Chapter 18986382

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18986382
Full Date1890-04-26
Page Number2
Corrections0
Word Count3040
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 VI.

The passage connecting the Paddington Cottage with the larger back premises is full of little coats and cloaks and hats and caps.

Curly-headed, bright-faced girls, of all ages, from six to fourteen, may be seen sitting at the locke« in the outer school-room, while in the inner one some ten or twelve little boys are standing in a row saying their multiplication table.

Miss Ferguson, whose pupils the boys especially are, though Ruth does not choose that they should consider themselves entirely out of her jurisdiction, is presiding over the class.

The school is her kingdom, and she reigns a be- loved sovereign over her pupils, boys and girls

alike. *

Ruth is sitting in the outer room, a tiny little blonde-headed mite in her lap. Rosie Black is the baby of the school. She looks almost too frail and weak to be tormented by lessons, but her intelli- gence is far beyond her years, and she can read better than some of the older girls.

Everybody spoils her; every child gives up a plaything if Rosie wants it ; and her disposition is so sweet and gentle that no such thing as jealousy or any infantine squabbles in which she was mixed up has ever been heard of.

But' the most touching part of Rose's history is that she is an orphan, absolutely alone in the wide world, her parents having both been killed in a

railway accident one year and a half before, leaving when their business was sold-her father kept a well-stocked stationer's shop-not enough pay for the child's food and clothing, much less to give her an education and enable her hereafter to work for herself.

Some friends living near the Blacks took the mite to bring her up with their children, and every day their eldest boy, aged eight, conducted Rosie

to Miss Churchill's school.

And Mike Stoddart took as much care of the wee floweret as though he were twenty and she a bud- ding beauty of seventeen.

In fact, these two children were the talk of the neighbourhood-a living poem, people said, since they, of course, predicted a love affair and marriage

in the future.

The Stoddarts were well-to-do people in the boot trade, who paid the Bchool-fees regularly for Mike, but Ruth Churchill would never take a halfpenny

for Rosie.

Surely she might be allowed to contribute her trifle towards the bringing np of this forlorn child,

she said.

Tn reality, forlorn was scarcely an applicable word to Rosie, for, too young to realise her loss, 6he was the happiest of the happy, blessed with a con- tented disposition and a beaming, laughing face.

She had been sitting on Ruth's lap very gravely while a spelling class had been going on, till at last Ruth dismissed the girls, some of whom had been exceedingly troublesome.

" Me will go now, Miss Root"-Rosie could never pronounce the ' th'-" and me will get Mike and go home."

" You seem in a great hurry to be off to-day,

Rosie."

" Yes," she answered very demurely, "it is a kind of game, you know ; I'm mother.

" Oh, indeed-mother to whom ?"

" Mike, o' course. He's got a cold. Me must do mother and look after him."

" All right, run away j the boys' class is over, I

think."

Rosie stayed for no second bidding, but, going straight into the cloak-passage, returned with Mike's hat and a comforter, to the infinite amuse- ment of all the other little people, who were the more tickled by the whole proceedings on account of Roaie's exceeding demureness.

Presently Mike, a young gentleman of very staid appearance, though by no means as intelligent looking as Rosie, came from the inner schoolroom. The comforter was tied round his neck by Rosie, and the two children, holding each other by the

hand, sallied forth.

For a shoit time, while the rest of the noisier urchins were gathering together their slates and books, and preparing themselves with much ado for departure. Ruth stood by the door leading to the playground, and watched her two little pots as the bab^lovers most assuredly were.

She was drawing a parallel between their present and their future, wondering whether this child-love would grow and grow into a big tree of happiness, ' casting its luxuriant protecting foliage over all

those who came within range, or whether Rosie's life, like her own, would be a solitary, hard-working uphill existence.

The children filed past her saying, " Good after- noon" to Miss Ruth ; for she was well liked by all of them, but she scarcely heeded them, so engrossed was she with her own thoughts, till presently the last had gone, and Ruth's kingdom, but lately so thickly peopled, was silent and deserted.

Still she did not move, but stood on there, dreaming and drinking in the fresh autumnal air. Her toilsome day was over, she had done her duty j Burely now, when the shades of evening were beginning to creep up, she might bo per- mitted for a brief space to think of something be- yond pothooks and hangers, or the endless rows of figures that at times made her head feel dizzy.

Yet was the "something elso" on which her mind was now dwelling more inspiriting and invigorating either to mind or body ?

Were not her thoughts sweeping a vast waste, wherein since the day of Dorothy's marriage, now more than six weeks ago, not a single figure had appeared till yesterday.

, Her father had departed on the tour to which Matt Leader had got him appointed. This had

been a sorrow to Ruth ; for though she was pleased that Mr. Churchill should make some money for himself, yet she loved her father dearly, and missed more than she owned his footstep about the

house. .

Only two days had he been gone, yet it seemed weeks to Ruth, and she decided as she stood by the open door that there were many more sorrows than pleasures to be met with in this life.

The window of the inner schoolroom was a pro- jecting one, and Miss Ferguson could see with regret her young friend standing " mooning," as she called it, by the door.

Ruth so often " mooned" now that Miss Ferguson began to fear that the children's lessons and the work generally would suffer if something were not done to put a stop to it.

Even while she was considering how she could rouse Ruth to a sense of necessity for real practical shaking off of her apathy, she heard the click of the gate by which all the children had departed now nearly half an hour ago.

It was very unusual for anyone to come in by that gate ; in fact, Ruth would have looked it as soon as the last child passed through if her thoughts had been with the everyday routine of

her business.

The sound then drew Miss Ferguson's attention to the gate, and through the thickening mist of approaching evening she saw a man coming across the play-ground.

WaB it Matt Leader ? If so, she must go to the rescue, for she knew how much Ruth disliked Matt and would be inclined to resent his entrance into her kingdom by its own particular private gate.

No, the intruder was too tall for Matt, who was a small, dapper man. He made straight for the door where Ruth was standing, and held out his hand, which received a return grasp. This much Miss Ferguson could see ¡ but as his back was per- sistently turned Bhe could only make a guess at who he was, and having done so she turned away from the window with a sigh.

But Miss Ferguson did not attempt to go ana in- terrupt the colloquy. She sat down on the chair she had but recently quitted, and taking up some knitting, tried to behave as if nothing unusual had taken place. The intruder by the baok gate, who had so startled Ruth back from the land of dreams that she recived hira with an absolute scheme of surprise, was Derek Home.

Himself in the flesh-but, oh ! how changed.

When last Ruth Churchill had seen Derek Home he was a stalwart, muscular, strong men, who carried his six feet with an erect mein and an elastic gait.

Without being what is called handsome, he had a frank, open, honest face, his fright, black eyes testifying, as they laughingly greeted yon above

his dark, feushy beard, how much he enjoyed the J good things of the world. !

Altogether, Derek Home was a typical man honest, honourable, athletic, and firm alike of foot and purpose.

He was the vicar's nephew and adopted son. Ruth Churchill had known him ever Binco she had settled in Paddington, now nearly four years ago.

She had never seen him other than he has just been described-had ever looked up to him as pos- sessing the attributes of a god.

To-day, when he walked across the playground, it was well-nigh four months since they had met it might have been years for the change in her hero's appearance.

His body was shrunk till his clothes were too large for him ; instead of a firm, even tread, he shambled as he walked, and the effort it seemed to him to sustain his own height was well-nigh over- powering.

The eyes tried to laugh when they saw Ruth, but the attempt was very unsuccessful.

She, meanwhile, exclaimed in utter dismay :

" What is the matter ? Have you been ill ?"

" Yes," he answered, " very ill ; ill with sickness nigh unto death."

" But you aro better now ?"

He shrugged his shouldeis. "

"The end has not come yet, if that constitutes bettemess," he said bitterly.

I "Do you mean that you have contracted some wasting disease from which you will never recover? Oh, why did you go abroad, Mr. HomeP But," she went on, changing her tone to one that had more hope in it, "new you have returned we will nurse you. You will be yourself once more. My old friend Miss Ferguson has prescriptions of many quaint medicines, inherited from her father, who was a herbalist of note. She will look them out for you, and you can't think how efficacious they

are."

He laughed this time it was an honest laugh.

Ruth's simplicity and perfect faith touched him and did him good, though, truth being told, he had little or no belief in the old herbalist's quaint re-

medies.

Any way, they would not cnre his disease-of that he felt absolutely sure. So he merely said

" How is dear old Fergie ?" And, by the way, Miss Ruth, you have not asked me to come in and

sit down."

" Gracious, how remiss ! And you are tired and jaded. I was so taken aback seeing you look so ill that I forgot to be hospitable. But you will have a cup ef tea won't you ? We are going to have ours soon-only Fergie and I-father has gone away into the country."

" So ! Down to Aston Royal by ehance ?"

"Oh no. Aston Royal will have none of father. He has gone on a theatrical tour."

"Your father! Why, Miss Ruth, you do aston- ish me. What is he going to play ?"

"Not act. Oh.no. Fancy father acting'" And they both laughed.

Then Ruth described how he had got a situation through Matt Leader's interest ; and Derek Home seemed so exceedingly interested, asked so many questions, that for a time his illness was apparently forgotten, and then Ruth suggessed that they should go into the lighted parlor to tea, and called to Miss Ferguson to join them there. Derek Home had an immense amount of sympathy with-even affection for-Miss Ferguson, having during the last four years devoted many a half-hour to talk- ing over with her the large-hearted measures for improving the condition of the masses to which he devoted a great amount of his time and as much of his means as he could afford out of a not very ample fortune, and to which Miss Ferguson was as devoted as he was, only good advice was all she could give-she had neither time nor money to be-

stow.

She was almost taken aback as Ruth had been when in the full gaslight of the little parlour she saw the change that had come over her old favour jtes but she said nothing, probably because she looked deeper than Ruth had done for the reason of what she now beheld.

They sat down to the comfortable tea-table, tea I being the meal of the day for the hardworking in- mates of the school-house, and everyone tried to be as cheerful as possible and to keep the bark of conversation away from breakers.

The breakers, of course, being any mention of ths marriage of Dorothy Meade, with the Honour- able Lewis Bellingham.

Since her conversation with Dorothy she could not do otherwise than associate Derek Home's

appearance with this very unexpected marriage. | Yet, why did he look like this ? Surely, surely the j

malady had a deeper root than the Iobs of Dorothy j men were scarcely wont to grieve thus over a jilt.

But not a word in allusion to the Bellinghams was uttered, and the pleasant time dawdled on.

Events in general, things philanthropical in particular were discussed by the intelligent trio who Bat round Ruth's tea-table, when at last a by no-means welcome interruption occurred-a knock at the front door.

The slavey forwith answered it, and without any delay showed in an exceedingly unwelcome visitor in the person of Matt Leader.

Ruth, though she most devoutly wished that Bhe could have taken a fashionable woman's privi- lege of saying " Not at home," received him with much well-bred civility.

Was he not her father's friend ?

Miss Ferguson was curt and short ; she disliked

Matt Leader more than she could have given reason for, and she had no scruples abont showing it.

On this occasion, however, Matt did not appar- ' ently notice either the pleasure or displeasure of the two ladies. All his attention was concentrated on Derek Home.

" Hullo !" he said, rudely, " you here ? I thought you had left England for good."

Derek Home fluBhed up, very angry at being thus accosted by a man he regarded as an utter ead, and of whom he had always avoided having any per- sonal knowledge.

He answered, nevertheless, very coolly

" Since your affairs are a closed book to me, I can scarcely understand how you know aught of

mine."

" Oh, you're a swell, I know, and all that sort of thing, while I am only a struggling pauper ; but bits of paper get about, and the signature on them is not always a thing to be proud of. It was a f heavyish Bum ; but I suppose it is paid."

Derek Home looked at him in blank astonish- ment, and then came to the conclusion that he had been drinking, which was, in fact, the case, though he was perfectly aware of what he waa saying, only, had he been sober, perhaps he would not have

said it.

Ruth asked him if he had heard from her father,

trying tims to change the conversation ; but the | question only entailed more disagreeables.

'* Yes," he said, looking at her with an odious leer that was intended to be fascinating. "And he has told me to keep an eye on your dear little self, and not to let his nest be Bullied during his absence, and the fledglings become the prey of a

vulture."

After this exceedingly coarse reply, following the inuendo bnrled at DerokHome, there was a silence1;

No one knew exactly what to say or do. Derek

Home's impulse was io quit the house forthwith j

but he scarcely thought it would be manly to leavo these two unprotected women at the mercy of this half-tipsy vaurien.

The brutal remark had been made to Ruth ; oh Ruth, therefore, devolved the duty of answering it, which she did pluckily.

"My father never deputed anyone to be im- pertinent to his daughter, and if this impertinence is repeated I shall have to request that you do not call here again during his absence."

The sharpness and downrightness of the answer, to an extent, sobered Matt Leader, and recalled him to a sense of what a fool he was to irritate the young person whom it was the chief desire of his existence to please.

His excuse was almost as bungling as his rude-

ness had been.

" Forgive me, dearest Miss Ruth," he said. " I would not for worlds court such a verdict ; only it is rather hard when a fellow thinks he is on safe ground to find it is cut away from his feet, by a man, too, who is-'

But Ruth would hear no more.

"I am sorry, gentlemen, that this interview must come to an end. I have my children's exer- cises to correct, and work to do which will take me all the evening."

Derek Home had risen simultaneously with Ruth. " Good evening, Miss Churchill. Good evening, Miss Ferguson."

Hs shook hands with the two women and walked

to the door. Before he finally departed he tunned

to Matt Leader- i .>

"My address," he said, "is SOG, Piccadilly. Whatever charges you have agaiast me, I shall be ready to receive them there."

Derek" Home was gone ; but Matt Leader still lingered.

" You know, I suppose, that ho's an undeniable

blackguard?5' I

" I know nothing, and wish to know nothing. I have only one desire-that you should leave this house, and never set foot in it again."

With that Ruth went into the school-room and locked the door, leaving to Miss Ferguson the task of ejecting Matt Leader which she very speedily

did.