Chapter 160170665

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160170665
Full Date1886-10-30
Page Number45
Corrections0
Word Count1881
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleA Life's Punishment
article text

THE NOVELIST.

A LIFE'S PUNISHMENT.

By E. Davenport Clbland,

CHAPTER VI.

How far I walked or in what particular

direction 1 went, I know not. 1 felt the { physical exertion to be a relief to my mind. Forced inaction would have maddened me. Bnt although I had no clear recollection of the way I went, instinct kept me from wandering too far away from the station.

When the earliest streak of dawn shot np I

from the horizon, warning me that I most get |

back to my room before any one was moving, 1 found myself walking towards the wool

shed. Words fail me as a vehicle for the | thoughts that had thronged my mind as I walked. Even if I had the genius of the greatest writer of any age, I doubt if I could faithfully describe the conflict which had raged within me. Thoughts can be noted down in words; but what pen can describe the feelings that those thoughts awoke in the mind of the thinker?

The cold night air and the exercise had helped to compose my mind in some degree, and by the time I reached my room I had

marked ont roughly the rule of my future |

conduct.

In the first plaoe, there could be no mis take as to the identity of Mrs. Hardinge with my wife. If I had had any doubts, a question or two, put to McPherson, would decide the point. Then it became clear to me that Mary—that was her Christian name —had never received the letter I wrote on board the Nemesis. I knew her too well to

suppose for a moment that she would have married Hardinge if she had had the re

motest idea of my being alive. Through the ' miscarriage of my letter she had supposed

that I had gone down in the wreck of the J

Heartsease. What a stubborn, shallow pated fool I was to have refrained from writing again to her when I reached Ade laide 1 What a wrong had been done to her and to Hardinge by my curBed silence i How

could I ever have been so insane as to think that she would have refused to come out to me? I wronged her there—the knowledge of my Bin would have grieved her to the heart, but none the lesB would she have done her

duty—ay! have done it lovingly.

What course was I now to pursue? My wife was in a false position—unwittingly, certainly. In the eye of the law and or

society Bhe was in a false position. If it I became known society would most probably

close its doors to her—would shut ner out. | To declare that she had taken thiB step inno cent of all wrongs, to bring the strongest evidence in support of the declaration, would

be useless—a mere waste of words! The offence had been "found out" and was unpardonable. Society would frown, and the immaculate lips of its members would part with a smile of scornful pity.

The rigid moralist may say that my duty to society should have made me go to the house on the following morning and claim my wife. I should have rescued her from living in a position to which she had no title or claim. The temptation to do something of that description was very strong, but it passed away in a little while. I felt that I could not—that I had no right to disturb the life and happiness of the woman who had suffered through my wickedness. She was probably happy with Hardinge. He was a genuinely good man, and his wealth could do much to smooth the path of his wife's life.

And ought I to have stepped forward and j with a breath have scattered the happiness and comforts that were her due? Ought I merely for the sake of a theory to have in sisted upon Mary sharing my crust, and besides have entailed upon her a life sentence of shame and remorse ? No, most certainly

not.

She had done no wrong. She had had every reason to suppose me dead, and I must never undeceive her. Hut shall I stay near her or go away—be out of sight ? That was a question not easily answered. At first I thought I had better go away, Then, to know that my wife aud boy were here and 1 not by would make me restless and uncom fortable. I should be for ever longing to see

tbem.

_ I determined to stay on, at any rate, for a time. If it became more than I could bear— if there should be any danger of discovery— why, then, 1 could leave. My wife had gone from me, aud 1 had morally no claim upon her, but I could see and sometimes speak to ber. And then there was my boy ! my son, Walter. He was mine still; I could be a father to him. He would not know the

relationship, but 1 could make him love me, I thought. He would be often with me on the run. I should see a great deal of him, I

was sure.

There was one other feeling that touched me to the quick—my wounded vanity. I had thought that I had so engrossed Mary's love that she could never, under any circum stances, feel any for another man, I had never been able to picture her as a widow remarrying, and now, at the end of a short eight years, I was face to face with—not the pictnre—but with the living fact 1

With what little thought a fool cuts a rod for his own back : how carelessly he prepares the bed upon which he must lie down! I cut my rods and made my bed many a year ago, but they smite and torment me now as keenly as of old.

At half-past 5 o'clock the ringing of the station bell roused the men from their beds. An hour later they trooped acrosB to the office, and McPherson told tbem off to their several labours and duties. Then breakfast was served in Bachelor's Hall, and McPherson explained to me the work that was going on at the time. I suppose that I showed some sign of the eleeplesB night I had passed, for he suggested that 1 should remain within doors and rest for the day. But that was the very thing I wished now to escape. I must be kept employed, I must work hard to dis tract my mind from the one absorbing thought.

I was to be installed in the office as accoun- , tant and storekeeper, a position which on a j large station affords constant work. And besides the indoor work I could, if I wished in my spare time, assist in the work amongst the stock. But during the first week I was treated as a visitor. I went abont to all parts of the run, chiefly with McPherson ; but sometimes drove or rode out with Hardinge and hiB family. I avoided this, how ever, as often as possible. Custom and use make most things stale, but it was not until I bad met Mary many times that I could feel in the slightest degree at ease in her presence. She seemed to be very happy and contented as far as I had the means of judging, but it struck me on more than one occasion that her behaviour towards me ' differed from her ubdsI manner in some way.

On the evening when I first met her I had noticed the strange look that came into her

eyeB, a semi-puzzled, frightened expression; end after that when chanoing to look at her suddenly, I had caught her looking at me, and with the self-same expression,

Though I had determined to keep my own oonnsel there was no reason why I should not talk to her when oooasion offered, always remembering to be on my guard against a slip of the tongue. Everyone knew of course that I was an Englishman by birth, and Mary on two occasions turned the conversa tion upon the scenery and life of the county and town in which she and I had been born and reared.

What old, but still green and living memories were recalled to me at these times.

X told an 'untruth the very first time this topic came up, and never swerved from it, 1 professed entire ignorance concerning the place. I had been born in London, ana only knew the country from flying visits taken during holidays. It was safe enongh to talk about th6 city, and Mary soon fonnd that I knew some parts of it quite as well, [if not better, than Bke did herself.

My intimacy with Walter, however, did not increase as fast as I could have wished. 1

dare say I was not an inviting personage either in face or manner, and boys have their likes and dislikes aB strongly pronounced as their elders. But he is an exceptional boy who can persist in his coldnesB towards a person that has used every endeavour to win

his affections, and God knows how I courted the love of my son. I felt that I must have him to love; there wbb no reaeon why I should not. It is an old saying that "Blood is thicker than water," implying, Ieuppose, that one will feel more interest and affection for relations than for strangers. But the fact that my blood flowed in Walter's veinB appeared to influence him very little in my favour.

I had been at Famatta some months before I could feel certain that I had gained ground with him. Bnt once I discovered a tie which

drew us together day by day. He was a studious lad, and regretted that he had been taken from school so young. But hiB mother could not bear the thought of leaving him behind her, either at an English school or in Adelaide. It was the love of books that

placed us upon an equal footing, and quietly, and with what I thought an infinite deal of cunning, I led him on to talk about them to me, and at last it came abont that we arranged to have an hour and a half every evening in the office, during which we would read and study together. Ah ! what pleasant hours were those! Together we carried on the leBBona from where he had left off at school, and in these my boy had the advantage of me. All my school know ledge was ruBty, but it was with a pleasant and pardonable pride that Walter corrected my mistakes.

These were the times which lightened in some degree the burden I carried. It would

be a terrible life indeed in which there was no ceseation of toil or pain. My occupation on the station suited my tastes exactly. Although the hooka and the store entailed a great deal of work it was not continuous day after day. I was thus able to go abont on the run very often and OBsist m mustering sheep, drafting, and other things.