|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.
"I WISH to the Lord she'd shut up," grum-
bled Harry, "we've had commotion enough or one night, at least."
But alas ! The commotion was not to end here. The singing suddenly stopped, someone was heard to cross the hall, and a sharp knock on Mrs. Eames' door was accompanied by Miss Spear's voice.
"Here's this little beast of a kitten in my room again,
Then Mrs. Eames' voice was heard in apology: "I am very sorry, Miss Spear, but I mean't to secure it before I went to bed."
"But you did not secure it," screamed Miss Spear "No I did not; the truth is, I was not well."
"Not well," sneered Miss Spear, "you're always 'not well,' I think myself there's a great deal of humbug about you, that's just what I think."
"I don't know that I've complained before," protested
"Perhaps not," snapped Miss Spear, "but you are always striking attitudes and suggesting it, to get pity from your gentlemen boarders, I suppose."
"God forgive you'" exclaimed Mrs. Eames fervently "but give me kitty, and Dot will keep it with her, and I promise you it will not annoy again."
And that, I promise you also," said Miss Spear, spite- fully, as she savagely raised the kitten in her hand and dashed it down the stairs.
A piercing scream from Dot as she jumped out of bed and rushed to the door.
"Oh Dod won't 'uv you, you bad Miss Spear, to till my tat."
A demoniacal laugh burst from Miss Spear as she slammed the door and recommenced singing.
Harry could with difficulty keep from getting up again "My word," he said, "I'd like to serve her as she served the kitten. Heavens, there's trouble everywhere. Old Mrs. Mylot got the best of it."
At five sharp next morning Harry was aroused from his dream—in which red-haired spinsters and cats took a prominent part—by an impatient voice at his door.
"Mr. Brentnall, can I come in please ?" "Yes you can come in Herby."
"And tan I tum too ?" from Dot.
"Oh I don't know, I suppose so."
"See here," said Herby, "I've got a jumping jack and a Jew's heart. "
"A Jew's heart !" said Harry, "are we to have it stuffed with pork for Christmas dinner?"
"No you can't eat it, look at it !" "Oh I see, a Jew's harp."
"And see, I's dot a Noah's heart, and a rat or a mice,
said Dot, climbing up on the bed and displaying a box
of woolly wonders.
"How is your mamma ?" inquired Harry.
"She's gone down stairs to put the pudding on,''
"Miss Spear and Mr Marrow are going out all day," he said, "and if it was not for you, mummy and us could go down to Coogee."
"She need not stay in for me," said Harry, "in fact
I don't know that I shall be here."
"Oh, that will be nice," cried Dot, "we'll have a a ride in the picture-bus."
"Omnibus, you stupid," corrected Herb. "She means those 'buses with the signs on, that go past on holidays, " explained Herb.
"Come on Dot, mummy might be angry at'us for com- ing into Mr. Brentnall's room," said Herb.
"Would you like to have my Jew's heart to play on before you get up ?" said Herb, magnanimously.
"Thank you no, I think not," said Harry.
"You know you can have it for a little teeney while," said Herb, putting his head in at the door, "I've got so many things to play with."
"Well no, not just now at all events, perhaps later on," said Harry, "thank you all the same."
"This is a comic house, anyway," mused Harry "vocal music at one a.m., and instrumental apparently
at five ditto."
The dressing bell brought him out of bed at eight sharp, and reaching the dining-room he found the house-
"Have you quite made up your minds to dine out
to-day?" Mrs Eames was asking her boarders, as Harry
"You seem very anxious to save a meal," sneered Miss Spear.
"Not at all," rejoined Mrs. Eames, "but I would take the children down to the sands if I did not prepare mid- day dinner."
"To bury the cat," said Miss Spear, tauntingly.
"I did that last night," said Mrs Eames sadly, "to get it out of sight, poor thing ; Dot was so fond of it.'
"If I had my way, I'd serve troublesome brats the same," remarked Miss Spear heartlessly.
"Wouldn't you?" she said, addressing Harry.
"You cannot be in earnest madam, and yet it's hard- ly a subject to joke about on Christmas morning," replied he.
Miss Spear calmly took stock of the new boarder but whatever her thoughts were, she decided not to fall
out with him.
"I shan't be in to-day," said Harry, addressing
Mrs Eames, "and if you won't think it impertinent, I should advise you to carry out your plan of spending the greater part of the day on the sands ; the sea-air will do
you and the children good."
Miss Spear gave Mr. Marrow a meaning look which evidently meant volumes, as they both smiled.
Later on, Dot said persuasively, taking both Harry s hands in the hall, "Dest you tum along wid us."
Harry looked as if he would like to, but was about to frame an excuse when Mrs. Eames, who was waiting to close the door, suddenly said in a constrained tone, as though it cost her an effort to speak.
"Yes, come, Mr. Brentnall if you really have nowhere else to go. I owe you an explanation, and perhaps I
shall have more strength and courage to render it out
Though protesting that she should do no such thing, he could not resist the temptation of a day with the children, and the little party started.
On reaching Coogee the children ran off to the beach, and Mrs. Eames in her usual business-like manner went straight to a seat, and without preface, began her story.
"You must let me talk straight on," said she, in a hard tone, "don't interrupt me or remark upon what I am saying, believe me, is all the bitter truth."
"Pardon me Mrs. Eames, but you owe me no explan- ation, and I would not, for the world, add to your troubles by demanding one, even if you did," said Harry.
"Not for the world ?" she questioned, sweeping with a glance, the beach covered with its bright assemblage of gaily-dressed pleasure seekers, "you seem to value 'the world,' a great deal more than I do ; if it were not for my children, it would give me no further concern."
"You are young to talk so," said Harry, struck by the intensity of her tone.
"Seven years ago," she began abruptly, remembering her task, "I married Fred Eames. By marrying him I lost everything. My father for a reason, objected to the match and poor mother followed him in everything; but I loved my husband, or thought I did, and God only knows how well I worked in his interests whenever my strength permitted. Look at my hands," she said, wrenching off her glove, "do they look as if I have lived an idle life? And until I was Fred's wife, and, for that matter, not until a year after, did I ever know what fatigue from work was. The reason my family turned their backs upon me was that drunkenness ran in Fred's family ; his mother and one brother killed them- selves by drink, and there is another brother as fine and as good a young man as there is in this wide world, now in the asylum for the insane, through drink, and he's only two and twenty. How happy we could have been but for this terrible family failing.
"The first sign Fred showed of yielding to the fatal fascination, was some six months after we were married, I subsequently learnt that this was by no means the first time. Despite everything that I could do, the habit became stronger, and you can imagine the state of my mind while at my household work (for I
had given up my servant, thinking to keep our trouble a secret) knowing that he was making up particular pre- scriptions the while he was almost too drunk to know what he was doing. The daily suspense that I endured; the fear that everyone who entered the shop might have come to complain of a serious mistake ; and during it all he drank more and more. His father, I learned, was dying and I knew that if he grew aware of his son's condition, he would disinherit him; so for six long weeks I kept him shut up in a room at the top of the house, quite out of his mind. I managed him alone, and having a knowledge of drugs, I made up the pre- scriptions myself, the same dreadful fear haunting me that I would make a mistake and kill someone. At last the true state of things leaked out and there was a gener- al break up, my father sent to me to know whether I would leave my husband for good and let him, as he said, 'go to the devil in his own way.' This I refused to do, returning the paper which he sent me to sign. We took a small house, and Fred seemed to be trying to do bet- ter, and after a while gave up drinking altogether. Oh, how my heart yearned for him as I noted the dreadful ravages that disease had made in him, I verily believe that he had not an enemy in the world but himself. I did not mention that Fred had been in the habit of taking drugs, to kill the effects of alcohol. The know- ledge of this caused me intense anguish, and I had a presentiment that he would kill himself by an over- dose, if ever he broke out again. In the meantime we
were getting poorer and poorer, one after another our belongings had gone and all we now possessed was a small house full of furniture. At last, through a friend of mine, an old gentleman who gave me every hour he could spare during the dreadful six weeks that I told you of, Fred got an appointment in the country. The salary was good, and for a time I received a regular remittance. It fell off, however, and I began to be a prey to the most agonising anxiety, when one day Fred sent telling me to come to him. I had sold the furniture, packed our trunks, and prepared for our journey up country, in fact, I was standing outside the gate with Dot and the luggage, while Herby went for a cab, when I saw a telegraph boy coming towards me. With a mighty effort of will I controlled myself to take the message from him. I knew just what it was. I was not mistaken, my unfortunate husband was dead ; had died suddenly just before starting to business in the morning. It was then a quarter to five; I considered whether I should go on; no, the day was hot, no doubt he was buried even then. There was the cottage next door; the one I am now in was to let. I sent Herby for the key, came in, and we slept alone on our wraps and rugs. Next day I went out, paid a deposit on
what furniture I have, and advertised for boarders. I
happened to have a respectable stock of bed linen etc., which proved a great help to me."
"Tell my friends ?" she said, scornfully, in answer to a suggestion from her companion, "no you don't know me. I pleased myself. I made my own bed and so I would lie on it, I took him for better or worse, and
heaven knows I shared his fate in both. The letter you gave me was an account of the inquest and particulars of burial, number of grave, etc., and a note to say that at my request his box had been forwarded. The box came just before you did, and I had not time to look at it until a few moments before you found me last
night, and when I opened it, the shock was dreadful. They were cruel to send me his clothes all drenched with blood, just thrown in as they had cut them off him. In a fit of insanity he han [sic] cut his throat and—and—"
"Don't ! " said Harry, unconsciously putting a hand on her shoulder, " my dear girl I pity you—I pity you
from my heart . "
Just then they heard a malicious giggle, and looking up, they saw Miss Spear and her shadow, Mr Marrow, standing a few paces off.
"You can expect no better from colonials, considering what they sprang from, a gang of convicts." remarked Miss Spear. With this, she lowered her parasol between her face and them, and picking up her skirts sailed majestically on.
Both sat dumbfoundered for a space, at length Harry gently inquired.
"Are you a native of the colonies, Mrs. Eames ? "
"I am, " she answered, "and Miss Spear knows
" I was going to ask you why you keep her," re- marked Harry.
"Is that question necessary ? " said Mrs. Eames.
A pause, and then so gently, oh, so tenderly, he
"Can I do anything for you ? "
"No, thank you," his companion replied ; with management I can pull along, I am paying my way."
" But your health—will it last ? "
" Time enough to meet troubles when they come; I suppose. Here are the children, shall we go home ?"
"Home," thought Harry. "What a home! If Mrs. Mylot was only alive I would should know better
what to do."
"What about Miss Spear ?" said he apprehensively, "Yes," she returned, "I expect I shall catch it, but I seem to be losing the faculty of feeling ; once I should have cared, but then it would not have hap- pened," she said with a smile. "It is easier to bear her insults than to explain."
" There's trouble everywhere, thought Harry, "every-
where ! "
"Mummy, I'm so tired," said Dot, suddenly throw- ing herself into her mother's lap.
"Come here," said Harry, "you look so pale. I'll nurse you."
" No, no, " said Dot peevishly, '' I want my own mummy."
"I think we had better go home by the next 'bus," said Mrs. Eames, with an attempt at cheerfulness, which fairly wrung Harry's great heart to see. Thus they travelled : Mrs Eames with her head resting wearily against the side of the vehicle, Dot asleep in her arms,
Herby kneeling on the seat looking out of the window kissing his hand to some, shouting, cooeing and waving his hat to others, and having an all-round good time. At last he grew tired, and as it neared twilight, an hour the mother and children had always spent together, Herb said, from sheer force of habit, "Sing us a song,
" My dear, I can't," she answered, smiling wearily, '' you sing."
"Very well, " he said, and then putting his mouth in order he commenced.
" So I once knew a nigger,
So his name was uncle Ned. "
with emphasis on the so. At last stopping suddenly he indignantly inquired of Harry.
" What's that fellow laughing at ? "
"Who is laughing ? " said his companion.
"Why that boy with the whiskers growing out of his face. " At the same time pointing to a youthful dude, to the great amusement of the other occupants of the
" Please what made that deep creek running down there ?" he next asked of a scholastic looking gentleman.
" God, " said the gentleman, decisively.
" Oh " said Herby, "I thought it was the water. " Under the circumstances, Mrs. Eames and her male friend were not sorry to get out at the next stopping place, a block from home. Dot was fretful and seemed disinclined to walk, so Harry carried her to the house, and as she looked pale he did not put her down until he reached the landing at the top of the stairs.
Tea was a solitary meal, Miss Spear and her shadow not having returned. Mrs. Eames seemed preoccupied and disinclined to talk. Next morning on handing him his luncheon, Mrs Eames gave Harry two messages ask- ing him to send them by telegraph and to oblige her by getting them off as soon as possible. On returning to dinner in the evening he was surprised to see a stranger waiting at table, and by Miss Spear's manner and
remarks feared mischief was brewing. She evidently determined to make things unpleasant for her landlady at no distant date. When he saw a professional-looking gentleman come down stairs and drive away he mustered courage enough to ask the new housekeeper whether any one was ill ; she informed him that the children were both very ill. That day and the next passed, and the house a maintained a monotonous quiet. Light and sun
shine had left it.
Just as Harry was preparing to go to to his office on the third morning, Mrs. Eames' bedroom door swung silently open, and she herself appeared, her features thin, white, and rigid.
"I thought you might like to look at Herby," she said slowly "as he will be buried before you return."
" What ! " shouted Harry in dismay stepping up to to the tiny coffin.
" Yes, " she said, " the little dear's troubles in this world are over."
(TO BE CONTINUED.)