Chapter 160816411

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Chapter NumberIX
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160816411
Full Date1893-12-09
Page Number36
Corrections15
Word Count2121
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-27
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

CHAPTER IX.

For a whole week Myrtis kept her father and mother in a state of the greatest anxiety about her health. They tried to comfort each other by repeating formulas about violent griefs being the soonest cured, and other such maxims, whose truths are not always borne out by experience; but the rapid change in her appearance filled them with alarm. How, indeed, should they divine that the chief suf- fering of Myrtis arose from her own horror of herself, because she could not repress a sense of thankfulness for her freedom? Her heart was at war with itself; her body showed the outward signs of the battle. At the end of a week she insisted upon leaving her bed in spite of their entreaties. She looked feeble and feverish, but she felt that to lie and think and realize what had happened, at the same time knowing herself to be glad of the death of the man whom she had once loved and owned as her husband, was the way to mad- ness. She longed for occupation which should make thought impossible, but, needless to say, such occupation was not to be found in Dr. Elliot's ramshackle household. Life there was represented by a great many uncongenial tasks requiring more physical strength than Myrtis possessed at the time—a series of petty worries connected with inefficient service in the kitchen, and the constant strain upon nerves too lately shattered by the shock of Westbrooke's death. Yes, though she often felt very dreary and so tired, that she longed to die: the sense of relief in having re- gained her freedom grew stronger with every day. Being young and hopeful, with a con- stitution unimpaired by previous illness, her normal health with her normal cheerfulness began to reassert themselves. Duties which

had once been irksome began to appear in a new light. As she grew more capable of helping at home, she began to enjoy the work; to invent her own methods of management un- disturbed by her mother. In a word, by the end of the sixth month from the day when she had learned the fact of her widowhood, Myrtis looked well and strong again, being the idol of the children and a tower of comfort to her parents. Life was no longer dreary; it was tranquil only, surrounded by peaceful influences. Her brief acquaintance with Westbrooke was no more than the memory of a painful dream. She trembled sometimes to

remember that her secret was known to two

disreputable men who might at any time reveal what they knew. But she grew accus- tomed to her fear and decided not to trouble herself by meeting danger halfway. There is nothing disgraceful in the fact if it should be made public through their agency. She agreed that she need not now fear reproaches on the subject from her parents, since death had broken the tie which bound her to the man whom they had forbidden her to love.

But she was too young and full of life to be content for long with quiet home duties and freedom from immediate anxiety. She was often conscious of a definite desire for happi- ness; for something more stirring than the performance of household tasks, to find some satisfaction for the many undefined cravings of her heart. Her parents saw and partly un- derstood the new restlessness which charac- terised her demeanour during the autumn months, for Myrtis had not been the only learner since the previous spring. Dr. and Mrs. Elliot had grasped the idea that she was a woman with her own interests and troubles, though she was their daughter.

In April Dr. Elliot had occasion to visit

Adelaide. He returned, bringing George Heywood with him. The two men had dis- covered many opinions and tastes in common, their occasional disagreements only serving to give flavour to their discussions.

Heywood had thought frequently of Myrtis since she left his sister's house; more fre-

quently still since that day in August, when Sebastian Westbrooke had startled him by asking for her at Mrs. Lethbridge's house, with every sign of excessive agitation in his face and manner. But Heywood had returned to work after his long holiday, throwing him self with characteristic ardour into his profes- sion. And though nearly a year had passed since Myrtis had taken away with her the subtle charm of his sister's house, the hard- worked lawyer had not felt the time long. On meeting Myrtis, however, he looked keenly at her, fully appreciating that ten months of the life of a woman at her age may hold a large portion of her history. She was too busy to allow him to talk much to her during the after noon of his arrival, but when evening came and the younger children were in bed he asked her to play to him while he sat beside the piano talking to her in the intervals be tween the pieces which she played. Seeing the guest happy and amused, the host and hostess refreshed themselves with peeps at newspapers and books.

Mrs. Elliot saw her husband start and look strangely in the direction of Myrtis, then at his paper again. Her glance followed his to see Myrtis looking as she had never looked before since her return to Bea Bay. Her face wore the radiant expression of youth, finding inno- cent delight in companionship at once sympa- thetic, comprehending, provoking and stimu- lating. The music went on, varied by bantering talk and laughter, with a word of serious import now and then, which made Myrtis feel that her companion lived mentally below the surface of things. By-and-by the music ceased. Mr. Heywood and Myrtis came to sit nearer to the fire, and the conversation became general. Heywood was a little sur- prised to see his host fold the day's newspaper and put it in his pocket. He had intended to ask for it, having cast but a hasty glance over its contents. But he soon forgot both his desire to read the news and the circumstance

which prevented his doing so in the interest of teasing Myrtis and the two elder boys, who were allowed to sit up until 9 o'olock.

When they were alone that night Dr. Elliot took the newspaper from his pocket and showed his wife a small paragraph relating to the coach accident in Western Australia by which three men were thought to have been killed. A correspondent wrote stating that he had seen and spoken to Westbrooke since the occurrence, who, though he was looking very ill, was discharged from the hospital as cured of his injuries, and was on his way to the new goldfield.

"I really think it would be very foolish to show this to Myrtis," said Dr. Eiliot. "She has got over the whole thing, I am sure. It seems to me the height of folly to upset her again."

"I wonder whether it would be wrong to keep this news from her," the mother sighed, doubtfully.

"We are not bound to mention a statement which after all may be false. How often it has happened that people are said to have been seen alive after their supposed death, while the death at the stated time has been proved later on?"

"If you think there is any possibility of mistake," Mrs. Elliot began, hesitating.

"Think ! I am certain of it. Besides, the young man's life or death are not important to Myrtis at present. She has recovered from that schoolgirl infatuation. She did not look much like a broken-hearted woman when she was talking to Heywood to night."

"No, indeed, he evidently admires her, and if— "

"Come, come, don't begin matchmaking, my dear, or you will ensure disappointment for yourself. Heywood is not a marrying

man."

"I don't believe in such people. But I was not matchmaking. I think it is you who have let your mind stray in that direction."

The worthy pair slept peaceably enough, but their waking hours were sometimes made a little uneasy by feeling that they had not set their daughter an example of perfect

frankness.

And so it came about that the only two persons in South Australia who would have been interested to hear of Westbrooke's exis- tence, yet remained ignorant of the fact, were Heywood and Myrtis.

The days went by, filled with fresh and vivid interests for Myrtis Elliot. She began to see beauty in the tranquil landscape of Bea Bay which had been unnoticed by her before. A row of almond-trees blossoming on a velvet green hillside, or a soft dent in the same hill- side, filled with morning shadow, appealed to her with a tender sense of exquisiteness. So also with the waters of the quiet little bay, with its infrequent silver threading of foam, or a little coasting boat sailing into harbour on a sultry day, when the sea was leaden-hued and rippleless. In a word, the common sounds and sights by which she was surrounded be came transfigured by her imagination as her nature was stirred. The sweet peace of the ensuing days, gradually vivifying from peace to intense happiness, would be a tender and delightful theme to expand, but a description of this Eden-like period is not necessary to the relation of the history of Myrtis in regard to the two men who loved her.

When George Heywood left Bea Bay he

took with him the promise of Myrtis to be his wife, the glad consent of her parents, and the conviction that he had loved Myrtis with out knowing it, since the evening of his return from England. His two nieces were to be married immediately. His sister was going to England on a visit to her innumerable relatives. His position was delightfully free. He was glad, too, that Myrtis should begin her life as a married woman without the jealous scrutiny which he well knew would have been her portion from his sister and nieces. Every circumstance seemed to dovetail into the other to suit his happiness and his conve-

nience.

And Myrtis was happy, wildly, tempestu- ously happy, as natures placed on the surface can be when they are stirred to their depths. But she had not confessed her previous mar- riage to Heywood. The more she thought of the subject the more she shrank from tearing open that old wound which still ached through all her happiness. The arguments she used to quiet her conscience when it warned her that she was acting unfairly towards Heywood

may easily be imagined. Her fears lest Lucas and Whitelook might betray her were, for a time, curiously set at rest by Heywood himself, he having mentioned in her hearing that the two men had left Adelaide for Port Darwin, adding that, to men of their habits, the climate would probably prove fatal. He had asked her whether she remembered having met the two young men at a friend's house while she was living with his sister? Perhaps the fear which loomed largest in her mind was lest Heywood should value her less if he should learn that she had once been so deeply mortified, for Myrtis was undeveloped both in heart and conscience, notwithstanding her twenty-two years and her aspirations after a high standard of excellence. There were times when her high esteem for Heywood almost compelled her to treat him with perfect frankness; but, again, that very esteem pre- vented her from allowing him to know that she bad been trifled with and flung aside by her inferior in rank.

The mere fact of having attempted to elope would have seemed to her more than Heywood could be expected to overlook— the double confession was entirely beyond her strength to make.

The wedding day came and Myrtis was still silent, not even very much conscience-stricken. She answered the troublesome monitor within by saying that to tell Heywood of a circum- stance which could only give him pain to learn —a circumstance which in no way affected any one but herself—was simple cruelty, and she determined to rise superior to the superstition that a wife is bound to relate every item of previous history to her husband. And, per- haps, in her better moments she did intend to make a full confession to him later on, when the intimacy of marriage should have woven their hearts so closely that he could not feel angry with her for any fault committed in the days before she became his wife.

The halcyon days which followed that mar- riage must be passed over, for who can recite the details of happiness.