The Table of Contents is not part of the original book.
First published in Great Britain by
William Blackwood & Sons
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ENGLISH MEN WHO BELIEVE IN VOTES FOR WOMEN
THIS STORY IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED, BECAUSE THE WOMEN HEREIN CHARACTERISED WERE NEVER FORCED TO BE
THEIR COUNTRYMEN HAVING GRANTED THEM THEIR RIGHTS AS
IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD 1902.
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TWO. AT CLAY'S.
THREE. BECOMING ACQUAINTED WITH GRANDMA CLAY.
FOUR. DAWN'S AMBITION.
FIVE. MISS FLIPP'S UNCLE.
SIX. GRANDMA CLAY'S LOVE-STORY.
SEVEN. THE LITTLE TOWN OF NOONOON.
EIGHT. GRANDMA TURNS NURSE.
NINE. THE KNIGHT HAS A STOLEN VIEW OF THE LADY.
TEN. PROVINCIAL POLITICS AND SEMI-SUBURBAN DENTISTS.
ELEVEN. ANDREW DISGRACES HIS "RARIN'."
TWELVE. SOME SIDE-PLAY.
THIRTEEN. VARIOUS EVENTS.
FOURTEEN. THE PASSING OF THE TRAINS.
FIFTEEN. ALAS! MISS FLIPP!
SIXTEEN. ADVANCE, AUSTRALIA!
SEVENTEEN. MRS BRAY AND CARRY COME TO ISSUES.
EIGHTEEN. THE FOUNDATION OF THE POULTRY INDUSTRY.
NINETEEN. AN OPPORTUNELY INOPPORTUNE DOUCHE.
TWENTY. "ALAS! HOW EASILY THINGS GO WRONG!"
TWENTY-ONE. THINGS GO MORE WRONG.
TWENTY-TWO. "O SPIRIT, AND THE NINE ANGELS WHO WATCH US ..."
TWENTY-THREE. UNIVERSAL ADULT SUFFRAGE.
TWENTY-FOUR. LITTLE ODDS AND ENDS OF LIFE.
TWENTY-FIVE. "LOVE'S YOUNG DREAM."
TWENTY-SIX. "OFF WITH THE OLD."
TWENTY-SEVEN. "ONE MIGHT THINK BETTER OF MARRIAGE IF ONE'S MARRIED FRIENDS ..."
TWENTY-EIGHT. LET THERE BE LOVE.
TWENTY-NINE. "THE SAVAGE SELLS OR EXCHANGES HIS DAUGHTER, BUT IN ..."
THIRTY. FOR FURTHER PARTICULARS CONSULT 'THE NOONOON ADVERTISER' OF THAT DATE.
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GLOSSARY OF COLLOQUIALISMS AND SLANG TERMS.
AUSTRALIAN. AMERICAN EQUIVALENTS. ENGLISH INTERPRETATION.
Billy A tin pail A camp-kettle. Blokes Guys Chaps—fellows. Bosker Dandy or "dandy Something meeting with fine" unqualified approval. Galoot A rube A yokel—a heavy country fellow. Larrikin A hoodlum. Moke A common knockabout horse. Narked Sore Vexed—to have lost the temper. Gin Squaw An aboriginal woman. Quod Jail. Sollicker Somewhat equivalent Something excessive. to "corker" Toff A "sport" or "swell A well-dressed guy" individual—sometimes of the upper ten. Two "bob" Fifty cents Two shillings. To graft To "dig in" To work hard and steadily. To scoot To vamoose or skidoo To leave hastily and unceremoniously. To smoodge To be a "sucker" To curry favour at the expense of independence. "Gives me the pip" "Makes me tired" Bores. "On a string" } Trifling with him. "Pulling his leg"} Kookaburra A giant kingfisher with grey plumage and a merry, mocking, inconceivably human laugh—a killer of snakes, and a great favourite with Australians.
* * * * *
Some Everyday Folk and Dawn.
The summer sun streamed meltingly down on the asphalted siding of the country railway station and occasioned the usual grumbling from the passengers alighting from the afternoon express.
There were only three who effect this narrative—a huge, red-faced, barrel-like figure that might have served to erect as a monument to the over-feeding in vogue in this era; a tall, spare, old fellow with a grizzled beard, who looked as though he had never known a succession of square feeds; and myself, whose physique does not concern this narrative.
Having surrendered our tickets and come through a down-hill passage to the dusty, dirty, stony, open space where vehicles awaited travellers, the usual corner "pub."—in this instance a particularly dilapidated one—and three tin kangaroos fixed as weather-cocks on a dwelling over the way, and turning hither and thither in the hot gusts of wind, were the first objects to arrest my attention in the town of Noonoon, near the river Noonoon, whereaway it does not particularly matter. The next were the men competing for our favour in the matter of vehicular conveyance.
The big man, by reason of his high complexion, abnormal waist measurement, expensive clothes, and domineering manner, which proclaimed him really a lord of creation, naturally commanded the first and most obsequious attention, and giving his address as "Clay's," engaged the nearest man, who then turned to me.
"Where might you be going?"
"To Jimmeny's Hotel."
"Right O! I can just drop you on the way to Clay's," said he; and the big swell grunted up to a box seat, while I took a position in the body of the vehicle commanding a clear view of the grossness of the highly coloured neck rolling over his collar.
The journey through the town unearthed the fact that it resembled many of its compeers. The oven-hot iron roofs were coated with red dust; a few lackadaisical larrikins upheld occasional corner posts; dogs conducted municipal meetings here and there; the ugliness of the horses tied to the street posts, where they baked in the sun while their riders guzzled in the prolific "pubs.," bespoke a farming rather than a grazing district; and the streets had the distinction of being the most deplorably dirty and untended I have seen.
The same could be said of a cook, or some such individual of whom I caught a glimpse when landed at a corner hotel, where I sat inside the door of a parlour awaiting the appearance of the landlady or the publican, while for diversion I watched the third arrival wending his way from the station on foot and shouting something concerning melons to a man in a dray in the middle of the roadway.
Evidently it was the land of melons and other fruits and vegetables.
Over at the railway, loaded waggons, drays, and carts were backed against a line of trucks drawn up to convey such produce to the city and other parts of the country, while strings of vehicles similarly burdened were thundering up the street. Some carts were piled with cases of peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and rock-melons—the rich aromatic scent of the last mentioned strongly asserting their presence as they passed. On some waggons the water-melons were packed in straw and had the grower's initials chipped in the rind, others were not so distinguished, and at intervals the roughness of the thoroughfare bumped one off. If the fall did not break it quite in two, a stray loafer pulled it so and tore out a little of the sweet and luscious heart, leaving the remainder to the ants and fowls. The latter were running about on friendly terms with the dogs, which they equalled in variety and number. Droves of small boys haunted the railway premises at that time of the year and eagerly assisted the farmers to truck their melons in return for one, and came away with their spoils under their arms. Never before had I seen so many melons or so large. Some weighed sixty and eighty pounds or more, while those from sixteen to twenty-five pounds, in all varieties,—Cuban Queens, Dixies, Halbert's Honey, and Cannon Balls,—were procurable at one shilling the dozen, and nearly as much produce as sent away wasted in the fields for want of a market.
An hour after arrival, having refused the offer of refreshments, which in such places are not always refreshing, I betook myself to a comparatively cool back verandah to further investigate my temporary surroundings.
A yellow-haired girl with rings on her fingers sprawled in a hammock reading a much-thumbed circulating-library novel and eating peaches. This was the landlord's daughter, and a very superior young lady indeed from her own point of view.
I learnt that at present there would only be one other boarder besides myself. He came up for the week-end, and had just gone down to Clay's to see some one there. If he could get a berth at Clay's he would not come back; but the only hope of being taken in there during the summer weather was to bespeak room a long way ahead, as there was a great run on the place. It was built right beside the river, and they kept boats for hire, which attracted a number of desirable young men from the city to engage in week-end fishing, picnicing, swimming, &c.; and the young gentlemen attracted young ladies, who found it difficult to be taken in at all, because old Mrs Clay allowed her granddaughter, Dawn, to boss the place, and she favoured men-boarders.
The tone of Yellow-hair suggested that perhaps the men-boarders favoured Dawn; at all events, it was an attractive name and aroused interested inquiry from me.
"Oh yes, some thought her a beauty! There were great arguments as to whether she or Dora Cowper—another great big fat thing in a hay and corn store over the way—was the belle of Noonoon;" but for her part, Yellow-hair thought her too coarse and vulgar and high-coloured (Miss Jimmeny was sallow and thin), and she was always making herself seen and known everywhere. One would think she owned Noonoon!
"There she is now," exclaimed the girl, pointing out another who was driving a fat pony in a yellow sulky. "Talk of the devil."
"Perhaps it is an angel in this case," I responded, for though she was thickly veiled she suggested youth and a style that pleased the eye.
Whether she and the boats were sufficient to make Clay's an attractive place of residence I did not know, but already was painfully aware of conditions that would make Jimmeny's Hotel an uncomfortable location. I retired to my room to escape some of them—the foul language of the tipplers under the front verandah, and the winds from two streets that also met there in a whirlwind of dust and refuse.
There was nothing for me to do but kill time, and no way of killing it but by simple endurance. I had been ordered to some country resort for the good of my health. But do not fear, reader; this is not to be a compilation of ills and pulses, for no one more than the unfortunate victim of such is so painfully aware of their lack of interest to the community at large. There are, I admit, some invalids who find a certain amount of entertainment in inflicting a list of their aches upon people, blissfully unconscious of how wearisome they can be, but my temperament is of the sensitive order, knowing its length too well to similarly transgress.
How I had struck upon Noonoon I don't know or care, except that it was within easy access of the metropolis, and I have no predilection for being isolated from the crowded haunts of my fellows. I had descended upon Jimmeny's Hotel because in an advertisement sheet it was put down as the leading house of accommodation in Noonoon. Now I had come to hear of Clay's and Dawn, and determined to shift myself there as soon as possible. This did not seem imminent, for presently the "bloated aristocrat" came back to Jimmeny's pub. for the evening meal, as he had been unable to get so much as a shake-down at Clay's. This so aroused my desire to be a boarder at Clay's that I straightway wrote a letter to its chatelaine inquiring what style of accommodation she provided, and could she accommodate me; and strolling up the broken street, while a few larrikins at corners, by way of entertaining themselves and me, made remarks upon my appearance, I dropped it in the post-office, but had to endure a week's inattention at Jimmeny's, and no end of yarns from outside folk I encountered as to how Mrs Jimmeny robbed the "swipes" who took their poison at her bar, before I was honoured by a reply from Mrs Clay.
"The accommodation provided by me for people is clean and wholesome and the best as suits me. If it don't suit them there are other places near that makes more efforts to gather custom than I do. I can't take you in at present as I'm too full for my taste as it is.—Yours respectfully,
This interesting rebuff inspired me to further effort, and sitting on the back verandah, under a giant fig-tree shedding its delicious and wholesome fruit also to the fowls and ants, I wrote:—
"Dear Madam,—Would you kindly apprise me when it would be convenient to accommodate me, as I'm anxious to be near the river, where I could indulge in boating?"
To this I received reply:—
"There isn't any chance of me accommodating you till the cool weather, and then I don't take boarders at all. I like to have them all in the summer, and then have a little peace to ourselves in the winter without strangers, for the best of them have their noses poked everywhere they are not wanted. If you want to go near the river there are heaps of houses where there isn't no such rush of people as at my place."
This firmly determined me to reside at Mrs Clay's, a desired member of the household, or perish in the attempt. Alack! I had plenty time to spend in such a trifle, for I was but a derelict, broken in fierce struggle and hopelessly cast aside into smooth waters, safe from the stormy currents now too strong for my timbers. That I had means to lie at anchor in some genial boarding-house, instead of being dependent upon charity, was undoubtedly food for thankfulness, and when one has burned their coal-heap to ashes they are grateful for an occasional charcoal among the cinders.
No other place near the river but Clay's would do me, though the valley had much to recommend it at that season, when grapes, peaches, and other fruits were literally being thrown away on every hand. So I repacked my trunk, and the 'busman who had brought me took me once more along the execrable streets, past the corner pub., near the railway station, and, it being late afternoon, the railway employes, as they came off duty, were streaming towards it for the purpose of "wetting their whistle" after their eight-houred day's work.
Leaving the misguided fellows thus worse than ignorantly refreshing themselves, and the tin kangaroos showing that the breeze was from the east, I travelled farther west to a summer resort in the cool altitude, there to await from Mrs Martha Clay a recall to the vale of melons. That I would get one I was sure, and so little was there in my life that even this prospect lent a zest to the mail each day.
I had neither relatives nor friends. Fate had apportioned me none of the former, and fierce, absorbing endeavour had left little time for cultivating the latter, while pride made me hide from all acquaintances who had known me standing amid the plaudits of the crowd—strong and successful; and fiercely desiring to be left to myself, I shrank with sensitive horror from the sympathy that is only careless pity.
The long hot days gave place to cooler and shorter, and there was none left of the beautiful fruit—peaches, apricots, figs, plums, nectarines, grapes, and melons—which, for want of a market, had rotted ankle-deep in some parts of the fertile old valley of Noonoon ere I received a communication from Mrs. Clay.
"If you think it worth your while you can investigate my place now. All the summer weather folk has gone. I would only take one or two nice people now that would live with us in our own plain way and who would be company for the family, so I could not undertake to give you a separate parlour and table and carry on that way, but if you like to call and see me, please yourself."
Accordingly, I lost no time in once more patronising the town 'busman, and being his only patron that day, he rattled me past the tin kangaroo weather-cocks, the battered corner pub. and its colleague a few doors on, and entering the principal street where Jimmeny's Hotel filled the view, turned to the right across fertile flats held in tenure by patient Chinese gardeners.
Being a region of quick growth, it was of correspondingly rapid decay, and the season of summer fruits had been entirely superseded by autumn flowers. The vale of melons was now a valley of chrysanthemums, and with a little specialisation in this branch of horticulture could easily have out-chrysanthemumed Japan. Without any care or cultivation they filled the little gardens on every side; children of all sizes were to be seen with bunches of them; while discarded blossoms lay in the streets, after the fashion of the superabundant melons and orchard fruits during their season.
About a mile from the station we halted before a ramshackle old two-storey house that was covered by roses and hidden among orange and fig trees. The approach led through an irregular plantation of cedar and pepper trees, pomegranates and other shrubs, and masses of chrysanthemums and cosmos that flourished in every available space.
The friendly 'busman directed me to a gable sheltered by a yellow jasmine-tree, where I tapped on the door with my knuckle. Footsteps approached on the inside, and after some thumping and kicking on its panels it was burst open by a nimble old lady in immaculate gown, with carefully adjusted collar, and wavy hair combed back in a tidy knot and with still a dark shade in it.
"Them blessed white ants!" she exclaimed. "They've very near got the place eat down, so that you have to make a fool of yourself opening the door, and that blessed feller I sent for hasn't come to do 'em up yet; but some people!" She finished so exasperatedly that I felt impelled to state my name and business without delay, and with a prim "Indeed," she led the way across a narrow linoleumed hall, so beeswaxed that one had to stump along carefully erect.
She invited me to a chair in a stiff room and began—
"I've only got another young lady in the place now, and if you come you'll have to eat with the family."
I considered this an attraction.
"And there'll be no fussing over you and pampering you, for I'm not reduced to keeping boarders out of necessity. They ain't all I've got to depend on," she said with a fiery glance from her choleric blue-grey eyes.
"Certainly not; I'm sure of that by your style, Mrs. Clay."
"But of course I like to make a little; this Federal Tariff has rose the price of living considerable," she said, softening somewhat as we now sat down on the formidable and well-dusted seats.
"But I believe you are somethink of a invalid."
"Well, this isn't no private hospital, and never pretended to be. Sick people is a lot of trouble potterin' and fussin' around with. I couldn't, for the sake of my granddaughter, give her a lot of extra work that wouldn't mean nothink."
This might have sounded hard, but with some people their very austerity bespeaks a tenderness of heart. They affect it as a shield or guard against a softness that leaves them the too easy prey of a self-seeking community, and such I adjudged Mrs. Clay. Her stiffness, like that of the echidna, was a spiky covering protecting the most gentle and estimable of dispositions.
"My ill-health is the sort to worry no one but myself. I need no dieting or waiting upon. It is merely a heart trouble, and should it happen to finish me in your house, I will leave ample compensation, and will pay my board and lodging weekly in advance."
"I ain't a money-grubber," she hastened to assure me; "I was only explaining to you."
"I'm only explaining too," I said with a smile; and having arrived at this understanding of mutual straight-going, she intimated that I could inspect a room I might have.
In addition to a couple of detached buildings composed of rooms which during the summer were given to boarders, there were a few apartments in the main residence which were also delivered to this business, and I was conducted to where three in an uneven gable faced west and fronted the river.
"This is my granddaughter Dawn's, and this one is empty, and this one is took by a young party for the winter," said the old dame.
I selected the middle room, as it gave promise of being companionable with those on either hand occupied, and its window commanded an attractive view. A tangled old garden opened on a steep descent to the quiet river, edged with willows and garnished by a great row of red and blue boats rocking almost imperceptibly in the even flow, while a huge placard advertised their business—
BEST BOATS ON THE RIVER TO BE HIRED HERE.
MRS. MARTHA CLAY.
To the right was an imposing bridge, and on the other side of the water, right at the foot of the great range which in the early days had remained so long impassable, lay the quiet old settlement of Kangaroo.
"If you think that room will do, you are welcome to it," continued Mrs. Clay. "Seventeen-and-six a-week without washing—a pound with."
I agreed to the "with washing" terms, so the affable jehu hauled in what luggage I had brought, and at last I was installed at Clay's.
The only thing wanting to complete the incident was the advent of Dawn, but she was nowhere to be seen. As it was only eleven in the morning I sat in my room and waited for her and a cup of tea, but neither were forthcoming. In her own words, Mrs. Clay "was never give to running after people an' lickin' their boots." Eventually, having grown weary of waiting for Dawn and luncheon and other things, I went out on a tour of inspection. First find was a tall dashing girl of twenty-four or thereabouts, dusting the big heavily encumbered "parler" into which my room opened.
"Good morning!" heartily said she.
"Good morning! Are you Dawn?" inquired I.
"Dawn! No. But you might well ask, for it's nothing but Dawn and her doings and sayings and good looks here! You'd think there was no other girl in Noonoon. She won't take it as any compliment to be taken for me."
"Well, she must be something superlative if it would not be a compliment to be taken for you."
"Oh me! I'm only Carry the lady-help—general slavey like, earning my living, only that I eat with the family and not in the kitchen. In the summer they hire a cook and others, but in the winter there are only me and Dawn and the old woman," said this frank and communicative individual in the frank and communicative manner characteristic of the Clay household.
Proceeding from this encounter, I went out the back way past more gardens and irregular enclosures, where under widespreading cedar-trees I found a boy at the hobbledehoy age chopping wood in a desultory fashion, as though to get rid of time, rather than to enlarge the stack of short sticks, were the most imperative object. Driving his axe in tight and holding on to it as a sort of balance, he leant back, effected a passage in his nostrils, and after having regarded me with a leisurely and straightforward squint, observed—
"I reckon you're the new boarder?"
"I reckon so. I reckon you belong to this place."
"Yes, Mrs. Clay, she's my grandma."
"Is that your grandfather?" I inquired, pointing to the old man who had travelled with me on the day of my first visit to the town, and now supporting an outhouse door-post, while a young man with whom he talked leant against the tailboard of a cart advertising that he was the first-class butcher of Kangaroo, and had several other unsurpassable virtues in the meat trade.
"No, he ain't me grandfather, thank goodness he's only me uncle; that's plenty for me."
"Aren't you fond of him?"
"I ain't dying of love for him, I promise you. Old Crawler! He reckons he's the boss, but sometimes I get home on him in a way that a sort of illustrates to his intelligence that he ain't. Ask Dawn. She's the one'll give you the straight tip regarding him."
"Where is Dawn?"
"Oh, Dawn's in the kitchen. She an' Carry does the cookin' week about w'en the house ain't full. Grandma makes 'em do that; it saves rows about it not bein' fair. You won't ketch sight of Dawn till dinner. She'll want to get herself up a bit, you bein' new; she always does for a fresh person, but she soon gets tired of it."
"And you, are you going to get yourself up because I'm new?"
"Not much; boys ain't that way so much as the wimmin," he said, and the grin we exchanged was the germ of a friendship that ripened as our acquaintance progressed. I intended to settle down to the enjoyment afforded by my sense of humour. I had preserved it intact as a private personal accomplishment. On the stage, having steered clear of comedy and confined myself to tragedy, it had never been cheapened and made nauseous by sham and machine representations indigenous to the hated footlights, and was an untapped preserve to be drawn upon now.
So I was not to see Dawn till the midday dinner; she was to appear last, like the star at a concert.
A star she verily was when eventually she came before me carrying a well-baked roast on an old-fashioned dish. Her lovely face was scarlet from hurry and the fire, her bright hair gleamed in coquettish rolls, and a loose sleeve displayed a round and dimpled forearm—a fitting continuance of the taper fingers grasping the chief dish of the wholesome and liberal menu she had prepared.
Old Uncle Jake took the carver's place, but Grandma Clay sat at his left elbow and instructed him what to do. He handed the helpings to her, and she supplemented each with some of all the vegetables, irrespective of the wishes of the consumers, to whom they were handed in a business-like method. The puddings were distributed on the same principle, grandma even putting milk and sugar on the plates as for children; and further, she talked in a choleric way, as though the children were in bad grace owing to some misdemeanour, but that was merely one of her mannerisms, as that of others is to smile and be sweet while they inwardly fume.
Excepting this, the unimpressive old smudges hung above the mantel, and probably standing for some family progenitors, gazed out of their caricatured eyes on an uneventful meal. Conversation was choppy and of the personal order, not interesting to a stranger to those mentioned. I made a few duty remarks to Uncle Jake, which he received with suspicion, so I left him in peace to suck his teeth and look like a sleepy lizard, while I counted the queer and inartistic old vases crowded in plumb and corresponding pairs on the shelf over the fireplace.
Miss Flipp, the other boarder, was in every respect a contrast to me, being small, young, and dressed with elaboration in a flimsy style which, off the stage, I have always scorned. Her wrists were laden with bangles, her fingers with rings, and her golden hair piled high in the most exaggerated of the exaggerated pompadour styles in vogue. Her appetite was indifferent; the expression of her eyes bespoke either ill-health or dissipation, and she was very abstracted, or as Mrs Clay put it—
"She acts like she had somethink on her mind. Maybe she's love-sick for some one she can't ketch, and she's been sent up here to forget."
This was after Miss Flipp had retreated to her room, and Carry continued the subject as she cleared the table.
"She says she's an orphan reared by a rich uncle; she's always blowing about him and how fond he is of her. She's just recovered from an operation and has come up here to get strong. That's why she does nothing, so she says, only poke about and read novels and make herself new hats and blouses; but I think she'd be lazy without any operation. She'd want another to put some go in her."
"She'd require inoculating with a little of yours," said I, watching with what enviable vigour the girl's work sped before her as though afraid. I also retired to my room for a rest, intending to come out and pave the way for friendship with Dawn by-and-by, for I quickly perceived she was not the character to go out of her way to make the first overture.
Some time after, when strolling around in an unwonted fashion, I was pleased to again encounter my friend Andrew. Evidently he had been set to clean out the fowl-houses, for a wheelbarrow half full of manure stood at the door of a wire-netted shed, and in the middle of this task he had sought diversion by shooting rats from among the straw in a big old barn, where a great heap of unused hay made them a harbour. In this warm valley, carpeted in the irrepressible couch-grass, there was no lack of fodder that season, and even the lanes and byways would have served as fattening paddocks. Andrew leant upon his gun, and having delivered himself of certain statistics in rat mortality, and exhibiting some specimens by the tail, he began a conversation.
"Say, what did you think of Miss Thing-amebob, Miss Flipp I mean?"
"I didn't bother thinking anything at all about her."
Andrew looked interrogatively at me and broke into a grin.
"Well, I reckon she's the silliest goat I ever came across. She came out to me and asked did I think she looked pretty, as her uncle is coming up to-night, and if she looks nice he'll give her a present or something. I reckon she'd have to look not such a mad-headed rabbit before I'd give her anything but some advice to bag her head. And he must be a different uncle to Uncle Jake; I reckon he wouldn't give you nothing if you had on two heads at once. Here's Larry Witcom coming back from his rounds, and he promised me a bit of meat for Whiskey! Here, Whiskey! Whiskey!" he roared, and a small canine pet that had been hunting rats desisted from the fray and ran with his master. I also walked with him—this without exception, even in slum scenes on the stage, being the dirtiest escort I ever had had. His face was grimed, his shirt like an engine-rag, and his trousers dusty, while from a hole in the seat thereof fluttered a flag of garment—such an ingratiatingly wholesome blunderbuss of a boy!
"Here, you Larry," he yelled, "you promised me! Come on, Whiskey! Why, ain't he a bosker!" he enthusiastically exclaimed, as the hideously unprepossessing little mongrel stood on his hind legs and yelped in excited begging.
"Hullo, Andrew! Don't bust! Who's that you had with you?—(I had turned a corner)—a new boarder, I suppose? Rather an old piece!"
"Yes," said Andrew. "Her hair is a little white, but she ain't sour and stuck up."
"A chance for you to hang your hat up, Jake," said Larry.
"No, thanks! I'm cautious of them old maids. If you say a pleasant word to 'em they can't be shook off, and might have you up for breach of promise like with Tom Dunstan."
"I suppose there is a danger, you being so fascinating," chuckled the butcher as I went inside, with a premonition that should it come to taking sides in the Clay household, if avoidable I would not be on Uncle Jake's.
"Who is Uncle Jake?" said Carry in response to my inquiry, as she prepared four o'clock tea; "he's Uncle Jake, that's what he is, and enough for me too, that he is. The old swab wants hanging up by the beard."
"Yes, but what place does he hold in the house?"
"Place! that of walking round poking his nose in everywhere and growling about things that don't concern him. Mrs Clay keeps him—gives him fifteen shillings a-week—because he's her brother, and you'd think he owned everything. If you want to know what he is, he's a terribly bad example to Andrew. He's the greatest clumsy, lumbering, dirty lump (oh, you should see his clothes, what they are like to wash, and the only way to keep him clean would be to stuff him in a glass case!), but for all that he's a very fair kid. You can't expect much of boys, you know, and have to be thankful for any good points at all. O Lord!" she here exclaimed, looking out a window, where along a path through the orchard she descried approaching a fine buxom dame in a fashionably cut dress, "here's Mrs Bray in full sail. I suppose she saw the 'busman leaving you here to-day, and her curiosity couldn't stand any longer without coming on a tour of inspection."
"Who is Mrs Bray?"
"She won't let you overlook who she is, and what she owns, and what she 'done,' you'll soon hear it. She's the most inquisitive blow-hard I ever came across."
Dawn now appeared and invited me to afternoon tea, which was a friendly and hospitable meal spread on a big table on a back verandah, so enclosed by creepers and pot-plants and little awnings leading in various directions as to be in reality more of a vestibule. Mrs Bray hove into near view and took up a seat beside a bank of lovely maiden-hair fern.
"How are you living?" she asked Grandma Clay as she complacently shook hands. "Nice cool weather now and not so many beastly mosquitoes."
"By Jove! Did you know about the 'skeeters' here?" inquired Andrew of me. "They're big enough to ride bikes and weigh a pound. You wait till you hear 'em singing Sankey's hymns to-night."
"If I were you I'd hold my tongue and not draw attention to my dirtiness," said Dawn. "It's a wonder a garden doesn't sprout upon you."
I was then introduced to Mrs Bray, who acknowledged me genially, and seemed so flourishing, and was so complacent regarding the fact, that it did one good to look at her.
After addressing a few remarks to me she had to move, for the trimming of her hat caught in the cage of a parakeet, and she took another seat in the shelter of a tree-fern near Uncle Jake.
"You have some lovely pet birds," I remarked by way of making myself agreeable to Grandma Clay.
"The infernal old nuisances!" she said irascibly, "I wish they'd die. Andrew calls them his, but they'd starve only for me. I'm always saying I'll have no more pets, and still they're brought here. Some day when he has a home of his own and people plague him, he'll know what it is."
On the other side of the verandah above Uncle Jake stretched a passion vine, where a thick row of belated fruit hung like pretty pale-green eggs, and evil entering Andrew's mind, he remarked to me—
"Wouldn't it be just bosker if one of them fell on his old nut," and going out he returned with a pair of orange clippers.
"Where's Carry got to?" asked grandma.
"I saw her out there doing a mash with Larry Witcom," said Andrew.
"Now, do you think there'll be anything in that?" interestedly asked Mrs Bray. "I suppose she'd be glad to ketch anything for a home of her own."
"Well, it's to be hoped the home she'd catch with him would be better than some of the meat we've caught from him lately—it was as tough as old boots," put in Dawn.
At this point Andrew succeeded in disturbing Uncle Jake—succeeded beyond expectation. Uncle Jake had just sucked his fuzzy 'possum-grey moustache in the noisy manner peculiar to him, and was raising his tea again, when he was struck by the passion fruit, causing him to let fall the cup.
"Just like you! On the clean boards! Carry will be pleased. I'm glad it's not my week in the house," said Dawn. What Uncle Jake said is unfit for insertion in a record so respectable as this is intended to be, and grandma seemed to grow too agitated for verbal utterance, but her facial expression was very fiery indeed as Andrew and Uncle Jake withdrew and settled their little score in a manner unknown to the company.
"Well, it's an ill wind that don't blow nobody no good, and though there's a cup broke, it's got us rid of the men, and there's never no talking in comfort where they are," remarked Mrs Bray, who had a facility for constructing sentences containing several negatives. Two, we learn in syntax, have the effect of an affirmative, but there being no reference to a repletion, only that her utterances were unmistakably plain, Mrs Bray might have reduced one to wondering the purport of her remarks.
"Did you hear the latest?" she said, laughing boisterously. "You don't know the people yet," she continued, turning to me, "half of 'em want scalding."
Here she burst into a full flood of gossip regarding the misconduct of the leading residents; but honest and straightforward though her communications were, I cannot include them here, for this is a story for respectable folk, and a transcript of the straight talk of the most respectable folk would be altogether out of the question. I must confine myself to the statement that Mrs Bray had found few beyond reproach, and "the latest," as she termed it, concerned one Dr Tinker, whose wife—known colloquially as the old Tinkeress—had recently administered a public horsewhipping to a young lady whom the doctor had too ardently admired. Mrs Bray had only just unearthed the facts that day, and was overwhelmingly interested in them.
"I tell you what ought to be done with some people," said grandma when Mrs Bray halted for breath. "There's no respectability like there used to be in my young days. In Gool-gool—that's where I was rared—the people used to take up anythink that wasn't straight. There was a woman there. She and her husband lived happy and respectable, with no notion of anythink wrong, till a feller—a blessed feller," grandma waxed fierce, "that was only sellin' things and making a living out of honest folk, come to town an' turned her head. I won't say but he was a fine-lookin' man, had a grand flowin' beard," grandma spread her hands out on her chest.
"Must have been lovely with a beard, especially if it was like Uncle Jake's!" interposed Dawn.
"How dare you, miss! Beards is a natural adornment gave to man by God, and it's a unnatural notion to carve them off—"
"Some of them do want adorning, I'll admit," said Dawn.
"He was a good-lookin' man," persisted grandma.
"Must have been with a beard!" scornfully contended the irrepressible Dawn.
"She must be smitten on some of these clean-faced articles," said Mrs Bray with a laugh, which effected the collapse of Dawn.
"Hold your tongue, miss! surely I can speak in me own house!" continued grandma. "And he could sing and play, and that sort of thing. At any rate, this woman was terribly gone on him, and her husband was heart-broke, and they always lived so happy till then that the people of the town took it up. They went to the sergeant and told him what they was goin' to do, and he was in such sympathy with 'em that he got business that took him to the other end of the town for that night."
"That'll tell you now!" exclaimed Mrs Bray with interest.
"And they went and collared him," proceeded the narrator.
"That'll tell you now, the faggot!" exclaimed Mrs Bray again.
"So they took him and put him on a horse, naked except his trousers, about twenty of 'em did it, and rode on either side with tar-pots; and every time he'd turn his head any way to jaw about what he'd do, they'd swab him in the mouth with it; and they had bags of feathers, and nearly smothered him with 'em, till with the black tar stickin' on every way, and all in his great beard, he would be mistook for Nebuchadnezzar. When they got him out of the town he was let go, an' they said if he showed hisself in it again worse than that would happen him. That's what the men of my day did with a bad egg," concluded the old lady, firm in the belief of the superior virtue of her generation.
"What price beards in a case like that?" came from Dawn.
"That clean-faced feller of yours would have the advantage then," said Mrs Bray. "And now I'll tell you the point of that story. It was just the men stickin' up for themselves. If that had been a woman harmed by her husband going away with some barmaid, or other of them hussies men are so fond of, there wouldn't have been nothing done to avenge her. Her heart could have broke, and if she said anything about it people would have sat on her, but when one of the poor darling men is hurt it's a different thing."
Mrs Bray had yet more to tell, and after another hearty laugh divulged a secret that should have pleased a Government lately reduced to appointing a commission to inquire into a falling birth-rate.
"This," said grandma in explanation, "is a girl who used to be milliner in Trashe's store in Noonoon—one of them give-herself-airs things, like all these county-jumpin' fools! W'en you go to buy a thing off of them they look as if you wasn't fit to tie their shoe-laces, and they ain't got a stitch to their back, only a few pence a-week from eternal standin' on their feet, till they're all give way, and only fit for the hospital. I won't say but this one was a sprightly enough young body and carried her head high. And there was a feller came to town, was stayin' there at Jimmeny's pub. for a time, an' walkin' round as if Noonoon wasn't a big enough place for the likes of him to own. He talked mighty big about meat export trade, an' that was the end of his glory. He married this girl that was trimmin' hats, an' she thought she was doin' a stroke to ketch such a bug, an' now she lives in that little place built bang on the road as you go into town. Larry says he often takes her some meat, he's afraid she'll starve; an' you know, though he'll take you down in some ways, he's terrible good-natured in others, and that is the way with most of us; we have our good an' bad points. But the poor thing! is that what she has come to? I ain't had a family of me own not to be able to sympathise with her."
"Well, she don't deserve no sympathy, she upholds him in his pride," said Mrs Bray.
"Pride! His pride," snorted grandma, "it's of the skunk order. He'd make use of every one because he thinks he's an English swell, and then wouldn't speak to them if he met them out no more than they were dogs. I don't think there's a single thing he could do to save his life. If there's a bit of wood to be chopped, she's got to do it, an' yet he'd think a decent honest workin' man, who was able to keep his wife and family comfortable, wasn't made of as good flesh and blood as him. That ain't what I call pride."
"There's one thing, if I ever fell in love with a man he'd have to be a man and not a crawler," said Dawn. "Some girls think if they get a bit of a swell he's something; but I wouldn't care if a man were the Prince of Wales and Lord Muck in one, if he couldn't do things without muddling, I'd throw water on him."
"What about young Eweword, are you goin' to throw water on him?" laughed Mrs Bray.
"Ask Carry, she knows more about him than I do."
"Dawn finds it handy to put her lovers on to me," said Carry, who was washing away the spilt tea and airing some uncomplimentary opinions of Andrew and Uncle Jake between whiles.
"Why don't you come and see me, Carry?" continued Mrs Bray.
"I can't be bothered, I've got my living to earn and have no time for visiting," said that uncompromising young woman.
"Anything new on here, Dawn?" asked Mrs Bray, turning to her.
"No, only Miss Flipp's uncle is coming up by this afternoon's train and we're dying to see him, there's been so much blow about him. Andrew is going to get out a tub to hold the tips."
"Well, I'll be going now to get Bray his tea or there'll be a jawin' and sulkin' match between us. That's the way with men,—if you're not always buckin' around gammoning you think 'em somebody, they get like a bear with a scalded head. Well, come over and see me some day," she said hospitably to me. "Walk along a bit with me now and see the way."
To this I agreed, and going to get a parasol heard the incautious woman remark behind me—
"Seems to be an old maid—a gaunt-lookin' old party—ain't got no complexion. I wonder was she ever going to be married. Don't look as if many would be breakin' their necks after her, does she?"
Mrs Bray posed as a champion of her sex, but could not open her mouth without belittling them. However, I was too well seasoned in human nature to be disconcerted, and walked by her side enjoying her immensely, she was so delightfully, transparently patronising. There are many grades of patronage: that from people who ought to know better, and which is always bitterly resented by any one of spirit; while that of the big splodging ignoramus who doesn't know any better, to any one possessed of a sense of humour, is indescribably amusing. Mrs Bray's was of this order, and would have been galling only to the snob whose chief characteristic is a lack of common-sense—lack of common-sense being synonymous with snobbery.
"You'll get on very well with old grandma," she remarked, "she ain't such a bad old sort when you know her; she must have a bit of property too. Of course, I find her a bit narrer-minded, but that's to be expected, seeing I've lived a lot in the city before I come here, and she's only been up the country; but that Carry's the caution. The hussy! I only asked her over out of kindness, being a woman with a good home as I have, and did you hear her? Them hussies without homes ain't got no call to give themselves airs,—bits of things workin' for their livin'."
"I'm afraid I'm in the same category, as I have no home," I said by way of turning her wrath.
"Oh, well, yes, but you're different; you don't have to work for your livin'."
"Have you any daughters?" I asked.
"I had one, but she soon married. Like me, she was snapped up soon as she was old enough." Mrs Bray laughed delightedly.
Here was a broad-minded democrat who considered a woman lowered in becoming a useful working member of society, instead of remaining a toy or luxury kept by her father or some other man, and who, while loudly bawling for the emancipation of women from the yoke of men, nevertheless considered the only distinction a woman could achieve was through their favourable notice—an attitude of mind produced by moral and social codes so effectively calculated to foster immoral and untenable inconsistency!
BECOMING ACQUAINTED WITH GRANDMA CLAY.
When I returned the 'busman was driving away after having brought Miss Flipp's uncle, and Andrew was assisting to fill a spring-cart with pumpkins. This vehicle had arrived under guidance of a tall, fair young man with perfect teeth and a pleasant smile, which kept them well before the public, seeing they were not concealed by any hirsute ambuscade, regarding the adorning qualities of which Dawn and her grandmother were divided. The former came out to inform Andrew that the pony had to be harnessed, as Mrs Clay had promised Miss Flipp she could drive her uncle back to catch the train.
"I hope the old thing won't smash up the sulky," said Andrew. "He's the old bloke that come down here in the summer in a check suit, an' I told him you was all out an' we was full up."
"A few of him would soon fill up. He! he! ha! ha!" laughed the fair young man. "He looks as if he were always full up! He! he! ha! ha! ha!"
"Well, he's the purplest plum I ever saw," said Dawn. "He's a complete hog. He has one of these old noses, all blue, like the big plums that grew down near the pig-sty. I think he was grown near the pig-sty, too, by the style of him. It must have taken a good many cases of the best wine to get a nose just to that colour. Like a meerschaum pipe, it takes a power of colouring to get 'em to the right tinge. And his eyes hang out like this," said the girl, audaciously stretching her pretty long-lashed lids in a way that would have been horrible on a less beautiful or less successfully saucy girl, but which in this case was irresistibly amusing. The fair young man was convulsed.
"His figure is like as if he had swallowed our great washing-copper whole and then padded round it with hay bags, and he has a great vulgar stand with one foot here and the other over there by the wheelbarrow."
"He must be a acrobat or be made of wonderful elastic, if he could stretch that far!" remarked Andrew.
"Yes, and he gets up a gold-rimmed eyeglass and sticks it on his old eye like this, and so I up with my finger and thumb this way in a ring and looked at him," said Dawn, with a moue and the protrusion of a healthy pink tongue which for dare-devil impertinence beat anything I had seen off the stage, and I succumbed to laughter in chorus with the young man.
By some intangible indications Andrew and I felt impelled to leave, he proceeding to harness the horse and I accompanying him.
"Just look here, 'Giddy-giddy Gout with his shirt-tail out,'" exclaimed the lad, breaking into one of the poetic quotations of which he was rarely guilty. "Now, I didn't know me pants was tore. I must have looked a goat!"
I offered to put a stitch in the breach, so he brought needle and thread.
"Now don't you sew me on to me pants. Dawn done that once, thought it was a great lark, an' I jolly well couldn't get out; so I busted up the whole show, and grandma joined in the huspy-puspy, and there's been no more larks like that. Thanks, I must do a get and put the pony in. Did you notice that bloke fillin' up the cart with pumpkins? He's gone on Dawn!"
"He shows good taste."
"Do you reckon Dawn's fit to knock 'em in the eye?"
"That's bein' a stranger! When you are used to a person every day an' they belong to you, you don't think so much of 'em, and at the same time think more, if you can understand. What I mean is this. When I'm busy fightin' with Dawn, and she's blowing me up for not doing things and tellin' grandma on me, I can't see what the blokes can see in her; but then if I caught any one saying she wasn't good for anything, if he was a bloke I felt fit to wallop, I'd give him a nice sollicker under the ear, an' I wouldn't bother about any other girl. Do you see?"
"Yes; I'll hold up the shafts for you."
"Thanks. Well, that's 'Dora' Eweword that's doin' a kill with Dawn now."
"Dora is a funny name for a man."
"It ain't his name. He's called it for a lark because he was after a girl up in town named Dora Cowper. She serves in a hay and corn store at the corner. Things were gettin' on pretty strong, and he used to be taking her out all hours of the night and day. Some reckon she's better-lookin' than Dawn, and her mother put it around that Eweword would make a brilliant match for her, and that shooed him off at once. I reckon if I was a girl and wanted to ketch a man I'd hold me mag about it, as I know two or three now has been turned off the same way."
"Perhaps Dora Cowper didn't lose much."
"Well, he has a bosker farm, you see. He keeps a power of pigs and fattens 'em. Then he went after one or two more girls, and now he comes here. Buying these pumpkins is only a dodge to get a chip in with Dawn. He has plenty lucerne for his pigs, but we have so many pumpkins rotting we are glad to get rid of them at two bob a load, and I suppose that is cheap to get a yarn with Dawn. He ain't preposed to Dawn yet, but I'm sure he's goin' to, because I asked him if he was goin' to marry Dora Cowper, an' he said no. Dawn is only pullin' his leg for him—she's got all the blokes on a string. You should see her with those that comes up in the summer. It's worth bein' alive in the summer. We had melons here in millions. We used to open a big Dixie or Cuban Queen and just only claw out the middle. We used to fill the water-cask with 'em to cool, an' every time Dawn came out to dive in her dipper, wouldn't she rouse! Me an' Uncle Jake used to race to see who could eat the most, but he beat. He's a sollicker to stuff when he gets anything he likes. It's a wonder we didn't bust. The oranges will soon be ripe, that's good luck: I can eat eighty a-day easy. Here comes old Bolliver!"
A huge figure as described by Dawn came out of the house in company with Miss Flipp, and I recognised Mr Pornsch, the heavy swell who had travelled in the 'bus with me on the day of my first arrival in Noonoon.
With repulsive clumsiness he climbed into the vehicle, and then said roughly, almost brutally, to his niece—
"Get in! get in!" and scarcely gave her time to be seated ere he hit the pony and nearly screwed its jaw off getting out of the yard.
"Cock-a-doodle-do! Ain't it nice to have a sweet temper," loudly remarked Andrew, as he stood aside. "He just is a purple plum. He's the kind of old cove I'd like to get real narked and then scoot. Wouldn't he splutter and think himself Lord Muck, and that every one oughter be licking his boots!"
Dawn and "Dora" Eweword were still hanging over a garden fence as Andrew went after his cows and I betook myself to the house. Uncle Jake was in conference with his sister, and gave evidence of fearing I should pursue him, so I mercifully betook myself to my own apartment. Miss Flipp presently returned, and saying she had had tea up town with her uncle and would not want any more, shut herself in her room, from whence I soon detected the sound of impassioned sobbing. My first impulse was to ask her what was the matter, but my second, born of a wide experience of grief, led me to hold my tongue and tell no one what I had heard; but to escape from the sound of that pitiable weeping I went out in the garden, where I was joined by Mrs Clay.
"Did you see that young feller out there this afternoon? Fine stamp of a young man, don't you think?" remarked she.
"He should be able for a good day's work."
"Yes; he's none of your tobacco-spitting, wizened-up little runts like you'll see hangin' on to the corner-posts in Noonoon."
"Seems to admire your granddaughter?"
"An' he's not the first by a long way that has done that, though she was only nineteen this month."
"I can quite believe it. She is a lovely girl."
"An' more than that, a good one. I've never had one moment's uneasiness with Dawn; she took after me that way. I could let her go out in the world anywhere with no fear of her goin' astray. She's got a fine way with men, friendly and full of life, but let 'em attempt to come an inch farther than she wants, and then see! Sometimes I'm inclined to wish she's be a little more genteeler; but then I look around an' see some of them sleek things, an' it's always them as are no good, an' I'm glad then she's what she is. There's some girls here in town,"—the old lady grew choleric,—"you'd think butter wouldn't melt in their mouths, an' they try to sit on Dawn. It's because they're jealous of her, that's what it is. I wouldn't own 'em! They'd run a man into debt and be a curse to him; but there's Dawn, the man that gets her, he'll have a woman that will be of use to him and not just a ornament."
"He'll have an ornament too."
"Perhaps so. I've spent a lot of money on her education. She's been taught painting and dancing. I had her down at the Ladies' College in Sydney for two years finishing, an' she's had more chances of being a lady than most. Some of these things in town here turn up their noses at her an' say, 'She's only old Mrs Clay's granddaughter, who keeps a accommodation house,' but I pay me bills and ain't ashamed to walk up town an' look 'em all in the face."
"But it's generally those who owe the most who have the most lordly mien."
"You're right. I could point you out some of them up town as hasn't a shirt to their back, an' they look as they owned everythink—the brazenest things!" The old dame's indignation waxed startling in its intensity.
"But I was going to tell you about young Eweword. I've set me heart on him for Dawn. He's somethink worth lookin' at an' worth havin' too. He knows how to farm and make it pay, an' owns one of the best pieces of land about Noonoon—all his own. Dawn don't seem to take to him as she ought. He was after a girl here in town, a Dora Cowper, an' so she says she ain't goin' to take any leavin's; but he ain't any leavin's, she can be sure of that, for if he'd wanted Dora Cowper they'd have snapped him up, an' I think as long as a young feller don't go making too much of a fool of a girl, a little flirtation's only natural. This has been the mischief with Dawn. There's a lot of people here in the summer from the city, and they're all taken with her, and for everlasting telling her she's wasting her talents here, that she ought to be on the stage. It's a wonder people can't mind their own concerns!" (The old dame grew choleric again.) "It makes her think what I can give her ain't good enough. It's all very fine in a good comfortable home of her own, with love and protection around her, to think people mean that sort of thing, an' that w'en she walked out in the world they would be anxious to worship her. Just let her go out an' try, an' she'd find it all moonshine; but w'en I tell her, she only thinks I'm a old pig, an' only she's that stubborn I know she'd never come back. (I would be the same myself w'en young, so can't blame her.) I'd let her have a taste of hardship to bring her to her bearin's. But while I'm alive she'll never have my consent to be a actress. W'en I was young they was looked upon as the lowest hussies. I'd like to hear what my mother would say if I had wanted to be one—paintin' meself up an' kickin' up me heels and showin' meself before men in the loudest manner!"
I concluded not to divulge my profession while at Clay's, and to boot, I held much the same point of view.
"She thinks she'd like to marry some fine feller and be a toff; an' she's got this danger that's always the drawback of a girl bein' pretty, so many fellers come after them at the start they get finnicky an' think they can marry any one, an' leave it too late, an' in the end they marry some rubbishing feller an' don't came out half so well as the plain ones that was content with a fair thing w'en they had the chance of it. Just the same with a boy; it's a bad thing for them to be able to do everythink, they are so terribly smart they end up by doin' nothink, an' the ploddin' feller they grinned at for bein' a booby, because he stuck to the one thing, comes out on top."
"Just so; want of concentration plucks one every time."
"That's wot I want to save Dawn from. It's all right while I live, an' I don't want her to be chuckin' herself at the head of any Tom or Dick, but I won't live for ever, an' marriage is like everythink else, you want to have your eye on a good thing an' not humbug too much. W'en I'm gone"—the austere old face softened—"I wouldn't like to think of her I've spent so much money on, an' rared with me own hand, as I did her an' her mother before her, growin' old an' sour an' lonely, or bein' a slave to some worthless crawler." The old voice grew perilously soft, and saved itself from a break by a swift crescendo.
"As I say, I suppose she's waitin' for some great impossible feller to come along, like we do w'en we're young; but these upper ten is the worst matches a girl can make, an' besides there's too many trying to ketch them in their own rank. I've had lots of 'em here, an' to see these swell girls the way they try to ketch some one would make you ill. Don't you think so?"
"Well, my sympathies are always with the swell girl in the matrimonial market," I replied. "She has a far harder time than those of the working classes. You see, so many of the well-to-do eligibles prefer working girls—actresses, chorus-singers, and barmaids, which, in addition to marriage in their own class, gives these girls a chance of stepping up; whereas the swell girls cannot marry grooms and footmen and raise them to their rank as their brothers can their housemaids and ballet-girls. To be a success the society girl must marry a man of sufficient means to keep her as an expensive toy, and this description of bachelor being scarce in any case, little wonder she has to hunt hard and tries to protect her preserves from poachers. Think of it that way."
"There is a lot in that, and that's why I like to see Dawn have young Eweword, who's a man I'd be happy to leave her to; but I daren't say a word, she's mighty touchy an' would flash up that she'd leave if I want to get rid of her. But while I've got breath in me body there's one thing I will set me foot on, an' that's these good-for-nothing skunks like bankers' sons an' them sort of high an' mighty pauper nobodies; they're fearful matches for any one. I know too much about the swells an' the old families of the colony, I'm thankful I ain't one of them. My father came out here a long time ago, an' I was born out here. He was a sergeant in the police. I am near seventy-six, an' can remember plain for seventy years back in the days w'en there was plenty convicts, an' me father, seein' his position, was put to see the floggin' of them. Me and another little girl that's dead now used to climb up a tree an' look over the wall like children would. We was stationed in Goulburn then, an' I'll never forget the scenes to me dyin' day. The men used to be stripped to the waist and tied on a triangle and walloped till they was cut to pieces, till they screamed like little children for mercy, and poor old wretches that had roamed the world for sixty years used to screech Mother! Mother! like little children. It was heart-renderin'! An' what used they be flogged for, do you think?—for the piggishness of the swells mostly. I'll tell you. There was a old feller lived out at Kaligiwa—that's more than twenty miles the other side of Goulburn, an' there's Parry's Lagoon there called after him till this day. He was a old Lord Muck if ever there was one, an' by reason of that got a land grant an' men assigned, an' he ought to have been give to them to kick—would have been the right thing; an' then he had a lot of skunks of sons,—took after their father, of course, an' hadn't much chance of bein' anythink else,—an' w'en they used to ride to town they used to have a man tied to the stirrup just to hold it."
"What was that for?"
"What was it for?" she raged. "It was because they was those skunks of swells that think other people is only made as floor wipes for 'em! An' this feller used to have to run all the way to town, and if he hadn't strength to run all the way he'd be dragged, an' if he give any lip the Parrys 'u'd report 'em; an' me father says he's often seen 'em flogged till their backs were like ploughed, an' then have to run the twenty miles home. Me father used to come in every day and fling hisself down an' cry and sob as if his heart would break, an' say he'd rather starve than stay in the police. Now, the Parrys got up an' one of them had a 'Sir' sent out to his name, and you'll see 'em writ about as one of the few old families; and I hold that Dawn come from better stock than them, and has more to be proud of in her grandfather—he had some heart in him. An' Lord! there's Miss Flipp's uncle, one look at him ought to be sufficient warnin' to any girl. The likes of him is common among the swells—too much stuffin' an' drinkin' an' debochary. Nice thing if Dawn married a swell an' he developed into a old pig like that. I can tell you another great family of swells, the Goburnes—entertained the Royalties w'en they was out here, an' are such bugs one of 'em married the Governor's daughter. They got up about the same way. In the old days w'en things were carelesser an' land wasn't much, the old cock of all had the surveyor that was gone on his daughter measurin' the land, an' got him to slice in great pieces by false measurement, an' worked the lives out of convicts—as big a brute as the Parrys. That's the breed of the swells, an' I have a horror of them. The people as I consider ought to be the swells in this country is them that came out first, the free emigrants, and honestly worked up the colony with their own hands, an' their children done the same for four or five generations—them's the only proper Australian aristocracy we've got. That's why I have sich a contempt for this Rooney-Molyneux, Mrs Bray was tellin' of; only times is different he'd be the same, he's got the sort of pride that thinks his wife is a black gin because she was only a milliner."
Out past the placard advertising Mrs Clay's boats gleamed the highroad, and from where we walked could be seen a now unused old stone milepeg, carved in Roman lettering, its legend differing somewhat from that in modern figures painted on the miniature wooden post by which it had been deposed. It was one of many relics of the dead and gone convicts who had done giant pioneer labour in this broad bright land in the days when Grandma Clay's mother had been young. Fine old grandma, daughter of a fine old dad who had wept for the cruelty endured by the men who had worked in chain-gangs and were flogged under his superintendence, and thinking thus I turned to the old dame who had ceased talking and said—
"And what of your father, did he get away from seeing the convicts flogged?"
"Yes; me mother thought he was goin' mad. He used to sob in his sleep an' call out and squirm that he couldn't bear to see them flogged, an' leap up in bed in a sweat. So he gave up the police an' we went a long way farther back to Gool-Gool on the Yarrangung, a tributary of the Murrumbidgee. The train in them days was only a little way out of Sydney, an' me father got a job of drivin' Cobb & Co.'s coaches from Gool-Gool to Yarrandogi, an' me an' me mother an' sisters an' Jake there used to live in a little tent at the first stage out of Gool-Gool, an' take care of the horses. I was fond of them horses, and used to sneak out to harness them on to the swingle-bar w'en I was no higher than the table. It's a wonder I didn't get me brains knocked out. I was lots smarter than Jake there with the horses, though it ain't supposed to be girl's work. But it came nacheral to me, an' I think in that case it's right. That's why I never was one to narrer girls down an' say you mustn't do this and that because you're a girl. I've always found, in spite of their talk, the best and gamest mothers is the ones that grew out of the tomboy girls. Well, it come that me father, being a steady man an' very kind and well liked, he got on surprisin', an' soon the tent give place to a bark hut. That's the way people worked up in my days, an' what they had was their own. They didn't want to start in mansions an' eat off of silver at the expense of others like in these times! After that we moved a long way down an' took up a position on the Murra-Murra run beside the Sydney road, where the coaches passed in the night; an' me mother made hot coffee for the passengers, an' we drove a roarin' trade, had to git girls in to help, an' put up a large accommodation house, and respectable people always made to us" (the old head went high and the eyes flashed) "because we was clean, temperance people, there never was no D.T.'s or sly grog where we had the rule. An' that's why I always like to have a few people in the house to this day. I'm used to their company like, an' feel there's nothing goin' on or doing without them. Well, I grew up in time. I can't say it meself, but them as knew me then could tell you I wasn't disfigured in any way or a cripple, an' had no lack of admirers. Me an' me two sisters had 'em by the score waitin' till we grew old enough to be married. I can tell you there was some smart fellers among 'em. Those were the times! Me sisters made what is called swell matches, an' not bein' used to bein' cooped up, their lives was failures. I was the only one married in me own circle, and my life was a pattern to the others. I was the oldest an' waited last, an' me mother was that disappointed in me that I had to run away, an' I have me reasons for fearin' Dawn is on for a swell. I seen me sisters' lives. I call them unwholesome marriages when girls marries these fellers, an' their narrer-minded people sits on her an' is that depraved they turn him agen her!" Mrs Clay was vehement.
"When Dawn's mother grew up she was Dawn's image, an' we was keepin' a accommodation house too, that is Jim Clay an' me, and Dawn's mother was reckoned the prettiest and best girl in them parts, an' had lovers from far and near; but there came a feller up from Sydney to stay, nothin' to blow about neither, but he was dreadfully gone on me daughter. He seemed all right, but I was agen him—being a swell,—till me daughter threatened she'd run away with him if I didn't let her have him peaceful, an' rememberin' me own youth, I let her have him in spite of me misgivin's. She went home with him, an' it appears he was like these crawlin' fellers—couldn't do nothink, only what their parents give them; an' w'en they found he'd married a fine, good, wholesome girl, instead of one of their own style—one of the Parrys for instance—they cut him off with a shilling, an' poor thing she nearly starved, an' took to work to keep him, an' he always growlin' at her like the coward he was, that only for her he'd have been well off. A mess-alliance his people called it, but the mess wasn't from poor Mary's side. Well, w'en it come that she was to be a mother, his people took her in and told her, if you please, that if it was a boy they'd take it theirselves and educate it fit for their family, but if it was a girl they wouldn't. The poor thing, not bein' able for anythink an' too proud to come home, stood their insults as long as she could, an' at last she sneaked out at night and set off to walk to me. It is pitiable to think of."
The poor old voice trembled.
"She had more'n a hundred miles to travel an' it took her days, but some folk was good, an' one cold night about three hours before daylight she startled me by comin' into my room. I remember it like yesterday. 'Mother,' she says, 'I'm ill; I'm goin' to die; you won't let them take my child, will you?' I thought her wanderin', an' she was so gentle it frightened me; for we was always saucy ladies, I can tell you—every one of us, an' you can see Dawn is the same now. But that's only a way; w'en I'm ill she's as tender as anythink. It's grandma wouldn't this do you good, and that do you good? An' her little hands is very clever an' nice about my old bones w'en they ache. Well, her mother was took bad an' me an' her father done our best, an' her baby came into the world—a poor miserable little winjin' thing, an' its mother turnin' over said, 'What's that light, mother, comin' in, is it the Dawn?' an' lookin' up I see it was the Dawn; an' she never spoke again, but went off simple an' sudden just then, an' that's how Dawn come to get her name. I never thought she'd live to be called by it though. Little winjin' thing! I had to feed her on the bottle an' everythink disagreed with her. We had to keep a old cow especial. I remember her as clear as yesterday—a big old cow with a dew-lap an' a crumpled horn; we called her Ladybird because she was spots all over. As for them getting Dawn! They had the cheek to write an' say if it was a boy they'd take it. They had the cheek after what happened—that's swells for you again! I writ them one letter in return that I reckon ought to last them to their dying day. I told them it wasn't any matter to them what my child was; that they had murdered one already, let that be sufficient for them; that they'd get no more unless over my dead body; an' that all I regretted was that the child had any of their cowardly blood in it, that it almost discouraged me about its rarin'. An' Dawn don't know her name, an' won't unless she's married. Her father married again, an' I'm glad to say never had another child, an' I believe hankers for Dawn, an' he will hanker for my part; an' I've got Dawn tootered up agen him too. Now you can see the blow it would be to me if she took up with a swell—there's no happiness marryin' out of yer own religion or class. Mine was what I'd call a love match now. Jim Clay was a lover! I've seen him come in with a team of five all buckin', an' it snowin' an' never anythink but a laugh out of him. He'd ride miles an' miles to see me. The crawlers about these parts nowadays toddle about on bikes or sit like great-grandfathers in sulkies, an' if it was to sprinkle they'd think half a mile too far to go to see their sweetheart. I think the heart of the world must be dyin' out."
"You'll tell me about Jim Clay, won't you?" I said; "for I am an Australian—one of those you consider entitled to be termed a real aristocrat. My people for several generations have practically worked in the building of the State, though I must admit they belonged to the leisured class at home."
"Well, that ain't nothink agen 'em when they don't make it nothink agen 'em, if you understand. If a swell can prove hisself as good an' useful a man as another, he deserves the credit, an' comes out ahead too, because he has the education, an' sometimes that is useful. I'll tell you about me young days. Lately me mind seems to be goin' back more an' more to old times."
"Grandma! Grandma!" called Dawn's rich young voice, "come to tea. Andrew and Carry want to go up town after."
As I turned and looked at this glowing vision I laughed to think of her as a "little winjin' thing," and was grateful to the good offices of old Ladybird with the dew-lap and a crumpled horn.
"You needn't be in such a hurry all of a suddent," said grandma crossly. "It's a different tune w'en you're hangin' over the fence talkin' somewhere. There's no hurry roundin' me in to tea then!"
We lingered awhile watching the afterglow above the great range dividing the coast land from the vast stretches of the interior, and which was no longer an impassable barrier to the people of the State. Now the train toiled over a stile-like way connecting east and west, and Noonoon and Kangaroo, divided by a mile and the river, nestled immediately at the foot of the zigzag climb.
They lay asleep against the ranges in a slow-going world of their own, their little houses gleaming white in the fading light.
There was a flush on the old woman's face as she turned houseward—also an afterglow. 'Twas a fitting nook for her present days, the decline of those splendidly vigorous years behind! What satisfaction to look back on strenuous, fruitful years, and be able to afford rest during the last stages!
I, too, had rest; but it was only the ignominious idleness of a young boat with a broken propeller yarded among honourably worn-out craft to await a foundering.
After tea grandma took to reading the 'Noonoon Advertiser'—a four-sheet weekly publication containing local advertisements, weather remarks, and a little kindly gossip about townspeople. This was her usual Saturday night entertainment. Carry and Andrew went to town to participate in the unfailing diversion of a large percentage of the population. This was tramping up and down the main street in a stream till the business places closed, from which exercise they apparently derived an enjoyment not visible to my naked eye. Uncle Jake and Miss Flipp not being in evidence, Dawn and I were the only two unoccupied, and noticing that she was prettily dressed, I resorted to a point of common interest in promoting friendliness between members of our sex and invited her to look at a kimono I had bought for a dressing-gown.
This had the desired effect. A look of pleasure passed over the face that charmed me so, and she arose willingly.
"I'm glad it is my week to stay in and make the bedtime coffee," she said as we examined the gorgeous kimono, a garment of dark-flowered silk; and Dawn, having all the fetichly and long-engendered feminine love of self-decoration, was delighted with it.
"Put it on," I suggested, and the girl complied with alacrity. She did not make a very natural Jap, being more on the robust than petite scale, but she was a very beautiful girl. With my impassioned love of beauty I could not help exclaiming about hers, and the foolish platitude, "You ought to be on the stage," inadvertently escaped me, seeing this is the highest market for beauty in these days when even personal emotions can be made to have commercial value.
"Do you think so too?" she said eagerly, betraying what lay near her heart. "Do you know anything about the stage? You don't think all actresses bad women like grandma does, do you?"
"Scarcely! Some of the most sweet and lovable women I've ever seen are earning their living on the boards. I'm intimately acquainted with several actresses, and will show you their photographs some day."
"Oh, I'd love to be on the stage!" exclaimed the girl.
"Tell me why and how you first came to have such a wish."
"Well, it's this way," said Dawn, pulling my kimono close about her beautifully rounded throat and curling her pink feet on a wallaby-skin at the bedside as she sat down upon them. "I heard grandma telling you something about me this afternoon, and I suppose you think I'm a terrible girl."
"A beautiful one," I said, revelling in the curling lips and rounded cheek and chin.
"Don't make fun of me," said Dawn huffily, blushing like noon.
"Good gracious, now you are making fun of me. I'm only stating a patent fact. Mirrors and men must have told you a thousand times that you are pretty."
"Oh, them! They say it to every one. Look here—there's the ugliest little runts of girls in Noonoon, and they're always telling their conquests and that this man and that man say they're pretty, when a blind cat could see that they are ugly, and the men must be just stringing them to try and take them down. So when they say it to me I always make up my mind I'd have more gumption than to take notice, for I can't see any beauty in myself. I'm too fat and strong-looking; all the beauties are thin and delicate-looking in the face—not a bit like me. I know I'm not cross-eyed or got one ear off, but that's about all."
I had been wont to think the only place unconscious beauties abounded was in high-flown, unreal novels; but here was one in real life, and that the exceedingly unvarnished existence of Noonoon. Not that I would have thought any the less of her had she been conscious of her physical loveliness, for beauty is such a glorious, powerful, intoxicating gift that had I been blessed with it I'm sure I would have admired myself all day, and the wonder to me regarding beautiful men and women is not that they are so conceited, but, on the contrary, that they are so little vain.
"I want to tell you why I want to be on the stage. I couldn't tell how I hate Noonoon. It's all very well for grandma to settle down now and want me to be the same, but when she was young (you get her to tell you some of the yarns, they're tip-top) she wasn't as quiet as I am by a long way. Just fancy marrying some galoot about here and settling down to wash pots and pack tomatoes and live in the dust among the mosquitoes, always! I'd rather die. I'll tell you the whole thing while I'm about it. You won't mind, as I'm sure you have had trouble too, as your white hair doesn't look to be age."
Comparison of her midget irritation with those that had put broad white streaks in my hair was amusing, but the rosy heart of a girl magnifies that which it doesn't contract.
"Grandma wants me to marry. Did you see that fellow who was after pumpkins?—he ought to make one of his head, the great thing! Grandma has a fancy for me having him, but I wouldn't marry him if he were the only man in Noonoon. Do you know, they actually call him Dora because he was breaking his neck after a girl of that name. He used to be making red-hot love to her. Young Andrew there saw him up the lane by Bray's with his arm round her waist, mugging her for dear life, and then he'd come over here and want to kiss me! If he had seen me up a lane hugging the baker, I wonder would he want me then!" Dawn's tone approached tears, for thus are sensitive maiden hearts outraged by an inconsistent double standard of propriety and its consequences, great and small.
"Grandma says that's nothing if it's not worse, for that's the way of men, but I'd rather have some one who hadn't done it so plainly right under my nose; people wouldn't be able to poke it at me then. I've got him warded off proposing, and while I guard against that it's all right. Now, this is why I'd like to be on the stage. I'd love to have been born rich and have lovely dresses, and I'm sure I could hold receptions and go to balls, and the stage would be next best to reality."
"But why not marry some one who could give you these things?"
"Where would I find him? You may bet that's the sort of man I'd like to marry if I did marry at all," and the dullest observer could have seen she was heart-whole and fancy free. Certainly there would be a difficulty in procuring that brand of eligible. There was but a limited supply of him on the market, and that was generally confiscated to the use of imported actresses, and, could society journals be relied upon, it was the same in England; so Dawn showed good instinct in wanting to bring herself into more equal competition with the winners.
"Can you sing?"
"I've never been trained," she said, but at my request went to the piano in the next room and gave vent to a strong, clear mezzo. It was a good voice—undoubtedly so. There are many such to be heard all over Australia—girls singing at country concerts without instruction, or the ignorant instruction more injurious than helpful. These voices are marred to the practised ear by the style of production, which in a year or two leaves them cracked and awful. This widespread lack of voice preservation is the result of a want of public musical training. With all the training in Paris, Dawn would never have been a Dolores or Calve, but with other ability she had sufficient voice to make a success in comic opera or in concerts as second fiddle to a star soprano.
"You must sing again for me," I said, "and I'll discover whether you have any ability." For the way to wean any one from a desire is not by condemnation of it.
"Don't you say anything to grandma about me and the stage or she'd very nearly turn you out of the house. You just ask her what she thinks of it some time, and it will give you an idea; but I hate Noonoon, and would run away, only grandma goes on so terribly about hussies that go to the bad, and she's very old, and you know how you feel that a curse might follow you when people go on that way," said the girl in bidding me good night.
Dawn had many characteristics that made one love her, and a few in spite of which one bore her affection. Her method of dealing with her native tongue came among the latter. It was reprehensible of her too, seeing the money her grandmother had spent in giving her a chance to be a lady—that is, the type of lady who affects a blindness concerning the stern, plain facts of existence, and who considers that to speak so that she cannot be heard distinctly is an outward sign of innate refinement. She had made poor use of her opportunities in this respect, but if to be honest, healthy, and wholesome is lady-like, then Dawn was one of the most vigorous and thoroughly lady-like folk I have known, and what really constitutes a lady is a mootable point based largely upon the point of view.
MISS FLIPP'S UNCLE.
I did not sleep that night. Dawn and her grandma had given me too much food for cogitation. I felt I had incurred a responsibility in regard to the former, upon which I chewed tough cud at the expense of sleep.
While there was hard common-sense in the old grandmother's point of view, it was also easy to be at one with the girl's desire for something brighter and more stirring than old Noonoon afforded. The fertile valley was beautiful in all truth, but with the beauty that appeals only to the storm-wrecked mariner, worn with a glut of human strife and glad to be at anchor for a time rebuilding a jaded constitution.
Upon a first impression this girl did not seem abnormally anxious for the mere plaudits or the notoriety part of the stage-struck's fever, nor was she alight with that fire called genius which will burn a hole through all obstacles till it reaches its goal; she appeared rather to regard the stage as a means to an end—a pleasant easy way, in the notion of the inexperienced, of obtaining the fine linen and silver spoon she desired. Had she been a boy, doubtless she would have set out to work for her ambition, but being a girl she sought to climb by the most approved and usual ladder within reach—the stage; for actresses all married the lovely, rich (often titled) young gentlemen who sat in rows in the front seats and admired the high-class "stars" and worshipped the ballerinas and chorus girls, or so at least a great many people believed, being led astray by certain columns in gossip newspapers, which doubtless have a colouring of truth inasmuch that the women of the stage are idealised creatures—idealised by limelight, and advertised by a pushing management for the benefit of the box-office.
Now Dawn had ample ability and appearance for success on the stage if her parents had been there before her, so that she could have grown up in touch with it, but whether she had sufficient iron and salt to push her way against the barriers in her pathway I doubted. Only sheer genius can get to the front in any line of art with which it is not in touch, and even giant talent is often so mangled in the struggle that when it wrests recognition it is too spent to maintain the altitude it has attained at the expense of heart-sweat and blood.