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A Rolling Stone Vol. II

Chapter XII

page 219

Chapter XII.

‘Not yet, O friend, not yet;
The patient stars
Lean from the lattices, content to wait.
All is illusion till the morning bars
Slip from the level of the eastern gate.
Night is too young, O friend, day is too near:
Wait for the day that maketh all things clear—
Not yet, O friend, not yet.'

Bret Harte.

It was still early in the day when the train arrived at a desolate station, the last on that recently constructed line of railway, and likely to be the last for some time, as beyond there were hills which would not soon be tunnelled, even in such a country of progress. From the station plenty of tea-tree and long thick-growing fern was to be seen, but only one house, and that a speck in the distance. There was no settlement visible; why should there be? It had been one of the rules of those who had planned and laid out this railway, to place the stations away from the disturbance of traffic. So averse, however, are colonists to letting well alone, that, as soon as such a station has been planted in the wilderness, they begin to afflict their rulers with wails for a branch line, to connect it with their own page 220 little village. After wrangling, strife, and contention, the branch line is made at enormous expense; they are happy, and the people of the next settlement are envious and discontented.

At the station there were two persons waiting to see the train come in; one being an unlucky gum-digger who could find no gum, and had grown weary of ‘pricking the plain’ to no purpose. The other was Mr. Bailey, who had come to meet Randall.

‘I am glad to see you!’ he cried, with a squeeze and a tremendous wrench of the hand to prove his sincerity. You're not exactly the thing, though; got thin, haven't you? So have I; hard work this summer; heat fearful; never mind; it can't last. I promised Mr. Wishart to drive you to his place. My word! Mary Anne and the children will be glad.’

All this fell from Mr. Bailey's lips without intermission, as Randall and he seated themselves in the buggy, and as he turned it into the road. It was strange; but the road no more went to the settlement than the railway did. Just as a branch railway was needed, so also was a branch road — that is, had been, for the settlers had made this for themselves. It forked off neatly from the other one, with two ruts of quite moderate depth—only fifteen inches—there having been dry weather for some time. But an inhabitant of the settlement would tell you with pride that farther on, in two or three deep hollows, you could see something like ruts. Yea, and if it were in winter, something more like a Slough of page 221 Despond than has been seen or imagined since the time of Bunyan.

Mr. Bailey began to talk about his own affairs when he had asked Randall several questions and had been answered.

‘So you've been misfortunate,’ said he. ‘I reckon this is a world of trouble—people say so—and yet there's streaks of luck in it, like the leaders in a gold mine; but only a few men hit on them. I haven't found my leader, and yours has broken up suddenly; but you may pick it up again farther on. For myself, I don't care, being convinced that my besetting sin is to be too fond of money. I'm better without it. Riches would be my ruin.’

‘Would you object to something less than riches?’ said Randall.

‘Don't know,’ said Mr. Bailey. ‘It would only develop my passion for hoarding up. I began to save once. I bought one of those crockery things, which have only a little hole at the top where you drop your money in. You have to break them to get it out, and I daresay they are safer than other contrivances on that account: one doesn't break anything in a hurry, especially a thick earthenware concern which won't smash without a great noise. I got quite fond of the ugly thing. I couldn't look in, so I used to shake it, and guess by the sound how much there was inside, and many a time I've wished it was glass so as I could see. Well, once I let it fall, and when I saw all the money together, it page 222 came into my head what a lot Mary Anne could get with it for herself and the girls. So I handed it over to her. I've saved nothing since then. What's the use, if you have to pine and starve to do it? You can see Mr. Wishart's house now. Who'd have thought, two years ago, we should have a place like that in our district? The gardens are like a paradise. Most likely Mr. Wishart will never leave it; he's one of those who like a home to live and die in.’

Mr. Wishart was almost alone in his large house when Randall arrived. The ladies of the family, though as usual in excellent health, had gone to a certain sanatorium, the fame of which is great in New Zealand. The invalids who resort to it are greatly outnumbered by those who cannot be proved to be invalids by any manner of means, but who possibly fortify themselves against disease by so-journing in a place where idleness can be made very agreeable. While Mrs. Meade and Maud spent their time: thus, Harry made the days burden-some to Mrs. Grigsby, and when Mr. Wishart remembered to ask for him, as he and Randall were sitting down to lunch, was suffering well-merited punishment. Mrs. Grigsby had shut him up in a closet, where she fancied he would find nothing to amuse himself with. She was mistaken. There was nothing but an old cushion, but it was great amusement to pull this to pieces to see what it was made of. When the housekeeper came to release him, Harry was in the midst of a mingled mass of page 223 curled horsehair and wool, with many fragments of the same adhering to his clothes and sticking in his hair.

‘Of all the children for making disorder you're the worst!’ said Mrs. Grigsby, shaking him, and burshing him down with a very hard clothes-brush, as if he had been a wooden figure. ‘There's Mr. Wishart sent for you, and there's a gentleman come, and you're not fit to be seen.’

‘It's only out of the cushion,’ said Harry. ‘There was such a lot inside!’

‘There isn't much in it now, after your little mischievous fingers have been picking at it. I hope you're a good boy now.’

‘No, I'm not,’ answered the young gentleman. ‘I'm not going to be good till you give me back my paint-box.’

‘Well, you won't get it just yet,’ said Mrs. Grigsby, giving him a little jerk which brought him into the dining-room.

The boy drew back on seeing a stranger, but being pushed forward by Mrs. Grigsby, ran across the room, and passing Mr. Wishart, went directly to Randall and climbed on his knee.

‘That's an easy way of introducing yourself, Harry,’ said Mr. Wishart. ‘You won't look at me now; new friends are best. How has he behaved, Mrs. Grigsby?’

‘He has been a very bad boy, sir,’ said the housekeeper, proceeding to bear testimony in an unsparing page 224 manner. ‘He has destroyed I don't know what in places he could get at, and he's scribbled in Mrs. Meade's books and torn his clothes so as he's hardly fit for company.’

‘What a record of misdemeanours! What have you to say for yourself, Harry?’

‘You took my paint-box away,’ said Harry, with a defiant look at Mrs. Grigsby.

‘He was spoiling everything with paint, sir,’ said Mrs. Grigsby. ‘I don't think it's a nice play-thing for a young child; he only messes about with it.’

‘The dawnings of genius, I suppose,’ said Mr. Wishart, smiling, as Mrs. Grigsby exhibited a photograph of the late lamented Mr. Grigsby coloured like a flame of fire. ‘This is really too bad. Harry, you have been a very naughty boy, and Mrs. Grigsby shall keep your paint-box till you can make a better use of it.’

‘But she has got my ball too!’ cried Harry.

‘You sent it through the window twice, and then threw it at me,’ said Mrs. Grigsby.

‘Quite right,’ said Mr. Wishart. ‘I mean,’ he added, as the housekeeper looked perplexed, ‘quite right to take it from him. He does look rather dilapidated, Mrs. Grigsby; he must be an extraordinary child for wearing out his clothes.’

‘I never saw his equal,’ said Mrs. Grigsby.

‘He's a regular Berserker,’ said Mr. Wishart, looking admiringly rather than reprovingly on the page 225 young person under discussion; ‘a great deal too handsome, though, for a boy.’

‘Well, it doesn't matter so long as he doesn't know it,’ said Mrs. Grigsby. ‘It has always been my plan, sir, with such children to tell 'em they're frights; it prevents vanity.’

‘Does it?’ said Mr. Wishart incredulously.

Mrs. Grigsby wished to take Harry away, but he repulsed her with a vigorous ‘No,’ and kept his place on Randall's knee, looking into his face as if he were learning it by heart.

‘Well, did you ever see Mr. Randall before, Harry?’ said Mr. Wishart.

‘No,’ said Harry, after some thought. ‘But,’ he added slowly, ‘he has eyes like mamma's.’

‘Poor little fellow!’ said Mr. Wishart to Randall, ‘I thought he had forgotten.’

‘Is not this Mrs. Meade's little boy, then?’ asked Randall.

‘Oh, no. Harry is our boy by adoption only. I'll tell you his story some time. Now, come into my studio, as I call it already, though I've only been a painter for about six months. You shall have it for your own.’

They went into a room opening on to one of the side verandahs. There were pictures about in every stage and, as it seemed to Randall, in every style. Mr. Wishart was an experimentalist in art, and he had struck out into quite a new path. It was almost impossible to suppress a smile at the first page 226 view of some of his efforts, and he laughed at them himself.

‘I've learnt one thing at least,’ he said, as they sat down before a large landscape to consider its extraordinary depth of colour, and to wonder at its perspective. ‘I've learnt that I wasn't intended for a painter. I find no difficulty in covering any amount of canvas with pigments of some sort or other, but the effect isn't exactly natural. I shall give it up, though it's tantalising to live in the midst of fine scenery and not be able to paint it. You shall do that for me.’

It chanced that the time was one of unbroken fine weather. It was autumn, the most delicious season of the New Zealand year. The days were glorious in their sunshine, their soft hazy skies, and their restful stillness. There was no wind; even the surf on the open coast was quieter, and rolled toward the beach languidly, as if tired of its own ravings. And after the heat of the day there came down a refreshing coolness with the night, and a greater silence yet upon the woods and hills, whence for a long distance might be heard the cry of a night bird or the rush of a waterfall.

Mr. Wishart and his guest were outside, on the hills and by the streams, all day long. Randall, being deficient in that power of imagination which enables some artists to imitate Nature in the seclusion of their own rooms, could only paint his pictures on the spot, with what he wished to represent directly page 227 before him. Most of his work was done out of doors. He always had Harry for a companion. The spoilt child of the house took such interest in the work that he forsook everything else to watch it, and though his excursions among the trees meant ruin to his habiliments and necessitated a great deal of patching and mending on the part of Mrs. Grigsby, she was pleased that he should be kept out of mischief by this new employment. He would bring out his little paint-box, which had soon been redeemed from Mrs. Grigsby's hold, and sitting down at Randall's feet, would make his own picture of the scene before them. These pictures were proudly shown about the house, and all therein, from Mrs. Grigsby to the kitchen-maid, thought them wonderful evidences of talent. ‘Bless the boy!’ said the housekeeper; ‘though he's a world of trouble, one wouldn't be without him.’

It was an afternoon in the second week of Randall's stay. He was working on the verandah at a picture that was all but finished, and Harry as usually was in his near neighbourhood scooping out a piece of wood with a dangerously sharp knife into something that he persisted in calling a ship. It was a very absorbing occupation this ship-making, and he had been silent for a full quarter of an hour, when he suddenly looked up with the question, ‘Do you know Aunt Maud?’

‘Aunt Maud?’ said Randall inquiringly.

‘Yes. Don't you know her? Every one does.

page 228

‘Every one does, do they? Then I'm afraid I'm no one at all.’

‘She is coming home to-night,’ said Harry. ‘If they let me sit up I'll tell you when she comes. But I expect Mrs. Grigsby will send me to bed,’ he concluded ruefully.

‘Oh, you mean Mrs. Meade?’

‘No, no,’ said Harry impatiently. ‘I don't care for her; but I like Aunt Maud, and so does everybody. You'll be sure to. I shall show her all my pictures, and you'll show her yours, won't you?’

‘That depends on whether she may want to see them or not.’

‘I'm making this ship for her, but she'll have to put the sails on herself. Aunt Maud is very pretty, you know, and she's a good deal taller than I am; but Mrs. Grigsby says I shall be the tallest some day. I think,’ added Harry, eyeing Randall critically, ‘I'd like to be about your height. How long is it since you were my size?’

‘How long? More than twenty years, I should say.’

‘It's a long time to wait,’ said Harry gravely. ‘Oh! I've cut my finger, and it bleeds dreadfully. I'll go to Mrs. Grigsby and get it tied up.’

He was soon back again, with one hand swathed in a linen rag, and a thick piece of bread and butter in the other. ‘You can have some too if you're hungry,’ he cried to Randall, as he ran past him. ‘I'm going to the gate to see if they're coming.’

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And he watched at the gate until sundown, but no one came. There was a sharp strife between him and Mrs. Grigsby when, according to that lady, it was his bedtime. He openly defied her authority; he broke away, and was chased upstairs and downstairs, but was ingloriously captured and borne away at the last, not without a wail of lamentation. ‘No, I'll do my duty by him as if he'd been one of my own!’ Mrs. Grigsby cried in answer to Randall's intercession.

After this mournful banishment it was very quiet. Randall read a book of travels so filled with complainings that one might wonder why the author had spent so much time in a country he so cordially disliked. This not having a very cheering effect, he tried another book which Mr. Wishart had recommended to him as being extremely interesting. It contained the yearly offering to science of a society of which Mr. Wishart was a hardworking member. It was principally owing to his industry that the earthworms of the country were so well known—and there are magnificent earthworms in New Zealand. By his exertions also great light had been thrown on the manners and customs of the Phytophagi, and an engaging little creature known as Peripatus.

All this must have deeply interested Randall, for when the carriage arrived he did not hear it. All at once, to his surprise, a lady came gliding into the room like a ghost, if one can imagine a ghost in a page 230 long dark blue cloak, a white plumed hat, and the pretty adornments, perhaps necessary that cool evening, of a grebe-skin muff and collar. She came in as one who expects to find an empty room, and carelessly threw her muff and collar aside, exclaiming, ‘Oh, how nice to be all to ourselves again!’

‘I forgot to tell you I was not alone,’ said Mr. Wishart, laughing a little as he followed her into the room. And then, as Mrs. Meade had come in, and was adjusting her spectacles that she might see who was there, Randall was introduced to her and Miss Desmond. You may have some idea of the very distant and coldly polite greeting which passed between the two last introduced, if you know how two persons once intimate will behave when suddenly presented to each other as strangers, both being desirous that all present should imagine they are meeting for the first time, and each hoping that the other has not recognised him or her.

Yet there was a startled look on the lady's face which might have betrayed her had there been a watchful eye in the room. The confusion of the other person was attributed to shyness by Mrs. Meade. She took a fancy to him at once, and (pleased with what she said herself, for his own words were few) imagined he was an acquisition to be thankful for. He reminded her of some character in one of her novels, she said to her brother when they were alone. His shyness also was very becoming.

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‘It may be,’ said Mr. Wishart, ‘but it can't be pleasant to the person who suffers from it. I'm glad you like him, though. Try to make him feel at home while he is here. I have taken a great liking to him.’