|Newspaper Title||The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser (NSW : 1843 - 1893)|
|Trove Title||Wedded to Death|
WEDDED TO DEATH.
I CHAPTER XV.
Ruth Churchill walked away from the Belling- ham'a door with such a weight of seriousness settled on her brow that it would almost seem as if youth had forsaken her and allowed her to draft prematurely into middle age.
. She would stroll deliberately acrosB the park back to Paddington, she decided-time she must have to classify her ideas before she met Eergie since much that she had heard that day must be kept a dead secret, even from her trusty old friend. For Ruth felt she had no right to tell of Lewis Bellingham's delinquencies, even if by doing so she eould right Derek Home.
He had elected to be silent for Dorothy's sake j she must follow such a noble and self-sacrificing
That Dorothy should be married to a man such as Lewis Bellingham had proved himself to be grieved Ruth most intensely. Still, her sorrow on this subject was as nothing compared with what she felt when she thought how Dorothy's own nature was being deteriorated by the unhappy
cirenmstances of her life.
That she should rise, noblet and pure, above them all was Ruth's prayer, but as she looked closely carefully into the case, except by a miracle, and how was Dorothy to be saved.
Reflecting deeply over the gravity of thesitnation, and striving to see how great was the responsibility testing on her own shoulders, and what she ought therefore to do, she reached the little gate opposite the Alexandra Hotel that led into the park.
By this gate she entered and walked steadily on without noticing that a man had been for some time following her. He waited till there were but few people near before he ventured to speak, then Ruth was startled from her reveiie by hearing a voice close to her say :
" How do you do, Miss Churchill ? You seem in a very brown study for one so fair." '
The speaker was Matt Leader. Anger flushed Ruth's brow, chasing sorrow away for a time She disliked Matt Leader excessively, and felt indig- nant that he should have presumed to aoeosfc her after what had happened at their last interview, although he was her father's friend-that he was a disadvantageous friend Ruth bad long thought and in all dutifulness she did not consider that she was in any degree bound to be civil or encourage attention from a man she wished with all her heart Dick Churchill would cease to believe in, as she had long learnt to do.
At the present moment especially Ruth was in no mood for conversation with Matt Leader, and she answered him very testily :
"A brown study is produced, I suppose, by a thoughtful state of the brain on which it seems to me rather dangerous to intrude."
He looked at her queryingly. Even Matt Leader, with all his impudence, found it sometimes difficult to fend with Ruth, she had such a self composed way of saying unpleasant things.
He saw, of course, that she wished to be disagree- able now, and he had addressed her with the full intention of making desperate love to her. It was most provoking to have caught her in this contra- dictory mond, but the rebellious spirit must be tamed ; as well begin the process, in which he be- lieved himself to be an expert, now as at some
" Great friends have privileges," he said, with a leer that was intended to bo fascinating. "I might be able to render you some assistance in the matter which is evidently troubling you. Be as- sured, no one would take greater pleasure in help-
" Thank you ; I require no assistance."
"Oh.MissRuth! Miss Ruth ! Whywillyou*eton one Bide a willing arm and a true heart ? Believe me, in this cold world they are not to be found
" Thank you, Mr. Leader ; you aro very kind, | but-" I
" Call me Matt, and take me for your true love." | She turned her head and looked at him from head to foot, scorn, contempt, and hatred flashing from her eyes. It was a withering glance, and needed no words to express its meaning. Probably she knew him full well, for all she said was :
" You must be mad."
But Matt Leader was not easily repulsed. He did not protend to see all the flash her eyes con- veyed, but went on talking in low soft toneB, which to Ruth were so discordant, because so untrue.
"As sane as you are yourself, my dear Miss Ruth. I should be insane if I let a pretty girl like you slide without trying to appropriate her."
Ruth walked on very fast and did not answer bim. She waa really so angry that she found it difficult to give her anger words.
She gained nothing, howev«r, by the silent
Matt Leader walked as fast as ohe did, though she was almost running j there waa a broad grin on his face; be wbb vastly amused at what he was pleased to consider her coquetry.
S[IenCe ^f ooar8e> «ives consent," he said, after they had stridden on for some distance across the park at this rapid rate.
"Consent to what?" asked Euth in a gasp, pr«°<7r?Ced by emofcion ai»d rapid walking combined.
"To putting your pretty girlish prudery on one 81 mi5nd beoonling my little wifo, sweet one."
This sentence ehecked Euth in her onward career ¡ in fact, it brought her to a full stop.
_ " Look here, Mr. Leader, ' I consider iff very impertinent of you to have followed me and spoken to mo at all, and I wish you to understand fully that under no circumstances-none whatever-will I ever consent to become your wife, and that I wish to have as little communication with yo» as
"Ho, ho!" cried Matt, a little bit taken abaok at this determined outburst. " Ho, ho ! there is some one in the'field before me, I suppose. That fine gentleman, whose clothes have grown too big for him, perhaps, from pining after you. But it wont do, Euth ¡ gentry are not giving to marrying beneath them, and you are no more a lady, you know, than I am a gentleman."
Euth smiled sneeringly, as much as to say that was a statement that was quite unnecessary to make, but she said very determinedly :
" There is no one of any sort in the field, as you choose to call rk : but if there-were not another man in the whole worl I would »lercr, never marry you."
''Take care, take care," he replied. " Finer ladies than you have had to eat their words some- times. You cannot possibly know what may happen in th» future."
Euth heaved a profound sigh. For the first time there was just a shadow of fe»r hanging over the br*re determination with which she had fenced with Matt Leader.
The future ! ay, the future ! It was of what the future had in store that Euth had' always a dim feeling of dread.
She w«uld not, however, let Matt Leader know, if she could help it, that there was any weak point
which his words could touch.
She answered? very quietly
"_ There is nothing, either now or at any time which could make me think it expedient to marry you."
"So you fancy now 5 but wait-wait. In a year, even a few months, you may .tell a different tale."
" I do not think so," she said sharply, with a very decided effort to appear certain.
" Perhaps not, but I beg to differ. And though you now treat my honest suit with a contempt it in no wise merita, the day will come when you will
sue to me."
Euth did not libe his tone-it almost frightened her as she looked forward ; but she tried so hard to persuade herself that Matt Leader wa» always given to bombast and self-conceit that she succeeded in making herself beliove he was doing so now, and therefore continued to answer with a certain amount of jauntiness
" Since you are so positive, suppose we leave till the day you Bay is sure to arrive any further dis- cussion of this subject, and that you allow me to resume my brown study and continue my walk
A scowl for the first time carne upon his brow,
" I wonder what your father would say if he saw you treating his old friend thus ?"
" What he has said many a time : that he would sooner see me-in my grave than your wife."
" My good friend Churchill has always expressed himself very differently to me."
This statement was absolutely untrue, as Dick Churchill had repeated the very same words when speaking to-Matt Leader.
" I have never found my father to be untruth- ful," answered Suth calmly ¡ " but as I do not think any further discussion on thus subject is especially edifying, Mr. Leader, will you kindly tell me which of these two paths you intend to take, and I will follow the other ?"
This was a dismissal and' no mistake i even Matt Leader was forced to accept it as such. He raised his hat, and, leaving thte two paths opten to Euth.j he turned abruptly «a h& heel and went back by the way he had come.
To be rid of him was exactly what Euth wanted ¡ still, she feared she had accomplished her end al- most tos easily, for, knowing the man, as from his intimacy with her father she could not fail to do, she felt certain he would not give up anything he had taken into his head without a very determined struggle to attain the desired end.
As for his heart being engaged, in that she had no belief : still it was obvious that for some reason he was desiriouB of making her his wife.
The knowledge of this was an additional worry added to the tolerably complete list of annoyances she had already collected that morning.
She could tell Forgie all about this affair, and re- ceive her good counsels should further difficulties arise ; while about Dorothy's .dark secrets Euth felt it would be disloyal to speak. She only wished that elie dared to do so, since the thought of Dorothy's unhappy condition and its complications weighed much more heavily on Euth than any troubles of her own were likely to do.
If, instead of wending her way towards the school-house, where a cup of good tea and a tender kissfrom Fersrie awaited her, she could havefollowed Matt Leader for a brief space, Euth would not, per- haps, have felt even as satisfied about her own future as, in spite of desperate misgivings, she was trying to persuade herself that she was. Gesti- culating like a madman, Leader strode along the unf reqvented part of the park, thus, to some extent, giving vent to his anger at Euth's treatment of him, whioh prudence, since his object was to suc- ceed in winning her, had induced him to restain while in her presence.
Arrived in the crowded thoroughfare of Knights- bridge, much of the superfluous steam having worked itself off, he had grown calmer, but with calmness a desperate resolve was arrived at, and he swore an oath so vehement that it would have made the most impious quake that he would not be baulked in his love, but that means should be found, however unprincipled, to quell the rebellious
To try and fcroe Euth to anything against her will was, he knew,, simply impossible ; she had pluck passing the pluck of women, and would die rather than give in when she had once declared her
For a few minutes he thought over the best means for eoveigling her in a trap by which her | honour might be impugned. ,
If she would not be his wife-well, the* she should never go honestly> and with a frank open brow, into another man's house. This spirit and proud scorn should have their fall.
Then he decided that, as far as he was concerned this, though a spiteful, would be a losing game.
" No ; it was through her father that Euth must I be won. She should be his wife-bia true wife. Why should he not have an upright respectable girl for his wife-ho has had enough to do with hussies in his time and had set his mind on making this sensible, hard-working, chaining little Euth his
More than ever waa he determined to do so since she herself seemed to object so strongly. Difficulty to Matt Leader was a pleasurable excitement, and by this time he had worked himself once more into a good humour at the thought of the contest.
Through Dick Churchill should success he brought about even if success meant an absolute collapse of fortune as far as Euth's father was con-
True, Dick was his greatest friend} but when, argued false-hearted Matt, was friendship ever permitted to assert a place when love interfered to
rob it of its position.
Love, forsooth !
Did Matt Leader dare to desecrate with the name of love the miserable ignominious plan he had formed for possessing^ himself of the person of this sweet, pure little maid.
He knew full well that never, by fair means, would Diok Churchill give his consent to the union, It was only by setting diabolical machinery in motion that he had the slighest chance of fulfilling hiB desire ¡ but he had every intention of using all his abilities-and he waa no fool but a crafty knave _to invent such machinery as would sooner or later bring him Euth for a wife.