Grif: A Story of Colonial Life
Chapter V. Father and Daughter
Chapter V. Father and Daughter.
The house of Mr. Zachariah Blemish looked out upon the sea. It was a magnificent mansion, worthy of the greatness of its inmate, and was the resort of the most fashionable as well as the most influential residents of Melbourne and its charming suburbs. It was a square building, with a balcony round three of its sides—a1 broad, spacious balcony, on which the guests could promenade, and talk politics, or love, or philosophy, as suited them. It was grand, on a quiet night, to sit thereon, and watch the moon rising from the sea; it was grand to watch the sea itself, cradled in the arms of night, while myriad cloud-shadows floated on its breast. and flashed into lines of snow-fringed light with the rising and the falling of the waves.
Lights were gleaming in the windows and round the balcony, and the house was pleasant with the buzz of conversation, and soft laughter, and sweet music. The party seemed altogether a very delightful one: for a smile was on every lip, and distilled honey dropped from every tongue, while the presiding genius of the establishment was benign and affable, and moved among his guests, like Jove dispensing agreeability.
The brothers Nuttall had met in the ball-room. The only words they exchanged were, “Mathew!” “Nicholas!” and then, after a long pressure of the hand, they page 49 adjourned to the balcony, where their conversation would be more private than in the house.
They felt somewhat awkward; the days they had passed together might have belonged to another life, so long gone-by did that time seem. The bridge between their boyhood and their old age had crumbled down, and the fragments had been almost quite washed away by the stream of time. Still, some memory of the old affection was stirred into life by the meeting, and they both felt softened and saddened as their hands lay in each other's clasp.
They paced the balcony in silence at first. Then the elder, Mathew, asked some stray question as to the old places he used to frequent, and smiled and pondered wonderingly as he heard of the changes that had taken place.
“Yet it is not to be wondered at,” he said, answering his thought; “we have changed more than they.”
“Yes, we are old men now,” responded his brother. “This is a strange meeting, Mat, and in a new world, too.”
“Are you rich, Nicholas?” asked the elder brother.
“No,” was the reply.
“Any fixed plans of what you are going to do?”
“No—a dozen things have occurred to me, but, to tell you the truth, I am puzzled. Everything here appears to be so—so go—ahead,” he said, after hesitating for a term, “that I am bewildered somewhat. Then, there is Mrs. Nuttall.”
“Yes,” replied Nicholas, smiling; “my wife. I will page 50 introduce you presently. She will be agreeably surprised at your appearance,” and he chuckled to himself as he thought of his wife's notions of squatting. “Then there are the children”—
“Two only. A boy and a girl.”
“Boy twelve, girl sixteen,” said Nicholas, suiting his replies to his brother's curt queries. “She is here tonight. I should wish you to see my Marian soon. You will like her.”
“Marian! That was our mother's name.”
Then there was a silence, and, as they stood on the balcony, looking out upon the ocean, the snow-fringed waves might have been bringing back to them the time that seemed to belong to another life.
“Stay here a moment, Mat,” said Nicholas; “I will fetch her.”
And going into the house, he returned with a beautiful girl, whose face was rosy with youth and health, and whose eyes beamed with pleasure. Her graceful person and her soft white dress made her a pretty figure in the scene.
“Marian, my dear, your uncle.”
He turned, and took her hand, and made a movement, as if about to kiss her. But he restrained himself with a. sudden impulse.
“This is her first ball, Mat,” said Nicholas, with an affectionate look at his daughter. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
“Oh, so much, papa?”page 51
As she spoke, her uncle dropped her hand, and faced the sea. She was moving away towards her partner, who was waiting for her, when her uncle wheeled round, and said, as if the words were forced out of him—
“Kiss me, child.”
She raised her face to his, and he bent down and kissed her, then pushed her lightly towards her partner.
“She is a dear good girl, Mat,” said Nicholas; “and the greatest blessing I have; that is,” he added not at all enthusiastically, “next to Mrs Nuttall, of course. By the bye, Mat—how careless of me, to be sure, perhaps you have a family of your own. Are you married?”
“Nicholas,” said his brother, not answering the question; “do you remember my character as a boy?”
“Quite well, Mat. Eager, pushing, brave, and determined.”
“Very determined, Nicholas.”
“Very determined. I often wish I had your determination of character. Old Mr Gray, our schoolmaster—you remember him, Mat?—used to say your determination was so determined, that it was nothing less than obstinacy. I heard him say of you one day, when Mat Nuttall makes up his mind to do a thing, he'll do it, whether it be good or bad, and whatever may be the result. He said it was not a good trait—but he was mistaken, Mat, for you are rich, and prosperous”
“I am rich and prosperous, as the world goes; but let that pass. I am not a whit less determined now than I was when a boy. Old Mr Gray was right. I am not to be turned from a determined purpose, whether I think I am right or wrong. Now, I have made up my mind to page 52 do what is in my power, so far as prudence goes, to advance your fortunes. But when I say to you, you must not do such and such a thing, I expect you not to do it. You are attending to me.”
“I am glad to have seen you—I am glad to have seen your—your Marian. But there is one subject which must never be mentioned between us. I have no wife, I have no family. Tell Mrs. Nuttall this, and spare me any questions from her. Tell her and your”—(and here the same indecision expressed itself when he spoke of his brother's daughter)—“your Marian, that I am wifeless and childless. I must not be questioned upon the point. I have made up my mind not to be. I will not allow it to be referred to, or hinted at.”
He spoke with distinctness, and yet with a strange hurriedness, as if he wished to be done quickly with the subject.
“You see those two figures yonder,” he said, pointing to where the shadows of two persons could be seen upon the sea shore.
“Yes, Mat, I can see them, although my eyes are not so good as they were.”
“Suppose those two should walk out upon the sea, and sink, and sink, and be lost to the world—you can suppose it?”
“I can suppose it, Mat, “said his brother, wonderingly.
“Suppose they are walking out upon the sea, and that they are taking this subject with them, and that it sinks with them, and is heard of no more. See” (and he page 53 waved his hand as the two figures disappeared), “they are gone, and the subject is gone, and they are lost to us for ever. And there is an end to them and to it. You understand me, Nicholas?”
“I understand you, Mat.”
“Very well. We will go in now, and you shall introduce me to your wife.”
Meanwhile, the two persons, whose shadows the brothers had noticed, were pacing the shore. The tide was running out, and each receding wave was rippled with soft touches of melody floating from the brilliantly lighted mansion.
“They're wery jolly in there, Ally,” said Grif; “there's lots of swells, with their white chokers, and lots of gals lookin' wery sweet and nice.”
“They are happier than we are, Grif,” said the girl.
“I should think they wos—they'd be precious fools if they wosn't. I got a squint at the kitchen—there's ducks, and geese, and turkeys, and jellies painted all sorts of colors, and sugar cakes—such a spread! I wish we'ad some of it 'ere. They ought to be 'appy with sich lots to eat. I tell yer wot, Ally; if I thought I wos agoin' to be 'ung, I wouldn't mind it a bit if they'd put me down in that there kitchen, jist as it is now, for about three 'ours. Wouldn't I go it!” Grif s eyes glistened at the bare anticipation.
“I want you to take a letter for me to that house,” said Alice; “you don't mind?”
“Not a bit of it. I'll jist do anythin' as you tells me, Ally.”
“You can't read.”page 54
“I can spell large letters on the walls. I never bothered about nothin' else.”
“Do exactly as I tell you,” said Alice, giving him a letter. “Go to the house, and ask if the gentleman to whom this letter is addressed is within. If they say he is, tell them that this letter is to be given to him at once —it is very important.
She spoke in short broken gasps, and stayed her speech to recover her breath.
“Don't cry, Ally,” said Grif; “am I to arks to see the genelmen?”
“No. You can give the letter to any of the servants; then go away, and keep out of sight. If you see a gentleman speaking with me, do not disturb us, but when he is gone, and I am alone, come to me, and we will go home.”
Her voice was very desolate as she spoke the last word. Grif gave a nod of comprehension, and walked to the house, while the girl strained her eyes thitherward in eager watchfulness. The night was changing now; a low wail of wind came across the sea, striking a colder chill of desolation to her heart. She shivered, and wrapped her shawl more closely about her. But for this movement she might have been an image of Sadness, so drear and lonely did she appear as she stood upon the glistening sands. A form wending its way towards her, caused her to shrink, and then to stretch forth her arms as if in supplication; but she did not stir from the spot.
“Is it you who wish to speak with me?”
The sudden surprise robbed his voice of its sternness. He recoiled a step from her as she addressed him, and his face grew pale; but if the next moment the moon had shone upon it, no trace of emotion would have been there observable.
“Why did you address a note to me in a strange hand?” he asked.
“I thought you would not have come if you recognised my writing,” she answered, sadly.
“What do you out at this time of night, and alone?”
“I am not alone, father,” she said, glancing to where Grif was crouching, a hundred yards away.
“What! Is your husband here?” he exclaimed, with suppressed passion, following her look.
“No, sir; he does not know I have come; if he had known”——
“He would have kept you away; it would have been wise in him.”
“Father, have you no pity?”
“What do you want of me?”
“Help and forgiveness.”
“I will give you both. You can come to my home, and I will receive you as my daughter.”
“And my husband”——
“I will have nought to do with him. I give you once again your choice. You are my daughter, or his wife. You cannot and shall not be both. As this is the first, so it shall be the last time I will see you upon the subject. You shall juggle me no more with false writing. The day you ran away from your home, from me who was hoarding and saving for you, I resolved to shut you page 56 from my heart as long as you were tied to that scheming scapegrace. You know how constant I can be when I resolve.”
“Alas! I know.”
“So I have resolved on this, and no power on earth can change me. He stole you from me. He came to my house, and, with his fine gentleman's airs, robbed me of the one object of my life. “What! shall a father toil and scheme for a lifetime, and set his heart upon a thing, and be foiled in a day by a supercilious cheat? What does a child owe a father? Obedience. You owed me that—but a small return for all I had lavished upon you, but a small return for the fortune I was amassing for you. Did I ask you for anything else? What was this, for a father to ask a daughter, that she should play the traitor to him?”
“Father, have pity!”
“You have thwarted the scheme of my life. But what was my strongest wish when it clashed with your girlish fancy? Listen. Do you know what I suffered when I first came into this colony? I suffered privation, hunger, misery, raging thirst, over and over again. I have walked, with blistered feet, hundreds and thousands of miles; I have labored with my axe till I was faint with fatigue; I have hidden from Blacks in fear of my life; I have been left for dead upon the burning plains; I have been lost in the bush until my whole being was one great despair! Was this a pleasant life to lead, and did I deserve no recompense? Was life so sweet to me, with these burdens, that I should enjoy it in the then present? I had a child—a daughter. But for her I page 57 might have grown into a wild man of the bush, and growled at the world and at humanity. I resolved to grow rich, and to make her rich. I toiled, I slaved, I schemed for her. I had an object, and life was less bitter than before. I said, my daughter shall be the envy of those who knew me poor; she shall marry riches, and grow into fashion and into power from the force of her father's and her husband's money. She shall be called the rich squatter's daughter, and her children shall be educated to rule the State. I knew well then, and know well now, the power of gold; it could do all this for me, and more. There is no aristocracy in this colony but the aristocracy of wealth; money is the god all worship here. It ennobles the mean, it dignifies the vulgar. It is all powerful. See what it does for me. What fascinations, what graces, what virtues, do I possess, that people should cringe to me and adulate me? And as they idolise me, a man of money, for my wealth, so I idolise my wealth for what it makes me.”
As he spoke from the vile selfishness of his heart, did the wailing wind, sighing mournfully around him, suggest to his mind no more precious thing in the world than gold? Did the pale stars and the restless waves teach no lesson that such an egotist might learn, and be the better for the learning? Did they tell no story from which he might have learned a noble creed, had he but listened to their teaching? No! he felt not their influence. He lived only in himself. Nature, for him, might not have been, if he could have existed without her. She gave him nothing that he should be grateful for; what he received all others received. And so he beheld the page 58 swelling waves, and heard the wailing wind, and looked up to the glimmering stars, with indifference. What was the glory of the heavens to him or to his life? A handful of gold and a sightful of stars! Was not the gold, which bought him human worship, more precious to him than all?
“Oh, father!” murmured Alice; “money is not everything.”
“Money is everything,” he replied; “everything to me. Can you undo, with a word, the study of my life? What did you owe me for the future I was working out for you? You owed me a child's duty, obedience. It was no unhappy lot I had mapped out for you. You have robbed me of the only reward I coveted for my life's labor. But why do I waste my time here?” and he made a movement toward the house.
“Stop, for pity's sake,” Alice cried, stretching forth her arms; “stop and hear me.”
“Speak on,” he said, between his clenched teeth. There was no hope in his voice; it was hard and bitter.
“I came to-night, sir,” Alice said, humbly bowing her head, and forcing back her tears, “to appeal to you for the first and last time. You may send me away, unhappy and broken hearted—indeed, I am that already—but oh, sir! Reflect before you do so, and let your better feelings guide you. Ah, sir! are all your thoughts about yourself and your money, and have you no thought of me? I do not know a parent's feelings, but soon”—and here her voice faltered—“soon I may become a mother—forgive me, sir, these tears—I try to conquer them, but they are too strong for me”—(she paused for a few page 59 moments, and then continued.) “What sympathy, sir, could you expect me, a simple girl, to have with your aspirations? I knew them not, and if you had confided them to me, I should not have understood them”——
“Have you come to tutor me, girl?” he asked, coldly.
“No, sir. If my distress and my misery have no weight with you, what can my poor words do? My husband—forgive me—I must speak of him.”
“My husband, to whose fate and lot I am linked for ever—for ever,” she repeated, firmly, “is willing to work for me, is contented to keep me, poor and friendless as I am. But he needs help. Give it him; give it me, and I will trouble you no more. I will be content, so that you assist us to live. You can do so, sir—you will not miss it. I cannot undo the past.”
“Would you, if you could?” he questioned.
“For pity's sake, sir, do not ask me.”
“Would you, if you could?” he repeated, relentlessly.
“Then, sir, as you insist,” she returned, “I reply, as is my duty, No. He is my husband, and my future life is linked with his.”
“Have you done?”
“I have but little more to say, sir. I feel from your voice that there is scant hope for me! But oh, sir, before you turn from me, think of what my future may be if you remain inexorable. You, who have undergone privations in your early life, know what a stern master is necessity. As yet, my husband is saved from crime”——
“Is this your last argument?” he interrupted. “It has no weight with me. You cannot more disgrace me page 60 than you have already done. Here let this end. I am inexorable.”
His voice, stern and unforgiving, carried conviction with it.
“Heaven help me?” she exelaimed, sadly. “Then we must trust to chance.” And she turned from him, weeping.
There was a pause, and then he said, “I will not leave you entirely unsatisfied. It is money, I suppose, you want. Here are fifty pounds. It is the last you will ever receive from me while he and you are together. Good night.”
She raised her arms, imploringly, but he was making towards the house. He saw not the entreating action, nor did he hear the low wailing sobs which broke from her as he walked away. A sad contrast was her drooping figure upon the lonely sands to the glad life that moved in the merchant's house! A sad accompaniment were her sobs to the strains of music and the sounds of light laughter with which they mingled! The guests within were joyous, while she, who should have been his one joy, stood desolate on the shore. But despite her misery, there was hope deep within her heart—hope of a happy future yet with the man with whose lot her's was linked. Her father had cast her off; but love remained; love strong and abiding. How great the contrast! A good woman's love, and a hard man's greed of gold. Which triumphs here?