|Chapter Title||A STEPMOTHER.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Freebench. A Tale of South African Life|
A TALE OF SOUTH AFRICAN LIFE.
CHAPTER XT. A STKP1COTHHB.
Bt COPU. FAHM, S.OX. (Author of " Twelve True Talts oftht £aw.")
Mr. Warden was very grateful, to his clever and sagacious cousin, and believed that, through her intervention, he had escaped a great danger, He felt tiiat his daughter had coma vo an age, and was possessed, of a beauty which required the cane of which she had been deprived by the early loss of her mother. What better guidance and companionship conld she enjoy than that of the prudent and kind lady who had intervened between her and her recently-escaped temptation? This is what he feit and what he feelingly expressed to Margaret Owen,"' and his views met with her entire concurrence. A decent provision was- settled tipon her by her father, and the wedding took place three
months after the departure of Mr. Smiley. Phyllis was one of the bridesmaids, or, as she described herself, the chief mourner at the funeral of her prospects of home-happiness. The motives of her cousin's conduct were now manifest to Phyllis, aud she regarded her father as a cajoled fool and her stepmother as a selfish enemy. Poor girlit was a rude experience. She had always looked up to her father with confidence and affection. The confidence was now gone, because she eaw him the victim of a schemer, and the iffeation was diminished because the father's love for her was subordinated to his attachment for the new mi stress of the house. The only person who, in her opinion, Ciirae out clean in tbe transaction was the blinking Smiley, who, whatever his defects, bid occupied, as far as die knew, an honourable and friendly position towards her. She did not. love hi<ri. She had neither the time nor the inclination to learn to do so. Eat a lover, though unloved, is not a person easily forgotten' by a • young girl wholly new to the world; and amid the aecie of desolation which gradually crept' oyer heir under the new regime, the pleasant speeches, the plausible professions, and the interesting narratives of Mr. Smiley were not forgotten. A feeling of love for him had not been engendered ; bat his conversation was remembered, if oDly because it was not associated with anything unpleasant. CHAPTER V. HABHT HOLBOYD. Now that Phyllis had served Mrs. Warden's turn, it is but justice to that lady to say that she was fairly kind to her stepdaughter. But, without complaining of uckiodiiess, Phyllis could not find much in common with the .woman who had played with her as with a pawn on a chessboard. The girl still enjoyed tier father's affection ; but could not be happy in sharing it with the woman whom she so mistrusted. Margaret was enough of a woman of the world to make everything as agreeable as passible for Phyllis, both as a means of standing well with the girFs father, and because there was no immediate need, and possibly there would be no early opportunity, of getting rid of her. But Phyllis felt herself a second where she used to be alone, and whatever kindnest she received from her fatheifs wife, it was not the kiudaeat of a mother. A hundred little incidents in the course of the day would bring home the painful truth to her, though she often tried to forget it, and she was often set; thinking of whether she would have been happier .or more miserable if she hei beem allowed to marry Smiley after alL She looked back upon he; first ball, the attention and admiration she received there; and the pleasant conversation and homage of Smiley, during his brief visit, as pleasant things not likely to be repeated, and which, incomplete as they were, stood in very favourable contrast to her present condition of dulness and nonentity. So things continue! till, when the summer came round, they went to Aberystwith. Here she sprang to life again. Half her sorrows vanished with the change of place. The parade and the beach were a lively contrast to the sylvan dulness _ of Earlstowe. What with bathing and boating and fishing and picnics aud dances, that curly hsad nearly shook off the incubus of a stepmother. The Wardens were not likely to be strangers at a large Welsh watering-place. Several families from their own neighbourhood were there. Among otters were the Holroyds, the head bt which was senior partner in the firm of Bblroyd and Phillips, lawyers of Salopsbury, who, among other offices, held that of stewards of the manor of Thurgoland, and of all neighbouring manors belonging to the same lord. Everybody knows the position occupied in a coantey district by a local lawyer of goo^ repute, who has the confidence of the great people of the place, enjoyB a reputation for honesty and liberality, and who fits his children for a position possiblyfsupecior to his own. Such a man was Mr. Holroyd; and the Holroyds and the Wardens, during the season at Aberystwith were alwayB meeting in public places, aud ware often companions in parties of pleasure. There wen -the father and mother and two danghteral Two sons were at the University and one in the navy, and thexmly son who was a member of the seaside party was Henry, who was the youngest but one, and was regarded as the " ne-'er-doweeT of the family. He owed this reputation chiefly to an inability or a disinclination to ran in the fnmOy groove. The Holroyds were respectable, and their respectability aisumed a stereotyped form. Old Holroyd had very distinct ideas of what a young man in the position of a son of his should do, and those ideas were confined within very narrow limits. He must be educated in a recognised manner, wid must take to a recognised tailing Now Harry Holroyd wo&ld dp none of these things. He was thought too lazy and careless for the University, never showed a taste for the army or navy, and was therefore condemned to the drudgery of his father's office, while his brothers were aspiring to something higher. He had a great taste for fishing, which exactly suited his indolent disposition. He spent a good deal of his leisure in an amateur carpenter's shop of his own, and dabbled in -paints and varnishes. He would lounge in a saddler's shop only to see the men work, and had been known to turn out a pair of rudimentary shoes, and to mend the pots and pans for the cook. He called these attainments "applied sciences," and without professing much proficiency in them, he thought himself much cleverer than his brothers, and his sisters thought so too. His father was thoroughly disgusted with him. Harry was also a great favourite with all sorts of " feOowB of the baser sort," and he learned a great deal that was useful from them without becoming any baser himself. If I add to this that he was a good horseman, and was a goodlooking fellow with darkish hair and a clear skin, and stood five foot ten, I shall have said enough by way of introducing Harry Holroyd. The seaside was exactly the place that suited Harry. There was enough to gratify his lazy habits of loafing, and enough to satisfy his mind. He took \ery kindly to everything connected with the waser, and added a little experience in boating and sea-fishing to the rest of his " applied sciences." The two Holroyd girls used often to go out with their brother for excursions by laud and water, and, after the Wardens had come, Phyllis was often of the company. The girls were fond of their brother, and their good opinion of him naturally communicated itself to Phyllis, and she and Harry soon became good friends. He had a pleasing and amiable disposition, and knew so much of common things and was so handy and clever, that he was just the Bort of companion that was wanted for a boating party or a picnic. But the more fish Harry caught and the more expert be became in boating and all its cognate accomplishments, and the better he could light the fire and grill the bones and boil the tea at a picnic, and the more he got thanked and com-
plimented by other j-.eonle, the more disiusted oM Holroyd seemed to be with hica. Nor was the matter 6tali ir.pnd-d when his mo-her edged iu a word in his favour. The boy would never be good for anything, his father said. CHAPTER VI. OCT A FIEHTNG. Cne day Harry took the girls oat in the pleasure-boat which he had hired for the season. It was a thorough lady's day. The sea was smooth, and there was a light " soldier's wind," so that they could run in and out with the wind abeam. They put out a mackrel line without any very serious hopes of a bite, and made one or two tacks in and o"t of the bay. At length, as they were on an outward tack, there WAS a pull at tiie line, and Harry at once baited another and pulled in the first. They were in the middle of a "school,'' and Harry made up his mind to let the girls see a little sport. So he held on his coarse, and he hauled in and threw oat line after line with three hooks on each. The fish came in cp--ce and were flapping about by dozens at the bottom of the boat. Harry palled the fish off and the girls baited the hooks, aud were much pleased and excited at the sport. "What are you slacking sway that sheet for V said Harry to the boatman. " Wind's comin' more off shore, Sir," said the man. "By Jove, so it is; but ifs four o'clock, and we axe six miles from shore, and we've got to go to Lady Handicap's party." And so they put the boat about and hugged the wind fes close as they could. The wind waa not quite-off shore yet, bnt wu shifting quickly; and then the wind came in puffs, and freshened, and the tide was running out, but the sea was still smooth and they had to beat all the way in. "We can't make our regular landing-place without beating again," said Harry; " we must make for tile cove." "Thetide will be near out,Sjr, and we shall ran aground in the mud, and can't land the ladies, nor' yet ourselves for that matter." "Never mind,'* said Harry, "I'll invent something." " Therefs p&pasaid Hiss Holroyd, "among the crowd on the esplanade watching us with a pair of glasses." - " Ob, Harry, dear, how -angry hell be," said her sister. ? Toil know he has quite set his mind on our going to Lady Handicap's, and the sun's going down already; and there's Phyllis, too. I'm quit® sorry for you, Harry." "Never mind," said Phyllis; "Harry will manage all right." The boatman smiled a smile of compassionate incredulity. - The Cambrian was the only boat out, and hundreds of people, fishermen and visitors, stood watching her, as, with a reef in her mainsail and her gunwale on the water^s edge, she beat up to the oove. At last, without taking in any sail, she ran into the cove and stuck in its muddy bottom just underneath the seawall. Old iifr. Holroyd had made his way thither with the others, and was leaning over the chains which stretched from post to post along' the top. "It's very cruel of you, Harry," exclaimed the old gentleman ; " very cruel aud unkind and
very stupid and clumsy, too. I don't mind for you, Sir: you deserve it, and a great deal more, but for the poor girls to stop out there iu this weather till the^tide comti in, and to miss their; eveuing's amusement' as well, is too bad—too' bad, Sir !f " Perhaps, my dear,' 7 said Mrs. Holroyd, joining him, "perhaps Harry may find a way"—— ' "Ficd'A way, indeed, find a way to land the girls in the mud, eh I . VVny they'd stick there; be up to their knees iu'a second. However, you'll soon see what a genius he is if you stop here till the girls come ashore, about half-past' two in the mornir^, though, of bourse, you' don't care so much about whit they Buffer." " Poor boy!", said Mrs. Holroyd ; " what a pity tlie man .did not warn him. It was very wrong of him." " Ob, of oour-'e, if the boy nwkes a fool of himself, it's all the fault pf the man. Poor boy! indeed." ' " " Do you mind catching a line, Sir ?" slid Harry cheerily from-the bow of the boat. "Yes, I do very much object to ditch a line." said Mr. Holroyd, " or to have any hand, however indirectly, in this pieceof folly." Before'the old gentleman had completed this period, Harry had flung the line' to a fisherman, who caught it. " Haul away!" said Harry; and the man hauled up the boat's hawser and made it fast to a post as Horry requested. , Harry first hauled at the hawser, then fastened a block to it, and another to the fooi of the mast, acd made a tackle by reeling a small; rope through, and, by meaus of this, he made the hawser taut. By this time he had pulledj the boat a good bit further towards the wall, and the people thought he was trying to poll her through the mud, and laughed at him with complacent derision. To their astonishment, , however, Harry took an oar, and balancing it near the middle with both hands, began to walk up the hawser on to the shore. A little, titter arose .as^his intention began to be understood, and one or two disrespectful remarks were heard from the crowd; but when, with firm steps, he marched up the slanting rope towards the wall, all was silent and not a breath could be heard till he set foot on the ramparti Then a big cheer burst out. The fishermen ran to him, and gathered about him and shook him by the hand, aud would not let him go. The women all came to have a look at him, and, in short, his father and mother could not get near him. "I came to ask you for a fish-basket and a big blosk with a book to it," said Hairy to the men. " Of «ourse," said one. " X see what you want." And he ran and fetched them. Every one was now ready to help him instead of laughing at him. The hawser was rove through the block with the hook to it, and hauled taut, and fastered again to the post. The basket Was tied securely to the hook, and an endless line WKB tied to the basket. The Ut ile foresail was put in the bottom of the basket, and the three ladies and the man were, in succession, brought comfortably to land, passing their hands along the hawser as they came. The Storm was now coming on, and though the oocrpahts of the boat would have been safe from danger, yet nine hours spent without shelter on a windy arid' wet night would have been a very appreciable hardship, and to m 'es Lady Handicap's ball would not have mended the matter. " Well done! dear boy," said his mother to Harry; going up to him aud kissing him. " I was quite sure you would find some way of bringing the girls home." The old gentlempu welcomed and congratulated the ladies, after which he turned angrily to his eon, and said— " Since wheu, Sir, I should like to know, have you learnt to earn the applause of a mob by performing "the antin of «ii&ountebank ?" " I took two or three lessons, Sir," said Harry, "of the great Senor Pisxuerdas when he performed at Salopsbury. Tou always told me to neglect no opportunity: of learning anything useful." The old gentleman snorted. They all went to Lady Handicap's] ball, and Hairy was the hero of the eveniDg. CHAPTER VII. LADY HAJCDICAr's BAXt. I am not expected to describe Lady Handicap's ball. The rooms were crowded. Some of the guests were people of a recognised position, and others were not; but they all got on, with orjwithont one another, very well. There were gentlefolks from Wales and its border, a baronet who had a small yacht and a large family, there were pretentions people from Manchester, magnates from the black country, and a herd of watering-place frequenters of more or iess respectability. And all the daughters, whether faded belles or bread-and-butter misses, or in the intermediate stages, waltzed impartially with illustrious foreign counts, yocmg gentlemen from the Universities who were out on reading-par tiee, officers on leave, fledgelings expecting a commission, gentlemen in the civil service, and people who were gentlemen at a watering-place and nowhere else. The story of the adventure of the Holroyd girls and Phyllis Warden, and of the clever device by which Harry had extricated them from peril, had been spread abroad, with several variations and exaggerations, and furnished an agreeable subject of conversation to many people who had no other.. Th&two sisters gave every credit to their brother, and so did Phyllis Warden; but the more old Holroyd heard or It, the more disgusted he was at having a son whom everybody praised for something which his father disapproved of. With Lady Handicap's ball, however, we are no further concerned than in so far as it enables us to follow the fortunes of the two persons who chiefly interest us. It was in a little lobby atop of the staircase, between the lesser drawing-room and the conservatory, that Harry and Phyllis had been sometime engaged in a conversation-which, as we are informed, continued on thus wise:— Harry—Bnt then there's a difficulty. It may be very vulgar to talk about it. and all that; but how are we to live? You know I'm the fool of the family ? Phyllis—Yes; I am aware that your father pretends to think so. Harry—Pretends! I wish I did not think he was in earnest. Phyllis— He is in earnest. It is the earnestness of jealousy. If he can't make himself believe it, he'll be nnhappy. I have learnt it of women, and now I shall believe it of men too. Hiarry was silent. Painful as his father's treatment had been to him, it had not occurred to him to attribute it to this cause. He could not grasp it at once; but laying the subject on the shelf, as it were, for further consideration, he reverted, with the practical instinct of the family, to the matter ixr-odiately before him. " Any how," said .he, ' I am not out of my
articles yet, and he won't do anything for me when I am. How are we to live ?" " Attribute- his conduct to the motive Trhich I impute," said Phyllis," and it seems to me the way is easy. He is jealous of you, and wili give something to get rid of you. My stepmother is anxious to get rid of me, and she will persuade my father to—to" and here poor Phyllis gave a great gulp " to give me something to go away." Put in this practical form, borne home to his mind by the earnestness with which it was put forward as the basis of a course of action, the theory of his father's conduct towards him was_ exceedingly painful to Harry. But the indignation with which he regarded the woman who could wish to remove from her home a creature so innocent as the one before him, was a sentiment wh. : ch, during some moments of thought, entered into competition with the former. ~ " How very disgusting I" he exclaimed, more to himself than for his companion to hear. " Even if it were less so," said Phyllis, a I should have thought, after what you have said, that you were prepared to take advantage of any circumstances favourable to—to what you have been proposing." '* Yes, my dear Phyllis, I should be very gUd; but then what perplexes me' is, with the trifle they will give you, and the trifle they'll give ra?, where is the means for us to live more than six months?® " Conld we not go," said Phyllis, " to places where you could do what you can't do here " Oh, Z understand! What a fool I must have been! But, my sweet girl, would you be willing" " I would iznst-myself anywhere with.yoa," said Phyffis; "a young gentleman who can mend pete and pans and walk on the tight-rope and -paint a -signboard need not starve in a colony tiBlerc he chooses." "Signboard!" said Harry laughing; "how did you know I could paint a signboard £"' " Oh, rve heard all about it," said Phyllis; " bow you painted the tailor's name over his shop-window in payment of the costume in which yoa appeared at the fancy ball as " Jackof-all-trtd«ss. w " Ah, my sifters have been telling you. Well, then, itis settled, my dearest girl, is it ? 8o give me a kiss." " No; the waltz is over and people are coming out." " Bnt, after all, where is the place to be?" "We have settled enough for to-night," said Phyllis rising to go; "we can settle that another time." And so they returned to-Lady Handicap's big drawing-room, Phyllis looking grave and contented, and Harry looking as though he had done something rather wrong, but was pleased at'it;