by Mary Grant Bruce (1878-1958)
Mary Grant Bruce’s juvenilia, including her short story, “Her Little Lad”, featured in our Wednesday essay this week. As her work is still in copyright it can only be extracted here. The full story can be read on Trove.
Across the clearing fell the first rays of the sun, each laying a path of living gold upon the long, withered grass. They lit up the giant gums, and lingered lovingly in the ingle of clematis and convolvulus which wreathed their great branches; and as they fell the night wanderers of the bush – the awkward wallaby, the giddy possum, and the shy bandicoot – started in affright and fled every one to his hole. Then the sunbeams penetrated still further, through the wild scrub tangle down to the quiet creek, and there they lay upon its surface, forming with the reflection of the over-hanging trees a delicate mosaic of shadow and gold. They opened the buds of the wild orchids, the swaying bluebells, and kindled into flame the orange clusters of the grevillea; and, on the hut in the midst of the clearing, they spread curiously, as who should ask by what right man, with this ungainly excrescence, so marred the face of nature. They lit up those prying sunbeams – every cranny of the rough slab walls, and showed each imperfection in the bark roof, the edges of which had frayed loose, and fluttered gently in the lazy, intermittent morning breeze. And one ray, more adventurous than his fellows, had even sought entrance through the little window, and now was rioting in the interior of the kitchen, that was also diningroom and drawingroom – in short, home. It scattered itself upon the uneven mud floor, on the rough home-made table that stood under the window; on the heterogeneous collection of chairs, from the barrel arm chair that constituted luxury to the inmates to the little three-legged stool, the sole, the jealously guarded property of the baby monarch, who ruled there so proudly. The lustrous sunlight flashed upon the brightly scoured tins on the mantelpiece, and lost itself in the heart of the flames which leapt and glowed in the great bush hearth. And it fell, too, upon the pretty upturned face of the woman who stood by the table, with her hands on the shoulders of the tall bronzed bushman, while at her feet was a little lad, whose attention was closely concentrated on the lash of the long whip that leaned against the table.
“Well, it’s time I was off, Norah,” the man was saying, in the quiet drawl of the bushman born, as his gaze wandered from her face to the busy little fingers that played with the lash. Her quick low voice betrayed a different nationality, as she made answer, more to the unspoken question in his eyes than to the uttered words.
“Yis, dear,” she said; “it’s gone five tin minutes ago; an’ it’s not worryin’ yersilf ye’ll be, Jim, ould man, for we’ll be as right as rain, me lad an’ I. What’s to come to us out here? An’ if anything did come, there’s ould Tray to warn us – an’ yez didn’t tache me to use the gun for nothin’.”
He smiled, half doubtingly.
“Oh, you can use it all right, old woman,” he said, “but for all that, it’s a lonely place to leave you and the boy alone in all day, an’ I don’t half like it. All the same, there’s no get out of it, that I can see. You’re not the nervous sort, that’s one thing.”
“It’s no time I’ll be havin’ to be nervous,” she laughed, “what wid Christmas fixin’s an’ cleanin’ up, an’ all; an’ yez must go, if yez don’t intind yer household to live on praties an’ milk, for there’s not three days’ flour left. And besides that, what ‘ud we be puttin’ in the boy’s stockin’ to-night’ if yez didn’t go into Bongolong” Yez don’t forget that, shure now?”
“I reckon I’d better come home with out the stores than leave the toys,” he said, with a laugh that was not altogether free from care. “Look here, Teddy, boy” – and stooping, he swung the child up into his arms – “are you goin’ to look after mother while dad’s away?”
The little fellow looked half puzzled. “I’se two,” he said, with evident pride in the announcement; “I is mother’s big son; mother said so!”
“Yez are, thin, mavourneen*,” said his mother proudly, “an’ it’s no one else I want to take care of me while I’ve got yez here. So give dad a hug an’ tell him he’s lovin’ all the cool of the day, while he’s worryin’ here about you an’ me; an’ tell him he’d betther clear out, and tell him, too, to be shure an’ remind ould Mister Santy Claus whin he sees him in Bongolong that there’ll be a stockin’ to look afther along Stony-Creek.”
“You’ll tell him, won’t you, dad?” lisped the boy, giving the hug with vehemence; I’ll be awful busy, hangin’ up my stockin’ ‘fore you comes home.”
“I’ll tell him, Ted,” laughed Jim Deane, as he set his small son down, with a hearty kiss; “I’ll go right off now, an’ do it. So long, lad; so long, old woman; promise me now you’ll look out, an’ be careful of swaggies.”
“Swaggies don’t come about here,” said the girl, “but av coors I’ll look out, dear.” She kissed the bronzed face with a certain wistfulness. “Ye’ll not be long than ye can help, acushla**,” she went on, “it’s not used to bein’ a grass widdy I am!”
“Oh, I’ll be back before sundown,” he answered, as he took up the bullock whip, “the business won’t take me long. What’s is to be for Christmas for yourself, old woman – a dress?”
“Oh, I’m not wantin’ anything,” she said quickly, “put the money into the boy’s things, or get yersilf a new bridle – ye know ye want one – don’t think of gettin’ me anything.”
“You’d say that if you hadn’t a rag to your back,” he said, “but I reckon I’ll know what to get.” He threw his arms across her shoulders as she walked to the door with him; then he stooped and kissed her fondly. “So long, old woman, dear,” was all he said; then he cracked the whip with a sound like a pistol shot, and the patient bullocks, which had been ready yoked for half an hour, moved slowly off. At the edge of the clearing, he looked round to where the woman and child stood in the doorway.
“Look after mother, Teddy, by,” he sang out.
“All wight,” came the child’s clear treble; “I’ll take gweat care of her.”
“That yez will, asthore***,” she laughed, catching him up and swinging him on to her shoulder, where he sat enthroned to watch the retreating dray. At the bend in the track, the man looked back, and saw them together, framed in the doorway of the little hut that was to him home and heaven. He cracked his whip cheerily, and as the report died away the trees hid them from his sight.
[Original publication continues here.]
* mavoureen: darling, dear
** achushla: darling, from the Irish Gaelic “cuisle”
*** asthore: treasure
Bruce, Mary Grant, writing as “M.G.B.”, “Her Little Lad“, The Leader (17 Dec 1898): 1-2.
I love MGB. When I was young I read the entire series of the Billabong books over and over again. This story has obvious echoes of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife, which was published in 1894, four years before Her Little Lad came out.
What a shame that the scanned version of the story on Trove hasn’t been edited right to the end.
Hi Teresa. I read and loved the Billabong series too. As for the Trove text, Sue and I made a start on that but we ran out of time.