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Title: Grandfather's Courtship
Author: Henry Lawson
eBook No.: 2200451h.html
Date first posted: 2022
Most recent update: 2022
This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat
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Published in A Fantasy of Man, The Complete Works of Henry Lawson, Volume 2, complied and edited by Leonard Cronin, Lansdowne Press, 1984. Cronin indicates that the story was originally published in the Lone Hand but no date is given. The story was also published in The Australian Women's Weekly on 29 January 1958, p. 24. See http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51774421
It was Christmas time, and a younger brother, a younger uncle and I had come with a couple of doubtful shotguns and the fisherman's faith to spend the holidays with Grandfather at Mount Victoria. He was a caretaker in an old mountain residence at the head of a ragged gully, and we had spent the day before Christmas in helping him to bring the timber he had split up from the head of the gully. In the evening he and I decided to rest and smoke while the other two went into the township.
Grandfather sat against the wall smoking his pipe, which he had cleared and filled with the deliberate care of an old bushman. I was trying to smoke too, being over twenty-one, and allowed that privilege by Grandfather. We were both gazing into the broad moonlight across the old orchard to the cliffs on the other side of the gully and the blue peaks beyond. After a spell of silence I had asked Grandfather to sing, and he had sung "The Golden Glove" and "The Mistletoe Bough". Then we were quiet again for a while, and the silence was broken by Grandfather.
"Henery, did I ever tell you how I courted your Grandmother?"
I had heard the story, but I kept that dark, and then Grandfather told me all about it.
"I was a young man then, Henery," said Grandfather, "about your age—but they did say I was something to look at." Grandfather paused, with his quizzical side-long glance at me; but I didn't take the matter up, so Grandfather went on, evidently disappointed: "An' I didn't wear la-di-dah clothes, an' write poetry for the papers, an' talk like a 'en (hen) to make meself look like what I wasn't."
I let that pass, too, considering it weak and unworthy of Grandfather.
"Howsomenever, we was all livin' at a place between Windsor and Penrith on the upper Hawkesbury—on the Nepean—nearabouts where we were all born and brought up, at a place called Never Mind—at least, that's what we called it. It would be called Kick-up-a-Fuss in these here la-di-dah days. We had a saw-pit and timber-trucks—they're all gone now, tyres and all, and the saw-pit's gone too, an' so's the timber. They're making new forests, I've heered, but they won't be like the old 'uns. The last time I took a holiday trip down there to see the place there was nothing but a heap of stones with tangle growin' over 'em, an' a frill lizard thinkin' in the sun; he must have been a old 'un, fer he seemed to remember me and didn't make to go away. But there was a dint in the ground yit where the saw-pit was; an' dirty water; an' some tadpoles an' maybe a crawfish or two—the water was too muddy for me to see; an' some ducks holdin' a mothers' meetin', about me comin', I s'pose!"
"Go on, Grandfather."
"Howsomenever. It was Saturday and we knocked off at one o'clock and I went home dog-tired. I had a slush and went in and sat down to dinner. Mother was away, monthly nursin', at the minister's house—the parsonage near Penrith; an' my sister Margaret was keeping house. You never saw your great-aunt Margaret, Henery?"
(I saw the old lady since and she recognised me and said she'd know one of our tribe if she saw the skin spread out on a gooseberry bush. Then I recognised her.)
"Howsomenever, Father—that's your great-grandfather—was at home, growlin' round, which was about all he did, nowadays. You see, he had crotchety old country ideas. Howsomenever, we wanted a growler in the family to make the home complete. It was a big family, but poor old Father filled the job right down to the ground and up to the roof.
"After dinner I stretched out on the broad of me back on the big home-made sofa and smoked 'n' rested. It was good. Arter a while, Margaret (yer great-aunt) said:
"'I want you to take the clean clothes to Mother at the minister's place this afternoon, Harry, if you will.' You see, she was washing for the parsonage.
"'Oh, confound it!' I said, 'You're allers a worrit-worrit-worriting the life out of a man; ain't a man to get no rest at all? Let some of the others do it!' Margaret didn't say anything, but went on folding and ironing an' fillin' the basket. She always knew what she was about. Bineby I felt rested and got restless and oneasy, and sat up.
"'You wimmin is always worrit-worrit-worritin' a man,' I said, 'he don't git no peace at all.'
"'What's the matter with you now, Harry?' she says. 'Who's a-worritin' you?'
"'Have you got those clothes ready?' I shouted.
"'Presently,' she said, 'you needn't howl about it.'
"I went and tidied up a bit and put on my boots. We didn't wear our boots every day in the week then. And then I hoisted the basket onto my shoulder an' started up the river to the minister's place.
"When I got there I went round to the back and knocked at the kitchen door; it was shut, being a windy day. It was opened, and I seen the prettiest girl east of the mountains. She was short and slight and had blue eyes and hair like new straw—(but all you rascals are dark, like me). I was taken aback, not expectin' her, though I had heern that there was a young English servient girl at the parsonage, but I took no notice of it; so I was flustered and took up the baskit agen, like a big fool, to have somethin' to 'old onto; and was offerin' it to her as if it had been a bokay. But she wasn't no more flustered at seein' me there than if I'd been the cat come home—or she'd been one. Wimmin are like cats in some ways. I recollicted myself presently and put the basket down an' scraped off me hat. 'If you please, Miss,' I said, 'I'd like to hassertain if Mother is in. Missis Albury, Miss,' I says.
"'Oh! you're Harry,' she said. 'I beg your pardon—Mr Albury. Come in and sit down. Put the basket down anywheres, and I'll go and tell your mother you're here.'
"I went in and put down the basket in the middle of the big brick floor where it 'ud be in everyone's road. It was one of them old style kitchens, with everything big and scrubbed, and white and bright and yellow, and red. She started to drag a big old-fashioned cane chair out, with legs spread out like a kangaroo dog runnin', an' a dished back, all string-bound. I put me hat down very carefully in a corner on the brick floor, where it wouldn't fall off.
"Then I went to help her with the chair, an' accidentally touched her hand, and it took all the presence of mind out of me that was left in me, it was so small and cool and soft. I said, 'Beg yer pardon, Miss,' for nothing, and set down suddenly, an' the chair set down too—the legs went all ways for Sunday; and that didn't improve matters."
"What did you do then, Grandfather?"
"Got up, o' course, you ass. Do you think I was going to sit there all day?"
"She'd have thought it rather strange, Grandfather, if you had. But what did she say? Did she laugh?"
"No! She didn't; she wasn't a lot of thund'rin' jumpt-up laughing Jack-hasses, like my grandchildren. She looked—she looked—well—"
"Now, I don't want none of your la-di-dah words! She looked well—"
"Concerned?" I ventured.
"Consarn you. She looked—hanxious. She wanted to hassertain if I was hurt."
"Well, to know, if you must know. I said I wasn't. I was concerned, as you call it, about the chair. I wanted to take it out an' mend it right away, but she wouldn't hear of it. She said it was all her fault; the cook ought to have had it put in the lumber room long ago; the minister, Mr Kinghorn, had told them to; but how it could be all her fault and the cook's too, I didn't think at the time. 'An' would you carry it into the shed for me, please, Mr er-r-Harry?' And Mr-Herr-Harry pleased. When I came back she was dragging out a big old grandfather chair from a nook—the cook's special, I s'pose—and I reckoned she must be a big woman. I took the chair from her and put it near the door and sat down, it seemed safer there, and she started for the foot of the stairs; but Mother called over the rail:
"'What's that noise, Harriet? Who's there?' I s'pose she knowed all the time.
"'It's Mr—Mr Harry, ma'am,' said Harriet, 'the chair broke!'
"'The what?' says Mother.
"'The chair, ma'am,' says Harriet, 'it broke.'
"'Weil, you ain't been losin' much time,' says Mother, 'I must say—well, keep him there till I come down, an' don't let him fall inter the fire.'
"I wanted to go up and smother Mother—about the chair, I mean. But I don't think Harriet guessed what Mother was drivin' at. Anyways, Harriet said so afterwards, that she didn't.
"Well I set still, and Harriet said nothing. She was the quietest little housemaid I ever see. Mousemaid, rather. It was the cook's arternoon out, I s'pose. Harriet moved round like a mouse, polishin' and brightenin' up already, an' we went on sayin' nothing to each other just as fast as ever we could.
"Arter about two years hard, I think, I heern Mother coimin' downstairs, pat, pat, pat, pat, with a basket of dirty clothes—at least I wouldn't a' called 'em dirty—"
"Soiled linen, Grandfather?"
"Right! Some of yer lah-di-dandy. Howsomenever, when Mother got to the foot of the stairs, and turns round like a stopper in a bottle (she was short and stout like a Yorkshire dumpling, like yer Granny was when you knew her—a bundle as long as she was broad. Strange how all our mothers and wives are so short and dumpy, an' we so long, an' sometimes lanky, like you). Howsomenever, Mother squinted at me an' then at Harriet.
"'Weil. You are makin' a lot o' noise between you, you two,' says she, 'for sich new acquaintances. Leastways, when I was a gal we waited till we was introduced at least. Well, how are they all at home, Harry?'
"That's the first time that I ever see Harriet—that's your Grandmother—redden up. She flushed to the roots of her hair, as the sayin' is (an' half way down her back perhaps, though I didn't see it). She went crimson, the more so that she was fair, and it become her wonderfully. I wanted to smother Mother agen, but had to kiss her instead.
"Harriet went inside, arter some business of her own, while Mother heard the news an' give me some messages for Margaret. Mother wanted me to stay an' have a cup o'tea; but I wouldn't. I'd had enough, an' besides, I didn't know how I'd manage a cup an' sarser; especially if Harriet was in the kitchen—though the parson's kitchen crockery was big an' homely enough, it skeered me to think o' tryin'. You see, we used mugs or pannikins at home. So I said I was going somewheres that arternoon, and wanted to get home.
"'Very well, then,' says Mother, tyin' a cloth over the basket; 'but ain't you goin' to wait an' say good-bye to Harriet. Where's yer manners?'
"'Is her name Harriet, Mother?' I says.
"'Yes. Of course it is,' says Mother; 'Henrietta—Harriet. Didn't yer hear me call her so, half-a-dozen times?'
"'Well, that's funny,' I says, scratchin' my head.
"'What's funny? You great galoot!' says Mother.
"'Why, my name's Henery—an' Harry, too,' I said.
"'But it ain't Henrietta, nor yet Harrieta,' says Mother; 'though you've been lookin' an' actin' more like it than she has, all the arternoon. Or like a Mary Ann rather. Why can't you hold yer own an' be a man when yer meet a good-lookin' gal? Your father could, worse luck, an' so can your brothers.'
"Jist then Harriet came back an' see me standing by the baskit, ready.
"'Why! Isn't Mr Albury going to stay an' have some tea, Mrs Albury?' she said. 'I'll get it ready in a minute.'
"'No, thank you, Miss,' I said, 'I've got to go somewheres; an' besides, I'm as full as a new straw bed tick.'
"I could 'a' bitten me tongue out for makin' such a hole in me manners; but it was too late now, an' I dived for the basket.
"'Well! Say good-bye to Harriet,' says Mother.
"So I blundered up to Harriet, an' nearly over her; an' she held out her little hand a little way. Gosh, it gave me a skeer. It was soft an' cool and small—I never thought a girl could have such a small hand. It seemed alive an knowin', too, like a tame white rat in your hand. It startled me, an' I must have gripped it in my nervousness; for she gave a little sound, like a small 'Oh!' an' put both her hands behind her. Then she recollected herself, an' put em' in front, under her apron, where she was rubbing the numbness off the one she geve me with the other, I s'pose. It was all just like as if she'd given me a tame frog, unexpected, to take home and take keer of for her—that little hand was. I seen I'd hurt her, so I dived for the basket, hoisted it on me shoulder, and kissed Mother on the nose—or on the chin—I didn't know which; they both stuck out like yours will when you lose a few more teeth; and then I collared the parson's garden hat, that was hangin' on a peg on the wall, and bolted."
I waited, expectant, while Grandfather saw to his pipe and then studied the moonlight reflectively.
"Talkin' o' teeth," said Grandfather, "I wonder how you young ones all seem to lose your teeth so early. I s'pose it's the la-di-dah tucker an' soft slush you get in Sydney. It wasn't so in my time when we had to gnaw raw pumpkin an' cob corn when the floods cut the teams off."
"Confound it, Grandfather, why don't you go on with the story?"
"How kin I, when yer always keep int'ruptin' me?" said Grandfather. "Will you hold your tongue?" (Pause for reply, but I didn't fall in.) "Howsomenever, I'd gone about a mile along the road before I recollected that I hadn't said good-bye to Harriet arter all. That will show you how a—"
"Grandfather," I said, severely, "what did you take the minister's hat for?"
"How was I to know?" said Grandfather, in a suspiciously mild and injured tone, "an' how in thunder am I to know now, five an' forty years afterwards?"
"I beg your pardon, Grandfather."
"Well, don't do it agen. You're allers breakin' a thread in me dish-cloth, as old Betty Campney uster say.—Howsomenever, I didn't know I had the parson's hat on till I got home. I thought it strange, arterwards, in a funny sort o' way, that a parson should have the same size head as I had. But then agen, come to think of it, why shouldn't he?—Howsomenever, some of 'em I passed, agoin' into Penrith in carts an' on horseback, did look unusual hard at me, I noticed, an' I wondered what devilment I'd been up to in town last Saturday. One or two on horseback called out to ask if Harry Albury was ordained yet; if I'd taken 'oly Horders; and I couldn't make out what they were drivin' at, unless they guessed I'd come from the minister's place. They'd soon 'a' found out what they was drivi?' at if I hadn't 'a' bin afoot; for we wasn't scoffers, whatever else we might 'a' been. An' don't you go in for none of that (he referred to scoffing), Henery, because, if you ain't sorry arterwards, you'll be ashamed. Ver Grandmother was struck in those matters, you remember; bein' a poor minister's darter afore she immigrated. She might have been more comfortable for all on us," Grandfather went on reflectively, "if she hadn't had such strick convictions about shirt sleeves on Sundays, and little things like that. But I forgit. You see the hat was, well, a parson's 'at; it was of a—a—"
"A clerical cut, Grandfather?"
"Clerical," said Grandfather, trying it on himself, "sounds like the name of a bantam rooster, it seems to me—well, alright, it will do for the present, you can tell me the meaning of it arterwards."
So I had at last, got at least one la-di-dah word accepted conditionally.
"What's dimure?" said Grandfather suddenly, and somewhat aggressively, it seemed to me. I could see that he had been turning it over, all unsuspected, in his second mind, part of the time. Like many keenly intelligent but totally uneducated men, he would be attracted by the sound of a word—the shorter the better. I explained that "demure" as well as I could and handed it over to Grandfather. So I saw that I had a second la-di-dah word accepted, unconditionally, this time; and was sure of meeting it again, later on, in Grandfather's possession.
"Howsomenever. When I got home I went into the kitchen an' put the basket down. 'There yer are,' I says to Margaret, 'now it's to be hoped you'll stop worritin' an' let a man have a little rest.'
"Margaret looked at the basket, an' then at me; an' then she looked at my head—and then she looked harder at it. It was brushed back on the back of me head by the arm I used steadyind the basket, over-arm; I must have wore it home most of the way that way, an' no wonder Margaret looked, to see me with a gamecock clarrickle hat on the back of me head.
"'Well, you'll know me presently,' I said; 'better look at me feet to make sure.' "'Why, Harry,' she said, 'whatever have you got on?'
"'Me clothes,' I said, thinkin' she was referring to me coimin' so early, and wonderin' what devilment I was up to, fer we never hung about the saw-pits on Saturday afternoon. They was monotonous enough all the week. I took off me hat to throw it on the kitchen sofa, and when I felt it and caught sight of it, I stared at it harder than Margaret did. I thought at first, someone must have played a trick on me. It couldn't have bin the parson, for I didn't see him.
"'Well, I'm bewitched!' I said.
"Margaret thought a second—she was the quickest thinkin' woman I ever saw, was your great-aunt Margaret, Henery. Then she said, 'I think you are, Harry.'
"'It must be the parson's hat,' I said.
"'It must be,' says Margaret.
"'I muster wore it home by mistake,' I says.
"'You must have,' says Margaret.
"I hung the hat up an' took out me pipe, and set down on the kitchen sofa to bluff Margaret. You see, I was suspicious of her. I knew her. I think it's a cowardly thing to take your hat an' walk away from a woman's tongue, no matter how soft it is, an' she thinks so too. You see, it jinerally hurts her—her pride or something; an', if she happens to be a wife naggin', it's worse, an' sometimes more dangerous, than sittin' silent, or whistlin' 'The Last Rose o' Summer'. She might go, too—home to her mother.
"Margaret was ironin' out our Sunday things. She was ironin' one o' Father's big white shirts, with frills like a jew-lizard all down the front of it, like they wore in them days, for Father to go to Chapel in on Sunday. She ironed a couple of frills down very carefully (I supposed Grandfather meant 'tucks' or 'pleats') and then she says:
"'Did yer bring anything else home from the minister's, Harry?'
"I brought the dirty clothes. There's the baskit under yer nose. Can't yer see it? What in thunder else would I bring?'
"Then I thought. I brought a message from Mother,' I said; 'but your jackhassin' put it clean out o' me head.' An' I give the message, to head her off from whatever she had comin'.
"She ironed down another frill.
"'Did you leave anything at the minister's except your hat, Harry?' she asked.
"I left the clean clothes,' I said. 'What in thunder are yer drivin' at at all?'
"That was a slip; it's allers a mistake to swear—it spoils the rest of what you say. An' it's a bigger mistake to ask a woman what she means.
"Margaret ironed down another frill, very carefully; lookin' what you'd call 'demure', only not just that way. Presently she says:
"'See anyone at the minister's, Harry?'
"I seen Mother,' I said; 'who else did yer think I'd see? The parson was out. Did yer expect me to go up to Mrs Parson's bedroom and ask her how many teeth the baby had? It was only born last week.'
"She ironed down another frill, a middle one, very carefully, from top to bottom, looking more demurer in another sort of a way—a sisterly sort of a way—than ever. She said nothin' when she'd finished it, but started on another frill, one of the shorter ones; an' I got uneasy. She was like the cattle stringin' off in the dark. At last I thought I'd ride ahead of where I thought their lead was, and have done with it, one way or the other.
"I seen the job-man there,' I said, 'an' he wasn't much to look at; an' a gal—a nursemaid or something they call Mary-Ann or some such name; an' I seen some fowls an' the pig. Now are yer satisfied!'
"'Oh! That was Harriet Wynn,' says Margaret.
"'Wynn,' says Margaret, 'that's her name, Harriet Wynn. Didn't Mother tell you?'
"'Oh! the gal!' I said. 'I thought you meant the pig. I didn't know the parson had taken to christening pigs, as well as kids. Well, I've had enough o' naggin' fer one day,' I said. I'm goin' out to have some peace and quietness.' And I got me old workin' hat and went out."
Short pause, and then Grandfather gave me one of his quizzical glances to see what I thought of his address and strategy in the matter. And I nodded my head emphatically at the still moonlight path with all the worldly wisdom of twenty-one.
"But I kept the girl's name in me mind for 'future reference', as you'd call it.
"I went an' lay down on a bank on the grass, with my hands under me head. The sun was low down over the poplars, and the willows, and the mountains. They was purple, mostly, o' mornin's, but was dark green, an' deep blue, an' light blue, now, and lighter the further away you got till they went into the sky; an' I got thinkin'—which reminds me," said Grandfather, "that I want to think a bit now, while I fill me pipe."
I was thinking, too. Thinking of Great-aunt Margaret, on Berry's Estate, North Sydney, old and withered, but wiry and bright-eyed; dressed in a quaint, prim, old-fashioned Early Victorian style that was the fashion when she was a girl, and considered neither gaunt nor prim then. There was Granny as I last saw her, taking off the old black bonnet and putting on the little old lace cap; chin and nose coming closer together, crotchety, rather, and too unpleasantly truthful (or "tactless") for these "la-di-dah" days; and with a growing tendency to get hold of the wrong end of little things with those little old hands, and hold on tight. (What work those hands had done in her time!) With stronger views than ever on the subject of shirt sleeves on Sundays; and with a most uncomfortable and unconquerable distrust of clocks and watches on those days when she donned her black silk—or lustre, or cashmere, or whatever it was—and black Sunday bonnet and gloves that all looked as good as if they were bought last week. Thinking of her I could see the black bonnet go bobbing up past the railings to church. Brave old eyes that had seen more of the wildest of the early days—more of drought, flood, wilderness, hardship, and danger, by track and tent and hut, than would fill volumes. Brave old eyes that had looked at the downcast ones of Syd Lardner, Frank Wall, and "Bunny" Hughson, whilst she lectured those foolish, hunted men on the evil of their ways, and gave them honest advice; what time the bushrangers fumbled with their cabbage-tree hats; or sat in a row on a bench like scolded schoolboys; what time the brave old hands, not withered then, set forth damper and "junk" on the rough slab table, and made hot coffee. Their bowed heads were grace enough. Granny could make coffee.
And here was Grandfather, unbent with age—he kept himself straight carrying timber—but with hair and frill beard getting dusty very fast. Square and strong of face, with chin, mouth, and cheeks clean shaven to the world. (His razor had wakened me that morning, like an early-style stripping machine going through a heavy crop of wheat at a little distance.)
And, hey presto! The river above Windsor; a hint of willows down in the bend, and the long unconquerable mountains above; back to the left, up-river, a row of poplars against the skyline in a mile-distant by-lane. Homes in English style and dress, with old red brick, gable-ends, ivy; and one with the great long motherly roof coming close down to the ground on each side, like the wings of a good old hen with a big clutch of chickens. Margaret, a handsome, buxom young woman, elder sister—sister mother, in charge; wise and witty, with an instinctive knowledge of the world and its ways. Away behind the poplars the minister's place, with the nursemaid, young Harriet Wynn, a minister's daughter herself "at home"—pretty, winsome, and "demure". And Grandfather, tall, straight, strong, with thick, wavy, black hair. He might have said, in all seriousness, that he was something to look at then. Aunt Bess used to tell me, as a boy, that he "looked like a Greek god" in his young days; and I wondered where she had seen a Greek god, for Uncle-by-marriage-Mack wasn't one (going by what I'd seen in some old book decorations)—unless Greek gods were short and sandy, and bow-legged from much riding, and walked like a hen, and had the "drought peer", and had their hair blown off in many nor'-wester dust storms on the overland route. No, Uncle Mack was a grand chap and a king of drovers, but I'd seen him in swimming, and Uncle Mack wasn't any Greek god.
"Howsomenever," said Grandfather, "wheer was I? You're always int'ruptin'."
I hadn't interrupted, unless it was by the thinking, but I said nothing, fearing a trap.
"Howsomenever. Next Saturday I come home from the saw-pit as tired an' happy, an' proud as two dogs that had followed their master ridin' home all day, and chased every kangaroo rat a mile off the track, and caught a native cat in a holler log at last an' spoiled the skin by pulling the cat in halves. We'd put in a good week's work. Abel was out with the timber-trucks, and I'd been in the pit all the morning with a bag over me head to keep the sawdust off, fer Bill was top-sawyer and he had a touch of sandy blight an' couldn't take his shift below.
"I went home an' got towel an' soap and some clean things, an' had a dip in the swimmin' hole, way down amongst the willers. All the young fellers round used to swim an' scrub themselves an' dress there on Sunday mornin's for chapel—or some other devilment amongst the girls. When I went in to dinner, Margaret says:
"'Someone's cleanin' up early this week, I notice, Harry.'
"'You mind yer own P's and Q's, Margaret,' I said. (She was shelling peas for Sunday.) I'm goin' into Penrith this arternoon to see what's on. There's a kick-up of some sort there. D'yer expect a young feller to be allers slave-slavin' an' worritin', an' list'nin' to wimmin's clack an' Father's growlin'? Ain't a man to have any pleasure at all?'
"Margaret said nothing, but got me my dinner an' went on shellin' peas. After dinner I took a turn out of the sofa, and had a grand rest an' smoke, expectin' Margaret to say something about them clothes—but she didn't. She could take her time, could your Great-aunt Margaret, when she wanted to get at something, or do something.
"Presently I got up an' went to finish tidying meself. 'Margaret!' I shouted, from the skillion.
"'Yes, Harry,' she said, as meek as mild.
"If you've got anything to take to Mother you'd better get it ready quick. I don't want to waste the whole arternoon. (I'd twigged the basket of clothes ready on the big kitchen dresser.)
"'O-o-h! Will you take them, Harry?' she said. 'I didn't like to ask you after doin' it last Saturday.'
"'Oh come, I'll take 'em!' I said. 'Haven't I told you so half-a-dozen times? How many more times do you want me to tell yer?'
"'But, you know, Harry,' she says (see how a woman hangs on to a thing), 'but, yer know, Harry,' she said, 'you spoilt your last Saturday half holiday.'
"'Hang last Saturday!' I shouted, It hain't this Saturday, is it? Haven't I yelled at yer a hundred times that I'm goin' to Penrith, an' it's only a step up a lane outer me way?'
"'But Abel's goin' to ride in on his mare just as soon as he comes down from the mountain—an' Bill's goin' in, too, later on, on the colt,' said Margaret, still hangin' on, woman-like, 'an' either of 'em could take the basket in easy on the horse in front of 'em, and save you the trouble.'
"'Hang Abel!!' I shouted. 'He'll be tireder than me, an' the mare too. Haven't I told you a dozen times I gotter get me 'at an' take back the parson's?'
"'Bill or Abel could do that,' said Margaret, quiet like.
"'An' me go in in me old 'un!' I yelled. 'An' them at the parson's thinkin' I was too shamefaced to face 'em. Get them clothes ready quick or I won't take 'em at all.'
"'They're all ready, Harry,' says Margaret, soft and meek-like, 'an' the minister's hat too.'
"Then I squinted through a crack and seen me sister Margaret laughin' on the quiet to herself over the peas. Yes, she was awfully tickled about somethin'; and I knowed I was bein' had all the time.
"No: I wasn't jealous of me own brothers already," says Grandfather, looking at me narrowly out of the corners of his eyes, "as you're thinkin', Henery," (I didn't protest) "only I knowed Bill and Abel.
"Besides, they'd been pokin' it at me all the week about the parson's hat; and I hearn 'em talkin' about the pretty girl at the minister's, and Harry, in their skillion one night; so they wanted a lesson. I didn't want 'em hangin' round the parson's place when I wasn't there to take keer on 'em—or any other time jist now, for that matter, interruptin' me. At first I thought of lettin' Bill's colt out of the yard by accident—it was hard to ketch—an' so save him the trouble of goin' to Penrith at all. He wanted rest, anyways, an' besides, the night air was bad for his eyes. But we three brothers didn't play no tricks like that on each other; so I went into their skillion and borrowed Abel's best hat because it suited me better'n Bill's. Bill's was a bit tight. I seen Abel comin' down the mount'in with the bullocks, an' expected Bill at any minute; so I histed the baskit an' started to start. The parson's hat was on top, well brushed an' done up in brown paper—an' brown paper was skeerce round our place in them days.
"Jist as I was goin', Margaret says: 'Harry!' says she, 'if you happen to see Harriet, remind her of her promise to come over. Tell her I've been expectin' her ever since I was there last.'
"'There yer go agen!' I says, 'expectin' me to go carryin' messages and clack-clackin' round amongst a parsil o' girls! Alright! Now are yer satisfied?' an' off I goes.
"I seemed to get to the parson's long before I was ready," said Grandfather. "But I wasn't the first," he reflected, looking at the fire, "an' I mightn't be the last," he continued, with a side squint at me. "I seemed to get there before I started—in a dream like. (Some goes in a nightmare.) Howsomenever, I put the baskit down, very quietly, inside the gate, an' looked round for somethin' to mend, an' presently I seen a back gate wanted attendin' to; and then I was satisfied. So I took up the baskit an' went to the kitchen door, an' there was Harriet. She seemed half expectin' to see me—p'r'aps she saw me comin' along the road through the side window; it was open, now I come to think of it. They was hinged windows they had in them days, that opened sideways and outwards, with vines and roses round 'em," reflected Grandfather; "Not the la-di-dah, barefaced go-up-an'-down windows they have nowadays. Howsomenever—She seemed to have her best bib-an'-tucker on, now I come to look at her; an' she was lookin' as pretty as she was an' that's sayin' a lot. Fresh as the flowers o' May, as Mother used to say. She seemed a bit flushed and flustered, too, an' that gave me more strength, so to speak. I was all on a sudden a lot more stiddy on me pins than I was the last time.
"'Oh! Mr Albury!' says Harriet, I'm glad you come—Mother was expectin' you.' (She didn't say she was.) 'Come in an' put the basket down, anywheres. An' sit down. You must be tired after your day's work and walk.'
"'Thank you, Miss,' I said, 'but I ain't a bit tired. I bin on'y loafin' round all the mornin'.' An' I put the baskit down in one corner, steady, an' took off me hat. I took the parson's hat off the top of the clothes an' handed it to her without droppin' it or makin' a bungle between the two. It was quite a bit of sleight o' hand.
"'I had to call an' bring Mr Kinghorn's hat,' I said, 'seein' that none of the others had the sense to send it, or bring it. An' apologise,' I said, 'an' hassertain if Mr Kinghorn was anyways annoyed or inconvenienced.' Kinghorn was the parson's name—an' he was a Man, by the way.
"'No; not at all,' she said. 'Mr Kinghorn only laughed when your mother told him. But I'm sorry you forgot your hat, Mr Albury. But sit down, Mr Albury. Then she looks at my hat—or rather Abel's, and then she goes on, rather quick and glad like: 'But I'm so glad you've got another good hat. It might have been inconvenient.'
"So she bustled round, very busy doin' nothin' as a woman can be.
"Presently I gets up again.
"'Yes, Miss,' I said. It would of. But I generally have two or three handy, in case of the wind and floods. I lost a good one in the river last flood time.' So I had; but I didn't tell her that the other two I had handy belonged to Abel and Bill.
"'Oh! I'm so sorry you lost that hat,' she said; 'but I'm glad you've got more, Mr Albury.'
"I looked at her but couldn't see anything. But I didn't know how much Mother'd been tellin' her about me, an' I wanted to have done with the hat subject. She looked too demure, as you'd put it.
"'But sit down, Mr Albury,' she says; 'your Mother's busy just now, but she'll be down in few minutes.'
"Presently I gets up agen.
"'Oh! you're not goin', Mr Albury,' she says, all in a flutter. 'Mother'd be down in a minit.'
"'O' course I'm not goin', Miss,' I said. 'What made you think that? But I seen a back gate that wants lookin' to and I might as well do it while I'm waitin', if so be you'll be kind enough to show me where the tool box is kept. I ain't in no particular hurry this afternoon.
"'Oh! I'm so glad,' she began, an' then she caught herself an' gasped an' blushed, an' showed me where the tools was.
"While I was mendin' that gate she took courage to come out, an' said it would be just lovely; an' it was allers a nuisance, an' Mr Kinghorn tried to mend it himself, an' I must be very clever. An' while I was talkin' to her about gates and things, and showin' her how they ought to be made an' fitted, I seen Abel ridin' past at the foot of the lane. He had on what looked like Bill's hat, in the distance; so I s'pos'd he'd borrered Bill's an' Bill got a rest for his eyes. Then we both saw Mr Kinghorn comin' up the lane in his gig, and Harriet run inside.
"But Mr Kinghorn had a new kind of duck that interested me vastly. They was called Muscovies; and they hadn't been long imported, I think—leastways, I hadn't seen any before anywheers. They was about twice as big as an ordinary Quack, ony they didn't quack; ony just gibber and whisper. I christened 'em the Gibberers. No, they couldn't talk, not even old Mrs Muscovy; they was the only females I'd seen as couldn't speak.
"I said I'd like to come and potter round a bit next Saturday and fix up things for him, and maybe run up a new fowl-shed; and he said, 'Well, Harry, it will keep you out of mischief anyhow, an' I'll be very thankful.' (You see he knew me.) He said he'd give me a pair of young Gibberers to breed from as soon as they was ready, an' that suited me down to a T.
"'An', now, Harry,' says Mr Kinghorn, 'run in an' see if Harriet can't knock you up a snack. You must be hungry; young fellows mostly are. I think I see your mother wavin' from the back door.'
"Mother showed me where to sit down. I never seen a table set so well as that before, an' I was a bit shy of it. There was some white stuff rolled up in two rings on the table, and I asked Mother what them things was.
"'They're napkins,' she says.
"Presently Harriet comes down, an' I noticed she seemed to have titivated her hair up a different way, but it ony made her prettier. She redded a bit when Mother looked at her—I saw that. I watched Mother drinkin' her tea, an' managin' her bread and butter, an' did accordin', an' finished my cup at the same time. Then Harriet put her left hand on Mother's shoulder an' says, 'Will you have another cup o' tea, Mrs Albury?' An' Mother says, 'Thank you, Harriet,' an' handed up her cup. Then Harriet put her right hand on my shoulder an' she says:
"'Will you have another cup, Mr Harry?'
"By gosh! it rattled me," said Grandfather. "It rattled the crockery too, for I upset the cup in the sarser handin' it up to her an' spilt the tea that was left. But she caught 'em from me all right an' quick, or I'd have dropped both over my shoulder. You see she had—she had—"
"Tact, Grandfather?" I ventured.
"No! Nor tacks neither!" said Grandfather. "She had—the way about her. Mother said: 'Why! Wheers your manners, Harry?' And that's what I wanted to know. They'd bolted like a flock of kangaroos at the sight of a kangaroo dog. You see, Henery, that was the first time your Grandmother ever touched me with her hand and voice.
"She touched me more than once with both—arterwards," Grandfather mused presently; "but ony when I deserved it—I wish she could do it now. But—never-mind. Wheers was I?
"If you please, Miss,' I said, over me shoulder, as soon as I got me wits together a bit; 'but ony half a cup.' So she pours out about three-quarters of a cup an' puts it down keerfully alongside me plate. I couldn't see her face; an' Mother was very intent on her tea. She seemed to be enjoying it.
"Presently I got up an' said, 'Ah well! Mother, I must be goin';' and when she'd finished givin' me a message to Margaret I turned round an' Harriet was standin' there waitin' with her hands behind her back. She looked very—demure," said Grandfather, with a quick glance at me. "I thought at first she was frightened I'd hurt her agen; but she brings one hand round an' there was my own hat in it—brushed, an' the veil fixed up, as I seen arterwards. (We wore sort o' puggeree veils in those days.)
"'Thank you very much, Miss,' I said, takin' it from her. An' then I gave her Margaret's message, in a hurry, without bunglin' much; whilst holdin' me hat very tight in both hands and lookin' round for it everywheers.
"Then I heern Mother gulpin' over her third cup o' tea, an' looked an' seen what I was a-doin' of. Then she laughed out an' said, 'What are yer lookin' for, Harry?' An' then Harriet laughed a little an' pointed to the hat in me hand, an' then I laughs an' we was all comfortable again. And I shook hands with her without hurtin' her this time; and said good-bye to Mother; an' got out 'n' started for home.
"Down near the foot of the lane I seen Abel's mare, 'Gipsy', comin' home alone along the road from Penrith with the bridle hangin' loose. She'd lost Abel somewheers, or got disgusted with the way he started carrying on. She wasn't goin' to stay with him on the spree all night, so she come home, as she'd done once or twice before. She stopped at the bottom of the lane, when she seen me, and waited for me to get on; but I didn't feel like ridin'; I wanted a walk, an' a long 'un to think happy; so I fixed up her bridle fer her an' went on ahead.
"So I walks on an' on an' on an' on, thinkin' and thinkin' as happy as Larry—You'll know what I was thinkin' about some day—I suppose it was the touch of that there gal's hand on me shoulder an' the sound of her voice half-callin' me by my Christian name. I didn't feel the ground beneath me feet I was—I was—"
"Elated, Grandfather?" I suggested.
"Alright!" said Grandfather. "E-lated(. I didn't pay fer yer edgication.) I was B-lated, too, by the way, for it was broad moonlight an' I didn't know what time it was. I didn't feel the ground, as I said—it was like a light tread-mill—but I was goin' up all the time. I walks right past the house in a dream, and about half a mile beyond when I thought I heers something behind me an' pulls up sudden.
"It was just about where Fisher's Ghost was seen last; and I thought all on a sudden of other ghosts that harnted round there. There was the ghost of a man leanin' against the fence in the moonlight with his back tords yer; and the ghost of the lamed Horse with the Trailin' Bridle whose master was murdered with a fence rail. I peered back, but couldn't see anythin' in the black moonlight shadders o' the big gum trees by the roadside; but presently I heers a haltin' step right enough, an' my own legs took me into the next stretch of moonlight in double-quick time—with no haltin' steps, I can tell you, Henery. An' sure enough a limpin' horse did come out of the shadders! But afore I threw up me heart quite, or me stummick quite froze, I seen it was 'Gipsy'.
"She'd followed me all the way at leisure and watched my carryin's on—I might 'a' been wavin' me arms an' singin' or recitin' a bit, part o' the way—or maybe practisin' a step dance; howsomenever, she'd seen me go past home, an' got anxious, an' hurried on, jerked her bridle loose in her hurry, an' that was what was trippin' her. So I waited till the old gal come up, took her nose under me arm, an' told her I was alright. An' then I got on an' she swung round contented and took me home.
"When I got home, Margaret was still up, finishin' up ready to begin agen on Sunday. She ain't done yet, your Great-aunt Margaret. She said nothin', but I was ready for her an' sed nothin' too, but stood by the fire.
"Presently she said:
"And I said, 'Well Margaret?' an' went to bed.
"An' it was not till then that it struck me, somehow, that I'd forgotten Abel's hat. It was wonderful how much mischief an innercent lookin' parson's hat could do. It nearly bust up a lifelong friendship between three livin' brothers in the mornin'. Bill had growled round a bit about his hat and then gone fishin' in the cool."
"Next Saturday I had no bother at home. Abel got home first an' went to Windsor in my hat, an' Bill got home next an' went somewheers else in his; but that didn't matter—I was workin' at the parson's now an' ony wanted clean an' decent workin' clothes. So I borrered a clean pair o' cords that Abel had ready to take timber down to Sydney on Monday in, an' Bill's goin'-to-work coat, that was better'n mine—it was summer weather, so that was all right. An' I borrered Father's workday waistcoat that he never went to work in at all, so it was pretty clean, an' nearly as good as new. But I didn't ask him, for he was asleep—restin' arter a hard week's growlin'. Besides Father was allers very touchy an' particular about his workin' clothes, an' always wanted them clean an' ready to go to work in on Monday.
"On the way to the parson's I felt like I was bein' roped in, like a two-year-old, for brandin' and breakin'; but I was very happy an' contented about it an' I didn't let the rope slacken all the way to the parson's this time."
"I was branded alright by-an'-by too," Grandfather mused, looking at the fire. He might have said that the letters were on his heart still.
"Howsomenever. We all had a comfortable afternoon. I got up the frame of the fowlhouse agenst the fence in a couple of hours, and put the roof on an' roosts in, for I was a good bush carpenter in them days. But I left the rest till next Saturday, in case things didn't hurry up, for I had some sense—even in them days.
"I didn't see Harriet about when I came in for some tea, an' I got awfully disappointed and anxious. I thought perhaps it was her comin' out an' she'd gone somewheers; but I wouldn't risk askin' Mother for the world.
"Well, jist as I was givin' it up an' feelin' sinkin', Mother said, as if she'd just remembered it: 'Oh! by-the-way, Harry; it's Harriet's day out tomorrow, an' she was thinkin' o' spendin' the day with Margaret; so I told her she must be a bit tired o' the house—she ain't had a Sunday out since the baby came—so if she liked, you'd take her along tonight, an' she'd have a chance of a longer chat with Margaret, an' Margaret 'ud fix her up in the spare room for the night.
"'Weil, Mother,' I said, arter a while, 'what did she say to that?'
"'She didn't say much,' said Mother. 'She's upstairs gettin' ready now. So you'll have to bring her back in good time tomorrow evenin', mind—that's if you've got nothin' else on. Anyways, in that case,' says Mother, I dare say one of the others would do it; so that'll be all right.'
"'Alright, Mother,' I says.
"Presently Harriet comes down all flustered up and dressed, I don't know how, in some dark stuff an' a bonnet like you see in old portraits, an' the big crinoline they wore to keep off intruders. Young fellers couldn't get so close to their girls in them days, an' it was quite right. So I took the dirty clothes—they wasn't much—an' Harriet came along with me with Mother's messages to Margaret, and Abel's hat in brown paper. I wished she hadn't taken that trouble—it would have done in the basket.
"An' so we went along down the lane an' into the road, an' it was moonlight agen." Grandfather sat silent for awhile—I knew he was looking back along those roads and lanes.
"An' what did you talk about, Grandfather?" I asked, after a decent pause.
"Hens," said Grandfather, reflectively, without changing his attitude.
"'I see, Miss Wynn,' I said, 'that hen they call yours has got all her chickens out alright,' an' that started us.
"You see, Henery," said Grandfather, "no two hens ever acts or lays or sits, or brings up their chickens exactly alike. It's the same with the animals an' things, I think; an' maybe with fishes and snakes. Male, female, or neuter (it's the same with trees and plants) no two things o' the same kind an' gender ever acts prezactly alike. There's as much—as much—"
"Difference!" said Grandfather decidedly; and I saw that another la-di-dah word had missed fire. "There's as much difference between 'em as there is between human bein's. Miss Harriet had noticed it with hens; but the parson hadn't. He seemed more interested in me noticin' it when I spoke to him about it."
"And what did Harriet have to say to all this?"
"She wasn't Harriet yet," said Grandfather reprovingly. "She might 'a' been, though, in these—howsomenever, she said, 'Yes, Mr Albury' an' 'No, Mr Albury', an' she'd noticed that herself, and she seemed to listen very respectfully to all I said. She was about the first that did.
"Then we got talkin' of the timber birds, and things round there, just like a new brother an' sister talkin' contented an' interested of the things that was round us. I hurried her on, for the wrong clouds were comin' up, an' I knowed Hawkesbury weather. The first drops fell afore we got home; an' Margaret took charge of Harriet an' her bonnet just as if she was a big child—an' so she was; come to think of it.
"We all got cosy and comfortable round the fire, the more so because it rained heavens hard and it was a cold rain. Even Father lost his growl an' told some yarns, as he could tell 'em; and when I went to bed I felt more happy and contented an' satisfied than I'd ever been in my life afore. An', bein' abed," reflected Grandfather, after a think, "did you ever hear how I come to swear at your Grandmother for the first time? I s'pose you have—I never heered the last on it.
"Howsomenever, next mornin' it fined up, an' Margaret packed us off to chapel in Windsor (and Father found his growl—about his workin' weskit—an' went in the gig somewheers); but Harriet would stay an' help Margaret with the dinner. She seemed happy there, an' freer, an' seemed to like some of our happy-go-lucky ways.
"At dinner time I noticed one or two more young fellers than usual hangin' round our place. They stayed to dinner, of course—there was allers plenty for everybody. Arter dinner I kept 'em away from about the kitchen with my yarns.
"'I see ye're doin' some work for the parson, Harry,' one on 'em remarks to the Blue Mountains, scratching behind his ear like a cross between a donkey an' a cockatoo. The Blue Mountains said nothin' an neither did I.
"'Is that so?' said another. 'How much are yer gettin' the ararternoon—Harry—five bob?'
"'Mor'n that,' I said.
"'Mor'n that!' I said. He shied then. Thought I was leadin' him on to a slippery bridge.
"An' that was all. Abel had said, to Nobody At All at breakfast that morning, that he'd heerd that the parson's housemaid was a judge o' gates, and that it was unusual in a new chum. But the girl was in the house now; an' there was no jokin' about her. That's the sort of young fellers there was in them days.
"Arter dinner we had a row on the river in the two boats; but Harriet kept clcloseo Margaret while Abel and Bill and the others did the pulling and I fished an' saw to things generally; an', arter tea, Margaret said, 'You'd better take Harriet away along home now, or Mother'll be gettin' anxious.' While Harriet was gettin' ready, Joe Buckman—Margaret's boy—came ridin' past from Penrith, an' stopped to say something to Margaret, an' I heerd Margaret say that she was glad Father had took the gig, and that the big galoot would have to help her over the crick now; but I didn't know what she meant till Harriet 'an me got to a little cross crick about half way to the parson's. Last night's rain had swelled it, and the steppin' stones was awash even now. I don't know how it happened, but we got no time to argy. I just ketched her up round the waist, and splashed right through with her, in spite o' the crinoline—it went all to the other side, anyhow. By gum, but my knees nearly give at the feel of her, and my heart was thumpin' by the time I got acrost as if I'd carried a bullock over; an' she was light as a feather to me. An' she was pantin' too, when I set her down, as if she'd carried me over. There was a big dry white log on the bank in the moonlight.
"'Oh! Mr Albury,' she said. I do feel so giddy. Do let us sit down on that log for a minute; I feel quite faint!'
"I'm afraid you muster been frightened, Miss Wynn,' I said, sitting down an' puttin' my arm round her shoulders to steady her in case she fainted off the log. I'm afraid I was too sudden.
"'Oh, no! not at all,' she said, though she didn't mean it that way. I'll be all right directly, Mr Albury—I don't know what came over me.'
"I kept stiddyin' her.
"Arter a while she gave a sort o' sigh, an' she said, I'm all right now, Mr Albury, thank you. I don't know what could have come over me. I think we'd best go on now. Your mother'll be waitin' up.'
"So I helped her up and took her along the road."
"Still steadying her, Grandfather?" I said.
"Never you mind," said Grandfather. "I had to keep her out of the puddles in the shadders. Presently, when we got in sight of the house, I said:
"'Ah well! It's a lonely world, Miss Wynn.'
"'It is, Mr Albury,' she said.
"I waited, and presently she asked,
"'Do you feel lonely, Mr Albury?'
"I do, Miss Wynn,' I said, an' presently I said, 'Do you ever feel lonely, Miss Wynn?' "'Yes,' she says, I do, very much, sometimes.'
"Then I said, 'Well! Are yer satisfied then?' And she said, 'Perfectly, Mr Albury.' An' that settled it.
"An' now, Henery," said Grandfather, sittin' up an' stretching himself, "it's about time those young shavers turned up; an' besides, we've been maggin' enough, Lord knows, for one night. Jist put the billies on the coals, will you?"
"Grandfather," I said, sternly, "d'ye mean to say the story's finished?"
"Yes. What else?"
"Do you mean to tell me that's how you proposed?"
"Marriage, of course—to Harriet!"
"Marriage yer Grandmother!" said Grandfather. "We didn't go a-courtin' in that way in my time. Courtin' came a-courtin' us. I tell you I only proposed keepin' company with Harriet an' I hassertained if she was willin'."
"But didn't you kiss her, Grandfather?"
"No, I did not! We didn't go huggin' an muggin' on sight in them days."
"And you had your arm round her waist all the time, 'steadying her', as you call it."
"You thund'rin' jumpt-up fool, how could I? You saw your Grandmother an' she hadn't grow'd since. I tell yer I had me arm round her shoulders! Put the billy on the coals." But presently Grandfather relented.
"Listen here, Henery—is it your courtship or mine?"
"Yours of course, Grandfather."
"Did you ever court your Granny except for lolly money, or to be let stay at her place?"
"Well, maybe. I beg pardon, Grandfather."
"Then don't interrupt agen, an' don't hurry me. I'm gettin' old—tho' I'll see close on the hundred, and that's more'n some of you will.
"Howsomenever. We went on to the parson's gate; but I wouldn't go in. I seen a light in the kitchen winder an' knowed Mother was up and about, but I said goodbye an' Harriet run inside quick and I started back home. But I hadn't gone a dozen yards down the lane when I heers Mother callin':
"'Harry! You! Harry!'
"So I goes back.
"'What are yer rennin' off like that for?' said Mother. 'Been misbehavin' yerself?'
"I thought you was in bed, Mother,' I said.
"'Then thought's your master agen,' says she. 'Come in an' dry yer feet.'
"So I slips off my boots on the verandah and went in. There was a good fire. Harriet had gone up to take off some of her armour.
"Presently Mr Kinghorn comes into the passage. He must have overheerd something. "'Better give Harry a dry pair o' socks er mine, Mrs Albury,' he says, 'and a spare pair o' dry boots of any o' mine that'll fit him. They might, since me hat does.'
"Next minute Harriet comes down, all practical, with socks, an' went to hunt up a pair of boots while I changed 'em. It's allers that way. When a girl gets a man's heart she starts to look arter the rest o' him straight away. I noticed her clingin' an' hoverin' round Mother a good deal more than usual. Now I wonder," reflected Grandfather, "if them two was in collision all the time?"
"I think they all were, Grandfather," I said (he meant collusion), "I could have betted on Great-aunt Margaret, anyhow."
"Anyways," concluded Grandfather, "when I was goin' Mother said: 'You'd best see that big galoot safe out the gate, Harriet, or he'll forget to shut it; and Harriet did as she was told."
"And then it happened, Grandfather?"
"Well, I s'pose it did. You ought to know," in a loud voice: "I know all about you and the baker's daughter down by the Gatehouse night afore last."
I was dumb with surprise. It was such a very close guess.
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