by Louisa Lawson
Mrs. Last and Bertha looked as though there had been a death in the family, after Mary had gone, though there was little housework to need her, her society had been invaluable to the home. If she did at times seem too large for the small house, her magnetism was good and kept them alive.
Even Henrietta appeared more than usually stolid and dejected. Poor Bertha cried bitterly, she was proud and could bear anything, but disgrace broke her down. She felt that her sister had ruined all her prospects in life. Poor Mrs. Last was past crying, and when Bertha remarked upon her mother’s lack of tears she said, “I think I’ve cried all I can in the last twenty years now; I have often soaked one side of my pillow, then the other, and then when that was saturated, hung my head over the side of the bed and let the tears fall on the floor. I couldn’t cry now, I believe, if you both died.”
But both kept their trouble secret, and told dozens of fibs in answer to the many inquiries for Mary by Mrs. Last’s fashionable customers among whom Mary was a general favorite, despite her blunt way of dealing with them when she thought her mother was being imposed upon. However, ten days after Mary’s departure a letter from her was handed in. It ran thus—
“Dear, quiet people,—Arrived safe; like it first-rate; mistress and me chums; help Black ‘Liza with washing, cut-up sheep, milk the cow, have to hold the end of her tail in my mouth to keep her from whisking my eyes out; chop up pumpkin for pigs. Mrs. Lee gave me cheque, enclosed; shan’t want it; give it to mother to have picnic and a square feed; give Hetty some. Will be down in three months; best love. Mr. Lee’s brother met me at the railway station and drove me the rest of the way; he does not talk much, but like the sailor’s parrot, he is ‘a beggar to think.’ Good-bye. Mary.”
For a moment the two women looked in mournful silence at the letter as it lay on the table, then something struck Bertha as rather comic in it and she broke into a hearty laugh, which proved infectious, for Mrs. Last, after saying she was sure there was nothing to laugh at, began to ripple over with mirth herself, “The first hearty laugh,” she remarked, wiping her eyes “that she had had for a long time.”
More letters came from Mary and always enclosing her entire wages, for, she explained, Mrs. Lee bought whole pieces of material from the dealers who came to the station once a month, and always cut her off a length, and shared everything she bought with her.
“Of course,” wrote Mary, “thanks to my home training, I can make my own dresses and her’s too. In fact, I do little else, as I am kept constantly sewing. It’s hardly fair, though, as I feel too big and strong for sedentary life, and want room and activity, but Mrs. Lee is good and has the brown mare put in the little buggy every evening just before sundown and takes me for a lovely drive across the run. I wish I could describe it to you. Would you believe it? buttercups and daisies and clover grow here in the home paddocks, luxuriantly. We plough through them a foot high, and Oh, I do wish you two could enjoy it as I do, it spoils it all to think that you sit the while stitch, stitching; but never mind, I know what I know, and I’ll bide my time. Tell Henrietta that what I told her in confidence may come true.”
“The girl’s mad,” said Mrs. Last. “She always was eccentric,” said Bertha, “and romantic, too” said Mrs. Last. “Now I wonder what she means by ‘I’ll bide my time,’ ” said her daughter.
Long, happy letters tended to dispel the unpleasant feeling connected with Mary’s departure. And the two women became resigned, and came to look with favour upon the matter, and to anticipate the weekly letter which was sure to give them something to smile at.
“Work ! work ! what a glorious thing is work,” ran Mary’s next missive which seemed to be written on a few leaves tom from a diary, “I’d sooner lose any privilege than the power to work. The day is too short for all there is to do. I’ve finished most of the sewing, and ‘Liza and I are mates again. I teach her in my spare moments. Do you know these blacks are clever at learning, she mastered the alphabet in a couple of hours. She is anxious to know everything, and is a splendid needle-woman. She has made nice summer bonnets for us, they will last for years; wear them when we go to the creek to wash. You know we don’t repair to a damp mouldy wash-house here, if you please, and hang clothes out of windows and in sour alleyways and backyards to dry, as they do in Sydney.
“I’ll describe washing day : On Monday morning directly after break-fast, ‘Liza goes out and catches the bumble-footed chestnut colt, and puts him in the dray, then we lift in the tubs and things, ‘Liza mounts in front and Mrs. Lee and I sit on the back with our feet hanging down. Of course, I have to jump down and open all the slip-rails, as Mrs. Lee is afraid to trust ‘bumble-foot’. After the second rail is securely put up, the fun begins, for ‘Lisa makes ‘bumble-foot’ trot down hill and helter skelter we go, the cask rocks from side to side, the tubs jump, the boiler clatters, and we hold on by the hand irons and laugh. In this way we reach the creek, ‘Liza lights a fire between two boulders at the foot of a big oak, I tie up the lines, Mrs. Lee sorts the clothes, then we gather sticks while the water heats. When we have enough, Liza and I start washing and Mrs. Lee reaches for lilies and catches crawfish, which latter we boil and eat at our picnic. Do you know? the clear sky, between the branches of the oak trees inspire me; the fresh green grass under feet, the sunshine and birds overhead make my heart swell and I think I am the most favoured girl in all this bright, beautiful world. I crept away for a few minutes yesterday morning and composed these lines. Now, don’t laugh at them or I won’t show you the book-full I’ve written.”
A BIRTHDAY WISH.
Oh, could I as I lift this pen,
Mark out thy destiny,
I’d have thee happy now, as when
Nursed at thy mother’s knee,
I’d have thee cherished free from harm,
On this eventful morn,
Bless’ and content, with brow as calm
As the hour when thou wert born.
On a peaceful pillow thou would’st sleep,
Thy dreams should pleasant be,
Would God I had the power to keep
Thy heart from sorrow free.
The flowers of hope thy path would strew,
To watch in manly pride,
All hearts around thee firm and true,
Great good would then betide.
I’ve not the power, alas, dear friend
To give thee all I say,
But hope they’ll please, the lines I send,
On this thy natal day.
“Now, what do you think of that. By the way, I’m not speaking to Mr. Harry Lee now, all through an exasperating little fiend of a calf.
“Old Green-Hide Jack was away, ‘Liza was busy and the calf wanted feeding so I undertook to “poddy it.” They talk about meek sheep and kind-eyed kine, bah! there is nothing more stubborn under the sun than an old ewe, or more aggravating than a calf. I took a pail of warm skimmed milk under the fence into the lucerne paddock where the calf was tethered to a billet of wood by a strong rope. I put the pail down and approached the thing, when it made a rush round and round me and before I knew where I was, it had bound me in three coils of rope, then it made a sudden bound and before I knew me and the billet of wood and the milk pail were all mixed up. I managed, with great difficulty to disentangle myself from the rope, and shake the heaviest of the milk-made mud from my clothes, and was examining the abrasions on my wrists and hands, when Mr. Lee said sauvely, “Can I assist you, Miss Last, or would you prefer managing your pets in your own way. ” I gave him a cool answer and declining his aid, walked off to the house. I could have killed him for the suppressed merriment in his eyes.
” By the way, isn’t it a funny idea his having such a nicely-furnished house a little way down the creek from here; he has just had planted a lot of choice fruit trees from Sydney and has men trenching for vines. Farming seems to be his hobby. I should think it would be awfully lonely at Wailee as he calls it. However, he spends most of his time up here with his sister-in-law.
“Oh, did I tell you? Mrs. Lee and I have been round collecting funds to build a provisional school with, and we have met with splendid success, all the settlers round are going to give so many days work, and the money is for furnishing and an organ, so it will be school-house church and post-office, a nice billet for some quiet body.
“We took a swarm of bees to day and my eye in consequence is bunged up so that I must leave off for tonight. Mrs. Lee took a tiff today because Mr. Lee sen. wouldn’t trust her with the roan horse to go up to the German farm for grapes so she shut herself up in the store and ate sardines and biscuits. The sly little thing! and he the good old stupid, was afraid she would suffer, going without her dinner. They do say that the whole family of the Lees are very good to their wives.”
* * * * * *
“How sly of you never to tell me. ” said Mrs. Connor with an ill-used tone of voice, as she sank into a chair.
“Tell you what ?” inquired Mrs. Last.
“Oh, about Mary going as companion to Mrs. Lee of Eurigee.”
Mrs. Last shot a quick look at Bertha whose burning face was bent over her work.
” Oh it’s no use making signs, the murder is out, she is going to be married to Mr Harry Lee next month. “
“How do you know?” was all Mrs. Last could say.
“How do I know, you dreadfully close people. Was not Mr. Connor in the coach factory when the order came in for a fine new buggy, to bring them down in, and the young fellow who left the order said what he expected it was for. I must congratulate you for young Lee is a splendid catch.”
Poor Mrs. Last disappointed a good customer that day on account of feeling quite too nervous to hold her needle. Bertha made two sleeves for one armhole, and altogether they acted in a manner calculated to lose the very genteel connection they had managed to secure. But, what matter. A fortnight later Mary committed an unprovoked assault upon bridal-robed Henrietta, in her hurry to hug her mother, who she declared should be post-mistress and schoolmistress in future, and never use a needle again save for herself.