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Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article198068923
Full Date1899-12-16
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Newspaper TitleLeader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 - 1918)
Trove TitleThe Corporal's Comrade Romance of a Continent
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The Corporal's ComradeI

ROMANCE OF A CONTINGENT 8

(BY EDWARD A. VIDLER.) «

t COPYRIGHT. 18 CHAPTER I. 9

It was always- said in Narrawidgy tklS Marty Robinson was more a man than H woman— or rather, more a boy than a " flH Nature had. given her the "feminine 28 divine" with a certain masculine tendemjBB to straightnesB' of contour; but below tksM surface Marty was wholly male. In l js

family, as in many others, the sexes had been curiously mixed up; for whilst Ifoh and Sam were as quiet and shy as women Marty and her little sister Sarah were bright, adventurous spirits, true children of the bush. Marty was now 18, and had becn t. her own thinking, a grown woman 'for four or five years; and certainlv, with the cares and tlie duties of a motherless famil? on her young shouldere since she was 13 she had graduated with honors in the school of drudgery. . Now, at eighteen, she wore the badge of toil on her knotty hands and freckled arms and in the hard lines of the pathetic mouth. / To Marty, all humanity, like the horses and cattle of her father's selection, were so many animals from whom a definite amount of labor was expected in return for tlieir feed and their lodging, only that hu manity demanded more constant and ar duous attention and gave less in payment. Of all the duties devolving upon her in her home that of tlie weekly washing was perhaps tlie most exacting, for Marty had inherited her mother's love of order and 8 cleanliness. The first act in tlie washing operations— tlie " preliminary skirmish was "soaking tho clothes," and this was done regularly on tho Sunday afternoons, Monday being tlie regulation washing day! It never struck Marty that Sunday was a day of rest by law of God and man estab lished. When she had time, ami there was no cooking to do for dinner, Marty would drive with some members of the family ten miles along; the busli road to church; hut for the rest of tho day slie usually found a suc cession of imperative employments, and the "soaking" operations were never to he evaded. So the wash tubs had become the custom ary meeting place of such neighboring youths as desired a gossip with the Robin sons, and there tlie news of the week was discussed, the men meanwhile laying them selves willingly under Marty's orders in re gard to filling the tubs with water, the one task she was willing to relegate to stronger muscles. One of the most frequent visitors on Sun day afternoons was Alfred Sutton, a shingle splitter on a neighboring station, who was a corporal in the Rangers, a man of iron muscles and a sterling good fellow. Marty never disguised tlie fact that she was always glad to see liim, and treated him with a frankness and comradeship which was sometimes rather disconcerting to Alf., who meant something more than friendliness. But Marty was by ho- means sentimental, and never for a moment did she give Alf. cause to regard himself as a possible can didate for her affections. He was just a friend to licr, as he was to all the family, and, although a specially welcome friend, the idea that he might he a lover never oc curred to her. Alf.'s admiration of Marty had begun at one of these "soaking" functions, and was prompted by an incident highly character istic of her qualities. One Sunday after noon she was turning the dirty clothes out of the old packing case in which they were us. -lly stowed, when a big black snake wriggled out of the clothes, and raised iis head at Marty menacingly. Bob Robinson, who was smoking a pipe on a log close by, jumped up with a yell nnd ran into the kitchen, "to fetch a stick,"" as lie mumbled, Alf., who was leaning against a fence some distance away, run promptly to Marty's as sistance, picking up a crow bar that lay close by, but before lie reached her, Marty had raised the copper stick, and with a weA directed blow broken the venomous rep tile's back. As the snake turned and hit itself in its agony, Marty despatched it with a well aimed blow on the head, jnst as Bob looked cautiously out of the kitchen door with a poker in his trembling hand. Marty lifted the dead snake with the cop per stick, and sent it flying at Bob's head with a laugli, then turned back to licr work calmly, as though nothing unusual had hap pened. "You're, a cool 'un," said Alf. "I have to be with such a great lolloping girl as Bob about," Marty replied, with net j arms plunged deep in the washtub. Hut, bless you, a snake ain't nothing. lMf- don't scare you, I should say." , "Well, no; it's many a one I've killed, em I don't know as any of us chaps really liKta the job." "As for that," said Marty, "I rather h c killing 'em, that's the fact. There s som satisfaction in breaking the back of benBts, Even one less is something. It was some, weeks later that Alf. c . with something exciting to talk a , i "I say, have you heard the noos? inere» talk of some of our men going out to Africa to light the Boers. They were talk ing aiiout it last night at the drill sued, thinking of volunteering." "What for?" asked Marty. . " . "Well, I don't know. It seems some

M theEnglish soldiers to the SB gnQ some service, if there s. a H certain. I thought of going. Ml said I will to. the commanding gr jo fa« , 9 r"''„.a think so," declared Marty, de- B 1,1 f .Td like to go myself. I suppose B talk of womenfolk helping out H| Sites'10 w S "ff' I should say not. You see" they H Lhtets These Boers are terrible H «hots, nnd only our beSt marksmen. 1 -:f Tcfn loot-better that Sam or H j!oh ain't no good with, a gun, no B 6 than killing snakes." H they won't take women, except as S 8»rn» as a nurse. Bob'll have to do H , Lriiie and the washing, and the house H S-ll to go dirty till I get back. They 8 ntminJ that, I reckon. Yon should see H L hut at shearing time." ®aT. y-|i want trained nurses out there, so uppers say. Lots of hospital nurses I Soh' they? Well, I have to think H «f Kimethink else I can do," said Marty, S t willing to bow to circumstances too H dilr Then she was silent for a while, as H 0ver the wash tub, thinking out the 'filer a few minutes' silence, she said,' I "There's nothing to prevent a girl going out ' passenger?" Then, without waiting for I |n answer, she added, "I 'spect you'll get '"Dare say," assented Alf., with a strangled laugh. , "But what makes you ""I reckon you'll be in the front," said Marty, with a simple directness in frank admiration of his soldierly qualities. "Boh wouldn't; he'd just run." "Bob won't be going. He isn't in the Bangers. He isn't cut out for a soldier, and Sam said last night at drill he wasn't going. How, if you'd been a man " "But I ain't, worse luck. I ought to have teen, hut 'ought' ain't any good," said ' Jfarty, with a sigh. Private Martha Kobinson 'd look queer printed, wouldn't it!" And both laughed, especially Marty.

CHAPTER II. The departure of the contingent for South Africa, for wliioli Corporal Sutton had been chosen, was drawing near, and the invasion of the metropolis of the colony by country visitors, most of them relatives and friends of the gallant fellows who had offered their eerrices to the Empire, was continuing daily, until it seemed as if half the popula tion of the colony would be attracted to the city. Alf. had gone over to the Robinsons on the Sunday prior to his leaving for barracks and tamp, where he was to prepare for the coming campaign, but the rendezvous at the wash tubs was desrtcd. Sam had yield ed to Marty's persuasions, and had volun teered for South Africa, and, to his disgust, had been selected as one of the contingent. The old man, Marty's father, was sitting at the kitchen door smoking, and from him Alf. learnt that Marty had left home some days previously, declaring her intention to seek a situation in the city. "Said she was dead tired of slaving for a pack of lazy loafers," grumbled old Robin son; "the ungrateful hussy, after all I've done for her." _ I Alf. ventured no remark, koeping his . opinion of Marty's filial duty to himself, lie learnt that she was staying with some friends of the family in the city, and soon after be went back to his hut to make filial preparations for clearing out on the morrow to join his fellow volunteers in camp. He wan keenly disappointed at not seeing Mar ly, for lie had determined to take advantage of that Inst opportunity to tell the girl of his hope that she would" marry him if he came back from the Transvaal. Her sudden flight from home brought back to his mind her desire to go to South Africa herself, ami seemed now to dimly suggest a cause for her present action, though he hardly knew in what way. "Well, she's a plucky one, anyhow," he paid to himself. "She's just game for any thing." That she had gone to the city with the intention of seeing the embarkation of the troops, including her brother Sam and — well, yes— perhaps to Bee the last of himself too, seemed the most likely Bolntion of the problem of her disappearance, and lie was Perforce content with that until ho had an

opportunity of seeing her there. Some days later Sutton was walking along one of the leading thoroughfares of the city with two of his 'comrades. They were pas sing a young soldier nnd a girl, who had been walking in front of them, when the for mer spoke, and Alf. was startled at the fa miliar tones of his voice. Looking at the youth's face as he overtook the pair a ' glance showed him that it was Sam Robin- ten, and lie was struck more than ever be fore with his likeness to his sister Marty, which lias often been remarked upon in Nar- rawidgec. Somehow the likeness seemed pecially noticeable as he looked at him then. He had never been particularly friendly with Sam, although he 'was in his corps in nc Rangers, but Sutton conld not very well Pass him in the city with a mere nod of re- cognition, and especially as Sam had a girl with him. Then the voice he had heard md reminded him of Marty, and lie re membered that Sam was her brother and Jus possible brother-in-law some day. So <!u'''>ed speak to him. Hullo, Sam," ho said. "Having a look jraund? You've never been here before, nave you?" Hi Alf, I haven't — never," and the voice as again strongly reminiscent of Marty's, p, er® wa8 something about the face too. ne truth flashed upon Sutton is a lumi-

nous moment, nnd ho seemed to see every- thing as under a sudden shaft of penetrat ing light. 1 11 catch you up at the corner," he said to his companions, who had both greeted Sam by name, and the two men went on contentedly enough, for on the corner stood a hospitable hotel, which tl.ey hod visited before, and where the men were sure of a special welcome, for the proprietor had a son of his own going to South Africa. 1 «! 1 lnen wcre out o£ earshot Alf ??' I T, , . v you' Marty- You didn't think I d mistake you for Sam, did you?" ,„pJl! dld at ft," she said, with a smile. I his is Alf., Maud," she continued, turn ing to her companion. " I told you about him. We shall have to tell him everything. I told you we should have to get him to help. Help? exclaimed Alf. "What do you mean, Marty? You can't mean " "Yes, I do. I'm going with you. Sam lias funked it; I knew he would. He'd have gone, though, only I gave him a chance of finding a substitute. Don't I look like him? Why, I even took in Maude at first." "You're larking, Marty. Of course, you don t mean it. The thing's impossible," said Alf., with a tone of authority in his voice. " Not it," returned Marty. " Now, come down to the river and sit down. I'll tell you my plan." On the way Alf. was torn by a conflict of emotions. Walking beside Marty, he he- came conscious of a great temptation. Her masterful nature dominated him, as it had always done; the spirit of adventure at tracted him; and, strongest temptation of all, he saw a chance of satisfying his amor ous hopes which completely overbalanced for the moment his duty to his superior officers, and his sense of the dangers of the situation. By the time they were seated in the seclusion of the riverside, his mind was in a fever of indecision. "It isn't the first time a girl has gone for a soldier or a sailor," said Marty, in her decided way of settling a matter on which she had made up her mind. "Maud told me a girl had been a sailor for years without anybody suspecting it. I'm not going to hear a word against it, so there! You can blow the gaff on me, I know, but "you won't. I know I can trust you. You ain't one of that sort." This appeal to his honor was only another nail in the coflin in which Alf. was burying his hotter judgment. He felt flattered at Marty's good opinion of him. . It was the most joyful thing possible to him; it seemed almost a confession of her love, that she should single him out in this way for her confidence. "It's a big risk, Marty," he said. "Call me Sam— that's my name, ain't it, Maud?" The girl giggled an assent. It was her delight that she should be a party to such a romance, and she was only' too ready to encourage Marty, especially as her taking Sam's place meant that the latter would stay in the city and continue his conquest of her best affections. "I only knoiv one way it can be done. The camp is broken up, und so you wouldn't have to join our men until we sail. That's only two days. There's only ouo way, if you must go. You — well, you — we must get married," he blurted out at last. "Married?" cried Marty, in so feminine a voice that Alf. looked round fearfully lest she should be overheard. "Hush! You must have someone to look after you, someone- with the right" Maud was delighted at the turn the affair luid taken. It was just like a "Family Herald" supplement, she thought. "That's it!" she exclaimed. "That's the only way. You'll have to. It can easily be dope at the registry office." Marty was too much astonished to speak, op even to collect her thoughts. &ucli an idea seemed to be the last that could possib ly hnvc occurred to her. It scurcoly seemed to her to he a solution of the difficulty. She thought she waa quite able to take care of herself, hut she did not like to say so. This "scapadc was lier own idea; she had given Alf. the opportunity by asking his help, and she could scarcely blame him. In fact, she had carefully laid a trap for herself to be caught in. "There's no other way. Either I must re port you to the captain or we must get married," said Alf, firmly, encouraged by lmr silent dismay.

"What ? Married for always ? said Marty, for the sake of something to say, scarcely knowing what she did say. "For always? Of course, assented Alt. "When we get back I can give you a home. Until then you will have to be Sain, though. We aren't allowed wives on hoard. \\ lien we set up house together it would be a lot better for you than slaving for a pack of lazy loafers, eh?" "Did father tell you ?" ashed Marty, laughing in spite of herself. 'Yes, he told me. You won t have to slave for inc. Say yes, Marty,'; he added, reverting to his proposal of marriage, which threatened to lie lost sight of, with as much appeal in his voice as the presence of a third person permitted. _ "Did you only think of this just now. asked Marty, retreuting behind anothei temporary entrenchment. "Not of nsking you to marry me. meant to ask you if you'd have me, so we could be married when I got hue k, and ! went on purpose to your place on Sunda> . "Ob, did you?" said Marty, feeling quite satisfied now that ho really meant it and had not waited until he was forced to ask her. "Well, if that's so, I don t mind so '""You don't mind so much?" echoed Alf, d"Wdt'>i dol,,t wind ot f!1' , tllen''' alie said; and she might have added something

more tender than that bare assent but for the presence of the romantic Maud. But Alf was content. CHAPTER IH. Kimberley was being relieved by the Bri tish force under Lord Methuen, and the Boers driven back, though not without a prolonged and desperate conflict. At several points on the route to Kim herley the advance of the British force, which now included a portion of the Aus tralian troops, was contested by the Boers, who wore making final attempts in that dis trict to withstand the -steady onward pro gress of an army which seemed to be quite invincible. So far the Australians had not had an opportunity of showing "the mettle of their pasture," and to prove that even on the other side of the world the old race couid breed sons worthy of its best traditions. But their opportunity was not long de layed, for before Kimberley was reached a terrific struggle took place between the Boer and British forces. Before retreating into the Free State for the purpose of pro tecting their capital city, Blocmfontcin, the Boers made a last attempt to prevent the relief of Kimberley, and never before had their pluck and other good fighting qualities been better displayed. It was in that engagement that the Aus tralians witli Lord Mcthucn's force had their first taste of active service on the battle field, and when the conflict was con cluded it was generally conceded that they possessed the same courage and spirit, and much of the fighting skill, credited to the whole British force. The victory was not won without heavy casualties on both sides, and when the am bulance corps came 011 the scene of the last struggle to give succor to the wounded, they brought with them a large party of soldiers to assist them, and also for the melancholy duty of burying the dead. This sad task had been progressing for some time, and the night was closing upon them with one of those brilliant many color ed sunsets which are the glory of South Africa, when one party came upon a sight which compelled their attention, used as they were to sueli scenes of carnage as had somewhat blunted their natural sym pathies. "Look 'ere, Sergeant," one of them was saying, "Here's a queer eight. Cau't say I've ever seen anything like it afore. Looks like a kid and his big brother, blowed if it don't. They looks regular devoted." The sergeant saw the bodies of two sol diers, whom it was not difficult to distinguish as of the Australian contingent. The non- com. officers at once sent for Trooper Brun- ton, of the same corps, who was with the ambulance, to identify his dead comrades. But before he could be brought to the spot, the man who hud first drawn atten tion to them, made an inspection for the purpose of disclosing the cause of death. The taller man he found had been killed instantly by a bullet through the temple, but in the ease of the other there was evi dence of something more worthy of notice. Both the men were lying in the shelter of a mimosa bush, hut it was apparent that they had not sought its shade for their per sonal safety. There was 110 difficulty in discovering, by means of their tracks to the spot, that the smaller and younger man had dragged the body of his comrade for a con siderable distance, in spite of the fact that his own wouud was bleeding copiously. Af ter reaching the bush, he had laid down with one hand clasping that of his male, and witli his head upon the breast from which the life had already departed, had been content to wait until his own call came to join his comrade ill the land of shadows. The Sergeant stooped to his knees beside the pair, and, gently turning back the head of the younger man, opened the tunic, which was heavily elotted with blood. As he did so ho noticed a thin gold chain round the licck, and, drawing it out, fouud a new wedding ring attached. "The lad must have meant to get married when lie got home again, for lie was carry ing the ring about with him. 'That's a queer fancy," said the sergeant. "Do you know, Brunton, who these men are?" he asked the Australian, who now came up. Kneeling down, Brunton looked into the dead faces, dimly lighted by the sunset's glow, and at once uttered an exclamation of surprise and grief. "Poor Alf! Poor fellow! What an end for his romance! Beg pardon, sir," he con tinued, to the sergeant. "You asked for their names. The taller one is Corporal Al fred Sutton, of the — Rangers, sir; the other— well, there is no need to hide it now known as Private Sam Robinson, sir, hut really his sister, Sutton's newly married wife." "Nonsense, man, you can t mean that . How could it have happened? How do you know about it?" were the sergeant's natu ral questions. "The fact is, sir, Sutton told some of us in strict confidence. You sec, we had to know, for her sake and Iris. But we kept the secret till now." "It must be reported," said the sergeant with stern brevity. "Ah, well," he con tinued, after a pause, "they can come to no harm now. What a honeymoon . M "This wasn't their honeymoon, sii\ .jvas Brunton's comment. She wns just 1 rivato Robinson till on hour or so ago. "Well, put the ring 011 her finger, the proper one," said the sergeant, and bury themi(sido by side. Come, pass on to tho n<Aiid the sergeant and his squad passed on. but Brunton remained to perform the last sad offices for tho Corporal and his Comrade.