|Chapter Title||A SAD HISTORY.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Iris: An Australian Story|
A SAD HISTORY.
In the brilliantly-lit dining-room the traces of recent emotion were to be seen on the pure, sweet face of Iris, but a noble purpose and unselfish aims shone in the lovely hazel eyes, and over them the white brow might have been that of an angel.
There was always this difference between the child of Mrs. Vaughan and other girls: that so many of them seemed to feel and act and speak in a certain groove ; to have a manner rather than an individuality ; and whenever and wherever one met them, they seemed to be the same. But the beauty and presence and words of Iris spoke of a developing womanhood, of a soul ceaselessly striving after the right, of a heart brimming over with sympathy for the suffering, wherever found.
Something akin to these thoughts gathered in the hearts of the two young men as the ladies left the room, and they were left to their cigars and wine.
Meredith had opened the door, and as the girlish figure, clad in black muslin, passed through, his grave eyes, full of unfathomable feeling, rested on the dainty gold-crowned head with a look which would have puzzled Iris, had she met his glance.
But she went on unconscious.
In the drawing-room, the gentlemen were discussing the 'unemployed' and the genuiness of much of their trouble. Iris and Mrs. Barry listened with interest, and presently Meredith sat down by the younger lady, and asked her opinion of the matter at issue. But she refused to be drawn into anything like an argument on the subject.
" I only know a little about it," she said, in her rich low voice, " and that little is of the distress and misery of the wives and children."
" That is the worst part of it," answered Meredith, with genuine feeling, " and it is a difficult thing to help them, for the men, irritated and soured by their trouble, and worked upon by some of their
companions, have even refused substantial assistance, unless it has come in the shape of daily
employment for themselves.'
" There are so many phases of trouble and distress, " pursued Iris, musingly. " I think the history of "Jo" was very touching - compelled to wander till he died, by his poverty and utter helplessness. No one can know what that poor boy suffered," she added, softly.
" That was in the old country, my dear, " Mr. Rainsford remarked. "We never have such sad things here, and Dickens knew how to work upon our feelings in telling us of it. You must not dwell upon these things, Iris. Look upon the prosperity of our colony, and be thankful for it, and don't burden your tender heart with the troubles of the universe."
He spoke cheerily, and playfully drove Allan from a chair near her, and sent him to the piano. But Iris had an answer for him, and under cover of the waves of harmony filling the room, unconsciously dealt him a terrible blow.
" There are cases of distress here, Mr. Rainsford, " she said in a low, clear voice, audible to both men . " I have lived and worked among people who have had to live on insufficient food, in ill-built, dilapidated houses, and have had barely enough clothing to cover them, and in winter they have suffered horribly ; surely if I, in the few years of my life have seen and known of such things, you have also," and turned her clear flashing eyes to the older man.
" Of course, I have seen poverty, of course," he replied, rather lamely ; he was not feeling quite comfortable ; a long down-trodden conscience had pricked him often during these later years, and he knew very well why he had not known much of the distress and poverty of others while he was running the race. He had shut his eyes to everything of that kind, and his face was a stone wall to the few appeals that were ever made to him. So that he would prefer not to have these things discussed.
But he was compelled to listen to Iris -
" We, ourselves, have been victims to that cruelty which obtains among business men " - her voice was full of concentrated passion and the consciousness of bitter wrong ; " that custom of giving the lowest wages to their employees in return for the greatest amount of labour, although I know that, where a business is young, and has to stand against many competitors, economy must be practiced where possible. I blame them for continuing to give the miserable starvation wages, when they are prospering, and could, without detriment to their interests, give proportionately higher wages. My own father suffered, and at last died through this very thing, and his employer was hard on him when in desperation he forged his name for ten pounds ! I cannot be ashamed of it ; how can I ?
The hot tears fell on her white cheeks.
" Mother told me how it was," she went on, brushing away the tear-drops that fell ; she was ill, and father dared not stay to help her. She got worse, and the doctor came, and said she must have an operation. He also said that the expense would be four guineas, and that she must have more nourishing food, and some person to look after her. I was a baby then."
Iris spoke in short, abrupt sentences, her bosom heaving, her white hands tightly locked, Her companions were deeply interested, two of them terribly so.
" Father went to his employer, and told him of it, He asked him if he could advance him a little of his money, a month's salary ; but the man, if he can be called a man, refused, and said it was none of his business. Sometimes I think if I could meet
that man -
Iris broke off, unconscious that Mr. Rainsford's
head was buried in his hands.
" But what is the use of telling it, " she continued, after a pause ; " the operation was never performed, and mother suffered a martyrdom of pain. She would get up and go about, while father, discharged and publicly disgraced by this employer, dragged on and struggled, until at last he died, my own mother going out as a charwoman, so that she might obtain the means to bury him."
Here the wan face became deathly white, and the heavy lids closed over the eyes so full of grief and pain. The remembrance had been too much for her, and merciful oblivion came over her senses.
" Send for the doctor,' hastily whispered, Mr. Rainsford, " and take every care of her. If - "
But he was not heeded, Mrs. Barry's womanly hands ministered to the unconscious girl, and the strong arms of Allan carried her up to the little bedroom, and reverently laid her on the little
Then he went downstairs, and he and his friend stood face to face in the empty drawing-room.
" What do you think, Meredith?"
An anxious question was in Rainsford's eyes, asking far,more than did his words.
" I'm afraid so," answered Meredith, very gently; then going to a side table he poured out a glass of wine, and gave it to Allan, drinking some also himself.
There was long silence in the room after that until the doctor's carriage was heard at the hall door.
Allan met him anxiously as he came down from his visit to Iris. The family physician shook his head.
" Your young friend will not be out of her room for three weeks at any rate ; she has undergone a severe strain for a long time, and its result now will
be brain fever. Good-bye."
Sick at heart, Allan closed the door, and went to his room, where he and his friend had a long talk, for they had guessed Mr. Rainsford's secret.
A month later, Iris sat in an easy-chair. She was still pale ; her fair head was cropped like a boy, while her eyes, large and languid, gazed dreamily
on the river.
Allan had come to say "good-bye" to her, and she felt how she should miss him. Yet how glad she was to hear him say that he was going to live in earnest, and be a worker like his fellows. In all his plans and arrangements she was an earnest sympathiser, and the poor fellow could hardly control himself in the presence of this fragile, lovely girl, who had utterly and forever taken possession
of his heart.
" I hope I shall find you here when I come back," he said ; then, quite unable to keep back one little word, he added, " I hope you will be here always."
To Be Continued.