|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Miss Roberts's Lovers: An Australian Story|
MISS ROBERTS'S LOVERS: AN AUSTRALIAN STORY.—BY DAVID G. FALK,
AUTHOR OF "A KARRADINDY IDYLL.''
"P'RAPS YOU WOULDN'T CARE TO MARRY ME, SUPPOSIN' I ASKED.—CHAP. VI.
CHAPTER V. Time — the most ancient as well as the most skilful of physicians, though, perhaps, at the same time the very worst' repaid of any — in his quiet unpretentious way, during the course of the next fortnight, was making vast efforts to perform a radical cure of the fractured wrist. It is doubtful if the old gentleman would have been so successful as he was had it not been for the fact of his being aided and assisted by two attendant sprites— youth and constitution. As it was, being so ably seconded (not to mention also the services of Dr. Waddlegrig, who certainly was no sprite, either as to figure or activity), the effect was highly satisfactory. By the end of the fortnight succeeding the events chronicled in the last chapter, the dressmaker had almost entirely recovered from the effects of the accident. During that period she had received a great many visits from both the gentlemen who interested themselves in her condition. That treasured heirloom of Mr. Purdy Jack's, which he was wont in the fulness of his heart to term "Old Jacob," was the cause of another visit on his part to the dressmaker. Whether it was in consequence of the tremendous jerks he was generally accus- tomed to give it when wishing to dislodge it from his pocket, or whether it was a natural perversity peculiar to ancient relics of the kind, Old Jacob every now and again exhibited a decided tendency for stopping. This naturally gave the owner an oppor- tunity of calling on the lady who had so efficiently effected a cure before. He had likewise paid a visit of ceremony once or twice, armed with a huge flaming nosegay, which he presented with ill-repressed glee! On these occasions it was evident he was got up solely for effect, for not only was his dress and appearance the very pink of bush dandyism, but his very manner, for the nonce, assumed a tone in keeping. He was wont to assume a laboriously polite air, very much at variance with his ordinary hilarious disposition, and this during his visits would be so apparent, and his heavy politeness would so clash with his keen sense of humour, that it was highly ludicrous to witness, and used to amuse the dress- maker mightily. Candy Bob, too, had not been backward either during that time in prosecuting his acquaintance, but during none of his visits had he mentioned anything further regarding her claim on the company. Miss Roberts, indeed, hearing no more on the subject, thought the matter had dropped, and was quite content that it should do so. One day during the last fortnight Candy Bob had asked if she would not like to go a little into the fresh air for a change now that she was so much better, and had offered to take her for a drive. This offer she had gladly accepted, and they had|had a most delighful afternoon's jaunt (that is, they both said so afterwards). Coming home they met no less a person than Mr. John Heeley, jogging along in the springcart, with his surpris- ingly shiny horse drawing it. He burst into a loud roar directly he caught sight of them, and seemed to perceive a vast fund of humour in the situation. However, he gave them an urgent invitation to turn back with him, and see his s'lection, which, having plenty of time at their disposal, they did.
There they made the acquaintance of Mrs. Heeley, senior. Purdy Jack's mother, an ancient dame with a face like a sphinx, and an angular figure, all knobs and corners. But she had a kind heart, despite her appearance, and showed the visitors the pigs and hens, and the dairy and the fruit-garden, and everything of interest, and gave them refreshment in the shape of a plateful of delicious scones, with plenty of fresh butter and milk; during all of which time the redoubtable owner hovered to and fro in a state of pleased excitement, assuring them confidentially as they admired this and that, that it was the best s'lection goin'," and overwhelming the dressmaker with pressing solicitations to " take anythin' she had a fancy for." It was a very pleasant day. The lady enjoyed the change after her close imprisonment, and seemed quite pleased with the novelty of the visit. Candy Bob enjoyed it in a steady kind of way, for reasons doubtless well known to himself. Purdy Jack doubtless enjoyed it, for he rode part of the way back, and laughed and chuckled all the way. His sphinx-like mother may have enjoyed it too, though she gave no sign or token to indicate such a fact. It was about a week after this event that one day, as Miss Roberts was sitting working in the little sittingroom, she was surprised, even disturbed, by a visit from Mr. Croxton, the company's local manager. He proved to be a short man, with a bright intelligent face, lighted up by a pair of beady eyes, restless and seemingly always moving. He was accompanied by Candy Bob, and with that gentleman, after sending in his card, was ushered into the little sittingroom. "Glad to see you looking so well, Miss Roberts," he said, after the usual saluta- tions, plunging into what he had to say without further delay. " Heard all about you from Candy Bob here. It won't fatigue you talking a little business, I suppose? I am making my half- yearly round of inspection, and, being here, wish to speak to you about your case. " " Dear me !" exclaimed the dressmaker, "I don't understand." " Your case, ma'am ; your claim on the company. The state- ment you sent was very inadequate. It wasn't even signed, and the directors refused to entertain it. " I didn't," she began, when the manager, with hand elevated in gentle deprecation, interrupted her. "Excuse me. It was unbusiness-like. I spoke at the meeting of my knowledge of the affair, and stated the particulars just as Candy Bob told them to me. The end of it is, the directors acted very differently from what I imagined they would. They put the matter in my hands, and commissioned me to look into it." " But I didn't put any ——" exclaimed the dressmaker piteously, with a glance at Candy Bob. " Excuse me," interrupted Mr. Croxton again, with persuasive gesture. "The company's desirous of doing things liberally, and nobody 'll deny but that it's been very unfortunate for you. Now, considering the facts of the case, I feel disposed to act as liberally as I can towards you, ma'am, and repay you for the loss of time and expense you've been under.' " Mr. Croxton used his influence with the directors, Miss Roberts," said Candy Bob steadily, " or else they wouldn't have allowed the claim."
" Oh, thank you!" she exclaimed, turning from one to the other, " but I don't understand——" " Excuse me," interrupted the manager, with an indulgent 'smile. "Of course not. The matter just rests in this way. I am here to hear your proposal of compensation, and, if you are reasonable in your demands, I shall be very pleased to meet them. Now, what sum do you consider you are entitled to for your loss of time and expense?" She looked helplessly at the speaker, and then appealingly at his companion ; it was all so unexpected, she hardly knew what to make of it. Candy Bob's eyes meeting hers, shifted uneasily, and Candy Bob. himself looked for the moment parti- cularly confused. With feminine perspicacity, the dressmaker had already perceived that it must have been Candy Bob himself who had moved in the matter, and she threw him a grateful little glance, which that gentleman unluckily failed to intercept. It is doubtful if she would not have made more open mention of the fact in the fulness of her heart, and so have exposed the state of affairs to the attentive manager, if that personage had not claimed her attention by repeating his question. " Excuse me, ma'am," he repeated a little loudly, " but have you considered what sum you think would repay you for the loss of time and expense you have been put to ?" " Oh, I don't know, I'm sure !" she exclaimed. " I think, Miss Roberts," said Candy Bob, in the same mea- sured voice, "if you leave it to the generosity of Mr Croxton, it might be best. lf I might advise you, I should say it would be best.'' " Oh ! yes, yes," she exclaimed, casting another grateful glance at the speaker. " I don't know at all. Whatever Mr. Croxton likes I'm sure," " Well, ma'am," returned that gentleman, " perhaps it would be best; because I've only a limit to go to on and if you put your claim too high, I couldn't deal with it, and then it would mean —law. The directors limit me to a sum of £50, but if you think——" " Oh !" she exclaimed with a gasp. " It's too much ! " ''Excuse me. If you are satisfied, I can give you that sum against your written receipt, freeing the company from any further claim on your part." ''It would take me nearly six months to earn all that," ex- claimed the foolish dressmaker, actually with a catch in her voice. The manager raised his eyebrows. " Would it really?" he said indifferently. "Now, if you'll get me pen and ink and paper, I'll write out the short agreement tor you to sign ; just for mere form, you know, stating that you give up all claim on the company for any damage or loss you may have sustained." " Oh! thank you!' she exclaimed, in a burst of gratitude. " It's ever so much more than I expected. I don't deserve half of it. I don't know how to thank you. Indeed, I don't !" " Excuse me," he began in his most formal voice, but sud- denly changing his tone, said, " Well, well, my dear, I'm glad you're pleased. You must have had a weary time here, through no fault of your own. You deserve every penny of the money and more, and the company can well afford it." Soon afterwards the manager took his departure, bearing in
his pocket-book a document signed "Henrietta Roberts," in which that lady stated that she relinquished all and any claims for compensation she had against the company for any damage, hurt, expense, and loss of time she might have experienced, in consideration of having received the sum of £50 sterling from Archibald Croxton, on account of the company, and leaving in return, upon the round work-table, a cheque on the County Bank for that amount. Candy Bob would have made his escape with the manager too, had not the dressmaker, in an unusual fit of courage for her, asked him to stay for a moment. "Oh, Mr. Hathaway!" she exclaimed in a fervour of gratitude. " However can I thank you ? It was so noble, so good of you." Candy Bob, blushing slightly under this panegyric, answered sturdily, "You mus'n't thank me, miss ; you must thank Mr. Croxton." " Oh, no ! I know it was you. You wrote to the directors ; and all the time you knew they might dismiss you. Oh ! it was so good." The dressmaker looked quite pretty as she stood close to her companion, her face glowing with emotion, her slender figure looking so yielding and soft in its loose gown. At least, it is most probable Candy Bob thought so, for an unusual softened light shone in his eyes. "Well, miss,' he said simply, 'the truth is I got Mrs. Rattray to write down about the accident. I didn't think it right that you should be put to so much pain and trouble for nothing, so I took the liberty of taking the matter in hand, thinking it was mostly on my account you were letting it drop. I knew the directors wouldn't blame me at all ? " "Oh, no! you didn't. You thought they would, I m sure," she exclaimed. "Well, I didn't care very much either way. So I took the liberty or putting it before them." " Oh ! How good it was of you !" " Good ! No, it was only right and proper. I should have been a cur if I'd wanted to screen myself, and you be the loser. That would never have done at all, would it?" "I don't know, I'm sure,' she answered. "I should have been quite satisfied." Well, Candy Bob took his leave after a few more fine speeches on his and the lady's part, quite struck with admiration, and feeling— indeed, very queer altogether. There was something winning about the dressmaker in her very look and air of childish dependence and helplessness, just the very thing calculated to appeal to the heart of a man like the gallant driver. But the happy possessor of the £50 had forgotten something in her interview with her champion, which she rectified next day, by sending for him before he left the township in the early morning. Handing him over the cheque, she desired him to get it cashed for her, and to take from it the money he had spent on her account. "Every penny, mind," she said. But the latter part of this injunction Candy Bob absolutely refused to do. He hadn't spent much — hardly anything ; didn't know how much it was, and didn't mean to take anything. To all the dressmaker's arguments he returned the same answer, short and decisive, and at last somewhat abruptly quitted the room. The imitative faculty, as is universally known, is in a state of very high development in the human family. Example is a wonderful master, who guides the ordinary actions of a large section of people, and rules the course of many a life. But perhaps it would be wanting in charity and appreciation of noble actions if we were to view only in that light the line of conduct adopted by Purdy Jack, when he learned of Candy Bob's having gained for the dressmaker a sum of £50. It is due to that hero to regard his conduct from a higher standpoint — to imagine him moved by some of those noble sentiments that spring up wild and uncultivated perchance, but none the less luxuriantly in rugged natures like his. The point in question occurred a day or two after Candy Bob's visit, when Mr. Purdy Jack, dressed in gay attire, rode into Karradindy and waited upon the dressmaker. After a few preliminary flourishes regarding himself, his s'lection, the state of the weather, and the condition of the lady herself, he came to the object of his visit. " I heerd as how Ca udy Bob had got your fifty poun' from the company, mu'um,' he said. By the bye, it may be mentioned that in addressing the dressmaker, he was wont to alternate in agreeable confusion between "miss," "ma'am," and "mu'um," which was perhaps a little disconcerting for the person so addressed. "Yes,' answered Miss Roberts eagerly; she was always pleased to talk on the subject and laud Candy Bob to the skies. "Wasn't it good of him? He might have been dismissed for it, you know ; but he didn't care a bit." There was quite a light in the dressmakers eyes, and she spoke in a strangely triumphant voice. Pardy Jack didn't receive the intimation in quite his usual spirit. True, he grinned, but only in a very feeble manner, and vaguely growled, " Oh ! it was very good of him, o' course." "Oh, yes! indeed it was," she returned briskly ; "and, by the bye, Mr. Heeley, I want to tell you that I am going to repay you for what money you've spent for me. I haven t the money here, because I gave the cheque to Mr. Hathaway to change for me, but when he comes back I wish you'd call here again, and I can pay you." Purdy Jack opened his eyes and has mouth pretty widely at this proposal, and pondered over it gravely in his mind for some time. " Did Candy take any money?" he said at last slowly. "No," she answered with a blush. " I couldn't make him, but I'm going to ask him again." Purdy Jack's face cleared up all at once, and his voice assumed its wonted genial tone as he answered, " O' course not. Candy wouldn't do it ; never would, I know ; and I'm in the same boat. I ain't a goin' to take no money, not on no account. Independent like, same as Candy ;" and the humour of this enviable condition tickling him suddenly, he broke into a modest grin behind his felt hat. " But you must !" cried his companion en ergetically. " What ! Arter you doctorin' Old Jacob, an' me comin' here, an' Candy Bob not takin' nothin'. Why," he continued, as another valid objection flashed across his mind, " I got the best s'lection goin' ; carries close up 300 sheep and 25 head prime milkers, she does ; and see here, I earns a pot o' money shearin' time. Money ain't no objec' to the like o' me," and deeming his last argument simply conclusive, he modestly retired again behind his hat, and grinned foolishly to himself for some considerable time. "I tell you what it is, miss," he said solemnly, when he felt himself able to return from obscurity, and meet the subject in a fit state of mind and preparation, ''bout this ere affair. Seems to me that Candy Bob was doin' all the work in this job. You know it weren't him as did it ; t'were me. Now I don't say a word agen Candy, but he don't treat me fair. He goes an' gets you fifty poun's, and never ses a word. Now I'm in it as well as him ; so I ses, play fair, an' ante up all round. Therefore, I come here,' he concluded, the air of solemnity he had worn all through giving place to a broad grin of enjoyment, " to plank my ante, an' here it is, ma'am, an' I'll be proud if you'll accept it." With that he placed carefully in front of the dressmaker a leather bag, evidently containing money. Keeping down his mirth with a noble effort, he continued, before the astonished dressmaker could make any reply, "There's fifty poun's there. I got it from the bank yesterday, same as Candy Bob gave you," and at this point his risible faculties getting the upper hand, he lay back in his chair and gave himself up to the thorough enjoyment of the joke. "Oh! Mr. Heelev," cried the dressmaker, " whatever do you' mean ? You don't think I can accept your money, do you ?" "Accept? Eh, why not?" he answered with a last growl of laughter dying away from under his beard. Now by rights his companion ought to have felt very indignant and angry at his offer, but, sad to say, the dressmaker was made of such gentle stuff, she never could be angry— at Ieast, if she
could, she never showed it — so she only answered a little more decisively than usual, "Mr. Heeley, I can't think of accepting your money. I wonder at your offering it. I wouldn't dream of such a thing as taking it." Purdy Jack exhibited a good deal of embarrassment, and looked more crestfallen than he had done before in her presence. But suddenly his face brightened as a striking idea came into his head. He leant over towards his companion, and growled in a voice of warning, marking off each point with nods and winks of a depth of meaning impossible to realise. "You've seen it. The best s'lection goin'. Close up 300 sheep ; 26 head prime milkers. I earns a power o' money shearin' time. Money aint no objec' at all." "That doesn't matter in the slightest," cried the dressmaker in desperation. "I won't take any money." "You took it from Candy Bob," he said reproachfully, fully convinced that if his last argument failed further discussion was useless. " Yes, but he got it from the company." " That aint nothin' where he got it from," he answered in an injured voice. "He anted up, an' I've come to chip in. That's the case, an' I don't see why I shouldn't be in it same as him." "You are very kind, Mr. Heeley — very kind indeed," she returned resignedly, " and I feel your kindness very much, but I can't take your money under any circumstances." Purdy Jack urged his point strenuously, but the dressmaker was firm, and even though he tried again his principal line of argument, his efforts were fruitless, and so the good-natured, thick-headed deputation of one was forced to retire without having, in any shape or form, accomplished its object.