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Chapter XXIII.

To meet, to part;
The welcome, the farewell;
Behold the sum of life!

BJERREGAARD.

He left his home, around whose humble hearth
His parents, kindred, all he valued, smiled—
Friends who had known and lov'd him from his birth
And who still lov'd him as a favourite child.

And he is gone! with ardent steps he prest
Across the hills—

M. R.

MANY have written upon the emotions which are awakened on revisiting the scenes familiar from childhood, and as Edward Tudor journeyed on towards the home where many a day of youthful happiness had been passed, he certainly indulged in some similar feelings; even the old dead tree with a crow solemnly cawing in its blanched branches that stood sentinel by the sliprails which admitted him to the paternal acres, was hailed as an old friend; yet he was not returning like a school boy at Christmas: but the lines of the face expressed an almost gloomy gravity, the manner was quite enough to seem tinctured by sternness and reserve—he proceeded allowing his horse to walk leisurely along the road, till he saw two figures seated on a fallen tree some little way before him; and then a few moments sufficed to place him by their side.

“We have been here a couple of hours Edward,” said the youngest of the girls, after the first affectionate greeting: “but, you were coming so slowly, no wonder you are so late.”

“I am sorry Fanny you should have been kept waiting. What shall I do now, having but two arms, and the horse to lead.”

“I will lead him, and then we can walk one on each side of you.”

Tudor smiled, but arranged the bridle in such a manner that he could lead his horse and have his arms at liberty.

They proceeded talking cheerfully, yet they felt that their brother was altered, he was no longer what he had been, yet he was kinder than ever; and as he had written and informed them of the events which determined him to return, they readily attributed it to the melancholy end of Mrs. Doherty; to whom he was much attached. Near the house they were joined by Mrs. Tudor and her younger son, and the family group was complete.

Late in the evening when the others had retired, Mrs. Tudor seated herself by the side of her eldest born, and entered into conversation with him, on the subject which naturally occupied her attention.

“And your connexion with Murrumbowie has terminated,” she said—

“Quite.”

“My son you know how we have missed you! how often I have wished you were among us—we have needed your advice often.”

He smiled gravely. “But Kenneth is a fine fellow, taller indeed than I am; and manly too.”

“True Edward: but under your guidance he would be much better. He wants it I fear.”

“Fear nothing on his account.”

“But you will make this your home now—you will remain.”

“For a short time, as a visitor: but not for long—it would not be right. I am not needed here; and to take the rule out of Kenneth's hands, and assume the mastery over him, whose toil and care has made this place what it is, would be not only unjust, but would lead to his desiring to leave home. I have an idea of taking a place which has been offered me on very advantageous terms, on the Hunter: but I will tell you all about it to-morrow.”—

The mother reclined her head on his shoulder, “You are right Edward—but I would almost wish you were less sternly just. Your sisters will be disappointed”—she looked up with eyes in which approbation and regret were mingled.

The answering smile was full of meaning, but the features across which it played, lost none of the character she had attributed to him.

The slender muscular form, the well defined features, and the massive square brow, were a natural organization, which without the smile answered her—she almost shuddered at the strength of purpose it implied; and yet how tenderly his arm lay round her shoulders.

“What were the reasons which gave you uneasiness about Kenneth mother?” he enquired.

“None with defined outlines, Edward: but he wants your strength of purpose—though I could just now wish you had less of it.”

“Responsibility will give that—he will learn to respect himself; to feel that he has a character and a position to support, or I should say he has learnt this already; but he has still to work it out.—Where is the book I sent him last Christmas?”

He crossed the room, and searched the shelves, “Not much read I see,” he said smiling, as he turned to a passage and read ‘The principal feeling is that of your own, feebleness; ever, as the English Milton says, to be weak is the true misery. And yet of your strength there is and can be no clear feeling, save by what you have prospered in, by what you have done between vague wavering capability and fixed indubitable performance, what a difference! A certain inarticulate self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments. Hence, too, the folly of that impossible precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at.’

Replacing the volume, he said “Mother I have observed Kenneth's character closely and I think you may dismiss all anxiety on his account, but shall I confess dear mother that of late, that is during this last year, or so, I have had many anxious thoughts for you, and your other children”—he was seated beside her, with her hand held in his.

“For me, my son?”

“I have wished to write to you on this subject, but could not—I have felt that I must speak with you.”

Their eyes met, the mother's swimming in tears: “Your letters have told us all—at first we wondered; but not now. ‘Thy God shall be my God, and thy people, my people.’ ”

Purer, for more heavenly than any other emotion is the mingling of Christian sympathies; and the mother and son felt bound to each other from this moment, by a tie which death itself should not break.

A long conversation followed; and when they parted the night was waning towards morning.

“Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it”—was the prayer which closed a discussion of future plans.

Mrs. Tudor from the time she lost her husband, had looked up to her elder son, and submitted all her movements to his opinion; Kenneth's were the hands, and Tudor's the head; but during the last two years, the latter had rather suggested to the former, and made him act, though guided by himself. Kenneth did not know how indebted he was to his brother, as he led him round the farm before sunrise next morning, commenting on his improvements; he never for a moment felt that the mainspring of those improvements was by his side.

Kenneth was one of those very tall native youths often met with in the country,—slender as a wattle sapling in a scrub—with long dark hair hanging round his head, from under a cabbage tree hat, and given to the society of a pipe—a capital horseman—the very perfection at whip cracking—and as industrious as any one could desire.

The two young men came in glowing and refreshed from a walk of some distance, and received an affectionate welcome from the ladies of the family.

“What do you think of the farm Edward?”

“I am quite pleased. Ken has been showing me the reaping machine. I had intended to have one out from home, for Murrumbowrie; we had been talking of it sometime, and were only deterred by our fields being so hilly.”

“Are you not glad to be on the Lepin as old Simon calls it?” enquired his eldest sister, handing him a cup of tea.

“Very, shall we have out the boat? The water is rather low, but we do not mind a few snags and delays, do we?”

“Oh no, Kenneth, can you not borrow Mr. Branson's boat, and ask the girls to come, and we will have a Picnic”—a pleasant discussion ensued.

Tudor had not handled an oar for a considerable time, and when the boats were finally launched, took a lesson from Fanny; but a few efforts brought him into the measured stroke so essential to pleasant progress in the water.

The clear sparkling waters of the Nepean flowed over their sandy bottom in pellucid tranquillity, only too shallow for aquatic convenience—now the boats were lighted up by the sun's rays, which danced like a fairy crew upon the ripples which their oars made—now they shot beneath the shadows of the light swamp oaks, sighing and murmuring as the wind swept through their wiry foliage—or a cluster of sallow trees, vividly green, and mingled with the juniper and drift lodged in their branches from former floods; above on the sandy banks were fields, and at times a farm-house or a barn reared its homely form; and children ran along the banks to watch the progress of the voyagers—it was slow indeed, and often in this style.

“What's the matter Edward?” called Kenneth to the boatman in advance.

“Only a log across the stream.”

“Can you pull the boat over?”

“I believe so.”

The oars were here delivered to Fanny, and Tudor stepped out on to the submerged tree, and by dint of vigorous exertions surmounted the obstruction. Both boats being afloat again the oars came into play, and a song awoke the echoes, and startled the wood demons in their green wood retreats, suddenly terminated by an announcement from Kenneth, that he was aground; presently, however, the keel ceased to scrape on the sand bank, and floated in deep water.

By the time a green point shaded by trees was reached, the contents of the provision basket had risen in value, and Mrs. Tudor's meal was at a premium.

The spot was an old favourite retreat, where many a sandwich had been eaten, and many a song sung, and merry laugh gone round in other days of picnicing; and the party assembled there appeared to be determined to enjoy the thing with unabated zest.

No need for any one to complain that Edward Tudor was gloomy; and none but Annie as she sat by his side, looking into those speaking eyes, read that there was an aching heart buried beneath the smile, caged by an iron will. The past would not hamper the future; he would be the same as formerly: none but “One whose eye penetrates all secrets” would suspect the truth.

Such had been the resolve, and Annie felt rather than saw that resolve had taken the place of spontaneous cheerfulness.

Fanny was whispering an account of the recent events to the Misses Branson when Kenneth catching the words, “Mrs. Doherty” enquired abruptly.

“Edward what become of the young girl Mrs. Doherty had housekeeping for her?”

“She is in Sydney,” returned he quickly.

“What will she do?” sympathetically asked Fanny.

“She left before I returned Fanny, I therefore did not see her.”

The girls would have asked a great many more questions, but Tudor remembered it was getting late and there would be no moon.

“We must not venture among the sunken trees at night,” he remarked rising.

In a few moments they were again prepared to start.

The difficulties which had assailed their downward course were again to be combated, and evening was rapidly drawing near.

The overflowing waters in times of flood streaming over the banks and across places where the trees had been fallen, and not burnt off, sweep away vast numbers, and lodge them in the bed of the stream when the force of the current has abated: and even the little boats in which our voyagers were seated frequently became entangled. The party were returning in comparative silence, rather applying themselves to a task than enjoying their mishaps.

“Ken” called Tudor, “here is a reach of clear water, let us strike out.”

“It's too shallow, better go on slowly.”

“We did not ground in passing over this in the morning—come I will race you.”

Strong arms pulled the oars; the little crafts flew forward a few lengths, when the clear water was confined to such a narrow passage that Kenneth slackened, to allow his brother to take the lead. Faster and faster the little boat sped on, the girls looked back, laughing and waving a farewell.

“Take care Edward, take care!” cried Kenneth, “I know the water better.”

Ere his warning voice reached them, the boat struck on a sunken tree, now concealed in the shades of sunset—recoiled—paused for a moment—and sunk.

A piercing cry of horror rent the air. The other boat was some distance behind, and the water deep where they had sunk.

Bewildered with affright Fanny twined her arms round her brother, literally drowning him. He tried to hang to a branch of the tree—he was in acute pain—his brain reeling, and the half uttered “Fan leave go, I can save you,” had not power to calm her.

When consciousness returned he was stretched on the bank, his companions bending over him with alarm depicted on every countenance.

There were noises ringing in his ears, and a confused idea that his sisters, dripping with their recent bath, were chafing his hands and brow; and beyond, were other faces, and other voices talking eagerly. Then there were lights dancing round; and he was lifted up and placed on a bundle of straw in a cart; and still the pitying tones were whispering round him.

This was the commencement of a severe illness. The jagged branches of the tree had lacerated his arm and side, and a long and weary time of suffering set in.

“This is the hardest work I have ever done Mother; to lie still here.”

“You will soon be well now my son.”

“Yes.” This was about a fortnight after the picnic. “Did Kenneth see about the farm on the Hunter, do you know?”

“He did; it is yours. Are you impatient to leave us?” There was a little gentle reproof in the tone.

“Not to leave you, but to be doing something. I am so accustomed to activity you know, you must pardon my impatience dear mother.”

“Pardon! You have been the best of invalids.” Tudor felt otherwise, the discipline of a sick bed was as he had said, the most opposed to his previous habits, and his disposition; but he had not lain as a chained rebel, but endeavoured to extract from the bitter draught, the tonic, which faith assures us, is mingled with every cup our Heavenly Father places in our hands.

“Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”

“So of old we read, ‘and Jesus stood on the shore, and they knew not that it was Jesus.’ ”

How often is it so: how many a disciple struggling under some burden, knows not that it is Jesus, sees not the hand behind, only the thunderbolt rolling on, as if to smite him to the earth. Yet He is there, standing on the shore, nigh to the sufferer, ready to say to the troubled waves, “Peace, be still.”

And His first word of old to that sorrowing boat's crew, was “Children.”

When the storm spreads across the sky, we see only the black clouds, yet the clear ether lightened by the unsullied sun is behind; and by and by will be revealed to us again. Let us trust then in every dark hour. Assuredly the cloud will disperse, and the sun be there.

Another fortnight, and Tudor bade adieu to River-side Farm. For awhile he seemed to have stepped aside from the busy arena of life; but the rest was over, and he felt with satisfaction, that difficulties, increased by that pause, awaited him at his distant dwelling; and that he had to bring to the encounter, all his energy.

“So much the better.”

Tudor had ridden many miles in solitude, and a turn bringing him in sight of an equestrian, he quickened his pace, and reined up beside him, with a polite “good day.”

“Good day, glad of your company returned the other.” A very small man, with a rough mass of nearly white hair, shading the lower part of his face. The dusty dress, unblackened boots, and leather saddlebags betokened the traveller; the old pony on which he rode appeared as if he had taken a comprehensive view of life, and set it down as lighter than vanity, his half shut eyes, drooping head, and ears hanging languidly, said as plainly as possible, that he was weary; and the erect tanned coat might have classed him with the asinine family.

Constraint between two travellers, on a solitary bush road, is out of the question; and the enquiry, if they were going in the same direction, led to an explanation of where that direction might be.

The stranger was inquisitively desirous of learning what was the business of the young man, but anxiously avoided any reference to his own concerns.

“Have you seen a newspaper lately,” enquired Tudor, perceiving his feelings, and leading the conversation into another channel.

“Yes, did you read the news from the diggings?” His little eyes sparkled, and he grew excited directly.

“No, I did not. I have not seen the papers for some days; are they doing well?”

“Wonders, wonders! I tell you young man the time will come when they will quarry gold—blast it with powder, like granite.”

“Think so,” smiling—

“Sure of it, sure of it—I've been to all the diggings.”

“Indeed! you have gained experience then. Are you intending to return to any of the fields again?”

“No! I am prospecting privately.”

He looked so very mysterious, that it provoked a slight smile on his companion's countenance. He was evidently a monomaniac, who in the feverish race for wealth, had unhinged reason. Many a wild tale had he to tell; and dark revelation to make, of scenes he had participated in, or witnessed; and his quaint eccentric manners and language caught, and held captive the attention of his companion: so they journeyed on, and before the stage was completed, the “prospector” had made up his mind to bend his steps in the same direction as his companion.

“As well there as anywhere,” he remarked.

“Certainly—”

“Luck you know, it's all luck.”

“Do you think there is no higher rule than chance?” The question was put quietly, and unobtrusively.

The old man looked restless, and urged his Rosinante into a canter.

“Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” The words struck home to the heart of his companion, as he quickened his pace to keep up with him.

Heavy clouds were rising majestically from behind the neighbouring range of mountains, and thunder rumbled, and an occasional flash of lightning betokened the coming storm. The scene was at once grand and awful; the reverberating among the ranges, of the peals of thunder—then the perfect silence—the hush of expectant nature, as if she said with the poet—

“The tempest burst above;
God whispers in the thunders: hear
The terrors of His love.”

   E. ELLIOTT.

darkness was closing rapidly round.

“Have you travelled this road before,” enquired the prospector?

“No, I believe we must stop short of the stage I had proposed making. There is a tavern somewhere about here.”

Tudor's horse was becoming restive, alarmed by the lightning; but it was mounted by one not easily intimidated, and a skilful hand held the bridle.

After a while a light in the distance greeted them; and giving the rein to their horses, they galloped forward, scattering the mud and water as they went, for the rain was descending in torrents.

Grateful as shelter was upon such a night, the roadside tavern held out little promise of comfort to the new-comers. They were shewn into a room at the back of the bar, where were several persons disposed on chairs and colonial sofas before the fire, smoking and drinking, and a pack of excessively greasy cards was engrossing considerable interest.

The room was low, with walls painted in the upper part dark red, the lower part blue, with a black band marking the division of the two colours. A smoking chimney had considerably tarnished the beauties of the colouring, and turned the ceiling from white to grey; indeed such a heavy cloud of smoke was then rolling round the room, that it was problematical if there were a ceiling at all.

The chairs, and the earthenware which was spread on the table, were equally dilapidated, and suggestive of warfare.

Tudor glanced round upon the room and its occupants; the men round the fire had turned to take a survey of the travellers, with one exception, and something in that tall figure bending towards the fire struck him, and elicited a second and more attentive gaze, but the features were hidden by his posture.

Although the bacon was rancid—the tea made in a tin teapot, without milk, and the sugar nearly black, the travellers congratulated themselves upon the shelter and warmth of the room; as the wind drove the rain against the window, and shook the ill-fitting casement: one of the card players had drawn his chair near the table, and entered into conversation.

“A bad night,” elicited some further remarks on the weather; and then he bade Sara, the landlord's daughter who was in waiting, to bring in certain glasses of rum.

“Take a drop sir, to keep out the cold,” was the invitation.

Tudor politely declined, and the gold-seeker proving more sociably inclined, the steaming glasses added their own peculiar odour to the already rather overpowering mixture.

The man was a farmer, and the prices of grain, and the state of the crops were duly noticed, with probable rises, or falls, in the current rates, and the influences of foreign importations gravely canvassed.

Tudor had forgotten the stooping figure by the fire, for the subjects under discussion were sufficiently interesting to him; when a voice uttering a few hasty words of dissent respecting some movement of one of the card players, again aroused that feeling which had struck him before.

He arose, and walking up to the fire-place, encountered Charles Inkersole.

“Why Mr. Tudor, what has brought you here? What do you want?” exclaimed Charley starting to his feet.

“Merely a shelter from the storm, Mr. Inkersole. I did not anticipate meeting you here, in a district so remote from your home.”

The other eyed him narrowly, for a moment; and then sat down again. The flush, borrowed probably from the glasses, now empty beside him, and which had forsaken his cheek, on first seeing Tudor, returned.

“I might say the same, what are you looking for now?”

The insinuation in the latter words, rather roused his companion, but a cold look was the only reply. “I am travelling a bit—seeing a little of the country,” pursued Charley.

And where was Gertrude! The question passed through Tudor's mind, but did not escape his lips—was she even then in some apartment in the Tavern, or was she alone on the distant run, in the wild regions of the Abercrombie, the companion of stockmen's wives. Almost a groan of anguish escaped him—such an overwhelming pity for her, took possession of him.

Charley too was altered for the worse; he had lost that air of bush dandyism, which he had formerly; and a disordered and reckless air had supplanted it. The merry eye, the ruddy cheek, the frequent light laugh, all were changed.

Poor Gertrude! and he could not help her. Once again he felt that he was powerless, that the boasted strength of humanity is as nothing, that man “is crushed before the moth.” So a cry to heaven welled up for help, that she might be kept unspotted from the world, surrounded by such dangers—he turned away.

“Miss Sara, oblige me by a lantern, I must go to the stable and see to my horse.”

“It's well taken care of: yours and the other gentleman's.”

“I shall proceed.”

“To-night! Why Sir? The rain's teeming down, you could'nt travel such a night.”

The girl, a fine young Jewess, like many of her race, possessed beautiful dark almond shaped eyes, and glossy hair, shading handsome features, turned a wondering look upon the erect determined form before her, looking as composed as if it were a balmy summer's day, instead of a tempestuous night.

The landlord pressed forward, eagerly dissuasive in his reasoning, and his anxiety for the gentleman's comfort: and the farmer and the gold-seeker joined.

“I am well provided with water-proof wrappers, and my horse is fresh and strong. If you desire it Mr. Rigden, I will wait at the end of my stage for you. The storm is abating—the wind has changed.” He had detected the rattling of the opposite window-shutters, and bushman-like, was well versed in matters connected with the weather.

The old man insisted on accompanying him, and shortly afterwards they were on their way; the wind driving the black masses of clouds across the sky, and occasionally permitting a brief gleam of a watery azure to lighten their way—but the cold wind was agreeable to the feverish brows, and the raging of the elements, the storm within was subdued, and relieved of the profane conversation, the clamour and laughter of the card-players, and stupifying scents, he applied the directing hand of Christian faith upon the tumultuous throng within: but not less keen was his poignant sympathy for the young Emigrant.

A remark of Charley's had informed him that he was travelling alone: so he supposed she was at the station.

They rode quickly on notwithstanding the darkness of the night, that indeed as the clouds dispersed, was lessened and the moon beams glistened faintly on the little streams dashing down the mountain sides, and across the road, gurgling and boiling in the ruts, and making mud of what was so lately dry dust.

It was a cheerless night to be abroad, and the Inn to which they were travelling was some miles in advance. Eber Rigden jogged along in silence, his old pony grinding the bit with a bitter misanthropical sound; as for Tudor his thoughts had fallen into the train of Orona's and if not in those words he was in spirit repeating.

“ ‘Dear God’ she cried, and must we see
All blissful things depart from us, or ere we go to THEE?”

After they had travelled a mile or so in silence, the Gold-seeker suddenly remarked “I have seen them before.”

“Who?”

“The man you spoke to, Charles Inkersole, and the other who was standing beside him.”

“Have you, where?”

“At the Abercrombie, I was prospecting there, and I stayed at their hut for several nights.”

“At whose hut, the Inkersoles'?”

“Yes. But that man was there; he was a horse dealer: do you see I suspected that dealer, he being round the diggings. I have seen him before, always trucking and dealing in horses.”

The cold wind swept past them, the pony hung his head lower, and ground the bit savagely. Tudor's horse plunged a little; when they were quietly proceeding, he inquired of what he suspected the man.

“Of horse stealing—stray horses round the diggings, you know young man.”

“Very likely”—the words

‘And must we see
All blissful things depart from us, or ere we go
TO THEE.’

appeared sighing in the wind.

The mild little face, and golden hair of Gertrude, were peering out beside Charley and the dealer: with the cheerless slab walls of hut, and the bark smoke blackened roof, completing the picture. Tudor drove it from his mind. The jealous eye which had feared the contaminating society of old Sarah, could not dwell on this—it was the same spirit, one with which for the future he might remember her—the protecting kindness of the strong for the weak—the yearning of the heart for the good, and the growth in holiness for those around it.

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