|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.
"OH, Mrs. Eames,'' said Harry, turning to her, a world of pity in his voice, "what can I say to you?"
"Nothing at all," she said with forced
cheerfulness, ''he is better off. Indeed, I think so. I am quite satisfied if it is God's
will to take him."
" I don't know where you get the strength from to speak so calmly, " Harry said. "It is enough to kill you after all your previous trouble. "
" That's where it is, " she said " I have had so much that I seem to have lost the faculty of suffering. We can only bear so much, we can't go on feeling for- ever. Kind Nature steps in and helps us by rendering us apathetic, and then again I can't afford to be demon-
" Has Miss Spear said anything to you ?" he asked suddenly.
" What has she not said ?" moaned Mrs. Eames, she is most unjust, she misconstrues and resents everything I do ; Mr. Marrow was very friendly and kind to me before she came, but what she has said to alter him so I cannot imagine."
" She's a heartless woman! " exclaimed Harry, " she makes me ashamed of my country-women to know she is English and has no more feeling. Don't, Mrs. Eames I beg you, take her as a standard of what my country- women are, I have met many like her since I came here and they invariably prove to be the troublesome one of the family, sent out for reasons best known to themselves. I notice her letters are addressed to 'Mrs.' instead of Miss Spear, that does not look well. But how is this little one ? " said he, addressing Dot who, with a quaint shy smile, sat propped up with pillows.
" Where do you feel the pain, pet?" he said kindly taking her tiny hot hand in his.
" In me—in me waist," she stammered hesitatingly, then feeling in her modesty she had not said the right thing, she suddenly sank back among the pillows and cried pettishly, " go away, go away, I don't want you. "
Then Harry asked again whether there was not some- thing he could do, and being answered in the negative, reluctantly and sadly took his way towards his office.
That evening when he came home he did not wait to be invited, but went straight up to Mrs. Eames' room and approached Dot's cot. Poor child, his heart bled at the sight of her heavy eyes, pale pinched face and dried lips.
" How is she ? " he asked.
Mrs. Eames did not reply, but shook her head.
Dot seemed weak and dreamy, Harry inclined his head to catch the slow jerky sentences she uttered.
" Who is the best, " she said ''Santa Claus or Dord?" " Who do you think, little one ? " he said.
" Why Santa Claus, 'cause he sent you to take care of mummy. "
A dead silence followed, Harry looked over at Mrs. Eames, but she held her head down and he failed to learn what she thought, then both sprang to their feet as
a sudden convulsion seized the little sufferer.
"God help her, " said Harry, as he watched her convulsed struggles, his big frame quivering with anxiety while Mrs. Eames quietly pressed a sponge saturated with brandy, to the child's head.
" This is terrible trouble, he said !" then, sud- denly :
"Have you had the best advice in the city ? "
"Rest content," she said, " my old friend, the gentle- man of whom I spoke, has been unremitting in his atten- tions, and is the most skilful physician in the colonies ; you remember I sent for him as soon as I saw that she was a victim to this dreadful epidemic ; my mind is easy, I have not neglected my children, I have not had my clothes off since Christmas day."
" No, no ! I did not mean that, but can we not save her ? Oh, Lord, this is dreadful," he said covering his eyes.
"She is better now," said Mrs Eames a few minutes afterwards, in a strange quiet tone which awed her
"Better ? " he said suspiciously.
"Yes, said Mrs Eames, "She is dead."
Harry let his hands fall suddenly in hopeless, help- less, sorrowful dismay. His breast heaved, great sobs
choked his utterance.
"Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee."
sang two voices in chorus below. Harry sprang to his
"By God,'' he said, "I will kill that woman."
"Don't mind," said Mrs Eames, laying a restraining hand upon his arm, "be more philosophical, it can't hurt her," pointing to the still figure on the bed, "and it does not affect me; she pays for her board, and I did not stipulate that she should share the family grief. Go to your room now, and I'll manage every- thing else. I have confidence in Mrs Hope, she will see that all is right below."
Harry went down to dinner, but could not force him-
self to eat a mouthful.
Miss Spear so forgot herself as to enquire, with a bold face, whether he had been acting Darby and Joan lately. With a look of direful menace, new to Harry's features, she aid [sic], "I will answer you another
time, Miss Spear," and left the room. Seeing a letter in the rack addressed to Mrs. Eames which no one had had the thought to give her, he took it as an excuse and again went up to her room.
"How kind of them to write so soon," she said, a gleam of hope lighting up her pale features, "I am sure it brings help for me." As she read, however, her face changed, hardened and then flushed ; a strange light gleaming in her sunken eyes. What could that envelope contain to so change a gentle, patient woman into the fierce, defiant, revengeful creature she seemed? With one hand on the low post of her dead child's cot, the other holding the letter lifted high above her head, she laughed a low laugh of derision. Harry remained speechless, afraid; with lips parted he watched her, wondering what this last piece of fiendishness could be, this straw which had broken
the camel's back.
"Tell me," he entreated.
"Tell you? " she repeated in a louder tone than he had yet heard her use. "Yes I will tell you ; there is no place on earth for a virtuous woman, the public hound, rob, and cheat her. If she be in trouble, she has no right to firmness, patience, endurance, and least of all to pride. The pride which ought to have been my crown has been my curse, for my children's sake I put it aside, humbled myself to my people and asked succour from the only source from which a prudent woman should accept it. And then,'' she said, throwing the letter over Dot's lifeless body, "there is
It ran thus :—
"So you are coming to your senses, are you ? I thought you would. As I have the misfortune to be your father, I suppose I must help you, but before I do so you will please carry out the subjoined instructions. Firstly, put that drunken imbecile's off-spring into an asylum, as they are bound to inherit his vices; I won't support them. Sell what rubbish you possess, and apply to the Q.S.S.Co., when you will find a first-class passage paid for you to Brisbane. One of the station hands will meet you there. You need not affect mourning for him as you have not seen him for over a year, and above all never mention here that you have children, let them be as dead to you as he is."
"They're safe! They're safe! My darlings are safe. I can now defy anyone to separate or to torture them as they have persecuted me. Oh, you wondered at my calmness. My people are rich, poor Fred's are well off, but not one of them, Christians though they be would touch my burden with the tips of their fingers. I say again there is no place in this dreadful world for me." Then lifting her hand, and with eyes uprais- ed, she offered up a prayer that was half a command to the All-seeing to take her, to be merciful and take her. She was fast losing the splendid control she had hither- to maintained, and her fervour was changing to frenzy, when a glass was put to her lips and the resolute voice of the old doctor said "swallow this ;" she submitted and in a few minutes was quiet. Then he twisted her
dress round her feet and said to Harry, "Help me lift her gently on the bed, we will have no more trouble with her for the present." Then he said "Sit down. I want to have a few moments' conversation with you. Pardon me if I seem abrupt, you will, however, under- stand when I tell you my reason. In the first place, this woman is on the verge of insanity, and must not be left alone for five minutes. Secondly I have taken a passage for England and sail tomorrow night. What in the meantime is to be done ? Would you mind tell- ing me the state of your feelings towards Emmie—Mrs.
Eames I mean ?"
"I would lay down my life for her," said Harry, deliberately never raising his eyes from the table.
"I am glad of that," said the doctor, "I am glad I am not mistaken, for I had got into a way of thinking that it would be impossible for any man to know her and not like her. Now the only friends she has here are you and me, and time is short. With unceasing care for a few weeks, there is no reason why under happier circumstances she may not yet live a long, happy, useful
life, but she must not be left. I know you better than you think I do. Mrs. Mylot was a patient of mine, and she seldom called without mentioning your kind- ness, but for which she had died long before. Acting upon what I know, I now venture to put a question to you. Would you be satisfied to make Mrs. Eames your wife in the event of her consenting ?"
"I would," was the answer. "To-morrow ?"
"Yes, to- morrow."
"Very good, watch her, don't leave her for a
Early next morning, the fourth day of his eventful residence in lodgings, Harry was again aroused by the doctor "Here are the men to put poor little Dot in her coffin," he said, then looking to where his patient still slept after her long days and nights of watching, he continued, "perhaps it's for the best she sleeps, it is another pain saved her. We won't wake her quickly."
"Just stay here a few minutes longer," he said as he
The dialogue which followed was distinctly audible up-stairs.
"No, we won't go," said Miss Spear doggedly, "we don't choose to, that's why."
"But my dear madam," said the doctor, "you gave Mrs. Eames a week's notice on Christmas night, and I regret to say, that notice was accompanied by a charge which ought never to have been made by one lady to
"Don't, I pray you, compare me with her," said Miss Spear, loftily. "Though she has had what you call 'afflictions' she has at least consoled herself in her own way. Where is her husband, that is if she ever had one, that he does not interfere to stay these dis- graceful proceedings?"
"At any rate, I don't mean to go until it suits me," said Miss Spear, who had found she could not change without considerable loss of comfort, "and until I
choose, you cannot compel me, you are not her
All this Harry heard while the men lifted poor little Dot's stiffened body into its coffin.
"It's a sin to bury such a fine child," said the first
"Yes," answered his companion "she didn't fall away much, this complaint don't leave 'em much time."
"Must she be buried so soon ?" said Harry, mourn-
"Lor bless you, yes," said the man. "can't keep 'em a day such weather as this. Amt known such a Christmas for years, and most on 'em are pretty hot.
You see," pointing to the still form with a screw- driver, "she had no chance, she was too fat."
"Let me take her down," said Harry, "I was the last to carry her up." And taking his burden which he tenderly elevated to avoid contact with the balustrade, he placed it in the white-plumed hearse, and with bare head and reverential mien, watched it turn the corner on its way to Waverley.
On ascending the stairs he was surprised to find Mrs.
Eames up and sitting in the chair he had so lately left. A world of pity swelled his heart for this lone trouble- haunted woman, and sitting down beside her he gave vent to his grief in tears, such tears as never disgrace
"Don't, don't !" moaned Mrs. Eames, "you distress me, you—you make me worse, indeed you do, the dear ones are better off. I would sooner see her dead than grow up to endure what I have done."
"Yes," said Harry, "but everyone is not miserable. There are plenty of good kind men who would have been only too glad to have made you and her happy. Look at me for instance. I am sure I would not hurt a worm, and am doomed to be alone all my life, and I do suffer from loneliness. There would not be a happier man in existence, than I if I only had a wile and children to keep me company."
"I'm sure you would," said Mrs. Eames, abstractedly. Gently taking her hand he pleaded with eloquence and earnestness, hitherto a stranger to him, then chang- ing to the practical, he explained how on the morrow she would lose her only friend, and that she was with- out means and could expect nothing from her father or
"This house," he pleaded, "and these wretched boarders will kill you, you are not strong enough to
take an appointment, and alas, too proud to accept pecuniary assistance; accept me as your husband, and none of these will be necessary."
"Say 'yes' he pleaded, fervently kissing her cold forehead, "and your old friend will leave Australia with a light heart. He has been good to you and
yours, and—and—you— know—what—poor—little—Dot —said. For her sake I will never break faith with you. Say 'yes' and I'll go downstairs and get these two out,
and you will have peace, and who knows but there may be many happy bright Christmases before us."
"You reason well," she said, "and you have been very good to me. I will be guided by the doctor when
he comes home. "
Soon after, the doctor returned from Dot's funeral, bringing with him the Rev. Mr. Bailey.
"Don't go away," said the doctor, as Harry was
about to leave the room. "And now Emmie," he went on turning towards Mrs. Eames, "I have had a conversation with Mr. Bailey on the way home from the cemetery, and he heartily agrees with me, that after these years of sorrow and pain, you want rest, and more than all, a kind companion to look after you ; and we
want you to throw conventionality to the winds and marry Mr Brentnall at once; you will put me to a deal of trouble and expense by refusing, for if you refuse, I shall certainly throw up the idea of visiting Europe."
"I will do what you wish, " she said, cheerfully.
So the ceremony was then proceeded with, and these two who met as strangers on Christmas Eve, were man and wife by New Year. The first thing Harry did on being put in authority, was, quietly, but firmly, to put Miss Spear and her luggage into a cab. Mr Marrow, after apologising in a manly way for his share in the annoyance, took his departure. Mrs. Hope was retain- ed to take charge, and, being a business woman, was instructed to get rid of the furniture to the best advan- tage, and return the key to the landlord. Harry got a month's leave of absence, and as soon as his wife was able to take the journey, he proceeded to the moun- tains, where she regained strength daily, and by the time his old quarters were finished, she had won back from the past, as it were, her earlier years of youth and cheerfulness The memory of the children is kept still fresh and still beloved. Herby's letter to "Mist er Sent er Clos," is Harry's most treasured memento, for he has daily reason to be glad that he once stood substitute for Mister Santa Claus.