|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Miss Roberts's Lovers: An Australian Story|
MISS ROBERT'S LOVERS: AN AUSTRALIAN STORY,—BY DAVID A. FALK,
AUTHOR OF "A KARRADINDY IDYLL."
CHAPTER I. Everybody agreed that it wasn't Candy Bob's fault in the least. Though subsequently one or two interested parties found, it expedient to change their opinion, on the first burst of excite- ment there was not one dissentient voice throughout Karradindy.' Every public man, we know, has his enemies, and Candy Bob, as driver of the mail-coach and general Mercury for the township and neighbourhood, certainly ranked as a very public character in and about Karradindy. But this fact notwithstanding, all the townspeople were unanimous in declaring that no blame could be attached to him on account of the accident. For accident it was, and that of a somewhat serious character. Perhaps the best idea of its nature could be imparted by quoting the words of Candy Bob himself, as he told the oft-repented tale, after the excitement had somewhat cooled down, to a circle of interested and enthralled listeners in the bar parlour of the "Bushman's Rest":— "We were a goodish bit late in starting," such was his version of the affair ; 'the mails had been delayed, and they kept us waitin' at the post-office a long spell, so I had to make up for lost time. At this 'ere last changin' stable, the other side of the big plain, you know" — a unanimous grunt from his audience signified that the place was known to them— " I got the bald- faced filly and that 'ere skewbald cob in the lead. You know what they are, Bill," he said, breaking off to address a red- whiskered gentleman, industriously chewing a straw in a corner. " Ay, I knows 'em," he growled, taking the straw out of his mouth for the purpose of speaking, and replacing it carefully when he had finished. "I knows 'em. Reg'ler terrors, they are, an' no mistake." Encouraged by the remark, Candy Bob proceeded :— "Aye, the filly has only been in the lead once before, and the skewbald's a straight up-and-down bolter, and nothing else. Well, when we came to the big plain, the best bit of road on the line, I cracked on the pace a bit to makeup for lost time, and we came along at a pretty smart rate. We got on all right across the plain till we came to that bit of road where they've been repairin' it ; you know it, boys, just outside Heeley's selection." A second grunt from the audience testified to their knowledge of the place.
"Well, it was getting a bit darkish by that time, and we were going along all serene, when all of a sudden, before I could see anything on the track, the filly gave a snort and a shy, and the skewbald reared up, and before I could see what was up at all, they made a sharp turn and tried to bolt. I had 'em pretty well in hand ; but, by thunder, that filly's got a mouth like iron, and though I did my level best to keep 'em straight, away they went all to one side, and the off front wheel goes slap into a heap of loose metal, that was put there for repairin' the road, and the old coach gives a tilt, and over she goes." At this point of the narrrative, a murmur of sympathy burst from all hands, and the gentleman with the straw In his mouth, who officiated in the capacity of groom in the coaching stables, gave it as his unalterable conviction, "That there wasn't no doin' nothin' with them 'ere leaders, if they turns rusty ;" which asseveration was confirmed by sundry shakes of the head and nods of acquiescence by the crowd. "It was a reg'ler go and no mistake," continued Candy Bob ruefully, "though we came down pretty gentle, and there wasn't a great deal of harm done. I was thrown out on my head, so I wasn't much hurt. Direck'ly I got up I ran to the hosses' heads, and Mr. Cameron, of Tara, and young Pilling, who were in the coach and weren't hurt, they came and gave me a hand. "Did the pole go?" called out an eager listener, anxious to know the full extent of the tragedy. "No," responded Candy Bob, "the most wunnerful thing out. That there pole had never a crack in it ; but it shifted round as the old coach fell, and dragged the harness all to one side. Such a mess you never saw. The hosses were kickin' and plungin' fearful, and we couldn't go near 'em for a bit ; but l got hold of the heads of the two leaders, and we unhooked the traces and took 'em out, and then we got the wheelers out and quieten'd 'em, and Mr. Cameron, he held them while I went to see what the damage was." "There was another outside, a lady, and I didn't see her, so I went to look for her, and there she was sittin' on the ground cryin'. 'All right, miss,' I sings out; 'no damage done much. Hope you're not hurt more than the shaking.' 'Oh!' says she, cryin', ' I think my wrist's broken. I fell right on it, and I can't move my hand.' Well, there wasn't much time for talking. I left Mr. Cameron and Mr. Pilling in charge of the hosses, and I jumped on one of the wheelers, and galloped bareback into the town. But before I went, I had a look to see what frightened the hosses, and there was that all-fired brute, Purdy Jack, lyin' dead drunk right in the middle of the track. Enough to frighten any hoss. It's a pity they didn't take no notice of him, and go straight over him, coach and all, the drunken idiot." Such, in Candy Bob's own graphic words, is a bare outline of
the memorable accident to the mail coach that plunged Karra- dindy for the conventional nine days into a whirl of excite- ment. Candy Bob, riding furiously into the township on one of the coach horses, was the first herald of the event. To the many anxious inquiries that gentleman merely vouchsafed a hurried reply that there had been an accident to the coach, and, dis- mounting at the stables, called on the groom — the gentleman addicted to chewing straws—to harness up the buggy. "Look sharp, Bill," he cried, "any hosses that are in; it don't matter what. The coach's been upset, and there's a lady, hurt. Look alive, man. Here, boys," he cried, addressing the few who had collected out of curiosity, " run that buggy out of the shed, will you, while we harness up ? Right you are. What hosses have you in, Bill ? " "Old Foxglove and Ranter," grunted the other laconically. "That'll do. Harness 'em up; there's no time to waste. Come, look alive." In less than five minutes the horses were put to, and Candy Bob, jumping to the seat and taking the reins in his hand, cried out, " You take one of the hosses, Bill — the one I rode in 'll do— and come on after me as quick as you like, to drive the coach horses home." And then, with a ringing cheer from the onlookers, he whirled out of the yard at full gallop. The excitement in Karradindy during his absence rose to fever heat. The news that an accident had happened to the coach ran like wild-fire from mouth to mouth. Those who had horses handy saddled them, and rode to the scene of the disaster, eager to lend a helping hand and anxious to participate in the excite- ment of such a novel event. Quite a large crowd collected in front of the store, eagerly discussing the accident and the probabi- lities of anyone having been killed, and fully prepared to hear of and witness a frightful tragedy. In something under half an hour the anxious crowd discerned the buggy returning, accompanied by several horsemen. A hush of expectancy and fear fell upon them, as they watched the rapidly advancing vehicle. " Don't seem nobody hurt there," exclaimed Towser Bill — the blacksmith — critically. " Maybe they've left the bodies behind," suggested a neighbour in an awed undertone. " Maybe your a fool," answered the blacksmith. "Shut up, what d'ye want to go frightening the women for?" " That's a lady alongside| Candy Bob, and there's someone in the back-seat hurt," eagerly shouted a young man, with a sparse growth of whisker studding his face in little patches. "l can see one of them holdin' him up. By jinkers ! he don't seem to have no bones." A thrill of horror ran through the crowd at this awful even- tuality.
"I see him," cried another, "he's all covered with mud. He's reg'ler curled up. My crikey, he must be bad !" But the near approach of the buggy put all unnecessary con- jecture at an end. As Candy Bob pulled up smartly before the Bushman's Rest the crowd parted and burst, unanimously into a loud hurrah. " Bill," cried Candy Bob, jumping from his seat, " stand at the horses' heads. Mr. Rattray, this lady's arm is broken, I think, will you help her in to the hotel. Keep your courage up, miss," he exclaimed, as he prepared to assist her out ; "accidents will happen everywhere. I'll go for the doctor directly I've delivered the mails, and you'll be all right and comfortable in less than no time. Don't be down-hearted, miss ; a little pain soon goes away, and perhaps it's not really broken after all." General attention was attracted towards the occupant of the front seat. She had her veil down, and was crying silently behind it. Her figure was slight and fragile, clad in a modest dress of black merino, neat and becoming, but without ornament or embellishment of any kind. As the gallant driver assisted her tenderly to the ground, a general hum of sympathy arose from the crowd, and when in descending she uttered a low cry of pain, caused by the movement, expressions of pity burst unreservedly from all sides. As the unfortunate traveller disappeared in the private little sittingroom of the " Bushman's Rest," public attention turned to the other occupants of the buggy. "Why, Candy," said the blacksmith, eyeing the mud-stained, huddled-up figure in the back seat of the buggy with some astonishment; "What's up with Purdy Jack?" " Don't you see he's drunk !" he answered shortly. "It was him caused the accident, lyin' dead drunk in the middle of the track. But I'm not going to answer any questions till I've delivered the mails. Out of the way there, you, unless you want to be run over ; " and in much perturbation of spirits, Candy Bob drove round to the store, with which was incorporated the local post-office. When it became thoroughly known throughout the township that Mr. John Heeley — otherwise Purdy Jack — was the direct cause of the accident, and consequent injury to a young lady, a strong feeling of indignation was aroused against him in many a manly breast. He had been thrown out of the buggy by Candy Bob, and lay inert and helpless on the ground outside the Bush- man's Rest. A few young men collected round his prostrate figure, and eyed it with no favouring gaze. "It's a darned shame," said the young man with the tufts of whisker studding his face like small oases, whose sphere in life was that of apprentice to Towser Bill, the blacksmith. "I vote we tar an' feather him." "Or chuck him in a waterhole to cool an' and get sober," suggested another critically. On whatever form of punishment they might have decided, it is pretty certain that it would not have been quite agreeable to the feelings of the drunken object of their attentions ; so it was, perhaps, somewhat lucky for him that Candy Bob happened to pass at the time. " Now, lads," said that worthy, "you leave him to me. I'll settle up with him to- morrow. Here am I, been and overset the coach all through him, and damaged my character, besides breaking a lady's arm. I'm goin' to make him pay for it when he's sober. Keep an eye on him boys, 'till to-morrow, he'll be right by then, and I'll give him the d— dest hammering he ever had." Murmurs of approbation at this very laudable line of action burst unreservedly from all sides, and the limp form of Mr. John Heeley, very much bedraggled and mud-stained, was hauled along the ground to the back of the stables, and deposited with many ejaculations of contempt and derision in an empty shed, where he reposed in the company of a numerous but somewhat dis- reputable-looking family of ducks, a fine specimen of a Berkshire sow with the bump of curiosity highly developed, a contem- plative and solitary gander, a miscellaneous assortment of broken harness and cart-gear. That gallant driver, Candy Bob, without staying to break his fast or take other refreshment more than a co ple of glasses of whisky and water, hastily saddled a couple of horses, and mounting one and leading the other, rode round to the Bushman's Rest. " Tell her," he said to Mrs. Rattray, who came out in response to his call : "tell her I'm going for the doctor to Narraby. You tell her, Mrs. Rattray, it's only 16 miles. I'll be there in an hour and a half easy, and I'm taking a horse for the doctor, so we'll be back in no time. Give my respects to her, and say I hope she aint hurt much after all. Good evening," and putting spurs to his horse he vanished into the dusk of the highroad. In even less time than was anticipated the loud beat of galloping hoofs on the hard metalled road apprised those who were waiting of his return. Out from the darkness into the lights of the town- ship they came — Candy Bob and the doctor — at almost full gallop, and pulled up sharply before the publichouse. " Smart work, Mrs. Rattray," ejaculated Candy Bob, as the storekeeper's wife came to meet them. "Two hours and 52 minutes exactly, includin' stoppages."
" Yes, indeed," she replied, "you are very good indeed to have made such haste. Good evening, doctor ! I hope you don't feel fatigued after your ride. I suppose Candy informed you he had an accident with the coach, and there's a lady wanting your care ? Will you see her now, or will you take something to eat first ?" The district doctor — who rejoiced in the curious name of Waddlegrig— was somewhat of a character in his way. Though bluff and not over courteous in his manner, he possessed one of the kindliest hearts that ever beat in manly bosom, and, despite his manner, was a great favourite on all hands. " Ride, indeed, ma'am !" he responded, replying to the first half of the question. "Don't feel fatigued, eh? Much you know about it. Do you generally send madmen to fetch doctors in this part of the country ? Because next time anybody comes from Karradindy I'll lock myself up in my study, and riddle him with Snider bullets. I will, by heavens." There was a good-humoured look in the doctor's face, that somehow belied his sanguinary threat, but as he stood in the verandah he shook his fist at the retreating form of Candy Bob, and exclaimed — "Why, ma'am, that madman there, directly we got out of the town, began galloping like mad. It was as dark as pitch, but I had to keep up with him for fear of getting off the road. 'Pull up, you madman,' I screamed. 'All right, doctor,' he said quite coolly, ' I know every inch of the road. Come on ! I'll race you to the Four Mile.' It's a blessed wonder we're not killed and smashed the both of us, rushing along like madmen in the dark like that. But I'll put it in the bill. I'll charge double, I will, and summon that infernal madman for intent to murder. " The personage referred to, who had so seriously disturbed Dr. Waddlegrig's equanimity, after stabling the two tired horses and partaking of a hurried meal, betook himself to that part of the cottage where the patient had been housed. These were a couple of rooms — a sitting and bedroom — at one end of the cottage, almost detached from the main building, and remote from the bar and its noise. Candy Bob waited impatiently outside in the dark. The door was shut and the curtains drawn ; he could hear or see nothing. Just as his patience was giving way, and he was about to depart, the door opened, and the doctor and Mrs Rattray came out. " How is she ?" he exclaimed eagerly. "Why, here's the madman again," ejaculated the doctor. " Aren't you satisfied with trying to murder me once in a night, that you must come prowling about in the dark ?" "You will have your joke, doctor," answered Candy Bob. "How is the patient, Mrs. Rattray ?" " Dr. Waddlegrig found her wrist was broken, but only a simple fracture. He set it and gave her a sleeping draught, poor , thing ; she's asleep now. By the bye, Candy, do you know who she is ? She has been in such a state, I didn't like to ask her about herself."
" Miss Roberts is her name ; that's how it's entered on the way- bill. She's booked right through to Haverly. That's all I know about her." " You didn't hear what she was at all, I suppose?" "No. I only know her name from the way-bill——" "Look here," interrupted the doctor, impatiently and impolitely, " I'm not going to stand here all night. If you want to talk— talk, but tell me where I'm to sleep first. After riding helter-skelter with a madman in the night one wants rest to recover the shock." "Oh yes, doctor, " said Mr. Rattray. " It is very rude of me. Good-night, Candy. This way, doctor, you are to honour us tonight." In a short time all was quiet in the township. With the doctor's report the excitement subsided, and the few townsfolk who had been waiting about, either out of curiosity or because they had nothing better to do, dispersed to their homes as bedtime arrived. By the time the moon rose a deep silence brooded over the township, and though it shot its silvery rays inquiringly through a corner of the blind at the heroine of the day's misadventure, calmly sleeping under the influence of Dr. Waddlegrig's soporific — though it lighted up with a disdainful brightness the recumbent form of Purdy Jack, lying in a state of mire in congenial companionship with the grunting pig — and though it shone boldly on Candy Bob, fast asleep after his exertions, but waging fierce combat with the skewbald cob and the bald-faced filly — though it shone inquiringly on the principal actors of the day's adventure, there was really no direct evidence to show what had occurred. So that after making minute search all through the night, and finding out nothing to allay its curiosity, towards morning, in a sudden fit of chagrin, it popped behind a cloud, and was seen no more till next night.