|Newspaper Title||The Dawn (Sydney, NSW : 1888 - 1905)|
|Trove Title||Herb and Dot. Or, Lodgings for Santa Claus|
Herb and Dot.
OR, LODGINGS FOR SANTA CLAUS.
BY LOUISA LAWSON.
"HMPH!" said Harry Brentall, dubiously, "a
nice picnic I'm to have this Christmas — caretaker shuffled off, and my quarters up
for repairs. What the old body wanted to
die for is a mystery to me ; she had a snug
billet, not much to do, and good pay ; she
had her own way, fed me when and how she liked, and dosed me when she pleased, and I never as much as asked her what for, and then left me shabbily after all, without giving me the usual week's notice."
Harry was lolling inside a little suburban post-office. There was nothing to do and he felt very dull and lonely and companionless. He was of a social nature, and when he had no one to talk to, he carried on the mental process of conversation alone. It was not done self- consciously. It was a habit, part of thought, part soliloquy.
"Poor old woman," he continued, " I do miss her somehow ; if she had only stayed long enough to hand me over to someone like herself !— Let me see, — how long was she with me? Must be five years since I got this appointment, —how time flies ! The fact is I ought to have had a wife of my own by this time, but blow it, I can't make up my mind. Now if the old woman had got me one before she left, —I like women about me somehow, and children too, for that matter, but I detest making new acquaintances."
He was interrupted by a timid tap at the window.
"Please sir, will this go alright?" The speaker was a nice-mannered little boy of six.
Harry took the letter and a smile flickered over his big face, as he noticed the secondhand stamp, and en- velope addressed upside down, "Mist er Sent er Clos."
"Missed her; send her clothes; is that it ?" said Harry.
"No, sir," said the boy, blushing painfully ; and then in a louder tone and with emphasis, "Mr. Santa Claus."
"Oh! I see, I see," said Harry, and then hesita- tingly, "he'll get it."
"When will I get an answer, sir?" said the boy.
"To-morrow." said Harry, "to-morrow about this
The child thanked him, and picking his way carefully down the steps, left the office.
" Poor little beggar," said Harry, "somebody's 'having' him, I suppose,—used to have me that way once—he's a nice kid." He stepped to the door and watched the child up the street.
"Takes after his mother, I should think, small hands and feet, long dark lashes and pencilled eyebrows, and deep blue eyes. What a pity kids alter so ; that's the best of having a big family, a fellow always has one young un to talk to and play with. Hope he's got a
good father ; he's too pretty and too trusting to be in this world without one ; he's got a mother, that's plain, by the way his stockings are darned.''
Harry ceased speculating to attend to a lady who ap- proached the window to enquire for a letter. He handed her a big official document evidently from the country, which she hastily crammed into her bag, departing in the same direction as the boy.
"Gum," exclaimed Harry, "where have I seen that woman before? She's had lots of trouble I guess ; gets her own living I should think. You can always pick out the women who work, they are more self-contained, step right out and never have any time to spare, always seem to know where they are going to and what they want. I'll just make up the 'City' and then go out and hunt up some dinner. How I do miss Mrs. Mylot to be
"Oh ! Here's that specimen,'' said he, pausing in the act of applying the obliterated stamp, to the already defaced image of Her Majesty, "I'll act as substitute for that old myth, Santa Claus.'' Opening the letter he
read : —
"Deer sur, muther want a nuther border, will you cum to liv here and pa her?''
"The little stupid hasn't put his name or address," said Harry. "How does he expect to get an answer?"
True to his appointment the child was at the Post- office window at the given time next day.
"Well," said Harry, trying to look truthful and fib- bing dreadfully. "Mr. Santa Claus says he can't lodge anywhere but on chimney-tops, until after New Year, however, he left this bag of oranges for you, and as I am in want of rooms, he thinks I may do as well."
The child looked slightly disappointed, but said there was room for two. and departed, leaving Harry in pos- session of his address. Next morning, leaving his assistant in possession, Harry started for Begg Street, where, finding the number, he rang. The summons was answered by his little friend, who seemed to have some engagement, which he proceeded to explain after giving his visitor a seat.
"lt's Christmas eve, sir," the boy said, "and mother's gone into Oxford Street to buy things. We're too small to send out, mother won't let us go out for fear we'll be run over by trams. We asked mother what to do while she was away, and she said we were to pray for rain; but that Dot is so aggervating."
The little girl complained of, a child of four, was still on her fat knees by the couch, looking anything but
comfortable at her devotions.
"You see," said her brother, "she will flop down if you get her up on both knees ; then her hands go down and when you fix her hands up, she flops again. I got
her knees and her back and her hands all right once, but her eyes wouldn't come shut.''
"Perhaps she's been praying too long," suggested Harry, looking amusedly at the little devotee.
"Yes, I is," exclaimed Dot piteously.
"Well come here and tell me what you prayed for,"
said the visitor.
"Herby'll tell you," said Dot, edging on to the cor- ner of a chair near Harry.
Both looked at Herb who explained :—
"You see, I thanked him for what he sent last time." "Yes,—well?" said Harry.
"And then—then I told him that the punkin leaves in the yard were all hanging down, and the ducks were all dirty, and the pond was dry, with tins at the bottom and Nero's tongue was hanging over the side."
"Over the side of the pond?" questioned Harry. "No," said Herb, "the side of his mouth."
Just then an unexpected clap of thunder came, fol- lowed by a few drops of rain. Herby gazed at his visi- tor for a second or two and then hopping from his perch on the arm of the couch, he walked up to Dot. Seizing her by the shoulder he dragged her to the sofa, caution- ing her not to flop this time, which she promptly did, with attendant variations, while he dictated an extem- pore thanksgiving for rain.
"Look at that?" said Herby, in a superstitious sub- dued tone, "we only prayed for rain half an hour ago,
and we got it."
"Yes," said Dot, "we got it, and Herb only wrote for a boarder yesterday and we got it." Then coming to a sudden pause she asked eagerly :
"You will live with us, won't you?"
"I think I will, little one,'' said Harry, taking the little dumpling on his knee.
"Twenty-five shillings a week, and I'll show you
your room. "
"Agreed," said Harry, "let's go up and see the room." Herb went first with Dot, and Harry followed them to a cheerful balcony room on the first floor.
"This will do nicely," said Harry, sinking into a cosy chintz-covered chair behind the door, and beginning to hope nothing would happen to disarrange the children's
"Yes, it is nice, acquiesed Herby, "Mummy made these mats and curtains out of all sorts of things ; that muslin with all the lace and freckles on round the look- ing glass was the covering of Dot's baby basket, and that pink ribbon was the bows on it. The curtain round the table was the frock mother used to go to parties in be-
fore she was married to father."
"Where is your father ?" suddenly asked Harry.
Herby looked intently at the ceiling, while Dot com- menced in a hesitating way, "I don't think I'se got a parder ;" then looking timidly at Herb, who brought his eyes down to the level of her face, she stopped.
To change the subject Harry enquired how long mother would be away, when at the moment a quick step was heard on the landing and a woman entered hurriedly.
"Have you been good ? Has anyone been here ? Did
you put a little coal in the stove to keep the fire in ?'' asked a low but anxious voice, and Mrs. Eames advanced to the table, and putting down a parcel, bag, and an umbrella, she hastily drew off her gloves and untied her bonnet strings.
"Here's a gentleman who wants to live wid us," Dot announced triumphantly.
"I beg your pardon,' said Mrs. Eames, seeing her visitor for the first time, "I have no servant and was so anxious about the children, that I almost ran from the tram. Are you indeed in want of board ?"
"I am, madam," said Harry, "and if this room is vacant, I will take it. The children tell me your terms are one pound five a week.
"Yes, those are the terms, and if you decide to come I will promise to make you as comfortable as possible ; I have only two other boarders, a lady and gentleman, and have all day to do the work in as they don't come
in to luncheon."
"Very good, Mrs. Eames,' said Harry, "we will con- sider it settled and I will come to-night, with your permission."
"I shall have everything ready for you," said Mrs. Eames, wearily—a tone which Harry noted, and mused upon, after bidding the children a brief goodbye.
"Well, well," thought he, "that's the very woman who got the letter yesterday ; no wonder I thought I had seen her before, she is so like the little fellow. There's trouble in that house, or I'm no prophet ; now I wonder what her particular 'skeleton' consists of ? Funny ! There's troubles everywhere, blest if there isn't. That boy's a brick. By-the-way, I must help old Santa Claus out with the stocking business ; I'll see to that before I pack to-night. How I do miss Mrs. Mylot !"
Christmas eve saw him in possession of the balcony
"I wonder how it is," thought Harry, "that there seems no place in Sydney for children. Houses won't take in married couples with children ; single people won't take up their quarters in a house where there are children ; servants object to them ; nobody seems to want them, and yet we all were children once."
"Hey! Dot!," he exclaimed, as that individual rushed out on to the landing in her nightdress, "where are you going ?"
"Why, that Herb wants me to ask Dord for a big stockingful and I don't want to."
"Oh, you need not mind, I made that all right with Santa Claus myself."
"Stoop down till I show you what Herb done to me." Harry crouched down near the door.
Putting the tip of her second finger against the top of her thumb, she, with a face as serious as an owl, brought them to within an inch of Harry's nose, then letting one finger spring from the other, she made it collide with his nasal organ.
"Do that hurt ?" she enquired anxiously "Yes, dreadful," said Harry.
"Then," she said, triumphantly, "that's what he done to me," then stroking admiringly both sides of his bushy beard she enquired, ''how many whiskers are you
got ?" Without waiting for an answer, she turned round, planted her back against Harry's chest, and burying her flossy hair in his beard, she exclaimed, threateningly —
"You, Herb, if you do dat adain, I'll make it a dear caution to yer !"
"Gracious, Dot," said Harry, "you are getting dan- gerous, you must not use threatening language you
"Well, what does he want to pull my hair round the corner for ? Look at my kitten, I do love it. When I look in its eyes," she said, putting a chubby palm each side of its innocent head, "it makes me laugh," and then cuddling it close with a nice air of proprietorship, "it's the only jet black one, and it's got two white spots on, —you hold it and see how nice it feels."
Harry took the kitten, and letting it drop into his big summer sleeve, he made pretence of chewing it up and swallowing it. The look of astonishment and dismay on Dot's face was ludicrous in the extreme. Just then Mrs. Eames appeared, and taking Dot in her arms in a mechanical way, took her into her room to put her to
"That woman is working too hard," said Harry, "I couldn't enjoy my dinner, she took such pains to make us comfortable, but the suppressed look of misery on her face belied even her cheerful words, I felt inclined to ask her to sit still and let me wait on those other two. She has everything very nice here, but she evidently needs rest ; how she can cook those dinners and still be dressed fit to take the head of the table, puzzles me, and there's a lot of dignity about the little woman after all. How superior she seems to that Miss Spear, and how little womanly feeling that woman seems to have, she might at least have handed round the tea after dinner, but there she sat as though she were determined to have her 'pound of flesh,' at any rate. Ah, well ! I like the
one, but I'm blessed if I like the other."
Soliloquising thus, he prepared for his first night's sleep in a strange house. About twelve he woke with a start, and striking a light he began to wonder what woke him. As he was lying awake considering, his eyes rested on a mysterious parcel lying upon a chair.
"What the mischief is in that parcel?" mumbled he, puzzling over it for a second or two.
"Here's a picnic," he exclaimed in a troubled voice, "those are the things I got for the kids, where the deuce are the stockings ? I'll have to dress and go downstairs and see if they are in the dining-room."
Alas ! They were not there. Returning in perplex- ity and had reached the landing when a piercing shriek
from Dot startled him.
"Oh, my poor mummy's dead ! Oh, Mr. Brentnall tum to mummy."
The cries continued, and as he remembered that Miss Spear and the other boarder had said they would not be back till one o'clock as they intended to have a family supper with some friends after the theatre, he knew there was no one but himself in the house.
Pushing open the door, a strange sight presented it- self. The lithe form of Mrs. Eames hung over the corner of the foot of the bed, her head downwards ; she had
evidently not been in bed, but had been working, for she had changed the dress she wore at dinner, for a print house-dress, and had all the signs of domestic work upon her.
But was she dead, or only unconscious? Dot knelt on the bed making ineffectual efforts to pull her mother up to a sitting posture, by the hands, which would fall limp and nerveless as soon as let go, while Herb was putting out all his strength in the effort to raise his mother by
At the foot of the bed stood an open chest containing what seemed a man's clothes, apparently saturated with clotted blood, and upon the table, right under the lamp, lay the official document given to Mrs. Eames by Harry a day or two before.
Harry sprang forward, and taking the senseless woman in his strong arms gently laid her golden head and pale face where Dot's had rested an hour before.
"Get some water, Herb, and smelling salts if you have it," he said.
Both were found and applied, and soon the fainting woman showed signs of recovery,
"Nothing but trouble, nothing but trouble every- where," muttered Harry, as he waited the result of the
So soon as Mrs. Eames recovered she sat up, and in a bewildered, listless way, began pinning up the braids of her soft fair hair, which persisted in again falling.
"Let me fix it," said Dot excitedly, her little heart fluttering like a frightened bird's, as she came along the soft bed, stumbling in the long nightdress which got un-
der her feet.
"Don't speak," said Harry, as he noticed that Mrs. Eames was about to apologise.
"I cannot now, but—" and she pointed to the open chest, "to-morrow I must."
As Harry was about to leave the room, he noticed two stockings hanging from the foot of the second bed
in the room.
"Are you strong enough to step on to the landing ?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Eames, rising with effort.
Thereupon he handed her the parcel, saying :
"I got them for the stockings. In fact, I had just been downstairs looking for them when Dot called me."
"You are very kind," she said, wearily.
"Nothing but trouble and bother everywhere," said Harry as he sought his couch again. What did that old stupid want to die for ?"
But the box ! It haunted him. He hated mystery,
and that hard-working, patient soul, what had she to do with the mystery? Where was her husband? What did Dot mean by 'I don't think I's got a parder ?' "
Just then Miss Spear re-entered the house, and was to be heard singing "Killarney." It was a habit of hers, for being a woman of uncertain age, she left no stone unturned to fascinate the sterner sex. "Without her voice," she had been heard to say, "she would be weaponless." Oh! how her loud harsh tones jarred upon at least two in the house.
(TO BE CONTINUED.