Chapter 160816702

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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160816702
Full Date1893-12-02
Page Number36
Corrections35
Word Count3240
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-26
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

THE NOVELIST.

ON THE WRONG TRACK.

[By JESSIE WATERHOUSE.]

CHAPTER VII.

When Westbrooke and Myrtis reached the railway station on North-terrace the hands of the clock pointed to twenty minutes past 4.

The Kapunda train would leave at twenty minutes to 5. Regretting aloud that they had so much time to spare, Sebastian placed Myrtis near the bookstall, himself going to

secure tickets. At the same moment the Broken Hill express, then in the station, was filling up; the guards were loudly though in- coherently summoning passengers to take their seats for Gawler, Burra, and Terowie. Sebastian, fixed between two stout ladies, one of whom had received her ticket and wanted to stand still to count her change, the other of whom had visions of squeezing past Westbrooke in order to be served first by the clerk, had

time to feel a spasm of terror lest Myrtis should do what his mother had once done. Growing alarmed by what appeared to her his long absence, Mrs. Westbrooke, senior, had asked a guard which was the North train, meaning of course the train bound for

Kapunda. The guard indicated the Broken Hill express, that to his mind representing the only north train of importance. She had jumped into a carriage and was conveyed to Gawler on the occasion, which little misadven-

ture only meant in her case that she must either return to Adelaide to await the evening train for Kapunda, or wait for its arrival at Gawler Station.

Though he rejected the possibility as

absurd feeling, or trying to feel, confident that Myrtis would not stir without him from the spot where he had asked her to stand, he could not help cursing the impetuosity which had prevented him from waiting beside her

until the Broken Hill train had moved out of the station. He remembered that Myrtis had been much agitated and disturbed by the occurrences of the day, and that she might easily become confused as to the hours of starting. He got the ticket at last, forced the old lady to move on as gently as he could—the guard was running along the platform, unlock ing the doors—the minute bell had rung—he

looked wildly towards the bookstall for Myrtis. She was nowhere to seen. "Yes, by Heaven!" he groaned, "there she is! I said so! She has mistaken the train."

A tall slight figure, attired in the spotted shirt, sailor hat, and blue serge skirt of the period—a costume worn perhaps by hundreds of girls in Adelaide that day—darted in at a first-class carriage door. Sebastian flashed after her, but the door was slammed, and he only succeeded in tumbling into the next, which happened to be a smoking carriage.

"This is indeed an elopement," he thought, as he stood up panting. "Well, we are together, in any case."

But while the comforting reflection was wafted over his brain he glanced from the window, and before the train had whirled out of the station he had seen the figure of Myrtis standing just ten feet from where he had left

her.

Sebastian's sensation of despairing rage with his own folly drove him as nearly over the fine edge which divides the sane from the mad as it is possible to go. Absolutely help- less in the rushing train, he could only wait until he reached Gawler, and telegraph

thence on the bare hope that Myrtis might be expecting him to do so. Then arose a tanta- lizing doubt as to whether Myrtis would remember her new name in asking for the tele gram. Altogether the time occupied by the journey from Adelaide to Gawler was one to which Sebastian never could endure to recur.

Meanwhile Myrtis, having been pressed by inches from the spot where Westbrooke had asked her to stay, near the bookstall, by a party of large ladies who wished to turn over without buying the books had, on her side, seen Sebastian in the Broken Hill train at the moment when he saw her on the platform. She was too much stunned either to act or to think for the moment, and taking her seat on the first bench she saw gave herself up to

despair. Had Sebastian gone mad? she asked herself again and again. What could have induced him, understanding thoroughly the Northern time-tables, to get into the Broken Hill train without her? It was of course impossible that she should guess the reason of his having taken so apparently insane a step. Neither did the fact that half a dozen girls dressed exactly like herself passed and repassed her on the platform enlighten her. Myrtis was tall, slight, and graceful, but that is not an unfrequent type of Adelaide girl, while she was still young enough to prefer a slavish adherence to the fashion of the hour to setting her own distinctive stamp upon any costume that she wore, or to avoiding altogether an unimaginative style of dress which reduces all figures to much the same level of inoffensive commonplace. After some

time of despairing wonderment she resolved to telegraph to him at Gawler, knowing that

the train would stop at that station. The words she wrote on the telegraph form were, "Explain your extraordinary conduct." She signed her maiden name without even remembering that she might now lay claim to another. Her hand was raised to pass the telegram to the clerk in the office, she was pronouncing the words. "Collect at the other end." when her father passed, looking from right to left among the hurrying passers-by, with a look of such anguish and dread in his face that Myrtis felt her words die upon her lips. A terrible yearning over her father, together with her indignation against Sebas-

tian filled her with indescribable and uncon- querable longing to throw herself into his arms and beg forgiveness. She forgot her own right to be considered by her parents in disposing of her existence. She forgot all her girlish visions of which Sebastian Westbrooke was the hero. She forgot that she was no longer free to claim her father's protection; but as he passed she cried faintly, "Father."

Dr. Elliot was too thankful to find his daughter safe and alone to tease her with questions during the first hour of their

meeting and, as she felt, perfect reconciliation. On ascertaining that her father was still in

ignorance of all that had happened from the moment when he left her at Dyson's Hotel until he saw her at the railway station Myrtis decided to hold her peace. A few imploring words to her father in the dimly lighted hotel parlour where they spent an hour or two brought forth a promise that she should not be questioned at home, and at 7 o'clock on the same evening the father and daughter, with a great secret lying in the heart of one drove a short stage on the homeward journey.

Dr. Elliot forbore, as he had promised, to question Myrtis, imposing the same discretion upon his wife when they reached home. He was convinced that her wilfulness had been

sufficiently punished, to judge from the ghastly paleness of her face, from the strained look in her eyes, and the settled misery which clouded

and aged her young features. Mrs. Elliot

was suspicious but she scarcely knew what to

suspect. As the days went on the warm affection which really underlay her harshness was stirred into life by the conviction that Myrtis had felt much more than a mere school girl's fancy for young Westbrooke. Though she still considered that such a marriage would have meant social degradation for her daughter she had no desire to aggravate the poor girl's inevitable sufferings by showing her unkindness. This more indulgent mood became her normal condition towards Myrtis, who began to feel, now that she was no longer, secure of being allowed to remain peacefully in her father’s house, how happy she might

have been there.

On arriving at Gawler Westbrooke sprang from the train and rushed to the telegraph office to send a telegram to Myrtis, with another to the stationmaster describing the lady, and requesting that she might be found. He then endured the agony of waiting for the next train from Kapunda, and at last found himself back on the Adelaide platform. It was now evening, the lamps were lighted, and people stared at him as he rushed from place to place making hopeless enquiries, knowing well when he discovered that Myrtis had not received his telegram that his chance of discovering her was very small. It was equally difficult to imagine what plan she could devise for communicating with him, supposing that she should guess at the mistake which had caused him to get into the wrong train—a guess which was very unlikely on her part, seeing that she had not the slightest clue to his conduct. He could only hope that she had never heard the horrible stories which he remembered of apparently similar cases of inexplicable desertion of brides by bride- grooms. He could not make up his mind to call in the aid of detective policemen, the matter was not only too delicate for their handling, but he was painfully conscious that he must cut a ridiculous figure in the imagination of any one who heard the story. He engaged a bedroom at an hotel, and sitting down tried to think out a plan for discovering the whereabouts of Myrtis for the night.

"If I could only know that she was safe!" was his inward and unceasing cry. He feared that she was without money. Under the cir- cumstances it was improbable that she would have been allowed to carry money in her pocket. He trembled to think of the annoy-

ances to which she might be subjected for want of a few shillings to place her beyond their reach. Would she go to friends?" he asked himself. "Yes; she had friends—the Leth- bridges. Come what may, I will call and ask for her at the house."

He remembered having heard Myrtis say that she had spent the greater part of her life in a house which overlooked the Botanic Gar- dens. He knew, therefore, that Mrs. Leth- bridge must live at the eastern end of North terrace. Some time was necessarily lost in asking for more precise directions; but he found the house at last, and with the courage of despair rang the bell. The door was opened to him by a short, plain man, whom he knew to be Mrs. Lethbridge's brother, George Hey-

wood.

"Is Miss Elliot here?" asked Sebastian in a curious, hoarse, choked voice, entirely unlike

his own.

Mr. Heywood looked surprised, fixing upon Westbrooke's haggard face a keen glance, which made the younger man realize more painfully his position.

"May I ask why you wish to know?" Hey- wood enquired gravely.

"I can't explain. I only want to know that she is safe with friends," cried Sebastian, ex- asperated at the prospect of being tortured by

fresh doubts.

"I cannot tell you that," said Heywood, "She is not here. She left this house with her father some time during the early part of June. Until very recently my sister and nieces have heard from her regularly. We have had no reason to suppose that she has left

home."

With a groan Sebastian rushed away, cursing the loss of time wasted in searching for Mrs. Lethbridge's house, and leaving Mr. Heywood seriously alarmed and uneasy on on account of Myrtis. He knew Sebastian Westbrooke by sight, and, while believing him to be a smart, well mannered young fellow, was surprised, and not altogether agreeably sur-

prised, to learn that he enjoyed the honour of

Miss Elliot's acquaintance, to say nothing of

the discovery that Mr. Westbrooke's interest in Miss Elliot was of no ordinary kind. He had been studying some legal documents when Westbrooke rang the doorbell, but his papers received but divided attention for the rest of the evening. For some reason he did not mention the circumstance of Westbrooke's call to any one in his sister's house, the ladies being absent at the time.

Sebastian made enquiries at every possible hotel in the city, discovering at last that Dr. Elliot and his daughter had stayed at one for an hour or two, but had left at 7 o'clock in the evening, as the landlord thought, on their homeward journey. His immediate pressure of anxiety being thus removed Sebastian returned to his hotel to think out some plan of commu- nicating with Myrtis without drawing down upon her the anger of her parents before he could be there to share it and protect her. He was by this time almost too faint and weary to form thoughts, having tasted no food since an early breakfast, for he had not been able to go through the form of dining at Dyson's Hotel. He went to bed at once, feeling that nothing more could be done that night, to his own after surprise, sleeping heavily until day- light.

The clear and balmy August morning found him in a hopeful frame of mind. He was com pelled to wait, inactive, until he had paid a visit to the other members of the Syndicate of the Jindu Mine, who, like himself, were all members of the Exchange. A tremulous hope was born in him that Myrtis might have trusted him, in spite of unfortunate appearances, remembering, too, that as she was his wife, her own best hope of future happiness lay in giving him the benefit of any possible means of explaining himself. It was, therefore, probable that she would at least have for- warded her address to him, for Sebastian was in doubt about this important matter. Her father might, after all, have forced her, to go to the dreaded aunt's house. He telegraphed to his mother, asking that any letters addressed to him might be forwarded to him at his office in the Exchange. Myrtis knew that his mother lived at Kapunda. It was just possible she might write to that address. Feeling that he could scarcely bear to live through the hours which must pass before the arrival of his mother's reply, with the letter, supposing it to exist, he strolled from the Southern Cross Hotel

into King William-street, hoping that the mere stir of life passing and repassing might serve to direct his aching mind from its own anguish. He had not walked a hundred yards before he was accosted by Mr. Wilson, one of the members of the Syndicate, whom he was to visit later in the day. Wilson looked pale and agitated.

"You have heard the news, I see," he said, observing Westbrooke's altered appearance.

"What news?" Sebastian cried excitedly his mind full of the only subject which could, he thought, concern him. Then, remembering that Wilson could know nothing of his marriage and subsequent misfortune, he added

more quietly, "No, I have, heard nothing, I only reached town last sight."

"You have not seen the papers?"

"No, not yet," said Westbrooke, a little aroused from his self-absorption by the manner

of the other man.

"Then you'd better prepare your mind for bad news, Sib., my old son. That infernal thief, Crosby, has bolted with our funds."

Sebastian Westbrooke's face could hardly have looked paler than when Wilson met him, but the lines which had appeared yesterday for the first time on its young smoothness deepened perceptibly. He asked for further particulars, trying to feel thankful that he had only invested half the legacy which had given him an independence in the Jindu Mine.

But he felt that this was an unfortunate time for money losses to come upon him. Shares had been falling slightly in most of the mines for some time past, but the fall had not been considered serious by business men, and West- brooke had consoled himself for the temporary depression by the satisfactory report of the mining expert, and the evident indications of rich lodes in the Jindu Mine. He might be able to hold shares, if the Sydicate should still be able to carry on operations, but he could spare no more capital to invest in work- ing the mine.

"I hope," Wilson went on, "that you got rid of your Block 10's in time. They hare had a fall of five pounds, and are still going,

down."

"Perhaps it's only a knock out," West- brooke answered, not choosing to inform Wilson that he had not sold out. "They'll rally again."

"Cheer up, old man,"said Wilson, guessing at the truth from his companion's face, and ignoring his words. "You've only yourself luckily to think of. What are the poor devils with wives and families to do?" .

Escaping from his well-intentioned tormen- tor, Sebastian hurried to the Exchange, the doors of which were just opened. He could only hope that Block 10's would rally up before the end of the month, now alas not far off, since he had a forward contract for 1,000 Block 10's at ten guineas a share with a week to run. He cast a bitter and regretful thought to the five hundred shares of his own which he

had put up as collateral security. His cup of grief was not yet full, however. A letter lay on his office desk written by the man with whom he had made the contract, and announcing that in consequence of the fall in Block 10’s he had exercised his right to sell the shares and the security to cover the loss.

"This means," thought Westbrooke, "that I am flat broke, stone broke, cleaned out."

He was too much bewildered by the hail- storm of troubles to grasp the situation at first. But as he sat alone, thinking over the events of the last few weeks, the whole truth came to him. He had led Myrtis to tie herself to a man who was entirely without means to support a wife. Stricken and despairing he sat on hour after hour, sometimes listening with languid curiosty to the heavy beating of his own heart, sometimes too much stupified to think consciously. He had no idea how long he sat there. Other men went and came; he heard the hum of voices with a strange sense of isolation in grief. If he had known that he

must die within the next hour he could not have felt more aloof from his fellow-men and from their affairs and interests. It is possible that his brain might in this fearful moment have become unhinged but for one drop of balm, one very small drop falling upon his heart in the shape of a letter from Kapunda, which had been addressed to his mother's care, and had been readdressed by Mrs. West- brooke's hand to her son. So great was West- brooke's agitation that he could scarcely tear the letter open. It contained very few lines, but it was signed with the blessed letter M, and ran as follows:- "If you can offer any explanation of your leaving me write to me, and address the letter to my father's house. For the present I trust you.—M."