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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XXI

page 149

Chapter XXI.

Tom leaves to become a Sailor—A Melancholy Week—Biddy acts Comforter—A Stratagem.

Tom's career being now fully decided, Captain Graham made all requisite enquiries as to his passage to England, and arranged to take him to Lyttelton a day or two previously, to ensure everything he could as to his being comfortable and well cared for. Much as poor Tom liked the thoughts of being a sailor, he felt the trial of leaving his parents, brother, and sisters very much, and was almost inclined to give in, and offer to stay with his father and help him; but this Mrs. Graham prevented; and, checking her own feelings, cheered Tom in this his first sorrow, and so successfully quieted the girls, that until he was really gone, and the last flutter of his white handkerchief was lost, not a sob was heard. Lucy and Beatrice were all eagerness to show which could follow their dear mother's injunctions best; but when Tom was fairly out of sight, and the girls turned towards home, they were horrified to see their mother lying upon the ground behind them. Her face was perfectly white, and so cold, that they, with a loud shriek, exclaimed she was dead. Bridget had been crying in the kitchen, and heard the shrieks of the frightened girls, so she dried her tears like a sensible page 150 woman, and came as fast as possible to know what was the matter.

“Its wather the poor misthress wants. Run, childer, run for the can in the windy. She's heart-broken for her boy, the cratur, and dare not let on, for fear of vexin' him. Och, machree ! misthress, darlin,' he'll come back a giniral, or a Lord Mayor, may be. Sure he's yer own son wherever he is, and the same blood runs in his veins, God bless him !”

Bridget's address was cut short by the return of Lucy and Beatrice with a large tub of water, they having an idea their Mamma was to be immersed in water.

“Och, the craturs, God help them!” was all Bridget could say, as she lifted up a little water in the palm of her hand and sprinkled Mrs. Graham's forehead.

“Won't you put her in, Biddy, dear?” whispered Lucy, her voice shaking as much as her limbs.

Biddy laughed in spite of herself, and the laugh did more to re-assure the girls than all the protestations in the world would. They knew nothing very bad could be the matter if Biddy laughed; and presently a faint colour came back to Mrs. Graham's lips, and, shuddering, she opened her eyes.

“Oh, Mamma! dearest— dearest Mamma, are you better?” exclaimed both girls.

“Get out of that,” said Biddy, crossly, pushing them back, and making her strong arm a barrier between the mother and children. “Keep yerselves quiet, darlins, and by the grace of God, the misthress will be hersilf agin. Come, Acushla, the partin's over. He's a brave boy, an’ ye did yer duty. Sure, many a mother's sheddin’ bitther page 151 tares at this minute for the same. Cheer up, darlin', there's the childer you've lift, and God will watch over the darlin’ that's gone to face the world. There now, Miss Lucy, don't disthress yer dear Mamma. That's it, Miss Beatrice, put yer arms round her, and keep down the batin’ of her heart.”

Poor Mrs. Graham was now recovering slowly. She had taxed herself to the utmost, in order to bear up whilst Tom was there; but the cause removed, and with it the stunning sense of loneliness we all feel when parting for unknown years with one dearly loved, and how much more when that one is one of the precious jewels given us to keep and prepare for our God's better kingdom, all the grief of parting now burst forth, and for some minutes the mother lay with her head resting upon Beatrice's shoulder, sobbing bitterly.

Both girls cried with her, and clung round her, calling her pet names between their sobs; but Bridget, who had cried to her heart's content before, did not now give way to unavailing tears, but hastily dashing the bright drops from her eyes, ran off to the house for something to revive her dear mistress. The first thing she saw was a bottle of vinegar, and thinking it was wine, she seized the bottle in one hand, and a cup in the other, and armed with these rushed to the spot where she had left Mrs. Graham and the girls, and pouring out half a cup full, held it to her mistress's lips, begging, or rather ordering her to take it. Mrs. Graham made an effort to do so; but the acid was so strong, that with a gasp she started up, half choking.

Beatrice and Lucy were dreadfully alarmed. “What is page 152 it?” they exclaimed in one breath. “Oh Biddy, you've killed Mamma!”

“Hould yer prate!” said Bridget, who was very frightened, and, consequently, very angry at there being anything to cause alarm in others — “Hould yer prate.” Then catching up the bottle, she put it to her lips. “Och, I've given her vinager!” she shouted, spitting out the mouthful she had taken to test the qualities of her restorative; and then, dashing the bottle away as far as she could, adding, “Bad luck to ye, for a dirty decateful thief, to be puttin' on the apparance of wine, and nothin' but vinager all the while. Och, misthress, dear, can ye iver forgive the like of that? Faix, tho', she added, sotto voce, “the vinager isn't so bad afther all, its brought the dear sowl round. And now, my darlin', are ye feelin’ stronger? Sure, ye'll git up and walk to the house, or maybe, ye'd lit me carry ye in my two arms; and darlin', I'd be as tindher as if ye was an infant. Come, Acushla, the arms are strong; ‘av ye will, say the word.”

“No, no, Biddy,” said Mrs. Graham, “I'll sit down here with the girls. Tom is in God's keeping, and if it pleases Him, we'll meet again. Go away and see about poor Aps, he may be awake now.”

“I'll go, Mamma,” cried Lucy, managing to steady her voice for a moment. And then fearful of her mother seeing her tears, she ran off without giving time for a reply.

The first day without Tom was very strange, things were entirely different to the girls, and almost everything brought tears to their eyes. Twice during breakfast, when page 153 the door was opened rather suddenly, once by Biddy and once by Beatrice, Lucy turned round, with an exclamation, thinking it was Tom, forgetting he had gone away. Mrs. Graham saw the eager flush, then the blank disappointment that settled down upon her happy face, as the remembrance that Tom was not there, returned. Breakfast was sad enough, but only a portion of the sad day; and the sorrow, that had been gathering strength all day, burst forth irresistibly when their mother added a short prayer to the evening service, and asked God's protection for Tom. Biddy, although a Roman Catholic in reality, always came into the dining-room to prayers, and after trying to quiet her sobs, and thinking of every expedient to get out of the room without her mistress noticing her distress, she sprang up, exclaiming, “Sure, the savages is in the kitchen!” and rushed out, banging the door, and frightening every one enough to put a stop to their grief for a time, by giving them something else to think of.

Bridget's rûse, as my reader sees, had even more effect than she intended; and when found out, which, like all the honest creature's kind tricks, it soon was, made them all laugh, and think their old servant even kinder than ever.