|Chapter Title||MRS. JOSEPH.|
|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||Clare's Christmas Eve|
There is not the least doubt that Dolly literally observed the golden rule of doing to others as she would be done by in undertaking the responsible duty of chaperoning her elder sister. Even after luncheon she declined to accompany the lovers in a short stroll round the grounds prior to Harleigh's return to town. " I have so many things to do," she said, with superb gravity. And indeed there was more truth in the assertion than resides in most ex cuses, for Dolly was deep in the delightful mysteries of unpacking Clare's goods and chat tels. That is, she sat in an easy-chair, and watched Clare's deft-handed maid as she un locked trunks, unfolded parcels, shook out dresses, and tenderly opened bonnet boxes. From depths of the unfathomable the girl now and then brought up packages addressed to Dolly herself—wedding presents from friends and relatives in England. As these variously-shaped, well-muffled gifts appeared there would be a subdued " Oh!" of delight from Dolly, then the sharp sound of keen-edged scissors cutting strings, the harsh sound of brown, and the soft rustle of tissue paper, and lo! the hidden treasure lay full to view.
Dolly was just in the act of unpacking two little vases of Meissen porcelain, with flower wreaths so wonderfully soft, glowing, and pure, that she was lost in rapturous admiration, when she heard the sound of approaching footsteps and the frou-frou of rustling silk, followed by a low tap at the half-open door, and a well known voice said," Are you here, Dolly ?"
"Oh, Helena!" said Dolly, with an awful sinking at the heart, though outwardly she was composed enough as she went forward to kiss her sister—a handsome, elegantly dressed woman, who looked round enquiringly.
" Where is Clare ? Is she well ?"
"Oh,yes,she has just gone out for a little stroll," answered Dolly, motioning the girl to leave the room. " And just fancy, Helena, she is engaged—at least not engaged, you know; but Mr. Roxburghe, he came to speak to papa, and of course he wasn't in; he won't be back till to-morrow evening."
'Dolly was prepared to see her sister dis pleased, to bear her utter sharp words of disap proval; but she was not prepared to see her stand speechless, the colour retreating from her cheeks, and an expression of positive alarm in her face.
"Perhaps she thinks be is a banjo-man, who blackens his face and sings 'On de ole Ken tucky shore," thought Dolly, and charitably hastened to explain. Of course he is quite a gentleman, although I suppose not very rich, being a clergyman."
" A clergyman," repeated Mrs. Hartingdale, mechanically. Sbe sat on a chair that stood near, and looked straight before her for some minutes without further speech. Dolly was mystified. Sbe knew that it was wholly due to Helena that Clare had returned so soon; that she had with feverish eagerness seized on their mother's iilness, which had in reality been neither serious nor protracted, and cunningly used it to secure her object with half-expressed fears and insinuations. She also knew dimly, in the way that we divine so many things which are neither written nor spoken, that Helena was extremely anxious to bring about a mar riage between Clare and Victor Maylands—to knit up the ravelled threads which Clare had so rudely and suddenly snapped. But, after all, why make it a matter of such intense impor tance ; whoever married or was not given in mar riage could make but little difference to Helena. She at least had married a man who could clothe her in purple velvet and costly lace, and give solemn.dinner parties, to which neither a Shakepeare nor an archangel would be bidden if be had not a large balance at some well-esta blished Bank. Clare could not mar or increase that splendid fortune, and as long as Mrs. Joseph was secure in its possession nothing surely could work her fatal woe. Yet, why did she sit there pale and silent, so utterly unlike her usual imperious, successful, and indomi table self ?
" Where is Clare now ?" she said, suddenly breaking the curious silence that had fallen on
•'She went out for a little walk with Mr. Roxburghe. I think she wanted to show him the
shortest cut to the Vermont Station." This
last was a brilliant suggestion that flashed into Dolly's mind as she was talking.
" How long was he here ?"
" Oh, a couple of hours. He stayed to luncheon
"But what right had he to come in at all till he had seen papa ?" said Mrs. Hartingdale, with a sharp inflection of rage in her voice.
" What! just ask for papa and then walk away without seeing Clare?" said Dolly, with wide opened eyes.
" Certainly, that's what he ought to have done. But these penniless adventurers are all alike—once let them come across some foolish
girl who has the prospect of a fortune."
" Foolish! Do you call Clare foolish ?" said Dolly solemnly.
" Well, if she isn't, you'll certainly make up for both" said the incensed woman, suddenly turning on the victim nearest at hand. " You know very well how impossible it is that Clare should be allowed to carry on in this disrepu table manner—getting engaged on board a mail steamer to a man she knew only for a few weeks."
Numerous retorts rose to Dolly's lips, but the traditional habit of submission got the better of her as she marked the unusual tokens of excite ment displayed by Mrs. Joseph, who very seldom showed so much temper. She could be un just, and essentially unveracious when it suited her; she would say mercilessly unkind things,
but in a dispassionate, calmly judicial kind of
way, which was far more unanswerable and exas perating than the hot unreasonable words to which she had just given utterance.
" Adam and Eve were more disreputable 'still —they only knew each other for a few hours in a lonely garden when they got engaged; but there's no use in making Helena unbearably cross by speaking of Genesis—she's bad enough as it is," thought Dolly, as she looked out at the window and kept silence like a diplomat. "Clare is coming back," she said, presently turning as if to leave the room.
Mrs. Hartingdale gave a swift glance, and saw that some moments would yet elapse before Clare could reach the house with the slow medi
tative steps which bore her through the glinting shadows of the tall gumtrees, the branching elms, and the dusky cedars that grew in friendly neighbourhood in the grounds of^MthMpe* Park. A very little reflection had served to show the eldest sister that her ontspoken rage at the sudden frustration of her carefully laid plans was a crude mistake. Whatever was to be gained by craft, and patience, and careful dissimulation, nothing could be achieved by candid and barbarous passion.
" Stop, Dolly, I have something to say to you. Of course you can easily understand that I am very much annoyed at Clare's treatment of poor Victor. But, on the whole, I suppose it is better not to say much to her about the matter just now. Indeed, I shall say nothing at all; and you—you need say nothing either."
" I am not in the habit of carrying tales," returned Dolly, with a good deal of dignity.
During the meeting and conversation with Clare which followed Mrs. Hartingdale showed no traces of the deep displeasure and disgust that filled her mind.
" I suppose Dolly has told you," said Clare softly, a swift deep flash rising on her face, after the first greetings were over.
" Yes; it appears that you have become very friendly with one of your fellow-passengers."
("It must be very hard to smile and speak gently when you want to swear out loud," thought Dolly, as she watched her eldest sister.)
"I am sorry Harleigh went away before you came, but I suppose yon will see him soon."
"Harleigh!" repeated Mrs. Hartingdale to herself with a gasp. Aloud, however, she said with serene composure:
" Of course I may speak of the grand secret to the father and mother. We are going to drive as far as Wandoo this afternoon, and as they expect to stay there to-night we'll meet them." . " Wandoo. Where is that ?" asked Clare.
" Oh, I forgot that it was bought since you went away. It is a beautiful little property Hartingdale purchased a year ago. It is twenty miles out of town, between this and Mount Regard. Hartingdale is going there on business, and I am going with him for a few days. I have not been very well of late, so perhaps a little change will do me good."
("How gracefully Helena can fib even when she is as cross as a hungry cuttlefish," thought Dolly. " She never thought of going to Wandoo till she knew about Clare's disreputable con duct on board a mail steamer. I wonder why she is going.")
" I suppose baby is running about by this time," remarked Clare, recollecting that she was an
aunt for the second time.
" He would be, if I allowed nurse to set him on the ground," returned Mrs. Joseph. " Mar guerite is growing very rapidly. I must send her and baby to see you to-morrow—at least, I'll leave directions with Clayton to bring them."
Clare expressed due gratitude at tbe pro spect of seeing the sacred scions of tbe house of Hartiugdale, and mentally wondered if their Uncle Matthew still dared to call Marguerite Peggy, as he was wont to do, notwithstanding her mother's haughty indignation.
After a long desultory chat, during which Mrs. Joseph still kept up the " taffeta phrases, silken terms, precise," to which she had schooled Herself, Clare said, "I must not forget to give you the blue China bowls Aunt Marshland sent to you, Helena. They are of the rarest kind. I believe aunt used to burn a little incense to them daily, so you may imagine how they weighed on my mind, lest anything should happen to them. I'll go and get them now."
When Clare left the room there was that awkward pause which will sometimes occur between two people who are both conscious that one of them has been acting a part. Then Helena said, "I suppose Mr.—what did you say his name is?—Oh, Roxburghe,'I suppose he will come here to-morrow again ?"
" Yes; he will be here about 4," returned Dolly cheerfully. " We sent a telegram to papa yesterday evening, after Clare came, and we had a reply this morning to say that they would be home to-morrow at 12. I suppose your meet ing them at Wandoo will not delay them ?"
" No; not that I am aware of."
Dolly wondered whether Mrs. Joseph was not getting more reconciled to the obnoxious stranger, and said by way of a feeler, "It would not do to keep them longer in suspense. I am sure they are both desperately in love."
" In love," repeated Mrs. Joseph with scornful emphasis, and a sudden darkening countenance that convinced the artful Dolly no change would lightly take place in Helena's opinion of the utter folly—to call it by no worse name—of which Clare was guilty in finally rejecting Victor Maylands for the sake of a landless stranger. And, in truth, under circumstances far less personal than these, few things could rouse Mrs. Hartingdale's ire more completely than the doctrine that it was noble and worthy for women and men to' renounce position, pri vileges, or possessions for love. The affection of husband and wife, children and parents, relatives to the twenty-fourth degree of cousin ship even—that.was a different matter. That was securedly bonds, made fast by custom, consecrated by law. Such love was regular, decorous, undisturbed by fever heats and pas sion and dangerous impulses. But the great primeval love of man for woman, of maid for her chosen lover—the love for which so many have sacrificed the best years of their lives, the very blood of their hearts, for which rank and wealth and luxurious ease have so often been cast aside like a child's toy, or the cap and bells of a fool—this she held to be a dan gerous, almost an unholy thing, too fierce and unruly for respectable domestic life. Such a passion was effective for the stage, for ballads, and romances, but to be, as far as possible, quelled and repressed in every well-regulated household—to be, if need were, stamped out by inexorable quarantine measures, like small pox, and avoided like cholera.
There had been a passage in her life a few years ago when she herself had been well-nigh a victim to the dread malady. She was then a girl of nine teen, bright and accomplished, with some faculty for disinterested admiration and fitful stirrings of enthusiasm, which a rigorous course of Mammon worship had since wholly excised. There bad been possibilities latent in her cha racter which might have matured into a nature the very reverse of that which now characterized her. In the eyes of John Hamilton she was five years ago the incarnation of all womanly grace, beauty, and tenderness. He was a distant connection on the father's side — a young subaltern, on leave from his regiment in India. In his sight no wandering isles of night dashed the light of her pure womanbood; he was blinded to the calculating worldly aide of her nature;'he saw not that she was prone to weigh conflicting interests, and decide for the greater
advantages with judicial impartiality, to light"
shy of self-abnegation in any form, and to appraise at a very high value the luxury, the ease and opulence, which were her birthright. But when the crucial test came these won the day. True, no other man had ever held so strong a hold on her heart and imagination. They had walked and rode, laughed and read and sung together. He had been in her dreams by night; and when the sun was high in the heavens, and the roses of summer were flaming, cut in multitudes that no man could number,, she had fallen into long happy reveries of him. His kindly handsome face, his frank laugh, the
pressure of his hand at parting, his radiant glance when they met—all these things she knew by heart, and read their meaning aright. But though they were pleasant to her, she never in her heart of hearts deceived herself into the belief that for her plans of life love and a
limited income would suffice. These might be good in their own way, but they were not enough.
When the young officer had gone back to India with this as his final answer, a dull chill, apathy, almost amounting to despair, had for a season taken possession of Helena Rutherford. It seemed to her during that period as though by her own deed she had turned the goodly and desirable things of life into cruel shards that strewed the road she must follow, maiming her feet horribly; that she had turned, the past into a ruthless hunter following hard, on her trail to still her very heart-throbs. But she outlived this in a comparatively short time.. She did not voluntarily dwell on the episode at any time, nor harbour any sentimental regrets.. She was, if the truth is told, rather ashamed that she had been betrayed into such a weakness —in love with a man who had but three hundred. a year. The bare mention of these figures was enough to frighten away the lurking remnants of the first and only dream of love in which she had indulged. Two years afterwards Miss Rutherford married Mr. Joseph Hartingdale, He was red in the face, very stout, very middle aged, and vulgar. But he was considered one of.' the wealthiest men in the colony. He had recently come to South Australia to take pos
session of the hoards of wealth which had been
bequeatbed to him by an older brother— an unmarried man, who had denied himself all the luxuries and some of the necessaries of life while he added flock to flock, and bought up a fabulous number of shares in copper mines which at that time were regarded as little less safe than the three per cents. Even Mr. Rutherford, who pro bably understood the bent of his daughter's mind better than any one else, and largely sympa thized with her, was slightly startled when after a. three months' slight acquaintance she accepted her unromantic suitor. Mrs. Rutherford, who was more or less blinded by that maternal love which is apt to turn a common grey goose into a swan of dazzling whiteness, was utterly dismayed to find that her elegant, accomplished, and very handsome daughter was in her twenty first year prepared to marry a man who, to use Clare's expression, would keep her " picking up his h's all her life," and who had scarcely an idea in his head beyond the value or money, the best way of increasing it, and of his own importance in possessing so much wealth..
"But, Helena, my dear, are you sure you. love him well enough ?" Mrs. Rutherford had said, looking with tender anxiety into her daughter's face.
" Certainly, Mamma," Helena had answered? without hesitation. Privately she thought her mother was very unpractical to ask a question, which might have been both disturbing and
awkward. But in this matter she was neither half-hearted nor vacillating. When she said that, she loved her future husband well enough she. meant that, in consideration of being a leader of fashion, of having a splendid house, rare wines, a retinae of servants, an unexceptionable, equipage, and unlimited dresses from Worth, she was resolved to tolerate his society and. make the best of his offences against grammar and good breeding. And she did this, but in the process her whole spiritual nature was deadened, her mind was vulgarized, and all her aim in life was to keep an unfaltering, in creasing hold of the possessions and privileges, for which she had given herself fer better for
And for a time she enjoyed without a fear or a. care the state and ostentatious magnificence, with which her husband surrounded her. But, suddenly, in the midst of her triumphant splen dour, when her feast of life was most unstinted, aud gorgeous, she saw as it were a finger on the wall writing words which blanched her face and smote terror to her heart. It came upon her with such overwhelming suddenness—this dis covery that not only a large portion of her husband's money, but nearly all Victor May
land's fortune, was invested in a copper mine, that had suddenly stopped payment. And two days after Mrs. Hartingdale made this bewilder ing discovery Victor Maylands announced his intention of joining a cousin of his own in New Zealand. " He has two immense sheepstations,. and he is just now very short of capital; so he offers to take me as partner on most liberal terms. You know I fancy that, after all is said and done, it's better to have one's money in vested in that way. I always thought it was a curious fad of my father's to realize on his pro perty as he did, and entrust it to you on my
behalf in hard cash till l attained my twenty
fourth year. Not but what you have always managed it to very good effect—much better. I'm sure, than most trustees do." Mr. Hartingdale murmured something about "friendship" and then with a face haggard with misery he told his wife of this new mis fortune. Far into the night Helena sat with her husband as he balanced accounts, valued, property, and calculated what their posi tion would be if the money held in trust for Victor Maylands must now be re placed. It was incredible, it was appalling. This was the approximate state of affairs. Of the £400,000 invested in the mine, £180.000 belonged to Victor Maylands. In the then state of the market not only were shares far below par, but there was no possibility of reali zing on them, even at a ruinous loss. If the mine steadily decreased in value—but this contingency Mr. Hartingdale declined to face.
"But you know such a thing is possible,'" urged the unhappy wife, her heart beating slowly and painfully. .
".Copper must rise again," answered Harting dale, pushing the hair from his forehead with a gesture that had in it somethinjg of despair. In that moment Helena realized with a feeling of speechless terror that the splendid price for which she had sold herself might yet pass irre vocably away from her. She looked at her hus band, her eyes gleaming, words of passionate anger rising to her lips. But seeing him look, so grey and bent, his dull eyes heavy with, misery, some stirring of womanly feeling in her heart restrained all expression of reproach.
"If Maylands did not require his money for a year or so, all might yet be well. There is the - shipping interest, which promises to show, a handsome profit this season. I can sell Wandoo to good advantage if it is not forced into the market; and I can get large advances on the other properties. But to shell out £180,000 on so short a notice—Of coarse you will always have your own settlements; nothing can inter
fere with that," added Hartingdale, seeing his. wife look as utterly despairing as if starvation stared her in the face. Helena shivered, and said nothing. A vision more terrible than the
day of doom rose up before her—a long, nay, an everlasting farewell to all her greatness; an obscure, dull life, without love or power, or the pomp and display and cherished luxury of .great wealth. What could be done to avert so cruel and disastrous a fate ?
It was then a sudden resolve took form and substance in Mrs. Hartingdale's mind. Next day she saw Victor Maylands and spoke of his new plans.
I cannot realize your going away," she said, with a pensive air; "and besides"—she hesi tated and looked down, and then, as if with a sudden burst of confidence,she said, "Isuppose I ougbt not to tell you, but"— Another pause, longer than the first, and then the yonng man, with a flash rising on his face, said quickiy," Is it anything about Clare ?"
" Yes, it is about Clare," returned Mrs. Hart ingdale softly. " It is as I thought it would be. I can read between the lines. I believe Clare never ceased to love you. Now she seems to long to be home again. Bnt if you are
gone when she returns — well, it cannot be
helped, I suppose."
"Oh, as for that, I am not bound to go to New Zealand, or anywhere else, unless I like. But you know Clare behaved very badly to me, Mrs. Hartingdale."
" I never defended Clare, as you know, Victor; but there is this much to be said, and I have said it before—I believe it was not through indifference she broke off the engagement so hurriedly."
This assertion was at once soothing and easy of belief to Mr. Maylands. Clare had behaved shamefully, but after all, if she came back humble, penitent, and secretly pining for forgiveness — not that he would be in any hurry to offer her anew the affections and the fortune she had so sacrilegiously cast away; no, he would meet her with a firm front —with the easy unembarrassed gaiety of one who utterly forgives because he lightly forgets; and then to watch the proud, firm mouth relax into tremulous smiles at his approach; to see day by day those wonderful deep soft eyes look .more tender at his coming, more wistful when he went — there were vivid dramatic possi bilities in all this that made the elderly cousin in NewZealand, with his plans for rapid money making, become a very pallid vision.
" When do you think your sister intends to return," be asked, with a comical assumption of indifference. Even already he began to assume something of the easy disinterestedness with which he would meet the erring and repentant girl.
"0, I daresay she will be here within the next five months," answered Mrs. Hartingdale. She spoke in a calm even voice, but her heart was beating wildly with excitement and a delightful sense of victory.
Victor Maylands said no more of the New Zealand scheme, and within five months of the time the conversation recorded took place Clare returned from Germany.
"And this is the result." murmured Mrs.
Hartingdale, as she drove home, leaning well back in her luxurious carriage. But the stake for which she played was too heavy to be easily abandoned. "I can and must at the very least prevent this wretched insane engage ment till after next March," she said, low under her breath, her face pale and set with mingled fury and determination.