Chapter 160813639

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160813639
Full Date1893-11-18
Page Number36
Corrections11
Word Count2783
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-16
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

THE NOVELIST.

ON THE WRONG TRACK.

[BY JESSIE WATERHOUSE.]

CHAPTER III.

It was afternoon; Myrtis was sitting near a window to get the best light for darning the socks and stockings which lay piled in a large basket beside her, for Dr. Elliot's house was low and old-fashioned, the small French win- dows darkened by a creeper-mantled verandah, the June sun, heavily veiled by clouds. Mrs. Elliot was sitting near her at the end of a long dining table, covered with a shabby cloth, working her sewing machine through yards of calico. Dr. Elliot was snatching a few happy moments beside the fire near the opposite end of the table, with his pipe and the daily paper.

"Myrtis, my dear, let me see what you are doing. Don't darn the boys' stockings in that way. Dear me, what a waste of time."

And Mrs. Elliot caught. the stocking from her daughter's hand impatiently.

Myrtis felt her cheeks flash. Alike she was annoyed with herself for allowing any sign of feeling about a trifle. If her mother chose to have the boys' stockings cobbled, despising her beautiful lattice-work darning,

that was not a sufficient matter to cause morti- cation to a reasonable person. Mrs. Elliot also felt vexed, though she, too, owned that her feeling was not reasonable. Myrtis wished to help; that was certain. If she bungled in her efforts to be useful, that was not a just cause for anger. She would learn in time.

But meanwhile the hard-worked doctor's wife, with her narrow means and her wide expenses, groaned a little secretly over the weariness of having such very raw material to work upon as her inexperienced daughter presented. So far she had found, as most people do, that is was very much less trouble to do the things herself than to teach any one else. Then, with the best will in the world to be useful, Myrtis was hindered from learning how, by the unconscious conceit which seems inseparable from ignorance—the latter fact being more apparent to her mother than the former. Myrtis had been at home for a month, but she still felt outside of the home life into which she hoped to have come with comfort and blessing. Her father marvelled at her want of tact, her mother thought her conceited and stupid, the children thought her capricious and irritable, whereas she was only young. But these four weeks bad been a trying ordeal for the whole family.

"Do you really think?" Myrtis asked as she took the stocking from her mother's hands, cobbled after the approved style, "that stock ing looks nice mended like this one?"

"I am not considering how they will look, but how they will wear. You will allow me to have had more experience than you."

"Oh, mother!" escaped from the poor girl in a pained tone. The tone stirred a responsive note of sympathy in her father's heart; in her mother's too, if she had but known it. He was folding his newspaper to read a certain paragraph conveniently; by way of effecting a diversion be read the paragraph aloud

"The new lode in the Jindu Mine has yielded two ounces to the ton from the last crushing, a circumstance which must be grati- fying to its chief promoter, our late townsman, Mr. Sebastian Westbrooke. This gentleman is one of the members of the Syndicate by whom the mine is floated, and is the largest shareholder in the concern."

"If Westbrooke has anything to do with the mine I should think the public may safely set it down as a swindle," said Mrs. Elliot, turning the handle of her machine.

"It is the son," shouted Dr. Elliot through the hum and buzz. "He is all right."

"With such a father? Nonsense."

"His father is dead, my dear. The mother was a very superior person. I suppose the son takes after her."

"Don't tell me!" was the response of the lady at the machine.

Presently Dr. Elliot went out on his round of afternoon visits among his patients.

"Myrtis," said her mother, "did you put the things which stood on the kitchen mantelpiece on that high shelf on the

dresser!"

"Yes, mother; was it wrong?"

"I think, my dear, that it was impertinent in you to interfere with my arrangements. What was your object in making the alter-

ation?"

"To make more room," Myrtis answered, not being able at the moment to remember why she had thought that the alteration would be an improvement.

"Room for what?"

"Oh, for things in general," was the vague reply.

"For a whim, in short. In future kindly leave my arrangements as you find them; at least do not alter anything without leave. And there is another thing about which I must speak, though I do so unwillingly, be-. cause I know you mean kindly. You must not tell the children stories after they are in bed at night; they grow excited and will not go to sleep. And pray do not tell them ghost stories. One would think at your age that you might know better. I like to see you so kind to them, but you were two hours last night in putting them to bed. I have never allowed them to fall into dawdling ways."

"I am sorry," said Myrtis in a constrained tone, trying not to know why her needle sud- denly became magnified and her darn blurred. "I meant to be so useful at home, and I only get in your way."

"You can learn, my dear child. Untrained help is not of much use in such a house as

this."

"But I have been learning all these years. The Lethbridges thought very differently of my ways of doing things."

"Your ways may have suited them. They don't suit me," said Mrs. Elliot, irritated by the slight tone of self-assertion in which her daughter spoke. "You do a great many things which are not required, and you forget almost everthing which I have asked you to do."

"If you only knew how angry I am with my own stupidity," Myrtis exclaimed repen- tantly.

"Ah, that is a little more like the right way of talking than your previous boast of

Mrs. Lethbridge's admiration of your house- wifely talents. If you can bring yourself to believe in your own deficiency half the battle will be gained." Myrtis sighed.

She was mentally going over the list of little accomplishments which she had been thought to possess by George Heywood. Not one of them seemed to be of any use here. She would not say to herself that she was unselfish, as he had said, but she was conscious of a very sincere desire to carry her mother's burdens for her, while, instead of doing so, it now ap-

peared that she had added to those burdens. Far from having received praise from her mother, on the score of her needlework, she had been wounded by Mrs. Eliot's contempt for her fine sewing as being quite unsuited to the sort of work which was required at home.

Her arrangement of rooms, or rather her re- arrangement, was regarded as an impertinence. The round table in the drawing room was to

stand where it had always stood in the middle of the room; a vase of flowers, tightly tied, was to occupy the exact centre; the books arranged like rays round the outer edge. No innovations would be allowed, therefore what was the use of having a young women in the house whose taste for setting rooms in order had been admired elsewhere? Supposing that Mr. Heywood had been right in believing her to possess a rare gift for story-telling how could she use this gift for the benefit of the little ones if they must hurry over the evening bath and be left to go to sleep immediately afterwards? All the rest of the day was filled full of duties which were incompatible with story-telling. Still, though her spirit was a little daunted by so many unexpected difficul- ties, Myrtis resolved not to allow herself to be conquered. She determined to invent means for making herself remember to do certain duties which had been appointed to her, so that no blame should be cast upon her neg- lect of orders. For the rest she could not help hoping that time would prove to her mother how muoh better were the ways of the inexpe- rienced daughter than those of the experienced

housemother.

Bea Bay was pretty, with its crescent curve, tinted shallow water, and grey marble homes; but it was a dull spot for a girl without com- panions of her own age under any circum- stances. For Myrtis, accustomed to constant variety, the place appeared unendurably dreary.

At this period of her life she was on a wrong track, but to a sufficiently sympathetic onlooker there would have appeared a pathetic side to her mistakes, and something not far from heroic in the way which she grappled in silence with her difficulties, accepting patiently a new and distasteful order of things. The more she hated her home-life, the more credit should be due to her for never allowing that hatred to appear, either in words or in manner.

For a whole fortnight, the talk among the inhabitants of Bea Bay had ranged between the future of the new lode in the old Jindu Mine, and a concert, at which a great singer from Europe was to delight the musical ears of Bea Bay. Myrtis felt a positive and well- defined thrill of excitement, in the prospect of hearing the music, as she took her seat in the room beside her parents, the children having been left safely in bed half an hour earlier than usual, with a box of dried figs to comfort them, and all the household worries banished for the time.

To assert that Myrtis Elliot was at any time indifferent to her personal appearance, would be to overstep the truth. She was extremely anxious, at the moment of taking her seat, to ascertain whether the natural fringe which waved softly round her face was standing on end or lying becomingly in its place; and, in a word, whether she looked nice. But she had

no idea how completely the central figure she became in that rustic assembly. Her high-bred face and form thrown into strong relief by the calf-like countenances and heavy bodies of the bucolics who surrounded her. Her anxiety about the perfection of her toilet lasted only until the great singer appeared on the stage. From that moment all baser considerations were forgotten, her "soul was uplifted by the wings." The roar of applause which followed the song brought her to earth again, she was vibrating and trembling under the nameless emotions awakened by the glorious voice which while rendering the utmost moaning of the words sung, had yet a deeper language and meaning of its own, untranslatable, yet convey- ing a sense which penetrated the soul of Myrtis with a revelation of mystery, of pos- sible joy and possible pain. The singing of this woman was one among many forces which were drawing Myrtis onward and upward along the path of life. As she rose, this horizon of life rose also and widened. Every enlarge- ment seemed fated to be attended with pain. Her eyes were drawn by the magnetism of some one else's gaze to the opposite side of the room. A young man was looking at her as no man ever yet had looked at Myrtis Elliot. Among the follies in which she had indulged with her late companions, flirtations had not been included, more, perhaps, by good fortune than as a result of high principle. The example of her younger companions had failed to per- vert her in this respect. But with a curious thrill, she realized that the eyes of the young man were telling her the old story which no one else had yet wished to tell her. The gaze embarrassed but did not annoy her. There was a compelling and over-mastering force in those dark eyes which burned as they met hers. She indulged in strange fancies about the probable power over herself (mag- netic, of course) possessed by the owner of those eyes. She could have brought herself to believe that he could by the exercise of his will upon hers compel her to leave her seat and follow him whither he chose to lead her. Perhaps any girl with a lively fancy might have felt the same. Given a dull and uncon- genial life, for a period of three months, a mood highly wrought by a strain of beautiful music, the birth of a romantic passion testified to by a pair of remarkably handsome brown eyes, sat round with long, thick, curling, black lashes, the result could hardly fail to be the stir of a responsive emotion, be it never so

shallow.

Myrtis drew her breath with difficulty. She longed to hide herself, to cry, to yield to the mysterious and all but irresistible power which drew her eyes to those of the unknown. The two hours occupied by the concert were a period of tremulous excitement. During the ten minutes' interval the young man kept his seat, though almost every other male creature had fled from the room, some merely to fill their country lungs with unbreathed air, some to fortify themselves with "a draw of the pipe," others to seek support for energies naturally depressed by the progress of the entertainment and the obligation of appearing to listen, in a glass of beer or other liquid re-

freshment.

The last note of the National Anthem, with which close all country concerts, had been sung, the stage curtain had slowly hidden the smiles and curtseys of the prima donna, cloaks and shawls were being dragged from under forms. Dr. and Mrs. Elliot stood out in the open space between the ranks of seats on either side of the concert room. Myrtis having thrown a foamy, white square of wool over her hair was drawing her scarlet Indian shawl round her shoulders and moving slowly to her parents' side. An individual in breeches and boots, who had occupied a seat in the front rank, came elbowing his way among the holders of reserved seats, jostling every one and almost overturning the unprepared. The rough movement of this person caused him to bounce against Miss Elliot, knocking from her hand a lovely spray of safrano roses which she carried as being more correct than the ordinary bouquet. With a hasty "beg pardon" the breeches and boots disappeared. Myrtis made no attempt to pick up her flowers, being annoyed by the rudeness which had robbed her of them, but followed her parents to the door. Standing for a moment in the starlight with her mother, while Dr. Elliot had gone for the wagonette, she smelt the fragrance of tea-scented roses like those she had carried to the concert. She glanced towards the light of a vehicle which shone with a broad glare upon one figure for one instant, but that fragment of time had been enough to show her

the roses which she had dropped in the hands of the unknown. The next instant eyes, roses, and man had disappeared into the chill winter darkness, the cart with the lights moved slowly away, and Dr. Elliot drove up in his

wagonette.

Myrtis lay awake for hours that night too much excited to sleep, ashamed of her excite ment, trying to feel indignant with the man who had presumed to allow her to perceive his ridiculous admiration, and still more annoyed, excited, and interested by the last words exchanged by her parents as they turned in at their own gate, "Who," asked Mrs. Elliot, "was the distinguished-looking young man who stared so persistently at Myrtis all the evening?"

"Was there a distinguished looking young man?" asked Dr. Elliot, sleepily.

"Oh yes, my dear. You must have noticed him. A tall, pale man, or rather boy, with very liquid brown eyes, an intellectual fore- head, and clearly chiselled features. A romantic, high-bred person."

"Sitting nearly on a level with us? That is young Westbrooke."

"What, old Westbrooke's son? Old West- brooke, who has been in gaol twice?"

"Nevertheless that is his son. His mother is or was a very handsome woman. This lad is very much like her."

"I feel no interest in him. Take care, you are driving very close to the post."