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Chapter NumberII
Chapter TitlePHILLIP ARMSTRONG.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article64974109
Full Date1881-02-19
Page Number0
Corrections0
Word Count2528
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleIllustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)
Trove TitleThe Golden Link
article text

CHAPTER II.

PHILLIP ARMSTRONG.

Phillip Armstrong had been at one of the leading private schools near Sydney about three years when his father died. A lover of study, he had succeeded there almost beyond the highest expectations -which had been formed of him ; and the hopes which had hitherto been even more than realized had in some measure seemed to lighten the burden which had so fast dragged Mr. Armstrong down to his grave.

But now a serious question arose.

It had never occurred to him, any more than it had to any one else, that he should ever have to work for his living. But there seemed no doubt about it now.

The what-was-to-be-done was therefore the first thought which came into his mind as soon as his father's affairs in their disastrous fulness had been disclosed to him.

Now, there was one thing which he desired above all others, one which, viewed in connection with many of the other points in his character, shewed that character to be exactly what it was-a combination of contra- dictions. With all his love of books he Avould have given the world to have been a sailor.

He knew his father would not have listened to such an idea. Indeed, he had once mentioned it and the thin, white hand had been laid on his brow and the kind, loved voice had told him that it would break his father's heart to lose his boy-and from that day he had fought against his wish and well-nigh conquered it.

But now it seemed as if he were free to do what he would, and his old love returned in twice its former strength.

He would make his own way in the world he dreamed. It seemed a glorious thought to him to win for himself a name that should be remembered for ever. He had read of such men, who had died sword in hand on the deck of an enemy's ship, and why not he ? Day and night he would repeat to himself, " and why not I ?"

Such were the wild dreams of the young heir of Tal botfield ; and eagerly did he await the day when his fate

should become decided.

John Armstrong had appointed two of his best friends and neighbours his executors and the guardians of his children.

Matthew Bolton was the elder of the two men. The snow of seventy winters had fallen on his head, imparting a pat- riarchal appearance to a form which still stood erect, as in his earlier days, when he boldly faced the victorious Sikhs and assisted in holding them at bay while the remnant of the British forces struggled through the appalling terrors of the Khyber Pass. He had seen much of the world. Com- pelled to leave home while yet a mere youth, by reason of some wild follies at college, he had found his way to India, where, entering the British army, the discipline to which he had to submit, together with the hardships imposed by the Afghan war, completely changed his character. When peace was restored he determined upon revisiting England ;

but scarcely had the preparations for departure become completed than he received tidings of the death of his parents.

The effects of the blow were overwhelming. The stern, strong man, who had again and again faced death without flinching, seemed utterly crushed by the news of the loss of those whom he so dearly loved, yet whose hearts he had unintentionally broken.

In a single night his hair assumed a silvery tinge.

But he did not remain in Calcutta. He travelled through eastern countries, spent a couple of years in Southern Europe, then, crossing from the shores of France to Eng- land, he took a farewell look at the home of his childhood and then sailed for Sydney.

The family solicitors, had arranged everything for him. The estate of his fathers brought a good price, for the value of land was rapidly rising ; and when he found himself standing on Circular Quay he had several thousand pounds standing to his credit at one of the leading Sydney

banks.

Thenceforth everything seemed to prosper with him. His station was one of the largest and finest in the colony, and the wool produced always found a market at remunerative prices. Every day found him growing more wealthy, yet he never thought of taking to himself a wife.

Perhaps his bachelor habits were too strong to admit of his entertaining the idea ; perhaps he had become too absorbed in his occupation to think about it ; at any rate, he seemed to regard single blessedness as his natural state

of existence. -

It was this, possibly, which drew him so closely towards John Armstrong ; but the latter never told his friend of his

secret trouble.

Had he done so this story would not have been

written.

Matthew Bolton did not care for riches. He allowed his wealth to accumulate, but made no sign as to what should

be done with it after his death.

"When I am gone," he would say, "people will know

what I wished to do with it."

Strangers deemed him cold and cynical, but those who knew him, as did John Armstrong, did not fall into that mis- take. Beneath his rough and apparently unsympathetic exterior was to be found a warm and kindly nature.

John Armstrong felt greatly relieved when Matthew Bolton consented to be the guardian of his children.

"But I'm an old man, Armstrong," said Bolton, "and you had better ask some one younger than myself, say Sam' Carter, to be joint executor."

Of course Mr. Bol ton's wishes were regarded as law, and thus it was that Sam Carter became one of the guardians of the Armstrong family. Everybody knew Sam Carter. He was a fine, hearty fellow of some nine and twenty summers. All his life had been passed in the bush or on the station ; and there were none more secure in the saddle or expert in the use of the rifle than the owner of Mowarrab Station.

Sam's father had perished some four years previously from the effect of spear wounds, inflicted by a party of blacks whom he encountered during an exploring expedition towards the interior. It was a terrible fate, and the news ! proved fatal to Mrs. Carter, who never spoke for several days afterwards, when she called her son to her, kissed him affectionately and said, "God bless you, Sam."

j Three days later she was lying, never to rise again, in the

little room where she had been awaiting the return of her I husband.

Poor Sam. The death of his parents had made him a rich man, but he would rather have been penniless and had them still with him ; for he was a good, affectionate son, as really noble and chivalrous men invariably are.

Such then were the two men who were to decide the fate of John Armstrong's children.

To Phillip, whom they considered of an age to be in some degree capable of choosing for himself, they first turned their attention. They had both individually asked him

what his own wishes were.

Mr. Bolton had desired it to be so, as he said that the boy was more likely to confide in one with whom he had been acquainted intimately from his childhood, who had often shared his sports with him, than in one whom old age might seem to have placed at a distance from all boyish ideas.

And in this the old man had acted wisely. In the two answers which were given he had learned the boy's whole mind-his ideas, as dictated to him, by what was worldly in him, and his ideas, as dictated to him, was natural in

him.

To his own question the lad had replied cautiously that he had no doubt but that they knew best what should be done with him, that he knew how badly off his poor father had left them, but that he was willing to work to the last moment of his life rather than be dependent on any bounty which his friends might offer him. His father had always taught him this; all he wished to know was how and where to begin. And the old man was pleased with what he had said, and at once made up his mind that while he could he would lend him the helping hand. But he was somewhat grieved when Sam Carter brought the answer

which he had received.

To him, as to an elder brother, the boy had spoken his mind-nay, had prayed him with such earnestness to do all he could to further his wishes, that Sam had been glad to put him off with as good an excuse as he could make on the spur of the moment. He expected, as was the case, that Mr. Bolton would not hear of such a thing ; and, for his .own part, he could not but think that the lad would do

much better elsewhere.

Till long after midnight the two sat in the moonlit veran- dah, discussing all the various points which occurred to them regarding their late friend's affairs.

But it was three days before Phillip had ceased to hope

that his dream would be realized. Then he knew all.

Like the crash of a thunderbolt it came on him, almost stunning him, yet he never spoke-it seemed as if he had been prepared for everything. Years passed away before he breathed to any one the agony which, that blow brought

with it to him.

First of all the dwelling was to be sold, that home which was endeared to him by a thousand sweet recollections, was to pass into the hands of strangers. But how was it to be helped ? It was mortgaged, the executors feared, to the full amouut, and there was so little money elsewhere that it would have been sheer madness to have spared it.

" Why !" he complained, in the bitterness of his grief, "if Mr. Bolton is so rich as they say he is, could he not for the sake of him that was gone, keep the house until he or Walter should be of age ?"

Poor Phillip, he did not know the world yet ; but he was to learn soon, and by a very bitter experience, the weakness of him who hath no father's hand to guide him in his first

troubles.

The rest he had to learn was heavy enough, but it came like the burst of the storm after the thunderclap he expected it-the first words had crushed all his hopes, and he neither knew nor cared for anything beyond. Sullenly then he listened to his doom.

Mr. Bolton had kindly offered them all a home at his lodge, at any rate for the present, he was again to return to .school, from thence to the University, and then to the

bar.

It was enough-his cup was full ; but he was too proud to let any one see him weep ; and both Mr. Bolton and Sam Carter were astonished at the calmness with which he thanked them for their kindness and for the trouble which they had had about their affairs.

They had expected a violent outbreak ; but they did not know Phillip yet.

Poor lad, his first trouble was a heavy one to be borne. With the same calmness with which he had answered

his guardians Phillip told his sister and brother the story of his grief.

But they did not understand it further than this - that they were to leave their old home and go and live with " Old Bolton ;" and in three or four minutes after he had told them they were as happy again as a king and queen, playing at kangaroo-hunting.

Phillip stood watching them for some minutes.

Walter, who, like most "natives," was tall and somewhat thinly built, took the part of the marsupial, imitating with remarkable precision its not ungraceful mode of bounding away from its pursuers.

Edith, naturally agile, like most Australian girls accus- tomed to a country life, found it impossible to get near him, and at last paused, saying it was no use running after him

any more.

But Walter kept calling on her to follow him, and stood for a moment resting against the smooth stem of a white gum tree as if he were wearied.

Edith was not to be deceived by the ruse. She sat down on the grass and asked Phillip if it was fair that Walter refused to be captured 1

Phillip looked sadly at her and shrugged his shoulders.

There had been a time when he had been the merriest of the three ; but Walter said he had learned to play " big" at school and that he was too proud to join them in their home

romps now.

This was some time ago, but even then this had not been all ; Phillip's mind was before his years, he was a man when

but a child.

Many and many a time when the house had been filled with holiday visitors his thoughtful face had been missed from among them ; and those who knew him best were wont at such times to find him in his father's " study," as a small room fitted with two or three rows of bookshelves

was designated, sitting on a footstool at his feet, either lis- tening to his explanations or reading what Walter called " books with long words and no meanings."

John Armstrong, though very proud of him, had taken good care not to allow him to be puffed up with conceit, and was continually reminding him that, when he went out into the world, he would find hundreds as well, ay, better read than himself, even of his own account ; and he believed this and had made it one of the mottoes of his life, and at school he had found it a truth ; and, though it had been a hard strug- gle, even for the sake of his father, to beat down that

cherished hope, he had set steadily to work to climb the ladder, and had made up his mind to reach the top if

possible.

Things seemed to go hard with him now, but his heart was strong within him, and he looked on into the future with a firm hope that all would be right yet.

"Poor things," he said, as he turned away from watching their play ; ' ' thank Heaven they cannot understand all

this !"

And then he went into his own little bedroom and there, the first time for many a long day, he flung himself upon his bed and wept, bitter, bitter tears-tears of deepest disappointment, springing from a young heart whose best cherished hope had been crushed in its earliest bud.

God grant that those who cause such griefs may never have

to bear them.