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  ― 90 ―

Chapter XV

“Urged by a restless longing, the hunger and thirst of the spirit,
She would commence again her endless search and endeavour.”—

Longfellow.

Advancing months made little change in the Ranges or its owner, excepting that the buildings on the one were emulating the tower of Pisa more closely, and the other wore an added air of silently-borne anxiety; or, rather, the wounds received in grappling with adversity.

He mixed so little with his neighbours that it was a rarity to see him seated at one of their tables; he had come, by invitation, to Mr. Heslop's farm, Tolwong; the gentlemen were now lunching.

“And you will ride over with me, Mr. Osman, to the meeting.”

“Certainly, Sir; though the removal of the Pound to Wangarriling from Tomiarah will be an inconvenience to me, should I require to impound straying stock.”

“By no means, Sir; by taking the back road the distance will be lessened, and as we are trying to get the Court-house removed to Wangarriling, that will be the township, which will add seventy per cent. to the value of land in that district.” Mr. Heslop had the convenient art of shifting his position to suit the prejudices or interests of his hearers. Leigh Osman had vested interests which must be consulted, and all the projects of the gentleman's fertile brain were swayed to meet those interests. He had not invited the young man from any friendly feeling, but because he feared him. Osman did not often mingle in such movements; he was not found on Testimonial Committees, or meetings convened to consider this or that question; but when he did appear, he had a quiet way of giving utterance to a stubborn fact or two, and “facts are solid as the pyramids,” which the opponent party found very hard to surmount, or set aside; besides, he was the best educated, deepest read, and most profound thinker in the locality; and so sternly just, that he could not be made to swerve from the direct course of integrity by any means they could devise.




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Mr. Heslop was a public-spirited man—shrewd, fearless, and ambitious. The present case, the altering of a Pound and petitioning Government, were only some of the schemes constantly agitating his busy brain. He had been the main mover in establishing a school some years before; had guaranteed a stipend for a minister, and assisted to collect; been one of the deputies to welcome the Catholic Priest; was a man of property, having, besides estates, a share in a saw and flour mills, and owned a public-house there, leased to a confirmed drunkard, and yet had not hesitated to take the chair at a temperance meeting, a position he was sure to occupy on any public occasion; and was equally sure to make a long illiterate speech, for Mr. Heslop's educational acquirements were scanty. Without committing himself to any definite opinion, he had a problematical way of asserting statements, which left it open to doubt whether he stated a fact, or inquired if such were the ideas of his audience.

By the time lunch was finished, the horses were at the door, and the gentlemen rode together to the place of meeting; they found a rather large assembly in and around the Court-house, to which place they had been convened; and there was a universal touching of hats and bowing, as the new-comers rode up; and the Master of Tolwong alighted and bustled about, shaking hands, while Osman quietly walked through the crowd, followed by a small farmer, who had evidently been sent by a group of anxious confabulators to ascertain Leigh's opinion.

“Hear both sides of the question, Wright, before you second any movements—be quite sure of what you are agreeing to.”

“What does he say?” asked the confabulators, as young Wright returned; he explained; a murmur of “It's just like him: he is such an upright, down-spoken gentleman,” ran round.

After many long confused speeches, which puzzled every one, and contained so many personal allusions that the temper of the assembly waxed warm, the affair appeared only hopelessly confused. Mr. Heslop had had to confute statements and offer explanations so often, that he was purple in the face; when Leigh Osman rose, and, in an even calm voice, uttered his opinion, which, to the general surprise, was in favour of the proposed alterations, for which he gave uncontrovertible reasons, and he sat down amidst the cheers of the one party, and the disapprobation of the other.




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Mr. Heslop was delighted, for he had feared that Leigh would have considered his private, before public interest, and he would have rushed forward to shake hands, had it not been advisable to refrain; and in the midst of a stormy debate upon matters entirely irrelevant to the cause of the meeting, he found the place lately occupied by the Master of the Ranges empty. Could he have followed him, he would have found his mind engaged with subjects foreign to popular praise or censure.

Often since Osman's visit to Captain Dell had that happy fortnight reverted to his mind; and he dwelt upon the remembrance of the inquiring mind and warm affections he would so gladly have devoted himself to cultivate, direct, and cheer through life. Stern poverty, in a grim garb, stood ever by his side, sealing his lips, and rousing his inflexible honour to oppose every wish to seek a returning love. To the world, he had large properties; to himself, he stood in less real ownership than a hired servant; he had all the labour and care, and none of the pay. To meet the interest as it became due, demanded exertions and toil which warned him not to draw another into the same seething ocean of vexation. He must see the bright dream fade away, and the rich tints fade on the summer's sky of hope. Leigh Osman was a man of warm susceptibilities, and affections deep to passion, and the struggle was severe and often renewed.

The sun had set, and round the narrow track which led him homewards darkness already gathered; the birds were chirping sleepily as they sought their roosts, and the laughing-jackass shouted a wild chorus far in the wooded recesses; the scenery surrounding the Ranges was particularly romantic: a succession of bold lines of hills, so lofty as to almost come under the appellation of mountains, gave to the country an air of primeval quiet and isolation—the farms were so scattered, and the inhabitants, in consequence, so few; streams gushed between rocks, where the wallabi found fastnesses, and the black cockatoo shrieked in the gullies.

There were occasional fine levels under cultivation, and the hills depastured flocks and herds; and, as he rode home, the ringing report of the stockman's whip reached him; large tracts, however, must always be wildernesses, from their inaccessible and barren nature: there were places where the traveller might perish of thirst, within hearing of running water, murmuring


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far below him between perpendicular rocks. Amidst such regions the botanist would linger, and pronounce it a second Eden.

A few days later the partisans of Mr. Heslop visited Leigh, making collections for a testimonial to that gentleman. “He's such a public-spirited man!” they all chorussed.

“What are we bearing testimony to Mr. Heslop for?—what public service is this little piece of plate you mention to commemorate?”

“Well, Sir, he's done a deal of good in the quarter,” suggested one.

“A deal of good,” echoed another.

“He's the poor man's friend,” added a third, with every symptom of belonging to the befriended class.

“You should put him into the Council,” remarked Osman, with a quiet smile they did not fathom.

“Well, Sir, that has been thought of. Next 'lection we hope he will come forward.”

“What are his qualifications?”

This was a question requiring more consideration than the deputies had time to bestow, so they repeated their former assertion, and went on their way.

“Why did you give ten pounds to Mr. Heslop's testimonial fund, Banister?” inquired Osman of a neighbour, a few days afterwards.

“Well, they came to me, and he's a neighbour of mine, you know, and would expect it.”

“So, world, are these thy honours?” mentally commented Leigh.

“You did not give much.”

“No.”

Mr. Banister offered no remark, for the negative was uttered in such a calm tone that he felt that his companion had potent reasons; he could not think he was mean, because he knew of so many generous actions which he had performed, and even then he was returning from an empty cottage he had offered as a temporary shelter to a homeless emigrant family out of employ; but he did not know that the Master of the Ranges spent an hour or two every evening beside the sick bed of one of his labourers—a lad who had met with a severe accident, which threatened to cripple him for life; and that the tedium


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of his protracted suffering was lightened by that hour's reading and conversation, and that the weary lad was thence supplied with thought and amusement for the intervening time. Incidents of this nature did not reach the public car, for they were not intended for it; they were the promptings of a pious and benevolent spirit, which needed no praise.

While Leigh Osman was thus struggling with adversity, and standing up against what he considered absurd or unjust, winter had advanced, and Aloe Hill presented in many respects a very different aspect. The orchard trees, excepting the oranges, were leafless. Mr. Eveleigh, finding there was no one but Rachel to make any exertions, bargained for her with a neighbouring orchard proprietor to purchase the fruit crop, and she might be seen often in the bleak wind, with a shawl wrapped round her, counting and superintending the packing of baskets of fruit. Joseph Tebbut was rather an oddity—talkative, very deaf, and redolent of tobacco; it was a relief to Rachel when his place was supplied by young Joe, who rarely spoke, and then only in monosyllables; or Mrs. Tebbut, who appeared always engaged in profound calculations, or whose calculating powers were so deficient that the marketing of one day formed an arithmetical problem which she had not worked out before a new one was added.

Those chill, damp months in the minor's ruined house were telling upon the fine old Captain, and Rachel knew it; the dread knowledge lay like an iron weight upon her heart, only the more heavy because vacillating with hope. Ever, as he moved about, her eyes followed him; sometimes, when she would have wandered down to the seat on the dead mangrove, by the inlet, and gained fresh physical strength while she forgot her anxieties, the recollection that she would soon see him no more bound her to his side, and the bonnet was hung up again, and she took her station near him with her work—busy when he looked up, but when his eyes were fixed upon his book or paper, hers riveted their gaze upon him, as if the long look could supply a life-time. There was no one to whom she could breathe the subject of these thoughts, till one day, as she accompanied Mary Eveleigh to her father's gate, the young visitor remarked—

“Your grandfather does not look well.” They had paused to say good evening; tears trembled in Rachel's eyes.




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“You have no reason—” Mary began in some alarm.

“He is sinking fast,” she returned, with a pause between every word, and speaking with a great effort.

“I hope not.”

“Hope! Ah! Mary, how much that says — how much it confesses of our own weakness! You don't know what it is to stand beside those we love, and have nothing but our hope—no power to check their course.” For a few moments her courage failed, and she wept; then returned the recollection of God's infinite love and pity.

“He will—He will do all things best. ‘Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him,’ ” she repeated, as she returned the pressure of her friend's hand, as she walked home, and often, when her spirits sank before some fresh token of his failing strength. Last week he had walked a long distance; this, he rested for an hour after taking a stroll to Mr. Eveleigh's; yesterday he was anxious for the return of the messenger with the post; to-day, rather disposed to sleep in his arm-chair. These were trifles unnoticed by any but Rachel; Aunt Nancy had not an idea of it: she had never known her father to be ill, and her niece would not interrupt her ignorant peace by planting such heavy forebodings as oppressed herself. Meanwhile, her visits to town continued. All George Welton's efforts and her own had failed to discover Gilbert's retreat, and she began to despair, and believe that Hyram's information was incorrect, and her brother really absent from the colony.

“Do not be discouraged, Miss Calder: we will yet find him,” said Clare Welton one day, throwing a caressing arm round the young girl's neck. “I feel that we shall.”

Rachel looked up. There was a light like inspiration in the fine pale features, and it filled her with hope. She had not seen Clare or her brother for some time—her woman's perceptions warned her not; but her own resources had failed, and she again sought them to take counsel with Mr. Welton. She had not revealed to them the crime with which Gilbert stood accused; they knew only of his absence.

Very fatigued, and weary in spirit as well as body, Rachel reached the timber-yard belonging to the builder, and approached his office, a little room just within the gates; the door was locked, and she went down the yard to the foreman's cottage, where she was known.




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“But lauk, Miss, he's gone! he said to my master, ‘the young lady will stay in town to-night, I expect, as she has not come;’—that's what he said.” So spoke the foreman's wife.

Rachel's fortitude nearly gave way. She had on more than one occasion yielded to the persuasions of acquaintances to spend the evening with them, and that day she had not reached the timber-yard till an hour long past her usual time. She glanced round upon the piles of hardwood and kauri pine, the huge square trunks of cedar trees, and the stacks of Hobart Town palings; and for a moment her brave spirit fainted.

“And ye must go out to-night?” interrogated the woman.

“Yes, I must,” she said, in a low tone, that conveyed to her hearer little idea of the aching heart from whence it sprung. The absent brother, the dying grandfather, stood before her! to the other they were unknown; and she went on her way, “for the heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not therewith;” and even before she passed beneath the arch above the gates, she caught the woman's gay laugh at some deed of prowess performed by “baby.”

It was the day on which the gardeners brought their produce to market, and Rachel hoped to find some of the Tebbut family not yet returned, and to be allowed a seat in their cart; but where should she seek them? She walked to the market, and to the court where there were carts unloading or receiving their empty boxes and baskets, and women and men carrying the produce from thence to the market stalls; the air was fragrant with the aroma of fruit, and the scene looked worthy the pencil of Gabriel Metzu. Willow coops of poultry added life to the groups, and the cries of hens and geese, the quacking of ducks and clamour of turkeys, increased the Babel of tongues. Rachel ventured in among them, and inquired for Mr. Tebbut or his family.

“Don'ow,” was the brief response.

“She wor here awhile back, hersel',” added another; and then a round red face was lifted from the contemplation of a bushel-basket of fruit, and a male voice shouted—

“Who's asking arter Mother Tebbut?” Several fingers directed his attention to the inquirer. “She is just gone down the street; if you make haste, you'll catch her.”

Rachel stayed to hear no more, uttered a hasty “thank you,” and darted away. Mrs. Tebbut was discernible in the far distance—her head carried erect, her dress scorning the rotund


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dimensions of modern ladies', and a huge bow of crushed ribbon nodding from the summit of her black bonnet. Rachel lost no time in the chase; neither did Mrs. Tebbut; and the former gained her side speechless from want of breath.

“You are tired,” remarked she, and Rachel nodded. When she could make her request known, Mrs. Tebbut readily assented, and bade her follow her. They left George-street, and, following one running to the wharfs, stopped before a small dusty shop, containing a miscellaneous assortment of old iron and tin ware; the idea of a customer entering appeared never to suggest itself; every thing seemed to have settled down among the dust into a Rip Van Wynkle sleep, and the old man behind the counter had equally a composed air; he wore a red cap, pushed on one side of the masses of grizzly hair, and a full black beard concealed much of the lower part of his face.

“The cart's in the yard—you set down here,” said Mrs. Tebbut, piloting Rachel into the dusty shop. “Here, Prosper, this is our new neighbour.”

The introduction seemed sufficient: the old iron dealer bowed with the courtesy of a Frenchman, bade her take the chair which he handed, and darted away, returning before long with one of his best trays, which he had dragged from the shelf in his flight, loaded with a tea-service of rather peculiar description—a quaint plated teapot, a china sugar-bowl, without either handle, a homely cup, and a willow-pattern plate, piled with hot buttered toast; all which treasures were spread before Rachel.

“If you would take something—you are so tired—quite pale and faint,” he said, in a foreign tone, though correct pronunciation.

Rachel had too much native feeling not to understand that such kindly hearts are best rewarded in the acceptation of their gifts, and she did justice to the contents of the tea-service, and lighted up Prosper's little black eyes with satisfaction.

Mrs. Tebbut had conceived the idea that her young neighbour's frequent visits to Sydney were occasioned by her giving lessons in some branches of education, and she had communicated this idea to her old friend, the iron dealer, whose sympathy for one he pictured necessarily in distress was unbounded. The refinement and kindness of Rachel's manners had created a favourable impression among her neighbours, which had been


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extended beyond her immediate circle. Of old, we read that when Joseph was carried into Egyptian bondage, the Lord made him find favour in the eyes of the Egyptians; and the modern wanderer may well rest his cares there: He will make “even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

“ ‘Trust in Him at all times: ye people, pour out your heart before Him: God is a refuge for us,’ ” repeated Rachel to herself that evening.

“He's rough, but there an't a better man going than Prosper Hugo, though be be a foreigner,” remarked Mrs. Tebbut, as she drove homewards.

“He speaks English very correctly.”

“Bless you, he has been in the country these five-and-twenty years; he changed, you see, over from the Catholics to the Protestants, and left France as servant to some gentleman, and so worked his way out here as sailor. He's a good soul—a real good, trustworthy soul,” and Mrs. Tebbut subsided from her praise of her friend into a calculation of the day's business.

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