A Rolling Stone Vol. II
‘Tell me, sad tree, why are thy branches bare,
What hast thou done?
To win strange winter from the summer air,
Frost from the sun?
‘“Never,” replied that forest hermit lone
(Old truth and endless!)
“Never for evil done, but fortune flown,
Are we left friendless.
‘“Yet wholly, nor for winter nor for storm,
Doth love depart,
We are not all forsaken, till the worm.
Creeps to the heart!”’
It was later on the same night, and Randall was slowly retracing his steps to the town. Suddenly, with a faint waft from the ghost of a breeze that occasionally stirred the trees on each side of the road, he heard the sound of voices and of wheels moving towards him.
The voices were two. One, which was clear and high, evidently belonged to a woman; the other was not so distinct; but both were loud enough at times to admit of his hearing most of the conversation. The voice of the lady was raised, first in complaining, and then in reproof. The gentleman's page 202 was employed in excusing himself or in disparaging the horse, which, on his part, seemed to be doing much as he liked. There was a stoppage about every twenty yards; and then there were caustic remarks from the lady, savage ones from the gentleman, and sounds of peaceful munching amongst the herbage by the way.
‘I thought you knew everything about managing horses, Mr. Borage,’ cried the lady.
‘So I do,’ replied her protector; ‘at least I could always manage my father's horses; but they were different from this one. I never saw a horse with so little—Go in him. Now, Mrs. Sherlock, for goodness’ sake don't twitch at the reins; two of us can't drive at once.’
‘I believe he's going to kick,’ said Mrs. Sherlock.
‘He'd better not!’ cried Mr. Borage. ‘But he can't—he hasn't enough spirit in him for that.’
‘I'm sick of this,’ said Mrs. Sherlock. ‘He's stopped at every little rise, and boggled at every bridge along the road. I'd have walked if I'd known, only I thought you were such a splendid driver.’
‘You seem to think I'm to blame, and not the horse,’ plaintively responded Mr. Borage. ‘Take the reins, if you please, I am going to get out and—Whip him.’
‘Now, now, don't be cruel,’ implored Mrs. Sherlock. ‘I believe they've pined him. He was grazing all the time we were there, and he's wanted page 203 to eat at every patch of grass and drink at every spring we've passed.’
The horse was eating then, and neither Mr. Borage nor Mrs. Sherlock could get his head up from the grass.
‘I'll lead him,’ announced Mr. Borage. ‘I'd sooner be out than in, with such a broken-down creature. Mrs. Sherlock, what on earth are you doing? you are turning right off the road.’
‘He will go there!’ said the landlady, in despair. ‘He wants to drink again, I believe.’
‘It's enough to drive one frantic!’ said Mr. Borage, who was just getting out when the horse executed this manœuvre. ‘Never mind, I've hold of his head; come on.’
Mrs. Sherlock thought it best to remind the horse that they had a whip, and, in consequence, he came on with such alacrity that Mr. Borage, fearing he would be trodden to the earth, let his head go. He went so well now that in a few seconds Mr. Borage was five hundred yards behind. Mrs. Sherlock adjured the horse with the most persuasive ‘whoas,’ and he stopped; most likely not in obedience to her, but because of some luxuriant grass, and also because there was a hill before him. Mr. Borage came up at a run, and in a violent temper.
‘This is the second time he's served me this trick!’ he exclaimed, inflicting punishment on the horse, which caused him to bear Mrs. Sherlock away page 204 at a gallop. Mr. Borage was on the step by this time, and he managed to retain his position and to flourish his whip over the horse, very seldom touching him, however.
This second advance on their homeward way brought them to Randall's position, where the horse stopped, and taking advantage of the state of fear and helplessness into which Mrs. Sherlock had lapsed, began to graze again with great serenity of mind. Mr. Borage, seeing some one on the road, jumped down determined to ask for assistance. At the same time, Mrs. Sherlock descended from her seat with wonderful activity, and with a smothered ejaculation which seemed to indicate that she was in an emotional state of mind. ‘Mr. Borage!’ she cried, ‘don't you know who it is?’
‘It's he!’ cried Mr. Borage, who was a conscientious grammarian, and adhered to all the rules of syntax he had learned in his boyhood.
‘It's part of him!’ said Mrs. Sherlock, with pathos. ‘He's a shadow, that's all. Mr. Randall, aren't you ashamed of yourself? It's not often people leave my house to go to other lodgings; at least, not the sort of people I care for. Where have you been hiding, and what have you done to yourself? You'd have been better off with us; I wonder why you would leave. Come, you shall tell me why.’
‘If you will be told, Mrs. Sherlock, I went away because if I had stayed any longer I could not have paid you.’page 205
And you can look me in the face and tell me that! What do you take me for? asked the good woman, furtively wiping away a tear. ‘I suppose you think I'm one of those greedy boarding-house keepers—I know plenty of them, though I give no names—who'd turn a lodger into the streets, and seize all his poor bits of things if they were afraid they'd lose by him. Do I look like one of that sort?’
‘Not at all,’ interpolated Mr. Borage; but his feeble remark was lost in the torrent of Mrs. Sherlock's glowing words.
‘I haven't had, and Sherlock hasn't—and, my word! he'd better not have—such a thought. Oh, if you'd told us you were in trouble! I shouldn't have said, as some might, that you were to take yourself off with your troubles. It wouldn't have been the first time—ay, nor the second either—that I've given house-room without asking to be paid for it. Paid!’ she ended with scorn, ‘to think that I, who for the better part of sixty years have been trying to do my duty by my neighbour, should be suspected of giving nothing away without money for it.’
‘If it's—Money that is the question,’ said Mr. Borage, asserting himself while Mrs. Sherlock took breath. ‘I think you needn't have been afraid of asking me. I have more than is good for me. I am sure I should be—Better if some were taken from me.’
‘Oh, you needn't talk to him, Mr. Borage,’ said page 206 Mrs. Sherlock, reproachfully eyeing Randall. ‘He is too proud to let a friend do him a kindness.’
‘I hope not, Mrs. Sherlock,’ said Randall, at last getting a chance to speak. ‘I think I allowed you to do me many kindnesses when I was in your house. If I had imagined it would have hurt you, I should not have left as I did. I wish you wouldn't cry, either. I don't want any one to cry on my account.’
‘I'm sure your appearance is enough to make any one cry,’ said Mrs. Sherlock. ‘It was only by James happening to catch sight of you the other day that I found out you were in town yet. Then I knew something was amiss, and set him and Mr. Borage to find you, and we should have come to you to-morrow, if we hadn't luckily met with you to-night. And I've news for you—good news.’
‘You make me feel ashamed of myself,’ said Randall. ‘I had no need to think every one had forgotten me. You are very good—very kind—’ He stopped. He had been saved by these two friends; that was all he could feel or think of just then.
Mr. Borage's mild and plaintive voice was heard again. ‘I knew something was wrong when you went away. I wish you'd told me you were—Hard up. No one will let me do anything useful.’
‘You can be quiet at least, which is very useful sometimes,’ said Mrs. Sherlock, who, now that she was recovering her equanimity, felt able to domineer page 207 over her lodger as usual. ‘You talk too much; don't you see the excited and nervous state he's in?’
‘I talk too much!’ said Borage, stung by the injustice of this accusation. He knew that Mrs. Sherlock had uttered four words to every one of his.
‘Come, we're going home,’ said Mrs. Sherlock, holding Randall's arm, as if she were afraid he would run away. ‘You're going with us, Mr. Randall, whether you like it or not. Mr. Borage! how's this? Where's the horse?’
‘The horse! where—where?’ repeated Mr. Borage, staring wildly, but not perceiving the unfaithful animal referred to. ‘Why, he's gone on without us!’
‘This comes of carelessness,’ severely remarked Mrs. Sherlock. ‘You should have held him. Perhaps he's half-way to town by this—perhaps he's broken the buggy, and we shall have a fine bill for damages.’
‘I would rather pay heavy damages than drive him again,’ said Mr. Borage, with unusual decision.
To their joy they found the horse in the next hollow, luxuriating knee-deep in clover and rye-grass, and with his appendage, the buggy, jammed in the ditch. Mr. Borage declared they should never get it out. Fortunately, however, his wild gestures and threatening demeanour so intimidated the horse that, with a sudden start, he jerked the buggy on the road, putting forth all his strength for the first time that day. Mrs. Sherlock compelled Mr. Borage to page 208 give up the office of driver to Randall, and nothing loath to do so, he modestly took a back seat.
They drove through moonlit lanes, where the dew shone like silver on the hedges and on the grass, and where the few houses were dark and still, because it was past the hour at which tired and hardworking country folk go to bed. And then they passed through gas-lighted streets, where there was yet a constant stream of people, going from the theatres and other places of amusement to their homes, or walking up and down the pavement, because, in their opinion, it was a long way better than home. The whole thing seemed unreal to Randall, when he remembered where he had been, and what had been his thoughts an hour or two ago. It passed before him like a scene in a drama—a wonderfully well-acted one, but not a part of his life.
It was unreal again when he was led into Mrs. Sherlock's house like some honoured guest, and when Mrs. Sherlock and Mr. Borage, both speaking at once, related how they had captured him. Or was this the reality, and had the events of the last few weeks only passed before him in some hideous dream? But oh, supreme consolation!—the only one that we can grasp in some dark hours—they had passed by never to return. Come what come might, this at least he would never have to live through again.
In the morning Mrs. Sherlock took the first opportunity of telling him the good news she had page 209 in store. While he was staying with her she had admired a little painting of his so much that he had made her a present of it. It had been admired again by Mr. Wishart, who had come to her house during Randall's absence, and he had been curious to know the name of the painter. When he heard this he had at once remembered his meeting with Randall in the bush on his own land, and the night they had spent together at Bailey's. ‘He spoke of your playing to him there on your violin,’ said Mrs. Sherlock, ‘and said that he'd often thought of it since, and on that account as much as anything he would like to meet with you again. As for the little picture, he told me he had tried to paint the same view half a dozen times and had always failed. I saw he wanted it very much, and so at last he bought it.’ At this part of her story Mrs. Sherlock put a little packet into Randall's hand.
‘That bargain wasn't long in making,’ she said, with a pleased laugh. ‘You're not offended, are you? It's the first time I've traded off a present. Too much! that was his look-out, he gave what he pleased. And don't stop me—he's not satisfied with one picture; he wants more, and he likes your work so well he'll pay you handsomely. They're all to be views taken on his property, which I hear is the most beautiful place in the country. But here is his letter, you had better read it now.’
‘It mayn't be exactly what you want,’ she said, when Randall had read the letter, and thanked the page 210 kind-hearted woman for her timely interference in his business—but my advice is, take it. I know something of colonial life and its ups and downs—most of the downs. I've met with many a one like you, Mr. Randall; yes, many a one.’
‘I have no doubt,’ he said, ‘and if you did for others what you have done for me, they have cause to be glad that they met with you.’
‘I can't say I've always done what I might. But I've noticed this of people such as yourself—if you'll excuse an old woman speaking to you in this plain way—that they're very hard to help. They're so awfully independent that nothing can be done for them, or they'll spend their time in wishing and looking for things which are out of their way, and all the while there's something lying at their feet they ought to pick up. Well, don't you be like that. I tell you in this country one must take what one can get, not mope about waiting for what one would like to have. This will do while something better turns up. Painting isn't much of a trade. I remember a cousin of mine who tried it. He expected to be a great artist; he was always talking about the “old masters” and suchlike; but after a while he went into the paperhanging business, and did much better at that.’
It seemed as if telling of her good deeds had exacerbated Mrs. Sherlock's temper, for she was unusually sharp and sarcastic at the breakfast table. Mr. Borage having forgotten himself so far as to page 211 complain of the want of several comforts, when, according to Mrs. Sherlock, he ought to have been thankful he had any at all, received such a crushing rebuke that in his nervous uncertainty he sugared his egg, and mingled such condiments with his coffee as made it a very bitter cup indeed. Sherlock also was reproved for certain figures of speech which Mrs. Sherlock declared to be inelegant.
‘You can't expect a self-educated man to have much polish about him,’ he said apologetically. ‘I believe I've fallen off lately; I've had no opportunity for improving conversation. Since you went away, Mr. Randall, I've not had a good talk about politics. Mr. Borage takes no interest in them.’
‘I never could understand the politics of this country,’ said Mr. Borage, ‘and in Victoria just now it's all Berryism.’
‘Good gracious! what's that? asked Mrs. Sherlock, thinking it might be allied to Fetichism.
Mr. Borage proceeded to explain, and Mrs. Sherlock was hopelessly confused. By some means also, his explanation and a spirited account James was giving of his debating class became inextricably entangled.
‘So they meet once a fortnight,’ said Mrs. Sherlock, ‘and Mr. Berry is chairman.’
‘Dear me! Mrs. Sherlock,’ cried Borage, in despair. ‘Did I say that?’
‘The subject to-night will be Female Suffrage’, said James.page 212
‘Well, what will Mr. Berry say on that? He may well be unpopular if he supports such nonsense,’ said Mrs. Sherlock.
‘It's nothing in the world to—Do with that,’ gasped Mr. Borage. ‘I'm speaking of Mr. Berry, our Victorian politician, and James is talking about his debating class.’
‘If Mr. Berry is a politician, I want to hear no more of him’, said Mrs. Sherlock. ‘So you're going to debate on Female Suffrage, James? Well, really!’
‘Let 'em have it,’ said Mr. Sherlock, benignly looking round him, as if he beheld the whole army of supplicating and voteless womankind. ‘Why shouldn't they?’
‘Why should they?’ said Mrs. Sherlock, with acerbity. ‘Do we want to have all the idle and foolish women going to elections, and getting themselves elected too; for, judging from what happens in the case of men, want of sense will never prevent any one from getting into Parliament. What kind of laws should we have?’
‘Very good ones, if all women were like you,’ said Sherlock, trying to mollify Mrs. Sherlock with a compliment.
‘All women are not like me, or they'd be contented with women's work. I am; I've plenty to satisfy me; I've no desire to take the men's on my shoulders as well, though I shouldn't wonder if that isn't what they want us to do, and all their opposition is a sham. I know what would come of the Suffrage, page 213 as they call it. Every woman who had a husband, no matter what a poor creature he might be, would move heaven and earth to have him in Parliament, and those who hadn't husbands would want to be in themselves.’
‘Then the best thing we can do,’ said James, ‘is to get married.’
‘Better get some more sense first,’ said his mother, with a severe glance in his direction.
‘I've been reading the Governor's speech,’ said Sherlock, thinking to make a diversion in favour of his pet subject. ‘It's a rare length.’
‘It's to be hoped there's some wisdom in it,’ said Mrs. Sherlock. ‘I wonder how long he was writing it.’
‘Why, you know, he doesn't write it; leastways, I believe not. They don't allow a governor to get up his own speeches, because he might put something in that wouldn't tally with his Minister's opinions. There can't be much pleasure in being a governor; they keep a tight rein on him, and he's pulled up in a hurry if he tries to go alone. It's a difficult science, this politics.’
‘Yes,’ assented Mrs. Sherlock, ‘difficult to see the use of it. I never saw much come out of it yet but taxes, and a big debt fastened on the whole country.’
‘Well,’ responded her husband, ‘and do you see nothing grand and encouraging in that? Doesn't it prove that if a young country like this can bear up under such a big debt, it must be a grand one; a page 214 young Hercules? We ought to be proud of it. There are nations who haven't got up anything like it in twice the time; there are nations who can't borrow; and we can have our national debt like an old-established country, and are as little troubled about it, and as little likely to pay it as any of 'em. As for taxes, they prove the prosperity of the people; if they hadn't the money they couldn't pay it away. While, as the Governor says, in one of the best bits of his speech, the resources of the counter are immense, and are all but undeveloped.’
‘Oh, I can believe that,’ said Mrs. Sherlock; ‘there's more talk than work about most people here.’
As he was obliged to be at Mr. Wishart's before the end of the week, Randall had only one day to spend in town. Mrs. Sherlock insisted that he ought to do nothing but keep himself quiet; an occupation, however, which some find very wearisome. Mr. Borage suggested that they should drive out together, promising to hire a horse whose performances would be satisfactory. James asked him to attend a meeting of the debating class that evening.
This debating class was called a society for mutual improvement, and its members had mutually improved one another to such a degree that their friends and relatives stood in awe of them. They wrote essays and speeches; they argued; they declaimed; they even acted and criticised Shakespeare, attributing motives and meanings to the divine William which, could he have been brought by any page 215 medium upon the scene, would have filled him with astonishment if not with wrath. The public was admitted to their meetings, and that part of the public which was most constant in its patronage, and most lenient in its criticisms, was composed of ladies more or less related to or interested in the mutually improved. It was noticed that when James had a part in the debate a certain young lady usually occupied one of the front seats, and it was also noticed after Mr. Borage became a member that he chose a seat as near to the young lady as possible; but no one as yet saw a meaning in these things.
But Mr. Borage did not go to the debating class this time. He stayed at home, wondering how he could bestow on another person some of the superfluous wealth which burdened him. Any one else would have gone about the matter in a straight-forward fashion; but to Mr. Borage this was impossible. First, on account of his nervous shyness, and secondly because it seemed very likely to him that the other person might be as shy of taking as he was of giving.
‘People say it's hard to get money,’ he reflected; ‘I find it very difficult just now to give it away. I don't want him to know it's mine, and yet, if he didn't know where it came from, or why it was sent, he might not like to use it. If I spoke to him, he would be sure to refuse, or put me off in some way, and, of course, I couldn't make him take it. There really seems to be no way of doing the thing in the page 216 little time he'll be here; and if it's to be done at all,’ added Mr. Borage, unconsciously paraphrasing Shakspeare, ‘it had better be done quickly.’
A brilliant idea, as he thought, coming into his mind just then, Mr. Borage hurried to his room. When he ran he saw nothing except the object aimed for, consequently his collisions with persons and things had been many, and often serious. This time he rushed against the servant girl, and as she was a new arrival, and knew nothing of his peculiarities, such an unprovoked attack caused her to turn and scuttle back into the kitchen, with a loud shrill scream. Mrs. Sherlock came up in time to see Mr. Borage dash into his own room. This explained everything to her.
He sought about, turning things over, upsetting and throwing down, until he found a book he had offered to lend to Randall, but had hitherto forgotten to give him. He sat down, with this book before him, and slipped some thin pieces of paper between its leaves. ‘I'll tell him I've marked my favourite passages,’ he said; ‘but he'll find these more valuable than most book-markers.’
Next he wrote a letter full of entreaties that Randall would accept the markers, if not as a gift, at least as a loan. From the humble tone of his letter, one would have thought Mr. Borage wanted to borrow money rather than lend it. He put the piece of paper he had written on inside the book, page 217 tied it up and directed it to Randall, and left the packet in his room.
Having done the deed, Mr. Borage became very frightened lest he should be found out. He kept out of the way until he was certain that Randall was in his room. Then, for the first and last time, he condescended to play the spy. He went outside, and favoured by a blind that was too narrow for the window, saw Randall with the book in his hand, and actually trembled with rapture at the thought that his little plot had succeeded. ‘Why did I never give away anything before?’ the poor fellow asked himself, as he stood under a very damp tree in the garden, too happy to know that it was dripping upon him.
In the morning he was invisible to the person who wanted to see him. It was in vain that he was called in the most alluring voice Mrs. Sherlock could summon for the occasion, and in vain did Sherlock open the door and attempt to arouse him, that he might say good-bye to Randall, who was going; he persisted in sleeping a suspiciously sound sleep.
‘I've always suspected him of talking for effect, when he's said he couldn't sleep,’ exclaimed Mrs. Sherlock, ‘and this is the second or third time the falsity of the story's been proved. He always is asleep when he's wanted—all fiddle about lying awake at night.’
Mr. Borage heard these slanderous words, and treasured them up for future repayment. Had he page break known that the book had been packed up unopened, and that Randall was still ignorant of his generosity, he would have shown himself. How he managed it, no one knew; but when the train by which his friend was a passenger moved off from the station, Mr. Borage appeared on the platform, and waved an adieu. Then he walked home, and told Mrs. Sherlock that he had begun to follow her advice by taking exercise before breakfast, and that he had never felt better in his life.