Chapter 160811025

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160811025
Full Date1893-11-25
Page Number36
Corrections10
Word Count3646
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-17
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

THE NOVELIST.

ON THE WRONG TRACK.

[BY JESSIE WATERHOUSE.]

CHAPTER V.

The evening which ended that day was the least pleasant of any part of the time spent by Myrtis with, Miss Langley. Westbrooke came in as usual, about an hour before dinner, hope- ful about the prospects of his mine, and boyishly full of his new determination to bring down a mining expert to pronounce upon the ore and indications of future lines of opera- tion. He saw immediately the new constraint between Miss Langley and her young visitor, and their discomfort reacted upon himself.

Talk, even about the mine, flagged. Myrtis went to the piano, but she failed in every attempt to remember music which she thought she knew by heart. Westbrooke felt as if some impalpable barrier was rising between himself and the girl he loved with a boy's romantic adoration. So far everything she had said, done, or looked, seemed to him the exact word, look, or action which was most beautiful, in its time or place. Now every-

thing was changed. She was not less charm-. ing, but she dwelt in a world apart from his. A horrible sense of shyness took possession of him. If he spoke, he felt he was saying the wrong thing. He wondered why he had never before discovered that he was egotistical; that he monopolized the conversation, without once saying anything worth hearing. He be- lieved he made these and sundry other minor unpleasant discoveries connected with his personal appearance through the medium of Myrtis's mind. He was seeing himself through

her eyes, he thought.

Myrtis was not in a much happier frame of mind. Earlier in the evening she had been burdened principally by a sense that she would have something to reveal, which would annoy her parents and render impossible, future visits to Miss Langley; or, if her courage should prove unequal to raising up another obstacle in the way of making the niche at home, for which she longed, something which must be concealed from them—-something which would prevent her from confronting them with the singleness of purpose in which she had begun her home life.

As the evening went on these considerations were overshadowed by the immediate pain of seeing that she had offended her kind hostess. Though she knew that Miss Langley was un- reasonable, she could not quite console herself, nor help feeling that the estrangement was in some way her own fault. She had been blunt and ungrateful, she feared, making a poor return for disinterested kindness. But this consideration was in turn cast into the back- ground by a rapidly growing fear lest her own feelings should play her decision false. Once during the evening she caught West- brooke's beautiful eyes fixed upon her face, with such hungry beseeching in them that she trembled and felt faint. If he could find words to translate that look she feared all her dutiful reflections and resolves would go

for nothing.

As if Miss Langley had become mesmeri- cally aware of what was passing in the mind of Myrtis, she rose and left the room with a muttered apology.

Neither of the two thus left alone together could find a word to say. Myrtis sought frantically in the recesses of her mind for something to say, but she seemed already to have exhausted her very small store of small talk.

Westbrooke made no such attempt. He had started in life with the conviction that most men fail, because timidity (which they call caution) prevents their seizing their oppor- tunity when it presents itself. So far as his very small experience went, his having adopted the opposite course appeared to have proved successful. Timid persons thought he had been rash to madness in giving up an ex- cellent billet, as clerk to a firm of wheat buyers, to adventure his fortune on the Royal Exchange, but his success had been pheno- minal for so young a man.

He rose a few moments after Miss Langley had left the room and stood with his arm on the piano, looking down at Myrtis, who still kept her seat on the music stool before the

instrument.

"I don't know whether you will think me mad," he began, "but I believe that our kind friend has left us to give me a chance of telling you of something which concerns my whole future life."

He spoke in a dry, choked voice, as if his throat was full of ash-powder.

Myrtis clasped both her palms together— ground them together—not daring to speak

lest her teeth should chatter.

"I have thought of nothing but your face since our first meeting," he went on, speaking in jerks, as if he was obliged to force the words out; "of your face, and all it could say to me of the soul which it reveals. I don't want to use common-place words about the feeling which has taken possession of me, and I don't want to presume. I did not know that I was to meet you here until I saw you. I don't mean that I should have been strong enough to run away it I had known. But I think you ought to know that I was ignorant of Miss Langley's kind invitation. Since I have the chance of speaking to you alone I will not lose it. You are and always will be the only woman in the world for me. I know I am not good enough for you. I never thought so little of myself as now, when I come to offer myself to you, but"—

A dead silence followed his stammering words. In spite of the tempest which had been gathering force in him during the past two days, and had now reached its climax, he was collected enough to see that Myrtis was trembling. The sight of her agitation broke down the last barriers of his reserve. He forgot all the wise things he had been about to say; all his virtuous resolve not to press her for an answer until she had had time to think over so serious a matter; his heroic decision to lay bare his heart, and to leave her free till he had acquired a social position which would justify him in asking her father's consent to

their marriage. In a calmer moment he would have thought himself mad in making sure of her consent without a word of encouragement on her part. But that blessed trembling! It seemed to tell him that which he craved to know. He fell on his knees beside her, and catching her hand in his pressed it again and again to his lips, whispered—"I love you! I love you! You care for me a little, Myrtis, don't you?"

She tried to push him away; to tell him she was not prepared to grant all he asked; to explain to him that her feelings were in an

undeveloped condition,

But he would not be pushed away, and he stopped her remonstrances with a kiss. That kiss Myrtis felt had sealed her fate. It was the first she had ever felt, and to her mind the idea that the man who had so far dared, not against her will, could ever be to her indif- ferent, was sacrilege. She was bound now for good or for harm. Reflection must be banished until later—repentance should not

come.

After a few blissful moments of silence, Westbrooke whispered, "I must see your

father, dearest, I am afraid we shall have hard work to get his consent, but you will be

true to me?"

She looked down into his eyes—those melt- ing, dark eyes which were so infinitely more eloquent than his words, and said "Yes" in a firm tone, which filled him with happy

confidence.

By-and-by Miss Langley returned to the drawing-room, where she was told what had happened by Westbrooke, with a mixture of frankness and modesty which seemed to Myrtis the perfection of manner for a lover. The one irritating fibre of which she was con- scious, as running through her happiness, took the outward form of watching Sebastian; of weighing him in the balance of her expecta- tions, or as it were; of sitting in judgment upon his looks and words. Though he satisfied her on every point, she felt that her attitude

towards him was not what it would have been towards a man born in her own rank of life. What odious freak of her brain could have made Mr. Heywood's name dart across her mind? she wondered. Already she fore- saw that she should be jealous and self concious for him; ready to imagine that he was being subjected to criticism by those who might be his inferiors in all things except in the accident of birth. But before she slept that same night, she had comforted herself by thinking that while she could atone to him for much that seemed to her hard and unfair in his lot in life, the knowledge that she was of supreme importance to him that in her all his hopes, of happiness were centred—would support her powerfully under the trials which were certain to await her at home.

As may be supposed Westbrooke's proposal for Myrtis was rejected with mingled indig- nation and amazement. Far from finding life at home more tolerable, Myrtis thought she had never known the meaning of the word misery before. She had been ordered imme- diately after her return from Miss Langley's house to sign a paper containing a promise never again to see or speak to Westbrooke.

Gently reminding her parents that she was of age Myrtis, declined to obey.

"Very well," said her father in a fury, "I will give yon exactly one week for considera- tion. If at the end of the time you choose to sign that promise, you shall, hear no more reproach on the subject of your folly; that wretched spinster shall bear the blame. Odious, vulgar matchmaker. But let me tell you, if you refuse I will lock you up in your room till I break either your heart or your spirit."

"But, father," said Myrtis, in a tone of mild remonstrance, "don't you think you ought to allow me to put my own view of the case before you—at my age?"

"I think it would be more becoming, at your age, to think of your parents and to consult their wishes," cried the irascible doctor.

Myrtis was by nature placid rather than stormy. She sighed, giving up the battle until her father should have calmed down. Later in the day she tackled her mother on the subject.

"Apart from the consideration of young Westbrooke's birth, Myrtis, and apart from our grief and mortification in seeing that you are willing to fling away all the advantages we have given you, for, a mere whim, your own experience at home ought to have taught you that you are quite unfit to be a wife. How would you manage a house? The idea is pre- posterous."

"It would be so different," pleaded poor Myrtis, who had never been able to accept the theory that all this fault lay on her side.

"It would, indeed!" cried Mrs. Elliot, with a short, angry laugh. "No one would be at hand to repair your mistakes, to remember what you had forgotten, and to do what you

had neglected. You are of the true stamp of colonial girl, Myrtis, who expects to play the fine lady, while her mother drudges from morning till night."

"You are unjust to me, mother," said Myrtis with mild dignity. "I cannot believe that you really think so badly of me."

Mrs. Elliot felt that she had lashed out too far. She could not find words to give utterance to her inward anger and disappoint- ment, or perhaps she was really ashamed to admit that, in her eyes, young Westbrooke's worst fault was his having been born at Bea Bay, where his father's name had been a by-

word. Mrs. Elliot knew that she was considered to give herself airs of consequence among the little community at Bea Bay. She wished to be considered exclusive, declining even the most respectable among the settlers' children as companions for her own family. And now her eldest daughter, having been allowed to grow up away from home, in order that she might completely escape contamination, wished to marry the "lowest of the low," as she designated poor Sebastian. The days of the week—that one week, which was allowed to Myrtis for reconsidering her refusal to give up Westbrooke—went by. Dr. and Mrs. Elliot grew more silent but more irritable. Myrtis trembled inwardly, but she kept a serene front. Her small brothers and sisters knew all about the difficulty, their parents being incapable of restraining their conversation in the presence of children. They commented freely upon her engagement to Sebastian, promising her that she would be well whipped if she refused to obey.

On the last day but one of the allotted week Myrtis received a letter addressed in a hand writing which she knew to be Westbrooke's, having seen a note, written by him to her father, requesting leave to call upon him on the occasion of asking for his consent to their engagement. Her mother also recognised the handwriting.

"Myrtis," she said, "if you read that, letter, I shall expect you to tell or to show me its contents."

"Very well, mother," Myrtis replied meekly, and Mrs. Elliot left the room, not without a sense of sorrowful sympathy for her daughter. The note told her that Sebastian was even then awaiting her beside a ruined cottage about a quarter of a mile distant from her father's house. The note had been written on the previous day. Westbrooke named 3 o'clock on the day on which Myrtis was reading her first love-letter. Without an instant's hesitation she took her garden-hat and slipped unobserved out of the house. This meeting might also be an eternal parting —she was resolved to go. Westbrooke was awaiting her in a frenzy of impatience and anxiety. He told her he had been down again to visit the mine with an expert, but that he must return to his business on the following day. They had scarcely felt the bliss of meeting, when Dr. Elliot drew up his horses close beside them, and shouted to Myrtis to go home at once.

An hour later the vials of her parents' wrath were being emptied on the girl's unhappy head. In vain she protested her innocence of any intention to deceive them; they refused even to hear her speak. It was in her own bedroom that the distressing scene took place, and when Dr. and Mrs. Elliot at last left the room - themselves, at least, as wretched as she - they locked the door on the outside. Myrtis started up at this indignity, her white face flaming crimson, but reason reminded her of the folly of resistance Unfortunately no

chance was afforded to her of considering the whole question and of making her decision calmly. Her parents had stung a nature, which though quiet and equable on the surface, had plenty of reserves of fiery strength below into open rebellion. They loved her dearly in spite of their seeming harshness. They desired earnestly to do what was best for her happiness, but neither had learned to control tempers naturally arbitrary, and the idea of being resisted by a child, as they con- sidered Myrtis still, was unbearable.

After many hours of painful discussion Dr. and Mrs. Elliot arrived at a decison. Myrtis must be sent away from home once more, but not this time to the careless care of Mrs. Lethbridge.

An aunt of Mr. Elliot—almost universally detested a maiden lady of five and forty years lived in a lonely spot about sixty miles from Bea Bay. The mild Myrtis was not given to form violent dislikes, but it was to be feared that her feeling for Miss Norbury was some- thing very like hatred. Briefly, it may be said, that Miss Norbury deserved to be detested. But she could be depended upon to mount guard over a refractory young woman and though this line of conduct was extremely repugnant to Dr. Elliot and his wife, they resolved not to allow any foolish weakness to prevent their carrying out their design. It did not occur to them that the weakness

might be shown by the opposite action.

Early on the following morning Myrtis was aroused from the light and troubled doze into which she had fallen at daybreak by the sight of her mother standing beside the bed with a lighted candle in ber hand.

"Get up and dress yourself. Your father is going to take you to live with your Aunt Norbury. We cannot control"—

"Mother," cried Myrtis, starting up in bed, her eyes blazing, her fair curly hair falling in wild disorder about her head and shoulders. "Mother, I will not go. You are pushing your authority too far. You have no right to try to force me to live with that woman."

"Wicked, wicked girl! I will not have you here. Dare to say to your father, what you have just said to me."

Mrs. Elliot turned and left the room, her heart full of anguish and bitterness, suffering more than her daughter in the awful prospect of finding a home with the redoubtable Aunt Norbury, yet fired with Roman resolution to carry out her cruel decision. And of course Myrtis had no choice but to go with her father. She took her seat at the back of the little spider buggy, drawn by two stout brown cobs. Dr. Elliot mounted sorrowfully into the driver's, seat though he paused for a moment, as if to give Myrtis a chance of recanting. But the girl sat quiet and white, making no sign. Very soon a slight cloud of dust at the turn of the road leading away from the house alone remained to testify to their late precence.

To the infinite relief of both travellers, a minister of one of the local congregations called to them as they drove by. It transpired that he wished to travel by their road for some considerable distance. He had only hoped to obtain a lift for a mile or two, and gladly accepted Dr. Elliot's invitation to drive with him to his destination. Thus Myrtis was left alone with her own thoughts. Sebastian, she knew, was now on his way to Adelaide. He had spoken of making an early start, but Myrtis doubted that he would have started so early as her father. Nevertheless he and she were destined to meet yet once again. Arrived at the first large township on their road, the

doctor was seen and hailed by a patient. He was unwilling but felt obliged to answer the summons. He dismounted, leaving Myrtis alone with the Reverend Mathew Anstey. The minister was not appreciative of the trust

reposed in him, for after a few spasmodic remarks on either side, he deserted Myrtis for a parishioner whom he saw in the distance.

Myrtis was roused from her sad thoughts by the stopping of a light wagonette and pair of grey horses at the blacksmith's shop close by. Her heart beat madly, everything danced and swam before her eyes, for her hand was in Sebastian's; his voice was asking her in accents of delight how she came to be on his road, and whether her father had been very angry with her in consequence of the meeting which he had witnessed on the previous day.

Myrtis hastily explained that she was banished from home, and sent to the care of her Aunt Norbury.

"Will she be kind?" whispered Sebastian.

"Will she let us meet and write?"

"She is the hardest, coldest, cruellest woman I ever saw," said Myrtis, bitterly. "She will have orders to keep me a prisoner, and she will fulfil her trust. But go, go! What is the use of enraging my father again?"

"I will meet you later, Myrtis. It is of no use to take you away now, but I will invent my plan as we go. We shall all stop to dine at Dyson's. We shall change horses there;

look out for me. Your father is certain to stop there on account of his horses."

He was gone almost before she had grasped the sense of his parting words. She saw him spring into the wagonette, another man occupied the opposite seat, the driver sat alone in front. This equipage had long been out of sight when Dr. Elliot returned to find Mr. Anstey standing near the wagonette, and Myrtis sitting exactly as he had left her. Something in her attitude appealed vaguely to his fatherly affection; his heart smote him hard when he thought of consigning his pretty Myrtis to the selfish old harridan, Aunt Norbury. He determined to give her one more chance.

"Myrtis," he said hurriedly, "it is not too late for you to repent. Will you take an oath neither to see nor to speak to young West- brooke? If you will do that I will drive you home; you shall never hear a word of reproach."

"No, father, I will not make a promise which I cannot keep. I have not been treated fairly," her voice trembled, and she could scarcely compel her words; "you have set my feelings on one side, and now you are using force to put me into a position which I have not deserved."

Dr. Elliot made no reply except to mount to his seat, to summon Mr. Anstey and to drive on his way.