|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Iris: An Australian Story|
The city was at last reached, and a waggonette immediately carried them from the railway station ;
but the traffic in Swanston street rendered, their progress slow. Iris was white to the lips, and had to be almost lifted out by Allan at the gate of
her mother's house.
A doctor's carriage stood at the door, and in the little bedroom, Mrs. Vaughan lay in utter exhaustion.
She had broken a blood-vessel that afternoon, and a neighbour, who was then sitting with her, had sent one of her children for the nearest doctor.
But Mrs. Vaughan was past all human aid, and
had but a few short hours to live.
" Mother," whispered Iris, kneeling beside the bed, " is it my fault ? Oh, I shouldn't have left you by yourself, that I shouldn't."
The dying woman shook her head, but spoke not. They never heard her voice again.
The kind neighbour arranged to stay all night with the mother and Iris, but about ten o'clock a
sudden flicker of life transformed the thin white
face ; and with her hands the dying woman made feeble signs to Iris, who blindly strove to understand her, and brought many things to her bedside, but they were not what she wanted.
Suddenly, Iris thought of an old desk, full of letters and papers belonging to her mother, which was in the next room. Bringing it to Mrs. Vaughan, she saw by the look of the poor woman that she had found what was wanted. Opening the desk, she discovered among the contents a thick and worn manuscript book ; and Iris gathered from the signs, now becoming so weak and vague, that her mother wished her to read it - her diary from the year before she was married up to the last few days.
But the agitation of the dying woman showed every now and again, and Iris, in an agony of fear, asked herself what it could be. She kissed the little book, and said slowly and tenderly to her mother that she would read it, but that she could not understand what could be troubling her so.
At midnight, after a long unconsciousness, Mrs. Vaughan ceased to live ; and Iris, white and wan, felt that sudden terrible stillness which speaks the presence of death - that strange, impalpable,
invisible something which fills the place with a
terrible chill and loneliness.
It was all over. She got up mechanically, and,
turning to her companion, who had succumbed to the quietness and heat of the summer day, said in a dazed, slow kind of way :
" Mrs. Ewin, mother is dead."
She looked straight into the woman's eyes, yet without seeing them, and that kindly soul, moved to the heart by the pitiful aspect of the white face and the strangeness of the girl's manner, yet hardly awake, said: " My poor lamb !" Then, hastily moving to the bedside, laid a gentle hand on the breast of the motionless figure, to feel if the heart
was indeed still.
But Iris sprang forward, and, seizing the woman fiercely by the arm, said, in tones of anger and grief, " How dare you touch her ? Leave her to her rest."
Then, sinking on her knees by the bedside, she cried, in a stifled voice, " Oh, mother ! mother ! you are at rest now !" And then the hot tears welled up into her eyes.
Merciful relief had come at last, and much of her misery and anguish was lessened by the time that gentle arms lifted her from her knees, and Mrs. Barry's tender voice had spoken in her ears.
" Put on your hat, Iris, and come out with me ; there is so much to be done," she said quietly ; and Iris, feeling what comfort there was in this kind friend, obeyed. But when they reached the carriage door, misgivings came upon her, and her daily cares and anxieties were recalled to her brain.
" I have a few pounds in the Savings Bank," she said ; " will that be enough for the - every thing, you know, I must get it done cheaply," and the tears fell thickly on her pale cheeks at having to speak about
the funeral of her beloved mother, as if she were arranging a purchase of groceries or boots.
In after years Iris would sometimes look back, and feel it to be one of the bitterest incidents of her life, that she could not have her mother laid in the grave in the way she would have liked.
" We have nothing to do with that, dear ; Mr. Rainsford will have everything done right, and you must keep what you have in the bank. You may
So said her friend, with a little anxiety as to how
Iris would take her words.
Very quietly the girl took them, thinking deeply ;
and her answer came in a minute or two
' I could not have my own mother buried by a stranger. I know, too, that she would not have wished it. Perhaps Mr. Rainsford would make arrangements, and tell them that my little money
must cover all."
Iris spoke firmly, and, though she knew it would leave her penniless, did not falter, upheld by her own heart's assurance of the right course.
Mrs. Barry silently acquiesced.
They were in the carriage now, and driving in the direction of Hawthorn. On arriving at the Grange, Iris, indifferent as to her route or destination, followed her companion into the spacious hall.
Into her own pleasant room Mrs. Barry took Iris, and removed her hat. Tea and fresh cakes were brought in, and Iris was persuaded to have some refreshment, since she had not tasted food for
" I want to have a nice long talk with you, dear ; will you listen to me, Iris, and think of what I am saying ?"
Mrs. Barry was tenderly smoothing the golden hair, and one arm lay around her visitor's neck.
" Tell me about it, Iris ; did your mother suffer much ?"
" No, I think not ; she was very weak, and I'm afraid she was troubled about something. I couldn't tell what it was. Oh ! dear mother, if I could only know !"
But Iris would never know that her mother had wished the diary destroyed, for the sake of passages in it that would change utterly the desolate girl's life, and rob her of best friends.
They had a long peaceful morning in the pleasant room at the Grange, and Iris, at the end of their talk, with tremulous voice, had accepted her new position as the adopted daughter of the house.
" I can never be to you what your dear mother was, Iris ; but I will care for you, dear, and you will read to me, and be company for me in my old age. Mr. Rainsford will give you a yearly sum for your own expenditure, dress and painting materials, and presently, when you are settled nicely, we must see about your getting lessons at the School of Design, for we know you would like to be an artist, Iris, but you need much training yet.'
In spite of her heartache, these words soothed and comforted the girl greatly, and she kissed her friend's hands with gratitude.
They went back to Carlton, Mrs. Barry staying all night with her, and in the morning the still form was laid to rest. Everything was now settled, and Iris packed her modest wardrobe and relics of the past, and, with gentle kindly farewells to her neighbours, left the little house in Carlton forever.