|Chapter Number||2. II|
|Chapter Title||A GLIMMER OF TRUTH.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Whatsoever a Man Soweth|
WHATSOEVER A MAN SOWETH. \
BOOK II. — THE RIPENING OE CROP. THE CHAPTER II. A GLIMMER OF TSUIH.
The long, weary summer was ended, and winter was tastadvaneiag. Those favoured ones of fortune who had left the city to escape tiie hottest season of the year weiQ now returning, and amongst the first arrivals of any note were the Silvermedes. When the nsws of Airs. Meaaowsere's death had first reached Mrs. Silvermede, followed quickly by the report of Miss liemarsque's engagement to Stephen Stornhill, she had written to Reeoe, urging him to join her party in Tasmania, where she was then Btayiug. But Reeoe had declined her invitation, together wish many others that he had received ; and it was with no small amount of anxiety on his account that Mrs. Silvermede returned to Melbourne. Perhaps in fashionable oircles there were no two persons who excited greater curiosity or comment than did Stephen Ssornhill and his wife. The Sfcorniiills had spent several months in New Zealand, and bad then gone to Diugo HiU ; but neither was fond uf country lite, and they had soon taken up their residence in town. Scorabill had purchased a large suburban house, and, stracgely enough, it was situated near to Reece ileadowsere's. Tho house had been luxuriantly furnished, and reports quickly spread as to the lavish scale on'which hospitality was to be dispensed at "The Dovecote," the name whioh Stornhill had, in a spirit of mockery, given to his residence. And neither was society disappointed, for Mr. and Mrs. Stornhill at onco plunged into a perfect whirl of dissipation, and balls, garden parties, fetes, and private theatricals followed one another in quiok succession. The marriage was prooGUnoed by that great authority, "society," to be a BucceaB in every way ; ana certainly, judging from all outward appearances, the vsrdiot was amply justified. There werB, however, a few who openly declared that Mrs. Stornhill was not happy. They asserted that her gaiety was assumed, that her face wore a dissatisfied look, and that, in fact, she was not the woman she used to be. These expressions of opinion were received with ridicule by members of the softer sex. If Mrs. Stornhill wsre not happy, they said, t-ben she could never hope to attain happiness in this world; and the sooner she vaoated her position and sought for bliss in the realms above the better it would be for herself and others. In tliis they were unkind, ivinsidering how Hilda ex8ri-ed~5erselt Tn devulbg ech'-aioa for their arauscioeat. But gratitude in daily life ij rare indeed. During tho early days of the honeymoon Stephen Stornhill, no doubt influenced by the great beauty of hia wife, had attempted to introduce Eome show of passion into their mutual intercourse. He would not have been at ail averse to a little lovemaking with zo lovely a woman, but as Hilda did not receive his advances with any degree of favour he quickly desisted, and although observing towards her in public on air of great respect, yet displayed the utmost indifference with regard to her actions. He formed his own friendship:, leaving her to do the eame, and neither interfered with the amusements of the other. Hilda was allowed her own separate income, whioh Mrs. Remersque had been careful to secure to her before the marriage ; and as ;t was a large one, she had no need to complain of being stinted in that direction. Waatever faults Storchiil might nave had the unuardonable sin of meanness was not one of them ; aud even if his wife had exceeded her allowance it is more than probable that he would have given her what she asked without a murmur. It was perhaps for this very reason that Hilda's position was regarded as au enviable one.
Yet those who affirmed there was something wanting in Hilda's marriage, were correct; cor as they bad said, was she the woman she kad bsen before this cv^ns had taken place. She wa3 always restless, and seemingly ill at ease. She no longer evinced any desire to excite the admiration of men, or the jealousy of women, but plunged into gaiety as it trying to esoape (ram unpleasant thoughts which remorselessly pursued her. She hated to bo alone, and eo fi!led the house witb a number of lively shallow-hearted guests, both male and female. Stornhill was amused, and allowed her to do as she pleased so long as he was not inconvenienced in any way. Yet stili there were moments when even Hilda's naturally high spirits faiied her, and she bacame utterly reckless aud miserable. At night, when she had retired to her own room, the memory of Reece Meadowsere weut with ber. Wife though she was, and much as ehe despised him, or fancied that ehe did, yet bis image was continually before her mental vision, and ehe cou'.d not banish it. Nay, at times she even rejoioed that it was so. Ill would it fare with Stephen Stornhiii if ever his treachery were laid bare to the light of day! And what of Stornhill now ? Was he satisfied? No. He had entered upon this marriage with but one idea, the hope of bringing misery to Reece Meadowsare. Had he been successful? could not tell. He n 'ticed that Meadowsere looked ill and wretched, but might not this b« accounted for by the death of his mother? That interview in Mrs. Rsmers'jue's garden, when he had attempted to humiliate him, had resulted in failure. Indeed. Meadowsere was the only o^ne who had come through the ordeal witb credit. Stornhill had inet him several times since ; he had gone to great pains in effecting these meetings; yet when they oame he gained no satisfaction from them. Meadowsero was always the same—quiet, dignified, and calm, whilst Snornhill allowed his hatred to betray itself. He was no longer master of himself, as he had been in thf. dayB gone by, and tiie very presence of Meadowsere appeared to affect him in much the eame way as a certain oolcur is said to irritate a mad bull. He even went so far aa to make eorue insulting allusion to fleece's past connection with Hilda Remersque, but Reece had silenced him with & single look ot unutterable contempt;, and already Stornhill was beginning to regret the step be had taken. There wa^another who had looked forward to a meeting with Meadowsere, and this was Hilda. But for many weeks her hopes were doomed to disappointment, as Reece, owing to his mother's death, carefully abstained from going into society- Once Hilda had met him in the street, and compelled by some uncontrollable influence she Hcem^d unable to resist, aud for which she despised herself, t,he bowed to him. Reece passed on without acknowledging her salute, nud Hilda, angered and humiliated, felt that she hated him. And the winter dragged on, and neared its close. Stornhill was growing short-tempered, and at times vented his spleen upon his wife. But Hilda was high-spirited aud sharp of tongue, so that Stornhill, despite hie unusual powers of sarcasm, was often worsted in the duel of words. Hilda, too, was becoming very irritable, and had taken a moot unmistakable aversion to her husband, which she was unable to hide. For a while Scornhill took delight in annoying her, but discovering that he was paying very dearly for his amueemeut he wisely desisted, concluding that his wife wai a woman who could bold her own, and vri'h whom it was not safe to take anv liberties. Ee began rather to fear, and even to hate, her; and the future loomed darkly before him. It was towards the end of the season that rumours reaohed Hilda's ears of Reece Meaaowsere's impending departure for Eug land. He had writtan a novel, it was said, aci intended visiting London with a view of 1 1 — "" —ffcOAlO t^A-iA HUKAUU
were substantiated by the newspapers, in which appeared eulogistic notices of Mr. Meadowsereprevious works, and expressions of goodwill regarding his future success. When Hilda reolized that very soon Meadowsere would beoa his way to Europe she nxptrienced a sensation of sickening despair. Immediately after her marriage with Stornhill she had honestly striveu to crush her love for Reeos out of her heart, but in vain. Then, when husband and wife began to mutually dislike and avoid each other, ehe bad offered a gradually lessening retietance to the thoughts of Meadowsere which obtruded themselves upon her, until they had at length beoome an absolute necessity to her. Akhough unable to canverse wilh him the bad yet derived some comfort from the thought of his nearness to faer ; but. now even that comfort was to be taken from her. She had long ago forgiven him for the treachery he had praotised, and even made allowances for him, thinking that bis conduct was net quite so black as it had been represented to be. How could a guilty man conduct himself as Reeoe was doing? A great longing now oame upon her to write to him, to tell him why she had broken off her engagement. But she remembered, although with angry impatience, that she wis a wife, and that the time for explanations had long since passed. She had chosen her own path, and must needs pursue it. One day she reoeived an invitation to a ball at Mrs. Silvermede's, and this recalled to her mind the night when she had first met Meadowsere. It was at this same house, almost a year ago. Might not this be an omen of good ? Was it not possible that in the place where they had first become acquainted they might now renew their friendship? All thought of revenge was dead within her; ehe but wished to break down this barrier of icy coldness whioh had arisen between her and the man ehe loved. She had no intension of dishonouring her husband's name. M^adowsere's friendship was all she at present craved for. Hilda awaited with feverish impatienoe the evening of the ball. Stornhill had refused to go, and sh9 was glad, though she knew not why. Bat when the eventful night came he
also raised some objection to his wife going, ana there was a scene. Ic was the first time Stornhiii had ever interfered with Hilda's pleasures, and be vowed to himself that it would be tho last. Hilda told him she would go, aud she went, taking ber mother witb her. When she enternd the ballroom she glanced eagerly about. Meadowsere was not there, and her heart sank. Seeking out a retired Beat ehe remained there for some tiui<», refusing all partner* on the plea of iUaese, sad as her appearance confirmed her plea no one took offence at her words, but rather accorded her ready sympathy. And eo ehe sat apart, feverishly soanning the late arrivals as they passed in at the doorway ; but still Meadowsere did not oome. At length, when ehe had almost given up hope of £6eing him, he entered quietly, and stood with his bands olasped behind his b&'jk. idly gftzing at the dancerB. It waa a fftvourite attitude of his. and one that Hilda well remembered. For a few momenta she sat looking at him. He h%d not chauged a great de&l. He was paler than of old perhaps ; his expression was sterner and more melancholy ; butt otherwise he appeared the same. Almost stealthily she approached him. The majority of the guests were dancing, and her movements were not observed, for Mrs. Stephen Stornhill was not an object of Rush interest as Miss Remersque had been. Reeoe w.is standing near a recess, into which Hilda passed quietly, and drew near him unnoticed. "Mr. Meadowsere,"she said, in trembling tones. Reeoe turned sharply. "I beg your pardon," he replied. " Were you addressing me?" "Yes—I—I wished to speak to you, "faltered Hilda. "Well?" His manner was harsh and uninviting, and Hilda wavered. One would have thought that she had been the deceiver and be the aeoeived. But gaining .courage she said:— " Would you mind going into the conservatory with me, Mr. Meadowsere? It is a strange request, perhaps, but there is something I wish to say to you." " Then I must ask you to Bay it here, Mrs. Stornhill, for I desire to go and speak with Mrs. Silvermede." Hilda felt herself repulsed, and was almost inclined to leave him. But, conquering this tendency, the said gently:— " Your words are unkind, Mr. Meadowsere, but I will try tn forget them, as—as I have tried to forget other things. I came to you hoping for a different reception. Is it quite impossible that we should be friends?" "Friends!" exclaimed Reece scornfully. " Do you wish to insult me? Good God, you a woman and can ask such a thing. But pray forgive me for Epeaking so strongly, and lest I offend again I think it advisable that we should end this conversation." He laughod p. l|-t!° fcictc-ilr, and. bowinpr, l9ft"her7 bulla's pride was roused; she felt angry and humiliated. Quitting the ballroom the entered the conservatory and sat down. Despite ber auger, ftlkadowsere'e manner puzzled her. She could not understand the way in which ho had received her advances, and she became confused and miserable. How little like a guilty person be seemed, and if be had not acted treaoherously towards her, what then was the explanation of the story she had heard? Could the woman wboclaimed to be his wife be an impostor? But- no ! that w&s impossible. Had she not exhibited the certificate of her marriage? There was but one explanation. Meadowsere was a hypocrite : and still—Hilda loved him How long Hilda remained undisturbed she could not tell, but presently the sound ot approaching voices reached ber ears, and one of them she recognised as the voioe of Reece Meadowsere. Instinctively she drew back into the shadow and remained quiet. The intruders paused at some distance from her, but yet near enough to allow of each word ieing distinctly heard.' There were two gentlemen; of this ehe felt assured, and one of these was Meadowsere; but who was the other? She was not 'eft long in doubt, for the deep grating tones which penetrated to every corner of the conservatory could belong to but
one man—John Sheram. John Sheram was a solicitor, and an old bachelor. He was one of the few men with whom Keece's father, during his lifetime, had been on intimate term" ; and Sheram cherished a'warm affection for Reece. The elder Sir. Meadowsere had rarely had any occasion to seek the assistance of the law ; but if any such necessity arose he bad invariably employed the services of John Sheram, whom he also appointed his exeoutor shortly before his decease. Reece found in him a friend and counsellor, and to Sheram he entrusted as much as he himself knew of the history of the woman who now called herself Mrs. Bampton, and bIro unfolded to bim the plan' he had conceived for her relief. To this Sheram was strongly opposed, but Reeoe overruled iiis objections, and it was through him that Mrs. Bampton reoeived her monthly allcw&nce. " You are as mysterious as the Chinese alphabet," were the first words whioh reached Hilda's ears as the two gentlemen entered the conservatory. "Oh no! Not so bad as that,"answered Sheram laughingly. "But still I couldn't very well sp«ak in the ballroom for fear of being overbenrd. It is about t^at woman who calls herself Bampton I wished to ooasult you."' "What is the matter with her? Has she disappeared or failed to acknowledge the usual remittance?" "Neither. She is very ill; dying, she says." Hilda bent forward eagerly and listened with breathless er.jremese. Surely they must be discussing Meadowsero'e wife, she thought. "Shehas written to you?" said Reece. "Yes ; with referecce to that fellow, Stornhill."' Hilda experienced a peculiar creeping sensation, nud narrowly escaped betraying herself. What had )^er husband tn do with this woman'; she askfed herself. But even her imagination failed to find an answer to the question. J'It appears," continued Sheram. "that Mrs. Rimuton imagines herself indebted to Stornhill for the income which she has been drawing for :lie past two years, and, to judge from the letter she sent me, I should fancy that she had some trouble on her mind. She state* that ehe has written several times to Stornhill of late, but he has not replied to her letters ; and tho has begun to doubt whether he has ever received them. As a last resource she has asked me to see the man and persuade him to visit her, as she professes to be on her deathbed ; and. certainly, to judge from the terribly sh&ky ietter ehe sent, I think there must 1)9 eome cratfi in her statement. I haven't he letter with me, but if you call round at the office in the mornicg you can see it. It is a heartrending sort cf "an affair, and I ti-cught I would tell you, in the hope that something might be doue." ' But what on earth possessed the woman that ehti fihould write to you in thiB way ?" " Weii ; dou'S you Ree, ehe evidentlv fancies that I am a sort of confidential agent of HtornhillV, or something of that sort. And besid9F, she has no one else to consult." ' " But why should ehe imagine anything of the sort?" "My dear boy, who is likely to send her money hut Stornhill ? Surely you understand how the poor girl Bbould have come to thu conclusion ? And if the money passes through me Stornhill and I must be acquainted.'' " Yes, yes! I Bee. Bat there is tho band, and I am engaged for this danoe. I will see you later ou, Mr. Sheram, and we must arrange what can be done." " All right! I'll wait here awhile." Reece hurried off, and Mr. Sheram selected a cigar from his case and, sitting down, began smoking. "1 don't know whether Mrs. SilTernisde ohjppis to my sraoicirg in here." he naid, half nJtmd. "But I Bbould hariilv fancy so, for
smoke is good for the blight; at leaBt so I have been told. What the" This sudden exclamation waa caused by the unexpected appearanoe of Mrs. Stornhill, who had quietly stolen from her hiding-place and now confronted him. "I am fcfrsid I rather surprised you," Ehe said, smiling sweetly. "Well—yes—I rather think you did," stammered Sheram. "Have you been here long? "Some considerable time. But oan't you make room for me beside you .' Mr. Sheram an once moved to one aide, and Mrs. SioruhUl sat down. "It was very rude of me to play the part of an eavesdropper," she said, adopting a confidential tone, whioh rather nonplussed her companion. " But. really, what else was there for me to do? I didn't like to oough or anything of that sort." "Were you alone?" asked Sheram, suspiciously. " Yfca -" j "And of course you overheard all that paBBed between Mr. Meadowsere and ico ?" " Every word." Mrs. Stornhill laughed lightly, and the puzzled lawyer was at a loas for words to express himself. He coughed and tapped hia loot restlessly upon the stone floor. "And now you have to make me a promise," said Hilda in a coaxing tone. "I don't widh Air. Meadowsere to know that I have overheard what you have been saying. It might annoy him, Mr. Sheram, and so I want you to keep this little matter a secret. Now, you will do this, won't you, for my eakej Mr. Sheram?'' She spoke so pleadingly, and looked into hie face with an expression of such c a arming distress, that Mr. Sheram promised at once. He was very enecepsible to beauty in Epit& of his age, and when a woman like Mta. Stornhill chose to eEeroiip her powers of fascination a much less impreniionable man than he was would have found a difficulty in resisting her. But Hilda having gained her point was still not satisfied. If this had been all she wanted she could best have served her purpose
by remaining in her hiding-place until the coast waa clear. But the conversation which she had overheard had roused her curiosity, and ehe was determined to solve the mystery. "Now that I know eo much,"she said insinuatingly, " don't you thiuk yon might tell me a little more?" "Really, Mrs. Stornhill, I don't underit&nd you." . "Now, now; you musn t speak in that way, Mr. Sheram. My husband's name was brought into the conversation, and, therefore, I am interested. Who is the woman you call Mra. Bampton ?" . "Helieve me, my dear madam, this is a matter which does not concern you st all. I must decline to continue thiB conversation." Mr. Sheram rose with an air of deoision and partly assumed firmness. Hilda was growing desperate, and cared little how far ehe went to gain the knowledge she oraved for. Drawing her companion gently back into his seat, she said with a well-simuloted sob, " Don't be angry, Mr. Sheram,—but tell ma—is—is this woman Mr. Meadoweere's wife ?" " His wife !" eohoed the lawyer, astonished. " Good heavens ! be never had a wife." "Oh yea; he was married in South Australia 'some years ago," continued Hilda, hardly knowing for the moment what she said. A light seemed to dawn upon Sheram a mind, and he said quietly — " Excuse the question, Mrs. Stornhill, but I have often puzzled over the reason that led to your engagement with Mr. Meadowsere being broken off. Had it anything to do with what you have just stated ?" "Yes; I was led to believe that Mr. Meadowsere had a wife living, but that the marriage had been kept secret." " Who told you this?" "I would rather not tell yon at present. But this Mrs. Bampton—who is she?'' "I cannot answer you- question, Mrs. Stornhill^ and I think it will be wiser to discontinue this topic." " You are certain she is not Mr. Meadowsere's wife?" persisted Hilda. " Perfectly certain. I have told you that he never had a wife." " How oan you be sure of this?" exclaimed Hilda eagerly. "I would stake my life upon it," was the decided answer. _ There followed a silenoe. Sheram was bewildered, and knew not what to say : whilst Hilda was realizing that she had been the victim of some terrible plot, with which somehow or ether she imagined her husband must be connected. An idea had forced itself upon her that this person who called herself Mrs. Bampton was DO other than the woman who had represented herself aa Reeoe Meadoweere's wife, and Hilda was savagely determined to seek her out and compel her to speak the truth. She understood nothing of the conversation whioh had passed between Meadowenre and his friend, nor had ehe any hope of gaining - information from Shorami ma not at all likely to inform a wife of deeds whioh evidently reflected no great credit upon her husband. Still there was one question she felt justified in asking. " Mr. Sheram, "she said in a calm unnatural voice, " there is a mystery oonnected with my past life which I wish to have cleared up, and I feel positive that the woman whom you were a short time ago diBcnesing holds the key to the mystery. Therefore I ask you to give me her address." "I must decline to do so, Mrs. Stornhill." "On what grounds?" " Well—it—it would be better to—to leave this matter alone altogether. We live in the present, Mrs. Stornhill, and neeii not boncern ourselves with events whioh "are gone, and which I assure yon have no connection with your life whatever." "How do you know that? I implor? you, Mr. Sheram, to give me this woma.u a address I understand your reluctance, but I can and will discover what I wish to know. If not from you, then I must go to my husband and demand an explanation from him. It is so little I ask; surely yoa will not keep it from me?" She spoke in a tone of piteons reproach, minglad with entreaty, and Sheram could not
resist the appeal. He answered her request, and hurried away, anxious to avoid further questioning. Hilda remained seated, staring fixedly before her. She had borne up uutil now, and Sheram had little guessed the wild tumult which was raging within ber. But there was no longer auy need for aoting. She was alone with strange fears, and she thought with- a sickening dread of what she felt was about to be revealed to her. There had been treachery somewhere, and ehe had been the victim. But she must not remain here longer. Enquiries might be made, and people would wonderat herabsence. She rose aDd attempted to walk, but her brain was in a whirl. She staggered, and only Baved herself from falling by olinging to the seat. She stood there until her self-command was somewhat regained. Then she went in search of her mother, whom she f^und without difficulty. " Really, Hilda, this conduct is simply shameful," Mr a. Remersque began; but at sight of ber daughter's face she was startled. '' What is the matter with you, my ohild ?" she gasped. " You look as though you had seen a gh 60." "I have seen something worse." Baid Hilda. "But let us go home, mother. I am ill. and have had enough of pleasure for one evening." She laughed sarcastically, and her mother muttered inwardly—"She has seen that Meadowsere, and it has proved too much for her.' J was afraid that she had not forgotten him, tmd I was right. It is fortunate that he leaves the colony so toon." They drove home through the darkness, but not to Stephen Stornhill's. Nothing would induce Hilda to enter h<»r husband's house that night, and ehe went to tho old home with her mother.