Chapter 160811026

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160811026
Full Date1893-11-25
Page Number37
Corrections4
Word Count2321
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-17
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

CHAPTER VI.

Sebastian waited long and impatiently at Dyson's Hotel, at Baldock, before Dr. Elliot's light buggy was seen as a mere speck on the long stretch of level white road leading out of the scrub which had hitherto concealed the object of Westbrooke's longing. His plans were now definitely formed. Time being of the utmost importance to his own business, West- brooke had arranged before leaving Adelaide that fresh relays of horses should meet him at twenty-mile stages of the journey. He prepared to watch his opportunity to carry Myrtis off while her father's attention should be diverted, to convey her with him to town in the wagonette, there to marry her at the office of the Registrar, and to take her at once to his mother's house. He assured himself that he was fully justified in acting thus, but

he owned to himself, also, that, justified or not he would have done the same thing. He concealed himself at Dr. Elliot's approach, wondering a little at the presence of the Reverend Mr. Anstey, but hoping to find him

a convenience rather than an obstacle. The

event proved that his hope was well founded. Dr. Elliot, being more particular about the housing, feeding, and general comfort of his horses than about his own, left Myrtis guarded by her reverend companion, and followed the ostler to the inn stables. Now was Sebastian's moment. A stable help was crawl- ing along towards his wagonette with a pair of steady-looking bay horses. He darted towards the man saying, "Five shillings if you get those horses harnessed in two minutes, but

make no mistakes." He beckoned to the

mining expert, who had been looking irritably at his watch several times during the last half

hour.

"Jump up, will you?" said Sebastian. "Where on earth is the driver?" But that

individual also appeared on the scene, pipe in mouth and hands in pockets.

When Dr. Elliot returned from his visit to the stables Myrtis was nowhere to be found. The ostler and stableman, whose intellects had been sharpened by Sebastian's gold, could throw no light upon the matter when ques-

tioned.

"The young person was here, as you might say, one minute, and the next she was gone!" was the text to which they stuck. But when the doctor, who was seriously alarmed, had set off, not knowing in which direction she could have gone to elude the fate which had awaited her, one man said to the other, apostrophizing the departing buggy, "She's clear off, old chap! Hooked it with her fancy man, by

what I can see!"

Mr. Anstey had observed nothing, being absorbed in reverie at the time. And Myrtis, through all the tempestuous feel- ings which were setting her brain in a whirl, found time to shrink with pain from the thought that she had exposed her father to the observation of possibly coarse-minded strangers. She and Sebastian could exchange no words in private with any comfort, though the mining expert, taking in the whole situa- tion at a glance, considerately shared the driver's seat, requesting permission as he did

so to draw the front curtains in order that "your sister will not be annoyed by the smell of tobacco." Westbrooke blessed him for his kind pretence of misunderstanding, though he was not deceived by it, but he contrived to let Myrtis know by degrees his ideas for their future, and to prepare her mind for their im- mediate marriage.

The first twenty miles of their journey were passed over in safety. It is to be feared that the pretty scenery through which they drove was entirely thrown away upon the lovers. The two men in the front of the vehicle were engaged in telling each other interminable yarns, which appeared to the listeners insde to

consist of—

"Well, where was I? On the Tuesday as I come up on the Friday—no, I tell a lie. It was the Monday as I come up on the Satur- day, I says to Jim—I says, Jim, says I"—

With a fresh pair of horses, on the travellers

started. Sebastian's nerves were on the rack lest they should not reach the city within the hours during which civil marriages could be performed. Yet, if no accident happened, his fears seemed but ill-founded. If! They were driving rapidly through a flourishing township, just fifteen miles from their destina- tion, when the driver first slackened speed, then pulled up, and sprang to the ground.

"What's wrong!" came from Westbrooke in a sharp tone of anxiety.

"Wheel's heated, sir."

And after a lengthy examination and dis- cussion it became plain to Westbrooke's resisting mind that a halt for at least an hour would be necessary. Trembling from head to foot though he was, he kept a calm exterior.

"We will walk on," he said to his com- panions, taking the trembling hand of Myrtis and putting it into his arm. "We may be able to hire a trap here."

But twenty minutes' fruitless search could have convinced any one less desperate than Sebastian Westbrooke that no trap was to be hired at Mayfields. His reason told him of the extreme improbability that Dr. Elliot would catch up with him now, notwithstanding this irritating delay; but he could not listen to reason until Myrtis should be his wife beyond the powers of fathers to part them.

"Hallo! old fellow!" cried some one, noisily, thumping Sebastian on the back as he walked quickly out of the last little public house, where he had vainly tried to hire a vehicle of any kind. Myrtis was standing outside. Two young men who had that moment reached Mayfields on a bicycling excursion came into the bar of the inn by another door in time to see Sebastian leaving it.

Westbrooke started round, angry at being accosted by any one at such a moment, to con- front the young men whom he knew well and usually avoided —Whitelook and Lucas by name. Myrtis had also met these young men once in society, and had been reproved by Mrs. Lethbridge for allowing two persons of disreputable character to monopolize her atten- tion for a whole evening. She recognised them, but before she could decide whether or not to bow slightly and move away they had both rushed forward eagerly to claim her acquaintance. And now, for the first time during the whole business of the elopement, Sebastian acted against his own strong feeling, with what result in the way of satisfaction or of regret the sequel alone can show.

"Here are two fellows up to every shift under the sun, sharp as lancets, quick as eels and as slippery, always sailing as close to the wind as it s possible to go, yet never getting upset. I hate to tell them about Myrtis and me. Yet if ever mortal men could help another out of such a hole they are the men to do it. I am hanged if I don't try whether they can't suggest anything."

And meantime Messrs. Whitelock and Lucas, having already had as much to drink as was bad for them, had intruded themselves upon Myrtis, insisting upon shaking hands with her, despite her reserved manner of receiving them. She, having no idea that Sebastian would at any time allow such men to claim his acquaintance, disgusted with their forward manners, by their reeking odour of liquor, by their red and excited faces, forgot that she had on a former occasion found them lively and amusing, forgot that they were not to know she had since reason to think ill of them, and snubbed them so decidedly and, it must be owned, rudely, that they were obliged to perceive their advances to be unwelcome. Turning huffily, away from her, they ran against Sebastian whose cordial welcome

amazed them as much as the coolness of Myrtis. If they bad been perfectly sober they would not have ventured to slap West-

brooke on the back.

"I want to speak to you for a moment," said Sebastian hurriedly, and, acting upon his previous knowledge of the characters of the two men, he added, "it is about a matter in which I want help—of a very delicate matter— in short—I could make it very well worth any one's while to help, me and to hold his tongue."

''Speak on," said Lucas, winking solemnly and laying his forefinger, to his nose, pasting an agonized glance towards Myrtis, who stood where he had placed her stabbing the dusty road with her umbrella point—as if entreating her forgiveness for seeking aid for her sake from such unchosen sources—Sebastian laid

the state of the case briefly before his chosen advisers. The two bicyclists looked at each other and winked, looked at Sebastian and winked.

"Why," asked Whitelock, "in the name of the prophet, why wait to marry till you get to town? Is there not, oh, son of Israel! a registrar of births, deaths, and marriages in every paltry township?"

"Good heavens!" cried Sebastian. "I never thought of that!"

"But you'll want two witnesses, you know. We'll come and see you through the job," said Lucas.

There seemed no help for it. The presence of these young men was not desirable on such an occasion, nor the noisy hilarity which they were certain to evince afterwards; but the relief of feeling that he could make Myrtis his wife during the next half-hour was irresistible.

"Look here," cried Whitelock, the one whom Sebastian disliked most positively, "while you talk the young lady over, we will go on and see the Clerk of the Court—he's the registrar—and tell him to have everything ready—forms, special licence, and all that—so that there shall be no delay. I know the man; he's a real good sort."

"That is very good-natured of you," ex- claimed Sebastian, feeling ashamed of his former dislike to Mr. Whitelock. "Every moment is certainly of consequence to us."

The two young men set off on their self-im- posed errand, leaving Sebastian to explain to Myrtis the slight change of programme.

"By Jove!" exclaimed Whitelock, as the two worthies made their way to the office of the Clerk of the Court, on which was printed, as they had foreseen, the words "Registrar of Births, Deaths, and Marriages." "By Jove! I should like to make that proud minx eat a little dirt for the way she served us just now. It would be a jolly good joke to hinder them somehow until the old man comes up."

"I wouldn't mind making her smart for a bit," said Lucas; but I shouldn't care to go as far as putting her into the old man's hands. Besides, Westbrooke is a good fellow enough."

"I don't want to hurt him," said Whitelock, viciously; "but I'll be even with her before I

die. Look here."

And he gave such an admirable mimicry of the haughty manner in which Myrtis had dismissed him with his intrusive companion that Lucas roared and held his sides with laughing. The inevitable touch of caricature made the very small step from the sublime to the ridiculous.

"Hallo!" they both cried. The blooming old chap is out!"

Half an hour later Sebastian with his newly made bride stepped out of the dusty, shabby little office, she clutching in her hand the docu- ment which was to make her safe from her father's pursuit—he clasping her hand for one instant of rapture, feeling ready to defy the whole world now that Myrtis was unquestion- ably his own.

"Put that thing away, dearest," he whis- pered tenderly; "we need not attract obser- vation." Myrtis, hastily and blushing deeply,

thrust the marriage certificate into her pocket.

"It will be quite heavenly," Sebastian went on, "if I can get you home to Kapunda with- out any disturbance. Once there, and know ing that he cannot take you from me, I think your father will hear reason. If not, we must wait; and oh, my love, I will try to make up to you for what you have lost."

The ensuing quarter of an hour was to Sebastian an extremely unpleasant time. Messrs. Lucas and Whitelock conducted themselves outrageously, causing a crowd of persons to gather in the quiet little street to

stare at their antics. Sebastian thrust as much money as he could spare from his own necessities into their hands, bidding them go drink his health, and promising each a cheque on his return to town, but they danced and hooted round him, singing comic songs with appropriate antics, stopping every now and again to laugh as if they had both gone mad. The wagonette was ready at last, the travellers once more on their way, pursued by showers of rice and old boots, missiles which might have been dangerous but for the speed of the horses, so excited and full of their jokes were Messrs. Whitelock and Lucas.

"Oh, those awful men!" sighed Myrtis. "How could you take them into your confi- dence?"

"My dearest. I was at my wits' end. I knew they could suggest—."

"But what did they suggest that you could not have thought of?"

"I might have thought of the Registrar at Mayfields, if I had not been in such a stew; but I did not, and then we must have had witnesses."

"I would rather have asked those two," Myrtis pouted, pointing through the curtain towards the mining expert and the driver.

"But they might have declined to act. There is always some difficulty in a case like ours, though the right is on our side. But let

us put all disagreeables out of our minds now.

We shall soon be at home."