Chapter 160814928

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160814928
Full Date1893-11-11
Page Number37
Corrections15
Word Count2960
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-16
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

CHAPTER II

Has Miss Eliot gone to bed ?" asked the voice.

"I don't think so, sir," was the reply of Lizzie, the maid servant, "The young ladies mostly likes sitting out on the balcony."

"Thank you; I will see if she is there. You may bring me some supper, Lizzie; I will have it in here."

"Mr. Heywood!" exclaimed Myrtis, start- ing to her feet, forgetful of all her past griefs. She knew that the stranger thus making him self at home in the house could be no one but George Heywood, the half-brother of Mrs. Lethbridge. Had she been asked, a moment ago, where she believed Mr. Heywood to be, she would have replied—"On the other side of the world." As she spoke his name, he stepped out of the window and clasped her hand.

"So the others have gone off to a ball and left you alone! How does it happen that you are not whirling in the giddy throng instead of being here to welcome me."

"I was not allowed to go," said Myrtis. "I am so glad you have come back!" she cried, impulsively, feeling that her feet were once more on firm ground. George Heywood was a man who could be trusted not to disappoint the expectation of a friend.

"Have you been cabled across?" she asked, "or how did you come so quickly ?"

"I came by sailing vessel," he answered. "We made the quickest passage ever known. Will you step into the light that I may see how far the past three years have altered you."

"No," cried Myrtis, laughing, but con- scious that she had very lately been crying. "I have not altered at all, except to grow a

little."

Despite her twenty years she could not help feeling mortified to have been caught at a dis- advantage by one whose good opinion she had always desired. One of her grievances in the days before Mr. Heywood lelt South Australia had been the shortness of the frocks which

she was compelled to wear. Now she was properly dressed as became her years, her hair was no longer plaited into a pigtail, but coiled in a classic knot, yet she had neglected to change her morning gown, or to brush out the bright waves of her hair, or to take any of those measures connected with the toilet in which she would have delighted could she but have known who was to have been her com- panion for the evening.

"But don't you want to see how I look after this long absence?"

"I shall make my observations without your knowing."

"Ah, don't flatter yourself that I shall not find you out. You do not invite me to take a chair, but I intend to do so, if you will set me the example."

When he had made all enquiries about his absent relatives which occurred to him, he asked why Myrtis was at home. She ex- plained to him the point of view adopted by her parents; but while she affected to agree to the justice of their decision, Heywood de- tected the plaintive note of injury in her

voice.

"I am ashamed to be the gainer by your loss," he said, in the bantering tone she re- membered well. "Allow me to commisserate

you. A man must have a heart of stone, if he cannot appreciate the sacrifice you have been compelled to make. You are cruelly deprived of the intellectual conversation of ball-going young men, of the chance of getting your ball gown trampled on and torn to shreds, of an opportunity of standing or sitting in draughts, so as to ensure repentance and reaction for the next day, to say nothing of the fascinating exercise of inventing fresh replies to the hundred-times-repeated remarks addressed to you. Surely this aspect of the case cannot have been presented to your parents."

"I am afraid," said Myrtis, half-vexed, half laughing, "that they are unable to see any other. But I like dancing—yes, And pretty gowns, and the excitement, and the the magnetism of a crowd of persons gathered together for the same purpose. You shall not make me ashamed of perfectly innocent tastes."

Perhaps Heywood was suffering from a faint sense of mortification in the knowledge that his society on a star-lighted balcony, the street noises hushed to a pleasant murmur of life, the scent of daphne from a flower-vase in the room behind them stealing to them with its suggestions of mystery, for which the human language has no name and human knowledge no key, appeared dull to this girl, from whom he had in past days expected more, far more than from tbe average young woman of the period. What pleasure could she receive from his society to compensate for that which she had lost, especially as she had plainly been spoilt by the influences under which she had spent the last few years?

"When is this interdict to be removed?" he asked, passing by her last assertions.

"In September: but very likely I shall be at home by that time," she answered, sighing faintly.

"What a dreary change! How dull must seem rides, drives, and walks in the country compared with the varying delights afforded by Rundle-street! How much pleasanter to inhale the miscellaneous odours of a town, than to breathe prosaic country fragrance! There cannot be the smallest attraction for any sen- sible person, in the prospect of an hour or two lounged away on the grass under the shadow of a blooming hedge or a tree, with a book for a companion, or in a stroll by the seashore on such an evening as this. How can such mono-

tony be otherwise than wearisome to a sentient being, trained to find full satisfaction in foot ball and cricket matches?"

"I don't go to football and cricket matches,

Mr Heywood."

"Indeed! Well I came back prepared for

changes, but scarcely for apostasy. When I left Adelaide, only three short years ago, regular attendance at all the matches of the season was part of your religion. I suspect, however, that the worship alone has changed

its name, the idol is the same."

"I remember that teasing used to be your profession,"said Myrtis. "I think I will say good-night."

"I hope you will when the proper time comes. Indeed, it would be rude of you to leave me without going through that form. At present, however, I must decline to listen to frivolous suggestions. We are discussing a

matter of deep importance."

"We have discussed it long enough," said Myrtis, "Let us talk of some nice frivolous subject by way of variety. What sort of

voyage——"

"No, no! I am not to be caught by that kind of chaff. My voyage was much like other voyages, except that it was sooner at an end. Let us return to the country."

"You must go alone. I am not so fond of the country as you seem to be. The pleasures which you pretend to think that I despise, are no more attainable for me at Bea Bay than here. Country life means to me a ceaseless routine of getting up in the morning to per- form a series of disagreeable duties, for no particular object than to do them all over again the next day. Lounging with a book in the shade would not be allowed, there would always be something to do indoors. By way of variation we shall walk, drive, or ride along the same road to visit people with whom we have not a thought in common; whose souls are kept in their milk-pans or their bread-troughs, where the talk is kept on the level of eggs, butter, breeds of cattle, and of fowls. If I wish to ride, I must catch a half trained horse in the paddock, brush and saddle him, finally starting for this pleasure excursion tired with past worries and hard work, and burdened by the thought of a whole menagerie of animals, human and otherwise, to be waited upon when I get back. That is the result of my experience during the

holidays."

"I think," said Heywood, after a little pause, "that you are in the mood to colour the picture with dismal tints. But granting that you have not over-stated the case, I should like to know who fulfils these disagreeeable duties, attending to the wants of the menagerie and so forth, while you are in

Adelaide?"

Myrtis hesitated. His question had let a new light begin to dawn on her life. "I suppose mother must do them all."

After she had spoken those words, a long silence fell upon both of them, a silence during which the spiritual growth of Myrtis recceived a vivid impulse towards development.

"Do you think," he asked gravely, yet in the hesitating tone of one who is not certain of his ground, "that it is possible to feel life dull and burdensome in a sphere so full of oppor- tunities and outlets for energy? Unless you have altered very much during my absence, you must be possessed of every native gift for making the happiness of such a home as you describe. You used to be unselfish. Can't you foresee the serene pleasure of lifting some of your mother's burdens from her shoulders? You used to be rather neat-fingered in setting a room to rights. Can't you picture to your self some satisfaction in making evident a girl's fresh and dainty presence in a work-a- day house? You gained a prize once for your needlework; can't you imagine yourself asto- nishing your mother with your beautiful stitching, or whatever it is called? I am getting a little out of my depth now. But you had once a gift, rather rare I think, for story telling. Can you not believe that you will find pleasure in using that gift for the benefit of certain small brothers and sisters, who, I

believe, used to exist?"

"Yes!" cried Myrtis, excitedly, "I will do all those things. You have given me hope-- the prospect of going home can never again seem dreary. But though I can believe that I shall find satisfaction in these attempts to take root in home life, I cannot picture happiness at Bea Bay, and I cannot live without happi-

ness."

"There is a proverb, Persian in its origin, I believe, which warns us that happiness flees from the pursuer, but pursues him who turns from it. Which I take to mean that true happiness is to be found in making the happi- ness of those to whom we owe duty, and cannot

be extracted from selfishness."

"But my idea of happiness is something vivid and personal, not necessarily selfish, but—— I can't imagine anything vivid exist

ing at Bea Bay.

"Supper is ready, sir," said Lizzie's voice at

the window.

"I perceive that, like myself, you are hungry," said Heywood, with a return to his former tone. "When you are older, you will learn to accept the fact that low-spirited views of life are inseparable from long-delayed or neglected meals - come indoors. We will try whether supper can gild the prospect of life at Bea Bay. By the way, the name is a little suggestive of unlimited indulgence in ale on the part of the inhabitants. I trust that you may not be perverted by evil example."

"It is Bea," said Myrtis, laughing. " The Salvation Army is rampant there. The name means the crescent moon, and is very appro- priate to the shape of the bay."

"There is a faint suggestion of poetry in the

name, certainly."

When their eyes had recovered from the effect of the dazzling gaslight after the dark- ness which enshrouded the balcony, they glanced furtively at each other, each of course encountering the gaze of the other, and both

burst out laughing.

"Have you really grown so tall, or is it only your frocks that have grown?" Despite his tone, his eyes expressed unmistakable admi- ration, subtly tempered with reverence.

Myrtis wondered why her spirits rose high as her healthy appetite encouraged the enjoy- ment of the meal. She was indeed hungry, having eaten nothing at the scrambling meal which had done duty for tea; but though she felt distinctly the restoring influence of food upon her system, she knew that she must be wretched. The discovery that her once friends were entirely unworthy of her affection, was sufficient food for misery without the indefi- nite postponement of her entrance into the enchanted world, which she saw from the threshold of life, through the iridescent mists that veil the crude realities of experience, from the visions of the young. Notwithstanding the misery which she knew she must be feeling, she talked and laughed with Mr. Heywood, until Lizzie, lying in her bed in a room above them, felt tempted to get up, creep down the stairs and listen at the door, that she might

have her share of the fun.

"Oh, Mr. Heywood!" she cried, at last glancing at the clock, "what a shame of you to make me sit up so late!"

"It will not be the least use going to bed before these giddy butterflies flutter home. They will wake you from the sweetest sleep to help them to undress, and they will bewilder you by repeating all the handsome things that have been said to them, and besides, you must not go to bed the moment after supper. You will alarm Lizzie and me, by calling out about

your rich relations.

"I have none," said Myrtis, holding out her

hand in token of farewell.

"You don't know what horrid spectres can

be conjured up by nightmare," he replied, taking her hand, but leading her out upon the balcony, "Let us smoke a mild cigar together under the light of these friendly stars. Yonder red light over the hills be- tokens the rising of the moon," How weird the waning moon always looks!

. . . . . .

At 2 o'clock in the morning Mrs. Lethbridge,

with her young charges, returned to find the house quiet and dark, except for one gasburner turned low in the dining-room. But before they went upstairs a masculine presence in the house was revealed by sundry appendages in the hall, which, upon close examination, proved that the newcomer was the wanderer, returned. Heywood was awakened from a delightful dream of riding along a lovely coast with Myrtis, by a series of hugs, kisses, and voluble voices, all talking at once, all addressing him, and apostrophising each other.

"Come, girls!" he cried, rousing himself, "You have both lost your tongues in the ball- room! And you, Nelly, haven't you anything to say to me now that I am back here ! Don't stand mumchance."

"You horrid tease !" cried both girls, thumping him. "When did you get here?"

"Why didn't you let us know?"

"Did you see Myrtis, or had she gone to

bed?"

"What do you think of my having danced

every dance?"

“You positively asked young men to dance with you."

"I did no such thing. You are jealous because you sat down half the time!"

"Girls, be quiet. Really George, I believe every one agreed that Elsie was the best looking girl in the room. The Governor's brother danced three times with her."

"Twice!"

"Four times."

"You know that is not true. He is too much a gentleman to make you and himself conspicuous--"

"Hush! hush, girls." What will your uncle think of you! What time did you--"

"Have those English relations sent me any presents?"

" Elsie! how selfish and greedy you are. You don't give Uncle George time to say a word."

"It is you who won't let him speak."

"Girls, go to bed. You will wake every one in the house. Had you a pleasant voyage, George?"

"My only hope of salvation from the Lunatic Asylum is to refuse to answer one single question to night. Please to accept the intimation that I am sound asleep."

He emitted a snore so loud and so vibrating that his nieces were startled into a momentary silence. Finding that his decision was not to be changed, they consented to go to bed at last, and he immediately fell asleep in reality!

Myrtis, full of zeal to begin the new life suggested by Heywood's words, wrote to her parents, requesting to be allowed to return home without delay. Her desire received its gratification. Dr. Elliot wrote to say that he would visit Adelaide during the following week to take her home with him. She was never again alone with Heywood, nor did she desire further conversation with him, their one interview having supplied her with suffi-

cient food for thought for many a day. But the tone in which he addressed her, the ex-

pression of his eyes when they rested upon

her, the attention which he paid to remarks

made by her, taken collectively, made Mrs. Lethbridge so uneasy that she longed for the day to arrive when Myrtis should be restored to the care of her parents. George Heywood had not remained a bachelor for thirty-five years to be snapped up by a school girl at last, if his sister could prevent the calamity. All the same, the income paid by Dr. Elliot for Myrtis as a boarder had been a convenience, and now that Elsie and Annie had "come out," they would be more extravagant than

ever!