the central one, next the northern wall and beneath a group of lilacs, are a few bee hives, or rather bee boxes ; while, between the garden and the house - though without any dividing fence whatever - is a spacious yard boasting a stable, a tool house, an extra big grindstone and an old headless cask, which, now lying habitually on its side, fulfils the destiny of its latter days as a dog konnel. Lastly, a neatly hollowed out log mounted on two short stumps makes a sufficiently picturesque horse trough. Outside, far and away beyond all this little property, are the oleared surfaces of the Mount Borak sidelings which, like the neglected cheeks and chin of some aged golfer who has abjured shaving for a week or more, present numerous white stumps sticking out aggressively in all directions. In Borak, as elsewhere in Australia, the axes of the early settlers have been too liberally excercised ; whether in ringing the great trees as they stood, or in felling whole heca tombs of saplings. . . ... And it was not entirely for what they used ; since nine-tenths (perhaps) of the timber ringed, barked, hacked about and left to blenoh in the suns and winds of successive seasons have never been used at all. Borak has let in the sun upon her. She has courted the east wind. She has made a gigantic clearing. A wilderness, absolutely, and now the Borak folks complain that the place is bare and wretchedly exposed, hot In summer, bitterly cold during tho winter mouths, generally deficient in rainfall, and yet, mirabile (et miserabile) et dictu, a very nursery for rheumatism ! Poor old Borak utterly forgets to whose axes the deplorable change is due ; while she sits and sighs, and continues to sigh for the still, warm, clear days of the first settlement and the aromatic myrtle fragrance of the primeval box tree ranges. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The whitened trunks of the standing trees of today, and the white and prostrate logs in the clearing, if ghastly by daylight, become doubly so as night advances, when the moon, like a terror stricken fugitive, plunges despairingly into the numbered masses of drifting cloud, and only emerges again to reflect her death like pallor on the scene below ; when the dingo, forsaking his solitary lair, distracts the echoes of the glen with his melancholy howlings ; and the far away whistle of the homing swans seems to reach us
from the stars : Australians all can appreciate nights such as these, when the strident and quavering cry of the spurwing birds strangely with the prolonged drone of the great ground crioket, and the piteous plaint of the mopehawk. poured forth from his stand on the broken limb of a withered gum, brings some touch of sadness to the hearts of the station children. It is on nights like these that the Borak mountain's side becomes as one vast conclave of sheeted ghosts and pallid apparitions ; and let no stranger smile incredulously ; since for a weird, creepy and uncanny effect there is nothing to surpass the whitened remains of a withered eucalyptus forest, visited by the fitful glimpses of an Australian moon. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Borak Creek, a rushing and dangerous torrent in winter, is little more than a chain of ponds in the autumn. In summer every drop of water has evaporated and joined the clouds. The creek at such time is dry from its source among the grey and lichened boulders in the fragrant fern gully between two spurs of the mountain, and right down to its mysterious and indefinable termination in the dense ti-tree scrub at the bottom of the Borak Valley. Borak Creek bears an evil name ; a sinister cloud seems to follow it in all its wanderings and windings ; it has a story of its own ; some small portion at least may be brought to light as the succeeding chapters unroll themselves before you. CHAPTER I — SHE. She is just 18 and motherless ; neither dark nor fair, her eyes, large and grey, are luminous and honest. Her nose (to speak by the card), not too long, nor yet in any way too thin, is a very comely feature, and, not Grecian nor yet Roman, but Australian ; moulded on an English model ; is a good one of the ordinary type, straight also ; well proportioned and thoroughly characteristic of the owner. The lips, full, and coral red, are firmly and clearly outlined, while the teeth, white and regular, are simply perfection - without being tall, she has a really charming figure ; and her feet and hands (which match each other well) are of sensible largeness and a perfeot colour. Her costume, generally speaking, a simple "print," well out, and neatly made up, suits the sweet shape exactly, just in fact as an apt measure properly subserves a true poem ; and she is in herself one of the truest of poems, just as she is one of the truest of women ; the poetry derived mostly from her own immediate surroundings ; from the blue "lift" of the arching sky, from the imperial purple of the hills, the rosy and golden glories of daydawn and sunset ; the wordless witchery of the moon ; the silent pleadings of the stars, and the " sweet wrangle " of the birds in the brake ; an education sans task work, sans struggle, sans emulation ; and, with nature only for her teacher ; it was thus that she matriculated. It was to her father that the house with the windows and garden belonged, and it was there that she had lived with that father from 12 years of age up to womanhood. Beyond her father and herself there was no living creature under the bark roof, unless we count a great black cat, which having attached himself to their fortunes some years ago, seemed now to have ended in adopting them as his own and giving them house room. The warmest corner in tho ingle nook, the softest cushion on the couch under the window in the afternoon sun, and the positive possession of a certain embroidered footstool. . . . All were his ; "Darkie" had in fact grown to be acknowledged as part and parcel of the establishment, and having a property in it became remarkably conservative of all his rights rights and privileges. The furniture was of a solid and serviceable type, and the large front room was diningroom and sitting room both. What used to be called a "colonial sofa" occupied the space between the two front windows ; by the fireside stood a capacious armchair ; in the middle a table that would seat eight persons ; a few strong chairs completed the equipment, unless we mention a sort of oupboard on eaoh side of the fireplace, surmounted by bookcases with glazed fronts, and well filled. On the chimney piece several oddities and quaint looking "curios" figured ; for John Arnold was a collector as well a s a great reader, and whenever he could manage it, whether on a fine Saturday or Sunday, he was fond of a prowl by the creek, or up the spur, or sometimes to the Fern Gully, whence he never forgot to bring home some musk or sassafras for Nancy, or a quartz crystal, or perhaps a bird's nest, or the cast skin of a snake. John was fond of natural history, and so was his girl, and this formed one of the many bonds between them. John Arnold, besides being a working carpenter and small proprietor, was also a charaoter. A man of pronounced views, well read, and though comparatively untravelled, a man of large sympathies and humanitarian in his ideas. His appearance belied his disposition, for although of somewhat stern exterior and unimpulsive in manner, he was really tender- hearted and always retained the warmest affection for the memory of his wife, who he had lost quite six years before the time this present story of ours commences. John Arnold's wife was well known on Borak in her day, not so much for a notable housekeeper as for a woman largely respected among her neighbours and friends, who spared no pains in the bringing up of the little girl whose name stands on the title page of this story. In six years time Nancy had grown from a girl into a woman, and there was no prettier, no better favoured, maiden In all Borak, nor for miles around. She had attracted the attention of youth after youth in the township and its environs, but Nanoy's heart remained unscathed, and without citing again her warm affection for her father, it should be told that John Arnold was not the man to encourage any followers or hangers-on about his premises. He and she lived most of their time at home in the old house and garden that they loved so much. Occasionally they would visit a neighbour in the evenings, but it was far more common to find them entertaining a few of these at home after a quiet and sensible fashion. John was a good talker, spoke pleasantly and shrewdly on a large variety of subjects, and though no story teller himself, thoroughly enjoyed a good yarn. There were two or three men "on" Borak who had unconsciously developed "yarning" into a fine art, and when one or two of these brave fellows happened to be present there was no merrier nor better company to be found than that whioh included them with " the Arnolds " and other friends, for Nancy would always have some of the Borak girls to put the finish to these merry evenings. So the presence of Nancy and the girl's companions, backed up by the graver influence of John Arnold, acted like the governor of a steam engine, a gently restraining, unassertive force, sufficient to keep the glow of humor within proper bounds ; just that and nothing more. Borak was not uncelebrated for strong language of an ugly type, but the blood holtered " argot" of an up country township found no entry here. Nor for that matter did liquor of any sort or description, though John Arnold was himself no teetotaller. Tobacco, however, enjoyed the freedom of the
house, and the visitors smoked contentedly and in silence as they listened to the songs or the yarns or watohed tho games of the young folks. CHAPTER II.— "HE." Life "on" Borak was comparatively slow — the principal and most looked for events were when Cobb's big red coaob, drawn by four grand horses and driven by an American Jehu in a chisel beard, drew up at the village post ollice, when the passengers adjourned en masse to the Borak Hotel, and when all the little boys and girls in Borak turned out to view the mud splashed equipage and the smoking horses, whose flanks were heaving up and down like the leathers of a blacksmith's bellows, after the stiff trot up hill. Or, when issuing from the midst of a dust oloud at a turn of the mountain road, the gold escort, with its carts and drivers and advance and rear guards, and troopers on either side, with sabres drawn and pistols in their holsters, came clattering into Borak. This occasion was ever novel, ever exciting. The sharp clear word of command from the escort officers, the jingle of spur rowels, the crank of the steel scabbards against the chargers' flanks, the snorting and pawing of the horses themselves, and the rattle of the chain bridoons and bits as someone or other of the pawing animals would cough or shudder and shake up his saddlery and caparisons generaily, with the suddenness and energy of a young earthquake. Then, as a matter of course, the troopers themselves, and the dashing young sergeant in charge, came in for their fair share of admiration. At such times all Borak would turn out, women and boys and girls, in every doorway ; besides, tiny girls and boys were very much en evidence, getting as close in to the wheels of the esoort waggons, and as much among the horses' feet, as seemed consistent with their ideas of personal safety. The sergeant who " ran " the escort (erstwhile an ensign in the line) was a healthy, well built, handsome young follow, moderately tali, of athletic proportions and English in every respect. Brown from exposure to the weather, gifted with a pair of the wickedest blue eyes imaginable, a fine set of teeth and a neatly trimmed moustache, it is not to be wondered at if that the Borak maidens were to a girl prepossessed in his favour. Max Gaythorno had on previous occasions seen the Arnolds, and had drank in from their garden in passing ever so many sweet reminders of "home." . . John Arnold did not trouble himself over much about escort day - he generally had an axe to grind, and sometimes in a literal as well as a metaphorical sense. But Nancy now always seemed to experience on the return of these days, something akin to what Longfellow had so feelingly described where he sings of the fragrant wine in the cask becoming agitated on tho approaoh of the spring, when the first blossoms begin to appear upon tho vine. In brief Nancy, though without knowing it, had found her " fate ;" and Max, almost equally without being positively aware of tho fact, had irrevocably lost his heart to Nancy. The beginnings of affairs suoh as these, often obscurely indicated, are not always easy to trace up to their original sources, but Max, who had never as yet spoken to, nor indeed even exchanged salutations with Nancy, seemed (as he looked back on more recent events) to fix on a certain summer morning in November. Galloping then, down the main, the one street of Borak, amid his clattering files of troopers, he saw through a rift in the dust cloud enveloping the whole cavalcade the face of a lovely girl regarding the esoort from behind a garden gate. Now, to a young man far from home, exiled from regular society and shut out perforce from most of the amenities of life, it is not surprising to find him in a case like this smitten severely ; but this is how he came to be sure of it. He had ridden through other townships the same morning in the midst of his dust cloud, enjoying the gallop amazingly, casting a proudly approving, as well as a critical, glance occasionally at the smart "turn out" of his small troop and humming a tune to the gaily marked cadence of the hoofs of the horses on the hard road, yet he did not dream of any thing beyond "making" Borak at such an hour - spelling there so long and then on again. But as he rides past the Arnolds, lo ! he becomes suddenly conscious of a dusty uniform and belts, a grimy face and a small patoh of mud in the corner of each eye. A man, especially a young man, and very especially a " trooper," loves to look his best and his brightest in the presence of beauty, and is extremely apt to be fastidious as to appearances whon such a happy occasion arises ; so, when Max had halted the escort right in front of the Borak Police Station and given the word to " dismount," he felt as he disengaged his right foot from the stirrup and flung himself lightly out of tho saddle, the very dirtiest and most disreputable trooper in the entire service. He had often before, in passing the Arnolds' house, cast an admiring glance over his belted shoulder at Nancy standing in the garden. But this time, as he did so again, he felt that he looked like a sweep, and blushed up to the roots of his hair. . . . And thus it came to pass that he knew himself in love. Perhaps he fell in love with Nancy weeks ago, and "at first sight," too. If so, then it must have grown upon him since, and this one particularly bright but dusty November morning, had simply witnessed the culmination. One does not expect too muoh philosophy in the young sabreur that bestrides a troop horse ; but Max had made a very fair shot, and was about as near the great central truth, after bhs own rule of thumb fashion, as would have been the more regular logician with his complete armory of predicates and syllogisms, and that, too, more rapidly. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * And Nancy ! - With her all was different ; she saw before her the gay young trooper, in her eyes a perfect hero ! but was entirely blind to the general dustiness of the uniform and accoutrements. Love and Justice are both represented with the eyes bandaged, but Love, who was a rogue from the beginning, pushed up the bandage from one eye so as to miss nothing. So, when the ardent young trooper gathered up his reins in his left hand over the saddle bow, and came off his horse with a gracefully arching leap, she felt — yes, she had never read Othello, but the Shakspearian idea was there already in that pretty and well balanced head of hers, half hidden away among the roses behind the gate - " She would that heaven had made her such a man." * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Mutually ignorant of eaoh other's feelings at this moment, both these young people were madly in love with each other. CHAPTER III.— COMMON TALK. Mrs. Downes, of the Borak general store, presently engaged in putting up a parcel for John Thomson (the know-all of the village), remarks as follows, between the folding of the brown paper and the tying and snapping of the string :- "A policeman, one would think, is hardly what Mr. Arnold would expect for his daughter, but as the world grows older it gets madder to my thinking, and even elderly folks begin to go off their heads. What would you say now, Mr. Thomson, to Sergeant Gaythorn visiting at the
Arnolds, going and coming like one of the family ? Why ! it looks like the end of the world coming." " And why not, Mrs. Downes ? Mr. Arnold should be free to choose his own company, and the young man, yon know, is respectable. Sergeant Jones at the station tells me he was once an officer in the regular army." " There now, I told you so," rejoins Mrs. Downes, with a blaze of triumph In her eye (she had only one) and her cap very muoh on one side. " You may depend upon It, then, he left in some awful scrape, or worse. Just you wait till he's found out, that's all. For my own part. I never could endure a soldier, and those horse police and the sailors are just as bad. Sooner I'd see a girl of mine, if I had one, screwed down in her coffin than tied to one of those creatures." "Exactly, Mrs. Downes," Interpolated John Thomson, " but we must have some evidence first. When John Thomson said " exactly," it meant a whole world ; for John Thomson, being both a Scotsman and a shoemaker, was therefore an oracle. Another customer coming in at this juncture, Mrs. Downey's mind, at no time capable of easily entertaining more than one idoa at the same moment, became so utterly involved in a question of pounds, shillings and pence as affecting the price of certain boxes of soap that John Thomson, taking his brown paper parcel under his arm, took his leave at the same moment and proceeded homewards. Max and Nancy were beginning to be talked about, and talked about together already, and it was certainly due to no fault of Mrs. Downes if she did not dress up her ideas on the subject in forms of kaleidoscopic variety to suit the most exacting tastes of her usual Saturday night's customers. Borak was, afte rall, but a piccanniny township ; it had no mayor, no common council men, not a road board even ; no nothing save a police station and a "pound ;" again, it had no politics, unless we except such politics as the edltor of the Muddy Gully Times chose to inflict on the rural reader once a week, and then on Saturdays only. Now, where there are village folks not too fully employed, and no politics, there must be, as a matter of necessity, some sort of safety valve whereby to let off the superfluous steam, in the shape of gossip, and as what is nobody's business is really everybody's business. it soon came to this In Borak, that every soul in the long street, from the general store to the bar of the Borak Hotel, and so right on to the ultima thule of the blacksmith's at the upper end, know more about Max's and Nancy's affairs than did Max and Nancy themselves, or even John Arnold, who was held to be as guilty, or at all events as foolish, as either. CHAPTER IV.— PER ASPERA AD ARDUA. Max's visits to John Arnold's were as brief as they were fitful, for it is not by any means an easy thing for a man in his position to get a lengthened leave. The escort must keep the road so long as the commissioners well guarded tent on the "Flat " and tho Melbourne Treasury stand where they do, at the opposite poles of the journey, and so long as the bags of nuggets came rolling in, and the diggers continue anxious for tho safo custody of their treasure. An accident, sufficiently annnoying and irritating in its way to a young man who loves the open air, constant motion and change of scene, happened to Max, who had his left arm broken in two places by a kick from a fractious horse. This was at the Richmond Barracks, out away among the gum trees in the big Police Paddock, beyond Mr. Latrobe's. It is Max's bridle arm too ! He has therefore practically to go into hospital, or perhaps, to put it better, stop in barracks, and attend the surgery in the mornings to have his splints and bandages looked to. When this unlucky arm of his was fairly set, but as yet too tender to control the curb and snaffle of a pawing charger, Max applied for, and obtained, a few days' leave of absence, to go to the country on private affairs. One scarcely requires to be a diviner to predict that it was to Borak that our young sergeant betook himself. King Cobb did not profit by his misfortune either ; but being a man in the force, he got a passage up in the old escort cart, it being of course understood that he should return by coach as soon as his furlough expired. Max had taken the precaution to write to John Thomson, who he had known and come to like during his various halts at the Borak station, and it being arranged that honest John Thomson should give him a "shake-down" for a few nights, Max lost no time in reporting himself at the residence of the " Oracle," in the main street of the village. The journey, rapid as usual, had been exhilarating as champagne while the cavalcade clattered along on its way ; but the bumping over the inequalities of the road reminded Max that he was after all merely mortal, and recalled him from dreams of a paradise ahead by the occasional twinges of pain in his recently set arm. The escort had dropped him at the police station, and after a brief stay forged ahead, leaving him with all good wishes, not unmingled with a certain amount of merry " chaff," to his own devices. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * It is deep in the afternoon on Borak. .... Two brave little souls in sun bonnets and bare feet are toddling up the dusty road towards the forge. These are the blacksmith's twins. . . . Max gives them a cheery salute in passing, while they, for their part, turn to stare at the sling that supported his disabled bridle arm. Next, shambling along on his broadsoled bare platter feet, wearing a cast off and crushed tall hat, and evidently " the worse for liquor," comes "Cabbawn-Billy," the sol-dit 'king" of a somewhat mythical tribe, followed, at a (respectful) distance, by a wretched looking lubra with a yam stick and two half starved dogs behind her. They are heading (all of them) for the public house, where soon the brazen gorget inscribed " King Billy " is to act as an "Open, Sesame !" and a guarantee, for no one can tell how many cleemosynary drinks His Majesty "halts and fronts" to demand ' white money," but Max at once moves off the sturdy beggar, who replies with a very white oath of a sanguinary character, and resumes the erratic tenor of his way. Max passes and salutes various bowing acquaintances, but stops to converse with none. He is in " private olothes ;" most umistakably a military man in mufti, but that military man " a gentleman all over." * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * There are the well known window panes winking in the afternoon sun ; the odour of mignonette and wallflower permeates the air, while the drowsy and contented hymning of the bees tells of the honey treasures at the end of the long walk opposite Nancy's window ; and the prolonged and sibilant k'ssh of a jaok plane issuing from a shed somewhere at the back told him that John Arnold was occupying himself self with some domestic carpentry. Max, not obtaining any response to his knock at the open door which let the evening sunshine into the house, strolled round to the back by the side walk, brushing as he passed along against som tall sunflowers whose broad golden discs he
left swinging and swaying in mid air behind him. John paused In the middle of & long sonorous k'ssh, lifted his piano, and came down again upon the edge of the board with the heel of the instrument and completes the stroke, when laying it down on its side on the bench he stepped out with an exclamation of pleasure towards Max, and extending his right hand welcomes him with a hearty grip. And how do you find yourself by this time Mr. Gaythorn. Thomson told us all about that accident of yours and how you were ooming up to him for a few days to recruit. " It's an ill wind, as you know," rejoined Max, "that blows nobody any good. If it had not been for that awkward smash of mine I don't think I could have managed my furlough this year. But how are you all in Borak ? One need not ask : how you are, as you look so much the picture of' health ; but how is Miss Arnold ? I was not fortunate enough to see her as I came in, but I found her old friend "Darkie" lying in the doorway in the afternoon sun, sound asleep upon his post. " Which way did you come up ? .... What, straight from the police station ? Then you must have missed Nancy only by a few minutes. She went out a little before you arrived, but as she has only to call at the store, it cannot be long before she is back now. Sit down on the box there, and (k'ssh) take a rest. Those coaches (k'ssh) always knock me up (k'ssh) more than walking." Here John Arnold, who was secretly admiring the manly figure of Max, upended his plane, took a hammer, struok it on the butt to loosen the wedge, after which, adjusting the tongue, he brought one end up to his eye, glanced along, it critically, and, after one further tap of the hammer, resumed his talk, which was freely Interpolated with k'shh's and long graceful curls of shavings as he proceeded. . It would have been rude to have left his kind entertainer so suddenly, and it might have made Nancy common talk had he carried a floating, idea into execution. But his thought was to stroll down towards the store, surprise Nancy coming out, and bring her home, having a long talk by the way. But the wish had scarceiy been formed when Darkle wakened up, stretched himself, yawned, showed his arching red tongue after the fashion of his tribe, and trotted out to the gate to greet a coming footstep. The old clock in the passage beat a calm, equable tic-tac as the pendulum swung backwards and forwards, never accelerating the motion in the slightest degree, and in marked contrast with the pulse of the brave Max, which now was almost audible to himself. " Ah," cried John, " that's Nancy's foot, anyhow !" And flinging his plane aside, and jerking the string of his working apron carelessly towards him with his thumb, had it off in an Instant and thrown over the end of the benoh. To Be Continued.