an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Tales of the Dandenongs - Third Series
Author: James Hume-Cook
eBook No.: 2100481h.html
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021
This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore
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The following Tales like the first and second series, issued in 1935, and 1938 respectively have their settings in the Dandenong Hills. The reasons, as set forth in the first story “Nellie Moir” may be here re-stated:
“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 who 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 that cannot be taken unawares.”
No copies of this booklet will be offered for sale, the whole edition having been reserved for distribution amongst friends.
If any reader cares to express an opinion, it would be esteemed a favour to receive a letter saying which Tale was liked the best.
* * * * * * * * *
THE CHARACTERS IN THESE STORIES ARE FICTITIOUS.
WHEN Christina Crossley married John Cross she made a mistake. In her case the truth of the old saw—about changing the name and not the letter being “married for worse and not for better,” — was bitterly exemplified. Yet, at the time, there appeared to be every reason to believe that the union would be a complete success. As one motherly old lady remarked to another: “In any case—if they quarrel—they can do what thousands of others have done before; they can kiss and make it up again! That’s life, my dear! And as far as I can see there is no reason on earth why they shouldn’t be happy! They are both of an age to know their own minds!”
And so it seemed. He was twenty six and she was twenty four. Both had certain interests in common, and, in the matter of good looks each was well endowed. She was fair-haired, blue eyed and graceful in type, but, nevertheless, much stronger physically, and much more resolute mentally than her appearance suggested. He was strikingly handsome. In addition to being tall and splendidly proportioned, his wavy auburn hair, red-brown eyes, and open countenance singled him out wherever he happened to be.
In other ways, also, the marriage, seemed to be an auspicious one, As the owner of a small business, in a rising suburb, the future prospects for John Cross were deemed to be particularly bright. His free and easy style made him a general favourite. Moreover, at local entertainments he was a star performer and always in demand. This was due to the fact that he was a first class Elocutionist who could recite a dramatic piece with force and power, or, if it seemed more fitting, tell an amusing story inimitably. In addition he was a passable singer; so that,—with his good looks, his geniality and his talents—the number of customers attracted to his shop the purchasing of their requirements was steadily increasing.
On the other hand, Christina Crossley contributed her full share to the marriage partnership. Her pretty face and fine figure were supplemented by nice manners and a truly sweet disposition. She was well trained in domestic affairs; had a good knowledge of music, and played the piano extremely well. As an accompanist, her ability to get into sympathetic accord with the singer was extraordinary.
It was this particular accomplishment which originally drew her and John Cross into association. When she played for him, his singing—which was not much above the average male standard—improved in quality, and his audiences appreciated it the more. Thus it was that—in the words of the clergyman who proposed the toast of the bride and the bridegroom at the wedding breakfast—“they seemed to be eminently suited to each other.”
But neither his good looks nor his talents,—not even their common love of music—could stand the strain of continued neglect. The callous indifference which John Cross eventually exhibited towards his wife really originated in his popularity. It was not due—as some folks wrongly alleged—to an aversion arising out of disappointed expectations. As a helpmeet Christina was all that she ought to be, and in the performance of her household duties might have served as a pattern to others.
The truth is that John Cross was too popular, and the feting and the flattery he received from outside ruinously enlarged his self esteem. Moreover, the hospitality so frequently showered upon him was not conducive to sobriety. From the taking of liquor in a social way he developed a craving for it. The habit grew from bad to worse, and, ashamed of his vice, he sought to conceal it by drinking in secret. Thus, self love and love of liquor undermined his sense of duty, and both his wife and his business came to be shamefully neglected.
* * * * * * * * *
Unrecognised by either of them, the trouble began as soon as the honeymoon was over. Because of his abilities as an entertainer, invitations to social gatherings poured upon them. This manifestation of friendliness and goodwill so filled them with delight that, in sheer happiness of spirits, they readily accepted much of the proffered hospitality. As a matter of fact Christina enjoyed the outings—and her husband’s little triumphs—just as much as he did, and, with her piano playing, helped him to his successes. And for rather more than a year they were very happy indeed.
But, after their baby was born, she was not so free to take her part at social gatherings as before that event. The child, too, was somewhat sickly, and required so much attention that, except upon those rare occasions when she ventured to take the baby with her, she politely expressed her regret at being unable to attend. As a natural result it was not long before she was left out altogether. Even after little Jean died, and she was again in a position to accompany her husband, she was not asked; or, if she were—as she sometimes suspected—her husband did not say so; selfishly preferring to take his pleasure alone.
As was to be expected, the time came when his acquired habits brought him up with a round turn. For some time prior, neglect and inattention began to affect his business. Occasionally he would go out and not return until after closing time at night. Now and then—for days together—he would give it only perfunctory service, and the suave and urbane manner by which he had once captured customers was often superseded by irritability or gloomy silence. It was not long, therefore, before John Cross was practically insolvent; and also—by reason of his treatment of her—almost bankrupt in his wife’s affections. But, in his hour of need, love and loyalty triumphed over resentment, and she right royally came to his assistance.
With rare courage, she waited upon the head of the Firm which was his largest creditor and pleaded, as only a wife can—for another chance for her husband.
“If,” she argued, “he could only be placed in some part of a country district where the opportunities to obtain drink would be absent, and social intercourse almost impossible, he would surely become his old self again and we would succeed. If you will not help us I do not know what we shall do. We have now neither money nor friends. The position, for me, is terrible to contemplate. I am broken hearted and in despair. Please, oh please do give him another chance!”
The “Head of the Firm” pursed his lips and wrinkled his brow. Such men do when they are thinking. This one also beat with his pen upon the blotting pad. After a minute or two he said something about “the curse of drink”! He went on to express some doubts about the possibility of her husband’s “reformation”; but concluded by saying that for her sake he would look into the matter and advise her as soon as possible.
Three days later, in response to a letter asking her to call, she saw him again. In a few words he told her that, if she cared to have it, a store was available “in the hills.” Her husband would do the work, of course, but she must be responsible for the general conduct of the business. Only on that condition “would the Firm be prepared to finance the business.”
With tears of gratitude in her eyes Christina Cross accepted the offer! There was no time to consult her husband about it, and even if there were, the responsibility was thrust upon her and she bravely took it! In any case, it was a similar sort of business to the one with which he had been associated, and consequently called for no fresh knowledge as to its running. So it was that, in due course, John Cross and his wife found themselves installed in a way-side store at Olinda, in the Dandenongs.
* * * * * * * * * *
For a time the bitter lesson taught by his previous failure had a salutary effect upon John Cross. The new surroundings were also helpful in that they were healthful and invigorating. He enjoyed them. Above all, he sincerely felt that he owed a duty to his wife for the way she had assisted him, and he was grateful and happy in the renewal of her affectionate regard.
These changes were noted by his wife with silent delight. She became a new woman. Her personal appearance improved—for she too was happy, and looked into the future with the highest hopes. But her dreams did not come true. John Cross grew weary of his more or less humdrum life. He longed for the old excitements. In particular—though he fought it down for a while—he again developed a feverish desire for liquor. Very soon he found a way to get it, and, over-night it seemed, he was once again the irresponsible and neglectful husband of the recent past!
Then it was that Christina Cross took up her cross in resolute earnest. With might and main she strove to hold her home and business together. The struggle grew more desperate as it proceeded. John soon got to the stage when the help he gave was negligible. He became a perpetual source of irritation and alarm to her, and she was never free from anxiety as to what he would do next. He stole her money to obtain drink; and she was eventually obliged to make him allowances in return for some pretended services. Worse still, he occasionally threatened her with physical violence. Life was a misery!
In the midst of these troubles she gave birth to a son. Such an event is always something of a burden to the Mother, but, in this case, it could almost be described as the rueful crowning of her worries, instead of the joy it should have been. To make matters worse she was quick to perceive that, though the baby’s little body was perfect, there was a decided weakness in his legs. Becoming more and more alarmed at their failure to grow proportionately to his arms she took him to a City Specialist for examination. But there was only cold comfort in his advice, for, after giving the weakness an unpronounceable name, he ordered regular daily massage.
The blow was a bad one, for, of course, Christina could neither afford the time nor the money for treatment in the city. It followed that she herself had to do the best she could. Despite her most assiduous efforts, however, the improvement was only slight. At three years of age. Christopher, as he was named, was almost helpless. Ile could not even crawl, and his only method of movement was by placing his hands upon the floor behind his back and pushing himself along. So propelled he could slide from place to place within the house, but, outside, wherever he went he was carried.
Christopher’s hapless condition was enough to have drawn pity and compassion from a stone; yet, for some inscrutable reason, his father hated him. As a consequence Christina kept him out of sight as much as possible. This was also a precautionary measure, for, when in drink, her husband blamed her for the child’s deformity, and, in the vilest language, was given to uttering veiled threats against both of them. How she put up with it all passes comprehension. Her patience must have been almost superhuman. But, in spite of her forbearance, an end had to come to such misery of body and soul as she endured. It came—as all such happenings do—with dramatic suddenness.
One hot February afternoon John Cross returned from the City inflamed with liquor—his clothes disordered and his whole appearance degraded and bestial. He was a terrifying sight, and in the worst of humours. Nothing satisfied him. He was perversity personified and could not be appeased. He would do nothing and accept no suggestions. On other occasions he had been subtly persuaded to “take a rest until he felt better,” but on this he would have none of it.
“No! I don’t want a cup of tea! And I don’t want to sleep. And I’m not going to be stopped from speaking my mind. I know what you’re trying to do; damn you! And what’s more, if you think I’m tired you’re making a damned big mistake, I’m not!”
And so, for rather more than three mortal hours, he muttered and cursed and swore.... “The boy’s a damned disgrace! An object! And its all Christina’s fault! She bore him. She bore him—blast her! Pity she ever did! Pity they’re not both dead! A good thing for everybody if they were! A hell of a good thing!”
And much more to the same effect in coarser kind.
Night drew on apace. In the semi-darkness John Cross seemed more like an animal than a man. With his head sunk between his shoulders, his arms swinging loosely as his body swayed drunkenly about—even as he sat—he looked like an ape. His face, too, took on a more ferocious look the more he raved. Christina watched his every movement in nervous dread. When, staggering, he made his way towards the woodshed at the rear of the house something prompted her to take Christopher in her arms and follow after, to see what he would do. The next moment he was rushing at her, axe in hand, wildly shouting that he would kill the pair of them “and have done with the whole blasted business for good!”
Into the darkness of the bush she ran, the madman lumbering in pursuit. Fortunately he tripped and fell, or, laden as she was with the heavy boy, she must have been overtaken. As it was, fear lent her strength until she was completely out of sight.
No one saw John Cross rise. He was never seen again. It may be that—after he recovered himself—he wandered into the denser bush and so perished. But, whatever happened, his disappearance was complete. Where Christina and the child took refuge was not discovered. So far as the neighbors were concerned, Mother and Son had disappeared as completely as if they had fallen into a mine. Police enquiries and all other attempts to solve the mystery were futile. “The Firm,” being unable to trace either Mr. or Mrs. Cross, took possession of the store. Later, it passed into the hands of a young Scotchman and his wife. They, it was said, made the competency which might have been secured by Christina Cross had the Fates so willed!
* * * * * * * * * *
“The Singer! The Singer!! The Singer!!!”
These words, in tones that varied from a whisper to a muffled call, were being uttered by a goodly number of people over a wide neighborhood in the hills about and beyond Sassafras. As used, they were meant to announce that he who was known as “The Singer” was singing a song. They also served as an invitation to those who might be inside their dwellings—or too far away to be within range of his voice—to come out, or take up a position where they could surely hear him. This was a courtesy that everyone paid to his neighbor on such occasions.
The singing always took place at night. This time it was a calm still star-lit night in March. The air was softly cool after the heat of the day, and—as it chanced—almost everybody was out of doors enjoying it. To add to this pleasure—from somewhere down in the deep valley on the way towards Olinda a song came welling up to the eager listeners thinly scattered over the adjoining heights. He who sang was as mysterious as his voice was glorious. No one had ever seen him; and where and how he lived—if he lived at all—nobody knew. All they could tell of him was that, for years past, at somewhat infrequent intervals, his delightful voice had been heard in song. Sometimes it was so soft and sweet and far away that it seemed to come from down beneath “The Mystic Lake”—when the moonlight caused that mirage to be seen. At other times—from some undiscoverable spot—it floated high and far and wide until the whole world—his hearers felt—was pervaded by its power and beauty.
On this particular evening he was singing a song entitled: “I dreamt my little boy of thee.” It is a very old song, and its sentiment is now perhaps, out of date. But the people of the hills in those far away days loved every line of it. Some of the women folk—Mothers particularly—were even known to have wept at its conclusion. This was no doubt due to the remarkably sympathetic way in which the last verse was always rendered—not to speak of the irresistible appeal which the sentimental words themselves made to those whose emotions are easily stirred. As sung by him this is how they ran:
“I dreamt my little boy of thee
And saw thee in thy manhood’s days,
And knew that He who rules all hearts
Had kept thy soul in righteous ways!
So may He guide thee to the end
Is what I pray on bended knee,
And may that happy dream come true
I dreamt my little boy of thee!”
For a moment or two, as usual, there was absolute silence at the conclusion of the song. No one spoke, and there was no applause; yet, just as if it were in response to an encore he sang again. This was his invariable custom; sometimes extended to three songs in all. He knew a goodly number, and as his voice had a very fine range, he was able to sing such different types as “Take a pair of sparkling eyes,” and “The heart bowed down!” Other favourites, in which he excelled, were: “Steal away to Jesus” and “The Holy City.” To describe the impression he made when singing the last named song is impossible. Out in the open amid the quiet of the silent trees and the glamorous beauty of the starry night, his hearers forgot who they were and where they were. To them—as with an Angel’s voice he sang—“The gates of Heaven were open wide!!” They saw the Holy City: Paradise itself; and the glory of the vision and the magic of the silvery voice held them spell-bound in wonder and in awe!
By way of addition to his songs—though they were unaccompanied in the true sense of the term—he always played a little music. The instrument he used was a Cello, and on this it was his custom to give a kind of introduction to whatever song he was about to sing. More briefly, he did the same thing at the beginning of each succeeding verse, and he always ended by playing—very softly, as if it were an echo—the last two lines of his song. On very rare occasions—and never except upon a very calm still night—he would play a complete number upon his Cello in between one song and another. And his remarkable command of the instrument—no less than the strangely elusive and mysterious airs he chose to play, were almost equalled by his voice. Yet, without exception, it was a song—followed by a repetition of the last two lines upon the Cello—that ended every performance.
There were those who said that these peculiar habits—and more especially the muted playing of the final notes—were really precautionary measures to prevent anyone approaching him unawares. He had never let himself be seen. Whether playing or singing, he always kept one ear attentive to other sounds. The fall of a footstep or the crackling of a twig was sufficient to bring him to a dead stop. The cleverest and most astute amongst those who had tried to come upon him by surprise had seen little more than a head and shoulders which vanished in an instant! It was altogether inexplicable!
* * * * * * * * *
But at long last there was a sudden end to his playing and singing; and he himself was tragically revealed to them.
On another night such as the one previously described the unexpected happened. He had just finished singing: “Steal away to Jesus”—and was beginning to play the concluding lines upon his Cello—when there was a sudden stoppage. A moment later the audience in the hills—still waiting for the final bars—were astonished to hear him calling for help. In a panic stricken voice he was shouting:
“Oh! People! Come quickly! Come quickly! Mother is dying! Come and help her! I am helpless and alone. Come at once! Oh! do come quickly!”
There was an instantaneous response. From all directions men rushed towards the spot whence they thought the cry had come. Women followed as fast as they could; all anxiety to be of assistance!
But everybody was baffled! They could not find him. Encouraging calls failed to elicit a response. Shouted requests for the direction to follow were met with a profound and stony silence. Except for a little noise of movement—which those who first started were certain they had heard—not another sound greeted the ears of any of them. They began to wonder whether they might not have been deceived.
At a late hour the search was abandoned until the next day, Sunday. Then—more out of curiosity than otherwise a fair number resumed their combing of the area which had yielded such unsatisfactory results the previous evening. But daylight made a difference, and, after about an hour’s work, two of them came across “The Singer” lying face downwards in the undergrowth.
He was strangely clothed. The upper part of his body—which was magnificently proportioned—was clad in a knitted woollen garment of the cardigan type. His legs and feet were encased in the same kind of material; but they were so very shrunken and small as to be grotesque. Those who found him were so astonished that, for a brief space, they stood inactive. Then—as others came running up in response to their call—they quickly raised and turned him over in the hope that he was alive!
He was dead! But the extraordinary beauty of his features held them strangely silent. In every detail of form and coloring he resembled the conventional pictures of Christ. The men were so astounded that they involuntarily removed their hats; whilst the women, in awed voices, whispered: “The Saviour!” and the more emotional amongst them sobbed as Mary Magdalene may have done when she discovered that Jesus had departed from the Sepulchre in which He had been laid!
Very reverently, several of the men lifted the body and carried it to the house of one of the bearers. A search for the young man’s Mother was then begun, for—as everybody now realised—his call for help the night before had been quite genuine. When they found her—a minute or so later—she, too, was dead. On a little patch of grassy ground she lay, the fingers of one hand grasping two strings of a Cello by her side. To the searchers, what had probably taken place was thus revealed. Attacked by a sudden illness, she had laid her hand upon the strings to attract her son’s attention. He—surprised at such an extraordinary happening—instantly ceased playing. The next moment—thoroughly alarmed at her condition—he had shouted for aid, and then—in a panic, had set οff to find it. The track he left behind him as he crawled and scrambled along was plainly discernible. To follow it was easy, and at its beginning, as expected, the search ended, for there his mother was found. Then—as with “The Singer”—willing hands raised and bore the dead woman to the house where her son lay; and someone undertook to find and bring a Doctor.
* * * * * * * * *
At the Coroner’s inquest the several parts of a truly remarkable story were pieced into an intelligent whole. Stripped of formal questions and answers, as well as other unnecessary particulars, it may be thus briefly told.
Amid all her misfortunes Christina Cross; had retained the friendship of Mr. Russell George, the proprietor of a Knitting Mill in the City. He first met her when—some years before her marriage—he had awarded her first prize for knitted work in a competition connected with her Church. After she became Mrs. Cross, and her troubles began to develop, she occasionally sought his advice. In later times she gave him her complete confidence, and the fact that there was someone in whom she could confide seemed to make her worries easier to bear.
He knew and told the Coroner all about the failure of the first business; of the change to Olinda; and of the fears that began to harass her when Cross again took to drink. He also told of the continual dread she had of a murderous attack upon her crippled boy, and of the constant strain she was under in guarding against such an eventuality. It was a nightmare sort of existence that would have been unsupportable but for the love she had for her son.
On the night she had fled from Cross—her Boy in her arms—they had taken refuge in a cave. This cave had been shown to her months before by a boy named Henry Stone, who, in turn, owed its discovery to his dog chasing after a rabbit. The cave, which was very hard to find, was entered from the top, and its opening was easily disguised. In any case, she only left or entered it when certain that there was no one about. This was all the easier to manage because Stone,—who was remarkably loyal to Mrs. Cross—had acted as her eyes and ears almost up to the day of her death.
The lad, Henry Stone, had been befriended by Mrs. Cross when he was in serious trouble over a theft he had not committed. He was grateful for the way in which she had helped him out, and he had said that if ever she wanted anything done he would do it! Accepting him at his word—and enjoining the strictest secrecy—she told him that if ever he learned that she had left John Cross he was to come to her at the cave without delay. It was through him she got her first food supplies, and it was by his aid in other directions that she carried on until the need was past.
In preparation for a possible severance from her husband Mrs. Cross had slowly and secretly furnished the cave with a number of things to make it habitable. She had also arranged with him—Russell George—that, if anything did happen, he would give her knitting work to do in order that she might live. In a special degree she was more than ordinarily skilful and her earnings had been good.
As a consequence, neither she nor her son lacked anything they required. And although she had originally not intended to remain for any length of time in the cave, she hated the thought of exposing Christopher’s deformity to the world, and so stayed. Thus, together, perfectly happy, she had taught him to sing; given him a Cello on which to play; and lavished upon him all the care and attention which his helplessness seemed to demand. For him she lived, and, as he grew more and more like Christ in appearance, her brain softened a little, and her love turned to worship.
These things he—Russell George—knew from fairly frequent contact with Mrs. Cross in the way of business. Some months before, fearing what might happen, he had looked out Henry Stone, now a grown youth—and had requested that he be immediately informed of any unusual occurrence. Through Stone, and from the newspapers, he had become aware of what had transpired, and feeling it was his duty to attend the enquiry, he had come to tell all he knew about the two people who had been found dead.
Henry Stone—who had assisted the searchers to look for Mrs. Cross, corroborated the statements as to the help he had given to the deceased woman.
The medical man appointed to examine the bodies said that Mrs. Cross had undoubtedly succumbed to a paralytic stroke, whilst the young man, in his terrified excitement, and in his strenuous efforts to secure help, had overstrained a weak heart.
* * * * * * * * *
In death, as in life, mother and son were not separated; for they both rest in the same grave. But, on the spot where Christopher Cross was found, the people who had loved his singing built a little cairn surmounted by a rough hewn wooden cross, to which was attached an inscribed metal plate.
That was many years ago, and the story of “The Singer” is now nothing but a fast dying tradition. Since then, also, the popularity of the Hills has greatly increased; but, unfortunately, that popularity had tended to wreck rather than preserve their matchless natural beauty. Far too much of it has been destroyed to make way for holiday residences, most of them quite out of keeping with their forest surroundings, and some of them unspeakably ugly. Week-enders, too, have thoughtlessly added to the general desecration. So much so that the Cairn has long since been reduced to scattered stones; whilst the cross and its metal plate have completely disappeared. But—in the days when they were still intact—the curious passer-by might have read this simple tribute:
“Is there no letter for me, Postman?”
“No! Mrs Treverton. Not this morning!”
“Ah! Well! Perhaps it may come to-morrow. It’s sure to come some day, Postman! I know it will!”
“I hope you’re right!” the Postman sympathetically observed, as he touched his cap and moved away.
These remarks—in practically the same order—had passed, almost daily, between Mrs. Treverton and a succession of Postmen for more than twenty years. In themselves, they were commonplace, but, for the lady—though still instinct with tragedy—they were nevertheless the expression of an unconquerable hope.
Twenty-four years earlier Mrs. Treverton must have been a lovely woman. Although she was now nearing fifty, she still held much of the charm that was assuredly hers in her younger days. All her attributes were truly feminine; a soft and pleasing voice; gentle manners; a pleasant smile. Her hair, turning silver, was plentiful and ever so slightly curled. On her smooth soft cheeks there yet remained a faint pink flush of a kind that stays to the end. In short, there was about her all the signs which caused her to be spoken of as “a dear old lady!” Only in her eyes was there any hint of suffering or sorrow, and that quickly disappeared whenever she was addressed.
To the older residents of Sherbrooke her tragic story was well known. This, in part, may have accounted for the kindly regard in which she was held by them all. Amongst the younger generation, however, but few were aware of the full facts, and it was her kindly disposition that brought her their esteem. Amongst those who were spoken of as “the new comers” all they knew was that, sometime and somewhere in the remote past, she had been the victim of an undefined but terrible misfortune. Enquiries as to the details failed to elicit a coherent story. Some were led to believe that her husband had treated her “abominably”; but what had become of him no one was able to tell, Others understood that her only child had mysteriously disappeared whilst very young; but again no one seemed to know the facts. It is well, therefore, that they should now be set forth in black and white.
* * * * *
Lena Longmore was most prepossessing, Wherever she went her vivacity and good looks attracted attention; even amongst her own sex. With the young men of her set she was very popular indeed; and it was little wonder that, at various dances and other social engagements where they met, she should catch the appraising eye of Bertam Treverton, a young man for whom, it was generally agreed, “there was a bright future in store.”
Miss Longmore’s father was dead, but had settled upon her, in trust, such an amount as would yield to her—in interest—a decent income for life. At her death she might dispose of the principal moneys as she chose. Her mother with whom she lived, was similarly placed, and was reputed to be “very comfortable.” These facts rendered Lena not less attractive to Bertram Treverton, who, with great good looks, a fine figure and a little cash, had just established himself as a Solicitor in Chancery Lane, Melbourne.
As the friends on both sides expected, Bertram Treverton’s wooing was successful. Lena fell head over ears in love with him, and her Mother, well satisfied with one who, she felt, was bound to rise in his profession, gladly agreed to entrust her daughter to his keeping. Their engagement was therefore announced, and, immediately, congratulations poured upon Treverton, whilst all manner of good wishes were conveyed to his prospective bride. There was thus very good reason for believing that—in the days to come—they would be happy and content.
In due course they were married, and, about twelve months later—to the joy of all concerned—a baby boy was born to them. This event was the crowning glory of their happiness. No one, least of all the proud parents, imagined that the child was to play a principal part in completely severing them one from another. Yet—such is the way of life at odd times—that is precisely what took place.
But to hark back a little. Shortly after their marriage Bertram and Lena took a trip into the hills. With Sherbrooke they were so pleased that, after enquiry, they found and purchased a nicely situated block of land. On it they erected a very comfortable cottage to which they became very much attached. So much so, indeed, that at long week ends, the Christmas and other holidays, it never occurred to them to go elsewhere. It was quiet and restful; they had a certain amount of pride in its ownership, and they had no desire to make a change.
At the second Easter time after their marriage they again went to “Hill-Holm.” The baby, who had been named Harold, was then eleven months old and remarkably vigorous for his age. He was Lena’s idol, and Bertram’s delight. In him they found mutual pleasure, and it would have been extremely difficult to convince any of their friends that the well-mated pair were not now settled for life.
But none of those people knew of a rich and very personable young widow who was the handsome Bertram Treverton’s “most valued client.” Neither did any of them know that she considered it necessary “to consult her lawyer” about all sorts of matters, some of them quite outside the legal or business side of her affairs. Least of all could the most knowing amongst them have guessed that such a cool professional man had once spoken proudly to her of his baby son, or that, thereafter, she had induced him—in divers ways to tell again and again of the growth and health of the said son. And, of course, no one was ever told that on one occasion, after a particularly glowing account of the baby’s perfections, the captivating young widow had thrown her arms about her legal adviser, and, on his breast, had sobbed out that she “would give anything in the world to have such a child!”
* * * * *
On Easter Tuesday morning Bertram Treverton took his son in his arms and went for a walk. There was nothing unusual in this for he had many times previously done the same thing. His wife delighted in the practice. It showed his fondness for the child. Moreover she was thus left perfectly free “to tidy up and prepare for the lunch.”
But on this occasion he did not return as punctually as was his wont. After the lapse of twenty minutes or more beyond his usual time, she went to the gate and looked up and down the road for a sight of him. He was not to be seen. Thinking that perhaps he had gone further than the customary distance, she decided to go back and read for a while. It was useless. Anxiety, began to develop and kept her moving. To and from the gate she must have walked a dozen times before it occurred to her that he might possibly have gone to Fern Tree Gully. It was a long way, and he must have taken a service car there—but had missed it on the return journey. Yes! Of course! That was the reason of his non-appearance. And she steeled herself to wait the upward passing of the afternoon cars.
Not in all her life before had time dragged so wearily. It seemed as if the first car would never come in sight. When it did her heart leapt for joy. But the car did not stop. The disappointment was a great shock; yet it nerved her into hailing the next and questioning the driver.
“Yes!” He had seen Mr. Treverton, with the baby in his arms, on the Railway Station in the morning.
“No!” He did not see him enter the Melbourne train, and he could not say whether Mr. Treverton was still at Fern Tree Gully. He had only seen him once.
Almost in despair, she stood until the last of the service cars had passed. A frenzy seized her. Hatless and in her house boots, she ran this way and that way shouting her husband’s name. Her cries soon attracted attention, and friendly folk, asking the cause of her distress, were deeply sympathetic but rather at a loss to advise. At last one young man suggested that she run down to the Township in her husband’s little car, and there make enquiries. On learning that she could not drive he volunteered his services. They were tearfully and thankfully accepted.
The journey to Fern Tree Gully seemed endless. Yet the search for information was worse. Quite a number of women—and several men—had remarked the somewhat rare sight of a man, walking alone, with a baby in his arms. Three people—a Porter and two others—had noticed him on the Railway Station; but not a living soul could say what had become of him. It was late when the young man drove Mrs Treverton back to “Hill-Holm,” and put away the car. The maid—who met her at the door—was only just quick enough to prevent her falling to the floor.
* * * * *
The next morning, though somewhat bewildered by the happenings of yesterday, Mrs. Treverton strove to think what ought to be done. Sub-consciously she realised that the situation called for action, but she could not bring her thoughts to any fixed idea. Like the planes of a windmill they kept turning round and round in the winds of her distress. And all the while in impotent inaction she kept saying to herself: “What am I to do? Oh! what am I to do?”
Suddenly these despairing cries were hushed. The maid ran in calling: “A letter! A letter! A letter from Mr. Treverton!”
Aflame with eagerness, Mrs. Treverton sprang up and seized it. In anxious haste, and trembling with excitement she tore the envelope open and withdrew the missive. The next instant, still standing, she began to read it. And the waiting maid—eager as her mistress for good news—soon saw that the reverse was the case. Tense with excitement, she stood there as Mrs. Treverton—with widening eyes and tragedy in every expression of her face, read on and on until she collapsed.
The letter was a long one. It read:
My dearest Lena,
I have, I think, gone mad. That at least, is what any sober minded person would say of me and my actions. Yet I am sane enough to see the folly of what I am doing, although I cannot find strength to resist the doing of it. All my training—moral and intellectual—tells me that I am doing wrong. In my heart I know and acknowledge that to be the truth. Nevertheless there is a force within me that has overcome all mental control. It is so strong as to have swept aside every domestic, social and business obligation, and is driving me, as I fully realise, to an act of cruelty at which I shudder, but which I must, perforce, perform.
If I could help it I would not do the thing I am about to do. My feelings for you are as warm and tender as ever they were. Although my actions will contradict my words, I still love you. Brutality and unkindness I hate, and I would not, therefore, willingly hurt you either in body or in mind. But I have become the slave of such emotions that I have yielded up the mastery of myself. By the destroying power of those emotions my senses have lost their finer edge, and, under their compulsion and against my wish, I know that I am striking you down as a tiger might his prey.
To-day I am leaving Victoria for another State, never to return. Your forgiveness I do not ask, for I am unworthy of it. But, in the hope that you may understand, and maybe pity me, I set out those facts and circumstances which have led me to desert the best wife in the world for pleasures that are only promised, and may soon pall. This I do, not because it will ease your mind, but because it will at least let you know what has become of me.
As you know, John Donald—the Builder—was my friend and client. When he died, six months ago, he left a large amount of money to his widow. Under his will—which I drew—she was appointed sole Executrix. I advised him to have a Trustee Company to act with her; but he would not agree. His argument was that, as they had no children, she could do what she liked; it was her affair. As a concession to my pressing the matter, he inserted a clause saying that she was to consult with me whenever she felt the need of legal or business assistance.
The immediate, but not the final results might easily have been foreseen. Almost at once Mrs. Donald came to see me about her affairs. We talked about taking out Probate, and the preparation of the necessary papers. When these were ready I wrote and asked her to come in and sign them. Perhaps about a fortnight later she looked in to ask about her house; should she sell it and take a flat? As dealings in real estate were brisk I thought the proposal a good one, and so advised. Other calls followed. After a time I found that my opinion or advice was being asked about such things as books to read, plays to see, or the best place in the City at which to dine.
Naturally, I could not help feeling that these evidences of her faith in my taste and judgment were not altogether impersonal. My vanity was touched. I felt flattered by the trust she reposed in me, and the day came when I ventured to ask her to dine with me at “The Australia.” The food and the wine were good. She grew a little confidential; telling me that there were times when she felt a bit lonely. The meal with me, she said, had made us friends. Would I mind if—once in a while—she came to see me for a chat, as she did “so enjoy my conversation.”
Once again I felt the gossamer touch of personal interest. I was also vaguely stirred by the appeal in her voice, and so replied:
“Come whenever you choose. I am always delighted to see you, and it will be a pleasure to help you in any way I can.”
Her visits increased in number. We talked more and more about every day affairs. We dined together several times. One afternoon I told her about our baby, Harold. I saw her eyes glisten, and I thought she was going to cry. I forgot for the moment, that she had none of her own—and I resolved that I would not again speak of the boy. Yet the very next time she called she said: “How is the baby getting on? Tell me more about him?”
I am afraid I let myself go. She listened intently. Her eyes were riveted on mine. Once she stirred restlessly, and I paused. “Go on!” she urged. I did—for a few minutes longer. Then a singular thing happened. On a sudden impulse I rose from my seat. So did she. The next moment I felt her arms around my neck and on my breast she was sobbing out:
“Oh! How I wish I had a child! I would give anything in the world to have such a child!”
I tried to soothe her with such words as came to my tongue. I patted her shoulder, and, when she tearfully looked up at me I kissed her on the cheek. She swiftly returned the endearment on my lips, and, in a minute, was gone!
The next day she called again. Almost automatically we kissed each other. Hers was electrical, and marked the beginning of the end for me. It started such a riot of passion in my breast that the desire for her was constantly in my mind. Repetition fed it to a fury. Sometimes I feared that you must notice my pre-occupation and comparative indifference. But nothing really sobered me, and, as was inevitable, the time soon came when I declared my desire and sought to win her to my will. She refused, saying that only on two conditions would she consent. We must leave Australia, and our baby must be hers.
The shock was terrible. For a few minutes I was dumb. Temporarily, sober reason was restored to me. As calmly as I could, I told her I was quite prepared to go with her wherever she pleased, but I could not have her rob you of both husband and child. She gave me one swift inexplicable look and fled.
Weeks passed. The smouldering fire flamed up again. I telephoned her to come and see me. When she came I fell on my knees and begged her to abandon the condition concerning the child. She sadly shook her head and said:
“I cannot! You do not understand. The child means more to me than you will ever realise. Let me go!” And with a sharp little cry she ran from the room.
More weeks passed. Quite by chance I met her in Collins Street.
“Come to my rooms!” I said. “I want to talk to you!”
She came. And once again I tried by every argument I could command, to alter her resolve. She flung herself into my arms, and, between her tears and her kisses, repeated her previous statements. The warmth of her body, her soft endearments and her distress drove me mad.
I succumbed. We planned together how everything was to be done. Arrangements were made in advance. By the time this letter reaches you we shall be many miles away. It is useless for you to attempt to follow. I regret my act. I think I always shall. But the power which swayed me and committed me to the course I have taken I was too weak to resist. I wish that I could still sign myself: “Your loving husband”; but, as I cannot do so, I truthfully and humbly write instead:
Your sincere well-wisher,
* * * * *
When Mrs. Treverton recovered from the fainting fit which followed the reading of her husband’s letter, she sat for a long time silent and still. The shock she had received affected her so grievously as to render her incapable of physical movement. Mentally, also—in a dull sort of way—she realised her irremediable loss, and could think of nothing else. All her hopes had been utterly destroyed. There was no need to do anything. She was as lifeless and as cold as a stone. Yet, after the first feelings of desolation and despair had more or less subsided, she began to wonder whether anything in her own conduct had contributed to his lapse. She looked again at the sentence: “Sometimes I feared that you must notice my pre-occupation and comparative indifference.” Why had she not noticed it and been more kind. The baby—which she had now lost—had absorbed her too completely. “Women sometimes make that mistake,” she reflected. “It’s a pity they are not warned of the danger they run in paying more attention to the child than to its father.” Aloud she added: “It’s a pity I did not heed my Mother more. She knew, and tried to tell me; but I was so sure of myself and of him, that I did not take it in!” And rising, she mechanically walked into the kitchen and began to prepare a meal.
* * * * *
The deserted wife gradually settled down at “Hill-Holm.” The furnished flat that she and her husband had occupied in the City was now distasteful to her, and she vacated it. An offer of a home with her Mother was gently declined. Why, she scarcely knew, though later on she realised that, at the back of her mind, there was the thought that if ever she was to see her boy again it would be at the place from which he was taken. So it was that, for more than twenty years, she had remained steadfast in her hope. Her Mother, grown older, eventually came to “Hill-Holm” and stayed there until she died. The maid—still with Mrs. Treverton—was thus the only sharer of her expectation that the Postman would some day deliver the long awaited letter.
One morning he was earlier than usual on the “Hill-Holm” side of his round. The reason was that at long last he had a weighty letter to deliver to Mrs. Treverton. Intuitively he felt that it was an important communication, and he was eager to see how she would receive it. If he had imagined a joyful reception, he was not disappointed. She, also, took it for granted that this was the letter for which she had so long hoped, and a smile that was good to see lighted up her face. An instant later, two great tears of joy rolled over the light pink flush of her cheeks, and, with a kiss for the surprised man, she said:
“Not now Postman! Come to-morrow and I’ll tell you all about it after I’ve read it!”
The envelope was a large one. It contained two letters; a larger and a smaller one. The large one was sealed with red wax; the other was endorsed: “Read First.” It was dated from Menzies Hotel, Melbourne, and this is what it said:
Dear Mrs. Treverton,
My Mother is dead. She died in London five months ago. In her Will she directed that I was to send you the sealed letter which is enclosed. Another letter—addressed to me—and also sealed, I was instructed not to open unless I heard from you. If, within a reasonable time. I do not hear from you I am to burn it—unopened.
As you see, I write from a Melbourne address. After settling my late Mother’s affairs I decided to visit Australia. This was partly due to a desire to see the Country and partly the result of curiosity. The fact is I consider it singular that your name—a rather uncommon one—should be the same as my own. I wonder if we are related?
On breaking the seal of the larger envelope Mrs. Treverton withdrew the following letter. It was without a heading and undated; but was addressed.
To Mrs. Bertram Treverton,
“Hill-Holm,” Sherbrooke, Melbourne, Australia.
Immediately under the address the letter abruptly began:
The writer is unknown to you. I am the woman who robbed you of your husband and child. During the last three years or more I have been suffering from an incurable complaint. In a week or two I shall be dead.
For a long time I have contemplated writing as I do now. Conscience, or a sense of justice—I do not know which—now guides my pen.
I believed that I loved Bertram. In a way I did, he was very handsome. But it was the thought of the child—young enough to be mistaken for my own—that captured my mind.
We went first to Sydney and then to Canada. After a holiday time in that great Country we left for England, where we intended to remain. We travelled as Mr. and Mrs. Treverton. I thought we should not have done so; but Bertram would not agree to a change. He said he wanted the boy to bear his own name always.
One day, when we were on the way to England, Bertram and I were in the forefront of the ship watching the long waves break against the bow. Occasionally a little spray broke over us, but it was so very fine that we rather enjoyed it.
Probably to get a better view, Bertram decided to sit upon the flat rail of the ship’s side. I said nothing, for there was no apparent danger. But he was barely seated before a wave, seemingly no different from the others, reared itself up, and, sending a long curving arm into the air, literally snatched Bertram from his position. I screamed with all my might: “Bertram’s overboard! Bertram’s overboard!”
The Officer on the bridge had seen what took place. The ship was instantly stopped, and a boat lowered with Officers and men in their proper places. They searched for quite a long while, but without avail. Bertram was gone forever!
This dreadful happening made me cling more closely to Harold—the baby. I was alone in the world, and he was my only solace.
In England I had him educated at Eton and Oxford. He did well, and can, if he chooses, practice as a Lawyer.
All his life Harold has looked upon me as his Mother. I do not care to undeceive him without being certain that you are still alive. It is to find out that I write. If you do not reply to his letter—which must accompany this one—he need never know the truth. On the other hand, if you do reply, he has instructions to open and read a letter he will receive from my Solicitors after my death.
In that letter I have told him everything. As my last wish, I have asked him to go to you at once. I have also requested him to convey to you my sincere regret at having selfishly kept you apart so long; and to ask you to forgive the woman who, being denied a child of her own, loved yours, and held him to herself with such strong ropes of affection that nought but death could sever them.
* * * * *
Having read all that Lucy Donald had written—Mrs. Treverton, without another moment’s delay—telegraphed her son:
“Come at once. I am waiting for you, Lena Treverton.”
Upon receiving that message, Harold read his own letter. It was a revelation to him. Not for a moment had he suspected the relationship between them that the letter disclosed. All his life he had believed the dead woman to be his Mother. But the story she had written bore the impress of truth, and was so convincing that he immediately sent an urgent wire to say:
“Coming Mother. Leaving now. Harold.”
And then, as swiftly as the driver of a taxi-cab dared to take him, he raced to Sherbrooke. He arrived before his message. The sight of him gladdened his Mother’s eyes, for he was the resplendent image of his father. She fell into his arms, overwhelmed with joy!
They talked until late into the night. But time—and the cost of a waiting taxi—mattered nothing. She clung to his arm in such a way that he knew she was afraid to let him out of her sight. A dozen times he said: “I shall come again to-morrow!” But she only nestled the closer and whispered: “There is no hurry! It’s a long time since I lost you! I want to feel that you are really home at last, and that nothing will ever part us again! I have hungered for you for so many years that I cannot let you go just yet! Be kind to me, my son, and stay a little longer!”
At last he told her he had a confession to make. On the ship by which he came to Melbourne he had met an Australian girl—and they had fallen in love. He would like his real Mother to see her, and he hoped, learn to love her as much as he did. To-morrow, if he might, he would bring Miss Allan with him.
“Yes! Of course! I shall not rest until I see her. Bring her by all means, for I feel certain that I can love her if she loves you!”
* * * * *
And so it came about that she who lost her son had him restored to her, and, in addition, gained a daughter who took the place of one she had hoped to have in the days long gone!
For those who need “a change of air” Kalorama, in the Dandenong Hills, is frequently recommended. Many Doctors think it an ideal health resort, and so advise their patients. But, when Kate Kearney agreed to act as house-maid and waitress at a favourite Guest House there, no medical man was in any way responsible for her acceptance of the position. Although she pretended that she took it with the utmost reluctance, the truth of the matter is that she had her own private reasons for what she did; reasons which she had no intention to disclose. Nevertheless, just before she left Kalorama, Kate told Mrs. Britten, the Proprietress of “Berry House,” the whole story, and so it gained a certain amount of local publicity.
Kate was Irish. She came from Kerry, and her hair was as black as her eyes were blue. But the one was not in keeping with the other, for there was a perpetual twinkle in her “peepers,”—as she called them—which betokened a humorous outlook on life as well as an alert intelligence. She may then have been forty-two years of age; but her cheeks still held the rosy glow of youth, and—although she was so plump as to be almost fat—her energy and sprightliness were remarkable. Yet these were not the attributes which endeared her to all with whom she came in contact. No! It was her permanent and irresponsible good nature; her odd sayings, her ready wit, and, above all, her inherent kindliness, that won for her the affectionate regard of those with whom she became acquainted.
The tales told about her ways and sayings are almost innumerable. Some of the latter so impressed her Mistress that she was never tired of repeating them.
“She says the funniest things, you know! Quaint; and witty too! Really, you cannot help laughing in spite of yourself. And she’s as quick as a flash of lightning. So fast, indeed, that you wonder how she gets her thoughts together in such a brief space of time. One very trying day—I remember—she sent the dinner-table people into a roar of laughter by some remark she made about its being “so hot the Devil couldn’t sup his own soup.”
Reproving her later I said:
“Oh! Kate! Kate! However do you think of such things to say?”
“Shure I dunno M’am!” she replied. “They jist pop inta me head, an befoore ye can say “knife,” they shlips outa me mouth like a lozenge ahead av a shneeze!”
Another subject for many an anecdote was the way in which she rallied sickly guests or handled humbugs. To a thin and dyspeptic looking man she said:
“An’ would ye be havin’ an egg wid your tay Misther Ross?”
“No thank you!” Ross replied. “I do not care for an egg at tea time!”
“Thin, be the powers, take two!” retorted Kate with a rougish smile. ’Tis feedin’ ye want, an’ not med’cin! Thim Docthors is all for shtarvin’ their payshunts; an’ the thinner they kapes thim the fatter their own fees! Look ut here Misther Ross!—There’s no sinse in thryin’ to make the Landlady’s forchun by shcrimpin’ yer food! If ye’ll be takin’ my advice, ye’ll ate an’ ate till I tell ye to shtop! I’ll put some flesh on y’ur bones, I will. An’ some courage in your hearrt too! Be the time I’m done wid ye ye’ll be wantin’ t’ take me in y’ur arrms an’ kiss me!—Neow, what about that egg—or two?”
And she looked at Ross so quizzically that he felt constrained to say:—
“Oh! Very well! Bring them along and I will see what I can do!”
On another occasion she took a spoiled child in hand. Because he was a trifle anaemic—and his mother not properly insistent—constant petting and coaxing had turned him into a merciless little tyrant; wilful, fractious, unbiddable, unbearable. As the first meal was about to be served, his mother said to Kate:—
“Oo! I really don’t know what to do with Rupert. He wont eat what I offer him and he persists in asking for things that I am sure are not good for him. Perhaps you could persuade him to take the right kinds of food. I should be so pleased, for the Doctor thinks that proper feeding will be his salvation!”
“Oh! Ho! An’ is that so?” said Kate, looking the young rebel in the eye. “An’ do you be tellin’ me”—she said to him—“that ye are such a big bully as all that? Be the Saints I wouldn’t have belaved ye c’ud treat your own Mother like that! Ye’ll be thryin’ it on me next, I suppose? But it won’t go down wid me Masther Rupert! I’m that shtrong that I c’ud kill ahnny one wid a blow av me fisht!”
The boy looked startled.
“Oh! But I’m kind too!” she quickly added, nodding her head affirmatively. “Thim that I likes I brings the titbits from the kitchen! Whist neow! Wait till I tell ye somethin’ your Mother caan’t hear!”
And she stooped and whispered in his ear:
“Come inta the kitchen, an’ I’ll show ye the loveliest t’ing ye iver saw in yer life!”
He followed her!
“Look at that neow!” said she, pointing to a hot roast turkey just ready for cutting up. “Did ye iver see ahnnything so foine? Shure your Mother’ll be wantin’ ye to have a bit av the breast. Don’t take it. Ask fer the leg! An’ whin ye get it, pick it up in your fingers an’ bite the m’ate off the bone! ’Tis the shw’atest ’atin’ ye iver thried!”
And so saying she winked at him in such a confidential way—and yet with such a dare-devil look on her face; that the boy sensed a game, and was instantly ready to play it.
They returned to the dining room. The bell had rung for dinner, and the guests were seated. Rupert took the chair allotted him—opposite his mother. When asked if he would have some roast turkey he promptly replied:
“Yes please! Bring me the leg!”
“Oh! Rupert!” said his Mother; “why not have a piece of the breast? I’m sure it would be much better for you.”
“No! I want the leg. And I’m going to have the leg!”
Kate brought it. A minute later he had it in his fingers; and nothing his Mother could say would induce him to put it down until he had picked it clean.
Of course, such conduct was quite improper, and Kate knew it. But that was her way of gaining the boy’s confidence, and to such good purposes did she put it that—within a fortnight—his health had improved and he was ready to eat whatever was given to him, Moreover, so subtly did she influence his mind that his treatment of his Mother was decidedly better. She, poor soul, thought it was all due to the mountain air; but could she have heard the lessons Kate taught him when they were alone—which was often, for he was her slave and followed her everywhere—she would certainly have doubled Kate’s tip.
As indicated, Kate easily won the good-will and affection of almost all with whom she came in contact. Amongst others, Pearl Grey—Mrs. Britten’s younger sister—and Wyvern Waite, to whom Pearl was engaged to be married, were greatly tickled with her effervescent humour. They were Members of the same Comedy Company, and each was a rising star in the Theatrical Profession. On holiday together at “Berry House,” Pearl renewed a previous acquaintance with Kate, and Waite—despite Pearl’s praise of her powers—was in no way disappointed with her first exhibition of them.
But—before giving an account of “the Session”—as Waite called it—a few words about a “preliminary scene” will pave the way to the other. Of this scene nothing might have been heard except for Kate herself; and then only because she mentioned it in connection with an enquiry concerning a household matter.
Somewhere about nine o’clock on the morning after Waite’s arrival at “Berry House,” Kate came to Mrs. Britten and said:
“If y’ pl’ase Ma’am, would I be makin’ eliven o’clock tay f’r iverybody t’day?”
To which Mrs. Britten replied—not taking her eyes from the letter she was writing:
“Yes! Kate! Of Course! Why do you ask?”
“Well, Ma’am!” Kate slowly answered, “nayther Miss Pearrl ’r Misther Waite ’d have ahnny in bed this morning, an’ I wonder’t if they’d be takin’ tay at all!”
This statement caused Mrs. Britten to lift her eyes, and looking at Kate she said—reflectively:
“Oh! Yes! I think so!... I know my sister takes tea—and most men, now-a-days, like ‘one at eleven!’ I think you might get it ready for all the guests as usual!”
“An’ wid shwate biscuits f’r all I s’pose?” queried Kate.
“Yes!... No!” answered Mrs. Britten. “Better make a few sandwiches in case Mr. Waite does not care for biscuits.”
“Allright Ma’am! I’ll do as y’ say!... But might I be askin’ another question?... Is Misther Waite in his right moind, ’r is he an acthor—like y’r sisther—Miss Pearrl?”
“Yes! He’s an Actor, Kate!” replied Mrs. Britten. “And—so my sister says—he’s as full of fun as an egg is full of meat! But whatever made you think he wasn’t in his right mind?”
“Well! Ma’am ’Twas the way he carried on whin I tuk him in his earrly mornin’ tay!... First av all he calls me He—Kate! Did ye iver hear the like? “Hello He-Kate!” sez he as soon as I open’t the doore. Thin, as I stept in, he rowl’t his eyes around’t as if he wuz in mortal agony, an’ sez in a hoarse kind av a voice: “Get eout. He-Kate! ’Tis not yet time f’r toads on toast!” ... An’ whin I dropped the cup an’ skedaddled, I c’d hear him laffin’ like a hyena!”
The last statement—and the puzzled look on Kate’s face—moved Mrs. Britten to laughter; but quickly recovering she said
“Oh! Kate! That was just his fun. He dearly loves a joke!”
“An’ is that so?” snapped Kate. “Thin be the powers I’ll be ready f’r ’im the next time he thrys wan on me!”
“Now Kate!” said Mrs. Britten sharply. “Please remember that the guests at “Berry House” are to be treated with respect—and don’t be rude to anyone! Both you and I may sometimes feel annoyed at things which are said or done; but, for the good of the House we must bear them patiently!”
“Yes! Ma’am!” said Kate, demurely. And she softly left the room.
As to “the Session” itself, some introduction is necessary.
When previously at “Berry House” Miss Grey twice assisted in entertaining the guests at what was called “An Evening Party.” Kate—seated somewhere out of sight—had been greatly impressed with her impersonations of several well-known actresses, and afterwards told Mrs. Britten that she thought her sister was “the greatest mimic in the worrld!” This remark she repeated on learning that Miss Grey was again coming to Kalorama; and it was at her suggestion that—on the evening of their arrival—Mrs. Britten had induced her sister and Waite “to do something” on the following night.
In keeping with this promise—about an hour after Kate’s description of how he had “carried on,”—Waite entered the Reception-Reading Room to do a little rehearsing. After carefully closing the doors, he took a small book from his pocket and started reading to himself. A minute or two later—apparently satisfied—he said aloud:
“Yes! I think I know it now!... Let me see—it will have to go like this!” And turning to an imaginary audience he said:
“Ladies and Gentlemen! I am come to speak the prologue to our play to night!
“The World’s a stage, as Shakespeare said one day:
The stage a world—was what he meant to say!
The outside world’s a blunder, that is clear.
For the real world that Nature meant is here!
Here every foundling finds its lost Mamma!
Each rogue, repentant, melts his stern Papa!
Misers relent; the spend-thrift’s debts are paid—
The cheats are taken in the traps they laid;
One after one the troubles all are past—
Till the fifth act comes right side up at last,
When the young couple, old folks, rogues and all.
Join hands, so happy, at the curtain’s fall!
...Ours then, sweet friends, the real world to-night.
But—just as he uttered the last word—there was a loud knocking at the door on the right. In a flash Waite turned and laughingly called out:
“Come in if you’re fat! Stay out if you’re lean!”
Instantly Kate opened the door: a broad grin on her face.
“Oh! Ho! My Irish Kate!” exclaimed Waite, and without a pause, merrily warbled:
“And how do the praties in Ireland now do?
Is the cow-milk as shwate as it used to be too?”
No less quickly—and imitating him to perfection—Kate replied:
“They’re doin’ as well—Misther Acthor—as you!
An’ t’day ye’ll have both in a good Irish Stew!”
This effort so astonished Waite that, in sheer admiration, he exclaimed:
“Kate! You’re a jewel!”
“Yes! I know!” she snapped. “Rough-cut an’ red, like the ruby in the Sultan av Eyesore’s hat!”
With a brave attempt at gravity, Waite corrected her.
“No! No! Kate! Not Eyesore; Mysore!”
“Well!” she said—doing her best to be dignified—“I seen his picture wanst; but I disremember whether ’twas Eyesore, Mysore, or His-sore that wuz printed underneath ut!...But phwat I do remimber is that he had as mahnny jew’ls on his chest as a Mother Superior ’ud have in her hearrt!”
“Hooroo for Ireland!” half shouted Waite. And then added—much more soberly—nodding his head:
“Do you know Kate, I think I’ll have to kiss you!”
Kate showed no surprise. On the contrary she archly said:
“Oh! ’Tis allright be me!... But ye won’t find me so tasty as y’r shwateheart—Miss Grey!... Shtill—if ye care t’ risk it—’twill be like a birthday t’ me!”
“Birthday? Is this your Birthday, Kate?”
“No! But ’tis just twenty-six years ago t’day since I had me first kiss fr’m a mahn in Austhralia!”
“Ha! Ha!” yelled Waite. “Come hither, my bouncing beauty, and I’ll give you one to remember!”
Whereupon he stepped forward, swept her into his arms, and kissed her warmly on her cheek and lips.
Breaking free, Kate quickly tried to get back to the normal state of affairs.
“Neow that’ll be enough Misther Wyvern Waite! Shure if Miss Pearrl were t’ come in neow y’d be in throuble allright ... Carryin’ on wid the likes av me! It won’t do at all—at all!”
Of course Waite pretended to be abashed; and seeing this, Kate more composedly asked:
“Neow tell me! Couldn’t I be callin’ ye somethin’ else than ‘Misther Wyvern Waite?’ ’Tis a fancy name t’ be shure—but ’tis a terrible mouthful too! ... Couldn’t I say ‘Misther Wyvern’...’r ‘Misther Waite’?”
Much amused, Waite slowly replied:
“Well! We might arrange that matter, Kate!.. You see, my familiar friends call me ‘Wyvern’; others call me ‘Waite’.”
“Oh! Ho!” Kate chortled. “’Tis just the same wid meself! Ye see”—imitating his style—“the familiar wans call me Kate—others call me Wait-ress! Ye can call me Kate if ye like!”
And out of the room she ran; her contagious laughter catching Waite before he could frame a reply.
* * * * *
When Kate had been at Kalorama a little over four years, a most unusual incident occurred. Without warning, she did not appear to serve afternoon tea at the appointed hour. This neglect of duty was so extraordinary that her Mistress—Mrs. Britten—thought she must be unwell, and went to enquire.
On entering Kate’s room—after knocking—Mrs. Britten was astonished to find her valued assistant in tears. As she said later:—
“The sight almost took my breath away. As you know, Kate was the cheeriest soul I ever had in my house. Yet there she stood—with a letter in her hand—just delivered by the afternoon post—silently weeping. “Why Kate,” said I—when I could find words—“Whatever is the matter? You crying! surely you must have had some bad news. Tell me, can I help you? What is it?”“
“’Tis for joy Ma’am that I weep,” she answered with a watery smile. “I’m that proud I c’ud fill the Mystic Lake wid me tears! Somebody’s comin’ to see me—one that I haven’t been t’ see meself for years an’ years! An’ me just achin’ t’ see him all the time. Oh! ’Tis proud I am that he’s comin’ t’ see me neow! Yes! Ma’am an’ he’s a Riverint too!”
“A Reverend? Do you mean that a Priest is coming to see you?”
“Yes! Ma’am! He’s comin’ t’morra!”
“Oh! But I must tell ye all about him! I’ve just got t’ tell somebody or I’ll break in two wid joy. Haven’t I kep meself an’ me sowl bottled up fer years? Haven’t I shut me teeth an’ bit me tongue from tellin’ anybody why I kem t’ Kalorama, an’ the secret av me life? But, be the Saints, I’ll be happy t’ tell ye all about it neow. Don’t l’ave me! Let me tell ye at once’t ’r me hearrt’ll burst.” And she caught Mrs. Britten by the arm to make sure that she would stay!
“Ye see Ma’am, ’twas like this: Whin the American Naavy kem t’ Melbourne, in 1908, I was workin’ fer me marrit sister who was keepin’ a Boordin’ House at Port Melbourne. An’ one evenin’, whin I’m shtandin’ at the doore watchin’ the Sailor bhoys go by, up comes a red haired gossoon wid sea-blue eyes an’ the whitest laffin’ teeth ye iver see!
“Hello! Kate!” sez he, wid a shmile.
“Hullo! Pat!” sez I, returnin’ his grin.
“How’d yew know m’ name baby?” sez he, wid a soft sort av dhrawl on his tongue.
“In the same way as ye knew mine!” sez I. “Guessed it!”
“An’ a mighty good guess I guess!” sez he, laffin’ pretty, an’ showin’ his white teeth.
“Thin sez he t’ me:
“D’Yew know, yew’re the livin’ image av me cousin Kate!”
“An’ is that so?” sez I. “An’ d’ you know that—although I haven’t got a cousin Pat—you’re the livin’ image av him, an’ that’s a fact!”
“Wid that he gave such a beautiful rollin’ laff that it sent a tingle down me shpine.
“Say” he wint on, “would yew like to go to a dance t’night
“Would I like t’ go to me own weddin’?” sez I, “an’ me dancin’ mad! Thry me!”
“Come along thin baby!” sez he. “I’m takin’ yew around town t’night!”
“Oh! Ye are, are ye? An’ me not even knowin’ y’ur name!”
“Call me phwat the bhoys call me!” sez he. “Pee Jay”!
“Allright ‘Pee Jay’,” sez I. “Just wait ’til I put on me hat!” An’ I rusht inside t’ get it. But as I was goin’ out me Sister Mary yelled: “Where ye goin’ Kate?” I didn’t tell her, for I was that excited I couldn’t even think!
“Oh! Ma’am he gev me the time av me life. An’ whin he was l’avin me at me own doore he ups an’ sez, sez he:
“Would yew like t’ come aboard m’ ship?”
“Well!” sez I, “I’m a bit partic’lar; an’ I don’t want to be captured be a pirate! Is y’ur ship respectable’ An’ ahnnyhow, phwat’s its name?”
“The Ver-mont” sez he, handin’ me a narrow green ribbon wid the name printed on it in gold letthers.
“Oh! Very well thin!” sez I. “Seein’ that ye have ould Ireland’s colours in y’ur ribbon, I’ll risk it an’ go!”
“To-morra?” he asks.
“Yes!” sez I.
“Allright! Kiss me good-night Kate, an’ I’ll be lookin’ out fer yew to’morra afternoon about three o’clock.”
“No!” sez I, pretendin’ like. “I’m that shy I couldn’t kiss ahnny one in the dark! An’ besides, I like t’ see who’s kissin’ me! But I’ll tell ye phwat I’ll do. Afther I’ve been aboord, an’ whin I’m l’avin’ the ship I’ll give ye two!”
“Wid that he sweeps me into his arms, Ma’am; an’ I’m all av a thrimble whin I get inside!
“The next afthernoon me sister Mary did’nt want me t’ go. She said that the Yankees were a murtherin’ mob. Down-right blagyards! Birds av passage, widout ahnny morals ‘r scruples. An’ she was just goin’ t’ say somethin’ else whin I ups an’ shpeaks me mind:
“I suppose it’s jealous ye are; me bein’ taken aboord an’ not yourself? Well! I’m takin’ the risks av this “murtherin’ mob,” an’ not you!” An’ I shticks me nose in the air an’ marches out while she stands there wid her mouth open at me audacity in defyin’ her.
“Oh! But t’was a queer afthernoon ahnnyhow! Phwat wid gun’ down t’ the Pier; an’ gettin’ on boord a puffin’ and stutterin’ little t’ing av a boat; an’ me nearly tumblin’ inta the watther when it rolled as I shtepped on a rickety s’ate; an’ me hat fallin’ down behind me head while I wuz climbin’ up a kind av a ladder alongside the big battleship—shore I was almost ready t’ cry wid worry an’ excitement! An’ whin I did get aboord little chance I got t’ see the ship—wid him takin’ me inta places where there was nobody else—so that he c’ud cuddle me an’ squeeze me just as he pleased. Not that I didn’t like it meself. But whin me sister Mary asked me what I thought av the ship, all that I c’ud tell her was that it had more dark corners than a cat’s castle!
“Well Ma’am! He kep takin’ me out all the time his ship was in poort. An’ I had the father an’ mother av a glorious time! Dancin’ an’ ’atin’ an’ goin’ t’ the the-atre until me very sowl seemed t’ be swimmin’ in joy. Shure I’ve niver had ahnnything like it befoore ’r since!...
“Once he brought me up t’ Kalorama here! in me day off ’twas. I thought it the beautifullest place in the worrld. An’ that’s why I kem back here. One night,—I disremember how long it was afther I first met up with him,—he sez t’ me as we were sitting’ on the grass in Albert Park:
“Kate! I’m shtarvin’ f’r yew!”
“Yes!” sez I, enquirin’ like. “Ye’re shtarvin’ are ye? Well. I’m hungry myself. Hungry ‘s Hell fer coals!”
“Great jumpin’ geewhillikins!” he sorter shouts. “D’ yew know phwat I mane? or hev ye got the notion av a hash-house an’ some ’ates?”
“No!” sez I, lookin’ at him like a pussy cat watchin’ a Tom comin’ over the fince. “No! I wasn’t thinkin’ about phwat ye calls ‘hot dawgs,’ ’r fish and chips!”...
‘And that, Ma’am, is all I’ll be tellin’ ye about that!”
* * * * *
“Whin me baby kem, Mary, me sisther treated me well. ’Twas the child that did it; me baby bhoy. Up to that time you’d think that her voice had been oiled wid vinegar—she was that scornful about me bein’ ‘in throuble’, an’ the ‘disgrace t’ the family,’ and all that! But shure I wasn’t ‘in throuble.’ I was that happy wid Pee Jay’s babe comin’ t’ me that I could very nearly have sung the ‘Boyne Watther’. an’ God knows that’s harrd chune fora loyal Irish gerrl t’ sing! No.! She wasn’t bad at all! She let me kape the bhoy at the boordin’ house till he was three years old. The little darlint thin bekem such a thrial,—runnin’ all over the place, an’ wantin’ so much watchin’ an’ tendin’, that I just had t’ take him to the Catholic Bhoys Orphanage. Oh! ’Twas a hearrt break fer me, so it wuz!...
“Av course I had t’ tell the Riverint Father in charge the whole story! An’ whin I had tould him it all.—l’avin’ nothin’ eout,—his face was as harrd as a tombstone, an’ his for’head as wrinkled as a washin’ boord!
“Kate,” sez he, as solemn a’ an owl, “ye committed a mortal sin!”
“Glory be t’ God fer that!” sez I.
“Phwat’s that!” he cries. “In the name av the Holy Virgin phwat are ye sayin’?”
“Well!” sez I shlowly, “’tis shurely betther t’ commit a mortal sin than an immortal one!” An’ I giv a bit av a laff.
“Oh! Kate!” sez he, wid a funny shmile, “you’re incolligible!”
“No! I’m not” I snaps “But that’s what I want fer me bhoy t’ be!”
“Phwat?” sez he,—wid a puzzled frown,—“Phwat d’ you mane?”
“I mane,” sez I, dhrawlin’ me words. “that I want—me bhoy—brought up—in a college!”
“Oh! Ho!” he chuckles. An’ in a minnit he had a big book on the table, an’ was askin’ me the divil’s own questions.
“Phwat’s his name?” sez he.
“Pee Jay,” sez I.
“No! No!” sez he impatiently, “I don’t want t’ know his initials, I want t’ know his full name!”
“An’ amn’t I tellin’ ye his full name? Shure that was his father’s name,—the only one I iver knew,—an’ I’ve called him afther his father! Phwat more would ye be wantin’?”
“Tush!” sez he, “If ye cannot be tellin’ me his father’s real name, tell me the name av his ship!”
“The Verr-mont!” sez I, on me dignity.
“Oh Ah!” he pipes, shtrokin’ his chin, an’ lookin’ at me in a queer kind av a way. “Oh Ah! The ‘Ver-mont’ Eh? That means ‘green hill,’ Good! Very good! Thin we’ll call y’r ‘Pee Jay’ be the name of ‘Patrick Joseph Greenhill!’“
“An’ neow, Ma’am, he’s the Rivirint Father Greenhill! Oh! I’ve worked fer him, and saved fer him, an’ ped fer him at College. Sent me money all the years till he was educated an’ bekem a Priest, an’ me only seein’ him at odd times, an’ him never knowin’ that I’m his marrit mother, Oh! Mother av Moses, phwat am I sayin’—I really m’ane that he doesn’t know I’m un-marrit! He thinks me a widdy! Oh! ’tis a haard worrld whin ye have t’ dec’ave y’r own son! An’ that’s the reason I haven’t seen much av him—an’ not at all fer the last six years!
“Ye see, Ma’am, I didn’t let him know where I was whin he grew up a bit,—for fear he might ask me awkward questions! Oh! ’Tis shtarved I was fer the sight av him. But I had t’ bear it. Thin I see be the papers that he was goin’ down t’ Tasmania t’ take charge av a Parish there, an’ the Mother’s hearrt av me wouldn’t let him go widout me seein’ him. So I wrote him a letther a coupla days ago, On y’ur letther paper Ma’am. But instead av signin’ “Mother” as I did before,—years ago,—whin I wuz sindin’ him a little pocket money,—I sign’t it “Kate Greenhill, care av Mrs. Britten, Kalorama!” An’ me that scared’t fer fear the divil ’ud be noticin’ pwhat I wuz doin’ an’ hold it agin me. But I fooled him, Ma’am. Oh! Yes! I tricked him allright! Ye see, Ma’am, he caant stand the Word av God; an’ he just flies from an open Bible! So I just borrit y’urs; open’d it wide; put me letther on the face av it; an’ sign’t it like a dacent marrit woman!
“Ah! But neow I’m in throuble, f’r he’s comin’ t’ see me tomorra, Yes Ma’am! Real throuble, f’r altho’ me hearrt is filled wid joy, me mind is thremblin wid anxiety! . , An’ that’s why I’m tellin’ ye all this; an why I’d be askin’ ye t’ do me the greatest favor in the worrld... Would ye lend me y’ur weddin’ ring fer the time me bhoy’ll be here?... An fer the love av the Holy Virgin don’t be callin’ me ahnnything but Kate ’r Mrs. Greenhill, f’r I wouldn’t have him shamed,—not t’ be an angel in Heaven! No! Ma’am! I wouldn’t, and that’s the truth... ’twill be the lasht time I’ll be seein’ him, an’ I’d always like t’ have him believe himself as good as the best!”
So Kate concluded her story. It had been told so rapidly,—and under such a strong wave of emotion,—that, at the end, she was shaking with nervous excitement. Tears were not far from her eyes,—and seeing her state Mrs. Britten patted her on the shoulder and said:—
“There there Kate! You know that I’ll do anything I can for you. Yes! You shall even have the use of my wedding ring during the time that your son is here!”
This show of kindness completely upset Kate’s reserve. She threw her arms around Mrs. Britten’s neck and sobbed:
“Oh! God bless ye Ma’am! I’m shure I don’t know phwat I’d be doin’ widout y’ur help!”
But Mrs. Britten gently disengaged herself from Kate’s embrace, and, with motherly cheerfulness, proceeded to give her some advice,
“And now Kate, you should begin to think about the meeting with your son, To-morrow you must put on your best black dress and a clean white apron and cap,—for you must look as nice as you can... And, whatever you do, do not weep. Men hate tears more than anything. It makes them feel awkward and helpless. Just be your own bright self and all will be well. And one more matter before you go back to your work. If you would like me to keep you company whilst you are waiting your son’s arrival to-morrow, I’ll do it. We can sit at the window and watch for the car together, and you will not then feel so nervous. Here’s my ring! You had better get used to the feel of it on your finger, Now be off!”
And with a grateful word of thanks Kate left the room.
* * * * *
The next day was full of excitement for Kate; and, indeed, for all others at “Berry House,” Almost as soon as lunch was over, Kate prepared for the meeting with her son. He was expected to arrive about three o’clock. As that hour drew near, Kate dressed as suggested, and wearing Mrs. Britten’s wedding ring, went to the big window of the dining room and stood gazing towards the entrance gates of the grounds. Presently her Mistress joined her, for she, better than anyone else, understood the strain under which Kate was labouring. And it was well that she did, for Kate was so filled with interest, anxiety and love that she might otherwise have given way to her emotions, As it was, Mrs. Britten’s calming touch upon her arm kept her silent—though not exactly still.
Precisely on time the Reverend Father Greenhill’s car drew up at the gate, As he came up the garden path all could see what a fine figure of a man he was, and—when he got closer to the house—how handsome he was as well. To Kate he was such a splendid being she could hold herself in no longer, but—in a sort of awed whisper—said to Mrs. Britten:
“Oh! Look ut him Ma’am! The livin’ image of Pee Jay! The very height an’ hair an’ eyes av him! Ah! there he shmiles; an’ the dead rink av Pee Jay too! Glory be to God Ma’am, I hope I won’t faint wid joy! An’ look at the shtyle av him too! Shure the Almighty caan’t be very angry wid me ‘mortal sin’ whin he gev me a mahn like that!”
The next moment she was in his arms,
An hour or so later Kate was having a delightful time listening to her son, who, it appeared, had already visited Tasmania, and was filled with enthusiasm for its people, and what he hoped to accomplish in the Parish to which he had been assigned. Suddenly he asked:
“How would you like to come to Tasmania with me? I shall probably be there a very long time—perhaps for the rest of my life. Any return to Melbourne—even a flying visit—is highly problematical—so that, unless you come to see me, we may never meet again, And that is the last thing I should like to happen, for, now that I have found you, Mother dear, I do not feel like losing you, I have no doubt I could find you a place over there; or you might even act as my house-keeper, and then we could see each other as often as we liked; maybe every day, If the idea appeals to you as much as it does to me, then you have only to tell me so and I will make all the necessary arrangements. What do you say?”
“Phwat do I say? Would I like t’ go t’ Tasmania wid ye? Don’t be askin’ me such a silly question. Shure I’d go wid ye to the Cannibal Islands if I had the chance—an’ me that plump I’d be makin’ the haythin divils’ mouths watther. Av coorse I’ll go wid ye to Tasmania—or ahnny other place in the worrld if ye’d be askin me!”
Here Kate paused, and meditatively added:
“The only thing I don’t like about goin’ is l’avin’ Mrs. Britten widout givin’ her dacent notice. She’s been that good an’ kind t’ me, an’ I’ve been so happy wid her, that I don’t like l’avin’ her in the lurch!”
“No! Indeed!” said Father Greenhill, reflectively. “That certainly would not be right. But could we not ask her about it, and get her consent?... If need be I could leave you here for nearly another week; but that would be cutting things very close, You see, the boat leaves to-morrow week; and you would surely want some little time in the city before sailing. There must be quite a number of things you would like to purchase in Melbourne rather than in Tasmania!”
Just as the last words were uttered. Mrs. Britten came into the room, They naturally caught her ear, and, with a faint tone of anxiety in her voice, she quickly asked:
“What’s this about Tasmania, Kate? Are you proposing to take a trip there some day?”
But before Kate could answer, Father Greenhill took the question up.
“The fact is, Mrs. Britten, Mother has just promised to come and keep house for me in Hobart! She is very loth to leave you on short notice, for she has an affection for you which is very deep-seated I find. But my time is limited, and, if not inconvenient to you—she would like to get away about a week from now! That will leave her a little more than a day in the city. Not much time to purchase things she may require; but it will have to do!”
Although undoubtedly surprised, Mrs. Britten promptly replied:
“To tell you the truth, Father Greenhill, it will be inconvenient. But it would be just the same in a month—or a year!... I have never had anyone else as competent as Kate—or who was as popular with the guests... I shall miss her very much indeed—and so will many others.... Yet, not for anything would I press her to stay with me. I know how she loves you, and it would be a shame to keep you apart!”
“You are very kind! Very kind!” murmured Father Greenhill.
“Not at all!” replied Mrs. Britten. “It is no more than her due. Kate has earned the joy that has come to her, and—so far as I am concerned—well—‘Berry House’ will manage somehow. Indeed, she may leave whenever she pleases—even to-day—if it will make her as happy as she deserves!”
This generous gesture so astonished Father Greenhill that he could scarcely contain himself:
“Really—Mrs. Britten—you overwhelm us with kindness. To-day?”
“Yes! Father, to-day! .... I can see that you do not quite understand. But the truth is I am trying to help myself—as well as Kate—your Mother! Every hour, every minute that she remains with me now will be a heartache for both of us. It is better that the parting should take place at once!”
These brave words—although quietly spoken—did not hide from Father Greenhill the deep emotional strain under which Mrs. Britten laboured in giving them utterance. Her entirely unselfish attitude revealed a spirit of generous kindliness as rare as it is beautiful. He was greatly moved, and it was with a sincere appreciation of her self-sacrifice that he hastened to say:
“My dear Mrs. Britten, your sentiments—and your generosity—do you credit! I can resist neither! And so—”
“We go t’day!” rapturously interjected Kate. “Oh! Ma’am! Ye are the finest woman in the wide wide woorld!...An’ though I’m l’avin ye t’day—shure I’d die f’r ye tomorra!”
And she laughed so happily that the tenseness of the situation was immediately relieved.
Discussion of departure details immediately followed. The news that Kate was leaving late that afternoon soon spread amongst the guests, Two of them assisted her to get ready, and several others made her little presents, Mrs Britten added a purse containing five one-pound notes, And so it came about that, her bags packed, arrayed in her best, and with hat and gloves on—amid a small shower of fond farewells—Kate left Kalorama for ever.
* * * * *
Although unnoticed by her son—and in spite of her personal discomfort—Kate kept her gloves on until she was “booked in” at the Melbourne Coffee Palace.
Shown to her room—which, of course, he must inspect—she swiftly took off her hat and the distressful gloves. With the removal of the latter she gave a startled look, and, in pretended dismay exclaimed—
“Just look at that me darlint!” Holding out her left hand, “Would ye believe that ahnny woman could be so shtupid? B’t I was that excited about goin’ away wid ye—an’ so bustled about gettin’ me things t’gether—that I’ve left me ring behind. In the name av God, Pee Jay—excuse me f’r callin’ ye by y’r father’s name—phwat will ye be thinkin’ av me? Am n’t I the crankiest divil av a craythur ye iver set eyes on? Oh! Phwat’ll I do? Phwat’ll I do?”—she almost wept.
“Do? Mother dear. Do? You’ll just come along with me at once, and I’ll buy you a new one! Come!”
Of course, the heavy hat and distasteful gloves had to go on again, But what did Kate care? She had played her cards so successfully that, at the moment—there could not have been a happier woman on earth. But she was far too clever to show her triumph, and it was with an air of grateful meekness—like unto one who has received a gracious gift—that she accompanied her son to a jeweller’s shop.
Once inside the door her attitude changed. She put on all the dignity and calm that she could command; firmly resolved that her demeanor should in no way belittle her son. Nevertheless, what took place must have seemed extraordinary even to the case-hardened attendant who came forward to serve them.
“My Mother has lost her wedding ring and wants a new one! Would you kindly show us some of your best?”
At the word “best” Kate lifted her left eyebrow in such a peculiar fashion, and looked at the shopman with such a mixture of love and pride in her eyes, that he could scarcely refrain from laughing, Controlling his feelings, however, he managed to utter a respectful “Yes, Sir,” and opening a glass case behind him—took out a silver tray on which were set, on a strip of black velvet, a number of plain gold rings, A thick and heavy one was instantly picked up by her son, who said:
“Try this one, Mother! It’s a beauty!”
But Kate—who instinctively knew it to be the dearest of them all—exhibited no enthusiasm. Somewhat slowly—and with a very dubious look on her face—she put it on her finger; but could not refrain from moving her hand this way and that to note the effect, As was plain to see, it fitted perfectly; but she abruptly took it off, and said:
“’Tis too thick, Shure it would shpread me other fingers so badly they might think they were bein’ pushed off me hand, I’d be uncomfortable I would!” And, with a surreptitious wink at the salesman, she added: “Pick me a thinner wan if you pl’ase!”
But the man knew his work, and—seeing that her son wished her to have a really good ring—he pressed her to take the expensive one, saying that it was a perfect fit, and that in time she would get used to wearing it, This was not what she had expected from him. Instead of getting his help—as she hoped would be the case when she gave him the wink—he persisted in his attempt to effect the sale of the highest priced ring, This annoyed her, and she showed it in her own characteristic way,
“Look ut here me fine bhoy! Ye shop walkers an’ the like get used t’ pushin’ things on to people that they don’t need, an’ at threble the price they’ll be wantin’ t’ give! I won’t be havin’ me son pay away money that c’ud be put to a betther use! ’Tis waste it is, an’ I won’t shtand for ’t! So ye can put y’ur rings away!”
“Hush! Hush! Mother!” interjected her son, “The price doesn’t matter in the least, I want you to have a really good ring!”
“Oh! Ho! Ye do, do ye? An’ me nearly forthy-six years ould. Shure I’ll be dead befoore tis half worn out, an’ ye’ll be buryin’ the half av yer money wid me poor ould frame. Go along wid ye! If ye’z will be shpendjn’ so much money, buy me one at half the price—an’ I’ll be takin’ the other fer new clothes fer me silver weddin’—altho’, glory be, that’s past ahnnyhow.”
These remarks, despite their obvious sincerity—were yet so humorously expressed that neither the shopman nor Father Greenhill could refrain from laughing. And though their mirth affected Kate, (whose own risible faculties were easily moved), she, being in serious mood, was none the less a little surprised at it, and so looked at them with such an air of puzzlement that it only added fuel to the fire. But—seeing how matters stood—Father Greenhill quickly recovered his gravity and made haste to add:
“You’re incorrigible, Mother! But please yourself! I want you to—”
“Shure I know phwat ye want!” interrupted Kate, “But ’t is a long time since I heard that worrd befoore! An’ like y’rself ’twas a Riverint Father that used it too!... How d’ye say it? In-col-ligible?”
“Oh! No! Mother dear! It’s pronounced ‘in-corr-igible,’ and it means that you cannot be corrected: You will have your own way!”
“An’ why not t’ be shure?” queried Kate, lifting her right shoulder and elevating her left eyebrow in such a comical manner that the shopman had to turn away and smother another laugh. “Aren’t ye givin’ me the choice av a ring t’ suit meself?”
“Yes! Yes! Of course! That’s exactly what I want you to do!” answered her son.
“Thin be holy Saint Pether I’ll do it!” Kate firmly retorted. And she quickly turned to the counter, picked a ring from the tray and added:
“There ye are me honey! Half the price, an’ just as good! Put it on me finger! an’ may the blessin’s av Heav’n folla ye till the end av yer days!”
* * * * *
That night—after a most wonderful day—Kate lay in bed thinking of her good fortune. She had not switched off the electric light, and—looking at the ring as it shone upon her finger—she whispered to herself:
“Oh! Kate! Kate!—ye wicked divil—ye don’t deserve it. Here ye are wid a weddin’ ring on y’ur finger... An’ put there be a Priest! Why, ’tis almost the same as gettin’ marrit in Churrch! Glory be, ’tis nearly too beautiful to be thrue... An’ you wid a lovin’ son, too! An’ him that handsome that he looks like a pic’ture, Oh! ’Tis wonderful indade! Shure the Almighty has fergiven ye intirely, or He wouldn’t be so good to ye afther all these years! An’ ye’re gun’ t’ Tasmania, too!...Where nobody’ll know ahnnythin’ about y’r past! ... An’ where ye can be y’r son’s Mother—an’ tend him—an’ do f’r him—an’ love him till ye die!”
And, as two big tears of joy welled into her eyes, she added:
“Oh! Father in Heav’n! ’Tis thankful I am—wid all me sowl!... Pl’ase don’t let me lose me joy, ’r me bhoy! An’, be the ring av love,” kissing it—“I’ll serve ye night an’ day till I’m done wid the worrld!”
So saying—she switched off the light; and with a murmured: “Dear God—Good-night,”—she once more pressed the ring to her lips, and so fell asleep!!!
The paper used in the production of this book was manufactured in Tasmania from Australian wood-pulp, It is known as “Australian M.F.” paper.
Project Gutenberg Australia