|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Wedded to Death|
WEDDED TO DEATH.
CHAP! ER II.
In the Paddington district, one of the most thickly-populated and busiest parishes in London there Btood back from a row of ordinary-looking, shabby genteel dwellings, a gaunt old tumble-down abode that would almost seem to havo been passed over in the march of progress and reform.
Perhaps it had been overlooked, because the gate belonging to the old house was one of the row of of gates that opened on to the street-in form and appearance exactly like the others-leading into long gardens, behind which were houses let out for the most parts in lodgings to mechanics and artisans; the only difference in the case of the gates being that behind this particular one rose a large tree, which in the summer entirely hid every object behind it. Only in winter were the passers by permitted to glance at the quaint little old cot- tage that lay somewhat behind its more modern
brethren in the front.
In what its inmates called the palour of this abode, but which was but littte larger than a cup- board, two men were sitting smoking.
The outlook from the window of this parlour was scarcely, an entertaining one, for the large tree-the time of the year being early August-prevented even a glance at the passßrs-by, and the backs of the straight rows of tenements on either side was rather a melancholy sight even to people accus
tomedto London bricks and mortar.
The two men who sat by the opea window-a tankard of ale between them, and bread and cheese on the table in evidence that they had just had supper-could not perceive much of the view, plea- sant or unpleasant, since the wreaths of smoke they were emitting from their pipes hung about thickly in the still sultry air.
One of the two was an elderly man- that is to say he was fast approaching sixty-but having worked hard and been somewhat roughly buffeted about, he looked even older than he was, and by
his intimates was called " Old Dick,"
Ho was a cleanly looking old fellow, though his clothes were rather threadbare-shabby-genteel, in fact-like the old place and its surroundings. Tho | »ther man, who had evidently dropped in to spend
the evening withhimwaB suprisinglyyoungtobe his chum, and the wonder was what had brought them together. He, too, was of the shabby-gontoel order; there was nothing of the workman about him ; at a glance you would have put him down as a literary hack or a pianoforte tuner, but you would have been wrong. Matt Leader was in the theatrical line ; not an actor-oh, no-but an act- ing-manager. Only, as was very frequently the casa, he was out of employment, but he had just got an engagement, and had come to talk over mat- ters with Dick Churchill, who was never far behind him in the want of employment line, and whom Matt Leader thought he saw his way to help, doing
at the same time a stroke of business for himself.
Matt Leader, like Dick Churchill, was an Aston man, and, as a further resemblance between them, he had left his native place under a cloud, the dif erence being that when Matt Leader's name was mentioned in Aston folk shook their heads and murmured, "ne'er-do-weel;" while they had a kindly sympathy with Dick Churchill, who, they thought had been somewhat betrayed into tripping after an honest, straightforward career of more than fifty years.
Not that anything, except, perhaps, Sir John Meade, knew much about the shortcomings of either of this pair of chums, for the cloud hanging over themíhad never lifted sufficient for people to
see what there was behind it.
i One thine; about Matt Leader everybody in Aston Royal knew, and that was that he had been quite
the best-looking youngster in the place. Too hand-
some for anything, as they 'said ; surprising, too, i that his looks should influence him so much since the Leaders had always been a comely lot, and old Gammer Leader, who lived all alone in the cottage by the dam, and was grandmother to Matt, the only relation he had left, was such a remarkable speci- men of the grand antique that strangers to Aston Royal were taken to have a chat with and look at her as being one of the shows of the town.
A large portion of Grammer Leader's income was derived from tips she reoeived on these occasions, but being an old body of frugal mind, she by no means spent all the money of which she became the possessor, and would perchance have passed some of her hoardings into the pocket of her good looking grandson except for the reason that he, never dreaming that she had saved a sixpence, did not trouble himself to go near the old barrack whore she dwelt by the dam.
So he did the best he could do for himself away in the busy, toiling, but ever pleasure-loving metropolis, and Gammer Leader saved and pinched she scarcely knew for whim, but chiefly because pinching and saving was to her as second nature.
Any one of the true, steady going inhabitants of Aston Royal would have stood gaping open-mouthed in blank surprise had he or sho overhead the snatches of conversation wherewith, between many puffs at their fragrant meerschaums, these two close associates frequently regaled themselves-that is, worthy Astonians would have been astonished had they understood, but there was scarcely an Aston Royal native who had ever heard of the haunts of vice and pleasure which these/two frequented.
Aston Royal, though only fifty miles from London, was on a branch line, cut off, as it were, from the world in general, and it prided itself on the simplicity of its people and tho virtuous innocence of their manners; when black sheep, like Dick Churchill and Matt Leader, were dis- covered among them, they we»e speedily expelled from the community.
Yet, pure and innocent though Aston Royal believed itself to be, who knows but in its very heart thore was a canker eating far deeper, being of far greater detriment to the good name of the proud little town, than any scandals that might be perpetrated by Churchill, Leader, and Company.
No one among the simple-hearted people guessed aught of this; the knowledge, when it one day came upon them,-if ever, that is, that it drifted into a publicly-discussed matter1-would almost crush the little place, as when some earthquake rends or avalanche overwhelms.
But for the nonce no violent disruptions ap- peared imminent, though there was no saying to what the conversation of these two men might tend. Leader had not yet unfolded his important plan j he had merely been stating what his own newly-asquired post was, and that he believed it was mainly owing to his good looks he had ob- tained the position of acting manager at the Vagary Theatre.
" I can't think, Dick, why you don't go in for that sort of thing," he said, with the air of its being quite a second thought, though he had come there that evening on purpose to suggest it, and had been weighing the pros and cons o'f the whole matter very carefully for several days.
" Me ?" exclaimed Dick, with more surprise than grammar." Why, I ;was never in the theatrical line in my life."
"No, my dear chap, no; but there is nothing like making a beginning. You know a good deal
from me-my experience you have always had cheap."
"Knowing is one thing; practice ia another," grumbled Dick between two vigorous puffs at his pipe.
" Nonsense, ma» ; nonsense. Why you have been a business man, living among rows of figures all your life."
" And much good they've done me, since they've brought me to what I am."
" That's illogical. You always had "a bit of the woman about you, Dick Churchill ; but never mind that now. Since figures have done you a bad turn, let a good address and a pleasant manner do you a good one."
" What do you mean ?" asked old Dick, forgett- ing to smoke his pipe, and laying it down on the table beside him. " But there, I'm a fool ; I don't suppose you mean anything. You never do."
" Wrong for onoe. I have got something that is
rather like an idea."
Dick, not wishing to interrupt it, did not speak, and Leader went on. " There's a company going on tour with ' The Skipping Siren' in September, and they want an acting-manager; what do you say about applying for the situation ?"
" Rare," cried Dick, " only they won't have me." " Pooh, nonsense, man ! I think I can manage it if you can touch a little coin."
" How much ?"
" Fifteen to twenty."
Old Dick burst out laughing.
" Where in the devil's name am I to gef'fifteen to twenty P You know I haven't got a brass farth- ing, and if it was net for Ruth-God bless her !-I should be starving and rotting at this moment."
" Confound you, man, you must have some resources. What about old Meade ?"
" He's pumped dry. But what is this money wanted for ? Making, not paying, is my line."
" Yes, yes, I know ; but there is such a thing i as sprats given to catch herrings sometimes."
"You have heard me speak of Mademoiselle Claudine Entaxie ? In fact, I think you have seen
Old Dick nodded his head, and took up his pipe one more as though expecting a yarn, grumbling between his teeth as he did so :
" She's aa English as I am."
" French extraction, my dear fellow ; French extraction. Well, she's engaged with this com- pany. She is to be the ' Skipping Siren.' She can manage to put you on the job, all expenses paid, and a fiver in your^pocket for BÍX months at least loading to future engagement, and as jolly a life my boy as any pleasure-seeking devil need wish to enjoy."
"And does this lady want fifteen or twenty for her patronage, or are you going to Bet yourself up with the ready ?"
" Dick, my good fellow, what do yon take me for ?" And Matt Leader jumped from his seat, so great was his virtuous indignation. " You surely do not imagine that I should try to make money out of you. ?"
Dick'Churchill laughed a cynical little short laugh.
" You want something," he said, " or you wouldn't be so considerate."
" I want something ? Yes, I do ; but not your coin. I would rather give than take. In faot, if I had the money wherewith to pay this avaricious, grabbing woman, yon should harve it forthwith. You know what I want ÍB tho hand of your sweet Ruth."
Once more Dick Churchill put down his pipe, He looked very grave, and said, slowly
"Your a good pal of mine, Leader ; but I am thinking Ruth were better in her grave than living to bo your wife."
"Bygones must be bygones, old fellow. I've got a good berth now. I mean to keep it, make money, and be steady. Every young chap has his wild oats to sow. I've sown mine, and, with Ruth's assistance, I mean to cultivate an orchard.'
But old Dick shook his head and looked sceptical. He had seen quite enough of the world not to have much belief in reformation in general; and it certainly would have required a vast amount of faith to believe in the*reformation of Matt Leader. As the Aston folks said, he was a thorough "ne'er do-weel"-o man who, with his handsome appear- ance and blarneying tongue, had a strong gift of "make-believe," but whoso word no one would credit, and whose actions, the fairer they were in outward seeming, the blacker at the core.
He had no moro intention of reforming than he had of inventing a popular flying machine; the wholo suggestion he was making to fais so-callea " pal" was only a part of the villainous whole whioh
constituted his life.
That-worse luck to it!-he wanted to marry Ruth wa* the only truth he had spoken that even- ing ; and his object for getting old Dick into em- ployment was solely that, knowing his disapproval of his suit, he wished to remove him from London for a while, so that he might have free access to the young woman.
Dick Churchill was by no means as deep as the younger man ; he did not seo through this. Tha appointment was a tempting one, for he hated living on Ruth, and his mind was full of how the fxaoney was to be raised in order to secure it.
Leader knew full well that this would be so, even ae well as he knew that Mademoiselle Claudine Eutaxie had never mentioned the Bubjeot of money at all; the fact being that Bhe had a Hendrosse for the handsome Matt, and she was only too pleased to be of nso to any malo friend of his.
Not to make Matt out worse than he really wa« -bad enough in all conscience-it may be told that he had merely suggested this question of coin in order to distract old Dick's attention from Ruth, not for a moment entertaing the belief that he would be able to raise one penny.
If he did not make the employment he had ob- tained for him just a little difficult to get, he knew Dick would think slightingly of it, and, perhaps, altogether refuse to accept it.
AB it was Dick was eager-so eager that he al- most thought of asking Ruth if she had any sav- ings, and would lend them to him. The very best trait in|Dick Churchill's character-for he was not wholly devoid of good traits-was his love for his daughter, and his constant endeavour to shield her from harm and worry.
His love for Ruth prevailed now, and he dSs missod the fleeting thought from his mind.
Better not mix her up with the shady side of hie life-he would try Sir John Meade once more.
" Is fifteen the lowest .sum ?" he asked Leaders after a few seconds passed in consideration.
" Don't say as it is, old chap. A tenner might do- it ; but don't you go in for anything rash. Let me feel the lady's pulse again. We'll have another talk on this B«bject to-morrow."
" I shouldn't like to lose the post," murmured old
Dick. " You see, it would be such a help to my girl if I could make some money."
| \" Just so, just so," chuckled Matt Leader, de- lighted that the scheme for getting rid of the old fellow was succeeding so well.
Just at that moment she opening of the gate in front of the big tree was heard.
" There's Ruth !" exclaimed her father, starting
" Mum's the word," put in Matt, hastily ; " not a mention of this subject, even to Ruth, till it is settled, or may be you'll lose your place."
Another second and Ruth was in the room, her pretty pink cotton dress and white trimmed hat offering a striking contrast to tho seedy, sober hues of the poverty-stricken, Bmoke-filled parlor.
" Well, my girl ; well, my bonnie Ruth," said old Dick, fondly, " had a pleasant day ? Seen Miss Dorothy's wedding?"
"Yes, father dear," and she smiled on him j but she scarcely smiled as she just touched the tips of Matt Leader's extended fingers.
If, during old Dick's absence, Matt made any- way with thjs young woman appeared doubtful, to judge from the absence of warmth in her present greeting.
She took no further notice of him, but sat downy removing her hat from her head, and putting it in her lap.
" What do you think, father ? We have boon all wrong?"
"All wrong, my child? How? Isn't Miss Dorothy
married after all ?"
" Yes, yes, yes. She's very much married ; but not to-to-to-. Well, then, she has married the Honourable Lewis Bellingham !"
" Married Lewis Bellingham !" shouted Matt* ' Leader, in an astonishment that was extensively mingled with fury. Evidently, this marriage gave him the most intense dissatisfaction, while on th» contrary, it afforded Ruth Churchill so much grati- fication that she looked radiantly happy.
(To be continued.)