Chapter 18982079

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Chapter NumberIII.
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18982079
Full Date1890-04-05
Page Number4
Corrections0
Word Count2801
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleWedded to Death
article text

WEDDED TO DEATH.

CHAPTER III.

From an introduction to the front room of "The

' Cottage," as the Churchills' little place at Padding-

ton was called, not a very exalted opinion would be formed of its comfort or general tidiness ; but this room, being Dick Churchill's private den, Ruth

had neither the authority nor the inclination to ?

meddle with it.

Opening a door out of the entrance passage, i called by stretch of the imagination "the front

hall," the more extensive part of this not very : extensive domain met your view. i

Ruth's kingdom ! i Vou pass down a long narrow slip, on each side of which are numerous pegs on which, during the

greater portion of the year, hang cloaks and hats 1 caps and greatcoats, girls on one side, boys on the i other ; at the end of the passage a large room full of 1 lockers and forms. Within this room, a second of <

smaller size, furnished in the same way ; beyond it, a comfortable and tidy bed-room. Generally speaking, at the end of the Eecond room there is to be found, seated in a high chair, made comfortable by Ruth's wish with cushions, a bright-eyed, in- telligent-looking little deformed woman of about forty.

She is Ruth's subordinate andalier ego. Many a time she haB been asked to become a partner, hut

has refused.

If you go through the rooms out into the play- ground, and stand by the gate through which the children enter, you will see, if you look high enough right on the top of the cottage, an announcement in tarnished gold letters that this is Ruth Churchill's Day School for Boys and Girls. No fine flourishes. Ruth is one of those people who alway call a spade a spade, and to whom it would never occur to advertise her Middle-class Day School as a Seminary for Youth or any such high-flown nonsense. And as for Miss Ferguson, the weird-looking little aliar ego, she sailed quite as straight as Ruth did.

At the time that Ruth took herself off for the day in order to soo Miss Dorothy Meade's wedding the mid-summer holidays were in full swing, or she would not have been able to go, as conscientious Ruth would never have dreamt of leaving her work to be done by another, however willing that other was to help her in every possible way.

Notwithstanding that it was holiday time, Miss Ferguson was sitting in her accustomed place in the inner school-room when Ruth went in therej her colloquy over with her father and Matt Leader.

MisB Ferguson never left the Cottage. It had been her home ever since the day she first arrived there to help Ruth with the teaching. She and a general servant, who was at cveryboây's beck and call, composed the entire establishment, »a Ruth sometimes laughingly called it, in imitation of her friend, Dorothy Meade, who was excessively grand in her talk and ways.

For. notwithstanding the cresent dißüaritv in

J! or, noiwiinsranaing cue present uispurity m

their positions, Miss Dorothy and Ruth had since childhood been the very greatest friends, enjoying an intimacy which Miss Dorothy said that neither " time nor circumstances could ever change."

Ruth had, however, of late begun to think that Miss Dorothy's words were scarcely worthy of the full amount of trust she had hitherto reposed in them. She had not only not invited Ruth to come to Aston Royal and Bee her married, but she had not even told her who the happy man was who was to become the possessor of Miss Dorothy Meade's pretty person and pretty fortune. Considering that the young lady WSB Sir John Meade's only child, this latter, it was believed, would be con- siderable.

All the time Ruth was talking to her father and Matt Leader, she was longing to get away and tell everything to her dear old faithful Ferguson, but they kept her, asking endless questions, till her patience was well-nigh worn out, which Matt Leader at last noticing, he decided that to irritate his lady-love was scarcely the way to gain her affections, so he took his leave, and she was per- mitted to go off into her own apartments.

Once there, the pent-up emotions she had been struggling with all day rushed forth unrestrained.

She threw herself on her knees beside Miss

Ferguson's chair and burst into a flood of tears, much, very much, to that good lady's consternation and trouble ; for, during the whole of the three years she had lived in the same house with Ruth Churchill,-worrying and anxious though life had not infrequently been-she had never seen her

shed a tear before.

Pluck was one of Ruth Churchill's strong points ; for what reason, then, had she now so utterly

broken down.

" My Ruth, my dear young friend, you must be brave, and face the storm as others have done before you," said the pleasant-voiced, hump-backed teacher, and her long thin fingers played with Ruth's brown curls as her head lay in Miss Fer- guson's lap.

But Ruth did not look up or respond in any way ; sobs for the moment seemed to have gained the mastery.

"Did you love him, then, so very dearly,- my sweet Ruth ? Well, dear, it is only the way of tho world. Dorothy Meade is a lady and an heiress, while you know, dear, wo have always said we would never flinch from looking facts sternly in

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the face-never strive to deceive ourselves. You-"

Ruth almost sprang up at last.

" It is not that, Fergie, dear-not that. Dorothy Meade has married Mr. Lewis Bellingham !"

" Not Derek Homo ?"

"No, Derek Home is still free-free!" And Ruth laughed a wild hysterical laugh that was far more painful to liston to than her sobs.

Miss Ferguson looked utterly astounded.

" But how has all this come about ?" she asked. " I thought you said he loved her ; or was it mere jealousy on your part ? And God knows she loved him with all the mad wild love of which only a woman with Dorothy Meade's unrestrained passion is capable."

"1 know nothing," «aid Ruth, pushing her brown curls baok off her clear white brow, " save that Lewis Bellingham is the bridegroom and Derek

Home is free."

Miss Ferguson watched Ruth as she walked ex cidedly up and down the room, tears springing into the elder woman's kindly eyes as she did so. ,

It saddened her to think what a potent power even the mention of Derek Home's name had over this girl, usually but little amenable to influences, and what the future had in store for Ruth her elder friend dreaded to think. She could see further than Ruth could, since she was looking through no love-tinted spectacles, but had for some time past been dispassionately watching the some- what tangled life drama that was being performed under her very eyes.

That Dorothy Meade loved Derek Home with all the strength of an unprincipled, passionate nature, she had fully believed ; and that he loved her she did not doubt ; but since Dorothy had married another man, what was she now to think ?

Had the evidence of her own eyes and tolerably acute senses failed her, and was she altogether wrong in all her calculations P

Impossible ! Some untoward amalgamation had brought about this marriage ; but love as fierce as Dorothy's still burnt brightly, and Derek Home's heart beat wildly for the daughter »f the great Aston Royal millowner and not for her humble

friend.

Ruth was oaly deceiving herself-deceiving her self to her own misery.

These were the thoughts that crowded on Miss Ferguson and blinded her with tears even while she was striving to be clear-headed and long-sighted enough to solve the enigma of why Dorothy Meade had married the Honourable LewiB Bellingham.

And where was Derek Home ? For what reason had he allowed this marriage to take place and put in no claim ? For some weeks he had not been near the schoolhouse, and no one there had heard aught

of him.

Miss Ferguson hoped and almost believed that fl Ruth had ber feelings so much under control that ', <B she had ceased of late to permit her thoughts to S dwell on him. It was only on the previous day, H when she had announced h* intention of going to S Aston Royal and being present at this marriage, J&

that her old friend disoovered that during silence ' and seeming quiet the deep waters of the heart are

gomotimes the most troubled.

That Ruth had not actually seen the ceremony performed waB the fault of the train being late, not her own j she had seen enough, howover, to make her cry aloud in exultation since Derek Home was free, and the state of unusual exoitement to which she nowgave way withoutthe least effort atrestraint astonished Miss Ferguson more than a little, though she would not have checked it for worlds, judging, and rightly, that much of the superfluous steam thus expended, Ruth would ere long steady down into her usual praotical, common-sense self.

Crooked little waif of humanity though Miss Ferguson was, she had not been spared all the agonies of a hopeless passion. The sigh of Ruth awoke slumbering memories, and made the nigh wornoat combatant in the battle of life feel young again, as she remembered how she had once hoped against hope, and Btriven valiantly with disap- pointment and despair.

How fervently Bhe prayed that Ruth's love-dream might not vanish away as hers had done. There

was not the same reason why it should do so j she JËËc had been shrivelled, elderly, unpleasant to look on "ÄÄ from hor very babyhood, while Ruth was fresh, Hi and bright, and young-as dainty a morsel as Hj could well be found. Hj

A comely lasB, though scarcely possessing all the Hj attributes of beauty, a hypercritic would have said HJ of Ruth ; and he would have been right. HJ

Her colouring was simply perfection; and the Hj frank, open expression on her faco made you H believe in and trust her even before you had shaken Hj hands. But the chiselling of the features was un- H

finished, the nose her detractors would have dp- IH

amanea, tue nose ner aetractors wouia nave ac- H

signated as snub, her cheeks -were too full, her H neck too short for her to fulfil all the requirements BB judges set forth. H

But to the ordinary mortal, looking about for a H feminine gem on which to feast his eyes, Ruth was H seldom passed over without complimentary remirk. H

Miss Ferguson was BO devoted to her that she H thought her absolutely lovely. But at the same BE time she was shrewd enough to know that mere Bj loveliness is not all a man requires in a wife, and BJ that the abyss that lay between the social positions BJ

of Derek Home and Ruth Churchill was wellnigh

unfathomable.

She sought by every means in her power to soothe Ruth's over-strained nervous Bystem, and to an extent she suoceeded, and the younger woman came and sat down-this time on a low footstool at her friend's feet.

" What should I do without you, you dear old Fergie, both in and ont of school ? I should never be able to get along without you."

" Trust me always to the last, my dear Ruth ; I will always be true to you."

" I know yen will, and Fergie dear, if ever I am -well, very happy, you will be happy too."

Miss Ferguson took up the girl's hand and

kissed it. '

Of the happiness to which Ruth alluded, she, in her wisdom, dared not venture to think."

" I know I am foolish," went on Ruth, " but I cannot help it. Next week the children will be back at school, and I shall have to bury my own affairs among copy-books and slates."

" So much the better."

" What a dreary conckiaion ?"

" Well, dreams are poor food, aro they not, dear ? The future will neither be bether nor worse be-

cause we waste the precious present thinking about

it."

" No, I suppose not, so we will bogin to-morrow '¡'J to furnish up these quarters, and make them neat $

and cleanly for next Monday."

" Just so, dearie ; a little moving about will do oven my limbs good. I've sat at white seam lately till I almost forgot how to walk. By the way, it is getting very late; surely it must be supper time ? Is anyone with your father ?"

"Matt Leader was there, but he has gone."

Mias Ferguson looked saarchingly at Ruth as . she said

" Mott Leader seems to come here pretty often."

" YeB. He has known father ever since he was a lad. He comes to him for advice and to talk his business matters ever with him."

Miss Ferguson, who Baw very far into most mat-

ters, laughed. *\

" Ah ' you don't believe in Matt's business-you \ are always very hard on the poor boy." !

"Not I. He has the character of being a'ne'er- ? do-weel,' and I have never Been or heard anything i to make me think he does not deserve it. But as \ long as yo« have nothing to do with him, my

bonnie Ruth, it matters little to me what he does or ;

is- i j,

" Never fear. I am not likely to have anything

to do with him, except to wish him a ' good-even- ¡ mg' when he comes to see father I have not ¡ much belief in him myself, and, though I cannot tell you why, I always feel a little creepy and un-

comfortable when I see him." -!

" Is it not because ho has shown you very plainly 1 how much he admirei you ?" yl

" Certainly not, for I don't believe he does. Matt ^Fm Leader sees such a number of dashing women in jj the profession to which ho belongs that he is not in 1 the least likely to tiouble himself about a hump 3 drum little teacher such as I am." J

" My dear Ruth, it is sometimes as dangerous r | for a woman to undervalue herself as to have too | exalted an opinion of her own charms. I am cer- ä tain that Matt Leader admires you exceedingly- jj

in faet, if you wish the truth to be spoken in m

plainer language, has conceived a strong passion <J

for you, and I advise you to ' Beware '' " ^j

A ringing laugh, in which Ruth did not very * § frequently indulge, but which to her intimates "% meant that she was in one of her very merriest "J

moods, semed to set Miss Feiguson's advice at de- r fM

fiance. " Fancy me married to Matt Leader . Why <¡§ my dear Fergie, you must have taken leave of all Jj your senses to comple our names together even ia ¿| jest." But little wiseacre was not going to be ¿Û

laughed out of ber belief. '*çi

She was as certain of Matt Leader's love for » >¿|

Ruth as she was that Derek Home loved another &

woman, and one piece of knowledge gave her well ¿j nigh as much disquietude as the other. No use, V however, to pursue the subject further, Bhe .jj supposed. Time alone would remove the scales from | Ruth's eyes, and she could only hope that with t clearer vision this girl would be able to guide her ' á footsteps into a path that would lead to happiness.

It was seldom, very seldom that these two devoted friends though they were, discus3ed heart

affairs. Their life was too practical and busy for rj idle talk. Yet both of them knewthat outside the , vi

school house, where till lately all Ruth's hopes and ^j*1 fears had been centered, there lay a world in which í T Bhe was destined to play a more or less prominent , part. For the present, too, all chance of further ^ discussion was at an end, for the tidy little slavey

put her head in at the door and said supper was - -1 « quite ready in the parlour, and the master was ' i waiting. - *

(To be contt'?tuec7.) ,