|Chapter Title||TAKEN BY THE SHOULDER.|
|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Sexton's Secret|
TAKEN 37 THE 8H0ULDBB.
Heres a letter for ;on, Sir sexton, The Postmaster in the village yonder," and the speaker motioned with his band in the direction indiaated( "desired me to lea re it with yon thie afternoon as I passed through the forest. You'll excuse haste, perhaps ; bat I have a long way yet to go."
Demetrieffhadbeenorouohing down some what miBerably; as was hiB wont, by theBtove, He was certainly in a dreary mood that day, and perhaps Bc=h faot was hardly to be
wondered at. The life he led since his - daughter's departure was indeed a dreary
one-desparately lonely in faot. Many a - time had he been heard mattering to him self that life wasn't actually worth living, and that he oculdn't tell what in the world he bad been born for. Snoh also had been the nature of his musings at the precise moment when he had been interrupted by tbe ohanoe passer-by. Truly, the mere daily contemplation of his own hut, and immediate surroundings, coupled with the advent of an occasional funeral in the sombre looking restiog place close by-"God's Acre," as the saying goes-was not on the whole a peculiarly inspiriting one. He glanced a moment now at the carefully sealed letter lying at a short distance from him upon the dark eartbern floor; then rising Blowly from his crouching attitude he laid hands upon the
" My brave Lisa!" was his somewhat hasty exclamation. " What a good little soul she is to remember me so often from her new home in the grand city! She's worth her weight in gold, she is. And, *borje me I if there isn't another five-rouble note enolosed ' for dear old father,' as she has written on thiB slip of paper. But now for her letter," came falteringly. " I'll read it aloud, though there's not a eoul here to share in my plea sure ; but in that way I guess I shall make out the writing better."
" ' Dear father,'he read, tbe words in quos tion being of course a translation,' I'm all right here, and hope you are the same, my dear. If ever you want anythiig let me know: and if possible I won't disappoint you ; I'm getting along splendidly, and every one is kind enough; but that's not all I have got to say. I've a seoret to tell you, but I won't write it, It might get me into mischief. But what do yoa thiak ? We are alt coming to Graminetry soon-only beoause I've talked so muoh about the dear old plaoe, you know."
"It is my lady's fancy; and her hus band has at last consented. We shall stay at the inn. You musn't think, dearie, that I have become grand; but, you see, we are to stay there a whole week-so my lady has decided-aud I am so wild with happi nesB that I hardly know what to do."
" Your daughter, Lisa 1"
" Well, to be sure !" and then the wholly delighted (sexton positively gasped for breath, and rubbed his large rough hand aoross his ejeB an instant. Sometning had served to render them for the moment dim.
How glad he was to think that, after all, he need not feel quite alone in this wide world.
Already the grey-headed Demetrieff seemed to have taken a freeh lease of life.
" I'm sorry to disturb you," fell at that moment in a clear, silvery tone upon hia ear, "but I have been directed to your abode."
Demetrieff glanced up hastily, A lady clad in the garments of a Sister of Mercy Btood before him in the open doorway. Her simple black dress, with pure white bib and carefully-oovered head told at one glanoe the mission of her life.
" You require some service from me, bahrinnet!" replied the sexton, advancing as he spoke towards his visitor. The words fell respeotfully. Her special calling, it waB only too evident, was saored in his eyes.
" I do. I am here for the purpose of obtaining some very neoessary information relative to-but never mind at this preoise moment what. You-you can spare time to accompany me for, say, half an hour 7 Not longer."
Demetrieff looked somewhat doubtful. Perhaps, however, he only waited to hear
" I will reward you liberally," oame next. "You need have no fear whatever on that point."
" I am at your servioe, lady," was the brisk rejoinder.
"Take me to the cemetery then, yonder; churchyard, I believe you call it. Answer every question that I may put to you-to the best of your anility, I mean-and then yon may return home."
Already the sexton was making bis pre parations for doing as she deeired, and soon the two were walking onwards side by sida along the narrow shady path threading its way amidst the many hundreds of tall and stately pines. Already they had reached the ground apportioned &b the last earthly home of tbe " dear dead."
" There is a grave here," she said, in a low, steady voice, .. to which I will lead vou. I am a stranger in this district of Russia. Never, in faot, until yesterday have I trod its soil. The errand whioh has served to' briLg me here la at the bidding of one of our priests."
It was evident that she had already learnt tbe path well, even in that short space of time. She did not once pause to hesitate.
" Now, who lies there ? The story of that grave !" she demanded, almost ' jperatively. "That's if story there beoor^eoted with it. The truth, remember." She went on dis tinctly, raising her hand a moment grace fully, as if with the view of enforcing com pliance with her demand.
The sexton's face had become suddenly blanohed. Hia eyes fell onoe again, only now, however, as if mechanically, upon the inscription immediately facing him.
"In memory of Feodore," For the instant be could not read further, " Tell me what you know of-well then, the wife in «hose memory this monument is erected."
He knew that the glance of those dark eyes now so near his own was fixed upon his
face. He knew aleo that their owner
waiting wistfully, aUo impatiently, lor hie
"I know nothing of her, then," was the 'quiet but stolid reply,
"1 do not exsotiy understand," she broke in, ouriouBly. " You have been sexton of .?this old parish graveyard for more than
twenty-five yean, they say; and this moon itnent-why, it only been plaoed here
" I know that faot, also, bahrinne. .
*' But yon can tell me some of the cirouin ititncei of the case, sorely t You know the name of the individual who arranged every thing with yon?" The faee of DemetriefF became even paler than before.
The "sister" meanwhile was watching him narrowly. . , ,
"I remember some one, of course, oomlng to me aboot the matter-a stranger; but. his ' own business was not, again of oonrse, mine. 1 performed the duties of my offioe-ahem 1" -came for a moment. hesitatingly-" the duties of a parish sexton upon auoh an - oooasion."
" And tell me. What were those duties ? Attain Demetrieff hesitated.
" You make me curious. Are they so heavy, then ?"
"I'll tell you what It is," came now hnrriedly, and also in an exasperated falhion. "The duties devolving upon a sexton like myself are easy enough to pioture-any one, in fact, may do so; and also not particularly : ageeable to perform."
"You evade my question," she broke In, - with a considerable show of annoyance. ' *' Answer me ; and frankly, good Bexton, In
the sacred name of Heaven 1 Already, for the seoond time since entering the ground, . she had bent herself low towards the ground, . «roBsing herself meanwhile three times in
true orthodox fashion, according to the ritual of the Greek Churoh in Russia, from fore bead to ohest, and again from left shoulder to : right.
" I cannot tell yon more than what I have . already said," came with a forced air of reasau
ranoe. "The gentleman who arranged every thing," the official pursued, " was a stranger - to me-a stranger, also, I believe, to the ? eDtire neighbourhood."
" Yon were present at the funeral, of course I" ,. , _
It was the one question for whioh Dame : trieff had waited desperately throughout the
interview. He had felt sure that it must oome at last."
"I was away at the time," he said, hurriedly. " The oeremony-ahem 1-was over when "
*' When you returned," she Interrupted with a strange and also painful intonation of voice. " An admirably got-up story-I under stand it perfectly," fell with a bitter laugh. "You have kept your own oounsel admirably, sexton, onlytnatyouhave scarcely been brave enough in the matter, after all. You should have told your story differently, and - carried matters with a somewhat bolder,
higher hand." The trembling DemetriefF had been wholly taken unawares by her unlooked for questions. Not bo well skilled in the art of oraftiness and cunning as moBt of his fellow-countrymen, be had played a deB
Serately bad game in the present case, and
ad undeniably loBt.
His Becret, be should have deemed only one short half-hour ago, was as safe from be trayal on his own part as were the mysteries of the depth of ooean itself.
A wretched clue to it, as he considered, had, however, been somehow wreBted from him in spite of his hearty resolution to the contrary. Come what might the kesn-slghted questioner had proved herself too much for
His story had been a lame one. and the upshot had only been, in all probability,
ruination to himself.
" You seem, bahrinne, to know more about tho matter than I actually do myself," he ventured despairingly. " Cease questioning , me, I implore you-for your own sake, it may
be, as well as my own. No good, believe me, Will ever oome of it."
Already, however, she had laid her hand firmly upon his shoulder. The grasp, although a woman's, was not a light one.
" Your price,"she demanded, "for telling tne the whole truth ? I know that money is everything in this nation. It serveB as the keyhole giving entrance to all secrets-all shameful and also shamelesa doings. Now, are you satisfied, I ask ? Your price, £ say again ?"
He did not flinch even for a moment aB her hand lay heavily upon his shoulder. Her innermost feelings had been worked up to a bitter sense of desperation, and all woman's weakness, woman's fear, was for the time being forgotten.
"I've been a miserable viotim all through," - broke in the agitated man, "and I don't want
any further bribes either; for Lisa, I know, would hate me for taking them. I'm a weak, silly old man-yes, yes, I know that fact but I don't want to be the means of disgracing my daughter for all that."
" I'll release you. then-for her sake only, reoolleot, however, and already the speaker had withdrawn her hand. "Money is of course your god, aud thanks to its bestowal you have consented to let yourself fall into thiB wretohed trap. I'm sorry for you. There ar.t roubles for you again in plenty, for your information, however ignorantly bestowed. You have boen the dupe all round. There 1 . pick them up before the wind scatters them
Already she had thrown some paper money at his feet; but Deuietrieff hid passed through what may be turned a sea of fire. His terror at the thought of what might poBBibly oome out of all this had completely overpowered him, and he had fallen senseless at the " Sister's" feet.