In the Shadow of the Bush
Chapter XLII., And Last
Chapter XLII., And Last.
This narrative is nearing its close. A brief renewal of acquaintance, at a somewhat later date, with the characters who have figured in it, may be acceptable to the reader; and if that important, and, let us hope, not over-critical personage will look in on Bloomsbury society a year after the events last recorded, his or her curiosity may be satisfied. The township itself has increased in population and importance. Private dwellings have gone up, and several new places of business have been erected. Here, as elsewhere in New Zealand of later years, the competition amongst tradespeople, and amongst professional men, has kept well abreast—often, indeed, in advance—of the requirements of the community.
There are complaints heard occasionally, even here, of dull times; but the township is making steady progress, and its stability is assured. An agency of another bank has been established; and a young lawyer has deemed Bloomsbury to be a place where his legal acumen and forensic ability could be exercised with advantage, and has opened an office here. The report was lately current, also, that Joe Ivess was about to start a second newspaper in this rising centre—much to the dismay of its business men, who, in that event, would be compelled, in self defence, to advertise in both.
Mr. and Mrs. Powlet are still to be found at the Criterion, the reputation of which as a well-conducted hostelry has not diminished. They are still in accord in most things—in other words, Mrs. Powlet has still very much her own way, for Bob's confidence in the worth and wisdom of his wife is as un-page 315bounded as ever. On one subject only did they lately differ in opinion, and that was the question of extending the franchise to women. Mrs. Powlet scouted the proposal.
"Franchise, indeed!" she said. "Give them the franchise! Let them stop at home and mind their babies—if they have got any—and make their firesides comfortable, and their homes happy—they'll find plenty to do there—instead of running about to meetings, and bothering their heads about politics. Politics, indeed! They'll make a fine mess of politics, if they get their hands in. It's little good the men do with politics, as far as I see; but it'll be a deal worse if the women get the vote. They'll send to Parliament a pretty lot of wheedlin' nincompoops that'll promise them all sorts of things, and make the men out to be reg'lar tyrants. And when they've been at their politics for a while, they'll be spouting at every meeting, and troop to the polls, and jostle the men, and tout for votes, as bold as brass. That's what it'll come to with their franchise; and little good for themselves they'll get out of it in any way, in the long run."
Powlet, on the other hand, was altogether in favour of the change.
"Give 'em the vote by all manner of means," he said, as he stood one night with his back to the fire in the Commercial Room. "There's a lot of sense in women," he went on, "a lot of sense in women. Their feelin's get the better of 'em at times, to be sure—and they mayn't be able to explain things out, you know, so as to convince a man; but it's ten to one they're in the right of it for all that. I'm open to bet that my wife 'll see through most things, and get to the bottom and the right and wrong of them before a good many of your men 'll have begun to scratch their heads and think about it. A lot of gaol-birds and drunken loafers must have a vote and send men to Parliament, and women like her have no say in the matter. There's neither rhyme nor reason in it. Why, it's the wives that keep a roof over the heads of half the lazy raga-page 316muffins and noisy ne'er-do-wells that one sees and hears so much of at election times."
"But the women," said Spalding, "won't be content till they get into Parliament, themselves."
"And why shouldn't they?" Bob answered, warmly. "If they couldn't turn out as good laws as the men are doing, it would be a queer thing, and I don't think they could turn 'em out much faster. Not but," he went on, musingly—"Not but I'm doubtful how the thing would work. If we could give them and the men turn and turn about at the law-making, it might answer right enough—the men a session by themselves; and then the women a session, with, maybe, Sir Maurice in the chair, just to steady them a bit. But," he added, "it would never do to mix 'em in the House—it would never do to mix 'em."
Jacob Brasch is still making money in the Cosmopolitan, but the whisky-still is idle. He has had O'Byrne's section transferred to himself, but he has not been able, as yet, to find the person whom he would care to trust with the secret of the still and the management of it. He did think, at first, of entrusting Heskett with it, but he found that he was too helplessly a slave to drink. Jacob is still on the look out for a suitable partner to work the concern; and there is an opening here for a reliable man, with some knowledge of the business. He keeps Heskett still, and employs him in a menial capacity about the hotel.
"Powlet is more better ables as me to keep his poor relations," he says—" but some peoples have no likings for a man ven he is down."
Mrs. Powlet believes that it is only out of spite that her daughter's disreputable husband is kept there; and never sees the fellow slouching about the township but she is tempted to give him the weight of her tongue, but refrains.
"He never dare darken our door," she says, "Powlet would knock him down if he did."page 317
Her daughter, poor woman, tries to be as miserable as she well can, and has still a hankering after her brutal, good-fornothing husband. It is even said that she has met him on the sly once or twice for a minute, and given him money.
O'Byrne is working hard on contract and other jobs, a long way from here, and is sticking to what he earns. He has never visited Bloomsbury since he left it after Old Dan's death. Molly left it not long afterwards, and is living not very far from where he is working. He has lately applied for a section in a newly opened block of bush land in that district, and as Molly still remains true to him, and has saved a nice little sum herself, it is more than likely that, in a snug little home in the bush, before many years are past, he will have taken her to his heart for good and all.
If, during the year, there has been marked progress in the township of Bloomsbury itself, in the country around it the evidences of solid improvement are perhaps even more striking. Roads have stretched their long arms still further into the bush, and metalling has been done on some of them. Where, a year or two ago, the settler in winter time had to plunge along on horseback through almost impassable mud in order to reach his home, he will now be able to bowl along in trap or buggy, and will have become captious over a rut. Another bush-burning season has passed, and, as from hillside or valley the pillar of smoke rose high and clear and well-defined, with many curling involutions, the spirits of the settler rose with it, under the conviction that his "burn" was a good one. New fences have gone up in all directions, and the neat wooden cottage has in many places supplanted the slab hut.
Out in the Aratahi Block, where a newly-formed road has at length reached, one of these cottages may be seen—a substantial four-roomed one, with a verandah to it. There is some display of taste shown about the place in the laying out of garden ground and in the planting of trees. This page 318work had evidently been done a season or two previously in anticipation of the dwelling being where it is. Neatness is exhibited, and comfort provided for in the arrangement of dairy, milking shed and yards, and in the surroundings of the house generally.
It is here that Maurice M'Keown has prevailed upon her who was Mary Robinson to take up her abode, and Mary is not dissatisfied with the change.
It was about eight or nine months previously, one night as Maurice and Frank Ashwin were seated by the fire, and the latter's approaching marriage was alluded to, that M'Keown said:
"I am thinking of entering the blessed state myself very soon."
Ashwin, himself under the spell, complimented him on the wisdom of the decision he had come to.
"A sensible step, Maurice," he said. "You are not going to wait for a year or two, then, as you once thought you would have to do. But I shall be sorry to lose you for all that."
"Well," Maurice replied, "a long courtship sometimes means labour lost. Delays are dangerous in matrimonial matters as well as in other things, and it isn't safe to put off the wedding-day too long. If the girl isn't much to look at, a fellow may be safe in holding back a bit—if he thinks he had better earn a few pounds more before he gets spliced—but if she's good looking above the common, it's wiser for him to get the knot tied as soon as he can. Well, Mary is willing to go up on the section with me as soon as I can get a house up; and her father has promised to give us half a dozen cows, so that, with the stock I have on the place now, we'll be able to make a start. A married man," he went on, in a more serious tone of voice than was usual with him, "a married man must expect his expenses to mount up a bit It's, maybe, something like lighting a fire among the logs on a windy day in summer time—you hardly know page 319where it'll stop. I expect, in the course of nature and God's providence, there'll be some sturdy lads and bonny lasses to make the house lively—as I have no doubt there will be in your own case, Mr. Frank—but I must do my best to keep the pot boiling."
Ashwin smiled, and said, "I have no fear, Maurice, of your not succeeding. You are made of the right stuff for a successful colonist."
"I can knock down the rest of the bush myself, at any rate," Maurice continued; "and if there is any work to be got near home, I might take a job by contract now and again—though I'll have plenty to do on my own place, and most of my neighbours round about there are too hard-up as it is, and would like to take a job themselves, if they could get one. It's a fine thing to give a poor man a chance to get a piece of land on easy terms, but too many hard-ups together will never make a do of it."
And so it came about that there was a wedding at Robinson's in the spring. Big George was invited, and came; and it was then that he made the discovery—hitherto, apparently, undreamt of—that Bessie, just unfolding into womanhood, was a remarkably nice girl, with a strong resemblance to her sister; and since that day he has become, in his bashful way, a frequent visitor. Bessie, in her secret heart, has begun to look with pleasure for his coming, and there is always a hearty greeting for him from her father, and the kindliest of welcomes from her mother, who likes him for himself, but her warmest feelings of regard are his, in that he was the tried friend and trusted mate of her long lost boy who now lies under the sod.
Frank Ashwin has attained the consummation of his heart's desire, and has made Maud Hartland his wife. They live for the present in her old home, and will probably continue to reside there till Edwin, who is at school in Wellington now, comes of age, and can take possession. But on Ashwin's page 320place preparations are being made for extensive planting and laying-out of grounds round the home that is to be. There, it is understood, her father will accompany them when the time comes, if his gentle spirit has not previously laid down the burden of an enfeebled frame. But a lighter step and increased cheerfulness seem now to point to length of days.
Westall has found a resting place from his wanderings here also. He lives by himself in a small cottage, erected for him some little distance in the rear, and finds light work to do in the garden and on the farm.
Laura did not attend her brother's wedding, but her mother and sister did, and went back loud in praises of Frank's bonny bride.
Ponsonby has not yet developed into a large landed proprietor, and, until he does, the visits which he now finds frequent excuse for making to Harefield are not likely to excite more serious feelings in Miss Ashwin's breast than those with which she now amuses herself in listening to his fulsome flattery, and accepting his undisguised admiration and persevering attentions.
And Morton?—Morton still leads very much his old manner of life. But those who know him best say that he shows less bitterness of spirit than of yore, though caustic still in his denunciations of all pretence and insincerity. His distrust and hatred of woman has been tempered by intercourse with one whom he credits with all the virtues. Ashwin's is the only family where he visits, and though he may often be found there, and makes no secret of the admiration and regard which he entertains for Frank's wife, yet no tinge of jealousy will ever darken the peace of mind of her husband.
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