« PreviousContinue »
a steamer came in from Palmerston and brought Emma. She could not help coming, she said, and had altered her mind the very last thing. The steamers between Melbourne and Palmerston would call regularly at Port Romilly now. That was so very nice to think of, wasn't it? It made her feel the separation less. Only three days would bring her among us at any time, in case of illness or anything. And such a beautiful voyage, she said. The sky was so bright, and the great ocean-roll so long and so gentle. She had sat on the deck all day and all night, watching the coast. There had been long stretches of low sand-beach in some places, and then a majestic cape. Sometimes the land piled itself up into awful tiers of dark forest, one rising behind the other; and sometimes these would break away, and show low rolling plains stretching into the interior, with faint blue mountains beyond. There were islands, too, which one sailed through, on which the foot of man had never rested since the world began; some low, some high and fantastically-shaped, but all covered with clouds of changing sea-birds, and ringed with the leaping silver surf which never slept. “Sometimes, darling," she continued—for we were alone together, and the house was all asleep save us two, and her head was on my shoulder"Sometimes I thought that I would pray that after death my soul might take the form of one of those wild sea doves, and hover and float in the wind and the sunshine free of care. I will come and sit on your shoulder, dear, and you will know that it is me, won't
her resolution now. This was not the time to urge Erne's suit. Her mood was far too serious and sacred a one to be interfered with by any personal whim of my own. Not only did I feel this, but she knew that I felt it, and opened her heart to me in perfect confidence. I only told her that I loved her better than any other woman in the world, save one. I only begged her forgiveness for any clumsiness of expression, by which I might have hidden my love for her. I only comforted her with hopes such as I could give. Things might alter in many ways; and there might be a brighter future. After a time she grew calm again, and she sat with her head on my shoulder through the short summer night, until the crystal dawn flashed upon the tree tops, and told me that the morning of my marriage was come.
And in the morning she and Erne parted. When will they meet again? Ah! when ?
THE LAND SALE. My marriage was a most unnoticeable one. The sort of thing that is just worth mentioning, nothing more. It has nothing to do with the story whatever.
I do not think that I should have taken the trouble to mention it at all, had it not been for this. There was a little cloud over it, and that cloud hung in the very last place where I liked to see a cloud. It was in my father's face,
He approved of the business in every way. We were getting rich and prosperous. He loved my pretty little sweetheart with all the chivalrous devotion of his great gentleman's soul; but there was a cloud on his face, which reflected itself on mine. I thought I had penetration enough to find out the cause which threw its shadow there.
Trevittick had been a good and faithful partner to us, and, in spite of his moroseness and his fanaticism, we had got to be very fond of him. Morose he
"I would sooner have you as you are, my sister.”
“Jim, sometimes I am weary of my life. My task is too much for me; I wish I was at rest. I miss all the home faces. I miss you, dear. I miss our mother, and I am utterly alone in Palmerston. And oh, brother, I love him so dearly! This sight of him to day has been so precious! Oh! what shall I do, what shall I do?”.
I did not dare to ask her to forget
was at times, but he was never unkind : believed himself convinced of sin, and his devotion to my mother was that of regenerate ; that he had believed him self a true gentleman; and his kindness to possessed of a lively faith. But that the younger ones, children no longer only proof of a lively faith was works; now, was most fatherly and genial. Fred, that he believed with the rest of the in fact, put him as A 1 in his affections Brianites that the elect could not sin, since the loss of Erne. But now it whereas he, ever since he had come to was painfully evident to me that poor Port Romilly, had been a habitual Trevittick had stepped a little beyond Sabbath-breaker ; that his faith, not the limits of fanaticism, and was rapidly having resulted in works, was not lively; becoming lunatic. I also perceived that that therefore he was condemned evermy father was perfectly aware of the lastingly. And not only that; he had had fact, but would not open his lips, even a revelation. It had come to him as he to me, in hopes of a favourable change was sitting that very day by the burnt in the poor fellow's malady.
hut. There came a shiver of wind This was the reason of the shadow through the shrubs, and a voice spoke on my father's face at the time of my in his heart as it went by and told him. wedding; and I was sorry to be obliged this :—the unmentionable sin was to to confess to myself, after close watching believe yourself elect when you were of Trevittick's behaviour, that there was not so, and he had committed this sin. only too good reason for it.
I tried to combat all this midsummer I cannot remember the exact time madness as best I might. I spoke such when I first noticed decided symptoms platitudes to him as I could lay hold of his aberration; but it was long before of at the time, and my arrows were very my marriage. It was a Sunday, though, few, and drawn from all sorts of quivers. for he had been in the bush all day To flatter his humour, I told him that alone : which was a habit he acquired there was little doubt but that he had soon after our arrival at Port Romilly. fallen away from original righteousness, He had gained so much influence over as we all had done. I recommended my father that my father used to allow him to read “Winslow on Personal Dehim to expound a chapter and give an clension and Revival,” a book which I extempore prayer the first thing every confessed I had found tough myself, but Sunday morning. After this he used which would suit his case exactly. And to depart into the hush, and only come so I went on, trying to argue against a home late at night, leaving my father dull, settled, obstinate fanaticism, until to blunder through the Litany, and an I lost my temper, and told him that, if orthodox sermon in the forenoon, before there were an unforgivable sin, he would his family as best he might; which was find that it consisted in doubting the not very well, for my father's education sufficiency of the great Sacrifice ; which had been limited, and the slowest of was probably the only piece of good Bible clerks might have given him half sense which I uttered during the arguthe distance, and said amen before him, ment. easily. On this particular Sunday Tre- But it had no effect; he knocked the vittick was later home than usual. There ashes out of his pipe, and left me with was no one up but myself, and, when he an expression of calm scorn. The next came in, having taken a long draught Sunday he rambled away just the same; of cold tea (he was a strict teetotaller) and I, sitting up for him after every he sat down opposite me, lit his pipe, one else was gone to bed, had another and told me that on that very morning innings with him, in which I got comhe had arrived at the unalterable con- pletely worsted. viction that he was condemned to ever. He was equally assured of his own lasting reprobation.
condemnation. Nothing could ever I asked him why.
shake that conviction. Condemnation He said that hitherto he had always was to be everlasting ; no reasonable
man could doubt that. But he said that he would not condescend to allow this conviction to make the very least alteration in his morality. His life had always been blameless (and indeed he was right), and it should continue to be so. He would continue this sin of Mammon worship on the Sabbath, because it would benefit others, and might keep them from temptation. Other wise he would watch the uprightness of his walking more closely then ever.
In my desperation I asked him why should he do so.
He answered scornfully, “Had I any proper pride? Was I only righteous froin fear of punishment? And suppose it came into God's great scheme that I should be punished everlastingly, either for an example, or for some deep hidden reason, was I therefore to doubt the goodness and justice of God?” I had nothing to say, but I felt inclined to say with Polonius, “If this be madness, there is method in it.” But I didn't.
The next phase of his lunacy-one which had not, to my knowledge, made its appearance before, but which seems to me to be the somewhat natural result of the state of mind which I have attempted to describe—was this : He became abjectly superstitious. He began to revive all the old west country witch-quackeries, which his religion had taught him to consider not quackeries, but arts of the devil. For instance, he got Fred to hold a lot of ink in his hand, under the new moon, and look into it, to see what he saw. That dear boy instantly saw Guy Fawkes and the devil walking arm in arm over Battersea Bridge, which, however interesting in a scientific point of view, led to no practical results; and Fred, being naturally seized with a panic, made himself all over a gore of ink, as my mother expressed it—she having stepped in with an absolute veto against the repetition of any such unorthodox manœuvres. I expected at this time to find him using the famous Cornish superstition of the divining rod, but, to my astonishment, he spoke of it with unutterable scorn, as a mere delusion of ignorant and unscientific quacks.
He grew worse, as I said, just about the time of my marriage : he would start up in the night and pray, and make strange incomprehensible ejaculations. Tom Williams had often considerable difficulty in getting him quiet again. But the most awful night be had with him was the night before the land sale : it reacted on my father so that I was afraid he would scarcely get through the day's business. Trevittick seemed possessed of a dumb devil, and spent the whole night in walking silently up and down, with a short snatching gait, like a tiger in its cage. Tom said it was worse than any trick he had played him, and nearly scared him to death. Trevittick looked very ghastly the morning of the sale too; the dark brown in his complexion remained, but the red was all gone, and he looked more like an unhealthy mulatto than a rich-coloured Cornishman.
Everybody was up early, with a full determination to make holiday of it; for land sales were few and far between in those days; and this one, coming a few days before Christmas, would make a very good starting point for the Christmas saturnalia. The young men caught their horses, and rode about; or, if they had no horses of their own, borrowed some one else's : at the same time was begun a loug, objectless, and incomprehensible game of cricket, in. the which a man, by dexterous manouvring, might have sixteen or seventeen innings, and which lasted from cockcrow to long after curfew. At the same time also everybody began to bathe, and kept on bathing while they were not riding about or cricketing, all day. Harry confided to me that he had been "in" eight times. At about nine o'clock the black fellows arrived, and the dogs began barking “ as though there were bears in the town," and barked on until the black fellows left late in the afternoon.
At about ten the auctioneer arrived, and with him the Hon. Mr. Dawson. Soon after this all the elders of the township adjourned into the little courthouse to look at the plans, and I, having
been married a week, felt several degrees more dignified than the Governor, and took my place among the others with becoming gravity. After some time the court was filled, and the business began. Mr. Dawson sat next the auctioneer, and, just as he began to speak, my cousin, dressed in black, came up and thrust himself in among the foremost
“Here's the devil come for old Jack Dawson " said some one who was standing in the crowd, and everybody laughed, for my friend's popularity was not high in the township. The auctioneer began : “Silence, gentlemen, pray silence.”
“Silence yourself, you old scrubber,” was the polite rejoinder, the gentleman who spoke being slightly in liquor. “ What's the good of such a farce as this here? Why, there sits old Jack Dawson, the blacksmith, with his pockets full of money, ready to buy up the whole boiling, scot and lot; while a poor man can't get a bit of land to put his foot on. He is going to be king at Port Romilly, mates; and we're to be his humble servants. Blow that, I say."
There was a murmur of discontent through the hall. I saw Mr. Dawson wince; for he could not bear unpopularity. The first lot was put up, a lot of twenty acres, with frontage on the Erskine. After a brisk competition it was knocked down to my cousin Samuel, for the high sum of ten pounds an acre. Mr. Dawson did not compete.
Neither did he for the next lot, or the next. It was evident that he had been affected by the sarcasms of the drunken man, and the evident applause with which they were received. All the lots with wharfage along the Erskine went without a sign from him : and next the land further back towards the Cape Wilberforce mountain, was put up. “Your father is mad,” Erne said to me. "He is letting his fortune slip away under his eyes : why on earth don't he bid ? All the best land is going. Do pray him to bid for this she-oak lot; it's only 640. Why, it would grow 40 bushels to the acre ; I was over it yesterday.”
My father's folly did seem to me incomprehensible. I pushed through to
him, and pointed out what Erne had said. He was very pale and anxious; but all I could get out of him was, “All right, old man, leave it to me."
As the sale went on there was less and less competition, as the land grew both poorer in quality from being nearer the mountain, and being further removed from the river and the bay. Several lots just under the mountain went for the upset price; and at last the sale was nearly concluded, and the people began to go out. Three lots remained to be sold, and these three comprised a large portion of the mountain itself. As lot 67 was mentioned, I saw my father and Mr. Dawson exchange glances, and everybody began to be funny
“Lot 67, gentlemen,” began the auctioneer, “a most eligible lot, gentlemen. If you were to ask me my opinion, as between man and man, I should say the most eligible lot which I have had the honour of tempting you with to-day. 1280 acres, or shall we say, two of 640. The soil, though not fertile, is dry, the situation is elevated, the air invigorating and salubrious, and the scenery romantic. On a clear day, as I am informed by our venerable and respected harbour-master, the lighthouse on Cape Pitt is distinctly visible to the naked eye."
Somebody said that with a glass you might see old Jack Dawson sanding the men's sugar at Myrnong, sixty miles off. This unexpected attack on my unoffending friend resulted in a violent and acrimonious personal fracas between Mr. Dawson and the gentleman who had so rudely assailed him, in which several joined ; during which the noble gentleman so far forgot himself in the heat of debate as to say, that 'if he got any more cheek from him, or any other carrotyhaired, 'possum-headed, forty-acre, post and rail son of a seacook, he would knock his head into the shape of a slushlump in about two minutes. Peace being restored in about ten minutes, and the Hon. Mr. Dawson being left in a great heat, the auctioneer went on with the description of the lot, only once interrupted by the Hon. Mr. Dawson,
suddenly, irrelevantly, and gratuitously informing the company, in a loud and defiant voice, that he would find a young smith, not twenty-one, who should fight the best man in that room for a hundred pound a side.
Much as I was flattered by this proof of my friend's confidence, I was glad no one came forwards. The auctioneer concluded.
"Now whom cap I tempt with this lot? Can I tempt you, Mr. Dawson ?”
“Yes, you can, sir," retorted the still angry Mr. Dawson. “And I'll have this lot, sir, and my friend Mr. Burton shall have the next, sir, if it cost fifty thousand pound, sir. Now. And, if any individual chooses to run this lot up out of spite, sir, whether that individual has red hair or green hair, sir, I will punch that individual's head immediately after the termination of these proceedings, sir, and knock it against the blue stone and mortar which compose the walls of this court-house. Now, sir.
However, nobody, I suppose, caring to get his head punched for a whim, the lot was knocked down to him, and immediately afterwards my father stepped forward looking as white as a sheet.
"Now we come to lot 68, commonly known by your fellow-townsmen as the Burnt Hut lot; exactly similar to lot 67, just knocked down to the Hon. Mr. Dawson, as a site for his new country house. Now who would like to have our honoured legislative councillor for a neighbour? What gentleman of fortune can I tempt with this lot? The lot is up. At one pound an acre, Will any one bid one pound an acre.”
"I will,” said my father, in a queer, hoarse voice. I saw that he was mois tening his dry lips with his tongue. I began to grow deeply interested, half frightened.
"Going at a pound. Come, gentle, men, if any one is going to bid, be quick. It is the last lot.”
There were but few left: and no one of them spoke. The hammer came down, and I saw Mr. Dawson clutch my father's arm.
“The land is yours, Mr. Burton. If you'll be good enough to step up and sign, I'll be able to get on as far as Stawell to-night. There is a good deal of snow-water coming down the Eldon this hot weather, and I don't like that crossing place after dark.”
Thanks to James Oxton's excellent conveyancing bill, lands with a title direct from the Crown were transferred to the purchaser in about ten minutes. In that time my father was standing outside the court-house, with his papers in his hand, with Mr. Dawson beside him.
“Where's Trevittick ?” almost whispered Mr. Dawson.
“Go seek him at home, Jim, and fetch him here," said my father in the same tone.
I went quickly home with a growing awe upon me. Every one was behaving so queerly. My awe was not dissipated by my finding Trevittick, with his head buried in the blankets, praying eagerly and rapidly, and Tom Williams standing by as pale as a ghost.
“This is the way he has been carrying on this last hour," said poor Tom. “I can't make nothing of him at all.”
I went up to him and roused him. “ Trevittick," I said, “father has got the bit of land he wanted.”
He jumped up and clutched me by both arms. “Jinn," he said, “if you're lying – If you're lying – If you're lying ".
We walked out and joined the two others, and all walked away towards the hill in silence. The boys were bathing, the cricketers were shouting, and the quaint-scattered village bore a holiday look. The neighbours were all sitting out at their doors, and greeted us as we went by : but yet everything seemed changed to me since the morning. I almost dreaded what was to come, and it seems to me now that it all happened instantaneously.
We crossed the low lying lands which had been sold that day, and came to our own-a desolate, unpromising tract, stretching up the side of the mountain which, formed Cape Wilberforce, about