|Newspaper Title||Sydney Mail (NSW : 1860 - 1871)|
|Trove Title||Which Wins? A Tale of Life's Impulses|
WHICH WINS? A TALE OF LIFE'S IMPUL8E8.
' II y heart vae hoi and rentier, Ami my heart mu full of care, And the burden laid upon nic Kccrord greater than I could bear.' Loxorixunr, It -would have slightly the tincture of a bull were I to B»y 1 was not drowned ; but, truth to Bay, I was little short of it. When con&cinutneee returned, I found myself King upon a point of Und that i utted out into
the creek, with my ltet still in the water and my head only partly thrown out of it. A branch round which my hair Mid become entangled, wai tugging away, impelled by the rapid current, and had most probably contributed to awaken me more quickly than I other, wise should have been arouted. My bonnet tu held tightly by one utiing, end I still graeped my shoeB convulsively, but my cloak mm gone, and one sleeve of my diess wss torn away. A. deep cut on the sleevelceB arm showed that I' had escaped nzrrowly from the contact of eome floating substance. The rain wu falling more Boftly, and there was more than one blue break in the clouds, with a tun-glow in one spot so high up as to apprise me that, even would they take tuch a wild-looking pasBenger as myself, I had missed the morning couch. Looking round me, I recognised the place as one very littlo frequented, about a mile below the ford, and (shunted in a private fentleman's bush-land, although not more thin a undrcd yards from a road that crossed from St. Cudgercewonga to a hamlet of about a dozen houses, called llydleigh. It -was a green little bank, that rose to Home height above the natural level of the stream, and had been a favourite haunt of mine in my child hood, although I bad seldom been near it since my residence at the Parsonage. 1 hound my wounded arm as well as I could with my pocket-handkerchief, and then took to considering what I fchould do. This nearly fatal accident had not by any means quenched my determination against returning to the Parsonage, yet I knew that, if I went into ihc creek in the state tu which that accident had reduced me, time were plenty of old wives there sufn cicntly officious to take upon themselves the respon sibility of Betiding me back against my will, even if Mr, Barrett had not spread the alarm of my disap pearance that far already. But the greater probabi lity was that he had done so, or certainly would do so before the time fur the departure of the next coach, two o'clock, should arrive. Even for one moment contemplating the possibility of my return, bow should I face all the malicious sneers and false inter gncUlions that would,be raited by my escapade, as I knew it would be termed by people who doated on a little scandal. Pride (strengthened my reuvlutijn, and I decided not to go into St. Cudgtrecwonga. My thoughts next turned to Kydleigh. This little Tillage was rive miles awsy, and' three miles off the main road, but fctill it lay in the direction of Sydney. Thirc were two reasons for going there: the fir.-t that Mr. Barrett would think last of that place in -which to search for me, as it lay out of his parirh, and neither he nor I had been to it more than once, lie would doubtless confine his search for me to the main Toad ar.d neaur home, at leant for that day, and so 1 might hope not tu be deterred on the unfrequented byetoad. My second reason was that there dwelt atRjdlcigh a good-natured cousin of Mrs. Collins, whoie baby I had nurted through a dangerous illness, and who thereafter had always professed aa un bounded love end gratitude towards me. I mignt reasonably hope that she would provide me with a chance of dress and means to reuch Svrinpv.
So, wringing andfolding my dripping hair, (straight ening my baUerei bonnet as well as I could, dragging on my swollen boots, anJ drawing round me my tattered skirts, I euro utrnccd the walk to KyJleifih, The walk was compar uivcly an easy one to what one of similar length would have betn upon the main road. That, from its constant Ubc must be trodden into mud and nothing but mud, but this, being used, perhaps, not mare than twice or thrice in the day, was of a different character. In the middle of it were three deep furrows ; a wide one, which the animals had trodden down, and two narrower parallel Hues on cither side of it worn by the wheels of the teams they drew ; but on cither side of this rude track, the rank couch-grass had plaited a carpet thick enough to form a solid walk after the heaviest rainB. The rain ceased in a short time after I recovered consciousness, and the sun shone out with renewed fervour through the purified air. Although the combined effect of excite ment, loss of blood, and heat, had made me very veak, I reached liydleifih by twelve o'clock, and commenced inquiries for Mrs. Mason, the woman on whom fall my hopes depended. The first person to whom I applied was the village constable, whom I met sauntering up the street. I must have used a tone tr.oic suitrd to my pretensions of twelve hours earlier , than those of the present moment, for he answered me, with all the self-importance general to such functionaries, that there was no one of the name in llydleigh, -nd that he believed I was a bald vagrant, who asked the question out of mere inso lence ; and, finally, that if I did not begone about my liutinith, lie would find me Kale quartering in the leek- up. Looking down at my torn dress and ban dvged arm, I made a gulphing effort to swallow my rising tearp, and attribute oil tbe force of this rough language to th«?ir disreputable appearance. But it was with an aching heart and faltering tongue that I made mv next -*-isav at the little nublip-hnusn. 'Mv
hesitation was not unprophctic ; a volley of rude in tuit sent me thence with my question unasked. Going down the street a lew yards, I stood still by the gate of a little latticed cottage, and looked away over the fields towards St, Cudgereewonga, dreaming with bitter, unmanageable tears of the quiet home and lovini: heart that awaited me there ; of the care ful protection I— so defenceless but a few miles away —might claim from thence. But it might not be; even if I now went back it must be to become Mr. Barrett's wife, and that I felt was rigorously forbidden by the very duty that I owed to him. Sly courage was revived by that short burst of feeling, and my last tear was falling, when a mild voice close to said 'You are too young to go alone into such places as that, my girl ' The owner of the gentle voice was an old woman ?who Eat at work on the verandah of the house by -which I was standing. I had not noticed her before, but now her presence gave me a gleam of comfort. Not that it was a refined presence, delicately tender and gentle ; nothing of the kind. This was a woman of the working class, with all the evidences about her that she had filled a laborious place in it — the stoop resulting from combined age and toil, the gnarled and sun-browned features, the rough-toned voice, and the vein-knotted, heavy hand. But an excellent beauty there is to the eyes of the friendless in such unhand eome facts sometimes, a loveliness surpassing all that poet's or painter's ideal can present to our fancy; for here is presented to them that which the friendless most desire— a woman. A woman such as God meant -woman to be was this that accosted me now. Reproof blent with kindly sympathy in her tone, and a look of pity on her face, that alike invited confidence and promised help. ' My girl,' she repeated, coming to the gate, ' yondi r house of mischief is noplace for one so yonxig «s you.' I explained that I bad but gone in to ask the where abouts of the person I wished to find. ' And did they tell you r' My tears -welled afresh as I confessed that they did not, and the reason they did not. ' Poor child f' she said ; ' come in, and perhaps I can tell you. or find thoBe that will.' I willinelv
followed her, with a hope of which I was half ashamed— that she would offer me food. No bit had I partaken of that morning. She did that; she brought me coffee, cold beef, and soda-cake, and not even the bitter consideration which was thus forced upon me, that since the morning I had fallen to the position of a tramping vagrant, could prevent me from making as hearty a meal as that of anypioughboy after a morning's labour. Tbe meal had its natural effect : I felt my courage rise, and the journey to Sydney, that half an hour before had seemed problematically difficult, again ap peared easy, if I could but find Mrs, Mason. I rose, therefore, thanked my entertainer, who had been silently sewing by the window, and begged her to add to her kindness by telling me in which of the few houses in llydleigh I should find Mrs. Collins'u niece. ' You are seeking for ilia. Mason, are you ?' sue said doubtfully. ' I wonder if you knew, if you could be eo bad—' I uttered an impatient exclamation. I was sensi tive then, and if not an insult here was an implied suspicion—' If I could be so bad as what r' 6he looked into my face with eyes searching for a true .reply. ' If you could have known that the only woman you asked for was not to be found, gone from Rydleigh lust week: No; I don't think you could.' For I had clasped my hands and reseated myself hopelessly. Hopelessly for one moment, but iu the next came strength for the time of need, and the re solve flashed upon me that X would walk to Sydney. I did not reason about it ; if I had, probably I should have taken the road back to St. Cudgereewonga. But that most unlikely moment came before me, with the Hcetness of s di»m, many a prayer that I might be j
the preserver and supporter of my mother ; and I resolved not, for any cost to mytelfl to relinquish the search after her— came before me in the vision of a sweet infant form clinging round me, whom perhaps I had rescued from perhaps worse than beggary, and I rpBohxd ntver to give up the struggle— to render th»t vUion a reality. And came to me in that short deli beration a strong assurance that, whatever X might be called upon to suffer in the performance of the task, it would ultimately succeed, feeciusc it was right, on trip side of winch is God. I rose up again ana said, ' Thin I must iry to get to Sydsey.' ' I don't want to pry into your business,' said my good old woman now, ' but there is something about you that I can't understand. You look as if you were honest. I like your eve and voice ; you can look one in the face when you sneak, and you don't whine and pick jour words ; hut still there ib something wronc about you. Your hand is as soft as a lady's, if it isn't very white ; not a corn at the roots of any of the fingers, or a crack in any one of your pink nails. They are long, too ; you don't ecour many floors or tablts. They ure cut round and ftec from stain; ; you don't do much kitchen work. Nor do you earn your bread by sewing, for though there arc some needle msiks on jour finger, it is not up worn us it would be ?were such the ease. Your hoir may be naturally curly but it has been In ringlet* lately, or that bit that haB fallen on your neck would not form into one
so readily, lour checks are burnt by the nun this morning, and that proves that they have not been used to be exposed to it eo much. Your voice is low and sweet, as if you had been accuBtomed to speak where j ou were sure to be gladly beard, and it has a tone as if you had been used to give orders and ex pected to be obeyed. Your bonnet and dress arc dirty and untidy, it is true, but they have been good in their day, and your dress is cut in the last fashion, and through the rent in your dress I see your petticoat is tucked half-way up. 'You ate not what you seem to be, my girl, and, trust the word of an old woman who knows well what s wicked place the world is, that if you arc not wrong you will soon cease to be right, when you cease to seem what vou really are. I won't ask you to tell me your secret, unless you like, but I am ready to hear it, and give you my ad vice il you chooBe. I have had a little experience in my time, child.' With vtliich conclusion, my too-obBervant old hostess tot quietly down, and icbumcd her stitching. 1 fclooci embarrassed with a feeling combined of amuse ment at her minute penetration and resentment at her interference. Tell her the truth I could not ; she had set her mouth together with two little curves of mild self- will in the corners, that warned me only too plainly how she would act did Bhc know that I was the adopted daughter of the clergyman of the next parish, bent on the vildgoose chase of following a vagrant mother tu Sydney 6ri lout. She would treat me sb a rclructory child, and fiend lift imCk to him by force. And tell her a falsehood I would not ; 1 could not bear to sully my soul's integrity by a deli berate fabrication, even when eo driven. Therefore I stammered, blushed, und bungled, making a worse mess e-f it than any teller of untruth could nave done. 1 bc-gged her tu believe me honest indeed, although my appearance l)i ied me ; admitted that I was not m my natural position— end yet, in fact, it was my natural position, und that which I had hitherto held was a lalte one ; excused myself from confiding in her at the present moment, but said 1 would take means to let her know who and what I was when I might fairly do it. I did not succeed in allaying the good woman's sus picions. She shook her head and muttered displeas edly the old adage, ' If wilful will to water, wilful must.'
I moved meekly towards the door, but again was detained by her voice. ' Well, if yau will tramp it to Sydney, at least let me change those tell-tale clotheB of yours for some more becoming, and in which you will meet less insult. As for your hands and face, they won't be quite eo delicate by the time you get there.' I thanked her most gratefully for the bluff, kind hearted offer, but she received all my thanks with an air of offended dignity, and replied that she only did it to prevent me from coming to more harm thin need be. She furnished me with a clean, dark, blue-print skirt and jacket, and an old gray sun-bonnet that was far more comfortable than my poor old stravr one. And, belter titan all this, she dressed my wounded arm with a hand as tender sb a mother's, even though I steadily refused to explain how I bad come by the hurt. ' Well,' she said, when I was fully equipped, 'you are going to take your own way, my girl; all I can tay is— May a merciful God walk with you though you cannot see him.' ' I can see. Him ;' I exclaimed at that, with one unrestrained sob ; ' it is huid to be so misunderstood by one who is otherwise so kind. Will you not be lieve me if I tell you that, strange as what I am doing must seem, I feel sure that I am. doing right, and could only be doing right by thus acting.' She answered with a softened voice, ' Poor girl .' may He bless what you are doing, if it U right.' And I went away, and followed the nearest road that led to the main road. When I came to a turning I looked round, and she was still standing at the little white gate, with her hand shadowing her eye§, evi dently watching for the last sight of me. As I turned out of sight I could not heln feeling a loneliness deeper than ever came over me for tbe loss of that friendly figure. It was iar in the afternoon when I left her house, and the road I had to travel was not in any way so easy as that over which I had walked in the morning. The road was red clay, which was now a thick batter of mud, and, although there were many places in which I could walk in the fields ou either side, there were some of which the fences were so close that I was obliged to plod along through the heavy mud. I met one or two draymen upon this road also, who did not fail to address me in language, Euch, indeed, as my appearance warranted, but which, nevertheless, it was very hitter to me to be compelled to bear. The distance was but four short miles from. Ryd leigh, but I traversed it so painfully slow that the evening was just dusking as I reached the main road. I was eo tired, that with every effort I could not pre vent my feet from dragging, nor my head from, hang ing liBtlessly down. A handkerchief, in which my good old Rydleigh woman had tied up some damper and cold meat, hung in my hand as heavy as if it were weighted with lead. Every limb ached, objects
on the road- Bide swam dimly before my closing eyes, and my lips quivered with a vehement impulse to scream aloud. I do not believe that I could have walked another half-mile. There was a little hut at the corner of the road, on ijic doorstep of which a woman sat nursing a child. I went up to her, and asked if she could give me a drink of water and a place to sleep in. ' Laws, yes, poor critter !' she replied in a voice that made my head ring. ' Ye looks tired and sick, ye does. Been tramping toe for, I 'epcet ; I've been on tramp myself, an' know what it is, don't I. I'll do the best I can for ye, an' that's not much. Any way, ye're welcome to the best I can, aa' sure that's all a woman can say.' I thanked her as best I could and followed her into the hut. She took up a large, black tin from the fire and poured some tea out of it into a tin, smaller but even blacker, and flavoured it with a pinch of sugar blackest of all ; yet I bad never tasted anything be fore so giateful as that tin of strong tea, Having seen me drink it, she took me out by a hick door, and showed me a heap of straw in. a dilapidated out house. 'It's the best I've got to offer ye,' she said, ' bat mavbe ve'll dramc as swatelv there as ve would on
fithcre/' Again X thanked her, and dropped exhausted into the straw. I was asleep in fire minutes and dream ing I thought that I knelt with John Barrett at the marriage altar, when Charles Alvern, my father, and my mother entered the church hand In hand, and interposed between us, declaring that they and they alone weic the pair for whom tbe service was to be performed. I thought that I rose, and said that I would far rather never be married, even to John Barrett, than prevent them from being eo ; and that, taking Tina's hand, I had walked from the church unwed and unloved. Vox I had caught the glance that Mr. Barrett had cast upon my mother, and only too well understood its meaning. Yet he stayed be hind, I thought, to perform the ceremony. Unloved ! I woke once in that night weeping more bitterly than I had done in all the weary day that preceded it.