|Newspaper Title||Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||On the Wrong Track|
ON THE WRONG TRACK.
[BY JESSIE WATERHOUSE.]
One afternoon, feeling a little better than usual, she consented to drive with her father to visit one of his distant patients. The day was lovely, the month being Ootober, the air was full of warm fragrance from the gardens which they passed; the sea in the tranquil crescent-shaped bay was stained with purple cloud shadows. The houses, built of marble found in the quarries among the neighbouring hills, sparkled all over their grey walls; the low range sloping gradually upward from the shore lay, here in broad sunlight, there in deep shade, with an occasional cottage window twinkling from a belt of blossoming wattle, or a herd of cattle slowly wandering along the low sheaoak-fringed summits in search of new
pastures. The scenery was perhaps tame in the neighbourhood of Bea Bay; the life was monotonous, the inhabitants dull and unenter- prising; but on such a day as this every natural beauty of the spot showed to its full advantage, while, as for the people, Myrtis decided that she could do without them. Her
parents were as warmly affectionate to her as if there had been no cause of quarrel between them. She was too young to be always in despair - the home affection soothed if it could not satisfy her, and for this afternoon at least she felt serene, if not happy. During the drive towards their destination her quiet mood was disturbed, for her father was obliged to drive past the Jindu Mine, and con- sequently past Miss Langley's house.
Dr. Elliot, looking at his daughter, saw the pallor of her face, the strained expression of her eyes, and was cut to the heart by seeing the evident suffering she endured. He said nothing, but stroked her cheek with his disen- gaged hand, looking imploringly into her eyes as if beseeching her to take the true affection of her father instead of the light fancy of a young man of whom she knew nothing. She caught her father's hand and pressed it to her lips before pushing it gently away. How little could he guess the thoughts which passed in her mind, nor the intense bitterness with which she looked on the house where she had taken the first step on the journey which led to the ruin of her life. She mastered herself almost immediately, beginning to speak of one of the doctor's favourite hobbies. The good man was soon led away from the subject which was the one pain in his otherwise con-
Partly by an effort of will, partly because the healing influence of the spring day was irresistible, because the mystery of comfort which in certain moods one feels evolves itself from country fragrance and country sights and sounds, Myrtis felt borne up above her private troubles. She could not help feeling hopeful without reasoning about the feeling. Nothing was changed since the fateful day when she had cut short her own freedom, saddling herself with a weight which grew heavier with every day. Yet her heart rose in defiance of its burden, and for the time she felt that the burden had rolled away.
On the road by which they were travelling lay one lovely peep of coastline; the sea shore framed by a large rocky opening like a picture in a roughly carved setting. As they passed by on that October day a white-sailed boat glided slowly across the picture before them; the ground sloped away in a northerly direc- tion towards a world of orchards white with fruit-blossom. Here and there stood a low house, with verandah all round, built accord- ing to the South Australian fashion in the early days of the settlement. At one of these houses Dr. Elliot drew up his horses. The good woman of the house came out to meet him, her apron put over her head (for the spring sun was hot), welcoming him and his daughter with frank hospitality.
"Oh, don't leave the young lady out in the sun to hold the horses. Here, Bob, jump up and drive the doctor's horses into the stable yard. Give them a feed of oats and some water. Now, doctor, come inside and tell us all the news."
The doctor enquired after his patient, the master of the house, as the three passed through a little iron gate into a cool, moist, sweet-scented garden, where three white gulls were picking up insects from the beds. The atmosphere of the garden and south-facing verandah made almost too great a contrast with the broad warm sunshine on the other side of the hawthorn fence which enclosed the garden, shutting the outer world completely
away from the dwellers in the house.
"Whoever built this house must have had some experience of hot summers," said Myrtis, when she had stood with the good dame for a few minutes to admire the glory of ixias, pink, green, and yellow, the swaying piles of English lilac, the clouds of spiræa, the count- less roses, the stately arums, the broad bands of violets, purple and white, standing up above their green leaves, the banding wreaths of banksia blossom which made the chief glow of spring in this old garden, with its slimy green paths, the whole enclosed by a high and close- cut hedge of hawthorn, the last a memory of England.
"Why, don't you know who built it, miss?" the woman said, giving her a quick, almost cunning glance.
"No," Myrtis replied coldly, half resenting the woman's look and tone." I have never been here in my life until to day."
"But I thought everybody knew that old Mr. Westbrooke built it for his wife - him as kept the Diggers' Arms. My husband, he rented the place off Mrs. Westbrooke after the old man died, till five years ago when he bought it. It's pretty enough this time of year and cool enough in summer; but! lor, it's dreadful cold in the winter. And so you never knew that young Westbrooke was born here! Why, that's his old playroom at the end of the verandah, where we've got the pot-plants, and here's the marks of his tomahawk on the front
door—as you may know a boy must have lived here; and there's a bullet hole in the window pane made with his shanghai. Excuse me, miss, there's your papa coming out of my hus- band's room."
Good Mrs. Cobbledick hurried into the house to hear the doctor's report of the patient, hastily bidding Myrtis go and sit down in the parlour — an awful apartment, frigid with starched antimacassars, bead mats, and wool work pictures, the fireplace being filled with white coral and frilled-out paper. Myrtis preferred to linger in the verandah with her own sick heart. The mention of Westbrooke's name had taken all the glow out of the sun shine, all the intoxication out of the flower scents. The cold, damp shadow of the veran- dah seemed typical of the chill which had fallen upon her spirit in that place. If she had not been deceived in him, how sweet these reminiscences of his childhood in its sturdy, mischievous stage might have been! The pieces hacked out of the wooden door with the naughty little tomahawk would have called up a pretty picture of the little black-eyed boy experimenting with his last new toy, the fond
parents too proud of their only child to punish
him for the damage done. But Myrtis only
felt suffocated by breathing the air of the
house which had sheltered and nurtured the roan who was to blight her life at the thresh
Would his shadow be continually cast upon her in this way she wondered? Was she never to be free from reminders of that hateful act of hers, an act for which she could now find no excuse in her own heart? She could not force her memory to reproduce the charm of manner which had ensnared her fancy, nor the sympathetic response of her heart to his manly avowal of his own sudden passion for her. She could recall nothing but the fact that he had behaved straightforwardly in going to ask her father's consent to their marriage. Then, for the thousandth time, she lost herself in the mazes of a new theory, by which his conduct could be explained. A.strong feeling of repug- nance to the idea of being claimed by him, even if he should return with an explanation which should free him from blame, began to take possession of her. Resentment had so completely blotted out his image from her mind that she could only feel as if she had been married while in a state of unconsciousness to a stranger, and that stranger a man whose con- nections made such a union a distinct step downward in the social scale. Myrtis remem- bered that when she fancied herself in love with him she was angry with the injustice of other people who visited his father's sins upon him; but she now told herself that she had been mad to trust the son of such a father. How, she asked herself, was it possible that Sebastian should entirely escape the taint of
Dr. Elliot came out of the patient's room, followed by Mrs. Cobbledick, who was making hospitable offers of tea; but Myrtis, longing to escape, fortified her father's wavering reac- tion by walking steadfastly out of the gate and mounting into the buggy.
From the trees on the surrounding hills, of . which only the sunset-touched tips were visible above the garden fence, came the cease- less tinkling of cow and horse bells, the cack-
ling of the laughing jackass, the unfinished song of magpies, and the curious guttural notes of wattle-birds. It was all hateful to Myrtis - the bird songs and cries, the odorous, damp garden, the white hedges, the huge posy of pansies, purple-black and pale yellow, shyly offered by a rosy-faced, little girl of twelve, Mrs. Cobbledick's youngest daughter. The lovely velvet flower-petals stabbed her with their cruel scent-shafts like exquisite sug- gestions of happiness which could never, be hers. That old garden, shut away from the world, full of memories of his childhood, would have been an ideal spot, a garden of Eden to her and to Sebastian, if he had been a true and honourable man. It was the anguish of con- trast between the vulgar absurdity of the pro- saic lot at which she had snatched and the vision of what might have been had the cen- tral figure of that vision been anything but a pasteboard image, painted to look like an ideal of youthful manhood.
Dr. Elliot followed his daughter, and in a few moments they were driving homeward, turning for a short distance southward till they came once more in sight of the still waters of the Bay, then turning eastward, following the coastline. They drove past the little townships of Bowen and Ilke, winding round the quarried hills, among which the Jindu Mine lay, past Miss Langley's house once more, past the great rent in the green slope, which marked the deserted Jindu Mine, and again along the coast, until they crossed the horn of the bay, and came within sight of home. Every mile of the drive had brought the conviction closer to the heart of Myrtis that she was a wretched woman cut off from all the tender happiness of mutual confidence with her parents. She felt she was living a lie; every kiss and smile from her father and mother seemed to her now like a theft; few kisses or smiles and few kind words would have been her portion had they known the truth. Yet how to tell them that which would so grieve and outrage them she did not know. Surely, she argued, it could not be right that she should inflict upon them the same burden which she was compelled to bear. Better that she should be silent until circum- stances forced her to speak.
Her father drew up the horses at the garden gate, turning the buggy wheels so that she could get down easily. She glanced up at the window of the room which looked that way, and saw her mother standing watching for their arrival with a strangely pale face and anxious look in her eyes. She did not come out, as she often did, to meet Myrtis, but waited until her daughter was safe in her bed- room, after which she went out into the garden to await her husband. They talked together for a short time, both looking solemn and sad, before they returned to the house. Myrtis had taken off her outdoor things, and had gone to the dining room; from the windows she could see her parents' faces. A chill dread seized her that, during her absence, Mrs. Elliot had somehow become possessed of her secret. She endured such pangs of terror and remorse during the ten minutes which fol- lowed that she felt impelled to confess the truth without a moment's delay. But when they came in together to the room where she stood in her misery and self-condemnation she saw that they had not come to reproach her. Exactly what followed she never could remember. A confused sense that they were urging her to be brave, that they uttered words of sympathy, remained like clouds veiling the awful fact which nothing could soften. Three men had been killed by a coach accident in Western Australia; the name of one of those men was Sebastian Westbrooke.