|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Wedded to Death|
WEDDED TO DEATH.
The retributive angel had done his work, and ere ho departed had summoned the angel of Death ?
Dorothy Bellingham was doomed-days she might live, perchance even weeks, but never again would she enter into the jaws of life or bask into the warmth and brightness of its sunny hours.
The interview with Lewis's foster-mother had given her her death stroke a little earlier, per- chance, than it would otherwise have come, pro- bably only by a few weeks.
Poor Dorothy-poor-tempest-driven Dorothy she was striving to obtain peace now. She had poured the full confessions of the heavy load of sin that had been weighing her .down for months into tha ear of that hard-working toiler for souls, the Bar. John Eagle ; and even the bare fact of having told someone her awful secret had relieved
The only stipulation she had made was that her father and mother should not know ought of this evil thing.
Why torture them as she had been tortured, by giving them'to bear a load of suffering such as she had carried for those months past ?
Surely she had performed penance enough in striving to thrust from her heart the very image of the man she loved better than her life's blood.
Surely this self-imposed penance had some saving power ; even this John Eagle could not help acknowladgiiig, but was it accompanied by a BHffioiently holy, humble spirit to prove really
That he must probe into the very deepest recesses of Dorothy's heart to find out. It was no easy matter. She was reticent, irritable, at times even rude, when Derek Some was mentioned.
She had given him up. Was not that enough ? What more did Mr. Eagle want her to do or say ?
That there was more, a something yet untold, he felt certain. What that something was he must discover ere he felt assured that Mrs. Bellingham was won to grace, and would die a penitent and forgiven sinner.
Days of anxious ministrations on his part and contradictory holding back on hers, and ho arrived no nearer at fathoming the matter.
His penitent had confessed her crime, and thereby relieved her conscience ; to follow John Eagle into the labyrinths of dogmas aad doctrines that made up his faith, to Dorothy seemed abso- lutely impossible.
She had made what she considered complete reparation for her sin, and did not believe that God would expect more at her hands. Why, then, should she listen to John ' Eagle's cranks and fancies ? For, be it known, that, though Dorothy could not help respecting John Eagle as a God- fearing man and her father's friend, she scarcely liked him any better than she had done at first J and only used him as a confessor because he had urged her so persistently, and there was no other available person by.
In order to make her peace with God, she had told him this much, she said. She forgot that,
like the liars in Bible history, she had withheld a ' portion of the truth ; and that, allowing her hard heartedness to prevail, she was running a chance
cf losing the very peace she hoped, through ner confession, to attain.
Half a confession, half a reparation ; was this all of which poor sballow-natured Dorothy was capable ?
Derek Homo and Ruth Churchill. Even as she lay there daily losing strength, these names were perpetually coupled in her mind, robbing her of her hope in future happiness because she would not sot Ruth free from the promise she had forced her into making. She could not bear it, could not bear to think of these two as one ; and Dorothy know full well that Ruth would not consider that death released her from the promise, but would go on keeping it cill she herself had ceased to breathe.
Once or twice a gentle urging spirit had bade her set Ruth free, telling her that she herself would be happy in the knowledge that these two were united. But she thrust the suggestion from her with a cry as of a tigress at bay, and told her- self that she would rather be accursed forever than that they two should come together.
The wear and tear of thoughts like those was tolling on her cruelly. She had made her great con- fusion ¡ was, she believed, expiating her sin by death, since remorse had worn her out ; and yet her cry for peace was unanswered-there was no peace. She noticed the sorrow stricken faces of those about her, and knew that they sorrowed not so much because she was going to die, as because
she was so distressed.
Was there no wish Bhe desired to have gratified, they asked ; no one she cared to Bee ? Would it not be a pleasure to her if her old friend Ruth Churchill was sent for.
John Eagle wag most anxious that Ruth should come. He had a firm belief in her kindly womanly help. Where he was failing utterly, he thought, Ruth might succeed, v Little did he know how per- sonally interested she was in that success.
But Dorothy said she wanted no one, least of all did she want Ruth Churchill.
Dorothy knew full well that in the days long past sho had set up her charms, used all her woman's wiles, to win Derek from Ruth, for whom ho was showing such decided preference as to awaken that love for him in Ruth's heart which had never died Nor, to judge from the current of events, had it really died out of Derek's, though the strong passion Dorothy had wantonly roused into an ardent flame had, for a time, outblazed the calmer, purer light.
At last the end seemed very near ; all power was apparently dying out of the fragile frame, and at times it almost seemed as if it were obstinacy alone that was keeping Dorothy alive, and causing the hectic flush to burn so fe rerishly on her cheeks.
This tension of every nerve could not last long. The doctors were astonished that the fight with
death had endured till now.
At times, from sheer physical weakness, her poor distracted mind would ' wander, and then it was ever of Derek and Ruth that she would incessantly talk, thus giving some clue to the direction in which her thoughts were wandering.
" Do not wait for permission ; send for Ruth Churchill," said John Eagle's wise counsel ; " Bince it is Ruth alone who can quiet this pertubed Bpirit."
So an urgent telegram was sent, and in due course-before, indeed, they had even expected her -Ruth came to share the sorrowful watches by Dorothy's bed.
Her reception had scarcely been a cordial one but what did that matter to Ruth ; she ascribed it to be the waywardness of illness, and putting from her all idea that Dorothy cared less for her than she had done through every hour of their life, Bhe took her in her arms as thought she had been a little child, cooed over her and cosetted her as she would have done a wailing infant.
And, in spite of herself, some calm cams to Dorothy, and she knew there would be a void if Ruth were sent away. So from sheer selfishness she suffered Ruth's presence about her, even pre- ferred her handling to that of the trained nurse, who had hitherto waited upon her ; but Bhe spoke
never about Derek.
Two or three days passed thus, and it was Bome consolation to her heart-broken parents to see that Ruth Churohill's coming bad had a soothing effect. Only John Eagle shook his head, for he knew that trne peace that passes all understanding, did not yet exist.
The nurse was to watch by Dorothy at night, Ruth Churohill during the day This was the arrangements that had been made, but on the third night after Ruth's arrival Dorothy seemed so very restless and prayed so hard for Ruth not to leave her, that the nurse was sent to bed, and Ruth herself took her place beside Dorothy's pillow.
" Come and lie, by me on the bed Ruth, as you did that night when I came with my bag to the
Ruth obeyed ; she would not have thwarted her for worlds. Dorothy's pulse was so faint that it, was just possible before morning dawned it would have ceased to beat.
But there was still moro vigour left in Dorothy than either Ruth or any of those who watched her conjectured.
For a time she lay very still, ker hand on Ruth's grasping every now and again Ruth's fingers with tightness that was almost painful. Did she suffer, Ruth wondered, when she held on to her thus; and she looked with sorrowing tenderness on the thin flashed face and the bright eyes which shone like stars in the dim darkness of a solitary night light.
Yes, Dorothy was suffering terribly, bnt it was mental not physical torture ; whenever a paroxysm of indecision or dread came to her she clasped Ruth's hand, anxious to remind herself of the exis- tence of that true friendship she so little deserved. At last a clutch more serious than the presiding forced Ruth into the question :
"What is it, darling? Can I do anything to soothe and help you ?" (
" Do you love me very much, Ruth ?"
" With all my heart, dear, and you know it."
""Would you still love me if yon believed me gilty of a grievous sin ?"
" My pet, we are all Binners. What am I that I should judge you or any one ?"
" You are not a sinner like me, Ruth, lhere are very few people so wicked as I am ever bom into
Ruth tried to calm her, but Dorothy knew too well what she was talking about to be easily calmed.
" Do you know how Lewis Bellingham came by his death ? I murdered him."
And Ruth sprang up in her horror, snatching her hand from the encircling fingers.
"Ah ! I knew you would not love me when you had learnt the truth. Still it is better for peace's sake that you should know. Peace, did I say. Oh, Ruth ! may you never search so hopelessly for peace as I have searched."
With a vigorous effort Ruth once more recovered 'some degree of composure, and, laying her head back on the pillow, took up the poor little attenu- ated hand and pressed it.
"To the vilest sinner, my Dorothy, repentance brings peace," she murmured. "But what yow tell mo is so impossible I cannot believe it."
"It is true, terribly-really-true. I let him die, thinking to gain my freedom. I withheld what would have saved him, and the freedom I thus purchased has been a harder bondage than
the most abject slave ever endured."
" Poor, poor Dorothy-now I understand it all." Yes, all that had happened since Lewis Belling- ham died : Dorothy's fitfnlness, her treatment of Derek Home, her illness and the wearing out of her life. Ruth needed no further words to make her understand in terrible completeness what a tragedy Dorothy had been silently enacting.
That Ruth was shocked and horrified was very certain, but she sought, as ever, to put the kindli- est construction on what had occurred, murmuring over and over again, as though in extenuation :
"Her temptation waa greater than her strength." "Do you think I shall be forgiven, Ruth ?" asked the feeble voice, after a short pause. " It was not premeditated. We were quarrelling-he had one of his attacks. I did not ring or call for brandy, but stood by him and held his hand. Vera Lawson had told me that I, in my person, could give him life. It was not true, for he died; and I have never known a happy hour since."
" How very, very dreadful !" murmured Ruth. " I thought that false theory of hers would work
"Yes, Ruth, you sought to save me, and you have been well-nigh as great a sufferer as I."
" How so, dear ?" " Derek-"
" Oh' Dorothy dear, Derek must never know this fearful Ule ; it would drive him mad to think what his sweet Dorothy had gone through."
" You loTe Derek, and would not have me dis- paraged in his eyes. Ah, Ruth, how very much better you are than I could ever be !"
Ruth did not answer ; for she could not help shuddering at the idea of committing such a crime.
" Do you know why I could not die in peace why I have been fighting death for days ?" Dorothy went on. " Because I would not give you back your promise-tell you that for the happiness of beth your lives it were best that you should marry
Ruth did not speak immediately ; her heart was too full, und the tears were streaming down her cheeks ; but she pressed Dorothy's hand to show that she understood, and after awhile she said
" Do no trouble, dear, about the future for me or for him ; think only of yourself, make yonr peace with God."
Not for worlds would Bhe have told Dorothy that Derek Home had already asked her to be his wife.
" But, Ruth, it is that promise of yours that lies between me and peace."
" Well, love, we will retract it, and let things
take their course."
" Now that I aw dying, I should like to know that you should be Derek's wife. Poor, dear Derek, he sadly wants someone to look after him ; and you, Ruth, will do it, will you not ?"
" Please ask for no more promises, dear Dorothy. How can I tell what he may wish, or what may bo the wisest course in the future ?"
" Derek-I must see DereK. Will yon send for him, Ruth ?"
And the fever ran so high that Dorothy became absolutely vigorous i» her demand to see Derek.
" In the morning darling we will telegraph. We cannot do so till the office is open. Now let me give you some jelly, and then try and rest your poor weary mind for awhile."
" it will rest altogether very soon, my Ruth, God grant that I may find peace in the grave !"
Ruth gave her the jelly and then, though her heart waa well-nigh breaking, kissed and lullabyed her to sleep as if she had been a little child.
Then she sat 'down in the armchair to think ; but so oppressive and fearsome where the thoughts that came to her in her strong sympathy, she felt as if she horaelf were standing trembling on the confines of eternity, and nerer before had she been so glad to hail the first peep of day.
Soon after, when it began to lighten up the dark eorners of the room, Dorothy woke from her piti- ful snati'h of sleep, a orjr for Derek on her lips. Ruth thought she heard a footstep outside the door. She opened it to see who was there. It was Sir John Meade, who had come for tidings of the patient, and had not ventured to enter, being afraid of waking her should she sleep. In a voice loud enough for Dorothy to hear, Ruth said to
" Will you telegraph to Mr. Derek Home, and bid him come quickly, as Dorothy wishes to see
" As soon as the office opens I will send."
"Itmust bo quickly," added Ruth, in a lower tone : and Sir John Meade as he walked away with a sigh, knew only too well what that quickly n.eant
The night's excitement had exhausted Dorothy considerably; still she seemed much happier for her talk with Ruth, and took all the nourishment they gave her eagerly, in order that she might gain strength to live till Derek came, as sha told
Even thus, life was ebbing rapidly away, and there were times when from sheer weakness Dorthy rambled in her talk, nor knew who watched
beside her bed.
Would she know Derek when he came ? They almost feared she would not ; but then they had not guaged her love for hi», or perchan cie did not know how the tone of a loved voice will recall the fleeting Bpirit even from the brink of the grave.
Before the others knew he was in the room she murmured "Derek " and held out her feeble arms. She felt he was there, even though, in thp blinding darkness of death she could not see him.
He leant over and kissed her brow, on which he dropped an unchecked tear.
" Be true to Ruth and save me from-" The rest of the sentence waa so inarticulate that only Ruth herself, who knew the whole of the sad story guessed her meaning.
Derek's arm was round her; there was avery
peaceful and happy expression on her face. Ruth stood crying quietly by Derek's side, Sir John and Lady Maude were in absolute paroxysms of grief, and John Eagle prayed with a lusty voice.
So for more than a quarter of an hour time passed then for a moment the power of speech came back, though feebly, to Dorothy, and she whispered, " Derek-Ruth-Ruth-Derek."
It waa the last office of expiring nature ; another second or two, and, without a sound being uttered, the reBtless spirit was at peace.