The Adventures of George Washington Pratt
Book III. What Became of Him
Book III. What Became of Him.
Chapter I. Going Home.
“No, boys; I've discussed this here matter a good deal in my own mind, and the long and the short of it is, I'm going home.”
Thus spake George Washington Pratt, and by way of adding force to his remark, he aimed a round, straight shot at the atmosphere, and scored a bull's-eye.
They were standing on the beach at Queenstown—as the rising settlement had come to be termed;—George, and Jim Darley, and old Pegleg. The time was sunset, and the big Lake was calm and still as a sleeping child. The mountains were heavily capped with snow, and the air was chill and frost-laden; for the glorious summer had passed away, and the coming winter was making itself felt. A. little way off a tiny schooner was lying in the water, as motionless as “a painted ship upon a painted ocean.”
“Yes,” said George again, “I've resoluted to go home. This here game of ours is about played out, and I ain't going to take another band. And I don't mind telling you, pardners, that there's a pair of bright eyes somewhere in the States, getting kind of dim, on account of my being so long away.”
“Well! well!” cried old Pegleg, “if thou wilt, thou wilt, I do know that. But it be main and foolish o' thee, just as news be come o' fine new diggings too.”
“Aye!” agreed Jim, “that's what I've been telling the Captain. Why there's Gorman and his mates making a pound weight a-day. I was up there and saw it with my own eyes.”
“'Taint no use, pardner. Guess I've said it, and in that schooner I go to morrow, if all's well. I ain't done so badly, and I don't care to look to more. So say no more, boys. Jest conclude the thing's done and sealed.”
And all their efforts to shake his resolution were in vain. The schooner was to sail for the foot of the Lake on the next day; and thence he could proceed to Dunedin by coach, and so onward. As he said, he had been very successful. The claim to which he had been guided by the malice of his enemies, and the knowledge of Himoni Witi, had yielded well—splendidly in fact, and he reckoned that after deducting expenses, he would be able to land in America with not less than Five thousand dollars to his credit—a sum which he conceived would justify him in demanding the hand of Ruth Allan from the rough old “squire,” her father. Moreover, his soul hungered and thirsted for news of his love. His letters were to be addressed to the Post Office, Dunedin, and he hoped to receive these missives from Uncle Sol, and possibly from Ruth also.
I may mention here that the gully—secluded in the recesses of the mountains though it was—had quickly been discovered by some of the miners who scattered themselves over the country, and to whom a wreath of smoke, or a muddy water-course, afforded an unfailing indication, of new diggings. Before George and his mates had been at work quite a week one of these roving bands page 75 literally “dropped upon them” from the cliffs. Thenceforth they knew no peace. The place was “rushed,” and every inch of ground was vigorously disputed. So when their original claim was wrought but they left the locality, and went down to the township.
“Cap'en—Cap'en George,” growled Pegleg after a brief pause. “Why, what a wilful man thou be'st! Dash'd if I don't think I'll go with thee, if thou dost go. I ben't no good in these wild parts, I ben't, with cay timber-leg. Be I Jim, lad?”
“Don't be a fool, old man!” responded Jim. “Captain George is going over seas to America. Besides, what do you want to leave I for?”
“And the Third Mate?” put in George. “You can't very well take him in the coach, I reckon. Guess Cobb and Co. don't carry inside passengers of that particular sort.
“Ho! ho! ho! That be a good 'un, that be. Poor old Jack riding in a coach! Ho! ho! No! no! we'll tie 'un to the rack, Cap'en. Old Jack be fond o' the rack, he be.”
“Well, mister,” said George, “settle it how you like. I ain't proud—not muchly; and I'd jest as soon travel with a four-legged ass, as with some other asses I have met with.”
And with that he strolled away down the street.
“Ah!” muttered Pegleg, in his gruffest tones. “I do know all about it. Old Pegleg ben't such an [gap — reason: unclear]s as some folks do fancy. Ah! (and the old man shook his head angrily) I do know. He be gone after that there fine Madam—that's where he be gone.”
“Who?” asked Jim, stolidly.
“Why, ma'm Kenway, to be sure, lad. She be living down there. She be a bad 'un, she be, Jim.”
With which charitable expression of opinion, and many muffled growls, the old man stumped off, accompanied by his faithful comrade.
Chapter. II. Mary Kenway's Resolve.
It was quite true that George, paid a visit to Mary Kenway that evening The poor little woman and her child—Clutha—had been residing in the township since the death of Tom; and George, pitying her distress and helplessness, had supplied her with the means of living. I do not think he was actuated by any warmer feeling than that of compassion; whilst on her side, a lively sense of gratitude was paramount.
“Well, ma'am,” said George, after the first greeting, “I intend to depart hence to-morrow, and I should jest like to know if you have quite made your mind as to what you intend to do.”
“No, George,” said Mary—speaking in a low, sad tone.
“I've been thinking ma'am.” continued George, “of what is best to be done; and I reckon there's only one of two things for it. You see you ain't fit for much hard work, that's a fact—say nothing about minding Missy, and she's a pretty considerable deal of a trouble, I guess; so it jest cornea to one of two things, as I said before. Either you must go to your, father, the Captain, and throw yourself on his kindness, now you've got rid of that—I beg pardon, ma'am—I mean to say now you've lost your husband, ——.”
“No, no, no!”—Mary interrupted—still in the same tone.
“Anyway you ought to write to him. Seems to me that that's no more than your duty, no matter how the old gent may have behaved to you. How ever, if you won't go back to him, I've thought of another little plan, which is to set you up in a small way of business—something light and genteel, such as you might prefer—women. fixings maybe, or the cigar business. “What do you think, ma'am.”
He had delivered this little speech with considerable hesitation, as if doubtful of giving offence;—sitting indeed with his eyes cast down somewhat sheepishly. But finding that page 76 Mary made no response, he looked up, and then he saw that she was silently crying!
“Why, Mary—Mrs Kenway!” cried George, “what is the matter. I hope, ma'am, I have not spoken anyway unkind to you.”
“No,” said Mary—“Don't think it. You are too—too kind.”
And she sobbed aloud. This was the second time that Mary had allowed her feelings thus to overcome her, and Mr G. W. Pratt felt somewhat uneasy.
“I wish she would'nt flow over quite so much,” he thought. Then aloud —“Well, Mrs Kenway, as you seem distressed somehow, I'll jest step outside for a bit. I've got two or three matters to attend to in the township, and I'll call again to know your mind about things.”
She did not answer, so he went away.
“Suppose it does her good, poor thing.” was his colloquy. “But she do flow over awful, that's a fact.
In about an hour he returned, and was greatly relieved to find that Mary had, as he phrased it, “dried up.” She was calm now, but pale of face, and depressed in spirit. “I have made up my mind,” she said in reply to George's inquiries. I could not stay here after you were gone—(her voice faltered ever so slightly here). I should feel so lonely, knowing no one, and, perhaps, pointed out by the finger of scorn as the wife of the man who tried to murder you. Hush!” she cried, as George attempted to speak. “I know what you would say, but it is useless to attempt to disguise the fact. I have schooled myself to acknowledge it, and the people here talk of it openly, and say cruel things. Oh, sir, do you know what cruel things are said of us—of myself, I mean?”
George gazed at her with genuine amazement. She colored from chin to forehead, and, averting her eyes, continued—
“I see you have not heard the wretched slanders that have been circulated, as I believe, by the malice of that red-haired fellow—Ginger, Tom, (poor Tom!) used to call him.”
“Slanders, Mary!” said George; “about what, ma'am?”
“About us—you and I. Don't ask me more. It is so cruel—so wicked, and you so kind to me and my child.”
She seemed about to break forth in a fresh flood of tears; but George took her hand in his own, and, looking into her eyes with a steady, honest gaze, spoke thus:
“See here, Mrs Kenway, you needn't put yourself out about any darned lies that folks have been mean enough to forge. I ain't a-going to, myself, I tell you. The schooner goes to-morrow, and you shall go with me in her. You are quite right not to stop in this place, and you had best go to your rather on many accounts. I'll see you safe on board a vessel bound for Hobart Town. If there ain't one in Dunedin, you can go to Melbourne in the steamer with me, and get a vessel there. I reckon that's the right thing to do, ma'am.”
And thus then it was arranged; and when the morning came, and the schooner spread her snowy wings to the fresh breeze, George W. Pratt and Mary Kenway, with little Clutha, stepped on board, and bade farewell to the City of the Lake.
“Now, Jim, lad, what dost thou say? Didn't I tell thee? There he be surely going away with that young woman. Ah! she be a bad'un, she be. Ben't old Pegleg right, now?”
“Yes, she is a bad one sure enough; and he as is with her ain't much good neither.”
These words were uttered in a hoarse, croaking voice by a listener. Jim Darley turned on the intruder. It was Ginger. “You cursed villain,” he shouted, with a mighty oath; “I don't much mind what my old mate says about 'em, but I'll be etarnally condemned if I'll let thee do it.”
And the young giant smote the scarlet scoundrel a mighty blow which felled him to the earth, and so for the time silenced his lying tongue.
Chapter III. Down the Lake.
Down the Lake sped the schooner, by favoring gales wafted on her course. Round the rocky point of the Peninsula which runs far out into the waters, as contesting their sovereignty; under the storm-rent pinnacles of Mount Cecil; past the gloomy walls of the Devil's Staircase, where the rocks run sheer down into dark floods of unknown depth; past Half-way Bay where the Lochy river steals forth from its gloomy recesses to mingle with the sun-lit Lake, beneath a huge terrace which stretches like a rampart across the entrance. And George's heart was light; for was he not going home, to his native land—to the scenes of childhood—to his darling Ruth? I think the quantity of honeydew consumed by him that morning must have been immense. I know that he whistled “Yankee Doodle” between successive plugs, and walked up and down the tiny deck with a restless gaiety of demeanour foreign to his usual habits. The Skipper remarked it. “You seem in high spirits,” he observed.
“Yes,” said George, “guess you're jest about right. I feel good this morning, you bet. Most folks do when they set their faces towards Jordan.”—By which figurative phrase he implied home.
“See here,” he continued, “I've been roaming, as the song says, for the last seven years, and now I kind of reckon I'm homeward bound. That's what makes me gay, sirree.”
“Oh!” said the Skipper, “is that the way of it? Then I don't wonder at it. I've got a mother and sisters in England down about Exeter; but I never expect to go back; and I know they'll never come out here, so I feel as if I were cut off from all my family like.”
“Well,” said George, “that's rather rough on you, that is. Possible they might do better here than to England. This is a fine country for young women. There's plenty of decent boys going a begging for sweethearts here. Speaking in a general way, it's a fine country altogether; only,” he continued, looking upwards at the mountains, “it do seem to be stacked up rather muchly.”
There was another on board to whom the voyage was anything but pleasant. Poor Mary Kenway! She had left her dead husband—the one love of her maidenhood—buried in the sands of the region she was quitting. She was going, in fear and doubt, to implore the forgiveness of the father she had abandoned for the dead man's sake. How would he receive her? Her heart sank within her at the thought. What if he again cast her forth?
In vain George tried to rouse her. For her the sublime scenery had no attractions. Uncomforted and desolate, she crept down to the dingy little cabin, to hide her tears from the gaze of the men on board. And then she thought of Ruth Allan, for George had told her the simple story of his love; and she tried to picture the joy of the young girl to whom he was hastening. Thus prone are we to self-torture. The ideal picture of Ruth's coming felicity only aggravated her own misery; yet she dwelt upon it with morbid pleasure.
In truth Mary more nearly resembled the ivy, than the “stalk of carle-hemp.” She was unable to stand alone, but ever felt the need of some other to cling to for support—some stronger mind to guide and direct her own. To be compelled to think and act for herself was inexpressibly painful, nor did she possess that happy temperament which enables many people to console themselves with the reflection, that “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” Her thoughts perpetually wandered forth into the coming future, and the prospect was bleak and cheerless. What wonder then that in such moments her mind should dwell overmuch on George—Cousin George, as she delighted to call him. He seemed to her a veritable tower of strength, and like all tender, loving women, Mary admired strong men. I speak not here of mere physical superiority, although page 78 that alone constitutes a powerful attraction for the female mind;—equally so with the refined lady of polished life, as with her untutored sister in the wilds of Africa, or the remotest isle of Polynesia. But mainly it was the strong will of the man that made its influence felt on the forlorn woman, and subdued her. Mary could look up to George Washington Pratt,—could respect him—esteem him. Did she love him? Not then, I think. Yet—“if Heaven had sent her such a man.”—Mary Kenway and Desdemona lived far apart, yet both were fascinated by the same idea. And soon this man would leave her, and she must go on her way alone and unsupported.—Yes, henceforth, alone in the world.
The child, Clutha, cried, and she soothed it to rest. “This remains to me,” said Mary. “Thank God for my child!”
She was like the tender vine, putting forth tendrils to grasp something, somewhere—some firmer plant, around which to entwine.
Chapter IV. Under the Shadow of the Dome.
It was a queer old coach—the coach that ran, in the days whereof I write, between Kingston and Invercargill. An ancient coach, with a fine full flavor of “the light of other days” about it. A venerable coach, whose many years gained for it no respect. A coach from whose springs the elasticity of youth had long since departed; in whose cushions the sensation of repose had ceased to abide. The spokes of the wheels rattled like the ribs of a skeleton; and the break jarred wheezingly, as if afflicted with chronic asthma. Truly it was a most comfortless vehicle, and its inmates suffered accordingly.
The inmates were Mary Kenway and her child, and two rough, bearded miners on their way to town “for a spree,” under which phrase is usually included all of dissipation, sin, and consequent misery procurable on this side of Hades. They were not uncivil, however, these men. Rather I would term them polite. They asked Mary's consent before they ventured to light their inevitable pipes, and one of them filled her lap with cakes and “lollies” for “the bairnie.”
George, being desirous of seeing the country, sat outside with the driver; who, finding that he had a real live American by his side, lashed out into a frantic rhapsody of phrases—all more or less blasphemous—in supposed compliment to his passenger.
But the vile parody failed either to deceive or to please Mr Pratt. “See here!” he said, after enduring more than enough, “this here kind of thing ain't correct. If you're a Britisher, you're a mean cuss to try to make yourself out a Yankee; and if you were raised in the States (which I hope you were not), you're a darned bad imitation of the genuine article. That's all.”
After which exposition of opinion the driver relapsed into his normal condition, and ceased to offend.
Through the Dome Pass—a valley eroded by gigantic glaciers ere Man commenced to count the flight of Time—across the Eyre Creek, and so out into the luxuriant plains of Southland; where the Five Rivers, like the fingers of a huge hand, concentrate in one bright crystal stream—rolled the coach with its living freight. Suddenly there came a crash—the near fore wheel flew into a score of pieces; there was a wild confusion of horses, and the crazy vehicle fell over on one side. The horses dragged it for a few yards till the kingbolt snapped, and then, with pole and harness lashing them into fury, they set off at a gallop over the plain.
The driver, to do him justice, manfully held by the reins so long as it was possible to do so, suffering himself to be dragged some distance. But when the coach and horses parted company, he relaxed his grasp, and picked himself up. Then he returned to the wreck.
The inside passengers were safe and page 79 unhurt. But George had been violently thrown from the box-seat, and in falling had been caught by the roof of the coach, which now rested on his legs, pinning him to the earth.
They lifted the coach with difficulty, and sought to raise George to his feet. But he groaned and fell back again, beseeching them not to touch him, for the pain was greater than he could bear. His leg was broken below the knee.
What was to be done? There was not a house of any sort within five miles. The day was chilly. The situation was perilous. At last one of the miners proposed that they should construct a litter from the fragments of the dismembered coach. It was done without delay, and George was tenderly lifted into it. Then, with many pauses, the men set forth with their burden.
Imagine the scene. Two miners, clad in blue serge shirts, bearing the impromptu litter — cunningly constructed of bright painted wood, soiled gay chintz, and dingy American cloth. The driver striding ahead leading the way, but impatient to catch his runaway horses; and Mary Kenway, with little Clutha, tramping in the rear. Over swamp and rock they trudged—five weary miles, and never a word spake George save once, when he faintly begged for water. Mary flew to the adjacent river—it was a quarter of a mile away—but, all encumbered by the child though she was, she traversed the distance in an incredibly brief space of time, whilst the weary pallet-bearers halted by the road-side. Then, panting, glowing with the unwonted exercise, with her luxuriant hair loosed from its bondage, and a world of compassion and affection in her eyes, she poured forth the welcome draught into a simple pannikin, and held it to George's lips. And when he took it from her hand, with a smile of gratitude, uttering faintly-spoken thanks, Mary felt that for such poor reward she would gladly undergo tenfold more fatigue.
Chapter V. Under the Dome.
The entrance to the Dome Pass is guarded, so to speak, by two bold mountains, in appearance totally unlike any of their surroundings. In place of the sharp, rifted peaks, and splintered crags, which present a monotonous diversity of wild scenery to the beholder, who wearies of continuous sublimity—these mountains—named respectively East Dome and West Dome—are rounded at the summits, and of regular contour. Beneath the shadow of the West Dome, at the period of my story, there stood a small shanty, miscalled an “Accommodation House,” where accommodation there was none. Thither his bearers carried George Washington Pratt, greatly to the consternation of the grimy couple, who there eked out a precarious subsistence for themselves and their unkempt and unwashed progeny.
“We can't accommodate the young man here,” decisively said the red-faced, frowsy female who owned the shanty-keeper as her husband. And he, as in duty bound, re-echoed her sentiments.
“Take him down to the station, can't ye?” he growled.
I am obliged to say that the miners swore at this; and the driver cursed in parti-colored phraseology. Of a verity his oaths, garnered from the vocabularies of many lands, were various as the shreds of Joseph's garments. Still the shanty-keeper and his larger half persisted that George must be taken on to the nearest station. Now, the nearest station was fully six miles distant, and there were good and sufficient reasons for not proceeding further just then. Firstly, the men were fatigued—George was not a “feather-weight;” secondly, he was unable to endure the pain of removal. He had all but fainted—strong man though he was—on the way thither. So the dispute page 80 waxed loud; and high above the clamor arose the shrill vituperation of the shanty-woman, and the polyglot objurgations of the angry driver.
When the tumult was at its highest, the hard, harsh woman felt a soft hand on her bare red arm, and a gentle voice addressed itself to her ear.
“Oh, ma'am”—it was Mary who spoke—“do please let him stay here till to-morrow. He is so ill and weak. Pray—pray take him in.”
The virago looked down on the pale, pure face, and into the pleading eyes, and on the pouting, beseeching lips, and she saw the child Clutha sleeping on the mother's breast, and her true womanly instincts gained the mastery.
“Well, well, my dear,” she said, “I won't deny it, just for your sake. Tell them to take your husband in, and we'll do our best for him.”
So absorbed was Mary in her care for George that she heeded not the misplaced epithet of “husband.” Enough for her was it that she had secured shelter for this man who had befriended her in her troubles, and who now claimed in return her friendship and assistance.
So they carried George into the hut, —a small, low-roofed, mud-floored, three-roomed cabin; and laid him on the bed usually occupied by the shanty-woman and her husband. “'Tain't much of a bed, but 'tis the best we have, mum,” said the now thoroughly softened woman.
Strange was the influence exercised by Mary upon more vigorous natures. All weakness herself, she yet bent strong wills to her wishes. Verily, she “stooped to conquer,” and was victorious because of her humility.
Chapter VI. Doctor John.
He was a representative man, was Doctor John,—representative of a peculiar class of practitioners. Brass door-plates, yellow chariots, and cockaded men-of-all-work, are not among the belongings of this class. Daybells and night-bells are alike unknown to them. Nobody delivers urgent messages to them in church, nor whispers them hurriedly out of crowded meetings. They have no fixed places of abode, and to this extent would come under the head of vagrants. Indeed, so far as the term “vagrant” means one who wanders from place to place, that designation would not be misplaced. But there the definition stops. Idle wanderers they are not. Rather the reverse—very much rather so.
In remote and sparsely settled districts, the station-owners combine to form a joint stock fund for the payment of a medical man, whose services are equally at the disposal of the contributors and any stray settlers in their vicinity. “The Doctor,” by which generic name he is usually designated, moves from station to station as he may feel disposed, or as may be requisite for the due performance of his professional duties. He is generally a bold rider and a good shot, and when time and occasion serve, he will assist in mustering cattle and driving sheep, or even shearing them if hands are scarce; and in “the season of the year” he is always ready to contribute his quota of game to the station larder. He is usually of gentle birth, and therefore more willing to “rough it” uncomplainingly, than men of less tender nurture. As a drinker—not a drunkard, be pleased to understand—he is unconquerable; his capacity for the consumption of cut cavendish is immense; he is a joker of the first water; and as a spinner of yarns he is unapproachable. Small wonder is it, then that “the Doctor” is a general favorite wherever he goes.
Of these was Doctor John—a healthy-visaged, stalwart man, standing some five feet ten or eleven inches in his stocking-feet, broad-shouldered, and with limbs proportionate; bright-eyed, heavily-bearded; attired in blue serge shirt and woollen-cord continuations; ready on the spur of the moment to shoot a wild bullock, break in a page 81 vicious horse, or prescribe for a patient.
He stood there—did Doctor John—by the side of George's bed, looking every inch a man. He had examined the leg, and pronounced his verdict. There was a bad compound fracture, and it would take time to reduce it. Skilfully and carefully had he performed his duty, and now he was urging the removal of his patient.
Said he to Mary, who pale and sorrowful, stood by the side of the sufferer's pallet—“You see, ma'am, it will be some time—many weeks probably—before your husband will be able to move about, and this is not a fit place for him to be in. I'll ride over to the Station and get a bed prepared for him—he can have my bed for that matter—and then I'll get out the waggonette, and put a mattrass in it, and fetch him over myself. It's only nine miles—all level road—so he'll travel smoothly.”
All this was very kind on the part of Doctor John, and George readily assented to the proposal. So also did Mary; and strangely enough neither of them entered a protest against the phrase “husband” which had thus been for a second time misapplied. That is to say, they uttered no verbal protest.
But a few seconds later, when Doctor John rose to take his departure, saying to Mary—“Good-bye, ma'am, I'll be over the first thing in the morning to fetch you and your husband”;—I say when he thus spake, Mary, flashing all over like a peony, said, “Oh, sir, he is not my husband.”
Doctor John looked at her for a second or so, curiously, inquiringly. “No?” he said at last. “Not your husband?”
There was an undefined and indefinite something in his manner, which conveyed to the ear far more than was implied by the syllabic sounds merely. Mary involuntarily drooped her eyes, and the rich bloom of modesty stole over her face and neck, as she answered:—“No, Sir! he is not my husband.”
Then, defiantly her head, she continued—“This gentleman is my Cousin George.”
Doctor John was emphatically a man of the world; and he regarded Mary with an expression of countenance, wherein benevolence, doubt, admiration, and sarcasm were blended. And the bloom grew deeper on Mary's face. Then George spoke out:—
“See here, mister,” said he. “I ain't this young woman's husband, nor I ain't her cousin—meaning thereby a blood-relation. But I tell you, she's as honest a person of the female persuasion as you'll find between the two poles of this here earth. And I'm very much obliged to you for your kind attention and so on; but don't you say one word against Mary—that's this young lady—for I don't mean to allow it. No, sirree!”
Then Mary threw herself in to a chair, and vowed that she would go on to Invercargill by herself, and of course George protested. And Doctor John settled the matter in his own way by pushing Mary out of the chamber—telling her mean while that if his patient was agitated be would not answer for his life.
Thereupon another difficulty arose. The scarlet-faced shanty-keeper burst into the sick man's den in a terrible fury—brimful of artificial virtue and Brummagem indignation.
“What's the meaning of this?” cried the virago. “I won't have any such goings on here. I'm a 'sponsible married woman, I am—”
For answer to all of which, Doctor John took her by the shoulders and fairly ran her out of the room.—“Come now, Mother Higgins,” said he, “none of your condemned nonsense with me, or I'll give the hint to Archie (the overseer of the station), and he'll have you out of this in double-quick time. What the blazes do you mean by black-guarding that girl there? Why, you antiquated faminine person of the canine persuasion—I'm blessed if I don't believe you were a bad specimen of creation before you were born, or page 82 you wouldn't be so blessed quick to pick holes in other women's petticoats.”
Doctor John had the reputation of using forcible language—very forcible language indeed.
Chapter VII. Weather-Bound.
Under the skilful treatment of Doctor John, George rapidly recovered from his accident. It is needless to say that Mary accompanied him to the Station; that she tended, nursed, and comforted him. George made a feeble protest against her doing so; but the woman was true to her nature, and refused to leave him. Had he not befriended her—been her very friend and counsellor in the time of trouble? Wherefore then should she leave to strangers and hirelings the tasks which friendship and gratitude demanded?
Anyway, she would not do so. Doctor John looked askance at her, and his glances roved from herself to little Clutha, and thence to George Washington Pratt; but after that first interview, never a word of disparagement spake he. Indeed, when sundry females of the lower order—employées of the run-holder—ventured to express some doubts of the relationship subsisting between George and Mary, Doctor John set them down with a right good will; telling them plainly, and in unmistaken-able phraseology, that they were so bad themselves that it puzzled them to account for the existence of a good woman on the earth. In fact, the Doctor at last became Mary's champion to such a degree that the young men on the station declared he was in love with her.
“Perhaps I am,” quoth Doctor John. “And if the feeling were reciprocal it would be all the better for me. It might be the means of making a man of me. What am I now? I am not a blackguard. No—thank God! in all my devious wanderings I have contrived to preserve my self-respect. But what am I? I was born and bred a gentleman. Eton and Oxford schooled me. I took my degrees over the head of fifty other fellows, and what am I the better for it? By Jove, I'm a wreck—a bad example, and all that sort of thing. If I had a decent, good little wife I should be twice the fellow I am now.”
Slowly but surely George recovered—thanks to the unremitting care of Doctor John. All the time, mind you, he had been fed and nursed gratuitously at the station. Nothing was known of him, save so much as he chose to reveal; but he was in distress and difficulty, and these were sufficient recommendations to ensure for him hospitality and kindly treatment. Remote from towns, the better feelings of men obtain more predominance than in the busy hives of commerce, where each un winged biped is anxiously intent on his own special honey-pot.
At last George was pronounced strong enough to continue his journey (I may say, in parenthesis, that Doctor John had been mercilessly “chaffed” by his station-mates for “prolonging the agony”—such was the phrase used by those rude young men), and it was arranged that, on a certain day, the waggonette should convey him to the nearest point of the main-road to meet the coach for Invercargill.
The day came, and there withal the waggonette driven by the Doctor. But the fates were unpropititious. A heavy fall of snow had set in, and the possibilities of making the road in time for the coach were infinitesimal. Thick and broad were the flakes, covering the earth with a fleecy mantle, which speedily and effectually obscured all traces of the track.
“We shall have to wait till the storm is over,” said Doctor John.
But the storm showed no sign of being in haste to arrive at its termination. All day long the snow continued to fall, and when evening drew her curtain over the world, all nature was buried beneath a white pall. And still the storm drave on.
George and the Doctor resorted to tobacco for comfort. The one chewed page 83 —the other smoked, and each condemned the practice of the other. They also played a game or two of euchre—for small stakes, for neither was tainted with the pernicious vice of gambling. Then George feeling tired, Doctor John said, “Go to your bunk, old fellow. You'll have to wait another week, and the more rest you get the better.”
So George went to his bunk, and the Doctor rose to go away.
As be did so, Mary—who had accompanied him into the verandah—said, “Oh, sir! How shall I thank you for all your kindness?”
Doctor John looked at her intently for a full minute—the light from the fireplace was gleaming full in her face, and he was holding her hand at the time—“Tell me one thing, Mary,” he said; “are you that man's wife or —”
He could not frame his voice to utter the intended word. But she understood him. Withdrawing her hand, she said to him:—
“Doctor John, I am not his wife, nor am I that other thing implied by your question. He has been kind to me, and I have tried to repay him for his goodness; but I am a poor desolate woman, and—God help me—but you have thought wrongfully of me.”
Here she broke down, and the old artifice—it was not all artifice—of tears came to her relief.
Doctor John was much agitated.—“Pardon me, Marry,” he said. “I did not mean to imply anything—Confound it! what's the good of lying? I'm a beast, a villain.—Call me anything you like, if it will ease your mind. 'Pon my honor I'm so eternally ashamed of myself that I could drown myself in the creek. Ma'am, I apologise—I am confoundedly sorry that I should have annoyed you. Now come, Mary, say you forgive me.”
“You have been too good and too kind for me to take offence, Doctor,” said Mary, smiling amidst her tears, like a sunbeam in a shower.
“God bless you!” cried Doctor John. And he lifted Mary's hand and imprinted a kiss upon it.
“I must marry that woman,” soliloquised the Doctor. “I must, by Jupiter! She's just the woman for me. ‘For me!’—aye, but what would the governor and the girls say to it?”
By which phrases it is to be presumed he meant his paternal ancestor and his sisters.
Chapter VIII. Will She—Will She Not?
Three days the snow lay upon the ground—crisp, sparkling, dazzling. Then it began to thaw.
During those three days Doctor John was continually at the hut with George. Mary took refuge with the servants in the kitchen; but the coarse jests and vulgar allusions of its inmates terrified, disgusted, and abashed her. So, as the least of two evils, she spent the greater portion of the day in George's hut. And the Doctor, as in perpetual apology for his own rudeness, treated her with as much deference as—perhaps more than—he would have paid to a Duchess.
At last the road was open. “Cheer up, old boy,” said the Doctor to George. “You shall go down to-morrow.”
“Well, Doc,”—thus George—“Guess it ain't quite the thing to say I'm glad, but I should tell a most voluminous darned lie if I said I warn't. And the Pratt family never lie. No, Sir! Bet your life on that. But you've been so good to me, and Mrs Kenway and her babe, that I feel somehow kind of vexed to leave you. See here, Doc,” he continued; “I've saved up a few rather handsome specimen nuggets; and if you'll only select one of them for a brooch, or a scarf-pin, or a ring, or anything of that sort, I reckon you'll be as welcome as flowers in May. Though that ain't saying much in this here part of creation, where winter comes in at the wrong end of the year. But you know what I mean, Doc.”
And Doctor John accepted the proffered gift in the same spirit as it was page 84 offered to him, without scruple or hesitation, selecting a beautiful crystallized octohedron of gold for a breast pin. “Now, old fellow,” said the Doctor, “Mary, or Mrs Kenway, as you call her, isn't here now, and I want you to answer one question.—Only one.”
“Well, sir,” said George, “I reckon you can't ask me anything about that female angel that I can answer anyway but to her credit.”
And he uttered this declaration of opinion somewhat warmly, which had the effect of rousing suspicious feelings in the mind of the worldly, homeless, gentlemanly vagrant to whom they were addressed.
“Humph!” muttered Doctor John. “In that case I don't think I need ask the question; you've answered it.”
* * * *
Morning in mid-winter: overhead the clear blue cloudless sky; under foot the pure white snow. The beams of the rising sun are reflected with dazzling radiance from the crystal-clad mountains; and a cool bracing breeze softly fans the leaves of the tufted flax, which peers above the winter robes whereunder old Mother Earth lies hidden. At the door of the hut—a rude structure ingeniously constructed of wattle-and-dab, there is a light waggon, piled with blankets and rugs—warm, comfortable, possum-skin rugs. Two rough-looking but well-bred horses are stamping, and pawing, and snorting after the manner of their kind, impatient to be away over the plains. Presently out comes George, limping on a home-made crutch, and tenderly supported by Doctor John. Then Mary and her child come forth, and are daintily lifted into the vehicle. And now the Doctor steps briskly up, and, with cheerful voice, and many resonant cracks of his whip, urges the willing horses on their road.
Over those beautiful plains, the destined homes of thousands yet unborn, drove Doctor John, tenderly easing the pace over the rough places, in thoughtful compassion to the invalid, and ever keeping up a flow of cheerful conversation as he went.
They halted that night at a small township, a few miles out from Invercargill. Doctor John declared that his horses would not, and could not, and ought not to go farther. “They are quite fagged out,” said he, “and after all it's of no consequence. I'll have you up and drive you into the town before eleven to-morrow, and the Dunedin coach does'nt start till the next day; so it's all right, and you needn't bother.”
Were those horses so “fagged” that they could not continue the journey? Who shall say? I know not. I only know that George W. Pratt retired to rest very early that night, and that Doctor John did not. On the contrary, he walked to and fro in the chill, night air, pouring forth volumes of smoke from his darkly-tinted meerschaum and seemly suffering from unrest. Do you ask wherefore? Why it might have been from sleeplessness, or from headache, or toothache, or any other of the many ills that flesh is heir to. But he complained not of any of these. All he said was, “Kismet! Kismet! She shall be my wife. I don't care if she said ‘No’ a thousand times over.”
Chapter IX. The Doctor's Stratagem.
“Now then, gents, I must ask you to get out, and walk on a piece.”
It was a cold, bleak morning in winter. A dense, white mist hid the surrounding landscape from view, and the chill air froze the vapor as it steamed from the tired jades that struggled in a weary, hopeless way to drag the heavily-laden coach through the semi-riverine mud-track, called by courtesy a road. The “insiders” had made all snug, as Jack would say, by fastening closely the leathern curtains of the vehicle. But the driver and an out-side passenger were like pictures of old Christmas: hair, whiskers, eye-lashes and brows were matted together with page 85 congelated moisture (Anglicé frost), so that, as the driver observed, in his coarse vernacular, “A man couldn't wink without scalping his blooming eyes.”
It was the same driver that uttered the remarks wherewith this chapter opens. Sooth to say, he did not make his appeal before it had become absolutely necessary. The two animals harnessed to the coach were in the last stage of equine decay. There was a melancholy flicker in their eyes which told of the joys of colt-hood long departed, and imparted to the sympathising beholder an impression that for them the pleasures of corn cribs and clover-fields had long departed, and that they would gladly lay down their weary load of life and be at rest. Much verbal objurgation, and multifold vigorous applications of whiplash, whereof catgut constituted an essential component part, had enabled the overworked driver to “tool” them to a spot whereat the creatures made a dead stand. In vain he showered upon them a cascade of strong language—a furious cataract of blows. The horses rubbed noses by way of consultation, and “resoluted” to go no further.
“Can't be helped, gents.” said the driver, deprecatingly, as his male passengers proceeded to comply with his request. “You see,” he explained, “this here road is in a terrible state, and there's nothing been done to better it. I only wish I had some of them unsaved Government chaps on the box. I'm re-deemed if I wouldn't give 'em a treat—Git up! Hi!”
And he relieved his feelings by a coruscation of lashes, after the manner of his people.
Now, when the coach halted, the occupant of the box seat had sprung hastily off, and went so far ahead as to present but a dim, shadowy figure in the mist. He was well equipped for the journey, was this “gent”—with heavy over-coat, seal-skin cap, thick scarf, and all the customary paraphernalia of travellers who have travelled before.
The inside passengers were five in number—two miners of the ordinary type, a commercial “party” hastening back to Dunedin at the close of his winter campaign, an American who, as he stepped out of the vehicle, exclaimed, “Jehoshaphat!” and made a dead shot at the only tussock visible, and finally a woman, so happed and swathed in shawls and plaids and wraps of all descriptions, that the only portions of her visible, were two bright eyes and the tip of an amiable nose. Need it be added that the last-named passengers were our old friends, George Washington Pratt and Mary Kenway?
Even so. They were on the road from Invercargill to Dunedin. At the former town they had parted from Doctor John. Late at night he had said to George, simply, “I am going away early in the morning, so are you. There will not be time to say ‘Goodbye,’ then—suppose we say it now.” And George had shaken hands with him and thanked him for all his kindness over and over again, till the Doctor lost his temper, and swore that he wouldn't stand any more of that sort of thing. No, he'd be hanged if he would. Whereat George smiled cheerfully, and (prefacing the remark with a certain deliberate expectoration) he said:—
“Well, Doc., perhaps there's them that can thank you better than this child. Ain't you going to say good-bye to Mrs Kenway?”
And Doctor John cried— “Of course! of course!” and went in to the hotel. When he entered the sitting-room he saw as pretty a picture as human eyes ever gazed upon. Mary was undressing her child for the night, and having been romping, as mothers will upon such occasions, she was in a beautiful glow of health, with her hair floating around her shoulders in “most admired disorder,” and a whole world of love beaming from her eyes. The Doctor stood on the threshold as one entranced. Mary looked up and said to him sweetly—“You may come in, Doctor John.”page 86
Those few words, so simply spoken, completed the mischief. Before he knew what he was doing, or Mary could understand what was going on, he was by her side—at her feet—on his knees before her—his arm around her waist—his eyes out-vieing the eloquence of his tongue—telling her that he loved her dearly, passionately—beseeching her to have pity on him—to return his passion—to be his soul's idol—his wife. He sought to take her by a coup de main, as it were. He pleaded, entreated, wrestled for her love, as a doomed man might wrestle for his life, and Mary sat speechless—too much astonished to interrupt the burning rhapsody that found its way like a torrent from the lips of this impassioned suitor, who poured out and besought her acceptance of the life-long garnered treasures of his heart.
* * * *
I think George must have shrewdly guessed what was going on within. He was still pacing to and fro in the verandah when Doctor John came out.
“I am going to turn in.—A pleasant journey to ye—Good night, Pratt.”
That was all the Doctor said.
“Well, Sir, good night! Seems like he ain't been having a good time of it. Not quite.”
That was all George said. Perhaps they both thought a good deal. I have reasons for thinking they did.
Chapter X. The Stratagem Revealed.
They walked—the male passengers, I mean—about a mile. “Do you call this walking in this country?” queried George. “If it was a little less mixed, I think I could swim it!”
And ever the box-seat passenger kept ahead. Presently the wretched track became a trifle firmer, and the driver called upon one and all to “git aboard!” and the box-seat passenger being a long way on, he naturally was the last to be taken up.
Once—twice—thrice was this process repeated, and always the box-seat passenger strode on before his fellow-travellers could extricate themselves from the leathery obstructions of the coach. George Washington Pratt was not of a prying disposition. As he said of himself—he wasn't curious at all. Only, someway, he always wanted to know about things. And on the last occasion, as his be-muffled fellow-traveller resumed his seat on the box, he stopped to have a look at him, after which he said to himself—murmuringly that is to say—“Oh, Jerusalem!” which being an ejaculation of weightier import than that wherein he customarily indulged, must be presumed to indicate a sense of something more extraordinary than a cool “Jehoshaphat” could possibly be suppose to include.
Presently the mists seemed to close in and to thicken. Then they resolved themselves into fine rain, then into snow. Down fell the feathery flakes—lightly at first, then heavily, then more heavily. And the lumbering, crazy old coach creaked and groaned and gave forth discordant sounds from every joint—so to speak—meaning from every panel and spring, from every nave and spoke, from each individual screw and bolt. And the horses straining their utmost, and severely testing the strength of every trace and buckle in their shabby equipments, could barely drag the cumbrous load along.
There came a point at which endurance—even equine endurance—failed. The coach was axle-deep in the snow and mud of the track, and to proceed was an evident impossibility. Down jumped the solitary outside passenger, and forth from the interior came every one, including, of course, Mary Kenway. As she stepped out, George politely assisted her to descend, and ready hands—they were those of the muffled-up stranger—were extended to receive her baby. Mary took no note at the moment of the owner of those hands, but when she had fairly placed her feet on terra firma, she turned to receive back her only living treasure.page 87
“Thank you, Sir—.” The words almost froze upon her lips. She gazed for a second on the bearer of her child, then—extreme surprise evinced in every gesture—she exclaimed “Is it you?—Doctor John!!??”
Yes, it was Doctor John. No other than he was it. Kismet! He had followed her—sending back the waggonette to the station by a groom. He had followed his destiny.
“Oh Doctor John! How could you?”
Only a woman could have asked such a question. Only a man could have replied—as Doctor John did reply—
“How could I? Mary—I could go—yes I could go to the devil for you!”
Chapter XI. No Letters.
Mr George Washington Pratt was disturbed in his mind. So much was apparent to the most casual observer. Otherwise, wherefore did he so persistently walk to and fro in the verandah of the Tamora Hotel, where he and his friends were for the time-abiding? The monotonous creaking of his new Bird-of-Freedom boots was somewhat irritating; and the insipid regularity with which he discharged a shower of grapeshot at either end of his limited walk disturbed the equanimity of on-lookers. Doctor John came out and accosted him.
“I say, old fellow”—thus the doctor—“what possesses you to stalk up and down like this?”
“Well, Sir”—(with a vicious parenthetical shot)—“Guess I'm troubled in my mind. That's all!”
“Mph! what about?—what's up”
“I am!” cries George, sharply turning on the querist—“I am; and if that there tucker is ready for breakfast, why, I'm on. Yes, sirree! I'm as hungry as a painter, and as savage as a half-starved grizzly. So jest you rouse up the old marm, Doc., and intimate to her that if she don't give this individual something better to eat, he'll chaw her up, stays and all, in less than 1.30.”
But when the table was spread, George's appetite suddenly failed him; he could not eat at all. “Reckon I've been waiting too long,” he said. “Say, Doc.—suppose you and I take a walk down town, and make enquiries about the boats.”
To which the doctor readily assented. And Mary, too, eagerly cried, “Oh, stay for me. Do, please stay. I should so like a walk this morning.”
For the sweet she-hypocrite had detected the hypocrisy of the male creature, and in her way she was resolved to fathom the utmost depths of George's trouble.
But when she left the room to put on her bonnet, Doctor John said gruffly—after the fashion of all true-hearted men who always seek to conceal or disguise their honest true-heartedness—” Come now, Pratt; what's the use of all this sulpherine nonsense? Can't you tell a fellow?”
George Washington Pratt drew himself up—fired a shot to the east, another to the west, then went dead ahead. “Well, Doc, if you must know—why, I'm darned if there ain't—Jehoshaphat!—There ain't no letters from my Ruth.”
Chapter XII. Cross Purposes.
They were playing at cross-purposes—these three. That George was sensibly vexed at the absence of letters from home, required no explanation. But wherefore was Doctor John so angry thereat? It might possibly be that he sympathised with George, and so, no doubt, he did; but there was, clearly perceptible a strong undercurrent of personal vexation in his manner. More strangely still, Mary Kenway did not appear to share in the general sentiment. On the contrary, her eyes brightened when she was made acquainted with the circumstance page 88 which had so dispirited her companions.
“What will you do now?” she asked—somewhat eagerly, as Doctor John thought.
“Guess I shall go straight home, ma'am, and see what it foots up to. Can't do nothing else,” quoth George.
Thereupon the brightness faded out of Mary's eyes, and her face grew very pale, and she said no more upon the subject.
“Little witch!” thought the Doctor—“I see how the cat jumps. By Jove! I must get this confounded thick-headed George out of the road.” Then aloud: “Quite right, my boy! Depend upon it your letters have gone astray, or the young lady is ill. You'll be off by the first ship, if you take my advice.”
“You forget, Doctor John,” cried Mary, “that Cousin George has promised to accompany me so far as Melbourne on my way to—to Hobart Town.”
“Not at all, ma'am,” said the Doctor. “There need be no difficulty about that—I'll go with you instead.”
“Oh, sir,” Mary quickly answered, “I could not think of giving you the trouble. (There was a slight emphasis on the second personal pronoun.) Indeed, and indeed, I could not.”
“Indeed and indeed, I'll see you on board ship though. I have not been idle in your behalf. I have been making inquiries, and—do you see that barque lying off the Jetty, ma'am?”
Yes; she did see it. So did George W. Pratt. What of it?
“Well, ma'am, that's the ‘Pretty Jane,’ which sails for Hobart Town direct in a few days. I have seen the skipper and made arrangements for your passage—always subject to your approval.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.” Thus spake Mary, but the words and her manner were sadly at variance. “I don't think I should like to go in it. I dare say there will be no other passengers—ladies I mean.”
“Then you dare say what is not correct. There are three others—very respectable married women.”
Mary bit her lips in sheer vexation at the Doctor's persistency. Meantime he eyed her curiously — not altogether without a sense of triumph.
“Is there any other objection you would like to make?” he asked.
Yes, sir. It's dirty and uncomfortable.”
“What is, ma'am?”
“Why, the ship, Doctor John. You know what I mean.”
I am not quite sure about that, Mrs. Kenway. In the first place, it is not a ship, but a barque; and, in the second place, it's a ‘she,’ not an ‘it,’ at all. But, in order that you may be satisfied as to her cleanliness and comfort, suppose we go on board and inspect her. What say you, Cousin George?”
Now, “Cousin George” had been in a state of mental abstraction, during the whole of the foregoing colloquy, and, when thus suddenly appealed to, he responded: “Yes, sirree. Ruth must have wrote; that's so; but somehow I hain't got no letters.”
Doctor John laughed outright; and Mary, colouring up to the roots of her hair, exclaimed—somewhat petulantly—“Dear me! Pray—pray don't trouble Mr. Pratt; he can think, of nothing but his letters.”
“Jehoshaphat!” cried George. Reckon I've put my foot into it, someway. What is it all about?”
“Nothing.” replied Mary quickly, intercepting the Doctor's explanation, “Only we are going to look at a vessel—and I thought that, perhaps, you would go with us — Cousin George,” she added hesitatingly.
“Well, Mrs. Kenway, if the Doctor here can spare time to see to it, I rather think I'd like to make another call at the Post-office. What say, Doc.?”
Doctor John secretly rejoiced, and Mary pouted her displeasure. But it was so arranged. George started off on his quest, and the twain stepped page 89 into a boat, and went away to the ‘Pretty Jane.’ Let us accompany the latter.
Contrary to Mary's preconceived opinion, the little barque was a very picture of order and cleanliness, and the bertha were as comfortable as it was possible for them to be made. One especially — a comparatively spacious cabin—was fitted up very cosily, and with a certain degree of taste, which rendered it absolutely inviting. There was a gay carpet on the floor, a cedar washstand, a mirror secured to the wall, a swinging lamp overhead, books on the shelves, a cane-seated easy chair, and, by the side of the couch-like berth, with its snowy linen and warm opossum rugs, there stood a baby's cot. Mary could not avoid an explanation of surprise. She had only been on shipboard once before—when she came down to New Zealand—and, remembering the unalleviated miseries she had then endured, the contrast could not but astonish her.
“How very nice,” she said. “I suppose this is for the Captain's lady,”
A. tidy-looking woman standing by was about to answer, but the Doctor placed his finger on his lips and shook his head. “Do you like it?” he asked. “The Captain don't carry his lady with him, and his wife stays at home.”
Mary looked puzzled, but failed to remark the equivoque. “I think it is charming. The baby's cot too. How nice a cot would be for Clutha.”
“Well, Mary,” said the Doctor, “perhaps this young person can tell us who this berth is for.”
Then, the woman spoke. “Yes sir,” she said, “'tis for a Mrs. Kenway.”
“Oh, Doctor John,” cried Mary, “you have done this. Oh, sir, how can I ever thank you enough?”
The Doctor stooped down, and whispered two little words in her ear—a mere conjugation of a phrase first uttered in Eden, and ever since—ever more—to be repeated throughout creation. And Mary, blushing, trembling violently, sat down in the easy chair, and with a look, wherein pleasure and sadness, joy and regret, were immeasurably blended—burst into tears.
* * * *
“Where is your baby, ma'am?” asked the woman.
“How did you know I had a baby?” asked Mary quickly. “Ah; I see—the cot.”
“No, ma'am, not”—(she looked up at Doctor John, and, that gentleman nodding assent, she proceeded—“not the cot. The Doctor told me. Please, 'm, I am to go with you, and wait on you, and look after the child.”
* * * *
“It is too much, Doctor John,” said Mary, when they were once again ashore. “I must not accept all these favours from you. You know I must not,—for I can never repay you.”
“Yes you can,” replied the Doctor; “you can give me the right to do all this and more for you. Give me yourself, Mary.”
“I cannot—I cannot—God help me—you are a dear, good man, and I love you very much, but not so as to be your wife, Doctor—Never, never!”
Well, well, we shall see. Time works wonders, and I'm not going to give it up yet. There now,” continued the Doctor fearful of another irruption of tears, “don't say any more. Let us go and look for Cousin George. Perhaps he has got those letters, and then, you know, he'll be in a more cheerful mood.”
Doctor John was a sagacious wooer. The mention of “those letters” had a wonderful effect in restoring Mary's equanimity.
Chapter, XIII. “If This Should Meet the Eye—”
George Washington Pratt was a frequent caller at the wretched tumble-down shanty which did duty as a post-office in Dunedin in those days. He so persistently worried the clerks for “those letters,” that those meek- page 90 eyed and much-enduring officials lost their temper at last, and the bland stereotyped phrase—“No letters for you, sir”—was exchanged for, “Oh, bother!” whenever George's well-known visage presented itself. So our friend bethought himself of seeking other aid; and, naturally enough, he sought it beneath the flag of his country. He appealed to the American Consul, and now the matter assumed national importance. It was getting serious. George Washington Pratt was an American, and the bloated Britishers must be made to give up his letters, or St. James's would hear about it from the White House at Washington. Still the clerks held out, and produced no letters, for the very sufficient reason that they had them not. The Consul was convinced of this, and told his countryman so. But George would not be content. Like Rachel, crying for her children, he refused to be comforted. So the Consul made another effort. He interviewed the chief of the department. Then he made a discovery.
There had been letters for George—yes, two or three—and they had been detained in the office for the usual time, and as the owner did not turn up they had been sent to the Dead Letter, Office, and, no doubt, were now on their way back to the writers.
This made George yet more anxious to hasten home, and as there was not any vessel laid on for the States in the Port, he secured a passage in the ‘Aldinga’ for Melbourne, where he could most readily take ship for New York or Boston.
Something was he disturbed by apprehensions of Mary Kenway's future. Unless her stern old father forgave her, what was to become of her in Tasmania? Doctor John communicated to him his intention of sailing in the ‘Pretty Jane’—an intention not known to Mary. “I've sent a substitute up to the station,” said he; “a young fellow just out from home, who wants to see the country. Gad! he'll see enough of it up there. And I've made up my mind to marry that woman; and by all the pipers that ever played before Moses in the wilderness I'll do it too, whether she likes it or not.”
“Well Doc.,” quoth George, “suppose it's all rights. You say you mean to do the square thing by the young lady, and behave handsome. I hope you won't play off darned tricks on her, if the boss don't take to her kindly.”
Hereupon the Doctor became wroth.—“What the mischief do you mean?” he blurted out. “Do you think I'm an atrocious scoundrel. Hang it, man, I want her for my wife.”
“Jest so. Guess she's a right-down smart piece of walking furniture, and as staunch as hickory. But then, you see, she's dreadful simple too, and—no offence, Doc—you've got a sort of I-will-so way about you. Yes, sirree; that's a fact.”
“Pshaw! nonsense! all stuff”—cried Doctor John. “I don't blame you, old fellow—not a bit of it; you mean well by her no doubt. But come now, just to settle the matter, I'll marry her right off, if she'll have me.”
“Right you are, sir; guess you can't say no fairer than that. Might I presume to make so bold as to ask—I ain't curious, you know—but I'd jest like to know if you have put the question to her, right out.”
“Put it to her? Why, of course I have; and I'll tell you what, old fellow, it's my determination to go on putting it till she says—‘Yes,’ if it has to be done daily for the next half-century.”
* * * *
One morning when Mary was at the hotel by herself, George came hurrying in with a newspaper. “Here, Mary,” he said, or rather shouted, “Here's something that concerns you. See!”
And he read from the paper the following advertisement:—
“If This should meet the eye of Mary Fielding, late of Avondale, page 91 near Hobart Town, she is requested to communicate with Messrs. Graball and Sticktoot, Solicitors, Dunedin.”
“Now, Mary,” continued George, “hurry up, and let us call upon these people at once.”
And Mary, in a great bustle, and much excited, did “hurry up,” and, accompanied by George, went straightway down to the offices of Graball and Sticktoot.
Chapter XIV. Mary in a New Character.
Mr. Graball was a smooth-voiced, smooth-faced, smooth-headed old gentleman. Mr. Sticktoot was a whiskered, mustachioed, perfumed, and be-ringed young gent. Mr. Graball invited Mary—“Miss Fielding,” he called her—to be seated, with a majestic sweep of the hand, and a grave dignified air, befitting an archdeacon. Mr. Sticktoot bowed and ambled, and smiled after a fashion, which provoked other smiles—smiles of amusement in fact—on the part of the handsome young heiress.
Yes, “heiress.” And by that word. I mean to indicate Mary. It falls to the lot of but few people to carry away pleasant reminiscences of lawyer's offices; but Mary Kenway was so favoured. She entered the gloomy “chambers” of Messrs. Graball and Sticktoot a poor widow, dependent on the kindness of strangers—Samaritans of the other sex—for the food she ate, and, the mantle wherewith she wrapped her babe. She came out a comparatively wealthy heiress. Captain Fielding had died without a will, and Mary, as hissole surviving representative, became his inheritrix. The news almost stunned her. It had to be repeated more than once before she could realise it. Her first sensation was one of regret—regret for the poor lonely old man who had been deserted by her mother—whom she, too, had deserted—whose life had been desolated—whose death had been uncheered by the soothing voice of wife or child. Of course she cried. As we know, Mary—true woman that she was—was always ready with tears. But the cloud soon passed away. There had been but little heart-companionship ever between her and her father; and in despite of some faint efforts at repression, the feeling of joy at her emancipation from the terrible thrall of poverty, obtained the mastery. “And it is really true,” she queried of the smooth Graball, “that I am the owner of all my late father's property?”
“Quite so, ma'am,” bowed the old gentleman, benevolently smiling on the possessor of many golden charms; “quite so. All the Avondale property, and £11,562, placed out at good interest, on first-class securities, as my correspondents inform me. Also, there is—let me see (and assuming a gold mounted eye-glass, he proceeded to inspect some papers)—“Yes! yes;—here it is £2,316 7s. 4d. in the Derwent Bank. Quite correct, Miss Fielding, I assure you.”
“Then — I suppose—perhaps—” (she was speaking timidly, was this unworldly woman, as if afraid of being over-bold in making such a request)—“perhaps I might be allowed—that is, I thought you might not object to my drawing a little money at once;—not much, sir, only a little.”
Mr. Graball bowed with exceeding solemnity. “Certainly, ma'am, certainly! We—(he always used the ‘we,’ as being a pronoun of potentiality)—we shall be most happy to oblige you to the extent of say, a thousand pounds, should you require it. Our instructions, ma'am are—”
What the instructions of Messrs. Graball and Sticktoot were will never be made known, for—to the inexpressible horror and scandalizement of the old lawyer—Mary threw herself into the arms of George Washington Pratt, and, blushing rosy red amidst her tears, kissed him violently, exclaiming the while, “Oh, George—George—dear Cousin George! Now I can repay you for all your goodness and kindness to me.”
* * * *page 92
“See here, Mary,” said George, when they were returned at the hotel—and his face was very grave as he spoke;—“See here, Mary, this kind of thing won't do. No, ma'am! That ancient person was clean ashamed of your doing so, and it warn't sort of correct for a young lady to venture on who's got a reputation to lose. It might hurt you some—it might,—that's so.”
“Oh! George, why do you say such hard things to me?” (Of course Mary was crying—“at it again,” as George said.)
He took no notice of her inconsequential question. He had a task to perform, and he went at it determinedly. “Now you're rich, Mary, and you want somebody to take care of you—you know you do. You ain't fit to be trusted all alone by yourself.”
“I do know it George—I do know it. And who should take care of me but you, George; you who have saved me from want, ruin, misery. Oh! George! pity me, save me again. Take me—I can offer myself to you now. Take me with all my money—all. I only care for it for your sake; for, George, I love you; I love you dearly. And that girl—she has forgotten you—she has not written—you are nothing to her now. Come with me, George. Don't leave me or I shall die. Take me—take me altogether, George—.”
And, sobbing, entreating thus, the impulsive woman clasped her arms around George's neck, and hid her blushing beauty in his breast.
Chapter XV. Temptation.
Truly George Washington Pratt was in a position of most sweet peril, —pleasant danger. Here was a young woman, endowed with a considerable portion of this world's gear, simple as a child, and as innocent too, and tolerably good-looking withal;—here, I say, was this woman throwing herself into his arms, and absolutely wooing him, albeit it was not leap-year. As George afterwards avowed he ‘never felt so I-don't-know-which-way in his life.’ Ruth might have written some of those letters which had been addressed to him, or she might not. Anyhow the letters had been returned, and in all probability he was reckoned as one of the dead,—and Ruth might have been married already, or might be married before he could get back to the States. It did seem very much like tempting Fortune to cast this chance from him. For George really entertained a very warm affection for Mary, and he felt like kissing her face, and setting out in search of the Marriage Registrar right away.
But there is a Genius—good or evil, and sometimes rather mixed—some call it Fate—some Providence—which settles these matters for us as it pleases itself, without too greatly exercising our wills. And so it happened on this occasion. Before George could form any decision—before even he could extricate himself from the dear creature who was doing the Laocoon business—a step was heard in the passage, and Mary—unanswered and, be sure, very angry, turned away and walked to the window whence she seemingly became absorbed in contemplation of the scenery—a glorious combination of town, bay, and ocean,—of the works of Man and of Man's Maker. But honestly, I don't think Mary cared much just then for the scenery.
In came Doctor John. All ablaze was he, as usual.—“Splendid,” he ejaculated.—“Splendid! The Pretty Jane doesn't sail till Wednesday, so we shall be able to see you off old man.”
The “old man” was, of course, George, who had arranged to go by the Aldinga, advertised to sail on Tuesday. The “we”—Ah!—who were the “we?”
Mary Kenway looked round, with a smile on her face, and asked the same question.
“Why you and I of course,” said the Doctor. “Don't you see, our page 93 friend here will sail the day before us.”
Whereby he, so to phrase it, ‘let the cat out of the bag.’ Mary said nothing; but again looked outwards, seeing not at all, with her bodily eyes; and looked inwards, seeing a very great deal, with her spiritual eyes. But said George—
“Well, now, Doctor John. Guess you've dropped off the fence for once. I was down town this morning, and I saw the Cap.—that is John M'Lean—Hell-fire Jack we used to denominate him down to Melbourne, because of a way he had of running stem-on into all the darned lumbering tubs that used to crowd up the Yarra and lie anyhow, all across the stream. And I tell you, he did that till the lubbers got so as to respect him, and when H.F.J. was seen a coming up the river, blessed if they didn't clear out of the way mighty smart. Yes, Sir! However, I'm pitching a little wide. What I meant to say was jest this: The Aldinga don't sail till Wednesday either, so I guess we'll both start together.”
* * * *
That night Mary sent a little note to George. I will not divulge its contents.—Never!
That night George sent an answer to Mary, the contents whereof were as follows:—
“I cannot do it, nohow. It don't seem righteous, anyway I can fix it. I've gave my promise, as a man, to Miss Ruth, and so long as I don't know that she has omitted to keep me in mind, I ain't that free that I can marry another woman. Same time, I am truly obliged for your kind offer, and supposing things were different, should be glad to accept thereof. Mary, please take my advice. You are but young, and if you don't alter you'll die young, if you should live to be a hundred years old. You want a man to look after you, and see all right, that's my opinion. Not being a Saint—one of Brigham Young's folk, I mean—it ain't in my power to do as I wish—Ruth being honest and true, suppose. So I don't think you can do better than marry Doctor John. He's almighty fond of you, and I've reckoned him up, and I take him to be real grit, no less, you bet your life on it, Mary. And you know, Mary, I am not at all interested on my own account in this. Rather the other way.
“So wishing you all possible happiness in this here world, and whatever you would like best in the next,” I remain,
” Yours truly,
George Washington Pratt.”
Chapter XVI. “— Last Scene of All That Ends This Strange Eventful History.”
Gloriously shone the early sunlight upon the mountains—forest-crested—aureole-tipped—that laved their feet in the cool, blue waters of the Bay. Out in the stream lay the Aldinga, and the crew were busily getting up the anchor, accompanying their muscular exertions by most unmelodious cries and songs. George Washington Pratt stood upon the deck, making deadly aims at discomfited bluebottles; and ever and anon taking a turn at the capstan by way of amnsement. Presently, out from between the Islands which divide the Upper and Lower Harbours, there came a vessel. First, white sails glinting in the sunlight; then a prow carrying a figure-head—a sailor's beauty, greenrobed, blue-eyed, black-haired, pinkcheeked;—the Pretty Jane, of Hobart Town, in fact. With every sail set and bellying out, heeling over to the breeze, gracefully dipping and rising,—down came the Pretty Jane. Close by the Aldinga's counter she steered, and on the tiny quarter-deck of the brig, two figures—those of Mary Kenway and Doctor John—stood, waving, the one a hat, the other a page 94 handkerchief. And from the steamer George Washington Pratt responded.
They parted thus?—Not quite so. Ere long the Aldinga got up steam, and then, released from her temporary hold of earth,—her pulses throbbing, her heart beating, she went down the Bay at a pace which speedily brought her once more alongside the brig.
“Good bye, old fellow!”
These, from the men—a waved salute from poor Mary. That was the end of it. Thus they parted; the one to return to his beloved native land,—to the love of his life—to “home and beauty!” The other twain to Tasmania—home of the one—hoped for home of the other.
And so, at “the Heads,” the story of their lives diverged for evermore.
And here my Story also ends. The play is played out, the footlights are dark, the orchestra is dumb, the green curtain has fallen, the audience are gathering their robes around them, and the teller of this Tale, can but bow, and bid each and all
I, the Story-teller, having written so far, submitted the manuscript to a beloved friend and kindly critic. One week—neither more nor less—I received from her a note which ran thus,
“Come and see me.
“This will never do,” she said, striking the M.S. with her ‘fatal forefinger.’ “This will never do. Do you imagine for a moment that we are going to part with our favourites thus? George in the Aldinga steaming away to Melbourne?—Mary and the Doctor on board the Pretty Jane? All the rest of the people whom we have known, and travelled with, and (foolishly enough, I confess) sympathized with for nearly six months, sent adrift without any tidings of their fate? No, sir; we demand to know what became of them.”
“Upon my honour,” then said I, “I do not very well see how I am to inform you of matters beyond my ken.”
She laughed a silvery laugh (of course it was silvery); she smiled a seraphic smile, (of course it was seraphic;) she spoke in dulcet tones, (of course they were dulcet); and she said,—
“Consult a medium.”
* * * *
Never, shall, anyone—not the wife of my bosom even know what those asterisks denote. Suffice it that I know; Another knows.
* * * *
In a darkened chamber, perfumed with aromatic odours, a Being reclined on a velvet couch. It was the Medium.
“What would'st thou know?”—Thus queried the Operator.
“Tell me,” I murmured. (Be sure, I “murmured”)—” Tell me of George Washington Pratt.”
The Operator manipulated the Medium, and the Medium spoke:—
“I see a large white house with many windows, situated in the midst of green fields, dotted with cattle as in a picture. An avenue of tall trees leads from a long dusty road to the front door. A man is walking up that avenue. It is a tall man with a long, grave, oval face, wearing a single heavy tuft of hair on his chin. He is walking with a firm heavy step, and in measured strides, like one who has a purpose to fulfil. No other human being is visible. Stay:—I see a face at a window. It is that of a young woman;—of a woman in the summer of her maidenhood—later than the early spring—earlier than the late autumn. She looks out on the green fields with a weary wistful expression of countenance, such as might have befitted Marian in the Moated Grange.
“‘He cometh not,’ she said.”
The man sees that maiden's face, and his steps grow more elastic, his stride firmer. She sees him not yet. Ah! page 95 She turns her gaze towards the avenue. She disappears from the window. The door opens, and a female form appears at the entrance. 'Tis she, but she transfigured. The look of weariness has disappeared; the dim despairing eyes are lighted up. 'Tis she transfigured by the power of love. She hurries down the whitened steps, and rushes down the avenue to meet the welcome guest approaching. Ah! What do I behold?—A mass of broadcloth and calico indiscriminately blended—slender white arms around the neck of the man, strong loving arms embracing the waist of the woman;—lips meeting lips in most delicious greeting; eyes gazing into other eyes with rapturous emotion, such as Adam might have knewn and felt, when first dear deceitful Eve taught the poor man the bliss of osculation.”
(“Upon my word then,” said I, “but that's a most beautiful picture the Medium is painting; I wouldn't mind seeing that same myself, nor indeed of acting in it, for the matter of that,—always providing the Eve was a good-looking young woman. Come, now; pray inquire of the person if she perceives any other matter of interest, but not so exciting if you please.”)
“I see a stout man (this is what the Medium said) coming across the pasture. His hair is white—he is aged, and moves but slowly. The man and woman do not perceive him. They see each other only—Hush! They are speaking. ‘Ruth!’—the man is saying—‘Dear Ruth, do you still feel sweet upon me?’ And she answers—‘Always, George, always. I almost thought you were gone dead; but I wouldn't listen to Seth Hoskins nor Abe Joyce, nor any one of them, George; though father, he said, when our letters came back, that I was a little foo-foo-fool.’—She is crying for very joy, and he is kissing her between the sobs by way of punctuating her remarks, and every point is a note of admiration! Now, the old man sees them. The sight seems to astonish him. For a moment he is transfixed. I hear him say, “Well, I'm teetotally derned if that ain't little George come back to my Ruth. Why how he hev growed, sure!” He hurries up to the group. George is shaking hands with him as much as he can do so, with Ruth hanging on to his arm, as if she feared he was a vision, and would disappear from view if he wasn't properly anchored to her. And so the three go up to the great staring white house and enter in at the door, and disappear from view, and I see them no more.
“Stay!—the man George comes out to the door again. He looks around upon the landscape, aims a correct shot at an inquisitive dog, discharges a full volley at some sympathetically cooing pigeons, and he says—‘Well; guess I feel right down good. That's so.’ Then a small white hand touches his, and transfigured Ruth whispers “Reckon I do so too.” Then George does so thrice or more, and old Squire Allan throws up the near window, and he says—‘See here now, Ruth, dern me if I stand any more of this here kind of business. If you two so do any more, I'll go right straight away, and get spliced on to Widow Nipkins before you derned inexperienced young fools have got through preliminaries.’
“Then they go in again—Ruth and George—and the old Squire retires, and door and window are closed, and so the vision endeth.”
* * * *
* * * *
“What more would'st thou?” asketh the Operator.
“Show me now what becometh of Mary Kenway,” I reply.
“In about five minutes,” saith the Operator,” your wish shall be gratified. The Medium requires repose.”
* * * *
“I see,”—'twas the Medium that spake—“I see a lady walking in a garden—a strange wild garden—a tangled forest of flowers and fruit, of page 96 rose bushes and acacias, of long drooping willows and lofty gum-trees. She wears a black dress, and the child that toddles by her side is similarly clothed. A man is coming up the centre walk—a handsome, bearded man. He is very close to her, but she does not seem to know it. She stoops to pick a flower for the child. As she rises again the man puts his arm round her waist, draws her to him, and kisses her forehead. She does not repulse him. The child claps its hands with infantile glee. ‘Papa! papa!’—she cries. But they heed her not. ‘See I have kept my word, Mary; (the man says this). I promised not to intrude on you again till the end of the month. To-morrow is the first of September. I have come to hear your answer.’”
“She does not speak to him, but blushes and looks down, tapping the ground nervously with the tiny foot that peeps from under the envious skirt. Once more his arm steals unforbidden round her waist. His eyes seek hers, and he reads his answer there. This time he presses her lips.—‘Thank God!’ he cries. ‘Mine at last—dear Mary!—mine at last.’”
“‘Yes, Doctor John,’ she says now; ‘you have conquered. I have had time to think of late. And only when I had enforced your absence for a while, did I learn how much I—love you. Ah! Doctor John,’ she continues, ‘there was a traitor in the garrison. You had won dear Clutha's love before you gained mine.’
“Doctor John takes Clutha in his arms and kisses her, and throws her up in the air and catches her again, and generally romps with her for a time. As he sets her down he points to the black dress, and says—‘Tomorrow those gloomy trappings—’
“‘Shall be thrown aside’—thus Mary completed the unfinished sentence.
“‘And what date,’ he asks, ‘shall I write in the wedding license, Mary. Don't be cruel now. I have waited long and patiently. Shall it be tomorrow or the day after?’
“‘Do you suppose,’ she answers, ‘that a woman could or would ever get married without consulting her dressmaker? No, sir—you will have to wait; but not long, darling. Drive me in to Hobart Town this afternoon, John, and Madam Bobinette shall tell you the very earliest day that can be fixed for the wedding.’
“Thus discoursing, they enter the long low verandah, shrouded by trailing plants, which runs along the entire front of a cottage at the head of the garden; and they appear not again.”
* * * *
* * * *
Once more I ask—” Tell me now the fate of old Pegleg and his mates.”
Again the Operator performed his manipulations, and again the Medium spoke.
* * * *
“At the front of a rustic dwelling there sits an old man with a wooden leg. He is nursing a wee baby. A younger man is digging in the garden. He speaks to the white-haired nurse. ‘Pegleg, man, give the bairn a ride on the Third Mate.’
“And Pegleg makes rejoinder. ‘Ho! ho! ho!—why Jim—Jim lad, what 'll thy wife say to't. No, no; I ben't goin' to fright thy wife, lad.’
“Whereupon a young woman looks forth from the window, and says in a pleasant voice—‘That's right, Pegleg. I wont have my ducky darling put on that hairy monster. Jim ought to know better. Why, 'twould shake the poor little thing to a jelly.’
“Then Jim pauses from his work, and looking towards the cottage with one foot on his spade, he laughs right merrily. And the young wife shakes her head at him, and laughs back again. And old Pegleg accompanies them with one of his uproarious bellowings, and baby crows lustily in chorus, and the Third Mate puts his great hairy face over the fence, and page 97 joinsin the merriment after the fashion of his kind.”
* * * *
Yet was the curiosity of my friendly critic unappeased. “Surely, sir,” she said, “you will obtain the latest information touching the Commissioner and the bold Sergeant. Nay, of Maori Jack, and even of that wicked wretch—Ginger—your readers will insist on knowing more.”
Thus entreated, I appealed to the Operator. But I appealed in vain. He declared that the Medium was exhausted, and could not be troubled again that day. I went home in despair; and lo! in the passage of my house there sat a small boy, with the features of an old man, and the leer of an infant Satyr. 'Twas the inevitable P.D. waiting for “copy.” “What,” I exclaimed to my fair friend (I had almost omitted the ‘r’) “What shall I do now?’
That commanding woman rose up, and crushed me with a word.
“Go to the Police-office. There everything is known.”
I shuddered and obeyed. And this is what I learned:—
The Commissioner become disgusted with the service and migrated to Fiji, taking with him a wife of imperial presence and imperious will. He is now a prosperous sugar-planter, having only been harried by the natives twice, and burned out three times. But he is said to be an altered man. Whether it be from the climate, or the niggers I cannot tell; and I reject as absurd the popular slander that it has been brought about by the domination of the immensely fine woman to whom he is united; but the fact remain that Mr. Commissioner has become a model husband, a very pattern of submissive endurance—of mildness and of forbearance. Which is a fit and proper termination of a bachelorhood of self-willed impatience.
The bold Sergeant aspired to a lofter sphere (‘spear’ he called it) than any he could ever have hoped to attain in ‘the Force.’ So he went away to Hokitika, married a barmaid with two single children, and became a bloated Boniface.
Maori Jack got away to the North without ‘the Kawana's’ consent, and died at the Waikato, fighting against the Pakeha, slain by the Pakeha's rum.
As for Ginger—whosoever feels any interest in his ending had best consult the hangman, who stood by him to the last, when all else had deserted him.
And now dear friends,—you who have borne me company for six long months 'tis my own turn to bid you farewell. My task is over, my work is done—for here endeth The Adventures of George Washington Pratt.