Chapter 231806569

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Chapter Number19
Chapter Title-XXIV, XXV Hard Times
Chapter Url
Full Date1897-08-28
Page Number2
Word Count2982
Last Corrected2018-04-02
Newspaper TitleThe Australian Star
Trove TitleDolph Meldrum's Wooing
article text


An Australian Story.



CHAPTER XXIV.— (CoiiMiniod.) . .

. Lena faced tho crowd uniliuchiiigly; and leaving "her servant's side she crossed towards her has- baod,'wjthihbad'clovnt9.d,aii(b s'top stately.- bho liatl blamed him',' b'ut'ilic reproach of others roused hor to contradict her blainc. - _ . ,

"Speak to them Dolph, shoencuj it is Biiame- His face was white, and tho long lean hand ho held up to invoke quiotnoss trembled. f'He thinks as we'll listen to hiin, said one. Not wo, wo'vo had onough o' ins law aim order to last us a lifetime. Us ns is respectable, and leaves other men's wives alone." . A loud whisper that reached tho verandah checked tho speaker. „ _ , . , ' " Not afore his wife, . it said, 1 aforo lot by gones be bygones." .. .. Lena moved nearer the palisading. . "Listen to me," she stud. Her sweet measured voice reached distinctly tho ears of all assembled. " You will bo sorry for this. You do not know tjic wliolo facto. I do. 1 know my husband lias done wrong-; even I, his wife, admit it, but behove mo the motive was good if tho action was wrong. "Aye aye; Wo know that,'.' they interrupted, and as she went on speaking jn her sweet, even tones thoy were compelled to silence. # ; . "Not ono amongst you bub would forgivo mm if ydii knew everything. Not orio amongst you but would net tho admo under similar temptation; (Cries of " Don't come i t too strong, ma in 1) 1 know this 18 only harmless fuii to you, but to mo it is torriblo earnest." . . , VlTor a moment it seemed as though her appeal quietened them; then a spirit of rebellion caino over them." . " Three groans for Melly the Beak, and may justice be dealt him sb ho has dealt it! Afterwards— long afterwards— when the memory of it lost pain Lona spoke of that moment ua the hittorest of lier life. . , , .. U.'ho j groaning part over, tho chief spokesman again " took the floor." T ,. "I think, boys, as we've dono our part, intiu- . enco put Melly in power. Influence, I says, must ! fork him out. . A biok.o like him ain't to bo trusted; Yolitako iny blooming word for it Melly s not all- lie's cracked unto be, not him. Now, 111 toll you . what he'd like to do with iis. He d like to put us ill ga 61 without a hearing, hut ho dursn t, boys. He'll issue suminbiises, ami sutntnouo every bloom ing cove of us, but he dursn!t — he dursn t— HdVv far tho speaker \Voiild liave gone, and tho dnd of it all would bb hard to toil had not a cry of "The bobbies— tho bobbies," interrupted tho hpeech. They ihrew the smouldoritiK efhgy on tho grbund, and with one accord departed their several ways to their homes. Mary suddenly remembered hor proper plnco was in another part of tho houso, and that a butter view of tho departing crowd could bn had from hor kitchen, with a mumbled apolbgy loft them alone. They watched the smoking bundle of straw unti l it blackened, but neither spoke. Tho verandah '/was. in gloo;n now, the short-lived liglit was gone. '» Tho quict f.o noticeable after d storm brought with it a chilly blast. . " You will patch cold, Lona, "I will go indoors now." . In tho seclusion of her bedroom sho hugged hor grievance close to her bosom, and warmed it until it grew from a vague shadowy mito into a lively good-sized reality. " I threw myself uninvited into his arms, and I am punished, though ho need not bring such dis grace on mo, nor treat me so unkindly. After giving up everything for him lie might at least affect to care a little for mo. I know he thinks of that horrid creaturo yet, and despisos tho love I so quickly gave to him." , . . , Aiiit he— amid the books that for once doscrtcu him and loft him friendless— gloomilywentovcr the mistakes of his life and grioved over them. ' " 11 What right had he to expect tho Iovoand rcspbpt of such a womati as Lena? A woman a hundred times his superior in everything. Ho had taken advantage of her pity to inuueo nor to tie herself to a man unable under any condition to . mako hor happy. Ho had taken hor from tho homo where she was tho comfort and prido of Iter father and mother to give her— disgrace. Still sho should make allowances for him. She had pitied him onco, why not now ho was her husband ? He would go to her and plead for u little of the old street feeling." Ho sought her. Could each have gucssod tho Ptlicr's heart what mattered it the blame outsiders cast at him ; but neither did. She waited his coining, but when ho camo and whispered her name, she moved lightly hor head on tho pillow as though already in slumber, and murmured impa- tietitly, " Do not bother ; I feel sleepy." Then he know, or faneicd ho knew, that from toleration sho had changed into dislike, and she . know that any pain she might feci over that night's doing, was nothing to him. Tlio hasty words spoken by the crowd had stirred up old memories, and old memories were sweoter than her living presence. So she told herself when ho obeyed her and tiptoed softly from the room and spent tho night far into tho curly morn ovor his books. CHAPTER XXV. ' IIari) Timiis. A hot summer's day a few day's before Christ- Mas.: Ndt A breath broke tlio sultry stillness, nor stirred the dry dusty pavement and roads. Tho jcdveB liiiiig lifeless on their branches and tho ilowers drooped on their stems. On and around "'Everything lay tho inertia borh of the heat. . Agnes Holme, with her troop of little ones about '< her, ielt it sap tho energy she so much needed to keep them and her house in order. The previous 'week tho young girl attending the children as nurse had developed an unexpected illness, and tho previous day her "general" had found hor mother needed her at home to assist while tho harvest was gathered; and Agnes was left to do battle with 'housework, children, and Christmas festivities Single-handed. It was a dreary prospect, for at the time she was in very indifferent health. : Since that eventful and disastrous meeting with her 'early lover she never recovered her usual spirits— never at any timo buoyant, Tho thought bt the danger sho escaped was ever with her. Hor gratitude to God in answering her prayer for her . husband's forgiveness was unbounded. : Since that time two children had been added to the fumily, and another was shortly expected. For a time after her revolt against his conduct Cobb was a model husband, hut a few months of domesticity tired him, mid he gradually sought tho

Ola laminar milium uim u.i> vumpamuiia. xiiih iv torn caused tho wife a hitter pang, and, weeping ftt her own helplessness, sho uttered openly no complaint. Her children were alternately her comfort and trial. Dreamy and unstable herself, and left al most entirely to lier management, their conduct toon proved tho lax hands which held the reins tf their conduct. Thoy wero restive under her management, and lidien too late sho endeavoured to guide them into sbodience lier hopes were thwarted by their wil fulness, inherited and cultivated. Another trouble beset lier; that bugbear of iuman happiness and the creator of domestic die- tord— debt. The calls of butcher and baker were daily ones of reproach to her. Hor very hunger the regarded as dishonestly appeased when she could not dopond on tliowhercwithal to pay for it. A week was so short that the weekly accounts ap peared to bo always due, and no matter liow she endeavoured to keep them down they gradually- increased to amazing proportions. Of these ob stacles to lier happiness sho dare not speak to Cobb. He dearly loved to pay his way, it made him happy and proud to do so ; but he would ' sooner have committed self-murder than do with out little luxuries and tho dissipation afforded by tlio country town. They >yere necessary to his comfort, morn necessary than paying men their due. Debts of " honour" difl'crcdbutslighlly-in his estimation. When it was 'possible to defer payment it was deferred. But when the obligation inter fered between hiin r.nd pleasure— ns when his confreres believed tho d> i.t largo .enough or were short of funds Mumse'i , - Hey refused to dlir. debt to aecuuHiiatc. i. was seldom this

happened, for Cobti lilted the approbation of thoso ho eiuiia in contact with, and acted tho part of hail follow well met to perfection, and was never happier than when playing, it.- Then .his mood was unliable, and his' presence urirufllod tho calm of his domestic circle/ but when times wero liurd, us they sometimes had a kuack'of boing, his family suffcrod most. His mood wus Irritable, his hands tightened on his ompty purse-strings, and until a vein of luulc was aguin struck things Were not very pleasant. Thoso reverses of fortune were often Wound tip by a sollish littlo bout of drinking. As this invariably took place beneath the family roof- trce the family itself suU'ered in consequence. The promising girlhood of Agnes Holme dwindled iii a stunted womanhood when shu became Agnes Cobb. The obedience to hor hus band, inculcated iii hor from hor childhood's days, boeariio tlio family's undoing. From the beginning she took the part of an inferior buing, and after hor brief revolt bIio became moro humbly yielding yet. Hor husband's moods oho boro uncomplain ingly when it ploasodhiin to net kindly to her olio was grateful, wlion othoi'wiso sho accepted tlicm meekly. Thoy wore a weak couple, perfectly unable to make Hiiy uso of the talents given thorn. Nuither was morally littod for a- leader; each fol lowed their own inclinatioin and if tlmt of ono was moro vicious thaii tlmt of the other it rcdoutidod nothing to tho creditof tho other's will, but to an iiiiiato disinclination for vicionsness. Agues never paused to analyse their character, but a moro glimmering of tho truth prevented re sentment on her part of hor husband's neglect. During that hut season the drcaiiucss and uso- lossiiess of her life camo forcibly to lier. Sho was drifting with deadly slowness away from all hor girlhood believed as honourable , aha worthy com mendation, all tho real good, and all tho ideal good sho over know drifted away from her life, and sho woaltly made no stand, but drifted with it. Tho slyness inherent iii her that prompted hor to elan- destine lovoinnlting with Dolpli Meldrum became habitual to. her as sho grow older. Among her surroundings there was much to foster and nothing to kill it. Her one not of open rebellion had almost precipitated lier whore no woman can escape— a worse than deathj and her narrow escape cast her 011 the road of retrogression, down which sho ran more nimbly tlmn hitherto. Tho previous night alio awaitod until early morn tlio coming of lier Imsbaiul. When ho re turned home/ riot intoxicated, she breathed a prayer of gratitude and fell uslecp when, out of tlio fulness of his goodness, ho alloivod her to do SO. The heat, liard . work, anxiety, and little rest produced tho usual depression the next day. Sho wearily set about hor household duties while hor lord yot slept. On no account must he bo dis turbed. 'i'lio business built, up by Cobb sen., unswerving devotion to its interests was left entirely to the inanngfcmcut of his son's employees. The houae-clcnning, mending and cooking with their various otcetcias to bo done before tho dawn of Christmas morning, wholly by her own bands— for labour was not for hire so Into in the season- almost daunted her. She sat fur a moment and looked at tho. unclenriod rooms about her. Tho previous night she imagined tlio children's litter removed from'Bight— sho slept late in consequence —but daylight revcalod tho illusion. A drain of water spilt here, a few crumbs there, a shoo kicked in tlio corner, a broken toy beneath tlio tnblo, a sticky mass of jam on tho wall but lately reno vated, A moment spent in inspection, and then labour to restore tidiness before the children awakened and brought witli their awakening the task of dressing and washing. All went well -with hor. Before tho pattor of little feet and t lio sounds of childish voices sounded in tho houso the rooms 7/ era straight and the breakfast-table in readiness. The children wero at breakfast, smiling and happy, when Cobb entered tlio room. He took iiis place at tlio table. " What havo you got !" ho inquired, quizzing tho cliildrou's plutes. " A slice of ham, eggs and toast for yon. The children and I have bread and milk." He grunted assent, and hid his face in tho nows- paper. .. . . Presently ho gave a louder grant. "Ah!" ho said, "that bright sweetheart of yonrs has got into trouble again. ' A cove like that was bound to come to grief sooner or later." " Sweetheart of mine !" she echoed feebly, and her hand trembled as sho helped the child near her to bread and jam. " Have you so many, thon, tlmt I need mention any particular ondlV he inutrered with a sneer. "You mean Dolph Meldrum ?" sho questioned, tremulously. .. " Yes, I mean Dolph Meldrum," ho replied, mi micking her thin, weak tones. Sho.said nothing. "Don't you wuntto know what ho's bcen up to ?" ho growled. " I can see by and bye." "Ob, you can see by and bye ! You think my nioney'll buy paxiers for you to read of the fellow s affairs!" ... Had sho been ono given to retort she could havo rominded him that his subscription to tho paper iu question was many— very niuiiy quarters in ar rears. . , Sho ninilo no roply, and. lio expeoted none, she never retaliated as she might liavo done— though many of his little jollifications wero unknown to her, enough were known to load hor to imagine his doinga wore far from orodit-ablo ones— which, tlio'ugh convenient for him, mado him respect hor none tho greater. " I see liy Woonia's intelligence thoy have been burning his elligy there. Nice fellow ho is for a P.M. It's scandalous I say the way thoso things aro managed. Lord knows how such a cove got into tho billet. But Jlioy'll . soon have liirn out. A ' dissolution ' is imminent, and ouo party or other '11 hoist him out for their own benefit." "Dolph Mcldrnm never did you any harm," sho said pointedly. " I suppose," ho cried, with Hushed face, " you infor I did 'him harm when I — I married you. Quito the contrary, madam, quito tho contrary ; for tho woman lie's married must' bo a useless croaturo if sho is net better than you." Tears came to hor eyes, and choked back tho words sho would havo uttered. Ho, intent on his paper, saw nothing, and left the houso uncon scious of saying anything oither unkind or censor ious.

Christmas came, anil tho boat iucron3ed. Agnes, with her houseful of children, and witli no help to Xierform the many duties connected with them, neither anticipated lior found any pleasure in the season's festivities except through tho niediatn of hor children's delight. Christmas Day was hot andfdusty, and tho morn ing sx>ont iu the precincts of the close kitchen cooking tho heavy hot dinner so unsuitable to tho season, but which Australians cling to with a te nacity worthy a hotter custom. I uo not know if tlio Christmas brawls of tlio lower claBsos and tlio Iioliter quarrels and differences of the higher classes take placo in England as thoy do here, but I certainly believe tile in digestible, unseasonable food consumed on Christ mas Day in tlio swoltoriug heat of the colonies lias much to do witli tlio many family disturbauccs that tako placo at Christmas time. Tho'cliildrcii were awake unusually early, and as a eonsoquonco woro unusually cross and quarrel some. One of thoin had curiously opened the oven door to oco tlio roasting turkey. Fiugers suffered, and though tho mother was "putting the vegetables down " the crying must bo stotipea and . the damaged members cared for. , ' .... " It was all Ally's fault, sho told mo blub bered tho child. " You slorytellor," interrupted Ally, giving.him a sly xiuuch that increased the screams, "I did not." ' " Yos, you did," said another. " You toldhin)' tho turkey was in tliero ;I heard you." "But I didn't tell hini. to open the door," and then tho three bogan to fight, which ended- in each . boing seiit to sopurnte rooms. Thou tlio yoUngor > ones — more babies — began to quarrel ovor a toy loft by Saiitii Glaus, and thoy had to bo ,inoifii)cl. These triilcs seldom troubled their motlier. Her chief desire was to keep lier houso in .apple-pie ordor; after tlmt her husband iii amiable mood. Thon followed.hor children, on whom sho lavishod tlio bounteous remainder of hor affections. Their little quarrels cleared the atmosphere, end dinner was oaten in comparative comfort. (to be continued.) ( '