|Chapter Title||From the Window. A little since and I was glad, and now I never shall be glad or d again.|
|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||More about Misrule|
MORE ABOUT MISRULE. *
CHAPTER XV.—From the Window. A little since and I was glad, and now I never shall be glad or sad again.
By ETHEL TURNER.
A sold, blustering day. Misrule's trees tossed their branches restlessly, the grass was strewn with dead leaves and blown rose-petals, the river was silver-gray and ruffled all over
with vexed little waves. Overhead stretched a dull sky with scudding clouds. Esther had gone to town, and reluctantly enough when she looked at the wind, but she had an appointment with the photographer that might not be put off. Mrs. Hassal's birthday was approaching, and a large counter feit presentment of her small grandchildren was to be Esther's present. So Peter was inducted into his short fawn overcoat over his best sailor suit, and adjured to pull up his high socks and attend to the neat lacing of his best boots. And over Essie's white muslin was put her warm pelisse of white velveteen and fur, and on her feet white shoe? and soek?, and * white furry bonnet on her brown curls. Nellie had dressed her and combed out those curls that they might show to best effect in the photograph. She made a suggestion or two to Esther as she put finishing touches. I think I'd only have head and shoulders," she said—" the two leaning together, and then have it cut medal- lion shape." Eater looked doubtful. "It would look nice and artistic," she said, "but then you know mother is never satisfied unless she oao see all of them, legs and arms and all, so she can judge how they are growing." "Tell you," said Peter; "me holding a gun—l could take it with me, Bunty's gun, needn't have any cartridges in,—I could be pretending to shoot—grandma would like that." " And me," said Essie jealously, "me holding one end of the gun." Esther declined the suggestion gently. "Well, tell you," said Peter; "we could pretend to be playing circus—me bending down and Essie standing on my back—that would amuse grandma a lot." "Oh yes, let's," said Essie, and hopped round the room with one white-shod foot caught in her hand to show her exuberance of admiration at the suggestion. "Only you always tip over, you're such a duffer," said Peter. " I don't," said Essie indignantly, " it's your fault, you don't bendle your back down enough." " Jack doesn't tip over," said Peter, " only silly girls." "He does—he would," said Essie; "he's a nasty, horrid boy." But the bonnet-strings were tied by this, and Peter's sailor cap stuck on, and Esther's lost gloves found, and her purse put in her hand. And down the stairs the three all hastened, and helter-skelter down the drive, And with very little more dignity even on Esther's part down the red road, for had not Poppet rushed from the staircase window shouting that the boat was coming round the bend. Now the house was settling down quietly once more after the breeze. Bunty went off to the laundry—it was Saturday morning—a tin of metal paste in his hand, to give his bicycle a " good old clean." He adjured Poppet to come and do the same by hers. " In a minute," said Poppet, who was curled up in the broad window-seat of the drawing room with "The Daisy Chain." " You will do no such thing," said Nellie. " Esther said you were to be sure to do your practice. You know Miss Burton will be here at 12 to give you that music lesson you missed." "Oh bother," said Poppet. But she rose up and drifted gradually, reading as she went, to the piano. And here she sat down, put the open book on the music-holder, and played her scales, major and minor and chromatic, one after the other, the while she read absorbedly. Nell stood at her vacated place in the wide window and looked out at the waving trees and the dull river. What should she do this morning ? Oh yes, of course there was the stocking bag to be attacked, and the vases wanted doing, and Esther had asked her to label a trayful of bottles of tomato sauce, and Martha would need telling what puddings to make for dinner, since Esther had gone off in a hurry without leaving any orders. But how dull all these things seemed, dull as the river, the sky, the gum trees. Oh, what a dull, dull old thing was life altogether—every day the same, getting up and having meals, helping with the young ones, going to little gaieties, or staying at home and reading! Reading—what if she got a book like Poppet? Her mind ran languidly over the books in the house—nothing new. What if she turned Poppet off the music-stool—she would go thankfully—and get out of her music? No- thing new there, all the old pieces, old songs. "A great deal you have to grumble at," said a voice in her heart "Think of some girls' lots. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." " So I am," she answered it; " still all the same everything is deadly dull." "You know it's not that," said the voice, " all is the same as it always was. It is you who are altering." " Well, I suppose it is," she said, " I am growing old—l am nineteen." "You know it's not that," said the stern voice, " the real reason is—— " She shrank from it. "No, no, don't say it," she said. "It is, you'd better face it at once; you've re- fused to look it in the face for too long. The real reason is——" * The sole right of serial publication in Queensland has been secured by the pro- trietors of the " Queenslander."
"Oh no, no, " she said*piteously, " I've for- gotten all about it. If I met him, I shouldn't even change colour—l don't care one atom, one atom. I—l think I absolutely dislike him." " Well, why are you letting it change you ?" " Oh, oh," wildly, " wouldn't any girl ? To have let oneself care, even only a bit, a tiny bit, and to have thought he meant it; but, oh yes, he did look—ah, he shouldn't have looked like that, and held my hand—oh, oh, to think let him hold it; no I didn't, I didn't, I took it away, I did truly, as soon as I could, or—or almost as soon. And perhaps he imagined I did care, and he laughed." Over and over the miserable little affair she went. That was the canker, the horrid spot on her sore young spirit. A man had treated her as a plaything and she had not had sense enough or dignity enough to see it; instead she had given away unasked—what ? Not her heart, that was sound enough yet, but a handle of girlish emotions and pretty trust and romanticism that she took to be her heart. She had climbed her stiff bit of hill when she came to it bravely enough, but now she was over the brow of it, and had fought through the thorns no one would ever know how wretchedly flat, stale, and unprofitable stretched out all the level road once more. What a frightful discord Poppet was making! Left hand and right hand, left so entirely to themselves, had started off on en- tirely different journeys. Poppet's eyes glanced absorbedly up and down the book in front of her; every minute or two the right hand left its treadmill to flutter a page over and then hastened back to catch up the left as well as might be. " I ought to stop her," said the conscience at the window; "if I were a proper eldest sister—like Meg or girls in books—I should go and take her book away, and sit down be- side her and hear her practise properly." " Well, why don't you ?" said conscience number two. "Oh, what's the use, she would only argue—l hate arguments." " A lazy, self-centred creature, that's what you're growing to be. A love-sick little idiot such as you'd despise in a book. Why can't you brace yourself up a bit and look life in the face again boldly?" " Love-sick! What a horrible, horrible thing to say!—I'm not, I'm not—he's no more to me than a stone." "Well, brace yourself up and stop being cowardly." "Poppet, Poppet, put that book away at once—what a thing to do! You are making a frightful jangle. Do practise properly." " I am. I'm doing my scales. She told me to practise them ten times each," said Poppet " Not without looking at them." " It's good practice, I might be blind some day." " Pat that book away, Poppet, till this after- noon." "Just another chapter—oh, it's dreadful— they've all got scarlet fever, and Leonard is catching it, and—and " "What in the world is she doing?" said Nell, an almost startled tone suddenly in her voice. "What is who doing?" " Why, Lylie,—well, I can hardly believe my eyes." " The Daisy Chain" came tumbling with a crash on the keys, and Poppet sprang across the room to the window where her sister stood. Lylie! Lylie! what could there be connected with her this quiet Saturday morning? Then her eyes went round as Nellie's, her mouth opened in amaze and forgot to close again. There was Lylie climbing over the fence and dancing over their grass—the plain, sober grass of Misrule—it was no hallucination. Lylie in a white cashmere frock, with her nimbus of pale gold hair around her head, and no hat on at all. What was she doing now? Walking right on the flower-beds and gathering and dragging at the flowers till her arms were full; throwing the blossoms down and dragging more ; pulling the plants up by the roots and flinging them aside; breaking the roses off by their heads and tossing them in the air! Poppet drew a deep breath and caught at Nellie's sleeve. " I'm only dreaming, I know," she muttered. On and on danced the little white figure. There was Essie's kitten asleep under the mar- guerite bush, its favourite spot. She caught the trustful little animal up by the tail, swung it up and down, and finally flung it as far as she could in the air, watching it turn over and touch the ground, and creep away dazed and subdued, with peals of laughter. At the foot of a path was a heap of dried leaves and rubbish that Bunty had raked up to barn, but finding the wind so strong had laid his matches down for a future hour. The astonished watchers in the window could not see the matches, only the child stooping for a moment over the heap. The next second up shot a pale tongue of flame—the heap caught and crackled. "Good heavens!" Nell cried sharply, and pushed agitatedly to raise the sash of the long window that she might rush out—" Her frock will catch." Round and round the blaze danced the white figure, moving its arms joyously. Nellie had the window up now and was dashing out—it only seemed to both of them one minute since they had seen the child climbing across the fence. Then a scream of frightful horror broke from Poppet. It was no longer a white figure that danced; the pinafore had caught, and blazing from head to foot the child rushed madly across the long stretch of grass, shrie- ing and stretching her arms towards Nellie, who was rushing down to her.
CHAPTER XVI.—Up and Doing. "With a heart for any fate." Bunty and the servants ran to the front of the house at the first frantic screams. And Bunty's impulse was the same as Nellie's—to rush to help and never stay to find means ; he had not even his coat to help him. The next second he swung round and darted back. "Blankets, rags," he shouted; tore up the hall rag and flew out with it. Nellie—what was Nellie doing?
"Fool!" she had muttered to herself. " Fool ! I was not to catch up a blanket!" Yet on she ran, darting lightnings of thought rushing through her brain. It meant mutilation at least, lost of all her beauty ; but oh, the child's face of mad, piteous terror, her heartrending shrieks; she must do something—fling her down, try to roll the flames out! But what was this ? Almost as she reached the blazing figure she stumbled over something, a long black sinuous thing on the grass. Heaven be praised, Bunty had used the garden hose yesterday and left it carelessly flung down on the grass ; a trickle of water still ran from it, he had not even turned the water off properly. And now she had caught up the end and turned away from the terrible rushing figure that had touched her, turned and began to run again ; her own sleeve had caught, yes, yes, press it out—how easily it yielded to her other hand! "Don't touch her—don't touch her. You can't save her," Bunty had shouted as he tore back for his rag. Better that one, a stranger, should perish than that Nell should madly fling away her young life like that. But Nellie was bending down, bending at the stand-pipe—the next second they knew why she had turned. Out from the end of her hose burst the stream of saving water! She stepped back, back as the child advanced on her, and played her hose on the pale flames with steady capable hands. "Lie down, lie down at once," she called, and the child fell in a heap, and you heard the splutters and hisses of the flames as they went out. It was all over when Bunty and the servants with their rugs got down, the whole thing had not occupied two minutes; two more waiting for those rugs and the child's life had been lost. As it was her condition was alarming. She lay a pitiful little blackened, drenched figure at their feet; all the gold hair burnt away, her face scorched, the white frock, fortunately a thick one, burnt right away, her under-petti- coats singed, and her arms in terrible con- dition. Nellie's face was sheet-white, but she was not even trembling, her nerves were up to highest tension point, and she kept them there. "Bunty, a doctor," she said. "Poppet, go next door and tell them. Martha, help me to carry her to the house—give me those blankets to wrap her in." They bore,the shivering, moaning figure up over the grass and into the drawing room, and by that time Poppet was back again with Mr. Saville, the only one at home next door. The man came up to the sofa with a face like ashes. " I had fallen asleep—God forgive me, I had fallen asleep," he said again and again and again. "Yes," said Nellie gently, "but what shall we do? We must do something, the doctor will be some time—what shall we do ?" "Fallen asleep," repeated the man, "and she had left me in charge. God forgive me, for she never will." Nellie plucked at his sleeve. " Think what we can do," she said, " that is the first thing. Oh, look at her—listen to her—what can we do ?" For a second she had let her nerves relax, thinking here was some one to take the responsibility. But the poor stunned fellow did nothing but mutter that he had fallen asleep, fallen asleep when he should have kept guard. Martha came staggering in with a bath of cold water. " Lay the poor lamb in this," she said. Bridget was voluble. "Mashed potatoes," she said, " that is the best thing, spread it over the burns—only there are no potatoes cooked. Will I be after cooking some ?" But Nellie was ready to take charge again. " Get me flour," she said; " no, wait." What was it Esther used for all the cuts and bruises and little burns in the household? Yes, boracic powder—they must run no risk of poisoning. " Don't touch her," she said, and flew up to Esther's medicine-chest two stairs at a time for the familiar red tin. And she dragged a sheet from the bed, thinking of the agony of blanket on that quivering skin. And here was the brandy-flask—yes, a spoonful or two of that. She pushed the useless father gently aside ; she forced the brandy between the white, moaning lips; she cut away gently, very gently, the charred clothing, and sprinkled her boracic thickly on the burns and reddened parts, then laid her sheet on lightly and a blanket over that, for the child shivered and screamed at the touch of the air. " Now we can do nothing but wait," she said. " Martha and Bridget, please go away, I am sure we should keep her quiet. Pull the blind down, Poppet—the light seems to hurt her eyes. Mr. Saville, sit where she can see you, will you, please." The man obeyed her like a chidden child. " Here, shall I stand here ?" he said. "That will do nicely," said poor Nellie, " and speak to her, poor little thing, try to comfort her—think what pain she is in, and I am a stranger to her." He leaned over the sofa. " Dearie," he said, " dearie, don't cry—don't cry, dearie." No other sound for nearly an hour in that terrible room. Just the child's moans and screams and the man's dull voice saying again and again, " Dearie—there, don't cry." Two or three times when a hand was flung out of its covering Nellie shook more powder on the burns and covered all up again. Two or three times Poppet crept out of the door and up to the staircase window to see if there was any sign yet of the doctor. The third time she returned her face was brighter, and she beckoned Nell to the hall. "Alan," she whispered, " coming down the hill fast as possible on his bicycle." " Thank God!" Nellie said. " Now, if only her mother would come—" " Nellie," said Poppet, " I'm not dreaming, I'm quite awake, but that isn't Lylie." "Nonsense," said Nellie, "of coarse she looks different now, that is all." "It isn't," persisted Poppet; "I knew it wasn't before she caught fire. Lylie is littler and doesn't look quite like that, and her hair isn't quite the same." "Nonsense," said Nellie again, and turned back again into the room. The movements roused Mr, Saville from his benumbed state.
"The doctor is almost here," Nellie said; " hush, Lylie,—there, darling, the pain will all have gone soon, here is a doctor coming. Mr Saville, can't you get her mother?" She added this in a whisper. The man stood up and shook as if he were palsied. "I dare not," he said. " I dare not. I dare not. What can I do? Make an end of things ?" He muttered the last, and turned as if to leave the room. But Nellie kept her hand on his arm. " You mustn't leave us," she said; "we shall want you. Look, here is the doctor—oh, Alan, at last!" In five minutes the poor little girl lay per- fectly still under the influence of an opiate, the burns were dressed, a folding spring stretcher was carried down and made into a comfortable bed. In this they laid her very gently, and Alan sat down to patiently await the awakening. He had greatly relieved their anxiety. " By no means as bad as it might have been, con- sidering the circumstances," he said. The muslin pinafore had blazed easily, but the thicker cashmere frock had resisted longer, and the body parts were only a little reddened. The arms and legs had suffered the worst, but even these were only injured, as he technically called it, in the second degree. The shock to the system was what he feared the most. "Did I do anything wrong?—have I made her worse by what, I did?" poor Nellie said when all was quiet again. " You did excellently," he said," excellently; everything quite right." Then he remembered Bunty's hurried account of what the girl had done, and his keen eye noticed the tense look of her young lips. "Go and get a cup of tea," he said; " re- member, it is the doctor's orders, no disobey- ing; I'll stay and look after the child. And see the father has a cup; he's so unstrung I've not been able to ask him anything yet." The father! Nellie had forgotten him for the last few minutes; and when she turned to look for him he was nowhere to be found in any of the rooms. With a catching of breath as she remember- ed his last muttered words she ran across the grass, scaled the fence almost as quickly as Essie managed to do, and was at the hall door of the gloomy house, as she had calculated she would be, just as soon as he who had gone by both front gates reached it. " Yes," he said, " what do you want ?" He spoke impatiently; life, long almost in tolerable, had suddenly become absolutely so to him. Let him but have a moment or two to leap over the edge of it for ever. But Nellie was clinging to his arm. "Oh," she said, " I am so faint, will you give me some—some tea ?" The brave girl who had saved his poor little child !—and knocked over now, com- pletely spent—what a blind, selfish fellow he had been! He almost carried her into the house, he put her gently into the dining-room's easiest chair; then, seeing Charlie and Tairoa had gone to gape and exclaim in Misrule's kitchen, and the coachman was away with the brougham, he busied himself in the unusual and difficult task of making a cup of tea.
CHAPTER XVII.—A Deeper Sea of Trouble With reverent pity as in touching grief He touched the wounds of Christ. When it was ready she drank it thankfully, even though the squatter, with his bushman's ineradicable love of sugar, had sweetened it with generous hand. For one thing it gave her a little time to quieten her beating heart and think what she best might do, for another her throat was dry and swollen and the excitement had given her a raging thirst. Then she looked across to her host again and found, now his task was finished, he was standing at the window, his head sunk on his breast, quite oblivious of her again. She went across to him. " You must think how much worse it might have been, Mr. Saville," she said. "Alan, —the doctor says there are scores of worse cases continually at the hospital, and they get on very well. She will be well and running about again in no time." He looked at her piteously. She had never thought of him before as an old man, but now his ruddiness replaced by that cray, curiously- cowed look, his shoulders bowed, his hands shaking, he looked positively aged. " Oh, no," he said, " she will die—of course she will die." " No, no, said Nell eagerly; " Alan says she will do well, he thinks—the shock was worse than the burns—we must just keep her very quite and take care of her, and you will see how soon she will be well. When her mother comes back she——" He began to shake again so violently it frightened the girl. Why had she not told Alan or one of them to follow her and help in this dreadful crisis, instead of flying im- pulsively off alone as she had done ? She took his arm gently and drew him to a chair. "There," she said, "sit down—oh, I know, I know how dreadful you feel, but no one could blame you—when she—when Mrs. Saville comes home, she will quite understand it was no fault of yours. Children cannot be watched every moment—ours are never watched at all—how could you dream she would get into such mischief? It will be hard to tell her, of course, bat she can't blame you." "You don't understand—you don't under- stand," he said; " of course she can blame me—it is the first time she has ever left her for a whole day—since—And she told me not to let her out of my sight one minute. The first time she has gone for more than an hour or two in all these four awful years. She had to go—Lylie's throat has been getting worse, and she has taken her in to a specialist to have some growth removed." "Lylie !" repeated Nellie, bewildered. "You mean Jack, of course." "No, Lylie," he said. "She took Jack so that he might get into no mischief." "But Lylie," said Nellie again, "surely that is Lylie at home—Lylie who was—burnt." "No, no," he said, " that's our poor little Enid—poor, poor little Enid!" Great tears began to trickle down his cheeks. "We did not know you had two girls,".
Nellie said; " I thought it was Lylie running to me." "Enid," he repeated, "my poor, poor little Enid. And it was not enough that I had blasted her life once—I do this thing now. Well, well, we'll all go together now—if Heaven had had any mercy it would have finished her off that day at Coorabong, and not let her drag on black year after year to an end like this." He was talking to himself, Nellie quite forgotten once more. "Oh hush, hush," cried Nellie, shrinking with all a young girl's fright from further, hearing of tragedy; " come back home with me, you ought to be there—don't let us stay here—oh, I want to go home, please, please come with me." His head drooped more and more, the mut- terings became more indistinct. Nellie only gathered a sentence or two. " They call it the coward's way—well, let them call it—we'll go together, little Enid and I." Her fears increased—what might he not do, left alone in a state of mind like this ?" "Oh please, please," she urged at his elbow, "oh, do come back home with me, I must go —they will want us both." He sat up straighter. "Well," he said, " run along, run along." "But you," said Nellie, "I want you to come too." "No, no," he said, "run along—I—I have something to do." He looked vaguely round the room. " Perhaps she is crying for you," said Nellie, " think how terrible for her, no mother there and no father—you must come." " No," he said," you don't understand. She doesn't know me or care for me now at all— has not done so all these years. But down there in the dark—she'll remember—and for- give me." " Oh," said Nellie, and her eyes flashed, " I think it is—not very brave to talk like this. I know it is dreadful, dreadful for you. But you are a man, and a man has to be strong and bear things. No one but you can tell her and stand by her—Mrs. Saville, I mean." "I!" he said, "anyone but I can. Don't you know it was I who made my poor little girl as she was?" "I don't know anything," Nellie said, "ex- cept that you must be brave and meet this— bravely." "No, " he answered pitifully, " not a second time, there's a limit to bearing. I met the thing the first time decently—at all events, I stood it. It's different now. Go back to your home and leave me," Again he gave that vague look all round his room. "Mr. Saville," Nellie said, "I can't and won't go back without you. Don't you think you might do this when I ask you ? I—I did my best for your little girl. Look at my arm, I should like the doctor to do something to it." Then horror came into his eyes as he looked where she bade him and saw the blouse sleeve singed and burnt below the elbow. "Let us go at once," he said, " at once—I did not know you were burnt." And in very truth Nell had hardly known herself, and certainly had never stopped to look at the scorched red patch on her white arm. " I should like something put on," she said, and then there were no more words between them all the way down their gloomy drive and up Misrule's sunny one. The child still lay under the influence of the drug that had been given to her. Alan was looking for Nellie. " Have you had that tea yet?" he said, and she just nodded, and pushed Mr. Saville gently; to a chair by the bedside. "Mr Saville will watch," she said. "I want you to come and do my arm, Alan. It is so badly burnt." He caught it up in concern, but looked re- lieved to find it was no serious matter. "Perhaps it is more painful than it looks," he laid. "It is dreadful, come and do it at once," she said, and went before him into the break- fast room. But once out of the squatter's sight she forgot the arm again, and hurriedly told Alan of the interview the other side of the fence. "I am sure if he isn't taken care of he—he will do something to himself," she concluded, and burst for the first time into excited sobs. "What can we do?—what can we do?— and when she comes home it will be worst of all she is so hard and hateful—oh, you can't imagine—whatever he did she ought to for- give him—who will tell her?—he shan't—I will tell her myself first." Again she sobbed and shivered. Alan questioned her about the interview, learned all that Misrule knew of the family next door. It was plain there was some sea of trouble beyond even deeper than this they had just plunged into. Then he went back to the drawing-room and stood by the bedside again, and watched the father watching his child. What is the doctor's talisman ? The shame- ful story, the wretched, the sordid one hidden away from the world with such jealous, anxious hands, covered over with such strenuous care, the concealing earth smoothed and planted with gay-looking flowers ! And the doctor comes, a man as other men, wise perhaps only in his own way, hardened to suffering, hurried. And down we fall on our knees by the hidden spot, and tear away the fair-seeming flowers, and dig at the kindly covering earth and drag up the buried thing and hold it naked up to him. Perhaps he only nods from time to time to show he is looking, listening. Yet we are seldom unsatisfied, we know he is sorry for us individually, even though he has looked at just such things scores of times, know he, feels for us in the bitter task of the unburying, and that he is going to put forth all his power to work for us. In ten minutes Alan was in possession of the sad story of next door, and Mr Saville was leaning back in his chair, the relieved look on his face that men telling of a trouble often brings. (To be Continued.)