previous
next

Chapter VI.

As daylight can be seen through small holes, so do little things show a person's character.

DREW.

IT was still dark when Gertrude aroused her companion, and making a hasty toilet, started on the more difficult task of waking Mary; of course in passing through the parlour she stumbled over a chair, and knocked her head against the half open door, and that brought Mrs. Doherty out, and a vigorous shaking and calling was crowned with success in Mary's case, and she proceeded in a rather rough haired, slip shod manner, to move slowly through the half dark rooms, while Gertrude and Catherine boiled coffee and eggs, and set out the table for the early breakfast. Tudor's voice was heard in the stable, and the rustling of hay in the loft, and anxious whinnying of the horses, as if watching the descent of their morning meal; and Lakin, or “poor Lakin” as the females always called him, being of the class who have seen better days, and are known as “poor fellows,” was making every effort to draw the light vehicle into a convenient place to harness up.

“Catherine call Mr. Tudor to breakfast,” said Gertrude depositing a large dish of salt beef on the table. Presently he came in brushing some hay seeds from his coat, and offering an apology upon the subject.

“You will have a nice long day;” remarked Mrs. Doherty pushing the carving knife and fork towards him.

“Famous. The ladies deserve every praise.”

“Yet I think you were up before us,” returned Gertrude at whom he had looked.

“Probably. May I trouble you for a little more sugar: thank you. Take extra shawls, it may be late when we return and it would be well to prepare in case we stay the night.”

“Eat away Kitty,” said Mrs. Doherty.

“I have done. You will excuse me” said Tudor rising from table.

The girls ran into their rooms to put on bonnets and mantles, and Mrs. Doherty followed with a new requirement to be added to the list—and a Bank note for Gertrude's own use.

The fine tandem pair of Bays were tossing their heads, and stamping, the cushions spread, and the nose bags of oats laid in the cart ready for the horses' supper, and Tudor was giving a last look at the harness when they came out.

“You are about to see a new style of shop I fancy Miss Gertrude,” remarked Tudor as they went forward at an easy pace.

“You call it a “general store” do you not?”

“Yes. It contains everything or nearly so, from “a needle to an anchor!” Dugdale would tell you; not only necessaries, but luxuries, ironmongery, harness, tools, groceries and all kinds of clothing. I dare say if you inquired for scented soap, or essence of rose he could accommodate you.”

“Mother bought me some Eau de Cologne last time she was down,” said Catherine.

“Laces and ribbands of course, will interest you. I shall have an eye to sheep shears and a scythe blade; and we shall none of us be at a loss.”

Gertrude laughed at the odd mixture.

“My list will be as miscellaneous,” she said, “it is a convenience indeed to have such a place within reach.”

“We were greatly put about before Dugdale opened his store at the Rocky creek, there is Cargag's store a few miles further, but it was a poor place, and his charges exorbitant. Dugdale is very moderate.”

“A 'most as cheap as Sydney mother says,” interposed Catherine.

“He has no rent to pay, nor shopmen: his house is his own and his daughters are all the assistants his business needs: before he set up business we used to depend on Sydney, and have up all stores on the bullock drays: sometimes the fellows lost their whole team, or part of it, I have known them encamped six weeks at a stretch somewhere along the road while we were wanting the various articles which they had been sent for.”

“Wasn't Mr. Dugdale an “old hand,” Mr. Tudor?” inquired Catherine.

“Yes. Do you know his history, Miss Gertrude?”

She had not, but expressed a wish to hear it; and Tudor in compliance with her request proceeded to relate the following particulars.

“He was a “short sentence” man, and when he had served his time he came up to this neighbourhood, and hired with the Shettles' at the Wattletree Flats; the old pair were quite uneducated, and Dugdale became their factotum; every thing was done by his advice and assistance: it was he who wrote their letters, and cast up their accounts, and who inspected the farm work, and took the stores to the station. He was a sharp, shrewd fellow, with an innate commercial turn, and he did not let the chance slip. He bought a couple of gallons of rum, and added three more of water, and stowed it by on the dray; this was his first speculation. All down the river as they travelled he sold his rum at an immense profit; and well pleased, returned after the journey with many a pound in his pocket. Shettles' station was on the Murrumbidgee and they took up the stores twice a year; next time Dugdale took two kegs, and a “skin” of tobacco. I have heard that he sold the latter at places where the supply of the precious weed had been consumed for weeks, at a shilling a smoke, or even at equal weight of silver and tobacco!”

“What a sad waste of money,” exclaimed Gertrude.

“So it is: but yet think of the poor fellows without any of the comforts of life, perhaps shepherding, or stock keeping, away all day with their flock of sheep or mob of cattle, not a soul to speak to, not a white face to break the solitude of the cheerless bush, or the sunburnt plain. Many of them have led lives of crime, and they dare not think on the past, it would send them mad, as many a one has told me, then to come home of an evening to the pot of milkless tea, and lump of damper and beef, or mutton. Think at such a time what a solace the pipe must be!”

“You are an able advocate for smoking and smokers,” remarked Gertrude smiling.

“Yet I do not smoke. I am aware of the baneful effects of imbibing a narcotic poison into the system. But I wished you to do full justice to those lonely men. These were the means by which Hugh Dugdale made the nucleus of that trade he now carries on. When the old Shettles died, the girls came into the property, for there were no sons; and then he bought the bit of land at the creek, and built the store.”

“Did not you speak of his family?”

“Yes, he married a widow, with two grown up daughters, she died lately.”

“They are such nice girls Gertrude, and so genteel,” remarked Catherine.

“Indeed.”

“A'n't they pretty Mr. Tudor.”

“Yes, they are fine girls.”

“Mother thinks Dick Inkersole is Betsey's sweetheart.”

“I dare say you can learn all these interesting particulars,” he returned with a smile, “there are clouds gathering, and if I mistake not we shall have a fall of rain this evening, in which case we must try what house-room the young ladies can give us.”

They had advanced at a steady pace, and were far on their way, Tudor was an excellent driver, and could readily guide the spirited bays and converse at the same time.

“Don't you think Betsey the handsomest?” enquired Catherine.

“She is generally allowed to be so, but I do not admire handsome women. I prefer a gentle feminine appearance, the index of that holy mild influence which a good woman possesses over the rougher sex, that softens the rugged edges of his temper, and leads his soul to heavenly and higher things.” He had apparently uttered his thoughts aloud, and Catherine's wondering look recalled him, and he reddened slightly; and bent forward chirrupping his horses into a brisker pace.

A cold gust of wind brought down a shower of dry leaves from the tall sombre trees; and Tudor turned to look at Gertrude.

“Are you cold” he said kindly, for she looked rather pale and grave; her thoughts had wandered away to the old subject of disquiet.

“A little,” she returned.

He folded a large extra shawl he had borrowed from Mrs. Doherty round her, with a respectful quiet attention.

“Thank you, I shall be quite comfortable now” she said with an effort at a cheerful smile: and he gave his attention to the horses again. The deep ruts and roots running across the road demanded no little skill and care.

Gertrude had filled a basket with sandwiches and a bottle of cold tea, as it was agreed that they should not stop to dine by the way; and lunching as they travelled recalled the former easy flow of conversation.

“Dugdale has studied mankind well” said Edward Tudor, when the storekeeper again became the subject of remark. “He plays off one against another, in an admirable manner: thus he will tell you what Mrs. Doherty has admired or purchased, or some famous lady, who he supposes you may know, and be emulous of imitating. Catherine he will provoke to spend in a similar manner, and I shall be sure to be shown some coat, or necktie, which none but the gentlemen wear, and which indeed he never shows to the common herd, thus you see he plays upon our vanity, while our servants are led on by our example. But he is an upright and civil man; and universally liked.”

“He will not know my tastes, nor acquaintances,” said Gertrude.

“He will soon read them.”

“Is my character then so shallow?”

“I think not” with a quiet smile he returned “but you are free from deceit or—well I must not take the liberty of analysing, but I suspect that he will not show you such things as are gaudy and inelegant.”

“Why?”

“Pardon me. I give no reasons.”

Hugh Dugdale's store was a long slab building, with a verandah the whole length of the front; into which opened several doors and windows, at one end was the dwelling house; the rest was a shop and warehouse. A small, but not short man of active habits, was busied among some packages in the verandah, and came forward to help the females to alight, as they drove up to the door.

“A fine day ladies,” he said with no little politeness. “You have had a long ride this morning.”

“And it's so cold too” said Catherine shaking hands.

“I expected to have seen Mrs. Doherty, from your bringing the cart,” said he to Mr. Tudor.

“She was engaged at home, Miss Gonthier is commissioned to act in her stead,” he returned glancing towards Gertrude.

“Pray walk in, I shall be happy to attend you,” said Dugdale; “will you lead the horses round to the stable Sir.”

A female came out whom Catherine addressed as Maria, she was a tall, straight girl, with brown eyes, and hair of rather a light hue, neatly folded round her brow; and her dress was becoming, and tastefully made.

“Come in,” she said cordially “its quite-wintry, and looks like snow; only this is rather too late for that.”

They entered the shop; or rather that part devoted to drapery and clothing, and more particularly under the superintendence of the sisters: here they found Betsey.

There was a national resemblance between her and Kitty Kenlow: but Betsey was far the most entitled to be called handsome: she was certainly taller and larger, than is strictly admissible in a truly feminine being; but Gertrude found her gaze rest upon her with no small interest.

“What can I have the pleasure of showing you” said Dugdale.

She produced her list and commenced reading, “Tin of Coffee.”

“I have some excellent, never had better, and cheap too: only a fraction beyond Sydney wholesale prices.”

“Piece of grey calico.”

“Yes, I brought up some only last week; it's well you came. I have had such a run upon it; beautiful article; look at the width; fully two yards; only perceive the texture.”

Thus they progressed. Tudor had joined the group; Gertrude met his eyes lighted up with a roguish smile more than once.

Presently a horseman rode up, and entered asking for “three bushel bags” and “horse hobbles;” and Gertrude proposed that she should select all her drapery goods under the sisters' care, and leave him at liberty to attend to his male customers. No sooner were they gone than Catherine and Maria opened up a brisk chat, while Betsey served Gertrude.

“There! it rains” was the exclamation which called their attention from the relative merits of dark purple and chocolate as standing colours in the wash tub.

“What shall we do?” said Gertrude in some alarm.

“You had better remain the night, I think it's set in for a wet afternoon, and then if you like to choose these things tomorrow, it may be lighter; now it's half dark with the black sky, and the verandah shade, you can't see I'm sure.”

“Did you show Miss Gonthier those new lace sleeves father brought up? they are beauties,” remarked Maria.

Betsey took down a pasteboard box and proposed adjourning to the sitting room; and the customers assenting, Maria loaded herself with a case of ribbands, and followed.

They passed through a long room almost full from ceiling to floor of casks, cases, and bags, redolent of odours, among which Gertrude detected salt herring, sugar, tobacco, cheese, bacon, onions, spirits, paint, oil, and tar; besides an indefinable mixture, arising from sundry other eatables and stores. Opening from this was a small sitting room, where there was no lack of comforts, and even ornaments, a coarse red and green carpet was spread on the floor, a pretty cover lay on the large round table, a small mirror with a gilt frame stood on the chimney piece, and a red Bohemian glass vase at either end filled with the beautifully formed tail feathers of the Lyre bird, the colonial sofa was cased in a nice furniture print, and a side board supported some display of glass, intermixed with china figures in gay attire.

“I'm glad you are going to stay all night,” said Betsey. “It is not often we have any one to visit us, and it's lonesome; though there's a good many in and out of the store.”

“I hope we shall not put you to inconvenience,” suggested Gertrude. “There is Mr. Tudor besides ourselves.”

“Oh not at all, there is plenty of bedding in the store, and we can make him a shake down there, and you and Kitty will have plenty of room with us.”

Betsey brought Gertrude some books to look at, but they were chiefly of that unwholesome kind with which they who have perverted authorship into the service of mammon, inundate every land with a popularity much to be lamented; and Gertrude laid them aside.

“You do not like romances then,” remarked Maria.

“Not such books as that. I saw some at Mrs. Doherty's and read one but was quite disgusted.”

“Were you now?” said Catherine.

“Mrs. Doherty took up a lot just before Christmas: but she did not look them over.”

“They are the works of very popular writers,” joined in Betsey.

“More's the pity,” said a manly voice, and they looked up and saw Tudor standing behind their chairs. “Do not read these Miss Gertrude” he continued laying his hand on the pile of books she had put aside.

“We have plenty of others, here, this is Napoleon's Life: this Cowper's poems.” Betsey brought out a number of works of a different class, and Gertrude was soon deep in their perusal, while the girls departed to get tea; and Dugdale came in and entered into conversation with Mr. Tudor. Only such sentences as these occasionally reached Gertrude's ear. “I expect a heavy clip this year.” “A great fall in prices.” “I foresaw they would not hold, and was not inclined to spec.” “Markets dull, sales heavy.” “Yes I do assure you five per cent below Sydney figures.” All which disjointed pieces of information were so much Hebrew to her, till at length the sisters announced tea ready, and they all gathered round the table.

Dugdale was very polite. Tudor at all times courteous to females, notwithstanding his usual gravity and even rather austere bearing: but tea, and bread and butter with currant bun were kept in active circulation, enlivened by conversation, chiefly carried on between the Storekeeper and Tudor.

“That was a prime mob of cattle you sent down last month,” remarked the former.

“Yes, very.”

“What did they fetch?”

“Five ten, and six.”

“Very fair. By the by what a long stocking Mrs. Doherty must have, eh?”

“Her establishment is large,” returned Tudor, who never seemed to like his employer's wealth to be a subject of conversation.

“But you don't mean to say she keeps up a large establishment for nothing; that we may call her stock in trade: but she makes a good percentage I know, she is not the woman to do otherwise, or you to let her. No, no, that's a stall off,” and he laughed.

Gertrude saw the nervous contraction of Tudor's brows, and knew that the subject pained him: she had often suspected that there was some mystery connected with her employer, with which he was acquainted.

“Well,” he said carelessly “she does make something certainly.”

“What does she do with it? She makes no show, and has no children to leave it to.”

“I am sorry I cannot gratify your curiosity,” he remarked calmly, and handing his cup to Maria to be replenished.

Gertrude sympathised with the nervous affected composure of Tudor and to distract Mr. Dugdale's attention, enquired what he thought of the weather, and received an assurance that there would be some more rain yet.

“I hope not a flood,” she said “it was dreadful to see how the creek rose last rain, and swept away the fencing.”

“Ha! had you much loss Mr. Tudor?”

“Why some one hundred panels, or more, that's the worst of those paddocks along the flat, but the soil is so good I don't like to let them idle. What do you think of these American fences?”

This question called out a long discussion upon the pros and cons of the zig-zag log fencing and Mrs. Doherty's long stocking as the storekeeper called her purse, was forgotten.

Gertrude however was strengthened in the opinion that there was a mystery about her, and she had observed that she never referred to her early life, or residence in England.

After tea Dugdale led his visitor into the store to inspect some wonderfully cheap goods, and read the papers; and the girls gathered round the fire to chat.

“Have you done much work lately?” inquired Catherine as her companions plied their needles.

“A great deal, have you seen the new fashions? They are so pretty.”

“No.”

“Then, just look through that magazine; see isn't that a sweet dress? I made Mrs. Jacobs one like it last week.”

“Is it possible you find employment in this retired locality,” said Gertrude for in addition to their other business, the sisters were dress makers.

“Yes,” returned Maria laughing. “As much as we can do. Mrs. Jacobs who keeps the Black Horse Inn down the road puts out all her work; she has a new cap every month, at a pound a piece, fine dress caps: and then there's all the small settlers' wives like to get their things made “out;” and Mrs. Staples from the Wattletree Flats, and the Miss Shettles, all give us work.”

“We have a large order on hand now,” remarked Betsey.

“Permit me to help you this evening.”

“I suppose you do all Mrs. Doherty's sewing now,” said she fitting some work for Gertrude, and searching up a thimble and needle.

“Yes; did you before I came?”

“To be sure: she never does any: she told me so.”

“That accounts for the number of things out of repair I found,” returned Gertrude smiling.

“Betsey do you know what I heard?” inquired Catherine with a sly look.

“No, I do not Kitty.”

“That you were going to be married.”

“Me! what nonsense,” and she tossed her pretty head.

“So she is Kitty, so she is,” cried her sister merrily. “It's no use denying it Betsey, for your face tells tales.”

“Well I don't care,” returned she, and went on with her work.

“That's a story, for I'm sure you care a great deal,” said the other.

“Is it not to Dick Inkersole?”

“That's he Kitty. Poor fellow he is lame still, with that fall he had.”

“I have not seen Charley lately,” remarked Betsey, “he used to be down here chatting with this young lady here, once every now and then; and I did see something like a lock of light brown hair in his hand one evening, just as if it had been cut off for a keepsake,” and her eyes kindled with good natured retaliation.

Poor Gertrude! little they knew how their light hearted gossip planted daggers in her gentle heart: but she said nothing, only inwardly prayed that all these disappointments might make her holier and better; and serve to wean her heart from the world: gradually she fell into retrospective meditation, looking back to see what good she had done in the last few months; how far she had lived up to the commands of her Heavenly Father; and how her light had shone before men; if it had been with that pure steady light which would lead to Him; and had she kept herself unspotted from the world in the sense of that religion which is pure and undefiled? Ah! how little has the truthful heart to approve, how grateful is the remembrance of pardon through the Saviour.

While the girls chatted over Betsey's approaching union Gertrude sat silent, humbled, but hopeful; not of earthly bliss, but of sublimer blessings; they did not read the current of feelings passing under that smooth white brow, or that left so gentle an impress upon the delicately moulded features, and fair complexion: but they thought she was tired, and insisted on drawing the couch near the fire, and covering her with a shawl upon it, and resting her head upon the pillow, she was soon lulled by their whispered conversation to sleep; with her little hands folded upon her bosom, and her hair waving round her face like so much gold, in the firelight. Betsey bent softly over her once, saying: “What a beautiful little creature she is.”

“And she is so good too, and pious,” returned Kitty.

How little they thought that the fair girl was far from good in her own estimation; and in His whose pure eye searches every heart.

As Betsey stood watching her a large tear slowly stole from the long lashes, resting upon the cheek of the sleeper, and lay glittering there like a diamond: it was not a tear of anger, or of sorrow, but such a gentle drop as cools the air of a summer's evening, when the threatened storm has passed over, and all again is calm.

previous
next