an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Tales Of The Dandenongs
Author: James Hume-Cook
eBook No.: 2100371h.html
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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1. - Nellie Moir
2. - Dingo! Detective
3. - Piccolo Pete
4. - The Professor
5. - Jacko Strikes
6. - My Parramatta
To The Recipient—
The following “Tales” were written in leisure hours during the last ten years. They constitute one half of a series, the other stories being as yet unpublished.
No copies of this booklet will be offered for sale, the whole edition having been reserved for distribution amongst friends.
In sending the “Tales” for your acceptance, the writer hopes that reading them may prove a pleasure, and stimulate—in those who do not know the Dandenongs—a desire to see those glorious hills. If any reader cares to express an opinion, it would be regarded as a favour to receive a letter saying which of the Tales was liked best.
WHERE does romance begin? Does it commence with the first meeting of the maid and the man, or in some other way? Who knows! When an official of Australia House, London, persuaded Nellie Moir that she would find plenty of employment in Melbourne—and maybe a husband—was he in any way responsible for what followed? Or was it the word “husband” that led her to leave her place at the Piccadilly Hotel and come to Australia? Who knows!
Nellie was Scotch. Her soft brown hair, rosy cheeks and bonny blue eyes were symbolical of her race. She was born in a quiet little village in Forfarshire. Like many such places in Scotland, its residents were intensely patriotic, and, when the World War started every man deemed it his duty to offer his services to his King and country. Like some other villages also— when the great adventure was over—not a marriageable man was left alive to return to his people. Her father, who was just 40 years of age, was killed at Pozieres, and her sweetheart, Ronald Ross, at a later stage lost his life somewhere near Amiens. Those were sad and sorrowful days for the widows and relatives of the brave and loyal Scots.
When the news of her lover’s death reached Nellie Moir she was—for a while—utterly broken-hearted. Her little haven was desolate, and she felt that hope and happiness had for ever passed away. But it is not in nature that youth should mourn for any length of time, and when she realised that she must now make her own way in life she rallied her forces and soon came to a decision as to what she should do. The War was still raging. If London could not find her work to do there was surely a place for her in one of the munition factories. And so it came about that, on her eighteenth birthday, she bade her mother and friends good-bye and set out for the great metropolis, where, as she had anticipated, she almost immediately obtained a lucrative position in an hotel.
In her new position Nellie found life very different from what it had been in the old home in Scotland. The comparative freedom and gaiety that she had previously enjoyed were changed for closer confinement and a round of work that moved with the clock. The hotel atmosphere, also, was strange and unfamiliar. It took her some time to adjust herself to the necessary routine, and to behave more like a machine than a human being.
Fortunately, throughout the daylight hours she was too busy to think about her lot. After the day’s work was done, however, and more especially on her “night off,” Nellie was often lonely and felt the need of friends. True, there were some “nice folk” amongst the staff of the hotel, but none of them quite filled the place of any of those she had left “at home.” Thrust upon her own resources she found a great amount of pleasure in reading and re-reading the loving letters that Ronald Ross had written her when he was away at the War. In them there were many references to his “Aussie” friend, “Jack Blair from Dandenong, near Melbourne.” From all that was said of him it would seem that “Jack was a real man and a brither.” Moreover, he “was leal and true,” and, when they could “get awa’ thegither,” it was Ronald’s firm intention to “bring him up to Scotland.” But Fate decreed that they should go elsewhere together, and, side by side, they now rest in a little cemetery not far from where they fell.
After spending about two years in the service of the hotel, Nellie became restless. She was just over twenty years of age, and being endowed with an active mind as well as a healthy body, a desire for change—for new experiences, for adventure—permeated her whole being. This surging urge had been prompted—or at least stimulated—by the frequent reading of her dead lover’s letters. Ronald so often mentioned his friend, and the place from which he came, that Nellie conceived the idea of learning something about Australia, and Dandenong in particular. “Dandenong, Dandenong, Dandenong.” The repeated word was like a peal of bells. It made music in her ears. But what was it like? Ronald had said that “it was close to the hills.” Maybe they were like the Scottish hills. How could she find out? Well, it was not long before she learned that Australia House was the place at which the information could be obtained, and, as the War was over, there she went, not once, but several times. Truth to tell, as the result of her first pleasant experience she rather liked talking to the courteous officer who had answered her initial inquiries. He was quite a mine of knowledge. None of her questions puzzled him; all her doubts and fears were skilfully swept away—and, better still, his oft reiterated remark about Australia being “a young land for young people” somehow put hope into her heart, and she eventually resolved to put the matter to the test.
On reaching Melbourne, she quickly found her bearings, and, after a few days spent in sightseeing, began to make inquiries as to securing a position at Dandenong. But the registry offices declared that there were no immediate vacancies there, and not caring to wait indefinitely, she accepted the offer of a situation at Healesville. In coming to this decision she was more or less swayed by being told—quite incorrectly—that that township was not far from Dandenong. If she so desired, therefore, there would be no great difficulty in paying a visit to the latter place at any time she chose, This was a state of affairs not altogether out of accord with her plans, for, apart from other reasons, she thought to find some of Jack Blair’s relatives, and, as she hoped, so secure some real friends. As a fact, she did make one such visit, only to find how hopeless was the search for the Blair family in the limited time at her disposal.
The post that Nellie Moir had taken was that of waitress at the leading hotel. In some respects the work was not unlike that to which she had been accustomed in London, The difference was in the people she served, and this applied not merely to the residential guests, but to casual visitors. In the Piccadilly establishment the persons upon whom she waited treated her as a piece of machinery; an automaton. At no time was she ever regarded or addressed as a human being; and whether she was handsome or ill-favoured counted for nothing. All that mattered was her efficiency.
At Healesville it came as a shock to her that she should be called by her Christian name, and that sometimes observations would be made to her about things other than the items on the menu card. It was also a matter for surprise that she should be asked how long was it since she left Scotland; did she like Australia; had she found a sweetheart yet, and other queries of a more or less personal nature. At first she was slow to answer and very reserved. But after a time—as the happy outcome of a good deal of pleasant bantering — the readiness of her replies, and the quaint manner of expressing her thoughts, delighted all her hearers. Little wonder, therefore, that within a very few months half the eligible bachelors of the township were at her feet. From the baker to the billiard marker, and from the postman to the policemen, all fell in love with “Nell,” as she was now called.
And very soon, too—though none as yet knew it—her heart was in the hills. Perhaps it was that, being Scotch, a dweller in the hills had naturally captivated her fancy. But, be that as it may, she also loved them on their own account. And well she might. Life knows no lethargy there. There is always something doing in the hills. Amid the hills the human heart beats stronger and the mind is more alert. Though they seem to brood—to doze—they are none the less awake to all that matters. From every peak and shoulder there is to be seen another view, and, to those that have eyes to see and ears to hear, there is much more to be noted than can be imagined. Their variety is measureless. Within their depths and on their heights it is the unexpected that always happens. Surprise lurks everywhere, and there is no manner of man who cannot be taken unawares!
By comparison the plains are asleep. Where there is action it appears to be listless—slow—observable—avoidable! The cattle and the sheep, aye, even the people, seem to move leisurely, as if time were valueless. But in the hills love and hate and tragedy are swift—unforseen—unavoidable! And for Nellie Moir—who was later on to live at Badger’s Creek— they held in store a time of trial which was not to be without a due reward.
* * * * * * *
The baker was making his usual round, There was nothing strange about the proceeding, but, in this case, the baker himself was delivering the bread, and not the driver of a baker’s cart. The two-fold business of baking the bread and then carrying the loaves round to consumers is not common; but in country districts, where the customers are limited in number, it sometimes has to be done. In such circumstances the owner of the bakery and those who buy his bread are quite frequently on the friendliest terms with each other. Such an interchange as follows may therefore be easily understood:
“Morning, Don! . . . Two, please.”
“Bakers’ holiday, to-morrow? No more bread till Friday!”
“Make it three, then! If we run short I can bake some scones!”
“Righto! There they are! . . . Where’s the kiddie?”
“She’s down on the flat with Pat!”
“More ‘pitaties,’ I suppose? Pat’s a whale on spuds! Seems to me he’s always on that flat!”
“Well! It pays! Besides, he’s Irish, and he just loves plantin’ pitaties!”
“Yes! I know! . . By the way, the fires is pretty bad on the other side of the hill. Better watch out for a change of wind. If it comes over the fire’ll run down this gully faster than a frightened racehorse!”
“That’s what Pal thinks! He’s a bit anxious about it. Only this morning he warned me to call to him if the wind changed, or if I smelt smoke or saw the slightest sign of fire!”
“And so he ought to be nervous about it! Also, if I was him I’d get rid o’ that dead tree there! . . .No! I’ll say no more! I know you like to see it when it’s covered with sarsaparilla flowers, but it’s dangerous all the same! So long. See you Friday!”
“Good-bye. Don! I’ll keep little Mary with me on Friday so that ye can see her!”
* * * * * * *
Four years prior to the conversation just recorded Donald McIvor, the baker, had asked Nellie Moir, the waitress at the hotel, to marry him. They had been friends from the day she came to Healesville, and he had courted her in his own diffident way. On the occasion indicated — out walking — they had paused beside a giant gum, and there, beneath the shadow of its branches—whilst round about them all the world seemed silvered into stillness by the magic of the moon—Donald put his question.
“No, Don!” she had replied, “I canna be your wife! I like you well. You are ma best friend! But I’m in love with Patrick Heron, and I’ll wed him whenever he wishes.”
Donald was astonished. No hint of such a possibility had ever crossed his mind. He knew Heron well; a fine upstanding, ready-witted fellow full of fun and laughter, and a favourite with everybody But a rival for Nell! That was the last thought to have entered his head, for, as far as he knew, there was nothing whatever between them. In his bewilderment at the unexpected declaration he was almost speechless. All he could say was, “Has he asked you to marry him?”
“No. But he will!” she replied, “And when he does I’ll just say yes!”
“But, Nell, dear, he’s Irish! And you a Protestant! It’s all against your upbringing. How can you do such a thing?”
“A woman’ll do anything for love, Don. And every little bit of me’s in love with Pat. I’d go through fire and water for him, Don. I love him with all my heart!”
For a moment or two Don was silent—dumb. He had played his trump card in appealing to her religious feelings, for, as he had previously discovered, they were fairly strong. He realised at once that there was no other argument he could employ to persuade her out of her resolve. Her words and tone were alike final. His fate was sealed, and he knew it. But his love was greater than his disappointment, and, as he gently took her hand in his, he gravely said, “I hope you’ll be happy with him! Very happy! As for me, I want no one else but you, nor ever will.”
And then a very unexpected thing happened. Although they had never indulged in any endearments, to Don’s surprise she took his face in her hands and warmly kissed him on the lips. The next instant she was gone. But for many a day thereafter the memory of that kiss was a salve to the wound that was hidden in Don’s aching heart.
* * * * * * *
As Donald McIvor had said, the bush was on fire on the other side of the hill from Badger’s Creek. He also knew— though he had not mentioned it to Mrs. Heron—that in spite of strenuous efforts to beat it out the fire fighters had not succeeded in getting it under control. His perturbation of mind was, therefore, greater than could be gathered from his seemingly casual remarks, for, on one well-remembered occasion, he had personally experienced the terrifying and cruel effects of such a conflagration. Only too well he understood and feared the devastating results that might follow from a change of wind, a change which far too often took place before another came, bringing with it the one sure cure for a bush fire—a copious fall of rain.
In the circumstances it was little wonder that Donald McIvor’s senses were keenly alert—even in sleep. So it was that, the morning after leaving the bread at Mrs. Heron’s— before he was properly awake—the pungent smell of burning gum leaves entered his nostrils and woke him with a start. Out of bed he leaped, feeling certain that Badger’s Creek, if not already attacked, was bound to be swept sooner or later, and, whilst dressing as quickly as possible, turned his thoughts to what he must do.
All anxiety for Nell and her little girl—whom he adored —with almost frantic haste he rushed to the stable to saddle his horse. To drive, he knew, would be far too slow, and might even be impossible. There was no time to waste. The utmost speed was required or he might be too late: so, pausing only to saturate a couple of flour bags with water, off he raced upon his self-imposed task.
It was just as he had feared. Fanned by a rising wind the fire was heading in the direction of the creek. From tree to tree the flames leapt on, whilst underneath a hundred twisting. snake-like fires were treacherously and swiftly biting their way through the undergrowth.
In several places, as Don rode on, he glimpsed a scene in which husband, wife and children were grimly fighting to save their little home. His feelings were torn at the imminence of their loss! Yet he dared not stop, for over at Pat’s place the situation might be infinitely worse. So on he kept!
On arrival the sight that met his eyes was appalling. By some inscrutable decree of fate the dead tree had fallen, pinning Pat to the ground. It had crashed down, just as he was running past to join Nell in beating out some wisps of flame that had caught a few tufts of grass a yard or two away. Beside it now, using an axe as best she could, she was striving to lop off the dead arms that, unbroken by the fall, prevented her from rolling the trunk off her husband. Her clothes were burnt and torn; her face was streaming with perspiration; and, in no fit state for such unusual work, between fear and over-exertion her strength was almost spent.
In a flash Don sprang from his horse and turned its head for home. The next instant, it seemed, he had dashed through the gate—had taken the axe from Nell’s nerveless hands, and— with a short command to look after Mary, who was wrapped in a wet shawl to prevent a spark setting fire to her clothes— started swinging the axe to some purpose. From the extra pain which the jars from the blows caused him, Pat fainted: but in a few minutes he was free. The briefest examination then showed that he was so badly injured as to be utterly helpless.
“We must make him a stretcher!” said Don. “Bring out your rugs and blankets!” And whilst Nell ran to get them he quickly cut a couple of stout saplings, and tearing down the clothes line knotted it from one side to the other in a kind of rough net.
On returning, Nell instantly set about making the improvised stretcher as comfortable as possible, a pillow being added for Pat’s head to rest upon. They then tenderly lifted and laid him thereon, and, placing Mary at his feet, raised their precious freight, and so set out for Healesville.
The way was long, the heat terriffic, and the noise and smoke bewildering. Branches broke and trees crashed. The road was littered with hot and feet-entangling debris. A hundred times they escaped disaster as by a miracle. Despite the need for haste, they were frequently compelled to put their burden down, not only to rest themselves, but to temporarily ease the excruciating pain which the inescapable jolting caused the injured man. On one such occasion a burning limb from a long dead monarch of the bush suddenly snapped and came hurtling down. Don caught it just as it would have struck Nell upon the head. He flung it from him instantly, but not before it had left its searing mark upon his already scorched and bleeding hands. So unexpected was the fall and with such swiftness did it take place, that she had not had time to move. None the less, she saw what Don did, and the grateful flash in her eyes was to him abundant thanks.
As they made their way through the thicker part of the bush upon the higher ground, the smoke and heat became so much more stifling that Heron gasped and struggled for breath. His involuntary efforts caused him the most agonising pain, and he could not withhold a terrifying moan. The sound was so alarming that Nell instantly called upon Don to set their burden down in order that she might see what was the matter with her husband. She feared she knew not what, and her heart almost ceased to beat. But he was still alive, and to lighten his heavy breathing she ripped away a portion of her dress and used it as a fan. The effect was good, for it not only gave him lighter air, but it also served to cool his face.
And Don, though impatient to be moving on for fear of something worse ahead, also gave attention to the injured man’s condition. He first eased his head. Then, taking off his coat, he converted it into a cushion and placed it beneath Heron’s back, hoping to minimise the pain he was bound to suffer as they bore him along. These things quickly done, on again they went, and, always, as the road grew harder to negotiate, Don changed ends. Going up hill he was behind— down hill in front. At the corners he almost bore the whole of the weight upon his lowered hands. On stepping over fallen logs he did the same thing. He was as careful of Nell as he was of her stricken husband, and well she knew it. But that was not the time or place to thank him for his actions. There was but one thing to do—to go on through the fires, desperately fighting every foot of the way!
What a struggle it was. Parched with thirst, their lips blackened and dry, their garments half gone, their arms stiff with the strain of carrying their load, they stumbled and strove towards their goal. But ere they reached the township, burnt and blistered, almost blinded by the heat and smoke, and inexpressibly weary, willing workers flew to their aid. The fight was won!
* * * * * * *
The doctor found that Pat’s back was broken.
That night he died.
* * * * * * *
Five months later Nellie’s second baby was born. When he was but a week old Don, worshipfully kneeling beside her bed. looked from the child to the mother and said. “What are you going to call him?”
“Donald!” she replied.
“Patrick!” he added.
“McIvor!” she concluded, blushing. “For when you ask me to marry you, Don, I’ll not say no!”
And once more Nellie took Donald’s face in her hands, but this time—after she had fervently kissed him, her arms went round his neck, and, as his head lay upon her bosom she softly whispered, “I don’t deserve you, Don! But you’re a good man, leal and brave and true. And although I refused you once I feel that you still love me, and I know now that I love you!”
DINGO is a dog! He is a long-bodied, dog with what may be described as “rangey” legs,—like those of a young colt! In his movements he is apt to be erratic and awkward. Being also very strong, should he bump against one’s legs—as he has been known to do—it is rather difficult to avoid a fall. His hair is roughly curled and of a somewhat reddish hue. In short, he is “a sort of an Airedale” with a pair of eyes the color of golden wallflowers. No kindlier eyes ever looked out of any dog’s head since the world began! If Dingo could speak, there are many things he would say to correct the foolish ideas of humans about things a dog understands much better than they do. But as he cannot express his thoughts they have to be interpreted according to the intelligence of his interpreters. Children—two in particular—and women—especially those that are a little frail—most readily understand him! And he likes to be understood!
Dingo, who is almost a law unto himself, “took up his residence” at the little home of Davy Baird up above Belgrave. But he does not “belong” to Davy; he “belongs” to nobody but himself! Davy might have owned him body and soul had he not made a stupid and unforgiveable mistake at the start. The blunder was of such a nature that it has left him in the position of an acquaintance rather than a friend. True, he is now a well-known—and even a respected acquaintance: but that is all! The reason is simple. When Dingo, as a puppy, somehow found his way to Davy’s house, Davy and his little daughter, Mary, were playing a childish game whilst they were waiting for “Mother” to call them to tea. The game was just about finished, when Dingo arrived. Davy caught sight of him first, and, in a way that was intended to be half humorous he said:—“Why, Mary, here’s a little Dingo come to play with you!” But Dingo knew himself for a better bred animal than that, and, very much offended, and possibly frightened, would have run away had not Mary swept him into her arms and cuddled him to her breast. She called him “pretty doggy,” and nuzzled him with her cheek. And she took him into the house to show him to her mother and baby Ben; and petted him and fed him with milk and made him a bed out of an old “woolly.” And that is how he came to be a permanent boarder at Davy Baird’s!
All these things happened just over three years ago. Mary is now eight years old, and Ben, who was only a very little fellow then, is a sturdy boy of six. As previously explained, Davy and Dingo have become very well known to each other, but the former has no real influence with the latter. Dogs have long memories, and Dingo still regards the name that was given him as unsuitable and undignified. He would much rather have been called Bruce or Scott—or even Mac—and so, for Davy, who gave him this unloved name, he has only respectful attention. With Mary he is entirely different. She is his queen. Her commands, with very few exceptions, he implicitly obeys. When he fails to do her bidding, which is seldom, the pitying look in his eyes seems to say:—“I wish you knew as much as I know. If you did, you wouldn’t ask me to do such a silly thing. I’m sorry to cross your wishes, but I do so in your own interest.”
In a minor way. Ben shares in the sort of homage that Dingo pays to Mary. Maybe he understands—in the way a dog does—that Ben, according to his father, is heir to the Baird Estate, and therefore entitled to be treated with more than ordinary respect. The “estate” consists of one acre of land, a slab house, some few sticks of furniture and the possibility of obtaining his father’s job when the latter is no longer fit for work. It should be here stated that Davy Baird is a “forest thinner.” In other words, it is his business to look out surplus or unhealthy trees and cut them down for firewood. But he is not a Gladstone keeping himself fit by muscular exercise. He is just an honest and thrifty working man who, being gifted with a befitting sense of humour, takes life as it comes, and enjoys it!
* * * * * * *
The way in which Dingo discriminates between Mary and Ben, and the degree of devotion shown to each, is easily explained. Ben gets his way when Mary is absent. When she is present his orders, commands and threats are loftily ignored. On such occasions an onlooker might think that Dingo was deaf, dumb and blind: but such a one would be mistaken. He is only then temporarily affected with paralysis of the two last-named senses, and solely because his hearing is strained to catch anything that Mary might say—were it as soft as the whisper of a whisper a mile away. All attention, her slightest wish is his supreme law,
Dingo has another peculiarity—if that’s the right word to use. He will not accompany the children to school. Once only he went there: the day that Mary started her school career. Never since then has he deemed it his duty to go far. Possibly he was aggrieved at not being admitted, or at having to wait so long for her reappearance, or at some other fancied slight! Who knows? Dogs have their pride, and, although Dingo was a slave to love, he was not the servant of old Father Time—except when it suited him. At a rabbit hole, now! But that, of course, is different—for a dog. Even at a pretended rabbit hunt, time was of no consequence. Besides, Mary and Ben both liked the game as much as he did. All one had to do was to get a rabbit skin, hide the major portion somewhere, put the remainder to Dingo’s nose, and shout, “Fetch him out!” Ah, that was sport; especially since Dingo never failed to find the skin and shake it until he was certain that the “rabbit” was dead.
Bur to return to what has been termed his “peculiarity.” Although he will not go with the children to school, he always travels with them as far as the gate; sees them through it; and then lies down for a while—his nose pointed after them as if it were a canine telescope. Now and then, the cocking of his head to one side suggests that he is intently listening to or for some sound. At other times he will rise upon his forepaws and fixedly gaze into the distance. At rare intervals he will leap to his feet and dash at full speed in the direction of the school. Observers of this action have noted, however, that on no occasion does he go the whole of the way. At the most he only proceeds far enough to give him a clear sight of his little friends, and an equally unimpeded view of whoever the stranger is that has to pass them. As before remarked, a dog understands some things very much better than humans.
Still another of his singular habits is his weekly visit to Mrs. Penny. That little lady, who “has seen better days,” and who has a muscular trouble in one of her legs that sometimes causes her to use a stick when walking—is the owner of a wayside “store.” It is a tiny place, which she keeps scrupulously clean and in good order. The stock in trade, apart from hot water—which is always on sale—is made up of such things as passing motorists or pleasure-seekers might require. Matches, tinned fruit, fresh eggs, scones—baked by herself—butter, confectionery, biscuits, soft drinks and other creature comforts. Morning or afternoon tea is always available. and—at the proper seasons—strawberries and cream and raspberries and cream. These are always served on what is called “the Verandah,” a wide, shady and roughly-floored space in front of the store. It is furnished with three little tables and some strong wooden chairs, so that in the summer time it serves its purpose very well indeed.
* * * * * * *
The “living” Mrs. Penny made was not a rich one, Nevertheless, by the sale of the things previously mentioned, together with the occasional disposal of a really beautiful piece of needlework, she did fairly well. Sunday was always her busiest day, and sometimes the takings were, for her, quite considerable. In any case it was her usual practice every Monday morning to walk down to Belgrave—not a great distance—to bank whatever was in excess of her anticipated change requirements for the ensuing week. Occasionally she transferred a little to the savings bank; there to remain against the time when she might no longer be able to conduct her business. She preferred to walk, she said, because she “liked the exercise,” although anyone that could would have given her a ride.
Well! Monday was a regular visiting day for Dingo. True, he sometimes went to see Mrs. Penny upon other days, though what prompted him to do so nobody knew. But he unfailingly called upon that lady every Monday morning. Strangely enough, he always arrived just before she was ready to leave for the bank, and, as soon as she had departed, it was his habit to sit himself down in front of the door, and there remain until she returned. Possible customers he encouraged to wait by exhibiting a friendliness that was quite unusual. But those who were not potential buyers—and he never appeared to make a mistake about their intentions—could not get so much as a foot upon the verandah floor. When Dingo’s wallflower coloured eyes became a golden red he was dangerous, and passing pickers and stealers knew it the moment they looked at him.
But not all such gentry had seen Dingo either in friendly mood or otherwise. Amongst the number who had no knowledge of him was a certain weedy specimen of humanity called Bert Walker. Because of his thin body and rat-like face, and possibly for other reasons also, his Collingwood acquaintances had named him “Rat” Walker. “Rat” had no “friends,” except, perhaps, an equally weedy female of the name of Julie Brown, familiarly called “Jule.” He and she spoke of themselves as being “great cobbers,” and they had many adventures together, mostly of a nefarious kind. But they did not devote the whole of their time to the obtaining of other folks’ goods or moneys. Not infrequently they turned their thoughts to pleasure: sometimes in company with others. Thus it was that, on a certain Sunday, they joined a number of their “pals” in a char-a-banc picnic to Belgrave.
About mid-day the party came to a halt not far from Mrs. Penny’s store. It benefited by their purchases, and they all behaved as best they could to the little woman who served them: albeit, she was a trifle flustered by their boisterous ways and by their clamouring demands for raspberries and cream. In spite of the profit she was making out of them, it was therefore a relief to her nerves when they were apparently satisfied.
At a later stage, when they were all leaving for an afternoon drive among the hills, “Rat” whispered to “Jule,” “Softest snap in the world to pinch that old girl’s cash! I’ll bet she’ll have a good bit in the till by to-morrow morning.” “Hush” Julie whispered back, and pinched his knee as a further hint to be silent. Hours later, however, as they were about leaving each other for the night, “Rat” returned to the matter and said: “There’s three or four of them little stores round the road we went to-day! If I can sneak a car early to-morrow morning — so’s to get there before they go to the bank I’ll get their stuff and give you a hell-uva-good-time after!” And Julie laughed and kissed him good-night!
By the manner in which “Jule” had said good-night to “Rat” he knew that his proposal was approved. That was a something he regarded as essential to success, for he had the greatest faith in her ability to see a weakness, or detect a flaw in any scheme he suggested for getting goods without paying for them, or obtaining money without earning it. She was very quick witted, and he relied upon her judgment to “keep him safe.”
As a result of her approval, he was astir bright and early the next day; prowling around in search of a car he could conveniently “borrow” to take him where he wanted to go. Almost any car would do, for “Rat” was really interested in, and had diligently studied, these modern travelling conveyances. In point of fact, though he was no engineer, “Rat” had made it his business to understand how to get them going, and it would have been difficult to seat him in a car that he could not drive.
To “Jule,” therefore—had she been upon the Belgrave road on Monday morning—it would have been no surprise to see him driving a strange car along that highway. But, of course, Dingo knew nothing of such matters. His was a more regular mode of life, and, seeing that it was the first day of the week, he paid his usual visit to Mrs. Penny’s store.
About 11 o’clock, according to his custom, Dingo was sitting on the store verandah. He could see Mrs. Penny plodding along some two hundred yards down the road. Presently a single-seater car came racing past her. It pulled up instantly, and out leapt “Rat” Walker. Like a flash he turned, and, running fast, overtook Mrs. Penny and had snatched from her hand her bag, in which she was carrying her money to the bank. His action was so tough and unexpected that she lost her balance and fell to the ground, her stick shooting out of her grasp.
Whilst these things were happening Dingo was not idle. He was on the move almost before “Rat” Walker had left the car. For once he let the store take care of itself, and with incredible speed covered the distance to the motor car. He arrived the fraction of a second behind “Rat” Walker who, with his booty in his hand, was just about to step inside, having left the door open the quicker to effect his purpose. But he was just that fraction of a second too late, and before he could do as he intended Dingo had torn off a piece of his trouser leg, leaving a bleeding wound just above the ankle, The “Rat” yelled with pain and fright: but scrambling in and slamming the door after him, was off and away before Dingo could do anything more.
Dingo immediately turned his attention to Mrs. Penny. With almost human intelligence he lifted her stick in his mouth and laid it close to her hand. When she had regained her feet he waited to see which way she intended to proceed, and as she went on towards the bank he swiftly returned to his post before the door of the store.
* * * * * * *
It was Mrs. Penny’s purpose to report her loss at the police station. But this had already been done, owing to what had transpired at the school. As it chanced, one of the senior boys was on the roadside when Mrs. Penny was attacked and fell. He instantly rushed to the main door of the school and wildly shouted the news to those who were at their lessons. Amidst the greatest excitement they all left their seats and ran outside to see what was taking place. The head teacher— realising the situation at a glance—instantly returned to the building and telephoned his suspicions to Constable Malone. That worthy keeper of the peace was no less prompt. Up he came on his motor cycle as fast as it would carry him. In a few minutes he had obtained the whole story, and off he set, hoping to catch up with the thief in the motor car.
After racing ahead for rather more than a mile and a half he came upon the car stopped. It was empty, and a hasty examination showed that lack of petrol was the cause of the stoppage, it is all very well to steal a car, but a knowing thief must take care to see that the tank contains enough fuel to carry him through the venture he has in mind, or he may come to grief. In this case the breakdown certainly made it more difficult for the culprit to escape, but the query was: Which way had he gone—left or right? Constable Malone decided to go to the right, and was wrong. But it did not take him long to discover his mistake, possibly less than ten minutes. Nevertheless, he was annoyed, for even the loss of those few minutes gave the thief an extra chance of avoiding capture.
By the time he got back to the road the services of Private Detective Dingo had been engaged. It was through Bobby Smith—the boy who had been responsible for the children racing out of school—that this was done. Bobby, full of importance at having been the only one to see what had actually taken place, eagerly told how he had seen Dingo tear off a piece of the man’s trousers and drop it on the road. “The piece was nearly as big as a rabbit skin,” he added. To Mary and Ben the statement gave the same idea, and without a word they both shot away to try and find the piece of cloth. Mary was the quicker, and, having found and snatched it up, ran as fast as she was able towards Mrs. Penny’s store. Waving the trophy, as she drew nearer, she imperiously called to Dingo to come to her: but that sagacious animal—in spite of her tone, and contrary to his usual readiness to obey her commands— very reluctantly came forward. It was evident that he felt himself to be a deserter, his repeated backward glances only too clearly indicating that he was torn between love and duty.
When they met Mary put the piece of the “Rat’s” trousers to his nose, and excitedly said, “Fetch him out! Fetch him out!” But Dingo was hesitant. For a moment he was doubtful as to what he ought to do. To leave the store unprotected was bad enough; to join in a game—frank desertion. Nevertheless, when Ben arrived and encouragingly repeated the order, Dingo was unable to withstand the temptation, and, with a joyous bark, off he set full sail.
But the pace was too fast. The children could not keep up with the dog. Though supposed to be playing a game, he was more excited than usual, for he scented a human being on the piece of cloth put to his nose, and it was very difficult to get him to obey the command to “Come here, Dingo!” Twice, however, Mary was compelled to call a temporary halt, for both she and Ben feared that he would get out of sight, and they might not then know where to follow, and so would not see the end of the hunt
It was at the second stop that—returning from an unsuccessful quest—Constable Malone pulled up to know what they were doing. On being told, he declared the plan to be “good,” and, to overcome their difficulty of not being able to follow Dingo as swiftly as he desired to travel, suggested that they should ride with him. Fortunately this proposal presented no difficulties, for, as luck would have it, the sidecar in which he was wont to take his sweetheart for an outing on a Sunday had not that morning been detached.
The plan also had the advantage of adding the aid of the law to their adventure: so, having agreed, into the sidecar Mary was hurriedly lifted, and, placing Ben at her feet, the order was once more given to “Fetch him out!” And it was very soon done.
The wretched “Rat,” when he found that the stolen motor car would not go, darted into the bush. He had meant to go round by Sassafras, and thence down to Fern Tree Gully railway station. But in his anxiety to escape, and maybe from weakness due to the loss of blood from the wound which Dingo had inflicted, he badly sprained his ankle. Utterly miserable, he bound it up with his handkerchief, and was taking a brief rest at the foot of a slender tree, when Dingo came in sight. With a scream of terror—forgetful of his swollen ankle—up its stem he scrambled, and hung there desperately until Constable Malone took him in his massive arms, and would have set him on the ground. But “Rat” was so afraid of another attack from the dog that he was frantic with fear. He flung his arms about the policeman’s neck, and could not be induced to loosen his tenacious grip until positively assured by Mary that Dingo would do him no harm. Even then he insisted that the animal should be led away by the children before he would agree to be put down.
* * * * * * *
There is little more to tell. Details of the police court proceedings need not be told. It is sufficient to say that the outcome was quite satisfactory to the honest folk concerned, for “Rat” Walker was found guilty of highway robbery and sentenced to a thoroughly well deserved term of imprisonment.
What became of Julie Brown is not known. She did not appear in court, nor was her name mentioned there. It is more than probable, however, that—after the manner of her kind—she remained faithful to her associate, and would be ready and waiting to receive him on his release from gaol.
Two other prime characters in the story remain to be mentioned: Mrs. Penny and Dingo. The little lady had her bag and money returned to her, intact, and Dingo received a very fine collar by way of a reward. It was especially fashioned for and presented to him by his grateful admirer, Mrs. Penny. He knows, of course, that the collar is a badge of merit, and he is in consequence a very pleased and happy dog to be its possessor. When he has it on, especially, his eyes—that are the colour of golden wallflowers—shine with an added lustre, for on it—set in polished brass studs that look like gold— are the two words which are to him an abiding pride and joy: Dingo: “Detective.”
SOME things happen quite simply. How “Piccolo Pete” came to live at Sassafras serves to illustrate the truth of that statement. One of the guest houses of that charming health resort wanted the services of a handy man. Which house does not matter. Suffice it to say that, years afterwards, had Mr. Hughes—who was then Prime Minister—chosen to stand upon the verandah of his nearby mountain house and look in a certain direction, he could have seen it quite distinctly. It sits upon a little eminence well above the road to Olinda, but is not architecturally or otherwise distinguishable from other places of a like character.
It is more than probable, however, that not even the adjoining neighbours were in any way interested in the troubles of the particular guest house indicated. They would have enough of their own to contend against without worrying about other people’s. The one matter of moment is that for the smooth and comfortable running of the place mentioned, the proprietress required the assistance of a generally useful male. Reliable men of the kind are not easily obtainable. Moreover, employment in the city, if it can be secured, will always be accepted in preference to a position in the country. There are comparatively few men who are prepared to embrace the joys of the simple life, and fewer still who may be described as “stayers.”
These things were, of course, well known to the lady who required the type of man described. Bitter previous experiences were unforgettable. Nevertheless, something had to be done, and an advertisement was therefore inserted in two morning newspapers. One of these chanced to catch the eye of a man who was tired of Melbourne, and who, greatly to the delight of the advertiser, elected to call upon her the next day to make inquiries. He was a trifle lame, but otherwise appeared to be healthy and strong. Moreover, he looked clean and respectable. In reply to a question, he said his name was Peter Brown. He pronounced it Broon, which caused his potential employer to ask if he were Scotch.
“Aye!” he replied. “I’m a Scot and I’m not ashamed of it.”
“There’s no need to be ashamed of being a ‘Scot’,” rejoined the lady. “They’re a great race, and I’m sure you’ll suit me if you’ll take the place. Your quarters will be comfortable: the food served to you will be of the same quality as the guests receive, and your wages will be paid to you every week.”
As Peter liked the surroundings, and was satisfied that he had been told the truth, he agreed to begin his duties on the following day.
The “quarters” of which the proprietress had spoken consisted of a really cosy hut and some serviceable furnishings. The hut had originally been built to accommodate a married couple, but as such were difficult to obtain—especially without children—it had become more convenient to engage a “cook-laundress” separately. The existing occupant of that office, at the time of Peter’s arrival, had a room somewhere about the main building, and so it came to pass that Peter had a double bed and other appointments all to himself. His own contribution to the ensemble was his box, a large wooden one, about the size of a travelling trunk. To the women folk it soon became an object of mystery, for he never opened it when anyone was present, and, as he always kept it locked, the prying eyes of the two housemaids could not even get a glimpse of what it contained.
And yet there was one thing that before long everybody knew it held, and that was a musical instrument. From the very first night of his coming, after the day’s work was done, Peter sat upon the bench outside his door and played such music as all within the distance it would carry loved to hear. Many and various tunes he played, but always he concluded with the most popular song in the world, Annie Laurie. That was his masterpiece, and yet, somehow, there was a singular sadness about his playing of it that caused the more imaginative amongst his auditors to feel that it was the lament of one who had loved and lost rather than the outpouring of one who was ready to sacrifice himself for his love.
On moonlight nights in the summer-time he would wander higher up, and, at the foot of some tall tree, sit and play more wonderfully than ever. Out upon the air his music was carried to the adjacent hill and down to the valleys below. He became quite an institution, and “Piccolo Pete,” as he was now called, would have been sadly missed had he thought fit to return to the city. But, had they known his inmost mind, his listeners need have entertained no fears about his leaving Sassafras. For reasons that were centred in the circumstances of his coming he had no thought of going away. On the contrary, he had come with the full intention to stay. Besides, he was rather happier in his surroundings than he had expected to be, and that was an additional inducement to remain.
One other thing his hearers might have known had they been musicians, or had they been in personal touch with him. It was not a piccolo he played. It was a flute, a beautifully-made, silver-mounted instrument of a golden brown colour, and as smooth and polished as a mirror. Had those who enjoyed its liquid notes been more familiar with the tonal qualities of such instruments they would have been certain that the mellow music it gave forth could never have come from a piccolo. Moreover, had they known it, the sharper notes a piccolo yields would have been quite out of accord with Peter’s temperament. His was a kindly soul that would not succumb to sorrow, though softened thereby. But of that later. He shall tell his own tale in his own way at the proper time.
After some months had passed, and when a few of those interested had made his acquaintance, he was several times asked to take a part in local entertainments. Eventually, he became so popular that no programme was complete without him. With the children especially he was a prime favourite. For them he would play the negro melodies they loved, or their school marching song, or, best of all, a composition of his own called “Birds a’calling.” Of that they never tired, for in it they recognised the notes of all the birds of the bush. And so, for nearly four uninterrupted years, he did his daily work, and every night, outside if it was fine, inside if the weather was not propitious, he played his beloved Annie Laurie before he went to bed.
Towards the end of the fourth year, however, a turn in the guest house affairs was the means of bringing about a complete change in the manner of his life. Twice within the period indicated a cook-laundress had gone away and another had taken her place. Now, for the third time—and within four days of Christmas—there was to be a similar change. As the proprietress said: —
“It is enough to aggravate a saint! The demands of these people, especially before the holidays, are beyond endurance. And it isn’t as if they receive poor pay. They make and receive their own rates, and yet they have the effrontery to ask double wages over Christmas and New Year, or otherwise they will leave. Of course, they wouldn’t stay in any case. No wonder people lose their tempers at such treatment. It’s a pity the law couldn’t fine them for desertion at such a time!”
And the overwrought woman almost wept with indignation.
But if the lady of the house was worried and anxious about the matter it was of little or no moment to Peter. He was far more concerned about the success of the New Year’s eve concert that was to be held in the public hall at Olinda. On the programme for that night he was set down to play something which he had not previously attempted, and he was almost nervously desirous that he should “score a win.”
It was at mid-day that the unexpected occurred. In the usual way, having “sorted himself up,” Peter went to the kitchen to have his lunch. As he strode in the new cook was at the fire, and he did not see her face. In any case he had temporarily forgotten that there was to be another one, and he therefore would have gone straight to his place, ready to say a pleasant word when she should bring him his meal. But in a moment all was changed, for, being strange to the place and its occupants, she naturally looked up to see who had entered.
“My God! It’s Peter!” she tensely whispered; and the pan she was holding fell from her nerveless grasp.
“Annie! Ma lost Annie!” he exclaimed, and, with a joyful rush, swept her into his arms, kissed her with passionate fervour and began crooning such words of love to her as come only from the heart!
* * * * * * *
The concert at Olinda was a tremendous success. To this day it is a pleasant memory with those who were present. Truly, “Piccolo Pete” gave them something new; but it was not what he had intended to give them, nor in the least like what they may have expected to hear. Oddly enough, he was only billed to appear in the second half of the entertainment—a most unusual happening—for, generally speaking, he would come on about the middle of the first half and again well towards the end of the programme. On this occasion a lady visitor from Melbourne, who desired to leave early, took his usual first place, and he was not even seen until the concert was about three-parts over. That also was unusual, for as a rule he was in the habit of assisting in various ways such as arranging the seats or seeing to the lighting; but on this occasion even his entry was unobserved. Further, it so happened that any other items that were to have followed his were abandoned. On that evening his was the final item.
When he appeared upon the platform he hadn’t got his flute! Stranger still, he was almost covered from his neck to his heels in a long light overcoat. The amazement of the audience quickly gave place to curiosity, but before it had time to express itself in any vocal way he held up his hand for silence. Then, speaking with the slight, but fascinating Scottish accent they knew so well, he said:—
“Leddies and Gentlemen! To-night I’m goin’ tae tell ye a story. It’s a great story, and it’s all true. I was not always a handy man. Once I was a Harlequin, and ma wife— for I’m marrit—was a Columbine. I’ve got ma costume still!” And so saying, he threw off the overcoat he was wearing, and revealed himself in the colored diamond-patterned, tight-fitting garments generally worn by those who play the part he named. The sensation he created can be better imagined than described.
“Yes!” he continued, when the excitement had somewhat abated. ‘We were members of Wirths’ Circus! It wus at the circus I met ma wife, and it was in the circus ring that we were marrit. My! but we were verra happy. Oh! it’s gran’ to do your work, and, when it’s over for the day—cook your own supper and eat it thegither. Eh! What suppers we had. They were fine! Fine!
“Ye know the clown used to be a part of our show. He was a real funny fellow, too—I’ll say that. And he would run roond and roond after us makin’ fun and play! And he would pit sausages—real sausages—aboot ma neck, and aboot ma wife’s neck, too! He used tae tell the people that they were necklaces, and that they were made oot o’ a dog the butcher stole from me! And sometimes he tell’t the folk that the doggie wus so glad tae get back tae me that he wus clingin’ roon ma neck! But I didna mind a bit. for— when he wusna lookin’—I’d slip two or three o’ the sausages intae ma pocket, and Annie, ma wife, would cook them for supper! Ye may talk aboot delicatessen as much as ye like! It’s not to be compared wi’ sausages an’ onions, and eaten wi’ fried bread! Eh! but I tell ye they’re simply gran’. And the smell o’ the coffee! My, there’s no scent like it in all the world! I tell ye, the King himsel’ couldna hae a better or a sweeter meal!
“In those days, ma freens, I used tae be billed as ‘Harry Harness, the greatest Harlequin of all time!’ Think o’ that! Just think of it. ‘The greatest Harlequin!’ And ma wife— both before and after I marrit her—used to be starred as Annie Lawry. the lovely Scottish Columbine!’ Not Annie Laurie o’ the song, min’ ye —though she was tae me —but ‘Annie (spelling it) L-a-w-r-y. the lovely Scottish Columbine!’ Did ye ever hear the like of it?
“And then there wus the clown I tell’t ye aboot. Man, but he was a character! Make ye laugh at a broken leg! And speaking o’ broken legs—I broke mine. Accidentally slipped on one o’ the clown’s sausages. I did! That’s how I came to be lame. And that’s how I lost ma job and ma wife at the same time. Ye see, I had to go intae the hospital tae get the bone set. Whilst it wus mending the circus moved away tae Ballarat, and Annie had tae go wi’ it. From somewhere or anither they got a man tae take ma part—the Harlequin—but they couldna git anither Columbine! ‘The lovely Scottish Columbine!’
“Yes! That’s how I lost her! Went awa’ wi’ the circus! And when I cam’ oot o’ the hospital—not quite well—I went to stay at a new place, and she didna’ find me! Worse still, when I went to find her she had left the circus nobody seemed to know why—and nobody could tell me where she had gone! Eh! but it wus a sorry time!
At the recollection of that “sorry time” Peter paused, temporarily overcome. That pause affords an opportunity to tell of matters which, since the return of his wife, she had revealed to him, but which, not for anything, would he have consented to disclose. The clown it was who persuaded his wife to go to Ballarat, saying that it was better to earn money and help her husband than to remain behind and eat up their savings in idleness. The clown it was, too, who later on basely led the circus folk to believe—for his own ends—that she chose to go because she wanted to be with him.
Unfortunately, the insinuation gained colour from her own innocent actions. In pure friendliness she cooked the sausages and made the coffee, and fed him, just as she used to do for Peter. And out of the exercise of these kindly traits in her nature she fell into grievous trouble; for there were those who believed what the clown had said, and passed it on to others. Further, his attentions, which she openly accepted as from a friend—added fuel to the fire: so that, when it suddenly blazed before her—through the jealous outburst of one of the circus girls—she was ashamed and ran away; firmly convinced that her husband believed what was said he had already been told.
Her flight was a cardinal error. As she realised when it was too late to retrace her steps, it might easily be interpreted to mean that it was prompted by a guilty conscience. She acted without thought, and too hastily. Still another mistake was made, when, instead of seeking her husband to tell him the truth in scorn of consequence, she allowed her fears to overmaster her reason, and took a position as cook at an hotel.
As Peter learned, all these things happened between the time the circus arrived in Ballarat and before it left Bendigo— about three weeks afterwards. It was in the last-named city that his wife engaged herself as cook. There she lived for a considerable length of time, during the earlier portion of which her baby girl was born.
This occurrence was not so much a surprise as a delight to the fond Peter. It was, for him. the glorious realisation of a secretly cherished hope; and it made the recovery of his wife— and the sight of his child, a hundred-fold sweeter than might otherwise have been the case. His cup of joy overflowed. A king might have envied his happiness.
As was only natural, the baby girl became the joy and comfort of her mother’s life. For her she worked and saved and planned. So passed the years—six of them; and although she often longed to know what had become of her husband, and how he was faring, she did not know how or where to make inquiries without in some way declaring her own identity. Then came the change to Sassafras: the unexpected meeting with her husband; his ready acceptance of her explanations; and the joy they both felt in the happy reunion.
Peter went on again:
“Aye. It wus a weary time. But it’s all past, and I’ve found ma wife and ma child, and they’ve found me. They’re both here to-night. And I’m that happy, and pleased, and delighted, that I’m goin’ tae sing ye a song . . . Oh! I might play ye somethin’ later; but in the meantime I’ve just got tae sing, or ma heart will burst wi’ joy.” He thereupon stepped down to the floor and lifted a youngish and still good-looking woman out of her chair and on to the platform. As he placed her at the piano he whispered something into her ear, and the next minute he was singing Annie Laurie.
This was a complete surprise. Previously, no one there knew that he could sing: but they very soon discovered that he had a remarkably full and sympathetic voice. The whole audience was almost spell-bound by the way he rendered the old sweet song, and many an eye was moistened at the depth of feeling he displayed as he sang the line: “And for Bonnie Annie Laurie I would lay me doon and dee!” When he had finished, the applause was thunderous and prolonged. There was no doubt about the appreciation of his effort. From all parts of the hall there came an insistent demand for an encore. But he smilingly seemed to wave it aside, and, the clamour having subsided, said:—
“That was ma wife that played for me!” “And”—in a semi-confidential tone—”I was singing for her!”
“She hasna lost her touch—as ye could hear for yourselves!”
“Some day we’ll play for ye thegither. That’ll be a treat for ye. Were just great thegither, as ye’ll hear for yerselves.”
“But not the nicht. We’re goin’ tae leave ye noo’”
“I’m declarin’ the concert closed. Yes, I’m taking that liberty, for I want ye all tae know that it seems like gettin’ marrit a second time. Ye can follow us up the road—wi’ tin cans if it pleases ye—for this is just like oor weddin’ day all over again. Come on! All of ye!” And taking his wife by the arm—whilst she held on to the little girlie, who held his precious flute, they made their way to the front door through a lane of folk who opened out to the waving of his hand. Truly the concert was closed!
Outside the hall the whole world seemed to be flooded in light. Beneath the mellow radiance of the moon the road to Sassafras looked like a silver stream. Along its winding length the concert audience went with Peter in the lead, playing his flute as he had never played it in the years before. There was magic in his music, and, clad in his colourful Harlequin dress, young and old followed this modern pied piper of Hamelin joyously and unafraid. Only as the distance began to tell upon those who were up in years was there any thinning out of the gay company. The others were resolved to see him to the gate that opened on the path leading to his home, and so kept merrily on until that point was reached. Then, with many a cherry “good-night,” and many a shouted “Good luck” wish, they quietly turned away.
A little later, following his long established practice, Peter played to the hills his favourite tune. Surely it was never so sweetly played before by any mortal man. Even John Amadio, prince of flautists, had he been listening on that night of nights, must have recognised a master in his art. From that pied pipers flute Faith and Love and Hope poured out in such mellifluous harmony that the tinkling waters of the creeks gave up their notes, and, temporarily, echoed music’s own. The moon sank down: the stars came out; and Peter— “Piccolo Pete”—the pride and joy of the hills, with pride and joy in his heart, turned to enter his house as one who, having travelled far, has at last reached the bourne for which he set out. And, as he opened the door, the odour of coffee, true incense of the domestic hearth, proclaimed it his happy home.
SOME years ago, on a brass plate affixed to a certain chambers in Chancery-lane, Melbourne) there could be seen the following inscription:—
“Hardstone, Sockem and Sockem,” Solicitors.
More recently cut, and in smaller letters, one might read in the lower left-hand corner:—“E. H. Hardstone.”
Behind that plate there is a story much too long to be told in this connection. Suffice it to say that the Christian names of the original Hardstone—father of the Hardstone whose name appeared upon the brass plate—were Edouard Fortescue. He was the son of an English solicitor—practising in London— who was named Edouard Calleson Hardstone. He, the old gentleman, was especially insistent—both for himself and for his son—on a spelling of the first Christian name; Edouard, not Edward.
As it chanced, young Edouard rarely heard his name pronounced either one way or the other. That was so because being a “young blood,” and associating with other “young bloods,” he was familiarly called “Forty,” which, as may be perceived, was short for Fortescue. Even to this day — three generations later—young men of his type are usually given names by their friends which make their fathers—now grown particular—deplore “the lack of dignity which is such a common feature of these modern days.”
“Forty” somehow managed to qualify for his profession. But, mainly owing to his friendship with the “young bloods” before mentioned, he devoted more of his time to pleasure than to the law. Indeed, so given up was he to gay idleness that his father was almost in despair, and viewed his future with the gravest concern.
The break with the old gentleman came unexpectedly for “Forty.” A more than usually irresponsible action, which involved the mock rescue of a highly-respectable young lady from a coach driven by an allegedly drunk, though perfectly sober and reliable, coachman, was the cause also of his reformation. To use a legal expression, “the aforesaid young lady” was the daughter of one of his father’s clients. She knew and liked “Forty” very well. It was thought that some day they might marry. But she was both gentle and just. Thus it was that, having seen her coachman belaboured for no offence — and quite apart from the indignity to herself—she could not let the matter pass. The outcome of her complaint was that “Forty” was given a sea voyage to Australia, it being held that the trip would “‘knock the nonsense out of him, and that he would be a better man upon his return.” Part of the expected result was achieved. That is to say, “the nonsense was knocked out of him.” but he did not return to London, and his father never saw him again.
* * * * * * *
It was in 1852 that Edouard Fortescue Hardstone left for Melbourne. He sailed upon a ship that was loaded with men going to Australia to search for gold. For the most part they were a rough but honest lot, and “Forty” became a favourite amongst them; especially after taking a pretty good thrashing from a bully whom it took a more robustious man to hammer into unconsciousness.
On the same ship there was another young solicitor named Wilfred Sockem, also in trouble, not specified, and his younger brother, a consumptive. The name of the consumptive brother was Henry Addup Sockem. Appropriately enough, he was an accountant by profession, and, according to Wilfred, an especially clever one. Outwardly, a more genial man than Wilfred Sockem it would have been hard to find. Everybody liked him, and he and “Forty,” now called Edward, not Edouard, became the closest of friends.
When they arrived in Melbourne Wilfred persuaded Edward to accompany him and his brother to the diggings. The experience, he argued, would more than compensate for his not returning at once to England as his father had arranged. The search for gold proved to be so alluring that all thought of going back “home” was soon forgotten. Nevertheless, after months of hoping and trying to “strike it rich” they were still amongst the number whose “luck” was poor.
About this time Henry Sockem began to tire of the work. Though greatly improved in health by reason of the warmth and sunshine, he did not like the life of a digger, and desired a change. To bring this about he proposed that Hardstone and his brother should join together and practise as solicitors in Melbourne. He also suggested, through Wilfred, that an accountant would be required, and that, in the circumstances of the time, it would be wise to have one permanently attached to the firm. So was started the partnership of Hardstone, Sockem and Sockem.
From the very first they did a wonderful business. Henry was primarily responsible for that fact, for he it was who pointed out to Wilfred that diggers with gold in their pockets were “fine game.” They might have “claims” to sell, or wills or marriage settlements to make: or they might even contemplate entering business, and in all these avenues money was to be made. He also impressed upon Wilfred how very valuable his genial qualities would be “in the roping in of these birds!” And so it proved. Wilfred found the clients—how, is of little consequence—Edward did the legal work, and did it well: and Henry Addup proved to be a thoroughly competent accountant. If, now and again, Hardstone had a wondering thought at the rapidity with which they were making their fortunes, he was too busy to do more than shake his head and let the matter pass.
Eventually a great and an enduring business was established. But its initial upbuilding made such inroads upon the constitution of Wilfred Sockem that, at the end of twelve years, he died. Hard work!” said Hardstone. “Hard drinking!” thought Henry Sockem, who knew the facts. Twenty years later Henry passed away, leaving a substantial fortune to his widow, a lady whom he believed he loved.
As may be supposed, Hardstone had also married. He was the proud father of a rather promising son, who, at the time of Henry Addup Sockem’s death, had just passed his final examination in brilliant style, and so was qualified to enter into the practice of the law. He had been christened Edward Hiram Hardstone, and it is with him—the man whose name was cut in the lower left-hand corner of the brass plate, to which an early reference was made—that this story really begins.
* * * * * * *
When men are rich—really rich—benevolence involves little or no sacrifice. They can afford to be charitable if so inclined. For them, too, it is comparatively easy to be gracious and kind, and E. H. Hardstone, who had inherited his father’s thoroughly established and profitable business, was not lacking in any of these attributes. As a matter of fact, owing to his father’s very careful training in manners, deportment and speech, he was generally regarded as the perfect type of an English gentleman. Overseas visitors to Australia—and especially those coming from Great Britain — were always impressed by the characteristics mentioned. As assets, they could not very well be included in the balance sheets of the business. None the less, they were so unconsciously attractive to practically all who had dealings with him as to constitute a kind of reserve capital upon which he could draw at any time he pleased.
Through his grandfather—who had died happy in the thought that “Edouard” had “proved to be of the right stock” —English connections had been obtained. As a result, many investments in various Australian enterprises were made through Hardstone, Sockem and Sockem. It was a lucrative business, and the clientele thus secured had grown in numbers with the passing of the years.
In Melbourne, amongst others who found their way to the office of the firm were several “remittance men.” They were mostly wastrels whom their rich or aristocratic relations thought it desirable to hide away at the other end of the world. Included therein was one Wilberforce Patronia Berkeley, more familiarly known in the accountants’ room as “W.P.B.” He was a gentleman, and the son of a gentleman. Nevertheless, he was a kind of human waste-paper basket, for during a large part of his life all the money that came into his hands was wasted, mostly in drink. Hence “W.P.B.” was not an unfitting appellation for the man it was meant to describe. It is with his later years, however, and more particularly after he had become known as “The Professor,” that this story has to deal.
* * * * * * *
On remittance day, Hardstone, whom Berkeley always graciously thanked on receiving his allowance, said something to him which happily remained somewhere in the recesses or his mind. It was this: “I’m afraid, Berkeley, you’re going from bad to worse. You’ll never be cured of your craving for liquor whilst you remain in Melbourne. If you’ll give up the city, I’ll put you on a block of land at Monbulk, and you can grow raspberries. You’ll be away from drink, you’ll be among the big trees, and you’ll be growing God’s own fruit! What do you say?”
But Berkeley shook his head, and, as ever before, spent his money in a drunken orgy. As usual, when it was all gone he came back to Hardstone for an advance against the next remittance, and, as on other like occasions, got about half of what he asked, and so perforce kept sober for the next three weeks—and they were just as miserable as many others he had similarly endured.
The only difference between the period under notice and any previous one was that during its run Hardstone’s remarks about “the big trees” and “God’s own fruit” came back to his memory again and again. In the fashion of a boy tickling a puppy dog, he amused himself by playfully poking his foot at the thought—so to speak—the while he watched it turn and twist upon the floor of his mind. In a new way it also served to pass the time, and that was all to the good.
But in spite of the fact that the practice began in a more or less sardonic mood, the idea took root and grew. As the days passed reflection favoured the adoption of Hardstone’s offer, and so it came about that, within a fortnight after it had been made, Berkeley found himself in a comfortable two-roomed cottage at Monbulk. Of course, he knew nothing about the growing of raspberries. That was something for him to learn, and to his delight he found that the acquiring of the knowledge gave him a new interest in life. Strangely enough, before he had done much reading on the subject, the simplest and yet the most important thing he learned was from a child. Little Bobby Brown, a neighbour’s boy, watching him at work on a plant, saw him cut away some of the new growth.
“Oh! You shouldn’t do that,” said Bobby, “or you’ll get no raspberries. The fruit grows on the new wood!”
“Is that so, Bobby?” he said, “Many thanks for letting me know. I shall not again make the same mistake. Thank you very much!”
* * * * * * *
That night, thinking over the useful piece of cultivation lore Bobby had given him, he fell into a philosophic mood. “The fruit grows on the new wood. If I would have fruit I must have new wood. Am I too old and knotty and gnarled to bear fruit? Am I healthy enough to nurture and sustain the new growth if it starts? Can I continue to cut off the old growth of bad habits, reserve, unsociability and love of liquor? Surely, if I could give up drink, as I have now done for several weeks, I could by proper discipline and the setting aside of my lonely ways put forth those tender shoots of friendship and love which will attract to me those who now look at me askance!”
On the following day he kept a sharp look-out for Bobby. He wanted to talk to him, and to ask him a question. But Bobby apparently was no longer interested in what Berkeley was doing, and did not look over the fence as he had done on the previous afternoon. In the circumstances there was only one thing to do. If the mountain would not come to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain. It was part of the obligation he had laid upon himself that he should so act. To the surprise of his neighbour he therefore made a call upon that worthy man, and asked if he might be permitted to have a few words with Bobby. Though wondering what on earth he should want to talk to Bobby about, the request was granted, and that “young limb” was called from the kitchen to “come and talk with Mr. Berkeley.”
When Bobby appeared he was politely asked if he would mind sitting on the grass for a few minutes. He nodded assent. Choosing a comfortable spot. Berkeley said—
“You told me a valuable secret yesterday, Bobby! You said that ‘the fruit grows on the new wood.’ Now I want you to tell me if you know anything about dogs, and which breed is the best kind to buy?”
“What do you want the dog for?” queried Bobby.
“Companion and watch dog!” responded Berkeley.
“Could I buy it for you if I knew where you could get a really truly nice pup?” asked Bobby eagerly.
“Certainly!” answered Berkeley. “It would give me very great pleasure to have you do that for me. Do you know where such a one can be obtained?”
“Yes! I do!” said Bobby firmly. “Charlie Jones has got three little Australian Terriers, and he told me that if I could sell one he’d give me one and keep the other!”
“I see!” observed Berkeley, smiling.
And that is how he came to be possessed of an Australian Terrier, which Bobby insisted should be called “Tony!”
Now “Tony,” as it happens, is the diminutive of Anthony, which in the Latin means “priceless.” And priceless, indeed, was Tony to his master, for he was the means of his making many friends, especially amongst the children. How that came about is simply told. Berkeley was always a reader. In all circumstances he had somehow managed to keep his subscription paid to a lending library. Books were not only a solace to him, but a source of much information. He read with a purpose, and having acquired a new interest he began to read all about dogs, just as he had previously done about raspberries.
In the course of his studies he came across many tales concerning “man’s most faithful friend.” To Bobby Brown who, since the purchase of Tony was constantly running in to see how that animal was getting along, he read one of the most charming of these stories. It did not seem to make much impression on that young autocrat, and Berkeley felt somewhat disappointed in consequence. But if Bobby made no comment at the time he certainly did not stint his remarks when telling his three chums about it at a later stage. The outcome was that two days afterwards the four of them came along, and on Bobby’s urgent appeal the tale was re-read!
* * * * * * *
The reading of the first story led to remarkable results. Before long Berkeley had boys and girls galore to listen to his stories. Beginning with those he could find about dogs, he advanced to fairy tales, and from those to tales of the Spanish Main—full of pirates and dollars and fights. Finally he gave up reading stories to them, and told of intimate matters concerning the boyhood of such heroes as Raleigh and Drake, Frobisher, Grenville, Nelson, Marlborough, Wellington, Wolsey, Roberts and many more. He became the idol of every boy and girl in the neighbourhood. They were so appreciative of his powers, and so enthusiastic in his praise, that by slow degrees their parents were induced to come and stand at the rear whilst the tales were being told. This suggested to him the idea of forming a reading circle for the older ones. It met on a Saturday night, and was unique of its kind, for he did the reading, and at its close was ever ready to answer a question, to explain a matter not properly understood, or to make a suggestion as to the choice of a book for individual perusal.
So this well-bred English gentleman—whom everybody now affectionately styled “the professor”—endeared himself to all. The loneliness and lack of friendship that he had suffered in the derelict portion of his life were now completely forgotten. He lived in a new atmosphere. No longer was he thrown into association with those whom he despised. On the contrary, at home or abroad, in his house, or on the highway, he scarcely ever lacked company of a congenial kind. Indeed, so eager was everybody to talk to him, or rather, to have him talk, that he was sometimes embarrassed. There are occasions on which even the most sociably inclined prefer to be alone. This is notably the case with certain types of elderly folk. They love to ruminate upon the past, and greatly dislike being disturbed. This was not so with Berkeley—it was merely a desire to be quiet—and that quiet he might have had whenever he wished were it not that he was so innately polite, and so fearful of wounding anybody’s feelings, that he would not seek to be excused.
But his previous life had made telling inroads upon his health. As the years passed on his bodily strength and vigour began to give way. This was first indicated by his becoming slightly infirm upon his feet. Very soon he took to using a stick when walking. Almost immediately a rapid change occurred in the colour of his hair. Though still full and thick, almost over-night, as it were, it turned to shining silver. He had always worn it somewhat long, and this, aided by a faint touch of colour in his clean-shaven cheeks and a generally distinguished appearance, lent a certain appropriateness to his being called “the professor,” Yet nothing could hide the fact that he was “breaking up,” for, in addition to the other evidences just mentioned, his hearing became defective.
* * * * * * *
It was due to this last infirmity that he met with an unfortunate accident. Walking along the highway, he failed to hear the warning note of a motorist’s horn. Moreover, as he afterwards stated, he had felt a little cold, and, without turning round, decided to cross over to the sunny side. In a flash he was knocked down: his leg was broken, and the shaking he received was most serious. The motorist, who chanced to be a doctor, gave him instant attention. He was extremely grieved at what had happened, and did all that was humanly possible in the circumstances. He took the old man home and set his leg for him. That done, he arranged for the wife of one of the neighbours to be in attendance until next day. On the morrow he brought a nurse with him, and explained that she would remain with the patient until he recovered. The doctor would bear the expense.
But “the professor” was very weak; so weak that he could scarcely offer a protest. He himself had been to blame, and he, therefore, ought to meet the costs of attention. As the doctor shook his head the patient murmured that he was “too kind,” and turned his face to the wall. It was clearly evident that the shock to his system had temporarily subdued his high spirit or he would not have permitted the doctor so easy a victory.
In a few days he rallied. With a cheerfulness that the experienced nurse knew to be unnatural he asked to see his friends; especially the younger ones. She demurred; but he looked so disappointed at her unreadiness to grant his request, and he pleaded so hard to have it met. that she finally gave way.
Nothing could have pleased the children more. Ever since the accident anxious little inquirers were all day long calling to ask how he was getting on, and always they wanted to see him. Older ones, including fathers and mothers, made a similar request, but all alike were tactfully informed that “not yet” was he able to receive visitors.
Now that the children were permitted to see him—a few at a time—they came in as if they were treading upon holy ground. Very softly they approached his bedside, too oppressed with the gravity of the occasion to speak until he spoke to them. Even then they could not throw off the awe they felt, and answered him in whispers. Their very souls were hushed by the striking change in his appearance. There was that about his face which—though they had never seen death —made them uneasy and a little afraid. His voice also had a distant and mysterious tone that they had never heard before, and tears ran slowly down their cheeks when he said to them: “God bless you — little ones! You have been a very great blessing to me — an old, worn-out man. I’m not going to get better, I know. Soon, I shall die. But do not fret for me. And when I am gone, if I can look down—see you—all happy, I shall be content.” Later, to the doctor and nurse, he said:—“Bury me on the top of the hill, among the gums I love!” And so saying—he died.
Somehow his wish was met. At the funeral everybody was present. After the body was lowered into the earth the children—as if moved by a single inspiration—broke off small pieces of foliage from the near-by trees, as some of them had seen the Freemasons do, and dropped them into the grave. The elders followed their example, and, as all turned away, there was a throbbing at their hearts too deeply felt for words or tears.
To say “all turned away” is not strictly correct. Tony, the dog, remained. There, the next day, the children found him there, for quite a time, he was fed by them. He would not even be touched, for he seemed to fear that he would be seized and taken from his post. They tried to coax him away. It was in vain; nothing would induce him to leave. But his vigil could not last. The weather was cold, and he had been used to sleeping beside the fire. There is a limit to all endurance, and, when they found him dead, they lovingly buried him at his master’s feet. There he rests, just as he used to do; his nose upon his paws and his ears cocked forward, ready as ever to sound an alarm should a stranger enter upon the ground he guards!
“Oh! Come on! Laugh and I’ll give you a piece of meat! Grumpy this morning, eh?
“No! Well laugh, and I’ll give you a kiss, and a piece of meat as well!”
Whether the bird understood or not it is impossible to say, but, as if it did, Maggie Callister’s pet kookaburra immediately burst into a peal of laughter. It was such a joyous peal that Maggie caught the infection before he had finished, and, laughing longer than he, sent her rippling notes far and wide. Clear as the tones of a well-played flute, the music of her mirth echoed and re-echoed among the trees about her home above the Wandin Road. It was good to hear, and, lower down the hill, had a peculiarly disturbing effect upon one whose ears it reached as he plied a hoe at his daily task.
* * * * * * *
Maggie Callister was the only child of Robert Callister, road mender. Her mother was dead. She had died about a year before, charging Maggie, almost with her last breath, to “look after Dad if anything happens to me!” And Maggie had faithfully promised to do so, even as she bravely sought to persuade her mother that she would “soon be better and everything will be alright!”
Now, Maggie was almost eighteen years of age. Though not what would be called a pretty girl, she was of a fair height and very shapely in body. In addition, she had a frank and kindly face, good teeth, a ready smile, and a certain amount of natural charm which made her very attractive to the opposite sex.
Of the last-named attribute, however, she was quite unconscious; partly because she did not yet understand such matters, and partly because she had no young men friends to bring it home to her by their attentions. Two or three, at the monthly Church Meeting which she attended, would have a few words with her at its close, but the opportunities were too rare, and of too brief a duration to permit of a permanent impression.
There was one, though, who was well aware of how alluring she was, and, as a consequence, he took such measures as were open to him to warn and protect her against evil doers. At no time did her father leave home without saying, “Now mind, Maggie! If you see a strange man coming to the house, get inside, lock the door, and don’t come out whatever you do while he’s about!”
And Maggie implicitly obeyed his instructions no matter what type of man it was who appeared upon the scene.
But Danny Weaver was not a strange man. He was an over-grown, powerfully knit youth — possibly nineteen or twenty years of age—who was in the employment of a raspberry grower in the near neighbourhood. Maggie had often seen and spoken to him, or, to put it more correctly, he had frequently made it his business, under one pretext or another, to see and speak to her. In a hazy kind of way she realised that his visits were built upon excuses, and she felt a little contemptuous of him in consequence. But though she did not like him, she did not fear him. He came and he departed; but he only affected her thoughts whilst he was in her presence. When he had gone he was forgotten!
And there was really nothing about him to make an impression on such a bright and vivacious girl as Maggie Callister. Danny’s personality was not an engaging one. His aspect, if not exactly lowering, was certainly not pre-possessing. He was dour in manner, and rough and uncultivated in speech. There was also a peculiar something about the look in his eyes which caused her, intuitively, to be careful of the way in which she treated him. Thus it was that, in spite of his many attempts, he had not succeeded in getting on friendly terms, hard as he had tried. In short, her attitude towards him was entirely negative. Nothing she said or did gave him the slightest encouragement. If she had formulated any wish concerning him it was that he should stay away. Nevertheless, she did not forbid his coming—which injunction might have been ignored—but took his visits as they came, simply seeking, in her untutored way, to make them as short as possible.
In the light of these facts it can be readily understood that, when Danny appeared before her shortly after her laughter had subsided, she was not altogether surprised at his unexpected arrival. Such a thing had happened before, many times. Indeed, it might be said that he had formed the habit of coming to see her at odd and unsuspected intervals. In the circumstances, and knowing his ways, her greeting was much the same as it had been on some of the more recent occasions.
* * * * * * *
“Well, Danny! What is it you want this time?”
The emphasis on the word “this” was not without its meaning, even to Danny! In reality it was a thinly veiled allusion to the fact that, on nearly all his previous visits, he had asked for the loan of matches, or a piece of candle, or some other requisite for the tent in which he slept. Nevertheless, he chose to ignore it, and merely replied:—
“Nothing! But I ’eard yer laughin’ an’ I thought I’d come an’ see what it was all about! Besides, yer Dad’s met with a little accident down the road, an’ I come to let yer know that he’ll soon be home!”
“But what’s happened to him?” she queried, springing from the door-step upon which she had been standing and coming towards him in her eagerness to learn something more about her father’s mishap.
“Oh! Nothin’ serious,” answered Danny, as with an adroit movement he placed himself between her and the door.
Amazed and suspicious at his action she swiftly faced about, “Ha!” he chortled: “I thought that’d do the trick! There aint nothin’ wrong with yer old man! What I wanted was to get yer w’ere y’d have to listen to me! Now I won’t go back to the ras’berry canes ’til yer gimme a kiss! It’ll be a damned sight nicer than givin’ one to that old Kookaburra of yours!”
“Never:” she retorted, her steady eyes matching the firmness of her voice.
“And now you come away from there and let me go inside! You have no right to come here in your master’s time, anyway! You go back to your work, and thank your lucky stars that my father isn’t here to teach you how to behave yourself. Come away from that door at once!”
In pretended compliance with her demand he moved from the position he had taken up and stepped out a little to the right.
Maggie, over anxious to get inside and lock the door, made her dash too soon. He was on her like a flash, and, clutching her by the arm, attempted to run her into the house. But she was now so thoroughly angry and alarmed that panic lent her strength, and, squirming like an eel, she somehow managed to escape from his grasp.
With fear to aid her speed, she turned and ran for the road, hoping that some passer-by might come to her rescue. She had barely started, however, before she realised that he was out-pacing her and must easily catch her up before she reached the gate—some two hundred yards away. With an extra spurt she therefore made for a giant gum tree near at hand, thinking that, by dodging behind it, she could double back and reach the house ahead of him. But he was far too swift of foot, and, just as she reached the tree, he caught her by the arm again, swung her savagely round, and strove to throw her to the ground. She fought him gamely, but—despite her spirited resistance—after a few minutes of desperate straggling, down she went, her shriek of despair half smothered by his lascivious kiss!
It was at this stage that “Jacko” entered the fray.
After receiving the promised piece of meat—and the kiss from Maggie—he had flown to his favourite post in the old red gum. From there he was wont to silently survey the world, or, as sometimes happened, to call his untamed brethren around to hear the latest news; or, as also occasionally occurred, to hear and laugh uproariously at the latest jokes in Kookaburra Land!
Perched upon a branch beneath which the fight was being waged he had watched it with increasing interest; cocking first one knowing eye, and then the other, at the struggle below. Of course, he knew nothing about the play of human passion, nor of attempted criminal assaults; but he did know how a snake seizes its prey, and he also knew exactly how to deal with that enemy of fur and feathers.
It was therefore only more or less natural that—when he heard Maggie’s agonised cry—he should forthwith go to her assistance. This he did in his own peculiar way, and strictly in accordance with his instinct and experience, Straight and swift as a plummet he fell, and, with his powerful beak, struck Danny a terrifying blow on the back of the neck. Danny screamed with pain and turned to defend himself. But he was not fast enough, for, even as his hand went up to strike at the bird, “Jacko” came at him again like an arrow from a bow, and, in a split second, Danny’s little finger was badly damaged, if not broken. He rose to run away, but, before he got fairly on his feet, a flash of wings across his eyes, and a tearing zip upon his forehead, left him with an inch of skin hanging over his right eye, and blood running down his face. He fled like one possessed!
* * * * * * *
When Danny Weaver reached Lilydale—and a Doctor— he was pretty well spent, and a wreck to behold! Blood-spattered. dishevelled and distraught, he was about as miserable an object as the human eye could see. The journey from Wandin had been like a nightmare to him, Not caring to travel by the open road, he stumbled and blundered through the bush and over grass paddocks and stump dotted clearings— keeping the right direction as best he could—until close to his goal. Then, greatly relieved, and with the best sort of clean up he could give himself, he hopefully made a bee-line for Doctor White’s Surgery.
Fortunately, the Doctor was at home and disengaged. Danny was therefore shown into the Surgery at once, where he sheepishly explained the cause of his accident. Doctor White eyed him quietly as he told his tale, and, though he raised his brows a little at what he heard, said nothing, but started to examine the wounds. When finished, he cleaned, dressed and otherwise attended to them without delay. Then, being surprised at their nature, and decidedly suspicious and curious as to the manner in which they had been inflicted, he proceeded to ask Danny some questions.
“And so a bird attacked you! What sort of a bird?”
“A Kookaburra, eh? Never heard of such a thing before!
“What were you doing to make him come at you so savagely?”
“Nothin’ at all!”
“What? That’s very strange! Do you mean to say that you were just walking along the road, and that without doing anything to annoy him, he just swooped down and attacked you?”
“Yes! He first came at me from behind! Struck me in the back of the neck he did! An’ w’en I tried to fight ’m orf ’e bit me finger an’ tore me face!”
“Well! Well! Well! In all my experience I have never heard the like of it! A Kookaburra? I must make a note of it!”
And the Doctor was so full of his own thoughts that he let Danny out of the Surgery, forgetting to ask for payment for his services!
Half an hour later, having turned the episode over and over in his mind. Doctor White called at the Police Station to have a chat about it with his friend, Constable Murdoch. That worthy officer of the Law, having studied the habits of native animals, as well as those of wrong-doers. was doubly impressed. Like the Doctor, he had not previously heard of a man or woman being attacked by a Kookburra. The story didn’t ring true, and he expressed the opinion that the man who told it was a liar. In that belief—being a conscientious man—he took a full description of Danny from the Doctor and carefully put it away, “in case it might be wanted some time or another!”
* * * * * *
Maggie Callister slowly recovered from the effects of Danny’s rough treatment. When he threw her down, her head struck an out-growing root of the tree to which she had run— vainly hoping to use it as a means of escape from him. The impact was severe enough to leave her slightly stunned. It was, therefore, some little time before she could sit up and apprehensively look around for her assailant. To her great joy he was nowhere in sight. The relief she felt at finding him gone was so great that she became hysterical, and laughed and wept in sheer thankfulness of spirit!
A little later she became somewhat calmer, Though still a trifle dazed and bewildered by the intense physical and mental strain through which she had passed, her mind grew clearer. She collected her thoughts. She ceased to weep, and, taking her apron from her eyes, cast them about in search of “Jacko.” In some dim way she was conscious of the fact that to him she owed her release. But as to whether he was also safe, or what had happened to him, she hadn’t the faintest notion. Presently she espied him. Only some three feet away, he was watching her every movement: his whole pose a mute enquiry as to what was the matter with his mistress.
Delighted to see him—and in a sub-conscious way comforted by his presence—she said in a rather quivering voice:
“Jacko! You’re a darling! Whatever should I have done if you had not come to mv assistance? He was a horrid brute, wasn’t he? But you’re a darling. Jacko! A real dear! And I love you ever so much! Come here till I give you a kiss!”
As if he understood, Jacko came. He got his kiss, and as Maggie scratched his head or smoothed his feathers she talked to him about Danny.
“And did you think he was a snake, Jacko? I thought you flew at his neck and tried to break it! Did you do that, Jacko? Indeed, then, and you were quite right! If you had not dashed at him—just as you do at a snake—I don’t know what would have become of me. He might have killed me! Oh! Jacko! I was in a dreadful plight. Awful!”
And at the recollection of her nerve shattering experience she again burst into hysterical laughter.
Jacko did not know anything about hysteria or its symptoms But he did know when Maggie was kind, and, laughter being contagious, he set up the greatest gale of it that had ever left his throat. It was instantly taken up by other Kookaburras and repeated far and wide. From all over the hill-top and beyond it broke out in a hundred places at the same time. It almost seemed as if a thousand birds were laughing all at once. The world was filled again with gladness and all was well!
* * * * * *
After thinking the matter over. Maggie determined not to tell her father anything of what had happened. To those who appreciate the feelings which are associated with a proper maidenly reserve there is no need to offer an explanation. They will quite understand, and will, moreover, fully sympathise with her in her desire to avoid discussing a thoroughly unpleasant and unwholesome incident. So far as she was concerned the unhappy features of the day were now within a sealed book, never in life to be opened to anyone, at any time, anywhere.
But, as it chanced, she was almost surprised out of her resolve by the unexpected queries of her father. When he entered the house on returning from his work she was busy at the fire preparing his evening meal. This was fortunate, for in that position it was impossible for him to see the startled look that crossed her face as he abruptly began his interrogations:—
“Was Danny Weaver here to-day?”
“Yes, Father,” said Maggie, as firmly as she could, in order not to tell a lie.
“What did he want?”
“Then what brought him here? Didn’t he say why he came?”
“Yes! He did! But it was a silly sort of explanation! I had been playing with Jacko. He seemed a bit grumpy, and I told him to laugh! He wouldn’t! So I bribed him with a kiss and a piece of meat. Then he laughed so suddenly and so loudly that I laughed, too! I laughed longer than he did. A few minutes afterwards Danny came up and said he heard me laughing, and he wanted to know what I had been laughing at?”
“Where did this take place?”
“Just in front of the door!”
“Then why did he leave his cap under the old red gum?”
“I don’t know, Father!”
“Well, it was—and it is! For I left it where I saw it! Funny thing for him to do, anyway!”
And the old man let it go at that.
Next day, when it was bruited about that Danny had disappeared, Robert Callister was much more curious than on the previous evening. He asked a good many questions in various quarters and received all sorts of answers. Some of the added comments made him suspicious; but nothing induced him to loosen his tongue concerning Danny’s call upon Maggie.
To his daughter he neither communicated what he had heard nor broached the matter again in any other way. He knew her to be a truthful girl, and hitherto frank and open. If, therefore, she had anything further to say — which he doubted—it would be better to wait for her to unburden herself in her own way. But Maggie said never a word on the subject of Danny’s disappearance; and, after the lapse of the proverbial nine days, it ceased to be a wonder to anybody!
* * * * * *
About two years after the events just chronicled, an assault and robbery case came before a Northern Suburb Police Court for hearing. Such occurrences are common enough and usually pass without attracting much notice. In this instance, however, the circumstances were such that they excited a large amount of comment in the newspaper press, and, as a consequence, public interest was immediately aroused, Correspondents of the highly-strung type who come into prominence at these times vehemently expressed themselves about the necessity for “dealing firmly” with such delinquents. Good-natured humanists were also tempted to express their views. All of which tended to focus a greater amount of attention on the case than is usual.
The evidence tendered rather justified the excitement, for it showed that the attack had been of a more than ordinarily savage nature. It had taken place at a somewhat lonely spot, and there was a suspicion that the culprit had really intended a much more serious offence than the one with which he was charged. He had been prevented from carrying out his purpose only by the unexpected but fortunate arrival of two young men, who so alarmed him that he ran away. But, in his anger and disappointment, even as he started his flight, he struck his victim a most brutal blow on the face. The young woman —a thoroughly respectable shop assistant—although able to tell her story, was still suffering from the rough handling she had received.
As the case proceeded, it became abundantly clear that the man charged, although he stoutly denied the crime, was undoubtedly guilty. The careful piecing together of the material facts by the police, and the strong support given by the private witnesses, greatly interested the experienced Police Magistrate who presided on the Bench. But it was the man’s appearance that held his gaze and made him curious: so much so, that he remarked to a Justice of the Peace who sat upon his right:—“If it is possible for any man to have the brand of Cain upon his brow that man has it! I wonder how he got it?”
At the close of the case, he asked:—
“How did you come by that scar on your forehead?”
And Danny Weaver—for he it was—remembering the unbelief of Doctor White as to a Kookaburra being the cause changed the name of the bird and said:—
“A Maggie attacked me in the bush. Your Worship!”
“A Magpie, eh? What were you doing—trying to rob her nest?”
Danny looked sharply up, and then sulkily replied:--
“No, Your Worship! I wasn’t doin’ anything!”
“Ah! Well,” retorted the Magistrate. “You’ll be doing something for the next three months at least! And I may add that, if you don’t reform your ways, you may some day do something that will lead to a much more serious sentence!”
“MOSES” Ironsides was the handy man of the hills. His Christian name was really Joseph, but, as will be later on disclosed, he acquired the nick-name of “Moses,” as the result of a singular event connected with his avocation.
From Emerald down to Fentree Gully and up as far as Gembrook, Moses was relied upon for all manner of services. A dilapidated old motor car was the means of his livelihood. He was the carrier of all sorts of packages and parcels, and, in connection therewith, the messenger of all kinds of people.
Tall and straight as a Murray Pine, and as strong and active as a Marathon runner, he was as carefree and as full of carols as a magpie in the morning. His habit of breaking into brief snatches of song, and his ready bursts of laughter, were as well known as his stock saying. “My Parramatta.”
The phrase, with him, was an affirmation, an oath, an ejaculation, a promise—and much more! It ran over a whole octave of human emotions. It was played, so to speak, in a score of keys; but it was most frequently used as an expression of cheery assurance. A bothered housewife would say, as he paused at her door in hopes of a commission: “I’ve burnt the bottom out of my aluminum saucepan! Bring me up a number three from the store, will you?” Or a young mother would announce; “Baby’s broken his bottle! Would you fetch me up another on your way back?” And to all such requests—and others—with a smile in his eyes and a flash of his strong white teeth—Moses would respond: “My Parramatta!”
* * * * * *
At Ferntree Gully Railway Station it was the daily business of Moses to look out the parcels and packages addressed to his patrons in the Hills. Sometimes he earned an extra shilling or two by carrying a passenger who had missed the regular cars. To any thus placed, and who made the enquiry: “Can you give me a lift?”— the same laughing reply was always made: “My Parramatta! Stow yourself in!”
But there came a day when, in his wonderment and surprise. the saying registered a note such as he had never before uttered. The matter which caused this change was one of such astonishing strangeness that Joe—as he was then called—got into a fourth dimension, so to speak, and it would have taken an Einstein to analyse and explain the emotions which “My Parramatta” then disclosed. However, that’s rather getting ahead of the story.
Moses lived with his mother. She was a widow, and he was her only child. In many respects she was the very opposite of her son. For one thing, she was small and daintily made, and everything about her was attractively feminine. Her hair, at fifty years of age, was as soft as silk and as white as snow. Yet there was still the loveliest tinge of pink upon her damask cheeks, and her eyes were beautifully bright. In speech, her every word seemed like a caress. She was beloved by all!
As a cook, Mrs. Ironsides was without a rival in the Hills. In the making of jams, jellies and potted meats, there was no one to dispute her superiority. But of these accomplishments she was in no way vain. The one related thing out of which she got any satisfaction or pleasure was that she could supply the finest cup of tea and the best buttered scones in Belgrave for sixpence! Yet it was not the excellence of the viands that gave her a glow of delight, but the fact that she thus made some little contribution to the common purse!
In the circumstances narrated it was only natural that Moses and his mother almost worshipped each other. He was her idol and she was his Queen! Nevertheless, she was not so fond as to be foolish. Truth to tell, she had as great a regard for his welfare as his love, and, as he was twenty-six years old, she was firmly of opinion that he ought to marry. She knew, of course, that such a happening must lead to her own dethronement, but, none the less, wisdom and experience led her now and then to broach the subject afresh. But to all her urging he invariably answered:
“Not while you’re alive, mother dear! Time enough to think about a wife when I haven’t got a mother!”
To which she never failed to retort:
“But you should have a wife! It’s not the right thing for a fine young fellow like you to remain unmarried!” And, generally, she would playfully add: “I won’t die till I see you wed! And then—maybe—I shall be content to go!”
But there the matter ended.
* * * * * *
Helen Smart lived at Richmond. She was a worker in the big shirt factory there, and, in appearance, far beyond the generality of the other employees. Not insensible of her fine figure and good looks, she hoped thereby to attract a man of better type than any of those she knew in her immediate neighbourhood. If, upon acquaintance, he proved to be sound and sensible, and proposed, she would agree to accept him for a husband. In due course, marriage would follow, and, with it, the surroundings she loathed could be left behind, and, in her own home, in a better suburb, she could make new friends and forget her early associations.
The plan was not without merit. At the least it proved a desire for progress, if not for happiness, on the part of its author. The better to put it into operation, Helen did not hesitate to spend some of her earnings in adding to her natural attractiveness. Her dresses and hats were chosen with taste, whilst her hair and hands were regularly tended by competent specialists.
An initial difficulty to be overcome was how to get acquainted with the kind of men she had in mind. As a meeting ground, some sort of sport, she felt, was better than dancing. This view had been born of what she had observed at those public dance rooms to which she had gone to test the matter. Yet, some form and place of amusement was, she realised, her only avenue to success, and as golf and tennis were beyond her means and reach, she resolved to take up ice skating.
In due time, therefore, to the Glaciarium she went, and within a comparatively brief period she became a skilful and graceful skater. As a consequence partners were not hard to obtain. Out of a number who sought her, in this way, three were more personable than the others. These she set herself to study.
With the first she quickly discovered that, though he had plenty of money and was well educated, he had no morals. The second was rather better. His character and behaviour were more in line with Helen’s ideas, but he did not appear to be really serious about anything. As far as she could judge, he lived for the moment and had no thought beyond what the next item of pleasure was to he: A Dance, a Picture Theatre or the Races!
However, when she got to know Jim Strong thoroughly, she believed and felt that she had found her ideal. He spoke and acted as she thought a gentleman should. There was no lavish expenditure upon chocolates and taxis: yet, when the occasion warranted it, he did the thing well! Although he never mentioned money matters, Helen somehow came to understand that if his father was not rich neither was he poor. As to his own position, she learned that he was a student at the University and hoped to practise as a Dentist at some future date. His home was in Hawthorn—one of Helen’s dream suburbs— and, taking all things together, she was well satisfied to let matters proceed.
As the Winter drew to a close, attendances at the Skating Rink began to wane. For Helen, the thought that the skating season must soon come to an end was by no means a pleasant one. She became afraid that the little Heaven she had been able to enter now and then was about to shut its doors. Too wise to ask Jim what he was going to do when the Glaciarium closed, she waited for him to speak. There were still three nights to go. She would say nothing and see what happened.
Upon the first of the three nights she was utterly miserable, for, quite unlike his usual self, Jim was ill at ease and strangely silent. Further, though she had—for understandable reasons— never permitted him to see her home, he had hitherto escorted her to the corner of the street in which she lived, but on this occasion he said good-night to her in the tram. It was a baffling and depressing experience.
On the next night, because of his happier mood, she was almost gay. So different was his manner that she ventured to chide him for the abrupt way in which he had bade her good-night on the previous evening. He laughed, and told her that it would not be upon the tram that they would part company that night! And he was as good as his word! Helen went to bed thoroughly happy in the prospect of an even better night upon the morrow.
There was a full house on the final night of the Season. Partners there were in plenty, including Jim, who was never before so charming. Helen, also, was probably at her best, and she was thrilled to her soul when he whispered:
“You’re the finest-looking girl on the rink!”
She quivered with delight, and remembering that, for the first time, he had kissed her the previous evening, hope and expectation sang a duet to the beating of her heart!
But, alas! It was to be another “broken melody.” All he did on reaching the usual tram stop was to hand her to the roadway, and with a casual, “See you soon,” leap back upon the moving car and so pass into the night.
* * * * * *
Helen was so stupefied by his act that, for a few moments, she stood as if petrified, gazing after the fast-disappearing tram. Then tears came to her aid, and, weeping, she somehow managed to reach the footpath. There, sensing that her sobs were attracting the attention of passers by, she managed to stifle them and more or less, blindly made her way home.
Too distraught to undress she threw herself upon her bed.
In a nightmare of conjectures, self-disparagement, yearnings, regrets and glimmering hopes of an explanation, she tossed about in restless agitation until the morning. Then, ineffably weary, and still more or less dazed, she would gladly have rested where she was, but, remembering the need, she sternly prepared herself for the day’s work at the factory. There, in the performance of her duties, the fiery thoughts that were searing her brain slowly died down. The rhythmic sound of the machinery began to impress itself upon her hearing, and, presently, all that sounded in her brain was: “See you soon! See you soon! See you soon!”
Several days passed uneventfully. Yet she did not despair. The end of the week was approaching and “see you soon” was still the cheering note that fell upon her ears throughout the working hours!
But, unhappily, the week-end came and passed without any sign from Jim or any one connected with him. Others followed until rather more than three months had disappeared into the irrevocable past
At the end of the first month the machinery seemed to have changed its tone! Its cheeriness had departed and now it sang: “He’s gone for good! He’s gone for good!” The constant repetition of these words irritated her so much that her nerves were affected. She became ill and had to take to her bed . . . The Doctor—wise old man—pooh poohed the idea of anything being seriously wrong. “All she wanted was rest. Had been working too long without a holiday. Nerves a bit jangled. Rest would put her right!”
And so, for a couple of months, Helen “rested.”
As a relief from monotonous work the change was helpful, but it would be ridiculous to say that it completely restored her to health. The blow to her pride—as well as to her hopes—had been too severe to be cured by mere rest. What she really required was a new interest. This she sought, before she was ready to return to her employment, in the beauty of the Botanic Gardens. She forced herself to take a walk there every day; to find a pleasure in the plants and flowers, and even a poor kind of amusement in studying the folks who, like herself, appeared to wander so aimlessly around.
One afternoon, whilst taking her accustomed stroll, the wholly unanticipated happened. It was on the Sunday prior to Cup Day, On the following Wednesday it had been arranged that she was to begin work again. That thought was uppermost in her mind, when she suddenly felt her arm gripped from behind, and a well-known voice exclaimed:—
“Hullo, Helen! How are you?”
It was Jim! Jim!! For just an instant she felt as if she must swoon, so overwhelming was her surprise. But, before she had time to move or speak, he added:—
“Come and have afternoon tea! I want to talk to you! You’ve no idea how much I want to talk to you! Do come!”
And, with the gentle pressure of his arm supplementing the entreaty in his voice, she permitted him to take her to a table that they could have to themselves.
They spent the remainder of the day together. Before they parted he frankly told her why he had failed to see her as promised. He couldn’t afford to marry, and still had to carry on with his work at the University. On the night when he had left her with such seeming callousness he had not intended to be cruel, and, saying that he would “see her soon.” he then meant to keep his word. But the truth was that he had not dared to see her again. He could not trust himself, and was afraid that he might commit her to an engagement which he could not honour. For this reason he had thought it wiser, for her sake as well as his own, to discipline himself and refrain from meeting her any more.
The carefully considered plan had not been entirely successful. It had not taken her out of his mind, and seeing her so unexpectedly that afternoon he had acted in utter forgetfulness of his self-imposed vow. Yet he was more glad than sorry, for, having explained his conduct and himself, she would understand and perhaps forgive him for the pain he must have caused her.
She did understand; very much better than he did. She also freely forgave him in consequence. Moreover, without taking undue advantage of his declaration, or overstepping a proper reserve, she contrived to let him know that she was prepared to wait for him as long as might be necessary. She, too, had been unhappy; very unhappy! But now that she knew the reason for his behaviour she would help him by all means in her power. Let him put such restraints upon himself as might aid him in his studies. Under no circumstances would she complain. But, whenever he felt the need of her company she would meet him, no matter what had to be set aside!
These mutual confidences led to others and brought them closer together than ever. They also prompted him into asking her to go with him to Belgrave on the following Tuesday, Cup Day. They took such a liking to the place that, in their happiness, they resolved to go there again at the first opportunity. On one of their later visits he informed her that in about a year’s time he hoped to secure his degree. The statement fired her imagination, and, by some mysterious interplay of emotion, caused them both, from that moment, to look forward to the winning of the distinction as the beginning of a new era in their lives!
* * * * * * *
Business was brisker than usual with Joseph Ironsides. It was Christmas Time, and what with the packages that had to be gathered together in the Township and those that had to be “picked up” at the Railway Station, he was busier than a bee! But—as he later on discovered—there was one parcel in “the old bus” that he had not been asked to carry.
How this occurred was quite simple. Whilst he was on the Station platform, and just before he was ready to start, it was surreptitiously placed upon the driver’s seat. The person who deposited it there instantly walked off, and, having reached a vantage point for observation, turned round and patiently waited until Joe drove away.
The parcel consisted of a lidded wicker basket and its contents. It was addressed—in letters printed with a pen, as follows:—
“For MRS. IRONSIDES, BELGRAVE. THIS SIDE UP.
WITH VERY GREAT CARE.”
The last four words were heavily underlined.
When Joe caught sight of the basket he instantly gave voice to his stock phrase. “My Parramatta.” and, in apparent perplexity, fell to rubbing his ear. A moment later, seemingly satisfied, he said:—
“Looks like a Christmas Box for mother! I wonder who it’s from and what’s in it? We’ll soon know, anyway, so why worry! . . . With very great care, ‘my beauty!’ Alright! On the floor you go where you can’t fall down and get broken!” And carefully giving effect to his words, he entered the car and was soon speeding up the hill towards Belgrave.
* * * * * *
It was late that night before those living above Joe’s home received the packages or parcels addressed to them. Such a thing had never happened on any previous occasion—not even on Christmas Eve! But neither had any such thing occurred at Joe’s home as took place that afternoon. As was soon found out, he had a very good reason for being late.
Although very curious to know what was in the basket sent to his mother. Joe would not assist her to undo the knotted cords which securely held the lid in place. “The present” was hers, he held, and she should have all the pleasure there was to be got out of it!
But the astonishment of both of them may be imagined when, the basket being opened, and a filmy woollen shawl lifted up, a living baby was disclosed! Joe’s long drawn out “My Par-ram-atta!” expressed the most marvellous sensation of his life, whilst his mother’s “Goodness! Gracious me!”—and her swift suspicious glance at Joe—were unforgettable in their momentary surprise and doubt!
No wonder, then, that Joe was late upon his round. He was so excited about the babe and its feeding bottle—not to mention other details—that he could not refrain from telling the story wherever he called. Naturally, numberless questions were asked; but all that Joe could add was that the child’s name was “Mattie,” and—so his mother said—it might be about two months old. Thus the news spread over the Hills until everybody had heard how Joe had found a baby in a wicker basket and had taken it home to his mother for a Christmas box.
As previously indicated, it was not long before the story was given a biblical application. Those who knew the Scriptures were reminded of the finding of Moses by Pharaoh’s daughter under circumstances that were not altogether dissimilar. The Australian sense of humour did the rest. By a topsy turvey transfer of positions the basket was converted into an up-to-date “ark of bullrushes,” the baby into a modem “Pharaoh’s daughter,” and Joe, her finder, into a twentieth century “Moses.” Thus, quite naturally, he lost his Christian name, and, in its place, received the would-be humourous soubriquet of “Moses!”
Joe, however, was not concerned about names, Moses was just as good to him as any other. Truth to tell, he was more concerned about Mattie, and her health and growth, than anything else. From the very first, the sort of proprietary interest he took in the child both amused and pleased his mother. It showed her a new element in his character, and one that insensibly drew them closer together. They almost vied with each other in their affection for the babe, and, when she was old enough to make some response, the return they received made them very happy indeed. At three years of age Mattie loved them both so warmly that, for them, the world contained no greater joy; life was complete!
But a change was coming. They were not to be left much longer undisturbed in their Eden. On a sunny Sunday afternoon, shortly after what they were pleased to term “Mattie’s Third Birthday,” a slightly faded, but still handsome woman asked to be supplied with a cup of tea and buttered scones. To Mrs. Ironsides there was something familiar about her customer’s appearance. The tones of her voice were also reminiscent of some one she knew, but could not recall.
After having served her guest, however, and in the course of a desultory sort of conversation. Mrs. Ironsides suddenly remembered her as one who, in company with a handsome young man, had several times taken tea there about four years earlier. The recollection instantly gave her a sense of impending ill. This was intensified when the visitor spoke of Mattie who, as usual, was at her “Grandma’s” side.
* * * * * * *
Before Mrs. Ironsides quite realised what had happened her guest’s comments had turned to questions. Very skillfully she was being pressed for particulars about her relationship to the child. Instinctively she saw that there was only one thing to do; she must invent an excuse and break away. But it was too late. Almost as if she knew what Mrs. Ironsides was about to do, the younger woman rose, and gently taking her by the arm, hurriedly began to speak:
“I am in great distress!” she said. “May I speak to you privately?—in a place where we cannot be overheard!’”
The next moment they were in Mrs. Ironsides’ bedroom, and the stranger had her arms around the other’s neck as she pitifully sobbed out her tale:
“You know me, Mrs. Ironsides, and I know you! Mattie is my baby. I put her into the basket and sent her to you because I knew that you would be good to her! I’m not married. I never shall be—now! My mother’s dead, and I’ve no one to love me, and I want my baby, and I’ve come for her!”
Mrs. Ironsides moved uneasily.
“Oh! Don’t say you won’t give her to me! Hear me out!
“Let me tell you all my story! I had a sweetheart. He loved me and I loved him. We were too poor to get married, though it was arranged we should. But he was killed. A motor car knocked him down in the street.
“. . . Before that—long before that—we used to come up here, and we were very happy. One summer night we stayed till late, and, and—somehow—before either of us thought what we were doing . . you know what happened! Oh! We were both so ashamed . . . !
“. . . The next day he was going away on his holidays— to an uncle in the country—for six weeks. When he came back I did not tell him what I thought. I did not tell him for a long time—three months, perhaps—and then he was annoyed with me for not letting him know sooner . . . He said he would marry me at once; but I should have to wait until he could get me a home . . . He also said he would see about getting married the very next day: but, but . . . as he ran out from the University grounds to catch a tram car he was struck by a motor car and killed!”
At this stage she was so overcome with emotion that she could not proceed. Mrs. Ironsides soothed her and waited . . “It nearly killed me, too, although I wasn’t there! . . . I was ill for a while . . . but somehow I lived on; and bye and bye, when my baby was coming, I pretended to go away for a holiday. But I went to a suburb where I could be near to a private hospital! . . I’d saved and saved for the time when I’d need the money. And then Jim’s baby was born. She’s like him! She was from the day she came, and that made it all the harder to send her to you. And now I want her back. I’m alone in the world and I want to work for and love her and have her love me. You cannot, you must not keep her from me!”
As she paused, Joe came in, calling out:
“Mother! Where are you?”
With a swiftly whispered word to stay where she was, Mrs. Ironsides left Helen Smart—for she it was—and ran to meet her son.
“Joseph,” she said, more gravely than she had spoken to him for years, “I want to speak to you very seriously. Mattie’s mother is here. She wants to take her from us!” And stopping him when he would have spoken—the while she held Mattie by the hand—she told him the whole story.
They were both so interested that neither of them noticed Helen’s entry into the common room. Yet there she was, and when Mrs. Ironsides had finished she tearfully put in her own plea.
But Joe was adamant. He “wouldn’t part with Mattie for a million of money. You can sue me if you like, but I’ll fight for her to the finish!”
It looked as if nothing could be done. Helen implored Mrs. Ironsides to get Joe to change his mind, but he doggedly shook his head.
For a minute or two silence reigned. Then with characteristic abruptness, Joe said:—
“Tell you what! I’ll marry you myself! Mother here has been telling me for years I ought to have a wife! Well! I’ll take you for Mattie’s sake! What do you say?”
And he was so much in earnest that he had to be answered.
“But do you mean to say,” Helen asked, “that knowing what you do, and not knowing me, that you would marry me if I were willing?
“My Parramatta!” replied Joe, with emphasis.
And to Helen’s amazement, Mrs. Ironsides added:—
“I do not think he could do better! Stay with us for a while before you make up your mind!”
* * * * * *
“View House” contains one of the best tea rooms above Belgrave. Its manageress is not only one of the best-looking women in the Hills, but, under the tuition of her mother-in-law —who now mostly looks on—is a cook-caterer of unequalled merit. Her one trouble is young Master Joe who, in spite of all admonitions to the contrary, persists in saying “My Parramatta!” on all possible occasions.
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