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2-047 (Original)

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author,female,Fenton, Elizabeth,26 addressee
Narrative Discourse
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Private Written
Clarke, 1992
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2-047.txt — 15 KB

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7th February [18301. - 'My dear friend, never did any of your dear letters reach me at a more critical moment than the last - of 29th of August - yet it lay three days unread. I opened it and looked at the signature, but read it I could not; - you will wonder when I tell you that my baby, the very light of my eyes, was then quite despaired of and given up by all but myself - even when there was no hope to any other, still I said She will not die. She is now out of danger and renews her wonted smiles and endearments. But oh! what have I suffered! Sleep has altogether forsaken me, my strength too is wasted; though I force myself to eat and drink for her sake, it oppresses, not revives me.
5th May
And is this an anniversary of marriage? Eheu! What a bewildering dream, of a few nights since, this day recalls. I fancied myself yet unmarried and living in Ireland. ... I raised myself with an indescribable terror of what, of who, was that child. Nor was it till after I sat up in bed, and, by the lamp, looked steadily at her and at Fenton, both sound asleep, that I regained a conviction of my identity; but with renewed consciousness came also a faint and giddy sickness, which actually forced me to lie down and close my eyes. Floods of repressed tears at length enabled me to breathe, and I lay in sad and troubled rumination till daylight. These dreams are truly terrible, they seem to let loose all the long pent up waters of affliction on the soul. Indeed, for two days after, I could not regain the composure of my mind. [125] Strange voices seemed about me, and visionary shapes passing before my eyes.
12th August [1830] Fenton Forest - On the 12th [of July] the weather had cleared; a very bright morning, too bright to last decided Fenton, and though he was extremely weak we set off in our buggy with Flora on my knee, her nurse and a girl from the Orphan Asylum having gone the evening before to wait our arrival at New Norfolk. I need not detail all promises to write and parting regrets. The thing was to be done one way or other, and though I felt both ill and very nervous, from knowing my illness was only the commencement of a period of indefinite suffering, I knew too, that the effort must be made, and the sooner the better for all parties. [...]
The [following] day seeming tolerably clear, we sent off the women in their bullock cart, calculating they would have good light to get home before us. To the nurse I gave the baby's night things, etc. etc. When they were gone and we were going, Mrs. Bridger [the innkeeper] came up to me with an important face to caution me with respect to my nurse, whom she believed to be one of the worst women in the Colony - everything that was bad and depraved - she had gone away nearly drunk, and was quite drunk on her arrival the day before. This was pleasant intelligence to one with my anticipations, but I thanked her warmly for her caution.
We proceeded as far as a terrific ledge of rocks overhanging the river round which the road wound, midway between the river and a perpendicular cliff, along whose edge and at whose summit huge masses of rock jutted out and seemed as if they must inevitably crush us at every onward step; even the motion of the carriage below seemed sufficient to impel them forward, and through their angles you saw the sky above at intervals: these threatening on the left and the abyss of the river many fathoms below constituted together a fearful position. On entering this pass Fenton pulled up the hood of the buggy and drove our spirited horse on at full speed, expecting I might not observe our situation. I did see it, but forbore to speak until fairly past. I could not then resist remonstrating on such a mode of driving over such awful roads. We had no more precipices, but the road, if road it might be called, was a succession of gulfs and mire, through which it required the utmost effort of our fine horse to drag us. Every step I believed an upset inevitable. [126]
I grasped the poor infant to save her from the bruises I received on every side. My comb was broken and my head cut by one sudden jolt, and I perceived too late the personal danger that such a journey exposed me to.
If I might bear up until we reached the shelter of a house, was the extent of my wishes and expectations; as we stood to breathe the poor horse after toiling up a steep and slippery hill, a storm of blinding hail and snow swept down from the mountains in our faces, and Fenton had to get out and turn the carriage off the road where a clump of mimosas formed a shelter from the storm. He was drenched with rain and snow, and if my fears for myself were strong, you may judge what I dreaded at seeing him, who had just arisen from a bed of illness, in such a condition.
The baby too, cold and hungry, was fretting on my knee, and I shed bitter tears over her as the gloom of the evening approached. After the storm was passed we again proceeded, but very slowly, the horse seeming quite spent. After toiling up another weary hill the snow again came on, and again we stopped. I then in despair inquired if there was no human habitation within reach where we might pass the night. He told me he thought we must be near the residence of Frederick Bell whom I had met at the Hamiltons; if we could find the entrance, as each side of the road was fenced with fallen trees piled on each other. After some difficulty we reached a gate and entered a waste of wood without trace of either man or animal, and drove onward at hazard, for now it was so dark we could barely distinguish one object from another.
Judge of my distress at this juncture, with a sick infant on my knee and almost powerless with fear and cold myself. The distant bark of a dog was to me a sound whose blessedness I never shall forget, and then the report of a gun directed us where to drive, and we approached a dwelling. In the darkness the light of fires within was a joyful revelation.
Without inquiry as to who were within, Fenton assisted me out and gave the child into the arms of a man, who informed him that Mr. Bell was just come back from Hobarton, and showed us into a small apartment where Mr. Bell sat drying himself before an immense fire. You may well imagine his amazement when I staggered in, faint and blind with the sudden glare of light - a lady and an infant, at such an hour!
Most kind and cordial was our welcome - every effort of master and man to revive and refresh us was bestowed; a cup of nice soup brought for the baby, who seemed quite joyful at the sudden change from the darkness and storm without, to the cheerful scene; so after the refreshment of warm water and dry clothes for Fenton we joined Mr. Bell at his excellent dinner, though a late one. When it was concluded and we heard and told the "on dits" of the day, I had leisure to notice that Flora seemed flushed and her pulse rapid and unsteady. [127] Mr Bell summoned his man "John" to procure me some water for a bath and told me he had a medicine chest, out of which I at once prepared the prescribed dose.
It was then I recollected with dismay that I had not a single article to put on her, and she had always slept in flannel. Here was a difficulty beyond Mr. Bell's hospitality to remedy. The only linen article he could afford me was a shirt or a sheet, so selecting the former I divested myself of my only warm garment - my under petticoat - into which I put my poor Flora and gathered it round her throat somewhat in the fashion of a mantle. Over this was a muslin shirt confined round her waist with the band of my gown. Her papa's silk hankerchief bound her head, and in this guise she dropped asleep.
Where to lay her down was my next perplexity, for Mr. Bell's accommodation was strictly that of a bachelor. He had slept in his sea cot swung in the only bedchamber, which he most kindly offered to us, and a couch was prepared on the floor, which no doubt might have been very comfortable for one person but for three was scanty quarters. Such as it was, I was very glad to see Fenton and Flora asleep thereon.
It was extremely cold and how to manage the night without a fire or a lamp I could not divine. For myself, I was faint and shivering with cold, and nothing to put on but Mr. Bell's shirt, to which I added a sheet folded something as a shawl, and thus I laid me down on the hard edge of the cot fearing to disturb those who each needed sleep so much. I did not care to cover myself with the blankets lest the baby should be disturbed, and for her to sleep after taking calomel was of vital importance. My anxiety was too great for sleep and I lay watching her as long as the candle burned. But long and dreary was that vigil. Towards morning she awoke very sick, but as it was utterly dark my only mode of keeping her quiet was walking to and fro through the apartment with her in my arms, until Fenton woke.
It was then the cold pale twilight of a winter morning, and I did not scruple to send him to rouse our friend "John" to get a fire made and some tea, of which we most thankfully partook. I was, in addition to loss of sleep and fatigue, struggling against the most overpowering sickness. The only thing I had to keep me up was, that after Flora was bathed and had got a sufficiency of warm nourishment, she appeared evidently relieved by the calomel, which I rejoiced I had so timely administered.
It was one of those bright days which generally follow a snowstorm, warm and invigorating; but Mr. Bell strongly advised us to give up the idea of pursuing our journey on this side of the Derwent, as our buggy would never get through it. Fenton then took a survey of Mr. Bell's boat and said he would attempt the Indian mode of crossing, with the body of the vehicle in the boat, the wheels over the side. [128] All who listened said it was impossible, but the thing was done, and the horse swam the river gallantly.
I ought to tell you the object of this excursion was to gain a certain point where a boat would pass from the farm of a Mr. Barker to that of a Mr. Ballatine. Once at Mr. Ballatine's we were nearly on our own property, and could drive over the plains in an hour; - furthermore, I must tell you the said Mr Barker was introduced to me while getting into the buggy at the inn at New Norfolk as a "neighbour", and I "guess" my acknowledgment of him was not very alluring - for, truth to tell, he looked mean and dirty, and I should have forgotten him only for the present arrangement.
On inquiring of Fenton who and what he was, he told me he was now a man of very large property, one of our squires! had been a shopkeeper, partner with another illustrious, Kemp, who still kept the concern in town, only calling himself an agent or merchant. They were among the very early settlers and had both feathered their nest in the "good old times" when they sold a pound of tea for £1 2p 6d.
I had hoped when the river was safely passed my troubles were well over, but a new and very embarrassing dilemma presented itself; neither soothing nor force would induce our horse to go into the buggy (I mean into the shafts). They said it was fright at the uproar of crossing the water, but it was evident his resolution was taken, and whenever backed to the carriage he reared and plunged in a way that would have intimidated a more daring person than myself. It was then suggested that if once on the road, and out of sight of the water, he would get quiet and proceed; so Mr Bell kindly sent two men to drag the buggy into the road about a mile, at least, and bade us farewell, business requiring his return. He promised an early visit to Fenton Forest.
The day was delightful, and with renewed hope and energy I took Flora in my arms and followed the procession, Fenton leading the horse while I took a path through the trees that seemed drier.
I wish, my dear, I could honestly keep back one fact, which was that that I had been so very absurd as to set out on this expedition in black satin boots; but the truth must be told, otherwise you could not understand why it was that ever and anon I sat down to ease the pain of my bruised feet, for the boots were in fragments with the rough ground I had to walk through. Then finding the mile lengthened fearfully out, my strength quite failed. I put Flora, as the Indian women do, on my hips, on my back, tried to induce her to walk, all in vain. The thought of "Hagar in the desert" came to me as I lay down under a mimosa which spread bower-like over the footpath, and some few tears of weariness and pain were shed in spite of all my striving against them: and then again I pursued my way, with the double toil of trying to amuse the child as well as carry. [129]
The road attained, with some little difficulty the horse reluctantly was harnessed, but when he once got the rein he flew on, on, while I was breathless with horror, supposing some greater evil yet to come. We were on Macquarie plains and the way had hitherto been level, but steep hills were in view, which tenfold aggravated my horror. Fenton pointed out the site of Mr Barker's house, but my sight was dim with fear and weariness. My expedition seemed like that of Leonora and the Spectre Horseman.
The road wound up a hill, whose inequalities and side motion were so dreadful that I implored Fenton to let me out, and not kill the infant, if he would himself. I vowed in my terror never again to let him drive me and at last succeeded in getting out with the baby. It was so close to Mr. Barker's house, and heedless of mire I got as far from the buggy as I could. Mr B. was at that moment engaged in the pastoral duty of ploughing, but he approached and offered me his arm, and so we neared his house, which was a new and capacious stone building of handsome appearance. To enter was not so easy for every species of filth you can imagine had been quietly deposited about the doors, and it was floating with mud. Hesitating how to emerge into this Augean pool, and dreading being overthrown by contact with large pigs if I invaded their "pleasure ground", I decided the point by letting Fenton carry me into the hall. A handsome hail it might have been, but just then seemed doing double duty of barn and sculleiy. I was introduced into the parlour, and after being told the lady of the mansion would instantly wait on me, the gentlemen went off to investigate the prospect of the boat and river. [...]
It was a long, shapeless, naked, brick cottage outside, but oh! within, there was confusion worse confounded. Every article of baggage that had been sent up, furniture, packing cases, had all been piled up, promiscuously, as they presented themselves. The vile servants we had sent out had profited by the opportunity to pillage everything they could abstract. All the farm servants had collected in the house and the nurse - my right-hand woman, as I took her to be - had opened a keg of rum for their refreshment; rum, tobacco, noise and dirt assailed every sense with horror and dismay.
My choice of accommodation was not difficult, for there was only one apartment with a door. Turn where I would, comfort found I none. Oh! how I wished myself back in India after a comfortless dinner; by the time I got out some things for the child, weary of everything I undressed and went to bed, and I must fairly confess cried myself to sleep. [130]