|Chapter Title||A TERRIBLE ORDEAL.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||Dark or Fair. A Story of Town and Country|
A TERRIBLE ORDEAL.
It was very hot. Not a breath stirred the stunted foliage of the few trees which struggled for existence in Benjamin Rennick's garden, The . air was sultry. The scene appeared like a molten ball of glowing metal in a brazen sky. All nature languished. Flowers bowed their fragile heads, and drooped for lack of moisture. The grass withered|¡in the scorching atmosphere till the cattle looked in vain for verdure, and lay down beside the dry bed of the creek to die.
Polly looked from the open door, and longed for the grassy slopes and verdant hills of New Zealand, yearning with a soul hunger which no words could express for the beauty and vigor bf
ihat old lifo in which'-she had been so happy. She thought of tho old bridge aainng the ferns,
and of the day on which Paul ha«} sketched the lovely scene j of the strawberries, i»;heir luscious
freshness, . and the wild clematf|«: twimng. in : luxuriant beauty round the tall fern-palms.
And just then Reuben Rennick came along the . sandy track, stockwhip in hand, whistling a tune'; and, as he looked up and . saw Polly standing there, he quickened his steps, for he had some
thing to say to his fair cousin which could hot ; brook delay. He was not used to being thwarted in hiB wishes, this young man, who looked upon the broad acres of his father's large station, and knew they would soon be bis own, and much more besides them, for Benjamin had prospered in New South Wales, so that his only son would be a rich squatter, " Many a good Bttle girl would be proud of an offer of marriage from Reuben," said
bia father. " But, aB the boy wanted Polly, why let hun have her. ^Twoula keep the money ii the family." Never a thought of Polly's possibh refusal entered his mind. Who would dream o .refusing wealthy Uncle Benjamin's only son ?
;r Polly's father, enfeebled in health and intel Wet, yielded passively to his brother's wishes, an< expressed his desire that his child should becomi the wife of Eeuben Rennick. The young girl intent on the duties of housekeeping, the care o herílittle brother and sister, and the cultivatioi of.lher pet flowers, so difficult to preserve in any thing like their natural beauty during the seven drought which had set in, thought not of Eeuben muchness of love such as his. ,And only whei bis Í Î attentions became too marked to escapi .Rotjce, ,and ;she. noted the expression of, Uncli Benjamin's face as he saw how his son's atten tions were received, did Polly realise her trui position.
It meant just this : Uncle Benjamin willed and her father feebly supported the union of thes< two lives so opposite to each other. That happi ness was not to be thought of. If his wil were crossed, a thing he regarded as almost im possible, there would be a serious quarrel, in volving the separation of the brothers, and th< impoverishing of the weakest. So Eeuben Ren nick came to woo ; and none must say him nay.
A tall, powerful figure, a countenance expressiv( of strong passion, and an intensely selfish nature eyes of cold gray which seldom met another's with the full, clear glance of sincerity, but seemed to look at one cornerwise, and baffle one's inten tion of reading the soul's language in their ever changing gaze.
Pony knew why Reuben came along the house track with such a confident tread, cracking his whip at Fate. She would fain have escaped. But that was not possible ; for Uncle Benjamin would have resented it as an insult; and her father would have suffered. So she calmly waited foi this unwelcome lover's wooing, though her very soul revolted at his presence.
" Good morning, my girl," said Reubin, trying to look pleasing. " Is it hot enough for you to day?"
*' Thank you, cousin Reuben, it is far too warm for comfort, or health either. I hope we shaU soon get rain."
" Rain, my lass ! Why, that's not to be thought of. Tour fortune will be made long before we get
With a confident smile, which made" him more contemptible in her eyes, Eeuben looked up - in Polly's face, as if expecting her to reply to his witty remarks.
" How are the sheep doing ? Have they found any water ?" she inquired, looking out at the dry waterbeds and scorched pastures.
, " Poor brutes, they are dying, to be sure, like maids without love," he replied saucily. " Come, Polly, my lass ; 'tis I that's sheepish, not you. I've just come to ask you, in my blundering way, whether you mean to be more agreeable and make it up you know. I am like the sheep out there, dying of love."
" I have never quarrelled with you, Cousin Eeuben," she replied ; "but neither have I given you cause to speak like this to me. You know well enough that I cannot give you any other
" Oh, indeed ; that's it, is it ? Final dismissal and that sort of thing. Now, look here ; don't be coy; my girl. You know how the land lies. Your father tis poor, and never will be anything else. There's no chance of you making a better matoh. I'm not so particular about love and all that trash. I'll be good to you, and give you the best the country affords. I'll not ask you to soil your pretty hands except with your own house trimming ; and I'll let the old man and the young /uns live with us. Now, aint that a fair offer ? There's many a lass with a good favoring wouldn't say ' no ' to that, I'll be bound."
"You're very kind, Cousin Eeuben," replied Polly ; her flushed cheeks only denoting her in dignant anger at his words. " But I know we should not get along happily together ; and you might be sorry afterward that you had not chosen a different wife As you say, there are plenty who would be glad to accept your offer. Lot us forget all this, Reuben, and be just cousins, nothing more."
" Do you think I'm going to give in like that ?" he exclaimed, in sudden anger; " when I've been making up my mind all along as I'd have pretty Polly Rennick for my wife, and no other ? Do you think I'll ' let us be cousins, and nothing more' when I've been and built that fine house yonder for the only girl I ever cared for ? No, no, my pretty lass ; you'll be my wife yet, or-"
His face flushed with excitement. Polly in voluntarily shrunk back from his hand-clasp ; and escaped into the inner room, where the children waited for their morning lessons. Reuben dashed away to his father to tell tho story of his baffled
"Very weil, lad," said Benjamin Rennick, " if she'll not have thee, I'll not have lier nor her stupid old father, brother though he is of mine, on this 'ere station. So I'll just let them know, and then I wonder where her pride will be. What does the minx want, I wonder, a-setting of herself up with airs ?"
So the storm thickened around her head, and Polly had to bear daily a 'Beries of petty persecu tions, hard words, and, sarcastic remarks, - cruel misrepresentations, and parental' upbraidings ; fór,;Benjamiri made it known that unless PoUy favored his son's suit before another .month'.had
sped, the f ather and daughter should no longer
find a homë beneath his roof.
, The drought continued ; the heat increased, and it: was hinted that several bush fires had burst out not many miles away. Soon the atmosphere be came läden with the dull glare of distant smoke and flame ; and the cattle died by thousands that
summer for want of water.
In spite of all Polly's care, the children began to languish; and before many days dear little Ellen had gone to be a "heaven angel," with her dear mother ; and Polly stood beside the grave of her darling, tearless and agonised with a speechless sorrow; noone but Rollo to sympathise with her, or mourn for the child.
A - Rising American Athlete-Walter C. Dohm, of Princeton.
(For biography see " Athletics," in the sporting pages.) ' ' . ' :
That night, when all the house was still, Pollj and Kollo went out, and stood by the new-made
" I am going away to-night, Rollo," said Polly, in a low, constrained voice ;." little Ellen is with mother, safe from all harm. Will you come with
"Where are you going, Polly ?" asked the lad, looking up, half frightened into his sister's face. " I will take Prince, the pony I bought of Jacko, for Ellen ; and you can take the creamy. We will go to the nearest settlement, and then get on to Sydney. I can boar this no longer."
When tho cool wind sprang up, and the moon beams shed their kindly radiance over the quiet homestead, Polly and her young brother prepared to depart. They had spokon to their father very gently that evening; but his failing intellect seemed too weak to grasp the position.
" Surely, Uncle Ben will bo good to him," said Polly, " I cannot marry Reuben ; and when I am gone, they will cease to worry father about it, and they will not have to keep Eolio."
So the two went out together; and soon, mounted on their faithful steeds, they were far away across the plain, hurrying toward tho coast.
The first gray streaks of dawn illumined the eastern cky when tho travellers stayed to rest their horses by a little spring, and take some re freshment which Polly had provided. They boiled their billy and made some tea, which refreshed their wearied energies, so that they felt able to continue their journey. Again mounting their horses, thoy were soon some miles distant from their camping place, when they became conscious of the vicinity of bush fires by tho dense heat of the atmosphere through which they wore passing.
" Oh, Rollo, tho bush between us and the settle ment must be on fire," said his sister in dismay.
" We shall have to turn back."
By this time curling wreaths of lurid smoke could be discerned, but it seemed behind them. Surely they had not heedlessly left any sparks at their resting place ! However this might be, one thing was certain-the fire was behind them, in relentless pursuit; and their horses, tired with long travel, could not outstrip the fiery element. The air grew thick, the heat in tense ; the horses panted for breath, and pre sently became overpowered. Polly was not quite certain of the track, and Rollo had only once before traversed this journey with the faithful Jacko, who had broken in the horse for the chil dren's use. Weary and dismayed, the young travellers once more dismounted, and scanned the dreary expanse beyond in the hope of discovering
some horseman who might help them to a safe
"See, see there !" cried Rollo presently. "I can see a horse away over there. He is coming toward ns." :
" Tes ; and he has a rider," said Polly. " And oh, Rollo, it is Reuben himself. I know his figure." .
There was no help for,- it«/'Nearer and nearer came the horseman, until afr last he descried the two weary travellers, shrinking on the burning sand. Then, quickly wheeling round, he set spurs to his horse, and soon reined up by Polly's
"Hello, my beauty, you have done it very nicely ; wheeled round in a circle, and come straight to my arms. Come along, now, my heartie ; I've had a nice chase after you ; and the miserable blacks have set the bush on fire ; so it's a chance if wo can cross over. But we'll go together, Polly, my lass," and suiting the action to the word, he lifted her up on the saddle in front of him, and galloped away.
"Rollo, Rollo," cried tho frightened girl, "bring the child. Oh, Reuben, do not leave the boy there; he will die of thirst."
" Oh ! nevor mind him," replied Reuben, with an ugly leer, " the blackfellows will come along presently. They'll look after him. 'Tis you I
mean to make sure of now."
In vain Polly struggled to get free. Reuben held her fast, and made his horse fly over the plain toward the burning bush. Rollo tried to mount the pony ; but either from weariness or excitement, he failed in tho attempt ; and the last Polly saw of the poor boy was trying to hold on to the bridle, lest the animal, too, should for sake him. On, on, went Reuben, through scorch ing heat and flying sparks ; the hot ground causing the horse to plunge more madly than ever, and its glossy sides reeking with foam. They came to the home station just in time to witness the firing »of their homestead by the blacks, who had been incensed by Reuben's con duct toward a member of their tribe, and watched for their revenge. The wooden build ings quickly ignited, and yielded to the flames like tinder, swiftly spreading over the entire block of outbuildings, and levelling the dwellings to the ground.
" The fiends ;" cried Reuben, " they shall pay for this, and you too, my pretty one ; for if I had not been away searching for you, this would not have happened."
With a fiendish smile he rushed up to the scene of disaster, and seized his revolver from the
grasp of a blackfellow who was just about to leap on the back of one of his best horses.
" Take that," cried Eeuben ; and a black heap lay upon the ground, writhing in mortal agony. There was another charge left in the weapon, and Eeuben raised it to Polly's temples, with the madness of concentrated rage, exclaiming " You shall never marry another, anyway."
That moment a strong hand dashed the weapon from his grasp ; and a shrill voice cried out
"Me hear um, you no kill Missy Polly. You bad debbil, Jacko hear um yabber ; big one white fellow all burn up. Now you go alonga him."
Polly fell senseless at the sound of the faithful voice ; but Jacko picked her up, and laid her gently under shelter, while he went for another horse. Eeuben never moved; and then Polly seemed to rally, for when Jacko reappeared she was able to cry out to him
" Eolio, Eolio, away out there. Jacko, go get him, quick!"
The poor fellow looked bewildered for a moment. Then, grasping the truth, he turned, and gave the prostrate form of Eeuben a kick as if it had been a dog, saying savagely, "You bad debbil, lie there ; you no yabber more." Then Polly saw that tho last charge from the revolver, intended for hersolf, had entered Reuben's neck ;
and the wretched man was dead.
With a shudder, she turned away ; and Jacko helped her to mount the horse. Then, running by her side, he set out to look for Eolio. The child lay still on the plain, hiB faithful pony near him ; and for a moment Polly thought that he was dead. But no, ho breathed. b'o they tenderly raised him; and Jacko led the way to the nearest homestead. After a long ride, they reached it ; and kind hands ministered gently to their needs. Eolio recovered slowly ; and in a few days he was about again with Jacko. But Polly could bear no more. Exhausted nature gave way beneath the heavy mental strain of those terrible hours ; and brain fever claimed her as its victim. Weary weeks passed ere the young girl could realise her position. She thought that Eeuben had her captive. She talked of Ellen and her mother. The friends who had taken them in were very good to the homeless "children of the people," and with medical aid and ' excellent nursing, Polly at last recovered, and to Jacko's > delight came out on the verandah one pleasant
autumn day, weak enough to need Eollo's help,
[ but still restored to reason.
; Oh! Eolio !" she said presently, "I should like
to go back to New Zealand. We must try to get I there somehow." ;
! " Poor father !" sighed the boy, as he thought of
the grave Jacko had shown him under the trees, : where rested the remains of Uncle Ben and his ill ) fated brother. Both had been kiUed by the angry ; blacks, whose vengeful feelings had been stirred ; by Eeuben's cruelty. Jacko had been faithful to i his trust. But he could not save the lives of his
masters. He could only bring the " white fellow " to bury them with book and gown, and look after
> the cattle which were scattered about.
Eeuben was laid in another grave, because of his > intended crime. No man mourned him; only the > angels pitied the poor, troubled soul wandering in i the shadowed paths of remorse ; and by-and-by . they would endeavor to lead him " up higher."
(TO BB CONTINUED.)