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Chapter IX.

A wedding dance—a dance into the night,
On the barn-floor, when maiden feet are light.

ROGERS.

The effects of the night's rencontre at the farm, was, that Tudor announced he should not leave for some little time.

Gertrude still looked so unwell, and was so evidently drooping that Mrs. Doherty proposed sending for Dr. Bower, which she opposed with an energy quite unusual in her. That evening as she came along the back verandah she heard her name pronounced; she had no need to turn to know who had spoken. It was Charley Inkersole.

“Miss Gertrude,” he said, “I have come to bid you good bye.”

The words riveted her to the spot.

“I shall not see you again for some time.”

“Where are you going?” she faltered.

“To the Abercrombie.”

“Is it far?”

“Yes, some distance; we have a cattle station there.”

“Has not Mrs. Doherty also!”

“What? the Springs, and Round Hill you mean? Yes, she does run some cattle up that way, but it's not on the river, it's on the ranges higher up.”

Gertrude longed to speak a word of counsel, but she had half determined to speak no more to him; yet he was going away, perhaps for ever.

“How bad you look,” he said in some alarm, as she approached nearer to the rails, “why surely you've not been ill?”

“No. Is not the place you are going to dangerous?”

“Not at all; a little mountainous, don't be downhearted Gertrude, I shall be back next summer. I know what a proud cold fellow Tudor is; don't you mind him, nor what he says of me either. Does he ever speak of me to you?”

The sudden question made her start.

“He surely speaks to me, and never mentions you.”

“Don't he like you then?”

“I do not know; he is always very kind to me, but he rarely comes into the house, and I never go out much.”

“Well it's so much the better; there's nothing he could say would give you any pleasure.”

Gertrude thought of the happy evenings in the beginning of the winter, but did not mention them.

“Well,” he said, “I must go, but I want one favour,” he bent over the palisade and pressed a kiss upon her pale cheek, and laughed at the burning red that overspread it.

“Good bye, good bye, dear Gertrude.” He hurried across the yard, mounted his horse and was gone.

Gertrude wept bitterly; the first parting, how bitter; doubly so in her case, because her emotions had to be concealed, and her conscience reproved her for her love, and that often as she had seen him, she had never spoken on sacred subjects to him: for Charles Inkersole was one of those light hearted, irreverent sort of persons, to whom it seems impossible to mention holy and sacred themes, lest the gay spirit should treat them as subjects of mirth; she knew it and renewed the old struggle. Yet might he not change? Was there not room for repentance in him? And then he was so young!—What a subtle reasoner is love! Gertrude wore out the night in tears; and was really ill next day.

Shortly afterwards Tudor started with Urutta the black, for the stations; and the farm seemed gloomy and deserted without him.

Every member of a small household possesses an intrinsic value, unknown in larger communities; if clouds invade the little circle there is no one to fill the broken link, the gap remains, and that “one is not,” is constantly sounded by every object—or if one is absent the place cannot be filled temporarily—business may progress as usual; morning and evening finds man at his toil; and seeds are sown and crops grow golden; yet there is the aching void—Tudor was not only the superintendent and general adviser at Murrumbowrie, but he was unquestionably the best informed, and naturally the cleverest of the whole party—his was one of those deep vigorous minds which never rest satisfied with a smattering of knowledge; who through patient and painful toil surmount every difficulty, and finally stand above the conquered foe victorious. Every body pronounced him a sensible young man; and very few had any idea of how much he knew, how deep and varied his attainments were; for sound knowledge never is apparent on the surface; the presence of a shallow stream is ever known by bubbling, while the river flows without noise, however “Character is power” and as every will in a great measure therefore succumbed to his master spirit, when it was suddenly withdrawn the remaining persons were left helpless. “I cannot tell: Tudor is not at home.” “It cannot be done, now Tudor is absent,” was the burden of every speech.

Gertrude had early observed that Mrs. Doherty kept no society, Dr. Bower alone visited her; some persons came on business, many indeed called to see Mr. Tudor about strayed cattle, or for the sale of crops, or other matters, but when their business was arranged they departed, having entered no where but the office—once she enquired “do not people visit each other in this country?”

Mrs. Doherty started, and fixed her piercing eyes on her companion's face—“What prompted that question?” she said severely.

“I was only surprised at—” stammered Gertrude in alarm.

“At what?”

“At home people seem so much more sociable—”

Mrs. Doherty was seated at the window with a lot of cheese cloth in her lap, which she had been cutting up for the dairyman, for sometime previous to Gertrude's remark she had been gazing at the window, and playing with her scissors abstractedly; and she now returned to her employment without taking any immediate notice of Gertrude's remark. After a while she looked up and spoke; and Gertrude saw she had been in tears, and that her cheek was pale.—“No child,” she said not angrily, but very sadly, “we have no visitors.—There is a certain class I might mix with, rich, showy, coarse persons— those I will not—and for the rest, they are very exclusive. It is right, it must be so.”

“I suppose so many have been convicts, or related to criminals, who now are in respectable positions,” returned Gertrude.

The voice that spoke was subdued and faint, as Mrs. Doherty answered “Yes.” Then after a pause in another tone resumed; “in Dr. Doherty's time we had many visitors, gentlemen principally, indeed entirely—travellers, and persons bringing out introductions from home—we had such persons here by the week together, sometimes for months—waiting till something offered suitable for them, or gaining experience, if they were going to settle.—They came strangers to us, or they had known Dr. Doherty when they were boys, and run up since he left home—now many of these are influential men, and occasionally in Sydney we meet, and pass without recognizing; these sort of obligations are soon forgotten Gertrude, and they don't like to remember that there was a time when they were glad to eat at our table; and perhaps to borrow money of my husband, to start them in life—but” she added fiercely “I want no patronage from any one.”

Presently Gertrude asked if all had been ungrateful.

“No, some I dare say would prove the reverse if I needed it: but it is best not to try one's friends; child—it is best to look to strangers for favors, a slight from a friend wounds deeply—'tis more easily endured from strangers.—Did you ever hear of young Houghton?”

“No, never.”

“He was a fine boy, a noble, generous fellow, who had worked his passage out here before the mast; his mother was a widow, with a large family, all girls but this one; and they were struggling with poverty, so the boy came out, thinking to get into some situation, when he could send home for his friends. His father had known Dr. Doherty, so he made his way up here. It was evening when he came, tired and dusty, for it was the middle of summer, just about harvest time. Well, he stayed with us a week, and then another, and then the Doctor proposed that he should stop and learn to superintend (Tudor was not here then) and he did—he was a high spirited, goodnatured lad, but impulsive; and when once he took a whim nothing could turn him—he was not like Tudor. I never knew one like him, child. You could not reason with Adam; he never admitted an error in his own judgment, I used often to argue with him to no purpose.”

Gertrude thought that was not so very surprising, for Mrs. Doherty's arguments were peculiar.

“We gave him money to send for his mother and sisters; and as the time came round for a letter to arrive, announcing their receipt of it, and at what time he might look for them, Adam was all impatience. It was autumn, and the incessant rains delayed the mails, and prevented our sending for letters: but rain or not, he would go. Well at last the rain fell day and night for a week; such rain! the creek rose, and roared along in great waves, carrying down large trees; there were three cows drowned that flood; and Houghton would go for letters, I begged him not, and he only laughed; Dr. Doherty forbade him the use of a horse; thinking to stop him, but he turned proudly on him and said he could walk; so finding he could not move him, he made him take a fine old hunter, a spirited powerful horse. He could not reach the Post Office without crossing this creek, and it was a perfect river in width; and pouring along horribly. Oh how I begged him to think of his mother, and not venture into such a torrent. “I am thinking of her Mrs. Doherty,” he said. I told him he would be drowned, but he laughed, and said: “no fear.” He had never been on a horse till he came here, and he rode badly. Did you ever notice how elegantly Tudor sits a horse? Scarcely anything can throw him, but Adam was incessantly falling, though proud of his riding; and not to be convinced, he could not sit a horse when swimming; he plunged in at a part where the stream was broad and shallow, excepting in the channel of the creek; but the water ran so strong that he was borne down, he could not guide his horse, and I think he grew giddy with the rush, and light on the water, for he suffered the horse's head to turn with the stream, instead of keeping it against it; and in a few minutes he was in that turn where the high woolly gums grow; the water has cut out a deep bed there, and it being confined between the steep banks was pouring along in all its force, in a moment he was swept from his seat; still he grasped the horse's bridle, and the poor animal was washed close to the bank, and struggled to get out, but could not; so they went down the stream together. My husband and the men were on the bank throwing ropes to him, and trying every plan in vain; he was bewildered and unnerved; and presently the horse struck him with his foot, or something, he let go, and Jupiter was lodged on the bank, where he had footing, and after a while they rescued him.”

“And the young man?” inquired Gertrude breathlessly.

“Yes, they found him too—miles away, covered with mud, and torn with branches of trees and gravel.” Her companion wept—presently Mrs. Doherty continued, “He was buried at a township thirty miles from here; it being the nearest consecrated ground.”

“And his mother?”

“She arrived a few weeks afterwards. My blood creeps when I think of that woman; and the way she said “he was my only son, and the image of his father,” as if she lost both in him. Dr. Doherty did what he could for them, and after a while the girls married; and by one thing, or other, they were scattered. I don't know exactly where any of them are now.”

Always after this time Gertrude could not look at the creek without thinking of the widow's only son; and she fancied the trees were peculiarly gloomy, and the water cold, and cheerless just there.

Mrs. Doherty spent the greater part of the day out on the farm, and Gertrude ruled the house alone, and found the solitude particularly oppressive: perhaps so did Mary, for she used to make the dusting of the parlour a long job, and took a great fancy to arranging the glass on the side board, when Gertrude was in the room.

“It's very lonesome,” remarked Mary on one of these occasions, carefully wiping the dust from a decanter stand, as she spoke.

“Do you find it so?”

“Sure Miss an' it's yourself looks as if ye did.”

“Well Mary the weather's getting so warm, and pleasant now, we shall soon be cheered up again.”

“I want you to speak a word for me to the Missus. His rivirence is at Wattletree Flat, an' he'll be up here to-morrow evening.”

“So I heard.”

“Faith an' on my soul I've been fretting an' miserable, an' I've only regretted it once, an' that's ever since quarreling with the crater.”

“Who?”

“Why sure ye don't forget Jack M'cMaster, isn't it day an' night I've been fretting and grieving about him, wearing myself away to skin an' bone, jist like yourself and sure, Miss dear, ye need not redden that way, for it's myself knows the heartsickness ye have, an' it's no call ye have to take the Doctor's stuff, and so I tould Missus, when she said she'd send Lakin, poor crater, for the ould Doctor.”

“Oh Mary!” cried Gertrude much distressed.

“Trust me an' I didn't say what it was as ailed yer, but I know by myself,” and Mary raised a plump red hand to a face like a full blown damask rose. If ever woman thrived and fattened on blighted love, it was the charming Miss O'Shannassy.

“But what can I do for you Mary?”

“Jist spake to the Missus to tell his rivirence that Jack an' I wish to be married to-morrow.”

“Oh! Mary do think of what you are about. You said you hated M'cMaster, and now you wish him to be the partner of your whole life, do reflect; perhaps he may not wish it now.”

“Sure Miss, Pether tells me he's willing, an' as to thinking, I've thought, an' thought till me head's like to fall off wid bewilderment, an' if ye'd jist ask the Missus to lend us the loan of the wool-shed, it would make the finest place for a dance, an' we'd have a little fun after all our sorrow.”

“I suppose I must see what can be done. But how will you send M'cMaster word?”

“He'll be up to-morrow, for Pether brought word so, an' may Heaven bless ye for your kindness, an' I hope it's soon we'll be drinking your health, and ye side by side wid yer own sweet-heart, bless him, wid his bright face.”

Gertrude was painfully red, and in self defence obliged to promise to do her best, and send Mary away. The case was perplexing enough, for not only would Mrs. Doherty be seriously displeased, but Mary's marriage would leave them without a servant, and Gertrude felt weak and unwell, and quite unequal to any extra fatigue. Nor were her surmises unfounded. Mrs. Doherty took Mary to task in a manner enough to put to flight a whole host of Cupids, but finally declared that such a fickle, changeable thing, might wed a black if she liked, and dance in the wool-shed afterwards. Away bounded Mary, and presently blithe as a magpie, her voice was heard singing one of those inexplicable airs so dear to the ploughman and housemaid, and which no one else can find the tune of. Biddy M'cGrath and Margaret Coolan were enlisted from the huts, and the three pairs of strong arms had soon swept the large wool-shed, festooned the walls with green boughs, laid long planks on stones and blocks of wood, to form benches at one end, for the weary to rest on; and built up a long table for refreshments; and it was whispered about that Mary had long been contemplating this event, for she produced sundry pairs of white cotton gloves, and white ribbons, for favors, whilst a green muslin de laine dress came out of the recesses of her box, and a pair of glazed shoes, and snowy hose; even a veil was turned up, but then Mary had no bonnet, for she never wore such a thing, and so some ingenious person proposed that the veil should rest upon her head without a bonnet, which was finally agreed upon. Every thing being thus in readiness, the arrival of the Reverend Patrick O'Connor became a subject of unusual interest. Never was the worthy man met with such officious attentions, and such protestations of affection. He was a short, very stout man, so much so as to be a perfect caricature of corpulent humanity; and he came into the house panting and puffing alarmingly. Mrs. Doherty welcomed him with a smile.

“We have some work for you,” she said in her own brisk manner.

“Indeed Madam,” he replied in a strong Irish accent, “and what may it be?”

“Why Mary here is tired of freedom, and wants a Master, so you must tie their hands.”

“Indeed Madam, my fatigue will prevent my attending to the matter at present, or I should feel great pleasure for your sake in so doing.” His Reverence had sunk into a chair, and was passing a large red handkerchief over his heated brow.

“Thank you. The fact is, the girl has changed her mind so often I doubt if the thing were put off, whether she would have M'cMaster by the morning.”

“That is a serious charge, you will please to give me some reason for such an opinion.”

Mrs. Doherty did so; and so severely did the worthy father view the case, that he insisted upon the marriage being put off till the following day.

“In the meantime, if you could oblige me with a glass of milk, I should feel all the better,” he concluded.

Gertrude ran for the desired beverage, and Mrs. Doherty begged to add a little French brandy to take off the chill; and the good man tasted and relished, and spoke a few words, and tasted again, and so on, till no inconsiderable quantity of the mixture had vanished.

Mary meanwhile awaited the appearance of the visitor, and when Mrs. Doherty led him out to see some improvements contemplated, the girl rushed forward, and flinging her arms round his feet knelt before him, praying him to perform the ceremony.

“Leave go—be gone woman,” ordered he vainly.

Mary was backed up by a group who had assembled to witness the marriage; among them stood the disconsolate bridegroom, and vainly his Reverence struggled to shake her off. Along the yard shuffled father O'Connor purple in the face with indignation, and fatigue, and after him dragged Mary, clinging to his feet, and kneeling, stopping when he stopped, and moving when he moved. The scene was becoming past endurance to the sufferer, and sundry titters had swelled into scarcely suppressed roars of laughter, when at length the victim gave a promise; Mary sprang up and bounded away, and, in less than five minutes afterwards, the whole party assembled in the wool-shed, where the last scene of all romances was enacted, namely a marriage. Then there was a dance; such a dance! no swimming in lazy ease through elegant saloons, but real, active, violent exertion, such as a lot of spirited horses at play take: jumping, bounding, and stamping, while from time to time a visit to the two-gallon-keg of rum, smuggled in by slyest means, gave an additional impetus to their glee.

Scarlet and yellow handkerchiefs fluttered on poles for flags, and old shawls were spread out as streamers. When evening came tallow candles, stuck in the necks of black bottles, illuminated the scene, which presented a subject fit for the pencil of Cruikshank in his happiest moments.

In the parlour, the ladies and their visitor enjoy a little quiet conversation.

The Rev. Patrick O'Connor is well versed in the genealogies of the old colonists: a subject always affording amusement to the long resident, and Mrs. Doherty and his Reverence astonish Gertrude by their acquaintance with, not only the principal stem and branches, but also the twigs and endless saplings of the genealogical tree; each in his, or her turn, prompting the other by “Was not she one of old Such-a-one's daughters?” “Did not he marry one of the Smiths?” “Was not her sister connected with the Browns by marriage?” “Was she a ‘Red Rover?’ “The old man was a ‘Veteran’ I think.” On these little headings such a chapter opens out, as that most fertile brained writer of three volumed romances, G.P.R. James, might envy.

The little excitement Mary's wedding had caused on the farm, passed over shortly, although it was universally declared an “illigant” affair. We rather suspect a dance in a wool-shed, or barn, is more enjoyed than the most recherche ball among the élite. But as even a honey-bee has a sting, and the rose a thorn, and no sweet thing is without some bitterness, so the departure of Mrs. M'cMaster, as every one delighted in calling Mary, left the kitchen empty. Biddy M'cGrath, who had promised to fill her place, changed her mind, and preferred staying in her parent's hut, spending her days with her brother, and the sheep, or roaming about in the search of the gum of the mimosa. Biddy was but a tall great child of twelve, native born, of Irish parents; and though she had attained the stature of a woman, she was a child still: Mrs. Doherty said “a great big baby.” Unless the drays were going to Sydney, which they were not, a servant could not be procured from thence, and Gertrude found herself under the necessity of filling all situations herself, with the busy time of the year coming on; and owing to fatigue, or inward disquiet, or exposure to draughts and damp floors, or all combined, she soon was a decided invalid, and stretched on her bed, with Mrs. Kenlow volunteer nurse, and a woman off the farm consenting to come as temporary domestic.

Patient and gentle was the sufferer: ready to take physic and gruel, and obey all orders; but this did not succeed in restoring her, till at length Mrs. Doherty sent in search of Dr. Bower. All her former tenderness and love for the young girl revived. The cold cloud that had rested between them cleared away, and once more Gertrude felt that sunny current of watchful tenderness pervading her every action.

Dr. Bower was not one for half-measures: he put blisters on above the paining side; and such compounds of all that is bitter and nauseous never did disciple of æsculapius rejoice in before.

“What can be the cause of her illness Doctor?” inquired Mrs. Doherty, anxiously, when he retired from his patient's room on his first visit, and was refreshing himself with rum and water, and beef and bread in the parlour.

“What do you think?” cautiously interrogated he in return, with one of his peculiar smiles.

“Why, she fell sick directly Tudor left us, can that have anything to do with it?”

“Nothing, nothing whatever,” he returned, flapping away a mosquito with the green bough he always carried for that purpose in warm weather.

“Well, I did think she had a fancy somewhere else, and I was quite vexed, though I don't know why I should blame the child for what so many others have done—but I did not like the fellow; indeed I hate the whole lot of them; and I'm really so fond of this girl I could not bear to see her sacrificed.”

“And so treated her with coldness to make her value his love less,” and Dr. Bower dropped another lump of sugar into his hot water with a satirical quietness.

“It was a foolish way I own. But when is she to be well again?”

“Not just yet.”

“Do you think there is danger?”

“Not absolutely, but she will want a little care, and then we shall have her among us again in a few weeks, I hope.”

How far this opinion was correct remained to be proved; certainly without any actual disease Gertrude remained so utterly prostrate as to cause many alarming apprehensions, and not unfrequently the question arose. How is it to end; will the pale transparent skin recover its bloom and plumpness, and the soft blue eyes their life and expression; will the inactive limbs be nimble, and useful as heretofore? “For our ways are not His ways, neither are our thoughts His thoughts.” And how often the life we dream most valuable is cut short! The father of the family falls in early manhood, a cripple reaches old age; the wife so rich in youth and beauty, so highly endowed with every virtue bows, to the hand of death, and the fragile babe draws its first breath of a cold sin-tinted air, battles through infancy, and treads with tottering steps over its mother's tomb; how inexplicable! her life apparently so valuable, its so valueless: but ‘as the Heavens are higher than the earth,’ so are His wisdom and motives than ours, and infinite reason have we even in the tangled web of mischances and evils around us, to acknowledge “He doeth all things well.”

Whilst these anxious reflections were passing through the minds of the watchers by the sick bed, Gertrude lay languid and gentle, always able to smile, and assure them she was better; yet day after day found her to all appearance quite as feeble and drooping.

Dr. Bower called her his ‘pattern patient;’ he knew not what to make, he said, of her stout heart and good spirits. Her eye fell upon the Holy volume lying open by her side. The mute reply set the old man thinking.

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