|Chapter Title||UNHEDRD FLEW THE HOURS.|
|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
UNHEEDED PLEW THE EOUBS.
Wilton Hamilton, after obeying his mother's sum- mons and attending to her request, went to seek Elaine again in the little room whither he had taken her to show her his lily,
Something seemed to whisper to him that she might be there waiting for him to return.
He had all at once become very hopeful that his suit would meet with just the response which he so ardently craved, for her manner, when he bad given her the lily, hod been encouraging, if not almost
He hastened back, resolving that if he found her still in the ante-room, he would settle this question of his future without farther delay.
As he drew near the still open door he heard
A moment more he stood upon the threshold, and in an instant all the light and hope went ont of hiB face, and a feeling of blank despair settled down upon his heart,
He had reached the spot just as Lady Elaine in response to Philip's plea " forgive me," had looked up with that frank smile, and placed a white gloved hand in his in token of her pardon, and the hope- less lover, standing behind them and beholding this, believed the simple, act to be but the consummation of a betrothal-believed that, in his absence, hie false friend Phillp Paxton had stolen a march upon him and won away his love.
He did not hear Lady Elaine's words, "you are freely forgiven," for they had been spoken low, and there was a dreadful ringing in his ears, while all bis faculties for the moment seemed to be paral- yzed,
Than, with such a sense of misery aid desolation as he never had dreamed a mortal could experience» he crept stealthily away, leaving, as he believed, a pair of happy lovers to their first moments of bliss.
When Lady Elaine returned to the drawing-room, after Philip had left her, she at once began to look
around for Wil.
She hoped he would come to her and ask her to dance with him. She longed for his companionship» for she could not forget the -look that he had beat upon her, when he asked her if she cared enongh for his gift to «reserve it* and the charm of his présenos had'been so great that she was impatient to be with him again.
Bat he was not there, nor did he make hil appear ance again during the evening, and the hours dragged heavily to her until the oompaoy sopaiatsd.
She thought it strange that be should absent him- self thus, but supposed that Lady Hamilton had sent bim on some commission, end never once suspecting that he was at that moment in his own room, prone upon his bed, battling with all his might against the misery that was mastering him, and the doom which he believed had been pronounced upon his hopes. |
He felt as if he could never look upon his loBt love again and bear the pain of it-could never meet the man who bad betrayed his confidence and won the only woman hg could ever love.
When, the next morning, he joined the familyjat breakfast, his face was white and sunken, his eyes heavy and dull, his manner unnatural add con- strained, and he started violently whenever¡any one spoke ; for he was inconstant fear of hearing an en- gagement announced,
Lady^Hamilton was alarmed, and declared he was sick, and was for sending for¿a doctor at once.
He said he was not ill, though he confessed he had notBlept well, bnt affirmed that he should be all right again soon«
He pleaded a headache sa an excuse for not join- ing a party upon an excursion which bad been'plan ned for that day to visit some celebrated springs about five miles distant, and then felt as if he should go crazy listening the regrets that poured|[upon¡him from all quarters,
Lady Blaine alone said nothing ; but she looked
troubled and anxious.
He had not once met her eye-had not spoken one word to her, beyond a brief " good-morning," and ebe was quite sure that something very serious was the matter both physically and mentally, and she quietly resolved to learn the nature of it before the day was ended. .
Quite a large party were to visit the springs, many of the neighbouring families havingbeen¡¡invited to "picnic" with the Hamiltons, and when at length
the gay company cantered down the avenue, their happy voices and laughter dying away(in the dis- tance, Wil Hamilton, in his room, with the ¡curtains and blinds drawn close-for he could not even bear the liebt of the bright glad day-heaved a sigh ef relief at their departure.
" They are^gone," he said. " Now J willie where nobody can come near me-where nobody can see
Rising hastily, he canght up his hat¿ crashed it down over his eyes, and, stealing down a side stair- way, he went out, and, with a quick, fierce Btride, walked acroBS the lawn toward the forest beyond, where he was soon lost to sight.
An hour later a slight, graceful figure, dad in a dress of crisp, delicate lavender lawn, made in the dantiest manner, a charming shade-hat of white chip, lined with blue, upon her golden head, and a pretty basket hanging on her arm, might have been seen flitting down the avenue, as if intent upon a solitary ramble. '
Arriving at the gate, Lady Elaine-for, of| conree, it was she-stopped and looked right and left, as if somewhat in doubt which direction to take,
She finally decided upon turniDg to the left, mov- ing with a free, brisk step, and all unconscious that she was walking straight to meet her fate, for the forest lay off in that direction.
As soon as Wil bad announced hie intention of re- maining al home she mentally resolved that she would not accompany the party, either. It would not be pleasant to be in the presence of Mr. Paxton after what had occurred the previous evening, while she judged form his last words before leaving her, and his manner, that he did not take her refusal as final and intended to prosecute his attentions still
It was with a feeling ef relief that she, too, heard the gay party cantering down the avenue, and knew that she should have the day to dispose of at her
own sweet will.
A sense of freedom and something of exhilaration seemed to posssB her as she found herself walking alone along the highway, beneath the friendly shade of the huge overarching elms,
After walking a short distance, she turned into a cart path leading into the woods, where she roamed about for an hour or more filling her pretty basket wtih sylvan treasures, then, feeling somewhat weary and warm, she resolved to make her way to a tiny brook, where there was a rustic seat, and where she and Annie often came with their books and work to spend a warm afternoon,
Softly, and almost as light-footed as a fairy, she glided along the mossy way, and ere long reached the spot. Parting a thick growth of foliage, she stepped into a small open space, and the next in- stant started back suddenly with a smothered cry of terror, for there, prone upon the earth before her, was the stretched form of a man, his face to the ground.
He did not move, he ecarcely seemed to breathe, and for a moment she stopd Irresolute whether to fly
or go to his aid.
Then, as her quick eye marked and recognised his clothing, she became pale as death with a indden
It was Wil Hamilton, and so wretched and ab- sorbed as he was in his sorrow, he had not been con- scious of the approach of any one, and lay as motion- less as if he was dead.
Lady Blaine's first thought was that he had met with some serious accident, and was unconscious,
But with all her delicacy and gentle breeding, she was brave at heart, and possessed a latent energy and force which few gave her credit for.
Lightly and as fleet as a deer, she sped over the turf, and knelt beside the prostrate man, sweeping back the moist brown locks from his forehead as she did so.
" Wil, Wil-oh 1 is anything the matter P you are hurt P" she cried, her voice shaking with tho great fear that had taken possession of her.
In an instant he had sprung to his foBt, and stood looking down upon her, as if he thought her some thunderbolt which had just missed striking bim dead; while sbe, started by the suddenness of his act, sat staring up at him, every atom of strength and color forsaking her.
" I thought you had gone to the springs," Wil said, abruptly, almost rudely, after a moment.
His voice was harsh and constrained, his faea as white as her own, with great, deep circles beneath his eyes, which were blood-shot, and were so full of pain that Lady Blaine almost cried out as sha looked
.' No, I-I did not care to go," she returned strug- gling to her feet and shrinking slightly from him. She felt OB if she had no right to be there-as if she bad intruded upon him and his grief, whatever it misht be. She would have given words to bava been anywhere else at that moment
He looked at her eurioosly.
She did not care to go ! he thought, wonderingly. But Philip bad gone with the rest, and it seemed strango that he should leave his betrothed behind and if they were happy lovers, it was even more strange that she " did not care to go" with him,
" Are you not well to-day P" he asked, less abrupt- ly, and not knowing what else to say, bat realising the absurdity of the question instantly for, saving her momentary pallor, she had never looked batter or more lovely in her life.
" Yes, I am well," Lady Blaine replied, .. but," with a slight bluah, "Iprtf erred to stay al home,"
Her blush pierced him like a dagger.
She was shy then; she had wanted to get a little used to her new happiness before she appeared in public with her lover.
The thought was nearly maddening, and before he wai aware of it, a groan burst from him.
Lady Blaine advanced a step toward bim at the sound, a wistful, troubled look in her lovely eyes,
" You are in trouble," she said. " Won't you tell
me what it is ?"
" It is nothing-at least nothing that you can help *' he answered, setting his teeth together with a snap!
Let me share it then. You know ' A burden lighter grows when shared.' " she said, but her red lipB trembled even though she tried to smile. " Per- haps,' Bhe added, trying to speak more lightly,
your little fairy or water-nymph, who went to sleep in the lily, has sent me here to exorcise the evil spirit that vexes you."
He gave her a quick, startled glance, astonished that she should have remembered his words, when doubtless she must have far pleasanter things to
think of now.
" Ah ! if you could-if-" he began, passionately, and then suddenly checked himself.
" Try me, Wil, end see," she returned, reaching out her white hand, and laying it gently, yet appeal ingly, on hie arm, while her eyes seemed pleading for
He seized her band and lifted it to his barnine lips.
" Shall I try you ? Dare I try you P You cannot mean what you say, You do not even know what you are tempting me to," he cried, wildly.
She regarded him with surprise, but she did not withdraw her hand, It lay perfectly passive in hie.
" I do not understand you," she said, "How am I tempting you P Why do you not dare to try me ? You need not fear, Wil. I will not fail you."
"You ' will not fail' me," he repeated, with trem- bling lips. " You have failed me already. You ara lost to me, and that is why I am so wretched."
A dry sob broke from him as he said it,
She had driven him desperate with her Innocent words and qaestious, and he poured forth his misery regardless of consequences.
For one moment she stood regarding him with wonder-wide eyes, too astonished to comprehend at once what he really meant.
Then it began to dawn on her, anda burning blush overspread her fair face ; her white golden* fringed lids drooped over her beautiful eyes, and she stood silent and covered with confusion before
She could not ask him how or why he regarded her as lost to him because that would seem io imply that she was not-that she loved him before she Waa asked ; so her lips were sealed and she was mute.
" Have I Btartled you by this confession ?" he re- sumed, bitterly, as he marked how lovely she waa in her maidenly modesty, and having once given the rein to his misery, he could not stop. " Have yon not seen, during all these weeks, how I have grown to love, to idolize you-how my heart has melted before you-how I have had no will but youri, no thought but for you P And now to lose you, to have you stolen from me before my very eyes, and just when I was beginniogto hope that I might win yon Oh, my darling 1 if I could but die here end now, at your feet, I should be comparatively happy."
He wruug her hand in his vehemence so, that at any other time Bhe woujd have cried out with pain ; but she hardly felt it now. Her heart beat with a strange, new joy ; he loved her-his wild words told her that plainly enough-and he saw that this sam» love was causing him greet suffering, but just how and why abe could not comprehend-she was pua zled by what he bad said.
Her lips fluttered, she gave him one brief, bewil- dering glance, and murmured i
" I should not be happy-I do not want you to die; Wil ; and-I do not know what you mean by--by my being stolen from you, and all that nonsense,"
He caught hiB breath ; there was no mistaking the glance she had given him, nor the tender tone in which she had said she did not wish him to die.
Could it be possible that he bad been deceiving
himself after all?
" Elaine, my darling, have I been a fool ?" he cried ; " dare I hope that you- But tell me first, after I left you laet night did not Philip Paxton come to you and ask you to be his wife?"
"Yes," ehe answered, with downcast eyes and burning cheeks,
" Ah!" he began, almost fiercely, " and you-"
"I-refused him. Wil," holding out both net hands to him and looking shyly up into his face " is it that which has been troubling you so P"
He caught her hands with a glad cry and drew he
into his armB
" Not the réfutai, surely," he said, a joyous nota in his trembling, eager voice, " but the belief that you had accepted him."
" How could I do that, when-''Lady Blaine be« gan, and then stopped short in confusion,
" When what, my darling P" - ... ^ J " When I did not love him-when my heart haàK.. long belonged to some one else-to you Wil,"
He bent and touched almost reverently the lins that bad uttered this so sweetly.
" But," she added, after a moment of silence. " what could have made you imagine that I had ac- cepted himP"
Then he told her what he bad seen-how, when having attended to hiB mother's request, he went back to the anteroom, intending to tell her all the sweet story that was in his heart, he had seen her standing there with her band in Philip Paxton's, and looking up smillingly into his face, as if she had jost granted him the favor for which he had been suing, and it had seemed as if the very fountain of his life had driel np in that moment, and all his future
"Poor, foolish, faithlesB boy 1" she said, while she caressingly toyed with the rings of moist hair which lay upon his forehead, " where were your eyes, that you coula not read them better P-where were your intuitions, that they did not tell you what others have learned all too readily P It ia a pity that your fairy did not whisper something in your ear before you brought her to me in the lily."
" How could she ?-she was asleep, you know," Wil retorted archly ; but drawing the fair girl closer to him with a sort of exulting clasp, all the pain gone like magic from his face, all the misery from
" True I had forgotten that," she replied, with a clear, sweet laugh.
She told bim as briefly as she could all that had passed between Philip and herself, tor she felt that be had a right to know it ; and then-the momenta slipped unheeded by, as they always do with all lovers, until warned by the blowing of a horn at a distant farm-house that it was high noon, and they must return to Hazelemere or a detachment would be sent out to search for them.
" I can scarcely believe that I am the same person that I was two hours ago," Wil said as they arose, and he drew Lady Elaine's hand within his arm, though still retaining it in his own. " To think that I came out here the most miserable wretch on the face of the earth, and now I am returning the hap- piest mortal that walks, and with the Lily of Mor daunt all my own 1"
(To be Continued.)