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V.

Christmas was going to be warm, but the hop vines clambering round the verandah posts made Briscoe's home always cool in the front. Travellers, calling for a drink, looked longingly at the cool retreat, where bloomed hydrangeas, geraniums, and other plants.

“When dardy comin' home?” Fan asked.

The needle waited. Mrs. Briscoe rested her hands in the sewing in her lap, and her eyes fell on the low, easy chair in the corner of the verandah, covered with goatskin. Ralph called it “the tippy chair,” because it played strange pranks at times, if unwary sitters sat too near the end.




  ― 245 ―

“When dardy comin', muvver?”

“Daddy will come back, dear, when he can.” She had been waiting anxiously for a letter for more than a month, and now Christmas was at hand, and no word nor sign of him.

“Mother, Joe wants me to go down to the hole for a bogey. Can I go?” asked Ralph, who spoke through the window.

She gave her consent, urging him to be careful, and keep out of the deep water. Once at the bogey-hole, their fun began—splashing each other furiously, and then running out to the edge of the hole, where they daubed themselves over with black mud, and ran chasing one another as Indians.

“Here comes mother and Fan for a walk” cried Ralph; “bet they've been after eggs.”

Joe looked fully impressed, but whether he knew the import of his mate's words I cannot say.

Again the chase was renewed, and Ralph, in order to defy pursuit, leaped upon the big dry log that stretched across the deep part of the hole. Never had he ventured there before, and it was a mad impulse that drove him back step by step, the elder lad following.

Presently there was a slip, a scream, and Ralph was in the deepest part of the hole. Mrs. Briscoe saw it all, and rushed screaming to the place. The poor dumb boy ran up and down the bank pointing to the spot where Ralph had sunk, and making his strange cry, “Oor, oor, oor!”

Out on the log the demented mother climbed, hoping her boy would rise within reach of her hand. Suddenly she saw his head. “Oh, God!” she cried, “help me!” The next moment a man plunged into the water from behind her. She had not observed his approach. The lad was seized in the strong rescuer's arms and taken to the bank. The overwrought mother climbed back along the log, grasping desperately for fear that, in her giddiness, she might fall. A wild scream of joy, of surprise, and thankfulness escaped her. “Oh, my God! It is Jim, my husband, and ——.” Falling forward she fainted in his arms. Gently laying her on the grass he turned to the child.

One searching look of scrutiny he gave the little pale face.

“Great God!” he cried, “it is Ralph, and I never guessed it.”

Fortunately, the lad had not been long immersed, and the efforts of his father to resuscitate him soon proved successful. He had been snatched from the very jaws of death. Presently the eyes of his mother opened. Wildly she stared at the little naked form before her. “He lives!” she cried, “he lives!” She covered him with passionate kisses. “Oh, my sweet little comforter, thank God for your life. He surely heard my prayer.”

There is no more flourishing farm along the North Coast of New South Wales for its size than Elmhurst. Everything is run on good, practical lines. The one thing needed now is a railway, and that is already in the air. As the long summer day closes a sturdy youth comes from the field, driving his two plough horses, or, rather, following in their wake, for they know the evening path to the nosebag and rest too well to need driving. A little


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distance behind a man and woman are walking and chatting as they come. The woman carries a little basket, known in the kitchen as the “4 o'clock basket.” They are the youth's parents.

“How Ralph has grown, Jim, this last year.”

“Yes, he's a fine lad. What could I do without that boy? What a mercy I came home at the very nick of time to save him that day.”

“Oh, Jim, it was God's work. Little did I dream at the moment it was you who splashed into the hole beside me. All my thoughts were on Little Father.”

And the red sun set behind the elms as a sweet girl of 14 came singing towards them: “Hot beans and bread and butter. Ladies and gentlemen, come to supper.”

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