|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Miss Roberts's Lovers: An Australian Story|
It may naturally be supposed that Miss Roberts was not without other visitors to enliven the dulness of her confinement to the house. All the matrons of Karradindy — there certainly were not very many— visited her now and again, either out of kindness or
curiosity ; during which visits they generally managed to impart to the invalid vast funds of excellent advice, keeping her posted up at the same time in even minute details of their domestic life. Amongst them the blacksmith's good lady, Mrs. Dowse, paid the dressmaker an occasional visit. It was through the matron that she learned some further details of Candy Bob's interview with the local manager. It came out in quite a spontaneous manner from the good lady, who, giving rein to her sharp tongue, discussed the question with much apparent relish. "An' so you're goin' to lay it afore the company, ma'am,' she said sharply, "an' serve 'em right too. l'd summons 'em, I would, goin' breakin' people's arms an' legs." This was a slight exaggeration on the lady's part, perhaps hardly allowable. "Oh! I'd make 'em pay," she continued vigorously; "that's what comes through havin' drunken drivers. " "The driver wasn't drunk," interrupted Miss. Roberts indig- nantly. '' No, ma'am. Well, o' course, you know best ; you was there,' o' course. Didn't' he have any thin' to drink at all, then ?" " He had a little whiskey, I think, at the last public-house we came to," said Candy Bob's champion. "Ah !' muttered Mrs. Dowse parenthetically. "But I had some, too — I mean I had a glass of wine ; it was so cold. And it's very wrong to say he was drunk, because he was nothing of that kind," cried the dressmaker in quite a violent burst of indignation. "Well, ma'am, you know best, o' course," said Mrs. Dowse sharply; "but, drunk or not, it'll go pretty hard with him. He'll be in a nice fix. O' course, he told you all about it when he was here?" "No. What ?" she cried, quite alarmed. "Oh, I dunno if it's true, but I expec' it is," pursued the
other, evidently deriving a considerable amount of satisfaction from the fact of being able to reproduce the story at first hand ; " but I heerd Candy Bob tellin' my husband as the manager told him that the d'rectors was likely to be down on him pretty hard if a claim was put afore them an' the accident came up at the meetin'. Bob was tellin' my husband that the manager told him there had been a good few accidents lately, an' the d'rectors was determined to put 'em down. The manager promised to speak up for him, Bob said, but that aint nothin'. I expect he'll be sent off, an' serve him right too. " The good lady, somewhat exhausted by the rapidity of her manner of speaking, stopped abruptly and contented herself with a sour smile, as she saw the distressed look in the dress- maker's pale face. The true state of affairs Miss Roberts did not learn for a few days. On Candy Bob's return from his down journey, he, of course, made his usual visit to the dressmaker's quarters. He had got himself neatly up for the occasion, and carried in his hand a paper bag, which, by the little elevations and depressions all over it, was evidently full of grapes. As he turned the corner leading to that part of the " Bushman's Rest" where Miss Roberts was housed, he espied his fellow deputa- tionist patiently waiting outside the little verandah, with his chin resting on the top-rail, armed with something wrapped in a clean white cloth. Directly the latter gentleman caught sight of Candy Bob his face broadened to a grin, and he put down his parcel on the verandah, in order to laugh more at his ease. "Both on us," he chuckled in a gruff undertone, to all appear- ances enjoying the fact intensely. "Both on us ! Ha! ha !" But suddenly his face assumed a solemn look ; he took his companion mysteriously by the arm, and pulled him to one side. Holding up one hand in warning gesture, as though bidding him not to be much overcome by the revelation about to follow, he tugged vigorously at the brass watch chain that adorned his person. After two or three vain efforts, the old-fashioned time piece responded to a vigorous jerk, and jumped out with reluctant impetuosity. Holding it before Candy Bob's eyes, he exclaimed rapturously, "Made old Jacob go without givin' him a shake. Put it to your ear an' listen. Actually made him go without knockin' him once, she: did !" The fervour of his admonition at such an astonishing display of skill on the part of the dressmaker proved in the end too strong for repressal. Gradually his face broadened, his eyes became smaller, his cheeks creased up, and finally he broke into a roar of laughter, much to his companion's disgust. Mrs. Rattray, disturbed by the noise, came out to see what was the matter. Candy Bob, knowing his companion would follow him in if he asked to see the invalid, and doubtless having pri- vate motives for not caring for Mr. Purdy Jack's company, delivered his offering to the storekeeper's wife, asking her to present it to Miss Roberts, with his compliments. Mr. John Heeley, unknotting the white cloth and disclosing to view half-a-dozen of the whitest of fresh laid, eggs and an ornamental pat of golden butter, did likewise, with many asse- verations of there being plenty more where they came from ; and finally, before departing, informing Mrs. Rattray of the wonderful recovery of old Jacob, together with the assurance, delivered in stentorian tones for the benefit of the dressmaker inside, that his s'lection was the best one about, an' kept close up three hundred sheep and twenty-five head prime milkers. It was thus that, nearly a week elapsed before the dressmaker had an opportunity of speaking personally to Candy Bob. However, when he next returned to the township she sent him a special message, desiring to see him. Candy Bob, obedient to the summons, made his appearance at the little sittingroom, and found the dressmaker alone. " Good morning, miss," he said, " I was just coming round to inquire how you were when I got your message. I hope your wrist is going on satisfactory ?" '' Oh, yes, thank you," she replied. " The doctor's been again, and says it is knitting very well. He was telling me," she con- tinued with a blush, "how you went for him that night directly you brought us in, in the buggy. I must thank you very, very much. It was very good of you." There was quite a tender thrill in the dressmaker's voice, as she fixed her eyes gratefully on her visitor. "Dr. Waddlegrig told me," she continued, changing the blush for a laugh, "how you made him gallop all the way in the dark. I'm afraid you made him very angry." "There wasn't any time to lose," he answered somewhat curtly, "and I know every inch of the road." "Well, it was very, very kind, indeed," she murmured, in another burst of gratitude. "But, please sit down," she continued after a pause. " There's something I've been wishing to speak to you about for some time, Mr. — — . Do you know I don't know your real name at all. It's, so stupid. " " Candy Bob's what they call me, miss," answered that worthy simply. "Oh, yes, I know that !. But that isn't your real name." "No, not exactly my real name," he answered with a smile, " but everyone calls me that." " But I want to know your real name." "Well, it's Hathaway — Robert Hathaway — miss," but it's so long since I've been called by it, I've almost forgotten it." " Oh, but that's ever so much nicer than Candy Bob; don't you think so?" "Maybe, miss," he answered doubtfully, "it doesn't matter very much to me either way." Miss Roberts broke into a musical laugh. "It seems so funny," she said, and laughed again so pleasantly that her visitor joined in, in a spirit of admiring appreciation. But, her laugh ended, the dressmaker's face assumed an un- usually grave expression. "I wish to speak to you," she said, "about what you were telling me about the company." "Yes, miss." " I am afraid,|Mr. Hathaway," she continued, with a momentary heightening of colour, " that you didn't tell me all. Mrs. Dowse paid me a visit a few days ago, and told me she overheard you telling her husband that the directors would most likely dismiss you if the case came before them." A troubled expression came over the face of Candy Bob, and he muttered viciously to himself, "The chattering idiot.'' "It was very noble of you not to tell me that," pursued the dressmaker softly, with another momentary heightening of colour; "but I want to know exactly what the manager said. Will you tell me?" Candy Bob hesitated for a moment, looked uneasily round, and finally concluded to make a clean breast of it. "I am sorry, miss," he said, "that that chattering woman should have said anything about it, because there was no occa- sion, and it's my own affair. Towser Bill — that's the black smith, you know— and I are old friends, and I remember mentioning it to him ; but I didn't want to let it go any further.'' " But, please tell me, I'm anxious to know." "Well,' said Candy Bob, in a kind of mild desperation, "Mr. Croxton told me that there had been a great number of accidents lately on the different lines, and the directors would be very severe on the drivers. He said he'd represent the case to them ; but he knew they wanted one or two to make an example of, as a lesson to the others, and they weren't likely to consider in-
dividual cases. That's all," concluded Candy Bob, simply. " It's nothing to do with you, miss, or with getting your money, so I didn't mention it." There was a look of pain on the dressmaker's face as she answered, "Oh! but I shouldn't like to do anything that might get you into trouble. Indeed, I shouldn't." "That's nothing at all to do with it, miss," he said sturdily, thanking you all the same for your kindness. It won't be getting me into any trouble. If so be they think I'm to blame and dismiss me, why there are other companies in the colony, and a good driver can always get employment." " Oh ! I'm sure you're a good, driver !" " I've always been reckoned a pretty fair hand with the ribbons," he said modestly, " and I can get a recommendation from Mr. Croxton that would get me employment in any other company. But that's nothing to do with what we were talking about. Whenever you feel inclined, miss, to make out that declaration, if you'll entrust it to me, I'll hand it over to Mr. Croxton. He told me the directors meet in a week, so I'd advise you to get it ready as soon as possible. Mr. Rattray's a J.P., it would be best to get him to witness it." The dressmaker, generally timid both in speech and manner, assumed for the nonce quite a determined air. " I'm not going to do anything of the kind," she said bravely. " I'm not going to write anything to the directors. Indeed I'm not. After you've treated me so kindly, and done everything to make me comfortable, I should despise myself if I thought I could get you into trouble willingly." Although she commenced bravely, and with such a show of resolution, the loyal little dressmaker could not repress a sob every now and again, as she continued. " I haven't got any mo-money to pay the doctor and things, but if you and Mr. Heeley would do it, I could pay you back some da-a-ay. But I'm not going to complain to the directors, and get you into trouble; " and endeavouring to maintain a stern air of resolve, she failed miserably and burst into a flood of tears. Mr. Candy,Bob — the most gallant of mail-coach drivers— un- doubtedly lost his head under the trying circumstances. What between intense admiration of the lady's sentiments, and a steady resolve to combat them — what with the distress her tears caused him — and what with another and a stronger feeling, totally distinct and apart from these, that latterly had moved him, he hardly knew what to do with himself. The dressmaker's uninjured hand was lying helplessly on the arm of her easy-chair, as she lay back sobbing piteously. In his mental aberration, really hardly conscious of what he was doing, Candy Bob possessed himself of the little white hand hand commenced patting it tenderly. " Don't cry," he said, with a suspicious tremor in his own voice, " there's nothing to worry about. You'll never get strong if you give way like this," and in his anxiety to give encourage- ment he caressed the lady's hand more than ever. Perhaps she was unconscious of the fact, or perhaps she found the process more agreeable than otherwise, but the fact is she did not attempt to withdraw her hand until Candy Bob, laying it gently in her lap, said, " I think I'd better go now, miss, and leave you to recover. And if I might be so bold I should recommend you to lie down for a bit. It's the best thing when one feels low." " I'm not going to write to the company. I'm sure I'm not," she sobbed somewhat incoherently, as he was leaving the room. " Very well, miss, just as you like; but don't worry yourself about it at all. Good-bye!" " Go— od-b— bye," she sobbed, and, to all intents and purposes without adequate cause or reason, burst into another violent fit of weeping. There are very few people, indeed, who would not condemn the dressmaker for her absurd scruples, though arising, as they did, from a sentiment of gratitude. Self-sacrifice, is, without doubt, a noble virtue to exercise, and presumably brings its own reward in the consciousness of well doing. But, on the other, hand, it's a virtue so little practised in these modern times, and has been so eclipsed by a greater favourite — self-interest—that when it is now and again met with the ordinary run of people are wont to regard it with some slight amount of distrust. Mrs. Dowse and one or two of the other ladies of the place were examples of this. Though perhaps not stating their objections quite as above, it was plain they took great umbrage at the turn of affairs, and considered themselves personally affronted in being deprived of matter for discussion during their hours of relaxation. Besides, as they said, it was a matter of public interest, and it oughn't to be allowed to be hushed up. Because if Candy Bob . got drunk often, there was no knowing who he might not kill next time — a latitude of philanthropic foresightedness which did equal honour to the heads and the hearts of the originators. To Mrs. Dowse, indeed, the peculiar conduct of the dressmaker pointed with unmistakable clearness but to one end. " It's as plain as a pikestaff," she said during a discussion with a neighbour on the absorbing topic. " She's settin' her cap at Candy Bob, the artful minx. Just wants to appear like a saint afore him. He's a simple creature, he is. You can do anything with him, if you get on the right side of him. You mark my words if what I say ain't true." But despite the remarks, laudatory and otherwise, which her conduct excited, perhaps also from the fact that they never came to her ears, the dressmaker persisted in her refusal to move at all in the matter of bringing the accident before the notice of the authorities. Doubtless she had as full a knowledge of the value of money as anyone else, and from her own avowal she was not possessed of any great amount of that necessary commodity ; but strange to say, these facts notwithstanding, she not only kept to her resolu- tion on the point referred to with a certain amount of steadfast equanimity, but, as the days went by, actually seemed to derive pleasure and delight at the thought of it.