In the Shadow of the Bush
The contract was nearing completion. Another day would finish it, and the men were anxious to get through with the work, for the mosquitoes were beginning to make their appearance in the bush, aud Harry and his mates had yet another small contract to carry out at a place a few miles distant. The axes had been ringing out cheerily from early morning, and the "falls" had been frequent and far-sounding.
Harry had planned a big drive with a combined rimu and rata which towered above its fellows of the forest; had "scarfed" all the smaller trees in front of it down to the edge of the already felled bush, and expected, when it was brought down, that it would send to earth the whole of these, driving one upon another far beyond the reach of its own length, with that continued, prolonged crash which bushmen love to hear. But they did not all go down. A pukatea had either not been cut deeply enough, or the tree, with which it should have been struck had fallen outside of it. A tawa, however, drawn over by the tangled vines and supplejacks that interlaced the tree-tops in all directions, had fallen transversely upon the still standing pukatea. Here it lodged, and in its turn supported another which had been dragged over upon it from a nearly opposite direction. Thus, the three trees still stood, the two tawas resting on the pukatea at different angles, and yet in a measure upholding it, while all around had been brought to earth. This is one of the most awkward mischances to be found in the work of bush-page 95falling, and one that is attended with much danger to anyone attempting to remedy it by giving a few well-directed strokes of the axe at the point of least resistance, and so bringing the trees down; for the ground round about is strewn with a tangled mass of fallen timber, making it difficult for the axeman to get clear away when the mass begins to move; and it is often uncertain in which direction it may come down, or what antics one or other of the lodged and leaning trees may be up to, on its own account, when the whole sways to the fall.
"Well, I'll be jiggered!" said Harry, as he looked disconsolately at the unsightly clump still standing.
"Hallo!" cried Big George, who was working near; "hallo, Harry, my experienced bushwhacker, you didn't carry all before you this time."
"No; but I'll soon put it to rights," replied Harry.
"Leave it—leave it, Harry," returned George; "the first gale of wind will bring them down, in any case. It isn't safe."
"I'll be cautious, old man," Harry answered. "It'll never do to have people saying we left some of the bush standing when we came away from the job."
"Let them stand, Harry," urged George, as he saw Harry preparing to go in. "Leave them as they are. I tell you it's not safe; that pukatea will snap like a carrot, without warning, and some of them may come down on you before you know where you are."
But Harry was not to be persuaded. "Don't you be frightened, old man," he said, and threaded his way in amongst the fallen timber, singing as he went:
"Let clodhoppers plough, then, and harrow.
Let larrikins loiter at flax,
Let the navvy ply shovel and barrow,
But give me the swing of the axe."
It needed a good many blows of the axe, given with judgment on the main support, propped up as it was in some degree page 96by its companions, before any movement was perceptible; but when the movement did take place, it came suddenly. At the first warning, Harry ran, with the axe in his hand, in the direction that offered the greatest safety; but he had gone only a few yards when his foot caught in a root or vine, and he fell headlong. Before he could gain his feet again, one of the tawas, glancing from its fellow and swerving round, was upon him, striking him heavily as he was in the act of rising. It was not a large tree, but it struck him with cruel force; and poor Harry lay under it, crushed and torn.
"My God!" cried George, who had been anxiously watching, "it has caught him;" and, calling loudly to the others, he struggled through the fallen branches, to the rescue of his mate. They relieved him with axes and with levers as fast as hands, most willing, could. The tree had struck him across the shoulder and chest, and there was a rough wound or tear in his side, caused by a jagged root or stump against which he had been forced. But he was not killed, nor yet unconscious.
"It's all up, George," he struggled with difficulty to say; "you always gave me good advice—but I wouldn't take it."
One of them ran off to Ashwin's for help, returning in a little time with M'Keown; while Ashwin himself galloped off for the doctor. The others had prepared a stretcher, and tenderly, very tenderly, their rough hands laid Harry on it, and prepared to carry him out of the bush.
"Yonder," he muttered.—"Home."
They did not know but his mind might be wandering, but they took the words as an indication that he wished to be taken to his mother's house; and gently and carefully they carried him there. The distance was not great.
Many a poor fellow, crushed and maimed in the bush, has been carried in like manner, with affectionate, unwearied care, over long leagues of country—over rough and steep hills, across deep ravines, and along tracks deep in mud, before a place page 97could be reached where a better means of conveyance was procurable.
It was a sad procession that led down to Robinson's. Someone had gone before to break the news; and Mary and her sister cried bitterly when they saw their lately found brother borne so helplessly home. But his mother wept not. With a white face, she had clasped her hands together in mute agony when they told her of the accident; but she went to meet her boy a little way from the house, and soothingly and hopefully spoke words of comfort; and wiped his damp brow and also, alas! the blood that stained his lips.
She had her own bed made ready for him, and when he was laid in it, she rarely left him, and only for a few minutes at a time. She it was who tended his every want, and seemed jealous of any other hand than her own doing anything for him.
The doctor came and examined Harry's injuries. Many ribs were broken, and the shoulder crushed, besides the wound in the side; but he feared most for internal hurt, but could not determine as yet the extent of it. He did all that was possible, and promised to come again early on the following morning.
Harry rallied somewhat about that time, and talked a little to his mother, though she tried to prevent him exerting himself, for she knew that exertion, however little, might be hurtful.
"Poor old mother," he said feebly, "it is all for the best—I'd always have been a worry to you—and couldn't have settled down long anywhere."
"Hush, Henry; hush, dear," she said deprecatingly. "You'll get strong and well again—I'll nurse you round to health again—not just perhaps so strong and well as you were; but that won't matter—I can have you always near me then. Surely," she continued, yearningly, "surely, God would not take you away from me now, after bringing you back to me. page 98I prayed to Him night and day to give my boy back to me; and He answered my prayer, and brought you home to me, to my very door; but, oh! surely not for me to lose you again like this."
Though she set her heart on his recovery, and would not permit the thought of the possibility of a fatal termination to settle upon her mind, but fought against it, yet it would ever and again for a moment force its dreadful presence upon her, and blanch her cheek and wring her heart.
She read to him out of the same old copy of the New Testament as he remembered her reading out of to him when a boy; and in the words of pardon and comfort, reaching him through the loved and loving tones of her voice, his soul found penitence and peace.
His father, too, was much grieved in his way, and felt deeply for his suffering son, so cruelly struck down.
"It's my belief," he said sadly to Maurice M'Keown, who had come over again on the evening following the accident to learn how Harry was, "It's my belief there's not much chance of him pulling through. It's more than likely the life will leave him before many days, or hours maybe. But his mother, I can see, won't let herself believe it till it comes; and then God knows how she'll keep up under it when the blow does fall."
Robinson's heart-felt sorrow for Harry was overshadowed by the great anxiety that possessed him regarding his wife, and the effect which the death of her dearly loved, long lost and lately-recovered son might have upon her.
His fears of a fatal termination were soon sadly fulfilled. During the night Harry took a turn for the worse and gradually sank, and died.
When all was over his mother sat dry-eyed and silent in the little sitting-room, with a fixed and vacant look, regardless of those about her.
"Mother, oh, mother," said Mary, kneeling beside her and page 99taking her hands, the tears meanwhile coursing down her own cheeks; "don't took like that, mother, darling—he is at rest and at peace now, with no more pain. Let me get you a cup of tea; and then lie down, and perhaps you will sleep. You know you have not slept since they brought him home, but have watched by him all the time."
"Go away, child; go away and leave me," her mother said, and then continued wildly: "Oh, Mary, there is no God—there is no God of mercy, and prayer is a delusion and a waste of breath."
"Oh, mother, do not say such dreadful things and look like that," said Mary, rising, in deep distress. "Look," she continued, as she caught sight of a photograph of Harry, taken when he was a boy at school, and lifting it from the mantelpiece where it had always been given the place of honour, she put it into her mother's hands. "Look," she said, "at his likeness when he was a boy; and think of all the love you lavished on him then and since, and of the joy and satisfaction it brought you, aud how much better it is that he should have come back to you, though it was to die in your arms, than to have died among strangers, as he might have done, away from those who loved him."
Her mother looked at the likeness of the bright-faced lad for a moment or two with softening eyes.
"My boy, my boy," she cried—"my dead boy"; and the fountains of her great grief were broken up, and the floodgates of her affliction opened, and she wept long and piteously.
She was more resigned afterwards; and when all was over, and they had buried him in the Bloomsbury cemetery, whither he was followed by a little band of sincere mourners—Big George cried like a child—she fell back into the usual routine of her life—cheerful withal, though the shadow of her heavy sorrow was visible to those who watched her with eyes of affection.page 100
She felt she could bless God now for his goodness in bringing her son home to die.
To the swagger who called there was always a meal and a kind word, as before, though no anxious enquiries were put touching a missing Henry Robinson.