Chapter 160816707

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Chapter Number8.1
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160816707
Full Date1893-12-02
Page Number37
Corrections13
Word Count1780
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-27
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleOn the Wrong Track
article text

CHAPTER VIII.

In those words, "I trust you," Sebastian found a talisman which strengthened him against the ills with which he was obliged to battle. After a series of dreary interviews with one business man and another, all of which tended still further, if possible, to convince him of the hopelessness of his financial position, he was free to visit his mother. Happily for him her property was safely invested, so that his misery was not aggravated by pity for her. He resolved not to speak to her of his marriage, at least until he had communicated with Myrtis; this was no time to claim a wife from the hands of unwilling parents. It was absolutely impossible that he should undertake fresh responsibilities until he had found occupation of some kind; to do this during a period of financial depression was no easy matter. He suffered as only a proud man feeling his first reverse of fortune can suffer in arriving at the unwelcome con- viction that he must leave his wife in her father's house until he could offer her a moderately comfortable home.

Before starting for Kapunda he remembered that he owed a fee to Lucas and Whitelock for their assistance to him on the previous day. He sought them where at this hour they were usually to be found—in the bar of a certain public-house. To his surprise they both declined the cheques he offered, laughing boisterously and declaring that the "fun" had repaid them over and over again. Both men stood firm in their refusal, and Sebastian was again sorry that he had done them an injustice. On a very slight hint from him that the marriage was not yet to be made public they

assured him of their sympathetic compre-. hension, and promised secrecy with every appearance of sincerity.

"Is it permitted to ask whether the lady is with you in town?" asked Whitelock.

Sebastian frowned. He considered the question to be an impertinence, but on second thoughts he decided to tell the men the truth or some portion of it. He could hardly explain why he thus resolved, in obedience to an intuition he afterwards thought.

"Dr. Elliot overtook us after all at the railway station," he said. "He insisted upon his daughter's returning with him in order that the matter might be arranged more in accord with the dictates of propriety."

"The old bloke was quite right," said Lucas solemnly. "By Jove, Westbrooke, you've relieved my mind, I can tell you."

Before any more words passed between them the attention of Lucas and Whitelock was claimed by a party of swaggering men from whom Westbrooke was thankful to escape. He wrote a long letter of explanation to Myrtis imploring her to reply at once, and to tell him when and where he might see her. After posting the letter he made his way to the North-terrace Railway Station, shuddering at the prospect of seeing once more the scene of the blunder which had deprived him of many hours of happiness with his wife. The con- trast between what was and what might have been unmanned him to the extent of filling his eyes with a rush of scalding tears. To his annoyance a passenger bounced into the train as it was about to start. Westbrooke had flattered himself that he might give way to his wretchedness in solitude for a short time at least. His companion was an acquaintance of his own, a man whom he would

have been glad to see under other circumstances; but the fact of their acquaintance made it impossible for Westbrooke to take refuge in complete silence. Long before they reached Kapunda, however, Westbrooke had ceased to regret the circumstance of travelling with Mr. Kirby. A wonderful prospect had been opened up before him of climbing once more to success. Mr. Kirby briefly informed him that he had discovered, a rich but small gold field in Western Australia on a piece of land which, by rather extraordinary good fortune, had come into his possession some few weeks previous to his discovery. From representa- tions made to him in strict confidence by Mr. Kirby, and acting, upon his strong advice, Sebastian determined to scrape together such few pounds as he could save out of the wreck of his fortunes and to start for Western Australia with Mr. Kirby during the coming week. On his expressing his gratitude for the confidence reposed in him—a confidence which in this case definitely represented pounds, shillings, and pence—Mr. Kirby reminded Sebastian of a service rendered to him which the younger man had entirely forgotten.

"Your conduct on that occasion was

decidedly quixotic, Mr. Westbrooke," said Kirby, "and I happen to have a tender affection for Don Quixote. If I can help you to repair your late losses I shall only repay a debt I shall be very glad to have you as a travelling companion."

Sebastian felt his heart lightened of the worst of its load when be went to meet his mother. Myrtis had promised to trust him. By the following morning she would have received his explanation. His next letter would be hope- ful of a speedy reunion under circumstances which would satisfy her father, while he could comfort his mother in the sorrow he knew she would feel at his departure for Western Aus- tralia, as well as for his losses, by telling her of the wider and more secure prospect now opened to him. As he expected, his mother consented to look upon the bright side of his future, though she had less substantial reason for doing so than he, since he was bound to a certain measure of secrecy in all matters con nected with Mr. Kirby's goldfield. His natural buoyancy of temperament returned with every hour that passed, and though he could neither sleep nor eat while he awaited the reply from Myrtis to his letter, he felt no shadow of doubt that the reply when it did come would be all that his heart could desire. By the post which he thought should have brought him the longed-for letter only one arrived, bearing, it is true, the postmark of Bea Bay, but addressed in the hand writing of a man. He opened the envelope with an undefined sense of anxiety to find his own letter unopened within. Within the flap of the envelope was written in the same hand, "Miss Elliot will receive no communi- cation from Mr. Westbrooke."

When Sebastian had recovered from the shock of this blow he arrived at an explana- tion which was very near the truth. Myrtis had known nothing of the arrival of his letter. She believed that her parents would not inter- fere with her correspondence, more especially as they were not, as she supposed, acquainted with Westbrooke's handwriting. Unfortu- nately for the present happiness of the young pair, Dr. Elliot possessed a specimen of the young man's penmanship in the note which he had sent by hand to ask for an interview on the occasion of his asking Dr. Elliot's con- sent to marry his daughter.

The letter from Westbrooke had been handed to the doctor at the post-office, when he, according to country custom, called to ask tor his letters. On recognising the handwriting on the envelope he had at once redirected and returned the letter to the writer without taking it home.

The only plan which Sebastian could now devise to communicate with Myrtis was to insert a carefully worded advertisement in both the leading newspapers, in the hope that she might see and understand its meaning. He spent two hours in framing his message, so that it should be intelligible to her eyes alone. But, unhappily, it chanced that Myrtis never read newspapers, partly because on the arrival of the morning paper Dr. Elliot used to take possession of it, frequently carrying it with him on his rounds, unless he happened to have finished its perusal before he left home. More often than not he left the paper with some patient who was too far from the township to see a daily paper; thus his own family had little opportunity of cultivating the habit of

studying the daily news.

Until the last moment before starting Westbrooke hoped against hope that Myrtis might contrive to send him a word to keep his heart alive, but no such word came. Fortu- nately for him Mr. Kirby was a sympathetic companion, and though he saw that his young friend was in deep trouble he appeared un-

conscious of the fact.

Meantime Myrtis was suffering not less than he, though in a different way. He, at least had the comfort of believing that she would have written to him if she had not been pre-

vented; but she thought she had been the victim of a shameful and ridiculous desertion. Her feeling for him not having had time to develop and to strike deep root into her life was no more now than a dream. She felt too deeply humiliated by all that had passed to be able to confide in any human being. Instant death, she thought, would be preferable to having it known that any living man had dared so to treat her. Three or four weeks passed drearily enough to her, though she made courageous efforts to find solace in the performance of daily duties not altogether without reward. Then came a day when her scarcely healed wound was made to bleed afresh by seeing in a newspaper dated about a week after the fatal day on

which she had married Westbrooke his name among the list of passengers by a steamer bound for Albany.

Indignation swept away every other feeling in the heart of Myrtis; she lost sight even of the terrible net which she had woven for her own feet by yielding to Westbrooke's importu- nity. She never knew until she read the an- nouncement of his departure how strongly though unoonsciously she had clung to the hope that, after all, some explanation of her husband's strange conduct might still be possible.

She fought against the conviction that her own act had ruined her life, fought as the young fight against the inevitable conse- quences of her own folly. Fate was more merciful to her than she is sometimes to others, for after five weeks of torment from her secret trouble Myrtis fell ill. She did not take to her bed at first, though her parents treated her with the tender consideration due to an invalid, and all the children followed suit.

(To be continued.)