Chapter 166691744

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter Url
Full Date1861-11-16
Page Number2
Word Count2773
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleSydney Mail (NSW : 1860 - 1871)
Trove TitleWhich Wins? A Tale of Life's Impulses
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xwicr In^ these years of comparative monotony s strange thing happened to me. There ciosied over tht peaeefulneta of my life a quick vision of a haggard woman with great dark eves, and limp dishevelled hair ; and from it there grew in my mind a _ weary thought, crowding ottt all the bright imaginations of mychildhood, and leaving a fearful heaviness and un certainty in their stead. Once, when I was in my fifteenth year, Olave entered hastily the room where

a was setting, at sunset. ttall-teanutiy ana nan with a characteristic air of bravado, she said she had been stopped in the bush by a woman like a gipsy, from whom she had great difficulty in getting away. 'A wild-looking woman, Isola, with shrivelled akin over her sharp cheek-bones and eyes that glared on one as I have seen two stars between the rifu of a thunder cloud. A woman with lips blue aa eshes, and a tall, bent figure, and a voice that never rose above a whisper. Bo you know such a one ?' ' No. Why do you ask if I know her ?' ' Because — it's very strange- but she thought I was ? you, Isola, and if I had not been able to disabuse her of that idea, I don't think she'd have let me go for ever, she seemed so powerful. Oh, she was a fearful woman, Isola, with bony arms and grasping nerv ous fingers that clutched into you eagerly ; — Isola, den't go out.' For I was at the door by that time. I felt dragged out by an unseen hand, although my head was too dizzy to think clearly for what purpose I was going. ' I must,' I said, ' ahe might be—' I could not speak the word I would have said. ' Your mother r' for Olive knew my tale as much as I knewit ; ' Oh, Isola, don't think it for a moment. This was a dreadful woman j a bad, bad woman, I know.' ' Who else could it be ?' I answered, still holding the door in my hand, and anxiously looking out into the deepening twilight. ' Some beggar who thought the parson's daughter —come beck, do come back !' I had caught a glimpse of a gray shape, defined against the black beit of trees by the light of a tran sient after-glow, and nothing could keep me. Re gardless of her calls, I ran to the spot, scarcely noticing that she followed wnen she could not detain me. Bnt the woman, if she it was, had eluded me. I searched until it was quite dark with no success, and we both returned to the house considerably tired by our adventure. There Olave told the tale in her own fashion, skilfully covering my interest in it, but mag nifying her own terror, aa an excuse for asking Henry a company on her homeward walk. I heard no more of the woman then, end though I made close inquiries in the Creek and Wurrarah, I could not ascertain that such a person had been seen in cither place. The impression died off my mind eo far that the fright we had received grew to be a standing joke between Olave and myself. So it stood until on the verge of my eighteenth year, I was myself, about the same time one evening, ' returning from the Oteat House. As I approached the bend of the road where Olave always fixed her apparition, the tale recurred to me, and my heart beat a little quicker in spite of all the chiding I gave myself for my foolishness. I turned the corner, and — was my imagination so resistlessly strong 1 — there was the very figure she had described. I stood still, put up my hands to my eyes, covered them, ana looked again. It was no delusion ; still she was there. The very figure that Olave had described — tall, with worn cheeks and wan lips, and black, stringy hair, escaping from a battered bonnet. She stood right in the middle of the narrow road, her arms folded in a shawl of some dirty gauzy material across her breast, that attitude displaying clearly her gaunt, square shoulders. Her head was slightly bowed and her eyes looked to the ground : so she stood there mo. tionlen except for the impatient beating of her tight foot, that stirred her draggled skirts. It was evident that she was waiting for some purpose. I could not pass her without almost touching her and attracting her attention, and I could not turn aside into the bush, for the rustling branches would also arouse her notice, and I was frightened to do that. So I laid my hand over my beating heart and remained quiet, watching her. A long five minutes passed before she made any other movement. In those five minutes I noted every line of that rigid face, never to be again forgotten. She raised her head sharply at last, and looked expectantly down the road. Of course her gaze struck full upon me. At once she came on quick, with wild eyes and panting breast and out stretched talons. I made a movement to escape but it was useless ; I was clasped in her arms — it seemed as^f I was wrapped round and round by them. Sitting down by the road-side, she held me like a baby, and kissed me repeatedly —rapid, burning kisses, almost fierce in their eagerness. X could nut rise ; tt» arm that held me was to# firm, and so l was obliged to submit and be pillowed upon the bosom of that strange woman. I looked up haplessly into her eyes, but they were not terrible now ; the wild face had relaxed from its fierceness. Wan and dim and haggard it was still, but the set lips were trembling ; the poor, dry, bright eye* were raining tears now. And I wept too, lay gently there and, for over me came the strong conviction that I was clasped at last in the embrace of my mother. Bbe was speaking, 1 knew, but with all my efforts I could not answer her voice. I was bewudercd by the suddenness and strangeness of her appearance, and, before I could collect my scattered senses, ehe set me upon my feet, ran hastily into the buBhes, and was gone. Left to myself I soon became calm. There was a slip of paper lying upon the spot where she had est; I picked it up and went mechanically homeward. I again made cautious inquiries in the two villages, but could not find that she had visited either. I never Soke of that night-interview to any one, not even lave, but while it was fresh on my mind I made, on my knees, a vow, that if ever this woman crossed my path again, I would call her ' mother,' and should she answer as to a child, I would follow her to the end of the world ere I let that new-bound tie be again severed. But one impression, though it be as vivid as the lightning-flash, and as earnest as an earthquake in its effects, will not last against the repealed smoothing passes of time. So it came to be that, notwithstand ing the event of that night, I grew little by little, not to forget, but to put away thought of my mother. It was not a grateful thought now ; not one eagerly ac cepted anil cherished. I had lost the image of beauty that once bore that name, and, in return, what had 1 got 1 — a miserable half- wild woman ! Even my ideal of virtue was gone, for how could my mother be as I had eeen her u she had not trangressed against the laws of man. I state that conclusion in cold words, but it was stricken into my own heart by many separate tears of midnight anguish. The old thought was so rooted that it aid not come up easily ; it had to be torn aaay by repeated and violent efforts, and even then the aching nerves wete left. Thus I lost my beat delusion of childhood, end was waked out of my dream of the everlasting purity of mothers. I bore it. Ah, my childhood ! It was slipping back from me day by day ; the lovely dawn-twilight that cast such a magical glow over all things was passing from my eyes, and the broad sun was rising up, making all things clear — too clear. All the nooks were being laid bare, all the leafless branches were overshadowed, every dry, grass-blade was gleaming in my sight. Ah, my lest childhood ! Bay by day was falling from me some ol its delicious wonder, I had been beyond the sunrise hills, and I now blew that there was only the long, weary, red road, and then the city with ite ceaseless clang, and then the silent, brooding ocean ; and then— and then — why, if you had gone far enough, the Polar Gulf. I wondered, at nothing any more, I only inquired into it. Faith was growing to me harder, the requirements of proof were stronger. I had left the sweet milk diet, and was seeking after strong meat. There had fallen from me the heavenly swaddling-clothes which God leaves around his younglings for a time on earth. Ah, woe, for the loss of my holy childhood ! I bore to think of my mother as less than perfect, and did not faint beneath that grief. Lying in my warm bed, I bore to consider her a vagrant, wandering to and fro on the earth, and only wept ; I did not rise and go forth to seek her. I learnt to live as if mothers were not necessary things. Too truly, I wbb no more a child. I found work in those days, plenty of it. Where Henry Barrett was work was always plenty for those who would accept it, and I was by nature no idler. Henry stood on the threshold of manhood, and he a toed there aa already its master. The promise of hiB boyhood 'was bring literally fulfilled. He was one who stepped forward to accept God's mandate—' In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,' with a firm— I had nearly said proud— belief that from the lips of God it received the colour of a blessing* He called himself a disciple of labour ; but thiacisciple was also an apostle, who not only acted his belief out preached and besought others to do even the same. Perhaps he exalted the object of his endeavours too high ; it seemed sometimes as though it were to him

almost an idol, btforc which, after the manner of many enthusiasts, he forced all other roca to bow a* well ss bowed himself. ' You tell ine of your power of Thought,' lie would sxclaim why, if It stand alone, it U the very weak ness of thought. Of what u«c is it, what has it done, alone? Caxtoni Newton 1 John Howard! Bon't make thotc glorious men your supporter*. Thev are mine ; it was as men of action that they achieved their wonders. If they had been content to think only, they had gone into oblivion, unhonoured. Bon't talk to me of feeling. What is it that you rejoice or that you suffer 1 Bo you fancy you came into the world to do either the one or the other * Yon are mistaken ; they are only casualties. You came here to work ; to do alt you cin, in every way, by every faculty, for all people. You came here to work, and if you don't work, you are neglecting what you came to do, that is all. You came here to work, and not to look after your own single, paltry self. Can't you truBt God for that ? If you can't, how dare you trust him with all the myriad souls around you. Are you, one, more wotih then they, many? A truce to ail this exaggeration of thought and feeling. Tbey are nothing else but means— excellent means, undoubt edly, but still only means, that, if they go not on to the end, action, are simply blighted promise. Thr ow them away ! What good are they With such floods of ehort, decisive reasoning he bore down all opponents. His argument might be fal lacious, but his voice was full and steady, his eye fixed, hiB will unconquerable, and his practice based on his principles. With a man so minded it was im possible not to be fully employed. He was studying for the ministry under his brother, and took su active share in ell his duties. Indeed, he had taken that from the first, and made sure that I should not be spared either. There had been no Sunday school before Mr. Barrett'* time, hut now, under llcnry's management we had a flourishing one, with my father for superintendent, and Olave and myself fur sure supporters. As he grew older, he had followed that by evening classes for one purpose end another, until nearly every night in the week found the three of us on horseback, bound either for Wurrarah or St. Cudgerawonga. The mornings we spent regularly in children's classes, for those at night were only for the elders ; our time was nearly filled. We were willing and earnest workers, hut we both rebelled at last. Olave, for this reason : he had established a weekly lecture night, which, by dint of constant appeals to his friends, and by filling every gap himself he con. Hived to keep afloat. Presently a brieht thought struck him, and he made his appearance before us with a grave fsoe, and propounded a desire— he never requested— that Olave should write, and deliver in. bis lecture.rooms, a aeries of lectutes on Household Economy, for the benefit of the wives of the villagers, Olave opened wide her large eyes, at such a loss of dignity. ' Isn't he mad, Isola ?' ehe demanded. I opened mine for another reason. 'Henry! Olave lecture on household economy r She does not know a shoulder of mutton from a leg, flour from oat meal, sugar from salt. She can't make a fire ; she can't wipe a dish dry ; she can't sweep a room, the dirt wont come out of tire corners for her ; she can't even boil a potato, ahe shuts the lid down tight over green vegetables when they ere boiling. Olave lec ture on Household Economy ! Look at her hands 'They're very pretty. Perhaps you'll do it.' ' What r look at Olave's hands. I feel them ; ahe slapped me under the table.' ' No : lecture,' ' Me lecture ! You tyrant ! What next : No ; I wont.' 'Well, Olave will, then. She can get all her particulars from her mother, or Mrs. Collins, or you — you seem to know all about it.' ' I wont,' said Olave. ' What do you think me?' ' A woman beyond all the nonsense of vanity when it interferes with her usefulness. Think of it. I have got something else that you can do, Iaola.' ' Well, what next ?' ' Why, I have been noticing how brown and dirty the clothes on the lines at the Creek always look. It would be very easy to get up a washing class, I should think ; a few lessons would improve them, and — ' 'In short, you want me to undertake the direction of Such a class.' I interrupted; Olave was strolling to keep down her laughter. ' 1 wont, then, thank you. Why, Henry, you are really going too far. To put me at the wash-tub and Olave on the platform ! Indeed -' ' Think of it,' he eaid, and went away offended. But we did not yield. The washing-classes were established, with Mrs. Collins for preceptress, end a fat old gentleman with a lisp lectured on Household Economy. Henry frowned when we crossed his path, which was pretty often, all the next three weeks. but time wiped out that quarrel with his other scores.