The Bushman's Rest by Mrs. Lance Rawson
IN the old days it had been merely a small hut, with stables at
the back where Cobb & Co.'s coaches changed horses. But a
diggings breaking out some eight or nine miles away, the owner had
added to the building, and turned it into a general store and wayside
public-house combined, greatly to the annoyance of the surrounding
squatters, whose hands made it a resort whenever they had an hour or
two, as well as upon every high day and holiday.
It was called 'The Bushman's Rest,' and did a good trade with
travellers and station employés, who often put up there for a
night instead of camping out in the bush.
The man who kept it was named Burgiss. At one time he had been a
driver for Cobb & Co. on that very road, and a very popular
driver too, but drink, the universal curse of these colonies, had
overtaken him and totally unfitted him for the position; so, with the
little ready-money he had managed to save, he bought out the original
proprietor, and with his wife took possession and started the joint
business. For a hundred miles and more the place had a notoriously
bad name--every one on or off the road knew it; and though none could
exactly define the reason of its bad reputation, all felt that it was
not unfounded. Burgiss was by birth a colonial. Who his forebears had
been, history sayeth not, though it was hinted by more than one of
his mates that Burgiss' father had been--'One of that patriot brood
Who left their country for their country's good.'
He had been at one time rather a fine-looking young fellow, and,
before he lost his nerve, what bushmen call a smart hand among
horses. Indeed, when a youth he had been a jockey for Mr. De M--, one
of the largest owners of racehorses in the colonies. His wife was a
barmaid in a West Maitland hotel when he met and married her, but
since her marriage she had fallen into ill-health, and at the time my
story opens was totally incapacitated from attending to the house,
and in consequence they had determined to engage a housekeeper to
take her place.
Now it chanced that Mrs. Burgiss had a friend in Sydney, a Mrs.
Holland (wife of a solicitor), who had also been a barmaid, but had
risen considerably in the social scale, owing to her marriage. To her
she wrote, telling of her illness, and begging her to engage and send
her up a housekeeper of good appearance and address--some one, in
short, who could be trusted to take entire charge during her absence,
for it was purposed that Mrs. Burgiss should go to Sydney for medical
advice and treatment directly the new housekeeper arrived.
As soon as Mrs. Holland received her friend's letter, she at once
drove to the depot, a large number of immigrants having arrived only
the day before.
After interviewing a great number of girls, and finding none who
would suit in the double capacity she required of them, she was about
to leave the place to try elsewhere, when her attention was arrested
by a young woman who entered the room at the moment, crying bitterly.
She was a tall, handsome girl to outward appearance; and,
notwithstanding the veil she wore over her face, Mrs. Holland noticed
that she was decidedly prepossessing. As she seemed to be in great
trouble, Mrs. Holland inquired of the matron the cause.
'Well, poor thing, she expected friends to meet her,--an aunt, I
believe,' was the reply. 'And when she got here, the first newspaper
she saw contained a notice of the death of her aunt. She came out
second-class, but made friends with some of the girls on the ship,
and asked to come with them here, as she had no friends to go to, and
no money to speak of, poor young thing. She has other friends in the
colony, but she don't know where to find them, even to send them a
Mrs. Holland thought for a moment, then she said, 'Do you think
she would take a situation? I really think she would just do for the
place I mentioned, if she could be persuaded to take it.'
'I don't quite know, ma'am, what her plans are, or if she has made
any yet, poor girl, but you can speak to her yourself,' the matron
replied; and, calling the girl over, she explained to her what Mrs.
Holland was there for, and what she required. A pound a week, full
charge of the house, her own mistress, and nothing menial required of
her, it sounded very suitable,--the very thing, in fact, that she
wanted in her helpless position. As there appeared no chance of
finding her friends, it would be foolish to miss so good a chance of
securing a home and a living.
Mrs. Holland was more than ever struck with her appearance when
she raised her veil. Her complexion was beautifully fair and clear,
eyes dark blue, and innocent and trusting as a child's; in short,
Ellen Dunne, for such was her name, was a very lovely English country
girl, far too beautiful and pure-minded to be homeless in such a
country as this.
The preliminaries were soon arranged, and an agreement drawn up;
and before she well knew what she had done, she had signed it, thus
pledging herself to a six months' contract. However, once having
determined upon accepting the situation, Nelly Dunne was not going to
let herself look back or repine over the inevitable. She was alone,
friendless, and without sufficient money to keep her more than a week
or two, so felt inclined to congratulate herself upon her good
fortune in having found a home so soon.
So one morning very early, before the great heart of the city
began to move, she found herself and her modest belongings in the
coach, en route for a town with a strange outlandish name, where she
at last arrived just at dark, tired, dispirited, lonely, and very
Imagine, reader, if you can, a young girl coming all the way from
England alone, expecting to meet friends, kindly and loving, who
would cherish and protect her at her journey's end. Then to meet no
one save strangers, who knew her not nor wanted her; to live three
days constantly on the watch for a familiar or kindly face, to hear a
step and run to meet it hopefully, and to find only the cold vacant
stare of an utter stranger. At last she thought she must have
forgotten her aunt's appearance, and so had perhaps missed her among
the crowds that on the first day thronged the ship in search of
friends. Then she sallied forth into the streets of the great strange
city, in the vague hope of recognising the loved face among the
countless thousands who passed and repassed.
It was during one of these wearying walks about the city that she
entered a pastry-cook's and asked for a drink of milk and a bun, more
for the sake of the rest than because she was hungry or thirsty. She
bought a few cakes to take back with her, and these the woman wrapped
in a piece of an old newspaper. Going slowly along, for she was
heart-sick and weary, her eye caught the name of Marston,--it was her
aunt's name,--and she read,--
'At Newcastle, on the 5th inst., Mary Ellen Marston, widow of the
late Rev. Edward Marston of Hinton, aged 50 years.'
She turned the paper over; it was a month old. Yes, her aunt was
dead. Then there could not be two Mary Ellen Marstons, widows of
clergymen, and of Hinton too,--she remembered that was the name of
her uncle's parish. She did not faint or scream, she only felt a numb
despair come upon her, and a feeling of utter desolation. What was to
become of her? She could not stop on board the ship much longer;
indeed, it was only through the courtesy of the captain that she had
been allowed to stay so long. Mechanically she walked on, seeing
nothing, hearing nothing around her, till suddenly a hand grasped her
arm, and a voice said cheerfully, 'Why, Miss Dunne, I didn't know
you!' It was one of the immigrants, a young girl whom Nelly had
spoken to several times on the voyage.
'Did your friends come for you yet, miss?' she asked kindly.
'No, Alice; my aunt is dead,' was the reply. 'I have just seen her
death in this piece of paper;' and, as she pointed to the notice, her
strength gave way, and she began to cry weakly.
'Ah, poor soul! I am sorry for you; but what will you do now?'
'I don't know, I am sure,' was the hopeless answer.
The girl stood for a moment thinking, then she said,--
'Will you come along to the depôt and see the matron there;
she is a real good sort, and maybe could think of some way to help
Without more ado she turned with Alice and proceeded to the
depôt. Her story was soon told, and, under the advice of the
matron, she determined to take her chance with the other girls who
were in search of work. We know the rest. She had only just returned
to the depôt from having bidden farewell to the captain and
officers of the ship, when Mrs. Holland noticed and engaged her. This
was Nelly Dunne's position. Think of it, you among my fair readers
who have home friends and kindly voices to welcome you always.
When she found herself at the hotel, whither she had been
conducted by the driver of the mail-coach, who had received
instructions from Mr. Burgiss to bring the young woman along, she sat
down on the small trunk which contained all that was left of her
worldly possessions (for she had been obliged to part with some of
her things to enable her to buy a few necessaries for her journey and
her new situation) and cried as though her heart was breaking. Was
this the grand free life in sunny Australia of which she had heard so
much, and the glowing accounts of which had made her discontented
with her humble village home?--that home which now, as she saw it in
imagination, looked so lovely, so happy, so different to her present
surroundings. What would she not give for the privilege of returning
to it, of even only telling those she had left of her sore need of
their help and pity! However, she was tired, body and spirit; and
youth, thank God, does not fret long. She drank a cup of tea, and ate
some bread--and-butter, then went to bed, and, strange to say, slept
soundly till they called her at daylight to prepare for the journey
before her, which in the days I am writing of was an ordeal for any
woman, however strong.
The driver of the coach, though a rough, coarse-spoken bushman,
had a tender heart, and sympathy for all young women who travelled
with him. He was a widower with one child, and that one a crippled
daughter sixteen years of age; but oh, such a sweet young girl, full
of hope and love! Her affliction was all the more sad, that it had
not been of long standing, but was the result of a foolish wager on
the part of her father, who had sworn that she, a child of twelve
years of age, could drive a pair of half-broken horses over a certain
piece of road. The child was terrified, but dared not disobey, so
drove them, the result being they ran away. She was dashed against a
tree, and had her thigh broken and her spine injured, while one horse
was killed and the other had to be shot, and the vehicle was smashed
to atoms. Agnes had ever since remained an invalid; and for her sake
her father was gentle and pitiful to all young women, though still
remaining outwardly coarse, hard-featured, and rough.
When Nelly came out that morning, heavy-eyed and sad-looking, Bill
the driver, as he was called, was very gentle with her, even
whispering a word or two of encouragement as he assisted her to the
box-seat beside him.
I need not describe the journey in detail. No doubt most of my
readers at some time of their lives have taken a journey by coach.
Every ten miles the weary horses were taken out and fresh ones
substituted. The heart of the lonely girl grew heavier and heavier as
she was borne farther and farther away from civilisation, into what
seemed to her the heart of a wilderness.
She had heard and read many tales of station life, and the
difficulties often to be encountered in reaching these far-off homes,
but nothing she had ever dreamt of approached at all near to the
terrible roads and wild bush which they were passing through. She
could hardly realize that these vaguely defined tracks which the
coach followed were a high road. As they wound round and through the
trees, lurching over stony or boggy ground alike, she grasped Bill's
arm, and looked the fear she had not power to express.
When engaging her, Mrs. Holland had told her that the place she
was going to was a station. Possibly she spoke in all sincerity, and
as she had been led to believe, for it is the custom for people who
live in the bush, even if they only possess half an acre and a couple
of cows, to speak of their place as a station. Any one who owns a few
head of cattle and sufficient land to run them on, is a squatter in
his own opinion, and when away from home will frequently enlarge upon
the capabilities, beauty, value, etc. etc., of his run. So it is
quite likely Mrs. Holland spoke in good faith.
All up the road the young stranger's beauty and refined appearance
attracted admiration, and at each stopping-place she was beset with
unwelcome attentions from the men who lounged about the bars;
particularly after it became known that her destination was the
notorious 'Bushman's Rest,' for they argued that (to use their own
words) 'she couldn't be much chop, or she wouldn't go there.'
It was well for Nelly that she did not understand their rude jests
and coarse wit, or her sensitive feelings would have been shocked
twenty times a day.
It was nine o'clock at night when the four horses pulled up before
the door of the wayside inn which was to be Nelly Dunne's home for a
'Here you are, safe and sound, wind and limb,' said the driver;
'and I guess you ain't sorry neither, miss?' he added kindly, as he
looked down upon the tired face of the girl beside him from his
'Is this the station?' she inquired simply, staring round her in
bewilderment, and wondering where the house was, for she recognised
directly that this was a public-house before her.
'This is "The Bushman's Rest," miss, and here comes the boss. Now
then, steady while yer get down, or ye'll fall. I guess ye're a bit
stiff after all the sittin'.'
She descended from the high seat, and, while they unstrapped her
box and took out sundry parcels from the coach, she looked round her
on a scene the beauty of which could not but strike one so
unaccustomed as she was to such wild, grand scenery. The moon was at
the full, and hung in the cloudless heavens like a great white globe,
lighting up the surrounding country with its clear, weird light. On
all sides rose hills one above another; even the house stood upon
one. The road along which the coach had just come continued its
winding course down into the valley below, from whence stretched
several miles of perfectly level country. In the distance, to the
left, a river was visible, looking strangely white in the moonlight.
For the moment the girl stood looking upon it all lost in admiration
at its beauty, her spirit having flown away to another scene of which
this reminded her a little; and it was with a great start she came
back to the present, when Mr. Burgiss touched her arm familiarly and
begged her to walk inside.
'S'pose you're dead beat?' he said, conducting her to a room
behind the bar, from whence she saw the driver and two or three men
She sat down on the nearest chair, saying as she did so, 'Yes, I
am very tired, I wish this was the end of my journey; but I suppose
it is not far now?' Then, looking up eagerly, she inquired, 'Is Mr.
Burgiss here yet to meet me?'
Mrs. Holland had told her that she supposed they would meet her at
the coach, so naturally she concluded that there must be some
distance yet to go that this wayside inn was her destination never
for an instant occurred to her. So her surprise can be better
imagined than described, when to her query her companion said with a
laugh, 'Why, bless you, I'm Burgiss.'
'You!' she exclaimed, in wide-eyed astonishment; then, looking
round her hurriedly, 'There must be some mistake, I think. I am Miss
Dunne; I was engaged in Sydney by Mrs. Holland to take'--
'It's all right; yes, I know all about it,' he replied,
interrupting her abruptly. 'Mrs. Holland--she's a friend of my
wife's--engaged you to be housekeeper, barmaid, and general help
while my missus goes down to see the doctors. Oh yes, it's all right,
miss, you're on the right track.'
All right, indeed! it was all wrong; in her amazement she had
risen from the chair; but when the full meaning of it all burst upon
her she sat down again, trembling in every limb, and white to her
lips. But Ellen Dunne was a brave girl, and though her heart was so
full she was afraid to trust her voice. She gathered at once the full
meaning of the mistake, her position and helplessness. She had signed
an agreement to do the work of housekeeper and general
help--lady-help had been the term used by Mrs. Holland. Certainly she
had said no word about a bar, or about her having to wait behind a
bar. And Nelly felt her blood run cold at the mere idea; for, like
most girls in her position, she had been brought up with a holy
horror of public-house bars, and more than all of barmaids. Yet here
she was, without money or friends, in the wild bush, at a low
public-house, the like of which she would have shuddered to enter at
any other time. What was she to do? Hastily viewing her position, she
determined that her only course was to put a good face on the matter,
and bide her time, till she could see a way out of her difficulties.
So, swallowing down her tears and disappointment, she begged to be
shown to her room, saying she required nothing to eat, but would like
to go to bed if she might.
'Oh yes, the best thing you can do,' was the reply from Burgiss,
who had been standing at the door apparently gazing out into the
night, but in reality watching Nelly. 'You needn't see the missus
tonight,' he continued, 'she's had a real bad day, and ain't up to
talking to-night.' He led the way along a dirty passage which smelt
strongly of stale liquor. On either side were rooms, through which
she could see either untidy beds, or else tables with gaudy cloths
upon them, and chairs with elaborate crochet antimacassars over their
backs; these were the rooms--parlours, Nelly supposed--wherein the
men drank, and with which she would have to become acquainted as
barmaid and waitress.
The weary girl followed, wondering whether her room was quite away
from the rest of the rooms, and whether she would be able to make any
one hear her in the night should she need help. To her dismay, they
crossed a sort of yard, where half-a-dozen low-looking men--some of
them half--tipsy--were smoking, talking, and laughing loudly round
the stables; then up a flight of ladder-like steps, and she found
herself in the most squalid, poverty-struck apartment it had ever
been her lot to enter.
'This is your camp; it's a bit rough, but yer won't need to be in
it 'cept of nights,' her companion remarked, as he set the dirty
candlestick he carried down on a packing-case, which did duty in the
double capacity of dressing--table and wash-hand stand.
With a look of real dismay, which could not but be noticed by the
man, it was so utterly blank and frightened, the miserable young girl
sank down upon a gin case, which was the only seat in the room, and
the next moment she had fainted dead away.
No whit alarmed, Burgiss laid her flat upon the floor, and
hastened away for some water and a glass of wine. He was gone some
minutes, and when he returned she had revived somewhat, and was
sitting up leaning against the wall, crying bitterly.
Burgiss was not unkind; he was a rough, coarse man, mean and
grasping by nature, and drink and his associates had not lessened
those qualities. The life he led tended to make him what he was
(excuse the word), a blackguard; but still deep down in his heart
there was a soft spot which was very rarely touched, but which now
made him pity this young creature so strangely brought into his
disreputable home, for that it was disreputable none knew better than
the master thereof. Kneeling down beside poor Nelly, he said
coaxingly, and very much as if he were addressing a favourite mare,
'Come, come now, cheer up a bit, and don't go to spoil those pretty
eyes. Gently now, gently now, old lady, what's to pipe yer eye
Had poor Nelly not been in such dire trouble and distress, she
must have laughed at this strange address and manner of consolation,
for Burgiss had possessed himself of one of her hands, and was
stroking and fondling it in an absurdly comical manner.
After a while she dried her tears and rose from her lowly seat on
the floor, saying as cheerfully as she could under the wretched
circumstances, 'I am better now, thank you, sir.' She hesitated
slightly over the word 'sir,' wondering whether she would be expected
to use it upon all occasions. 'I will go to bed now, and in the
morning, no doubt, I shall feel better. Thank you for being so kind
to me just now, it was very stupid of me to faint. I don't know what
came over me;' and, quite forgetful of her new position as servant to
this man, she held out her hand to bid him goodnight. But evidently
Burgiss saw nothing extraordinary in the offer of her hand. On the
contary, he seemed pleased; and before taking the offered hand, which
in reality, if the truth were known, looked too white and pretty to
be grasped off-hand, he rubbed his own horny palm down the side of
his trousers, saying apologetically, 'They ain't real dirty, yer
know, but I was helping Bill to put the hosses in;' then, taking it
very gingerly, as if fearful of hurting her, he shook it stiffly and
awkwardly, as he returned her good--night, then sprang away down the
ladder at two bounds, mentally voting the new girl a stunner.
Left alone, Nelly Dunne gazed round her in dismay at the
appointments of this her future apartment. Never, even in the poorest
cottage home in her father's parish, had she seen so poverty-struck
and unwholesome an apartment. The bedstead, or what did duty for
such, was a rough stretcher evidently made on the place, as also had
been the mattress, which made a peculiar crackling sound when she
pressed it. The mosquito nets, which hung above from a nail in one of
the rafters, were on their last legs, evidently past mending even,
besides being filthily dirty. In one corner was the packing-case
already alluded to, and on it a tin basin like those usually used in
bush kitchens for setting the bread in. This too, upon examination,
she found to be in a dilapidated state, a piece of rag stopping up a
good--sized hole in the bottom. There was no jug, no receptacle for
water at all. Beside the bed a box stood on its end, having at one
time done duty as stand for a candle, as was apparent from the
quantity of sperm dropped all over it and on to the floor beside it
too. There was no cover on this box, nor was there any on the
packing-case either. With the gin case on which she had sat down,
this concludes the inventory of her bedroom furniture. Was it any
wonder that the lonely girl felt utterly and supremely wretched? for,
though never accustomed to luxury in her English home, it had been as
comfortable and pretty as clever, loving hands and moderate means
could make it. There was no water in the room, and she wondered if it
would be possible to find any if she went down into the yard; at any
rate she must try, she had not had a wash for nearly twenty-four
hours, and could not go to rest without getting rid of the grime and
dust of her long journey. Taking the basin, for lack of any other
receptacle that would hold water, she descended to the yard. The moon
was shining brightly as day, lighting up every part of the
establishment distinctly, particularly the squalid back premises,
with its array of half-ruined outhouses and dirty pig-sties, the
occupants of which greeted her approach by a series of grunts and
snorts. After a few seconds spent in peering here and there in search
of a pump or tap, she spied a tank close to the main building, and to
this she at once turned her steps, filled her basin (which, by the
way, leaked wofully in spite of the rag plug), and was on her way
back to her room, when she almost ran into a young girl carrying an
armful of dry clothes, evidently just from the drying ground. The two
met in the middle of the yard, and Nelly, pleased to see one of her
own sex, said civilly,--
'Good evening!' then, with a smile, 'You see I am making myself at
home--there was no water in my room.'
But the other girl made no reply whatever, only staring insolently
at her. Nothing daunted, however, she made some other trifling
remark, and asked for a bit of soap.
'There's some down in the wash-'us,' was the ungracious reply, as,
pointing carelessly over her shoulder to indicate the direction of
the said 'wash-'us,' the girl disappeared, leaving Nelly, if
possible, more disheartened than before.
She set her basin of water down while she went in search of the
soap, which, after a long hunt among tubs, buckets, and kerosine
tins, she at last found. After washing her face, neck, and arms as
best she could in the small quantity of water she had managed to get
as far as her room, and drying them on her pocket handkerchief, for
towels were evidently an unthought-of item in the appointment of her
chamber, she undressed wearily and crept into her comfortless
blankets, for sheets, too, were considered unnecessary luxuries,
apparently. And there, in the silence of the night, she cried herself
to sleep, wondering whether she would ever be able to live through
the time she had engaged for.
Another and very different scene was being enacted this same
evening, a few miles from 'The Bushman's Rest,' on a station which I
will call Morven Plains.
The mail-bag had not long arrived, and in the comfortable bush
room two young men were seated on either side of the table, intent
upon their separate correspondence. They were cousins, and
joint-owners of the station; their names, Herbert and Paul Wright.
Herbert, whose letters had not been very numerous or voluminous, had
finished reading them, and was engaged upon the English papers, which
he turned and twisted at intervals, making them crackle and rustle in
a manner truly irritating to himself as well as to his silent
Paul Wright held before him a closely-written letter, which every
now and again he crushed convulsively in his hand as if he would read
no further; then the next minute smoothed out again, and read on. All
this was unnoticed by his cousin, until a muttered oath escaped, and
made him look up quickly from his paper, and exclaim,--
'Halloo! what's up, Paul? Bad news, eh?' But, receiving no reply,
he returned to his paper, and after a short time rose, and,
carelessly bidding his companion good-night, left the room. For a
while the other read on; he had mastered the contents of those
delicate pink sheets at the first reading, but yet he returned to
them again and again, reading every word deliberately and carefully,
till all were impressed upon his brain like a well-learned lesson.
After about the twentieth reading, he crushed the letter in his hand
and sat buried in thought for more than an hour, from which he roused
himself only to pace restlessly up and down the room, much after the
manner of a wild beast confined in an iron-barred cage. From end to
end of the long bush room he walked, and one could, with very little
imagination, fancy him a wild beast labouring under suppressed though
impotent fury. Having to a certain extent walked down the evil spirit
that possessed him, he once more threw himself into his chair,
smoothed out the crumpled letter, and began another perusal of its
disturbing contents. It ran as follows:--
'KELLMINGTON, SOUTH WALES.
'MY DEAR PAUL,--A painful duty is left me, and I hardly know how
to enter upon it, for the words I am forced to write you to-day will,
I know, come upon you with a great shock, and also be a cruel
disappointment, I fear. I should have told you before this; and
perhaps you will blame me, or even call me hard names, but I trust
you will always believe that I have acted for the best, and with a
strict sense of the duty I owe to my mother, to you, and lastly to
myself.--You told me in your last two letters that you had had some
spells of ill-luck since you bought into the station; that the
seasons had been against you,--your losses at one time heavy,--and
that you feared I would have to rough it if I were to come out to you
in the present state of affairs.--Now, my darling (for such you must
ever be to me, whatever happens), I have thought it all over calmly
and dispassionately, looking our position in the face, and after
mature deliberation I have come to the conclusion that I would be
acting most selfishly and against your best interests, present and
future, if I kept you to this engagement any longer. You may not be
able to come home for years, and my mother will never consent to my
going out to you unmarried. So, Paul dear, though it breaks my heart
to write it, or indeed even to think of it, we must part. I give you
back your freedom. I set you at liberty to choose another for the
wife you need to help you to bear your troubles. Do not think too
hardly of me; believe me I am acting more for your good than my own.
And, Paul darling, you know I am not a free agent. My mother and
Uncle Dick both claim my obedience; the latter constantly tells me I
must marry money for all our sakes. Your cousin is constantly here,
and we meet him out a great deal more often than of old.--He has
asked me to be his wife, and I fear that uncle will insist on my
answer to him being a favourable one. You know where my heart is, and
who owns it. Dear Paul, try and forgive me if you can; and still with
fondest love, I am, and always will be, yours at heart.
With a curse he folded the letter up and put it into the envelope;
then unfolding another sheet of paper, he read a printed
advertisement which was pasted on to the middle of it, and which read
'On the 11th inst., at St. Luke's, Kellmington, by the Rev. Samuel
Bryce, Sir Philip Wright, only son of the late Algernon Wright of
Mallons Park and the Old Hills, Derbyshire, to Maud Derrington, only
daughter of the late Sir Astley Havers, and niece of Mark Hanbury of
He read it over and over again as if he would fix it on the
tablets of his memory. As he did so, a thought seemed to strike him,
and once more he unfolded the letter and looked for the date; but it
bore none, and with a smile he turned to the envelope, the post-mark
of which was dated the 10th June, only one day earlier than the
advertisement he had just read. Then she had only written to break
with him the day before she wedded his cousin. With an unnatural
laugh that rang through the room, he turned and began to pace up and
down, his thoughts finding vent now and then in muttered words and
'Ten blessed years of my life wasted on a woman--and such a woman!
And now I'm thrown over for a puppy, just because he has money that
should by right be mine. And I am a beggar, doomed to live the life
of a dog in this God-forsaken country. Money, money!--woman's God.
Oh, Maud, Maud, it can't be true; you were such a bonny darling, and
you were mine! You did love me, or else you lied damnably. Good God!
is there one woman in all the wide world capable of an honest
attachment? And Philip's got her, my own cousin, and the only man I
ever hated. I hope she'll grow to hate him; and she will, if she's
the woman I take her for, as sure as there's a God in heaven. Philip,
with his refined vices and his low estimate of the sex! Well, I could
hardly wish her a worse fate than tied to my polished sensualist
cousin. And Maud's son, if she have one, will stand between me and my
birthright; that is all he wants, an heir. I can see her future as
plainly as though it were written before me. He'll begin by
neglecting her after the novelty of ownership has worn off, then
possibly he'll ill-use her--he's quite capable of it; and serve her
right, the false--hearted jade. Damn her--yes--damn her--damn
him--and damn them both!'
For hours he remained alone in the room, walking to and fro, thus
giving vent to the thoughts that filled his angry mind, till the
chill breeze, when the night and morning met, blew in through the
open window and caused him to shiver. Pausing in the centre of the
room for a moment, he turned towards the sideboard, where stood a
pocket-flask of brandy, opened that evening to give a glass to the
mail-boy when he brought the letters. 'Shall I have a taste of the
old stuff,' he whispered half-aloud, 'to drink damnation to her and
him?' For a few seconds he stood, hesitating on the brink of
temptation; and it seemed as if his good angel would win the battle.
From the sideboard he glanced towards the mantelpiece, where stood a
handsome cabinet photo of his old love. The effect was instantaneous:
he broke into a mirthless laugh, and strode towards the bottle,
saying, 'Yes, I will; your influence is at an end, madam; we'll drink
to the dissolution; what matter now how soon I go to the devil?' Thus
apostrophising the picture, he poured out half a tumbler of the
spirit, added a slight modicum of water from the filter close by, and
raised it to his mouth, as with mock politeness he bowed to the
senseless photograph. But ere the spirit touched his lips, he put it
down and shuddered violently, as though the smell of the liquor
turned him sick. 'Seven years since I made a beast of myself,' he
murmured; then took another turn or two up and down the room, each
time he neared the glass looking eagerly, almost greedily towards it.
Oh for some kindly hand to take that glass away, some womanly
influence to save him from himself! He paused before the tumbler,
stretched out his hand, and then drew it back; and as if reasoning
with himself, he said, 'Why should I not have a taste of the stuff?
Just a glass to put heart into me--I needn't get drunk. And even if I
do, every man gets drunk once in a way. I'd like a taste of the old
madness, I've nearly forgotten what it's like. Yes, I've kept
straight seven long years for her sake. Oh, Maud, Maud, you could
have made a good man of me, but now'--He leaned heavily against the
sideboard, and presently through the fingers of the hand with which
he had covered his eyes the tears trickled slowly, while his chest
heaved with the sobs he at last gave way to. What sadder sight can be
seen or imagined, than that of a strong man tempted by his besetting
sin vainly struggling to get the better of the devil that possesses
him! And saddest of all is the sight when that devil is drink. In a
few moments he regained the mastery of his feelings. 'What a fool I
am,' he muttered, 'to be so upset because a woman has thrown me over
for another fellow. I must be terribly out of gear, likely as not a
nip will do me all the good in the world; anyway I must have
something to steady my nerves, so here goes;' and, seizing the glass,
he drained the contents at a draught, as if he were fearful of
changing his mind again.
The effect was magical, the spirit acted almost at once. In less
than ten minutes he was a different man; he laughed as he sauntered
from one part of the room to another, examining books, pictures,
ornaments, everything, in fact, that was there and caught his eye. He
sang snatches of song, threw himself first into one chair, then
another--in short, behaved like one labouring under some powerful
influence or excitement. He seemed unable to keep still, the demon of
unrest possessed him. Once more he took out the all-important letter
and read it through, laughing loudly at certain passages. Then the
impulse seized him to learn it by heart, repeating the words as he
paced to and fro. When he had mastered it, and could repeat it word
for word, he tore the letter into pieces and threw them savagely into
the fireplace. Then he walked to the window, and drew aside the blind
to look out over the moonlit plains. 'What a glorious night for a
ride across country,' he muttered. 'I've a great mind to go over to
the "Bushman's;" there may be a choice spirit or two there to cheer
my loneliness. I can't stop here doing nothing, that's certain;
perhaps another nip may decide the question.' Ever since the first
glass of spirits had made the blood course through his veins, he had
been craving for another; at the same time he had been mentally
pushing it away from him, fearing to give way--fearing to acknowledge
to himself that the old man was upon him with all the intensity of a
long drouth. The restlessness, the pretence of occupying himself with
Maud's letter, all meant the same thing, and the whole time he was
using his utmost strength of will to overcome the craving. He walked
to the table and laid his hand upon the bottle, took up the glass,
and was about to pour out the spirit--'No, I won't,' he said, and set
the bottle down. Then with a sudden impulse he took it up, and,
approaching the window, flung it out far into the garden. It fell
with a thud, but did not break, and he turned irresolutely from the
window. 'I wonder did it break?' he muttered; 'didn't sound as if it
did.' He stood in the middle of the room. 'Shall I go and see? Yes;
if I leave it there Jacky will get hold of it--better see and break
it.' He went out through the French-light on to the verandah, still
debating with himself as to whether to go or not; on the steps he
paused, his attention arrested by the peculiar cry of a passing
night-bird. He walked to the tree on which it had lighted, and peered
up among the branches, just as the bird rose again and flew away into
the night. As he turned, his steps mechanically took him in the
direction of the flask. He could see it lying upon a tussock of
grass, the moonlight glinting upon the glass. He picked it up and
walked slowly back to the house, as if guided by a will stronger than
his own. Up the steps and along to the French-light he went, nor
paused till he stood beside the table and held the tumbler in his
hand. Without waiting now, he poured out a small quantity, added a
little water, and drank it greedily. He had ceased to struggle
(mentally) with himself. Virtually he was vanquished, his devil had
got the upper hand, and Paul Wright knew it. Without moving from the
table, he now poured out nearly another glass of brandy, diluted it
slightly, and drank off the draught as before. A fourth glass
followed that. 'I may as well finish the bottle now I've gone so
far,' he said, holding it up to the light, 'there's barely another
nip.' This he poured out quickly, and drank without a drop of water,
and then threw himself into the only easy-chair the room contained.
Very soon he began to nod; but, rousing himself, he took up the lamp
and deliberately proceeded to the storeroom, returning in a few
minutes with a fresh bottle, intending to leave it unopened on the
sideboard. But the evil spirit within him was not satisfied even yet;
and Paul Wright, having given way so far, was no more capable of
holding back, or of saying, 'Hold, enough!' until that devil was
appeased, any more than he could have arrested a fall in mid-air.
He drew the cork clumsily, being very unsteady by now, though not
yet actually incapable, then poured out half a glass, and drank it.
By the time he had had two or three more small glasses, the fiend was
satisfied, and he was quite drunk, could barely stand,--a fact that
seemed to amuse him.
'I'm drunk again,' he said. 'Richard's himself again!--drunk,
drunk; it's fine to feel drunk. I'd forgotten what it was like; I'll
get drunk for a week, 'stonish old Herbie; what a joke!' and with the
last words he fell in a heap upon the rug before the fireplace, and
lay in a drunken stupor till Herbert, coming in at daylight to see
the time, stumbled over his prostrate body.
'Good God! he's broken out again. What can have set him off?' was
the exclamation that broke from him, as, glancing round, he noted the
flask and bottle, one empty, the other nearly three-parts full.
Without calling assistance, he shook up the senseless man and managed
to get him to his bed. Then, locking up the remainder of the drink,
he put the key into his pocket, and went out to his morning work,
feeling very low-spirited at the turn things had taken.
Though Herbert Wright had never before seen his cousin in a state
of intoxication, he had frequently heard of his excesses when a
younger man; and Paul had himself told the story of his giving it up
for the sake of the girl he had loved ever since she was
He had drunk so heavily while at college, that finally he had been
rusticated by the authorities. It had prevented his entering the
Church, or indeed any other profession; and when his friends could do
no more for him at home, for he drank himself out of every situation
they put him into, they seized upon the fatal expedient of sending
him to the colonies, there to recover from his besetting sin, or else
to lose himself in a country where he would not be a constant eyesore
and heartache to every one belonging to him. When parents or
guardians send a young man cursed with the craving for drink to the
colonies to reclaim himself, they literally and metaphorically
present him to the seven other devils of whom we read in Scripture,
who were supposed to be worse than the sinner himself. In short, they
simply throw him away to go his own road without let or
A young man who comes to the colonies having the besetting sin of
intemperance inherent in his blood, is as helpless and as sure to
come to grief as a walnut-shell set afloat on the Pacific Ocean.
For three years after his arrival in the colonies Paul Wright went
steadily down the social ladder. Then an uncle died and left him a
few thousands, which necessitated his taking a trip home.
It may seem well-nigh incredible that a man of twenty-seven should
fall in love with a child of fourteen, but stranger than that has
happened, and is happening every day we live.
Paul had met and loved Maud Hilton when she was in the schoolroom.
When he returned to England, Maud was on the point of coming out, and
did come out too. They were thrown together in a country house for a
fortnight (during one of Paul's rare turns of cessation from drink),
and at the end of that time Paul proposed and was accepted by the
young lady, but scornfully rejected by her parent and guardian,--a
matter that gave Paul very little anxiety when he knew that Maud
loved him, and was prepared to wait till he had proved himself worthy
and able to keep a wife.
After a year at home he returned to the colonies, bringing his
cousin Herbert; and the young men bought Morven Plains with the few
thousands they had. From the day of his engagement Paul was a
different man, and gave up drink entirely; not even would he touch a
glass of wine, knowing the fatal disease that he had within him.
Seven years had passed since then. Several times he had begged
Maud to come out and marry him; and doubtless she would have done so
but for her mother, who was an invalid now, and was as greatly averse
to her daughter's marriage with Paul as ever.
Paul had determined to go home for her at the end of the year, in
spite of bad times; and no doubt it was the knowledge of this
determination that led to her writing the letter we have seen, and
which had such terrible results.
As Herbert Wright rode about that day, he constantly wondered what
could have caused this outbreak in his cousin after all these years.
'Can Maud have played him false?' he wondered; and wondering thus the
one cousin rode about in the fresh bright day, while the other lay in
a drunken sleep on his bed alone.
A week had passed since the new housekeeper had begun to reign at
'The Bushman's Rest,' and already her presence was beginning to
effect a change in the whole house. Rooms that had seldom, if ever,
been cleaned before, were turned out, scrubbed, brushed, and put in
order. The meals presented a different appearance,--were no longer
flung on the dirty tablecloth, and flung off again.
Now, though coarse, the table-linen was spotless, and the plates
and dishes no longer greasy; flowers were to be seen in the vases
that stood on the mantels, the windows were clean; and, in short, a
wonderful change had come over the house, owing to the presence of
the young girl who had so strangely come there. Nelly was not afraid
of work, in it she found the only distraction from miserable
thoughts; so, with the help of the one other woman on the place, the
girl she met the night of her arrival, and who had proved to be a
young half-caste who had taken refuge there from the persecutions of
her tribe, she worked from early morning till late at night, winning
golden opinions from her master. There was only one thing Nelly had
stipulated for, which was to be exempt from waiting upon the bar or
parlours attached to it.
Before Mrs. Burgiss left (which she did the day after Nelly's
arrival), the girl had won a promise from her that she was not to be
asked to serve drinks to the men either behind the bar or in the
rooms. And Mrs. Burgiss had consented to her request in an off-hand
manner, merely saying contemptuously, 'Oh, you'll get over that
nonsense by and by; better than you have had to do it before
The day after her arrival, during the afternoon, Paul Wright had
ridden up to the house, dismounted, and had given orders to the boy
who took his horse from him, to turn it into the paddock, and, to the
great surprise of the whole household, he had remained there ever
since drinking heavily. It was very seldom that either of the Wrights
passed an hour at the 'Bushman's,' unless it was with the object of
catching the coach on its way down country. For this purpose they had
once or twice ordered a room for a few hours. But Burgiss knew that
they were among his most bitter opponents, on account of being
constant sufferers through the proximity of his house to their
shearing shed, which the men often left on Saturday evening, to
return heavy-eyed and incapable on Monday.
Hence his surprise at Paul's strange proceedings. At first he was
inclined to think some ruse was intended to bring about the loss of
his licence. But when he found that he only stayed there to drink and
sleep, and sleep and drink again, he determined to encourage so good
a customer, and laid himself out to do so.
When Paul wakened from the drunken stupor into which he had fallen
after being placed on his bed by his cousin, it was nearly two
o'clock. Herbert had not returned from his ride, and there was not a
drop of spirit of any kind available; for, as we know, he had taken
the precaution to pocket the key of the storeroom when he put away
the remainder of the whisky. Paul woke with a burning thirst upon
him, and an irresistible craving for more drink. He was like a
madman; all efforts to fight against his craving had now left him,
and his one thought--the one idea that now possessed his brain--was
to get more drink. The old housekeeper made and brought him a cup of
tea, and with tears in her eyes begged him to drink it; but he turned
from it roughly and rudely, and demanded the key of the
'Mr. Herbert has taken it, I think, sir,' was the reply.
'Then tell Jacky to run up my horse and saddle him at once,' was
the next order; and in less than half-an-hour she saw him stagger
from the house, and, after several ineffectual attempts to mount, he
finally scrambled into the saddle, and, to the horror and terror of
his faithful old servant, galloped away through the bush.
'Follow him, Jacky,' she said to the black boy, 'and see that he
don't come to any harm.'
Jacky did as he was instructed, not returning to the station till
late in the evening, when he informed the anxious household of their
The next day Herbert rode over and endeavoured to remonstrate with
his cousin, and begged of him to return home; but to no purpose. He
either could not, or would not, be stopped in his mad course now; and
very sorrowfully Herbert Wright rode home again, leaving him to his
fate. For the first two days he merely sat in one of the parlours by
himself, calling for drink after drink, until, completely overcome,
he sank into stupor, and so was conveyed to bed by Burgiss and one of
his men. After a while he became violent, occasionally breaking and
destroying glasses, decanters, anything, in fact, that came in his
way while drunk.
Though never before brought in immediate contact with drunkenness,
Nelly had heard and read a good deal about it and its fatal effects;
so it was with very great sorrow that she observed the hold it had
taken of this fine young fellow. Instinct told her he was worthy of a
better fate. That he was a gentleman she had heard from those in the
house, even had she not discovered the fact for herself from his
manner and address when sober, and therefore she all the more
deplored his terrible conduct and dreadful language when under the
influence of drink. Seeing him day by day falling lower and lower,
becoming more imbecile and sottish every hour, she pitied him from
the bottom of her tender womanly heart, and whenever circumstances
threw her in his way, tried to say a word or two of warning to him.
She had very soon learnt the nature of much of the business done in
the house. Her attention had been drawn to several cases of what she
called dishonesty--such as cheques abstracted from the pockets and
swags of sleeping men. Though she had not actually seen it done, she
knew it was so; and the iniquitous charges made for a few nights'
lodging, items charged for that never were ordered,--these sort of
doings soon opened Nelly's eyes to the kind of house 'The Bushman's
Rest' was, and made her long the more for the months to slip by till
she could be free to leave. She had felt drawn to Paul Wright from
the first, on account of a fancied resemblance he bore to an old
friend in England whose brother had married her only sister.
Day after day passed, and still Paul remained at 'The Bushman's
Rest' drinking. He was seldom sober for more than an hour or so at a
time; it seemed as if he could not keep from the drink long enough to
put the craving from him. One evening, when he had been about ten
days at the house, she was standing leaning over the low paling fence
which enclosed one side of the vegetable garden; she was at the very
corner, and overshadowed by a thick vine of creepers which shut in
the whole end of the verandah. It was quite dark, there being no
moon, and the hour was late. Nelly had wandered out to think, for
complications in her position were beginning to distress and alarm
her. That very day she had been grossly insulted by a teamster who
was camped within a short distance of the house; and it was not the
first time such a thing had occurred, though she had not been yet a
month there. The poor girl was utterly miserable, and so deeply
engrossed with her own thoughts, that she did not hear footsteps on
the verandah immediately above her till her attention was arrested by
the following words:--
'You're too blooming soft; there's Burgiss lambing him down fine,
why shouldn't you and me have our whack at him? I tell ye he's got
better nor seventy notes on him. This very evening I seen Bill the
driver hand 'em over when he came. And by the same token, I 'eard
Bill say, "You'd best let some one keep it for yer, Mr. Wright, ye'll
be losing it when ye're a bit on." But the other chap only laughed,
and said something 'bout the best man could keep it.'
Nelly listened breathlessly for the continuation of the
conversation; her heart was beating so loudly that she feared its
being heard. After a few minutes, during which she could gather that
one of the men, perhaps both, were filling their pipes, she heard the
match struck, and the odour of strong tobacco was borne to her on the
night air. After a few preliminary puffs, the conversation was
'What's yer dodge?' asked the man who had not yet spoken. 'I don't
care about too much violence, it don't pay.'
'Whose agoin' to use violence?' said the first speaker,
expectorating freely first. 'I've got a plan cut and dried. I've a
bottle of sleeping stuff; it's easy to drop a few drops of that into
his grog, even while ye're a-talking to him, and come back in
half-an-hour to find him as quiet as a hinfant; then just whip open
'is coat, and ye'll find the notes in a inside pocket, or else in his
trouser pocket, I dunno which he favours for keepin' of his
'Can't we do it without this stuff? He mightn't never wake, yer
see, and that'd be arkerd for us.'
'Do without the stuff? No, we can't, it ain't safe,' was the
reply. 'He's a stiff 'un in a row, and as fly as a fox even when he
is drunk,--keeps his pockets buttoned, in case o' accidents. I seen
him do it many a time the last week, and I heard him tellin'
There was a long pause, as if both men were considering the
matter, then at last the other said,--
'Oh, all right, mate; I'm with yer, and the sooner we get about
the business the better and the quicker it'll be over. Here, where's
yer sleeping stuff?--come on.' And both speakers moved away beyond
hearing; but not till Nelly had gathered their full meaning, and also
recognised both men. One was the bullock driver who had attempted to
kiss her that morning; the other, a young fellow who had arrived to
join him in the down coach the day before.
I have already said that Nelly felt a strange interest in Paul
Wright, confirmed drunkard though he appeared to her. She was
grateful to him for many little attentions he paid her. Whenever he
was sober for an hour or two, he would usually find his way into the
little parlour where Nelly sat with her work or the accounts; and
though she instinctively felt that he looked upon her as no better
than a superior servant, she had too much common sense to resent it,
for she reasoned, what does he know of me or my history? Two days
before, he had knocked a tipsy jockey off his chair at the breakfast
table for addressing a rude remark to her. Was it any wonder, then,
that her starving heart grasped at ever so small a kindness, even
from one who appeared so depraved as our hero? For a few moments
after the men had ceased speaking, Nelly waited in her secluded
corner, half-frightened at her own thoughts, which urged her to
protect this tipsy young man from these robbers. She crept through a
hole in the fence, intending to cross the road and pass before the
house, which was lighted brilliantly, for the purpose of seeing where
the conspirators were. It was dark, the sky being covered with dark
clouds, which portended a heavy downpour before morning, so she
easily gained the opposite side of the road. Here she stood, almost
too terrified to carry out her design; but a shadow on the
window-blind of the room where she knew Paul Wright was either
sitting or sleeping decided her, and she ran along quickly, till by
stooping she could get a view under the blind--which did not quite
reach to the bottom--of all that went on in the room. She saw Paul
Wright's figure leaning back in his chair, his feet elevated to the
table, his pipe in his mouth, his eyes closed in sleep,--apparently
he was quite incapable, and in a drunken stupor. Beside him stood a
bottle and a glass, the latter half full. She reached her coign of
vantage just in time to see one of the men she had heard talking, in
the very act of pouring some liquid from a small bottle into the
tumbler beside the drunken man.
He stood close behind Paul's chair, his hand, in which was the
bottle, raised some six or eight inches above the glass. She could
almost count the drops as they fell into it. Once the sleeping man
stirred, and the pipe fell from his lips on to his lap. The
conspirator merely closed his hand on the vial and turned round,
pretending to examine the clock upon the mantel--shelf. But Paul
slept on, and once more the hand was extended, and a few drops from
the bottle again poured into the tumbler of spirits. At first Nelly's
impulse had been to call out and surprise the man and waken the
sleeper. But an instant's thought decided her to watch, and in some
other way try and frustrate the designs of the two robbers, and bring
them to justice. As she gazed upon the scene before her, and beheld
what she supposed was poison being deliberately put for a helpless
and unconscious man to take, she could hardly breathe for nervous
excitement; several times she nearly betrayed her presence by an
exclamation of horror, for though at the opposite side of the road to
the house, she was quite near enough to be both heard and seen had
she spoken or moved. But her spirit was roused now, and she resolved
to save Paul Wright from the thieves he had fallen amongst. She saw
the man raise the small bottle to the light to see how much there
still remained in it. For a few seconds he appeared debating with
himself as to whether to give more or not; then, with a glance at the
sleeping man beneath him, he once more held the bottle above the
glass, and poured all that was left into it. Then, to her great
relief, she saw him steal softly from the room without awakening the
sleeper, as she had at first supposed he would. She waited to see him
join his companion on the verandah, then very quickly she retraced
her steps, crept through the fence as before, and regained the house
just as Burgiss, half tipsy, was staggering off to his bed, having
just put all the lights out. She knew the two men were on the
verandah, evidently intending to wait a certain time for the house to
become quiet, and their victim under the influence of the drug they
had prepared for him. Nelly trembled so terribly that she found
herself obliged to stand still every few steps or she would have
fallen; she was in a pitable state of nervous fright that Paul would
waken and drink the stuff prepared for him before she could reach him
and prevent it. She had to wait till Burgiss had disappeared within
his room before she could enter the house, which, after the usual
custom in the bush, was left open all night; then, very swiftly and
silently, she sped through the passage, and reached the door of Paul
Wright's sitting-room, which she opened very softly, and, gliding in,
closed as softly behind her. The room was in total darkness, Burgiss
having turned out the lamp; however, she knew where the glass was,
having seen it from across the road, and, reaching the table, she now
began to feel about for it. Her heart was beating like a
sledge-hammer within her bosom, and her hands trembled as if she had
palsy. A hidden fear came upon her (as she failed to find the
tumbler) that Paul had drunk its contents while she had been coming
to him, and in the excitement of her movements and gropings about the
table the bottle was knocked over, and fell to the ground. It did not
break; but the cork was knocked out, and the contents consequently
flowed all over the floor, filling the room with the all-powerful
odour of whisky. She stooped to pick up the bottle, and, as she rose
with it in her hand, a match was hastily struck, almost in her face,
and she met Paul Wright's eye fixed upon her in unfeigned half-tipsy
'What do you want?' he asked angrily, just suppressing an oath, as
he saw the intruder was a woman.
A burning blush suffused the fair face of the embarrassed girl,
and she would have flown from the room, but she remembered that the
fatal tumbler was not yet found. She did not know how to explain her
errand; her courage had all deserted her, and she felt as if about to
faint. After some little difficulty, Paul had managed to relight the
lamp; but his hands shook so, that he was quite unable to place the
globe on it, and after several futile efforts he desisted, letting
the light flare and smoke upon the table between them. He was about
to address his companion, when he stopped and glanced at the bottle,
now very nearly empty. 'Not much there,' he said, 'you'll have to get
me another bottle.' At that instant Nelly noticed the tumbler, and to
her great relief it was still half full. Paul saw it at the same
moment, and, with a nod and tipsy smile, lifted it to his lips. But
the next instant tumbler and contents were both dashed out of his
hand on to the floor, astonishing him past all power of speech.
Though considerably muddled, he was not so tipsy as Nelly imagined;
his sleep had sobered him to a great extent, and her extraordinary
onslaught brought him completely to his senses, though he could only
look at her in surprise and wonder. When she met his astonished gaze,
she whispered hurriedly,--
'Pray forgive my violence, sir; but I came here purposely to
prevent you drinking that glass of spirits. It was drugged. I saw
that man who came by the down coach yesterday, dropping some liquid
into it while you lay asleep in your chair there,' pointing to where
he had been seated. 'For God's sake, Mr. Wright,' she continued,
laying her hand upon his arm in her earnestness, 'don't drink any
more in this house. If you must drink, let it be in your own home,
where there is no danger of your being robbed or murdered, as there
is in a disreputable house like this.'
She spoke so quickly and nervously, that the half-stupefied man
could barely catch her words. He smiled at her eagerness, and asked
'If it's so disreputable, why do you stop here, then?'
'Ah, why indeed?' was the answer; 'because I can't leave
it,--because I've no money to take me away till my time is up. But
you--you have nothing to prevent your leaving, save this wretched
drink! Ah, Mr. Wright, do leave it and go home; you are just killing
yourself, and wasting your manhood.'
For a moment or so he appeared to feel her words, and looked away
as if ashamed to meet her eyes. But suddenly turning roughly upon
her, he exclaimed,--
'What's it got to do with you, I'd like to know? Here, pass me
that bottle, there's another nip in it.'
Nelly had her hand on the bottle all the while she was speaking.
As he asked for it, and stretched out his hand to take it, she looked
fixedly at him, and replied,--
'No, sir, I will not give it to you. Don't you believe what I have
just been telling you, that at this moment thieves are only waiting
till they think you sufficiently far gone to rob, perhaps murder you.
Don't you understand me, or do you not believe my word?'
'Oh yes, I believe you right enough, and I'm much obliged to you
for letting me know. But I must have another nip to steady me to face
them,' he said, still unable directly to meet her glance.
'No, you shall not have any more drink,' she returned decidedly;
'if you do, you will not be able to grapple with those men if they do
attack you. Go to your room, sir, and lock the door, that will be the
best plan; and leave me to tell Mr. Burgiss to-morrow about what I
saw and heard.'
'All right,' he said. 'Give me just one more nip and I'll go,--I
must have it, see how I shake all over; and I am too far gone now to
stop in a hurry,--just give me that drop you have in the bottle, and
then I'll go off to bed quietly.' There was an anxious, wild look in
his eyes, and he kept glancing over his shoulder, as if fearing an
attack from some one behind him. Nelly stood considering for a while
whether to give him what was still left in the bottle or not. She
could hear the footsteps of the teamster and his mate, as now and
then they passed the window, no doubt wondering what she was doing in
their would-be victim's room. It was this sound that decided her, and
very reluctantly she handed over the bottle, saying,--
'Well, here you are, sir, drink it, and then pray go to your room
for the night.'
He seized the bottle and glass from the mantelpiece, and, pouring
out what there was of the spirit, he drank it greedily without adding
any water at all. Then, putting down the tumbler, he let her lead him
towards his bedroom door. She saw him disappear within; then turning
out the lamp, she closed and locked the outside door of the parlour,
thus locking Paul in, and retired to her own room, having first
convinced herself that the two men were still upon the verandah,
waiting, no doubt, till the house was in darkness ere they visited
Next morning Nelly informed Burgiss of all she had seen and heard,
and consequently the teamster and his ruffian mate were turned away
from the house; nor were they seen again at 'The Bushman's Rest' for
many a long day.
Signs of delirium now began to show themselves in Paul Wright,
which was not very surprising, considering that for the last
fortnight he had been drinking on an average between two and three
bottles of spirits a day. Burgiss, who apparently was well skilled in
the disease, took charge of him entirely, and Nelly, as she passed
the room wherein the sick man lay, was horrified at his fearful
ravings and cries of terror. One afternoon he escaped, and rushed
away into the bush, under the impression that some one was pursuing
to kill him. But they brought him back again, and from that day till
he was considered nearly well, he was closely watched and guarded.
For ten days he was very ill, and then came the long and weary
convalescence, when the once strong, handsome young man emerged from
his room a perfect wreck of what he had been only so short a time
back. It was during these days he first began to notice that the
pretty young girl, acting as servant and housekeeper in this wretched
wayside public-house, was superior to any of her class whom he had
And now sprang up a sincere friendship between the two. How it
first began neither of them exactly remembered, but from the night
Nelly had warned him of his danger from the teamster and his mate,
and had actually saved him from them, Paul Wright began to feel an
interest in the young girl, and when well enough to walk about he
sought her society constantly, and bit by bit heard from her her sad
story, and how she came to be in her present position.
There was no flirtation between them, it was simply a case of pure
friendship, and on Nelly's part pity for one who was cursed with so
terrible a vice as intemperance. Her heart was very tender at all
times, and more especially now that she was so lonely.
When once more the craving for drink possessed Paul, she tried to
persuade him not to give way to it, using all her eloquence on behalf
of his better nature. She made him the strongest beef-tea and soups,
and coaxed him to take them, in the hope that they would supply the
want. But in vain; the madness was upon him, the terrible thirst for
stimulant, and before it all her efforts were as grass before flame.
And yet he did fight against it, tried with all his strength to
resist the temptation. He would often put down the glass just as it
touched his lips, and go away to his room for perhaps an hour at a
time. He sent to town for all the advertised remedies against
drunkenness,--so-called cures,--which he swallowed eagerly, and in
the hope of casting out the devil that possessed him. Sometimes for a
day or two he would fancy himself cured, then disturbing thoughts
would come. Maud's fair face would rise before him, reminding him of
her loss--thoughts of his dreary future without her, and without
anything to live for. And in desperation to get rid of his wretched
thoughts, and to forget how low he had fallen, he would rush to the
bar, and before he could reason against it, would swallow glass after
glass, till his brain was clouded and reason gone. At other times it
would be the smell of the spirits as he passed the bar. In vain he
would walk away out of the house, away into the paddock, in the fresh
sweet air that should have been nectar to an unvitiated palate. Yet
after a while he would find himself impelled by a force within him,
and stronger than his better nature, to turn and retrace his steps,
till he stood before the bar, and held the drink to his lips.
'Let it kill me,' he said, in reply to Nelly's warning that such
would be his fate. 'Let it kill me, I do not care.'
'And are there not others to care, Mr. Wright? How will they feel
when they hear of your terrible end?' she continued.
'There are no others to care,' he said gloomily. 'I haven't a
relation in the world, or a friend either, who will care a brass
farthing what becomes of me, or what death I die;' and with these
words, and a sneer upon his still handsome face, he raised the glass
of whisky to his lips.
But Nelly quickly placed her hand over it, and his moustache just
brushed the back of her fingers. 'I care, Mr. Wright,' she said,--'I
care very, very much. You are the only friend I have in all the
country, the only one who has said a civil word to me since I landed
He laid the glass down with a strange look in his eyes,
'I daresay you wonder what makes me so reckless just now? I never
used to be. They could tell you here that I never drank a glass of
anything stronger than lemonade until five weeks ago. I gave it up
for good and all, I thought, seven years back, when a girl at home
promised to be my wife. She vowed she'd wait for me till I had a home
for her. This year I meant to go and fetch her; but my cousin, a rich
man, stepped in, and she has married him. She jilted me for him,--a
little hop-o'-my-thumb, who wears stays, curls his hair, and is at
heart the lowest little brute in creation. By Jove! if ever I do go
home, I'll kick him first, and wring his wretched little neck
Nelly laughed at his vehemence, as she said,--
'If he is all you say, surely he is not worth losing your temper
'No, he is not, I admit,' he answered quickly. 'Nor is she either,
I suppose; but it is she who has sent me to the devil this time,
'Oh, hush, hush!' Nelly said, horrified. 'Remember, "curses, like
chickens, come home to roost."'
Again he would have raised the glass of whisky to his lips, when
she said gently,--
'Come, Mr. Wright, be a man, and don't give any woman the chance
of boasting that you loved her so much that you couldn't live without
her, or that you killed yourself for her sake. See, let me throw out
that nasty stuff and bring you a glass of milk instead.
'Indeed I won't,' he said sullenly, and drank off the spirits.
Grieved and disappointed, Nelly gathered up her work and left the
verandah, where they had been sitting together; nor did she appear
again for some hours. When Paul did come across her again, her eyes
were red as though she had been crying.
'You've been crying,' he said at once, in surprise. 'Has any one
been bullying you?'
'No, oh no, Mr. Wright,' was the reply; 'I had a bad headache,'
and she escaped from his questioning gaze.
But Paul Wright pondered it over, and wondered vaguely whether it
could be on his account that those handsome eyes were swollen and
red. The thought that perhaps it was the case gave him a strange
quick thrill of pleasure, and in the very act of refilling his glass
he paused, and the next moment flung the contents of both glass and
bottle out over the verandah. Then going to find Nelly, he told her
what he had done and why, and was rewarded by such a sweet smile and
words of encouragement, that he began to think seriously of
attempting to give up drink again for Nelly's sake. He was not at all
in love with her; indeed, no thought of the kind had ever crossed his
mind in relation to her. His thoughts were all about Maud, when he
was sober enough to think at all; and his heart was so sore at her
desertion and cruel treatment, that there was no room as yet for
At the same time, he was in that state when a clever woman could
have caught his heart in the rebound by laying herself out to do
But Nelly Dunne was not that kind of girl; and, apart from the
sorrow and regret she could not help feeling for Paul himself at
times, she felt a loathing and horror of his besetting sin. Never
once had it crossed her mind to engage even his attention, much less
his love; and though they had drifted upon occasions into very
confidential conversations, it had all been on the spur of the
moment, and on her side at least had been regretted afterwards. Her
only reason for allowing him to sit so much with her, and in her
sitting-room, was because she hoped thus to keep him from drinking in
the bar, and mixing with the rough company that frequented the
As may be supposed, the intimacy between the two was not allowed
to go unnoticed or unremarked, and jests were made and bandied about
from one to the other very freely on their account. At a house such
as was 'The Bushman's Rest' they are not very particular, and often
things are said--remarks passed and laughed over--which in reality
are not meant, or even really believed by those who say them.
Thus remarks were made, Nelly's and Paul's actions and words
watched, and meanings attached to them which neither of them ever
intended or thought of. Nelly it was who heard most of this. The men
'chaffed' her, and talked at her, and in her hearing, till the poor
girl was nearly mad with disgust, shame, and fear lest such things
should come to Mr. Wright's ears, and shock his sense of refinement,
or make him think her as vulgar and coarse-minded as those with whom
Thinking and brooding over all this, it was little wonder that she
began to avoid Paul, and, when they did meet, became as stiff and
cold in her manner as possible; the result being that, left to
himself, thrown as it were back upon himself and his own miserable
thoughts, he again gave way to drink.
When Nelly had first come to 'The Bushman's Rest,' Burgiss had
taken a violent fancy to her; and, being an unprincipled, bad man,
had endeavoured to make her aware of his feelings, greatly to her
horror and disgust. Upon two occasions he had attempted rough
familiarities with her in an apparently good-tempered manner, and
each time had been pretty severely punished for his horseplay. The
first time an ornament in her hair had scratched his face from eye to
chin, making an ugly scar for some days. The next time a fork she
held in her hand at the moment, and with which she defended herself,
had pierced his arm, and made a rather bad wound. But his actual
wounds were nothing to the soreness of his feelings, for the young
girl hurled the bitterest terms of loathing and contempt at him. Over
and over again he had returned to the charge, till Nelly was
well-nigh desperate, and thought seriously of asking Bill the driver
to give her a free passage down in the coach as far as the nearest
town. But Mrs. Burgiss was expected home any mail day, and Nelly
lived in the hope that when she returned she would either be allowed
to leave, or else her life be made more bearable. Whatever Burgiss'
feelings had been in the beginning for Nelly, they had very soon
turned to bitterest hatred, though he covered it with a pleasant
face, while biding his time to pay her out for the fancied slights
she had put upon him. For one thing, he resented her interference
with Paul's doings, telling her plainly that it was her duty to
encourage him to drink rather than discourage him, on account of his
custom. One day he said to her, 'What business have you to keep
telling him to go home? you ought to make yourself pleasant enough
instead, to keep him dangling after you. The more he drinks, and the
longer he's here, the better for me. And I pay you to do my business;
and part of it is to draw fellows to the house, not to send them
away. Now, mind that, Miss Slyboots, or I may have to make yer.'
Poor Nelly had felt humiliated enough before, but when she was
actually told that she was expected to attract men to the house to
drink and spend money, her feelings were very much outraged, and, had
she been able to get away at all, or even had sufficient money to
take her to the next town, she would have gone in spite of her
agreement. But, alas! she had only a few shillings in the world, and
Bill, who might have helped her, was away taking another driver's
place for a month or so. No, she was helpless, and no one knew it
better than Burgiss.
Two or three nights after the above incidents, Nelly went to bed
earlier than usual, with a bad headache. She lay awake thinking for
some time, but finally dropped off to sleep, and was suddenly
awakened by the feeling, more than the sound, of some one moving in
her room. She sat up in the bed and asked, 'Is that you, Kitty?'
thinking that possibly the half-caste girl had come in to see how she
was, as she often did when Nelly was not well. But there was no
reply; and, after she had twice put the question, she concluded that
she was mistaken, or that possibly a cat in the stable below her room
had caused the sound, and she lay down again. But she had hardly
dozed off, when once more awakened, this time by what sounded
suspiciously like a stealthy footstep on her floor, and she also
fancied she could hear some one breathing close to her. Terrified
now, and trembling in every limb, she stretched out her hand for the
matches, which as usual she had left on the corner of the box-table
within her reach. She secured them, and was just about to strike a
light, when her hand was grasped and held as in a vice, while a voice
hissed out the words, 'Screech, and I'll put a knife into you.'
Utterly regardless of the terrible threat, she gave two or three
piercing shrieks for help, which very promptly brought Paul Wright to
her assistance. It happened that Paul, who, as usual, had been
drinking heavily all day, towards night had fallen into a sound
sleep, from which he wakened sober, or nearly so; and, beginning to
think about himself, and all Nelly had impressed upon him as to the
probable result of his course of conduct, he suddenly asked himself
if there was nothing he could live for? He was conscious that his
feelings had undergone a change with regard to the young housekeeper
within the last three days. Accidentally he had overheard part of a
conversation between her and Burgiss, and her emphatic reply to the
effect that she would never cease her efforts to prevent him drinking
so long as she had breath to speak, had touched a chord in the
drunkard's heart, and made him wonder how it was this girl took such
an interest in him, and why he could not repay her better than he
Burgiss had said to her sneeringly, 'If yer think he's after yer
to marry yer, yer can put the notion out o' yer head. He'd sooner cut
his throat than marry a girl out o' this house, or any other o' the
gents either,--so there!' And Nelly had replied bitterly, 'I never
had such a thought, and you have no right to say I had. Do you think
I don't know that no honest man, gentle or simple, would dream of
offering marriage to a girl who has lived in this house? Do you think
I don't feel the indignity of living beneath this roof, and that it
will cling to me always? Yes, you may well say no man would ever
marry a girl from here,--and Mr. Wright least of all. But as I am
here, I'll try and do some good. I'll save him from your toils, see
if I don't. Let me once see you trying to drug his drink again, as
you did the other night, and I'll tell him there and then. I can't
always save him from you, but I'll give him the means of saving
himself by telling him.'
Paul had been lying half-asleep in one of the parlours when this
conversation began, but he was very wide-awake before the end, and
was just meditating discovering himself, when some one entered the
room where the speakers were, and so put an end to it.
It had taken place in the afternoon, and all night Paul lay awake
thinking over it, and also thinking a great deal about Nelly, and
what she had said both to and of him. Did she care at all for him, or
whether he lived or died? How would it be if he were to marry her? He
knew her to be a good, honest girl, far superior to most of the girls
he had met in the bush. He wanted an object in life; he firmly
believed that if he had one he would reform. Nelly was miserable in
this house; why should they not marry and be a mutual help to each
other? Many men and women had come together from more ignoble causes.
He took a sudden resolve to follow Nelly's advice, and leave 'The
Bushman's Rest' at once, late as it was. Yes, he would 'sober up,'
and then if Nelly would marry him he would be grateful and do all he
could to make her happy.
He knew there was a horse in the small paddock adjoining the
house, one his cousin had led over that morning, in the hope that
Paul would be induced to come home with him on his return from a
neighbouring station, where he was going on business. Fearing to let
his good resolution cool, he started at once for the stable to
procure a halter with which to catch the horse, and it was just as he
reached the gate leading to the stables that Nelly's terrified scream
for help fell upon his ears. He had to stand still and listen before
he could be sure from where the sound came, or in which direction he
should turn to render help. As soon as he realised that it was from
the room over the stables, he was not long in making his way there.
He stumbled up the narrow staircase or ladder, and, when his foot was
on the last step, he was almost thrown back by a man rushing from the
room past him. He tried to stop him, but in saving himself from being
thrown to the bottom, the other wrenched himself out of his grasp and
fled away in the dark.
When he reached the room and struck a match, he was horrified to
find Nelly lying in the middle of the floor in a dead faint. For a
second or two he gazed at her and around him in bewildered
'What was the meaning of it all?' he asked himself. 'Was it a bad
dream, or was he still under the influence of drink?' The squalid
room, the mean bed, the young girl (whom he had really believed to be
good and pure), and the strange man rushing away like a thief or
worse. 'What did it mean? Was he wronging her in his thoughts? Was
she all he had fancied her, and was this man who had rushed past him
in the darkness a scoundrel, a destroyer?' Thus wondering, he stooped
down and gently raised the senseless girl in his arms and laid her on
the bed, lightly throwing over her its mean and scanty coverings.
Then he found some water and bathed her head, dipping his
handkerchief into the tumbler. The only evidence of ill--usage
apparent was a dark bruise on the left temple. While thus occupied,
he could not help noticing the extreme purity of the young girl's
complexion, and the sad curves of the drooping mouth, which could be
firm and stern enough in denunciation of evil. A strange tenderness
and great pity came over the dissipated man for the lonely young
girl, so defenceless in this bush public-house. He thought of her as
he had seen her so often, treating with silent contempt the jests and
jokes of the ribald men who frequented the house, and who seemed to
look upon her as fair game for their low, coarse wit. Now that he was
sober he loathed himself, and the hot blood came to his face as he
remembered the state of disgusting intoxication in which Nelly had so
often seen him; he felt utterly contemptible before this girl, whom
he intuitively knew to be good and pure, and whose influence had
constantly been used to save him from himself. All her words and
advice came back to him with tenfold force, and there and then he
registered a silent vow to try and deserve her good opinion in
future. In the meantime the tired soul of poor Nelly came slowly back
to its earthly tenement. With a soft little sigh she opened her
bewildered eyes, to gaze in horror and amazement on the face of the
man for whom she was conscious of feeling more than ordinary
'Oh,' she exclaimed, with a great disappointment sweeping over her
fair face, 'was it you? Oh, Mr. Wright, what made you come here?
'What have I done that you should think'--
'For God's sake, Nelly,' he interrupted, 'don't so mistake me; I'd
as soon think of insulting my own sister as you. I heard you scream
as I was coming to the stable for a halter to catch my horse, for I
had made up my mind to follow your advice and to clear out of this
cursed place, and I came to your assistance, to find you insensible
on the floor, so I lifted you on to the bed; that's the true
explanation of my presence here. And now, as you are all right again,
tell me if you can what happened, and who the scoundrel was, do you
think, whom I met rushing from the room? I'll go and settle with
She covered her face with her hands and tried to think; her head
felt sore and stupid; but after a few minutes she remembered what had
taken place, and in a few hurried words told Paul. Then quite assured
that she was better, and not likely to faint again, he was on the
point of leaving the room, when the door was pushed back, and the
angry, evil-looking face of Burgiss appeared.
'What the d--is the meaning of this row?' he asked; but without
waiting for any reply he turned to the girl with a diabolical sneer,
saying, 'O ho! my lady; so after all ye're no better than the rest o'
'em, with all yer fine airs.'
Hardly were the words out of his mouth before Paul Wright sprang
upon him; and doubtless the brute would have fared badly, but
suddenly the thought of the defenceless girl, in whose room they
were, made him withhold the blow, and say to Burgiss, 'If you have an
ounce of manhood in you, remember where we are, and come away out of
this--we'll have it out below.' Then he turned to leave the room; but
before he was half down the ladder Nelly was beside him, her hand
firmly grasping his arm.
'Mr. Wright, oh, sir, don't fight him,' she begged. 'He is a bad,
bad man, and will kill you,--I know he will,' and she burst into
'Don't be foolish, Nelly,' he said to her. 'Go back to your bed,
and try and get some sleep after this excitement. You'll have to
leave here in the morning, for you can't possibly stay on after all
this; so, like a good girl, go and rest, and leave it all to me. As
I've got you into the row, I'll see you through it.'
'But you won't fight him, sir,--promise me you won't?' she begged
Paul stood thinking for a minute, then he said, 'Well, no, I won't
fight him, if that will satisfy you; now, go back and get some rest
And then she went, though only half satisfied.
Burgiss was that pitiful thing, a bully; and when he saw that Paul
Wright was determined to fight, he tried to laugh the whole matter
off as a practical joke. But Paul was thoroughly angry--the
excitement had done him good, and made a man of him again. When he
saw that Burgiss was not willing to fight him, he strode away through
the yard to his room, returning in a few minutes with the cutting
whip he usually carried when not out on the run.
Burgiss was standing in the centre of a group of men, teamsters,
bushmen, and loafers, who had been awakened by the noise, explaining
to them the reason of it all, or rather he was giving his own version
of the scene, which I may say was hardly within miles of the true
one. As Paul Wright approached they did not see him, and he had time
to hear one or two expressions uncomplimentary to Nelly fall from
Burgiss' lips before he was observed. Directly he came among them the
men fell back, and one or two of them slunk away into the stable
shamed; but Burgiss stood his ground till he noticed the whip in his
opponent's hand, and then with one spring he made for the ladder to
Nelly's room, doubtless intending to protect himself in her presence.
But Paul was too quick for him, and caught him just as his foot was
on the last step. He dragged him down and out into the yard, where he
administered to him as sound a thrashing as only the arm of an angry
man can; then he flung him into a corner on to a heap of broken
bottles, where the pitiful cur lay groaning and crying till some of
his hired creatures carried him away to his bed.
Paul returned to his own room, and vainly racked his brains trying
to think of a way to help poor Nelly out of her present difficulty.
Suddenly he remembered a young couple who were living on a selection
some miles the other side of the station, and he began to wonder
whether they might not be persuaded to give the helpless girl shelter
until such time as she could obtain another situation, for he knew
there could be no question of her stopping at 'The Bushman's Rest'
after what had taken place. He would go and see these people, and ask
them as a personal favour to himself to take Nelly for a while.
Having made up his mind, he drew out his note-book and wrote upon one
'I go to try and find a new home for you with friends; will be
back by dinner time, if possible. Trust me, and believe me your
He tore out the page, folded it in half, and then once more
started out to catch his horse. As he had to go to the stable for his
bridle, he went up the ladder to Nelly's room and pushed his note
underneath the door; then, satisfied that she would not think he had
deserted her in her trouble, he went down the paddock, caught and
saddled his horse, and was soon galloping away through the sweet
crisp morning air towards his own home.
In the meantime poor Nelly was suffering all the pangs of fear for
Paul's safety, and reproaching herself for being the cause of the
trouble. It was quite beyond her power to take rest, she did not even
try, so, huddling on her clothes, she wrapped a waterproof round her
and sat down by the open window (for it had only a wooden shutter) to
think. She had hardly taken this position when she heard Paul's
voice, the rush up to her door, and then the abject cries of the
pitiful coward as he received the beating he so richly deserved. As
she listened to the merciless blows that fell from Paul's strong arm,
she found it in her heart to pity the unfortunate creature though he
so richly deserved it. It was nearly an hour after this that she
again heard steps upon the ladder leading to her room, and just as
she had begun to prepare herself for some further development of her
employer's spite, she saw the slip of white paper pushed under the
door, and when the footsteps had once more died away she secured it,
and read the message Paul had sent to reassure her in her loneliness.
And it had the effect of comforting her. She felt, after reading
those few words, that he was, and really meant to be, her friend; and
with a sigh of relief she threw herself upon her bed and sobbed
herself to sleep.
The people whom Paul Wright purposed appealing to on Nelly's
behalf were a young couple named Carrington, living on a small
selection some four or five miles from Morven Plains. They were
people who had at one time been very well to do. Mrs. Carrington's
father was a Presbyterian minister, who periodically went round the
different stations holding services, performing christenings,
marriages, burials, etc. He was almost entirely supported by the
squatters and selectors in the district, though, as a matter of fact,
he had a church and manse in one of the neighbouring towns. Of late
years, however, the old man had elected to live with his daughter and
her husband almost entirely, giving up his manse to a younger man. He
was not dependent upon his people; on the contrary, he was in receipt
of an income from property at home of £200 a year. His name was
Garvie, and a very popular, good old man he was, while the
Carringtons were to less popular. The Wrights had known Mr. Garvie
ever since they had been in the district, and since the Carringtons
had come to live so close to them a great intimacy had sprung up
between the two families. Paul Wright was a special favourite with
Mrs. Carrington, to whom he had confided all his love story; and when
she had heard from Herbert about his unaccountable outbreak, her
woman's instinct had led her to the true solution of the mystery.
The Carringtons were just sitting down to their breakfast when
Paul rode up to the house.
'You are just in time for breakfast, Mr. Wright,' was Mrs.
Carrington's greeting as she shook hands with him in the passage
between the house and the kitchen. 'Go to George's room and get a
wash--I think you'll find him there too;' and the kindly little lady
bustled away to lay a plate and get a cup and saucer for the
Paul did as desired, hoping for an opportunity at breakfast to
introduce the subject of his early visit.
Mr. Carrington and Mr. Garvie were no less kind in their welcome
than Mrs. Carrington,--all strove to do him honour, and to ignore his
late outburst. Indeed, he began to ponder whether they knew of it or
not, and wondered if he would have to give an account of his own
doings as a reason for knowing all about Nelly. However, when
breakfast was over, Mr. Carrington was called away, and Mr. Garvie
had a letter to write which he wished Paul to post, so finally Paul
found himself alone with his hostess, and free to tell his story. And
this he did, at first with many haltings and breaks; but when he came
to the events of the night before, his words flew glibly enough, and
he became quite excited.
'Then what is it you want me to do?' she asked, when he had
finished his strange story.
'Just what your own kind heart dictates,' was his reply. 'It is
quite certain the girl cannot stop where she is after what has
happened, and I, of course, would do more harm than good by appearing
at all in the matter except through some woman.'
'Yes, I understand the position,' Mrs. Carrington said
thoughtfully. 'And you say she is, you think, a lady by birth?'
'Yes, I am certain of it,' Paul Wright replied impulsively.
'Well, I must see George; and if he says yes, I will go back at
once with you and see her, and offer her an asylum here.'
'Oh, you are good, Mrs. Carrington!' Paul said, grasping her hand
warmly. 'I shall be so grateful, for I feel as if it were almost my
'Oh, I don't see that exactly,' was Mrs. Carrington's reply; 'for,
of course, you only did as any man worthy of the name would have done
in going to her relief. However, here comes George--I will go and see
what he says; and you can tell one of the boys to run up the buggy
horses, for I know George will say go.'
But Mr. Carrington was not so willing to allow his wife to pay a
visit to 'The Bushman's Rest,' or to accept any one from there as an
inmate of their home even in the capacity of a servant. Like every
other man in the district, he had heard of the place and its lawless
character, and therefore was very doubtful about any one who had
been, or was, an inmate of the house. However, the matter was decided
by old Mr. Garvie, who said that he would go back with Paul and
George, and if Nelly appeared all that he represented, they would
offer her a home, and bring her back with them.
By eight o'clock that night Nelly was an inmate of Mrs.
Carrington's little home, having favourably impressed the old
minister as well as his son-in--law, George Carrington, who had gone
to 'The Bushman's Rest' quite prepared to find her the very reverse
of what she appeared.
And now began a very happy time for Nelly Dunne. Mrs. Carrington
was her firm friend; the two women had been drawn towards each other
by many similar tastes. Nelly sketched well, so did Mrs. Carrington,
so they often took their materials and drove out together to
different spots about the station for the purpose of sketching. Then
Nelly played and sang well and brilliantly, accomplishments her
hostess was not perfect in; so Nelly undertook to give her lessons
while she was there, for she had at once put an advertisement into
the Sydney papers for a situation as governess. And all the time Paul
Wright used to visit the selection on an average four times a week,
on the pretence of helping Mr. Carrington with some fencing he was
doing. Several times the ladies had been to Morven Plains to spend a
day, or to sketch some specially interesting piece of scenery. Mrs.
Carrington saw plainly what his motive was in coming so often; but
she was too wise to speak to Nelly about it, though she most honestly
hoped that a match would result between the two.
One afternoon when the mail-bag arrived there was a letter for
Miss Dunne from a lady near Sydney, who wanted a governess and
companion to travel with her and two little girls. It appeared to be
a most suitable situation, the very thing to suit Nelly; but though
admitting all this, Mrs. Carrington was loath to let her send a reply
until Paul Wright had heard of it. So, having persuaded her to wait
till next mail-day, Mrs. Carrington wrote and told Paul Wright that
Miss Dunne had found a situation, and would be leaving them very
shortly, unless he could manage to prevent it. And she wound up by
advising him to come over on the following day and take Nelly for a
last ride,--a hint he was quite willing to accept.
Accordingly next morning he rode over just at lunch-time, and
during the meal asked the ladies if they would go for a ride. Nelly
never had ridden alone with Paul Wright, and Mrs. Carrington guessed
she would not do so now, unless she contrived in such a way that she
could not avoid it. So she at once said, 'Oh yes, they could go, she
thought;' and Nelly expressed her willingness also. But when the
horses were led up saddled and ready, and Nelly had even mounted,
Mrs. Carrington came on to the verandah in her morning gown, looking
the picture of (pretended) misery, and declaring that she had the
most excruciating faceache, and could not possibly go for the
'But you can go, Nelly; it need not make any difference to you,
and particularly as this may be your last ride, dear.'
'Oh no, I'd rather not go,' Nelly began hurriedly, and preparing
to dismount from her saddle, when Paul Wright came up to her and
whispered, 'Why will you not go, Nelly? You may trust yourself to my
escort, believe me,' in such an earnest tone, that she could not
They rode along for three or four miles conversing on indifferent
subjects,--Paul fearing, yet anxious to make the request that was
trembling on his lips, and Nelly wondered why he was so unusually
excited; for, though conscious that she loved him, she had never once
allowed herself to dream of a future in which Paul Wright should have
a part. They had both been silent for some moments, when suddenly
'Did you hear, Mr. Wright, that I have at last the prospect of
getting a situation?'
'Yes, Mrs. Carrington told me something about it, but I trust it
is not true, Nelly. Surely you are not so tired of us all that you
want to run away?'
'No, no; that is not the question at all. I must work and earn my
living, Mr. Wright. I cannot afford to live on in idleness.'
For several moments Paul Wright made no reply, and they rode on in
silence. He was debating in his own mind whether he had any right to
ask this girl to share his life when he had so little confidence in
himself. At last he said,--
'Nelly, you know the worst of me--you have seen me make a beast of
myself, and you know my story. Yet, in spite of it all, will you
marry me? Don't answer in a hurry, dear. I believe I could make you
happy; and more than that, I feel quite confident that your influence
could and would keep me straight. I am not such a bad fellow at
heart. I am weak, I suppose, but for any one I loved I could do
anything. And, Nelly dear, I do love you. I know what you will
say--that it is not so long since I told you I loved some one else;
that is true enough, but since I have known you that is altered. I
could at this very moment find it in my heart to write and thank Maud
for having thrown me over. You want a home, Nelly, and I want a wife;
say you'll marry me, and continue the good work you have begun.'
'No, Mr. Wright,' Nelly replied. 'You have made a mistake; it is
only pity you feel for me, and by and by, when I am away, you will be
glad that I did not take you at your word.'
He turned from her impatiently, a frown upon his face. 'Nelly, do
you hate me?' he asked.
'Indeed, no,' she replied.
'Do you like me a little bit, then?' he continued.
'Yes, oh yes; better than any one in this'--She had spoken
impulsively, and was going to say 'in the world,' but she suddenly
stopped and blushed.
'Go on,' he said. 'What were you going to say--in the colony, was
it? Then there is some fellow in the old country, is there?' and he
asked the question eagerly.
'I love no one in the old country.'
'Then were you going to say you liked me better than any one in
the world?' He saw by her face that he had guessed aright, and he
drew closer to her as he asked,--
'Nelly, can't you make liking become loving? Couldn't you try to
love me, Nelly?'
Firmly believing that he only asked her to marry him under a
mistaken idea that he had injured her, and so should thus make
reparation, Nelly was on the point of answering in the negative; but
a glance at his face, so near her own, and something in his eyes,
prevented the untruth passing her lips; she kept silence.
'Nelly, I am waiting. I asked you if you could love me if you
tried. Now give me an answer, Nelly; and be sure you don't tell me an
untruth, or I shall know it by your face. I am awfully vain, and I
believe at this moment that you love me. Now, for the third time,
Nelly, do you, or do you not?'
Still no reply came, and a spirit of mischief began to twinkle in
Paul Wright's brown eyes.
'Well, silence gives consent all the world over, Nelly. Am I to
draw my own conclusions from your silence?'
'No, sir,' she said at last.
'What does "No, sir," mean--that you don't love me? Oh, then I
shall go back at once to 'The Bushman's Rest,' and drown my
disappointment in another month's spree. I'm a weak-minded fellow,
and I can't stand being disappointed,' and he turned his horse round
as if intending to carry out his threat. Nelly put out her hand in
sudden alarm, for she knew his weakness, or thought she did.
'Oh, sir, you will not go? Please do not.'
'Well, will you love me, Nelly?' he asked, taking her outstretched
hand and looking into her troubled face.
'I daren't, Mr. Wright,' she said, her voice trembling with
agitation. 'What would your people say if you married me?'
'Oh, that's beside the question altogether,' he replied quickly.
'My people have nothing whatever to do with it. I'm not in
leading-strings, Nelly, though I'll willingly be led by you if you
will promise to become my wife.'
She shook her head sadly, saying, 'It is all so sudden, sir; and I
know you are only making me an offer because you think my character
has suffered through the affair at 'The Bushman's Rest.' No, Mr.
Wright, I cannot marry you, but I am deeply grateful for your
'Oh, very well, then, there is no more to be said. You will be all
right, Miss Dunne, if you follow this cattle track; it will take you
right up to the Carringtons' yards, and from there you will see the
house.' With these words he made her an elaborate bow, and rode away
back along the track they had come. For some minutes Nelly sat still
on her horse, fully persuaded that Paul was playing with her, and
would come back in a few minutes; but when she turned her head he was
out of sight, and she could hear the regular canter of his horse
through the bush at some distance. Fully alive to her position, and
terrified that he really meant to carry out his threat and leave her
alone in the bush, she began to cry, and, slipping from her saddle,
sat down on a tree-stump in a state of dejection not free from alarm.
Her horse was restive, and kept neighing after his companion, and
Nelly was a very timid horsewoman as yet.
She did love Paul Wright with all the strength of her young heart,
but feared lest he were asking her to marry him from a mere sense of
duty. Some weeks previously, before he had ever thought of her save
as the barmaid of 'The Bushman's Rest,' Paul had said to her in
'You had better marry me, Nelly. Here we are, you homeless and
alone in the world, and I just jilted: let's make a match of it, and
astonish the natives!'
He had spoken the words in pure jest, just as many a man talks to
a girl whom he looks on as outside the possibility of his marrying.
At the same time, had Nelly taken him at his word there and then, he
would most likely have carried out his offer, for he was madly
reckless at that time, and ripe for any folly. Paul had forgotten the
words ten minutes after he uttered them, but not so Nelly; and now
when he had said them again uninfluenced by drink, they had come back
to her very vividly, and rankled in her mind. He had been unfortunate
in alluding to her unprotected and friendless condition when making
his offer, consequently she had jumped to the conclusion that he saw
no other way of protecting her good name than by offering her his
own. And she was too proud to suffer him to sacrifice himself on her
account, though she knew quite well that the whole story of that
night's incidents at 'The Bushman's Rest' was known and talked about
throughout the entire district.
So she sat on the log crying quietly, wishing that she had dared
to be happy and accept Paul's love, if he really did love her, as he
said he did. She glanced up to see if he was returning, for that he
meant really to go away and leave her alone she could hardly believe.
But there was no sign of him. Tearfully she sat watching her horse as
he clipped the tufts of long grass close by, till after a time the
stillness of the afternoon began to oppress her; there seemed to be
nothing moving save the insect world around her. She was utterly
alone, and forthwith began to get frightened, being indeed a most
arrant little coward in the bush, with no more knowledge of tracks or
roads than a baby. What would happen to her if Paul never came back?
she wondered would she be able to find the Carringtons' selection;
and if she did, what story could she tell to them to account for Paul
leaving her? Oh! it was terrible. She stood up and looked round;
nothing was to be seen or heard save the birds and bees as they flew
here and there. Was she really and truly alone? Where were the wild
blacks she had heard so much about in the old country? were they
indeed watching and spying upon her from behind the huge gum trees
which grew on all sides? Would they wait till night and then fall
upon her and kill her? She was fast losing her head and becoming
hysterical, from pure nervousness and fright, as her horse started
and snorted suddenly, frightened by the falling of a small branch,
which some bird had dislodged above him. It frightened Nelly also--it
was the last straw. She all at once realised that she was left alone
to die there in that horrible bush, to be eaten by blacks and wild
dogs, and the poor half-crazy girl threw herself down upon the grass
in an agony of real terror and grief.
'Oh, Paul, Paul!' she cried, 'how could you be so cruel, and I do
love you so--oh, so dearly!'
'Why didn't you say so, then,' replied a voice at her side; and,
starting up, she found herself clasped in Paul's arms, with no
prospect of escape until she had admitted all, and replied to all his
questions to his entire satisfaction.
He had ridden away out of sight, then turned, dismounted, and come
back behind her.
'Then you do love me, Nelly?' he inquired for the twentieth time,
holding her close to him. 'And you will marry me, dearest?'
'I did not say so,' she returned softly.
'But you will say so now--in fact you must, before I will let you
go; and as we can't stand in this position all day, however amusing
it may be for the jackasses, and as also we are some miles from home,
I suggest that the sooner you say it the better. Come, let me hear
you say, "Paul, I do love you, and I will marry you."'
But Nelly was still silent.
Paul waited several minutes for her answer, but when it did not
come, he said,--
'Nelly, you think I want to marry you because of that night's work
at the "Rest;" but, darling, you are wrong; though I tell you
plainly, the thought did cross my mind that no one would dare to talk
about you as my wife, and I even decided to offer myself to you
without delay on that account. But, dearest, I did not do this, and I
can honestly and truly say that I love you for your own sweet sake. I
believe I loved you before that affair, for I really did value your
good opinion; and I had it in my mind to clear away from "The
Bushman's Rest," get square, and then come and see you again. I had,
really, though doubtless you find it hard to believe me. Nelly, I may
not be a very good fellow, but you will be able to keep me straight.
I am not altogether bad; I have no real love for drink. It is seven
years and more since I had a turn like this, and if you'll only marry
me, I'll sign the pledge, make any promise you like, and I'll not
touch one drop of liquor again as long as I live.'
He read her answer in her eyes, and in that instant gathered her
slight form to his breast; and poor Nelly was sobbing softly, very
happy, yet half afraid of what she had done. She did at last believe
that Paul loved her, and had she followed the dictates of her heart
she would have given in at once; but she could not reconcile it to
her conscience to let him--a man of good birth and good
position--marry her, as it seemed, all in a hurry, as if to save her
'Then I am not to go to the dogs, Nelly?' Paul asked, smiling into
the flushed face of the girl he loved. 'You will take me, faults and
all, Nelly, knowing of what has been my besetting sin?'
The answer came at last, bravely spoken, 'Yes, if you wish it so
much, and really do love me.'
With a glad cry he bent his head and pressed his first kiss upon
her pure lips; and it was no disgrace to his manhood that there were
tears in his eyes as he did so.
'And you won't think the less of me for having been at that
place?' she asked anxiously.
'The less of you, my own darling! I think the more of you for
coming through the ordeal so grandly. I knew more of your trials than
you ever told me, even though I was then so much under the influence
'One kiss of your own free giving, Nelly?'
She raised her ripe red lips to meet his, and for several seconds
there was a silence between them, more eloquent than any words that
could have been spoken.
The sun had set when Nelly and Paul returned to the Carringtons';
and while the latter changed her habit, Paul told his story to the
kindly little woman who had been such a good friend to the poor and
lonely girl, and who now rejoiced at the good fortune that had
At first Herbert Wright was very angry, and averse to the match;
for, like many others, he looked upon Nelly as merely a barmaid,
completely overlooking the fact of her being of gentle birth.
However, after hearing the whole story, he was forced to admit that
perhaps it was not such a very unwise step for Paul to take, now Maud
had thrown him over. He felt convinced that unless some other
powerful interest could be brought into his life, Paul would give way
to drink, and eventually go to the bad completely. This was a state
of affairs to be avoided for all their sakes, and greatly for his own
(Herbert's), as it was Paul who managed the station, and through
whose unflagging industry, perseverance, and determination they had,
despite bad seasons, reached their present condition of prosperity.
So Herbert was inclined favourably to consider any marriage of his
cousin's under these circumstances. And, after all, he said to
himself, 'She is very presentable, quite as much so as most of the
girls one meets.'
Months afterwards, Herbert Wright admitted that his cousin had
done well and wisely in marrying the girl he did, and eventually
Nelly had no stauncher friend in the colonies than her husband's
It was just five weeks from the day she left 'The Bushman's Rest'
when Nelly and Paul stood together before old Mr. Garvie, the
minister, to be made man and wife. No sister could have been kinder
than Mrs. Carrington proved to the friendless girl. It was she who
stood beside her, and encouraged her with brave words and sympathy
during the most solemn moment of her life, when she gave herself
before God to a man of whom she knew little or nothing, save that he
was cursed with the terrible vice of intemperance.
'And was it a happy marriage?' I can reply in all truth, 'Yes, it
was; not a more united or more affectionate couple exist than Paul
Wright and his wife.'
Many years have passed since these incidents took place. Paul
Wright is a rich man now; and he has kept to his promise faithfully,
never once has he touched spirits since he married.
There are still a few ill-natured and envious people who point to
pretty Mrs. Wright, and whisper, 'She was a barmaid, you know, when
he married her,--and at a dreadfully low public-house, too. Such a
pity, my dear!'
But these very people are none the less friendly when they meet
Nelly, and never refuse an invitation to the Wrights' hospitable
home. 'The Bushman's Rest' exists now under a new name, having become
so notorious after Nelly's departure that the licence was taken away,
and Burgiss had to leave that part of the country. It was granted
again to a new proprietor, and is a respectable house under the