Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

A Love Story by A Bushman

Part 6 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

nose--and white ruff of fur round his face--he very closely resembled in
physiognomy, some grey-whiskered guzzling citizen. The well-trained horses
gave no trouble, as they entered the punt; and the smiling boatman,
displaying his teeth to Thompson, but without speaking, commenced warping
the punt to the opposite side of the river. They were half way across, ere
the guest observed the mansion of the friend he sought. It stood on the
summit of the hill, on the left; beneath which the river made a very
abrupt bend. The house itself resembled the common weather-boarded cottage
of the early settler,--wide verandah was over the front entrance,--and two
small rooms, the exact width of this, jutted out on either side of it.

Its site however was commanding. The house stood on an eminence, and from
the windows, a long reach of the river was visible. At the top of the brow
of the hill, extended a range of English rose trees, in full flower. The
bank, which might be about thirty yards in front of these, was clothed
with foliage to the water's edge.

There might be seen the fragrant mimosa--the abundant acacia--the swamp
oak, which would have been styled a fir, had not the first exiles to
Australia found twined round its boughs, the misletoe, with its many home
associations--the elegant cedar--the close-growing mangrove--and strange
parasitical plants, pushing through huge fungi, and clasping with the
remorseless strength of the wrestler, and with the round crunching folds
of the boa, the trees they were gradually to supplant and destroy.

Suddenly, the quick finger of the black pointed to an object close beside
the punt. A bill, as of a bird, and apparently of the duck tribe,
protruded above the surface of the water. For an instant, small, black,
piercing eyes peered towards them: but as the quadruped, for such it was,
prepared to dive in affright, the unerring shot of a rifle splashed the
water on the cheek of the stranger--the body rolled slowly over--the legs
stiffened--a sluggish stream of dark blood tainted the surrounding
wave--and the ferryman, extending his careless hand, threw the victim to
his companion, at the same time addressing a few words to her in their
native language.

The guest had little difficulty, in recognising the uncouth form of the
ornithorhynchus, or water-mole; but he turned with yet more eagerness,
towards the spot, whence that shot had proceeded. On the summit of the
steep bank, leaning on his rifle, stood Sir Henry Delme.

His form was still commanding--there was something in the air with which
the cap was worn--and in the strap round his Swiss blouse--that bespoke
the soldier and the gentleman: but his face was sadly attenuated--the
lower jaw appeared to have fallen in--and his hair was very grey.

He received his guest with a cordial and sincere welcome. While the latter
delivered his packet the native who had warped the punt over, came up
with the dead platypus,

"Well, Boomeroo! is it a female?"

"No, massa! full grown--with large spur!"

Sir Henry saw that his guest was puzzled by this dialogue, and
good-naturedly showed him the distinguishing characteristic of the male
ornithorhynchus--the spur on the hinder foot, which is hollow, and
transmits an envenomed liquid, secreted by a gland on the inner surface of
the thigh.

In November, of the year preceding, a burrow of the animal had been
opened on the bank of the river, which contained the dam, and three
live young ones;--there were many points, yet to be determined relative
to its interior organization; and it was on this account, that Sir
Henry was anxious to obtain a female specimen at this particular
period. As he spoke, Delme introduced the stranger to his study, which
might more aptly be styled a museum;--applied some spirits of wine to
the platypus, and placing it under a bell-glass for the morrow's
examination, left him turning over his collection of birds, while he
perused his valued home letters.

It was with unmixed pleasure, knowing as he did his melancholy history,
that the stranger found Sir Henry Delme engaged in pursuits, which it was
evident he was following up with no common enthusiasm. In truth, a mere
accidental circumstance,--the difficulty of obtaining a vessel at one of
the Indian Islands for any port,--had at first brought him to Australia, a
country regarding which he had felt little curiosity. The strange
varieties, however, of its animal kingdom, had interested him;--he was
struck with the rapid strides that that country has made in half a
century--and he continued from month to month to occupy the house where
his friend had now found him.

To the stranger's eye, the eye of a novice, the well arranged specimens of
birds of the most beautiful plumage--of animals, chiefly marsupial, of the
most singular developement--of glittering insects--and of deep coloured
shells; were attractive wonders enough; but from the skeletons beside
these, it was quite clear, that Delme had acquired considerable knowledge
as to the internal construction of the animals themselves--that he had
studied the subsisting relations, between the mechanism and the
movements--the structure, and its varied functions.

After dinner, Sir Henry Delme, who appeared to think that the bearer of
his despatches had conferred on him a lasting favour, threw off his
habitual reserve, and delighted and interested him with his tales of
foreign travel.

As the night wore on, the conversation reverted to his sister and his
home. It was evident, that what remained for the living of that crushed
heart, was with Emily and Clarendon, and their children; perhaps more than
all, with his young heir and god-son, Henry Delme Gage. The very colour of
that sunny lock of hair, gave rise to much speculation: and it seemed as
if he would never be wearied, of listening to the minutest description of
the dawning of intellect, in a precocious little fellow of barely five
years of age.

Encouraged by his evident feeling, and observing many more comforts
about him, than he had been led to expect from his previous errant
habits; his guest ventured to express his hope, that Sir Henry might yet
return to England.

"My good friend!" replied he, "for I must call you such now, for I know
not when I have experienced such unalloyed satisfaction, as you have
conferred on me this night, by conversing so freely of those I love; I
certainly never can forget that I am the last male of an ancient race, and
that those who are nearest and dearest to me, are divided from me by a
wide waste of waters. I have learnt to suffer with more patience than I
had ever hoped for; and, it may be,--although I have hardly breathed the
thought to myself--it may yet be accorded me to revisit that ancient
chapel, and to dwell once more in that familiar mansion."

His guest was overcome by his emotion, and pressed his hand with warmth,
as he made his day's journey the excuse for an early retirement.

Sleep soon visited his eyelids, for the ride, to one fresh from a sea
voyage, had brought with it a wholesome weariness. He was aroused from
his slumbers, by the deep sonorous accents as of a man reading Spanish.

The light streamed from an adjacent room, through the chinks of a
partition. He started up alike forgetful of Delme, his ride, and his
arrival in Australia; conceiving that he was again at the mercy of the
waves, in his narrow comfortless cabin.

That light, however, brought the stranger back to the wanderer, and
his griefs.

Beside a small table, strewn with his lately received English letters,
knelt Sir Henry Delme. The stranger had seen condemned criminals pray with
becoming fervour; and devotees of many a creed lift up their hearts to
heaven; but never had he witnessed a more contrite or a humbler spirit
imprinted on the features of mortal man, than then shed its radiance on
that sorrowful, but noble face.

Strange as it may appear, he knew not whether the words themselves really
caught his ear, or whether the motion of the lips expressed them--but
this he _did_ know, that every syllable seemed to reach his heart, and
impress him with a mystic thrill,

"OR EVER THE SILVER CORD BE LOOSED, OR THE GOLDEN BOWL BE BROKEN, OR THE
PITCHER BE BROKEN AT THE FOUNTAIN, OR THE WHEEL BROKEN AT THE CISTERN.
THEN SHALL THE DUST RETURN TO THE EARTH AS IT WAS: AND THE SPIRIT SHALL
RETURN UNTO GOD WHO GAVE IT."

Chapter XVII

The Wanderer's Return.

"And he had learn'd to love--I know not why,
For this in such as him seems strange of mood,--
The helpless looks of blooming infancy,
Even in its earliest nurture; what subdued,
To change like this, a mind so far imbued
With scorn of man, it little boots to know;
But thus it was; and though in solitude
Small power the nipp'd affections have to grow,
In him this glow'd when all beside had ceased to glow."

Within a period of two months, from the interview we have described, the
stranger found that his arguments had not been thrown away; as he shook
Sir Henry's hand on the deck of a vessel bound for Valparaiso. His love of
travel and of excitement, had induced such an habitual restlessness, that
Delme was not prepared at once to embark for England. He crossed the
Cordillera de los Andes--traversed the Pampas of Buenos Ayres--and
finally embarked for his native land.

It was the height of summer, when the carriage which bore the long absent
owner to his ancestral home, neared the ancient moss-grown lodge.

Fanny Porter, who was now married, and had a thriving babe at her breast,
started with surprise; as, throwing open the gate, she recognised in the
care-worn man with bronzed face and silver hair, her well known and
beloved master. As the carriage neared the chapel, it struck Sir Henry,
that it would be but prudent, to inform Clarendon of his near approach; in
order that he might prepare Emily for the meeting. He ordered the
postilion to pull up--tore a leaf from his memorandum book--and wrote a
few lines to Clarendon, despatching Thompson in advance. He turned into
the chapel, and as he approached its altar, the bridal scene, enacted
there nearly seven years back, seemed to rise palpably before him.

But the tomb of Sir Reginald Delme, with its velvet dusty banner--the
marble monument of his mother, with the bust above it, whose naked eye
seemed turned towards him--his withered heart and hopes soon darkened his
recollections of that bright hour. With agitated emotions, Sir Henry left
the chapel; and in a spirit of impatience, strode towards the mansion,
intending to meet the returning domestic. His feelings were strange,
various, and not easily defined.

He was awakened from his day-dream by the sound of children's voices,
which sound he instinctively followed, until he reached the old orchard.
It was such an orchard, as might be planted by an old Delme, ere any
Linnean or Loudonean horticulturist had decided that slopes are best for
the sun, that terraces are an economical saving of ground, that valleys
must be swamps, and that blights are vulgar errors. The orchard at Delme
was strikingly unscientific; but the old stock contrived to bear good
fruit. The pippins, golden and russet--the pears, jargonelle and
good-christian--the cherries, both black and white heart--still thrived;
while under their shade, grew hips, haws, crabs, sloes, and blackberries,
happy to be shaded from rain, dews, and fierce sun-shine, and unenvious
of roses, cherries, apples, damsons, and mulberries; their self-defended,
and more aristocratic cousins.

Sir Henry stopped unseen at the gate of the orchard, and for some minutes
looked on the almost fairy group, whose voices had led him thither.

Lying on the bank, which enclosed the orchard, was a blue-eyed
rosy-cheeked little girl;--the ground ashes had been cut down; and her
laughing face was pillowed on the violets and oxlips, that burst from
between the roots. She was preparing to take another roll into the clayey
ditch below. Another little girl was gazing at the child from within the
orchard; half doubtful whether she should encourage or check her. One
pale-blue slipper and her little sock were half sunk in the clay, while
the veiny and pink-soled foot, the large lids half closed over her deep
blue eyes, the finger thrust between her red and pouting lips, her bonnet
thrown back and hanging by the strings round her swelling throat, her hair
dishevelled and stuck with oxlips, primroses, cowslips, violets, and
daisies; and wreathed with the spring-holly, or butcher's-broom--made her
a perfect picture of English beauty, and of childish anxiety and
indecision.

Beside her stood a boy older than herself, and evidently as perplexed.
There was Julia perched cock-horse on the bank--there was Emily, her hair
undone, her bonnet crashed, with one shoe and stocking lost--and yet he
had promised Mamma, that if she would but once trust his sisters to him,
that he would bring them home, "with such a pretty basket of
spring-flowers."

The beautiful blossoms of the cherry hung around the boy--the bees buzzed
in its bells--the apple and pear blossoms shook their fragrance in the
warm air--and the shadows of the flying clouds hurried like wings over the
bright green grass. The boy had dropped his basket of fresh-blown flowers
at his feet--tears were trembling in his eye-lids, as he gazed on his
sisters. His look was that of George.

"Childhood too has its sorrows," said Sir Henry, half aloud, "even when
seeking joy on a bank of primroses. Why should _I_ then repine?"

The boy started as he heard and saw the stranger:--he involuntarily put
one foot forward in an attitude of childish defiance: but children are
keen physiognomists, and there was nothing but affection beaming from that
mournful face.

"My boy!" said Delme, and his eyes were moist, "did you ever hear of your
Uncle Henry?"

"Emily! Emily! Julia!" exclaimed the little fellow, as he rushed into Sir
Henry's arms, "here is Uncle Henry, my god-papa, and he will help us to
reach the blackberries."

We need follow the wanderer no further. It is true that in his youth he
had not known sympathy; in his manhood he had experienced sorrow; but
it is a pleasure to us to reflect, that despair is not the companion of
his old age.

The End.

Book of the day: