Chapter 18982649

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Chapter NumberXIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18982649
Full Date1890-06-07
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count3055
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)
Trove TitleWedded to Death
article text

CHAPTEB XIV.

In all outward appearance life at the Paddington school-house went on as of old : the children came and went; lessons were said as usual, Rosie Black meanwhile clambering on to Euth'B lap and being fondled. But waa Euth the same energetic little person P Had she the same hearty interest in her

work ?

No outsider would have noticed any difference. Yet keen-sighted Fergie would shake her head and wonder whether her bonnie bairn would ever again be quite as of old.

So silent had she become that more than once Fergie had asked her if she were ill, only to be told that she was perfectly well ; it waa nothing but the chill gray atmosphere that was depressing her ; she loved sunshine and warmth, and could not shake off her longing for them.

Needless to say, Fergie did not believe this. Had she done so, she would have rallied her young friend on being as vapourish and full of fancies aa a fine lady.

Knowing full well how unlike Euth it was to give way to mere impressions, she ascribed the change in her to some secret cause, about which she did not care to talk, and therefore Fergia decided that her wisest course waa to ask no questions, but appear to give credit to Euth's

statement.

What it waa that was worrying the good little body she coald not discover, unless it was the absence of sensational occurrences. Her father wrote moat cheery letters ; Matt Leader had not been near the house since that evening, more than a fortnight ago, when he had made an exhibition of himself ; probably he wished the impression of that evening to wear out. Neither had Borothy nor Derek Home shown any symptom of existence.

Ay, "there was the rub ;" there was an ominous lull ; and sensitive Ruth could not divest herself of the presentiment that a storm was even now on the

horizon.

She dared not tell Fergie this-Fergie would laugh her to scorn. Scotchwoman though she was, she was far too practical and intelligent to do other- wise than laugh at idle présagea.

The first lightning flash that irradiated this time of gathering darkness was a letter from Derek

Home.

Luckily it came in the evening, when the day'a work was done. Thus Ruth could read and dream and dream and read at leisure.

And the letter, though short, afforded Ruth an amount of speculative thought that left no room for any considerations beyond the little world of which Derek Home was the centre.

" If he could he would command bid her ' good- bye.' Circumstances had arisen which obliged him to leave England again for an indefinite period, and as aoon as the necessary arrangements could be made his partnership with Mr Bellingham would be dissolved. To Buth he bequeathed the steering of a frail barque that was scarcely fitted for troubled waters-also if she ever had an opportunity of defending his good name he knew she would not

fail to do so."

This was the purport of the letter, interspersed with many kindly wishes for the happiness of Buth herself and affectionate remembrances to his good and sympathetic friend " Fergie."

No wonder Buth, at first startled at the reception of the letter, finally took to brooding over it by the hour. (

What it could mean, even Fergie, the omniscient was at a loss to comprehend. Bat then, of courso, these two women, living in the absolute retirement they did, had heard nothing, of the manifold events that bad brought about this decision cn Derek's part.

AU night long Ruth lay awake, sorrowing over Derek's departure and Dorothy's disappointed life till she almost forgot to grieve over her own missed opportunities-missed on account of the deep love that kept her heart so warm for Derek Home.

She came down in the morning with such ringa round her honest eyes that Fergie knew without the telling how the small hours had been spent in wakef ulness. But she said nothing about her obser- vation-only tried to help Ruth over this rough bit of road by being cheery and useful.

When at twelve o'clock the children had all departed-wee Rjsio having run back to get just one more kiss from her indulgent teacher-Ruth expressed her intention of going to Lowndes

Street.

Miss Furguson at once acquiesced in the sugges- tion that she should do so, since she thought a talk with Dorothy might be very beneficial to them both. " And on no account was Ruth to hurry back," she said. " She could quite well manage all the afternoon classes by herself."

Hastily, then changing her school frock for a Sunday silk gown, which, with bonnet and'jacket and gloves to match, made her look as if she wete one of the sweetest members of a Quaker community she started to pay a visit to the fashionables Mrs. Bellingham in her dainty, artistic little nest.

Devoutly Ruth hoped that he-meaning Lewis Bellingham-would be in the city.

Not strange, considering Ruth's honest, frank nature, that she should have au instinctive dislike, amounting almost to horror, of Lewis Bellingham, though as yet no voice had whißpered to her aught of his delinquencies.

Mrs. Bellingham was at home and alone, so Ruth was at once shown into the drawing room,'where she was lounging listlessly in an armchair by the fire. All the vitality and exuberance of gaiety she assumed in society were laid on one side, and she seemed absolutely exhausted and inert.

"Ah Ruth," she said, when the door opened and her humble friend came in diffidently, " I am so glad to see you." But there was no ring in the voice that uttered these words ; and had not the grip of the hand she held out been a warm one,

Ruth would have felt almost inclined to doubt their truth.

Before the servant had closed the door Dorothy had pushed a chair to Ruth and cried out :

'. Oh, I am so unhappy ! Why have yot not been to see me before?"

" Why not have sent for me P Every day I have been exppcting you at the cottage."

" I really could not come, dear. I have been too

miserable."

" Tell me all about it. I suppose it is connected

with Der-Mr. Home ?"

" Of course-of course. You know he is going abroad. I want to go with him, but he says I am to stay here and do my duty by Lewis. I hate him for being so exemplary and saint-like.. At the same time, I love him with all my heart, if yon can un-

derstand what I mean."

" Yes, yes, dear Dorothy- and loving Mr. Home as you do, you will bo guided by hia wise counsels."

"For goodness sake don't yon come here to preach. I don't want any sermona-I want sym-

pathy."

'. And with all my heart I do sympathise with you, you poor darling."

" I cant bear it, Euth-IJcan't boar it and live." "You wifcbemore reconciled when Derek is real- ly gone."

" Never. I hate" Lewie Bellingham with a deep and bitter hatred. I feel at times as if I could either kill myself or him, and I pray for hie death as fervently as if-"

" Hush, hush my dearest. Do not speak words yon will be sorry for when you are calmer. Why, it ian'fc in the least like my bright loving Dorothy to talk

like this."

"I am changed, Buth; God only knowe how changed. You do not know of what diabolical machinations this man has been guilty. I can never forgive him-never, never. And do yo» know, Buth, a» American friend of mine has just been here and says-oh, I don't think I oan teH yon, she has made me feel so queer and oreepy."

"Yea, do tell me, dear; perhaps talking will make some of your unhappiness easier to bear, and you know I am safe and can be trusted."

"Well, Lewis's colourless, sickly appearance seems to have fascinated her and set her thinking all sorts of wild things. She says there are times' when ehe doea not believe he is really alive, but only goes about the world like an automaton wound1 np."

Bnth shuddered.

"How horrible," ehe said; "at least, how horrible it would bo if true-but. of course, it is

1 the utterest nonsense. Mr. Bellingham has a

heart-disease; that is what makes him so ill at; times."

" So like dear old practical Ruth, to come down like a sledge-hammer with an everyday reason. Now, Vera Lawson has, an imagination-"

" Which she had much better have put away in a box before she aired its fooleries to you. What business has she, or anyone, to talk to you about your huabandP"

" Getting in a rage already, when you have not heard half. The queer patt ia, she thinks I can keep him alive."

.' Why, of course, ao you can, by being good and (kind to him."

"That's not what ahe means. She says she has read in some abstruse books on 'ologios' that a person with a warm temperament can infuse some of their life intQthe dead."

" Dorothy, Dorothy, I will hear n» mere. It is all absolute nonsense, worse than nonsense wickedness. That is the way people go mad, by conjuring up evil fancies till they believe them to be realities."

" Haven't lítold you you are not sympathetic ?'*" said Dorothy, with pettishness.

" Sympathy with unreality I could never have,"' answered Buth, moBt soberly; "sympathy with you in the great trials and troubles you are called'1 on to endure, I hope I have in no mean degree. And after all, dear, why should you allow your

mind to be filled with these fancies? Mr. Bel-

lingham is alive, as well as I suppose he will ever be, considering the attacks to which he is subject, and may live for many years. That rests with a Higher Power than either Miss Vera Lawson or you can coerce."

Dorothy looked strangely at her friend, almost as if the thought of an Infinite Being waa new to her, though she had been brought up even more religiously than Ruth, seeing that Sir John Meade belonged to the Evangelical school ; but she did' not attempt to follow up the argument from a.re- ligions point-only said, still adhering firmly to the new idea inculcated by Vera.

"But would it not be odd if anyone had the power of infusing life ?"

"Too fearsome and too grave a responsibility to be placed in the hands of any mortal. It is awful enough to think that we can cause death. Before that knowledge we must quail in terror whenever we are brought foce to face with it."

" I wonder if there is any truth in what Vers says ?" went on Dorothy, as though thinking her own thoughts out loud.

" My dear, put it from your mind at once. Miss Ferguson waa reading to me the other day that not a single one of the great scientists, however deep his chemical reseaches, had ever succeeded in creating life, even in ita very lowest form, unless a germ existed before."

But Mra. Bellingham seemed to be utterly im- pervious to sensible reasoning.

"I wonder why my two friends are so different," she said. "Vera revels in the|worldof imagina- tion, while you are always so keen about the sturdy common-sense view. Going into matter at their very root as you do, I am surprised you have any belief in revealed religion."

Ruth grew scarlet, but evidently did not con- sider the moment a fitting one to state how muoh or how little faith she possessed in the miracu- lous. She wanted to get Dorothy away from the strange subject on which her mind was dwelling,

and asked

"Is this American a very great friend of yours? Does she know all your secrets ?"

"She knows none of them, or she would scarcely accredit me with the desire to infuse vitality into Lewis, No, Buth ; you'are'my only confidante, and

you do not know half, so much has happened since ' we met. But I can trust you, and you only. I will tell you everything, and if your practical common sense cannot help mo, well, then, good-bye to practical common sense for ever."

Then, speaking very rapidly, as Dorothy was wont to speak when deeply moved, she told Euth, the story of the forged signature, and how,, thanks to Derek's nobleness, ho had even restrained her craving for vengeance, and that Lewis Bellingham was still at large.

If Ruth love Derek Home beforej she could have knelt down to worship him now, so great, bo true,* so noble, did she think him ; for Buth was one of those women who would rather the man she loved should sacrifice himself, evan die, on the right side> than save himself and live a long life ', of luxurious ease by sneaking away to the left.

Then followed the account of the interview be- tween Dorothy and Derek in the conservatory at Lady Marstand's; and, finally, a description off Lewis's fainting fit, and Derek's prompt attention,

and care.

" So our joint lover io a bit of a saint, you see,'* finished up the flippant Dorothy. "Oh, you need not blush, for that you are desperately in love with Derek I know full well ; and certainly, if goodness produces affinity, you two ought to come together, only this wretched sinner stalks between and would curse you, Buth, if you took Derek away

from her."

" Hush, for mercy's sake ! Derek Home has no thought of me save as a friend-your friend-and for myself I will not rob you of him, though yon yourself have set np a barrier between you ana

him."

"If Derek Home were to aak yon to marrs him and go abroad with him, would yon not do>

so?"

srrr-" _ . : '-rii-'

«'Ho will not ask me."

. ' Dorothy stamped her foot.

"That is shirking the question. Answer me. "Would you go ?"

One momenfs pause, and then Ruth replied,

bravely

" No. Even if he aeked me, I will never marry Derek Home, unless-"

" Unless what, Ruth ?"

"Unless you yourself tell me that it is your

wish."

"That I shall never tell you-never !" cried im petuous Dorothy.

"Well, dear, I shall probably remain plain Ruth Churchill to the end-your friend in all things. ' Yon can trust mo, Dorothy, can you not?"

Dorothy put both her arma round her and kissed har", while she whispered, between convulsive sobB

"You dear, loving, honest Ruth."

Wayward Dorothy did not for a moment suspect that she was demanding any sacrifice from Ruth, aince, of course, Derek, loving her as intensely as he did, waa bound to hor, heart and soul, forever.

He was going away abroad, it was true ; but he had promised to return in the spring, when un- pleasant rumours, to a certain extent, had blown over, and then they were to be friends.

Platonic friends, of course-an existenee of affairs which Dorothy laughed to scorn; for when was plutonic friendship ever possible between tw« people as much in love with each other as this

separated pair P

Derek bad, in reality,-as little belief iu it as she had, and was, perhaps, pardonably guilty of a little Jesuitical casuistry for Dorothy's good, being most desirous to get away without a scandal and a

scene.

Nor, truth being told, did he feel aa if he could wholly trust himself if he saw much of Dorothy. Would he be able to withstand temptation, and steadfastly refuse to take her to his heart and fly with her, his own sweet loving Dorothy P

"I shall see him once more before he goes," Dorothy confided to Ruth ; and on that meeting all the happiness of my life hinges."

"How so?" asked Ruth. "Why more on this meeting than on any other ?"

" Because, yon 'see it will be the last-or the be gining of a long life of rapturous delight. I can- not believe that Derek will go away and leave his love to pine ; but, if he ¡does, I shall throw my bon- net over the windwill, and become a desperate,

evil minded woman."

"Dorothy! No; you will take up the reins of your life calmly, and guide it as an orderly, loving

Christian woman should--"

But Dorothy covered Ruth's mouth with her hand ; she would not let her speak further.

"Don't preach, I implore. If I take any reins it will be to drive my chariot to perdition-and no blame to me either. It will be Derek's fault."

"Poor Derek!"

It was all Ruth said ; but the tears thattrerabled on her eyelids touched Dorothy, and once more her

armB were about her friend's neck.

"lam so sorry for you, my dear Ruth, for I know you love Derek almost as much as I do-no one can love him quite as much-and then, of course, you are good, aud can withstand your love, while I- Oh, why was I ever bom to be so

wretched ?"

Then a quick and startling change of tone that made Ruth gasp, it was so sudden.

"There's Lady Marsland's carriage at the door my hair ia all rumpled; put it straight; and my brooch is not in the middle. Put me right, there's a good creature, and come again soon ; there is a lot I have not told you. How do you do, Lady Marsland ? So very glad I am at home. By some unhappy chance wb are always missing."

Thus, in a sort of whirl wind, Ruth waa dismissed, and found herself in the street before she had quite gathered up her scattered senses.

What she had suffered during the last hour was more than many people are doomed to undergo in a lifetime, and the end is not yet.

Another terrible experience awaits her befere she succeeds in reaching the tranquil Paddington

cottage.

(To be continued.)