|Chapter Number||2. X|
|Chapter Title||FOR EVER AND FOR EVER.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Whatsoever a Man Soweth|
WHATSOEVER A MAN SGWETH.
BOOK II. - THE RIPENING OE THE CROP. CHAPTER X. TOR EVER AND FOLT EYEB.
Several days had passed. In the large drawing-room of Dingo Hall Stephen Stornhill lay upon a couch, tho inevitable cigar between his lips. He smoked everywhere, even in hia wife's boudoir. He told her in nit mocking way that it soothed his nerves. Standing at one of the large bay windows was Hilda, gazing indifferently at the scenery without. The house was built upon a rise, so that the view vras extensive, and to any one in a contented frame of mind would have presented many points of attraction. Near at hand was the garden, tastefully laid out and well oared for. Beyond was a large paddock, which Stornhill called the park. It waa clear and open, save for the gums which were studded here and there, relieving the monotony and affording in the heat of summ°r a shelter for the sheep and cattle grazing there. Is was here that Stornhill kept his prize stock. Through the centre of the park ran a oreek, and from where Hilda stood she could trace its oourte winding in and out as it flowed onwards towards the sea it never reached, being swallowed up in the sand many miles away. Beyond the park again, stretohed Dingo Sorub, which looked dark and forbiddiug to the young wife, who sick at heart, bad been brought here against her will. Further off still, a law range of hills stood out as a bold background. They were heavily timbered, and the clouds above as they swept slowly by cast their deep shadows upon them, affording an ever-changing panorama of light and shade. To the right of the sorub there could be discerned, rising above the tops of the trees, a lofty roof, whioh belonged to one of the churches of Hallowton, and was the only landmark which betrayed the whereabouts of the township. Hilda gazed at it stedfastly, wondering how much of her young life was to be spent in this lonely spot. She had strenuously resisted her husband's attempts to bring her here, but her resistance had been in vain. She was his wife, and had to obey his will. Stornhill had, moreover, taken Mrs. Remersque into his confidence. Mrs. R,8mersque had listened in silence, but her distress was pitiable. She loved her daughter in herown way, and this tale of weakness ooiapletely prostrated her. Yet she did not lose eight of what Bhe considered to be the noble generosity of her son-in-law in consenting to condone his wife's error; and as she thought of this, she was filled with bitter anger against the daughter who had disgraced her mother'e name and the name of the man who had taken her to wife. Mrs. Remersque said very little, but it was to the point; and Stornhill had reason to be thank'ul for the support-she gave him. Alone and unaided he would have been no matoh for Hilda; but as it was, he had his way, nnd the two left Melbourne by the afternoon's express on their journey to Dingo Station, as Stonehill ha-doaid they would do. Before they left the city Hilda had been well guarded, yet she had managed to forward & short note to Reeoe, acquainting him «r:th her husband's intentions, and expressing the determination to meet Meadoweere at Largs Bay as the steamer called on its way to London. She begged him not to continue the voyage without her, but to wait, if Bhe were not there, until she could join him. Although Hilda had objected so strongly to leaving Melbourne, she had now begun to think that her onforoed stay at Dingo Hall might in the end prove of advantage to her. She considered it probable that Stornhill would quiokl? grow tired of country life and then leave hsr at the Hall aione and return himself to Melbourne. This would give her an opportunity of joining Meadowsere in Adelaida, for shb felt assured that he would
postpone his visit to England if by BO doing there waa a prob ability of ber accompanying him. She had a£ain found an opportunity of writing to Raece, for she wag by no means kept a close prisoner, and had only thatmorniug gone for a long walk in the sorub. Yet she was well aware that her movements were watched, and that it would be neoeseary to exercise great or.re lest her husband's suspicions should be aroused. Up to the present, however, she flattered herself that Stornhill had no idea whatsoever as to her intention. On this particular afternoon Stornhill wa3 watohing her with b&lf-olosed eyes and a smile of cynical amu«ecaent. They had but a short whilo ago concluded lunoh, aud had not spoken sinoe. Now, however, Stornhill roused himself a little. " Well," he eaid, "are you admiring the V16W?" " No," answered Hilda, without turning her '^'Soioe people ooasmn «» -. . " Yen?" "Yes," and Stornhill quietly expelled a whirf uf smoke through his nostrils. " You don't agree with them, I suppose?" he cautinued, after a.pause of some length. "No," she answered shortly. Stornhill smiled. " Your mother will be here to-morrow. I am ourious to hear what she will say about it." Hilda turned quickly. "Did you say my mother would ba hare 5" she asked in a sharp, unnatural tone. "I did." ,f Why should she come? I do not wish to eee her," and Hilda's eyes flashed ominously. " No? That's a pity; I thought she would prove a ploasaut companion for you, especially when I go away." "You are going away?" eiolaimed Hilda, and ;n spite ol herself she could not help betraying a little eagerness. "\ee,"said Stornhill with a sneer. "I am going.when I am oertaiu that your friend is safe on his way to England." "What differenoe should that make?" demanded Hilda, her heart beating wildly. Stornhill took the cigar from between hia lipa, and laughed. " Do you imagine me to be blind ?" he asked ; and her spirits eank. Evidently her husband was acquainted with her thought". What chance had she now of ever joining Moadowscre? With her mother continually in the house, escape would be impossible, especially uow that Stornhill understood her every move, and could easily adopt means to e&ect her discomfiture. Proud though Bhe was, the tears oame to her eyes, and she would have left the room, but Scornhill called icockiagly after her:— "You haven't thanked me for arranging this pleasant surprise, my dear." " i'leismt surprise '." exclaimed Hilda scornfully. " Is it pleasant, think you, to have a spy continually in the hcuse?—and it is lor this that you are bringing my mother her6. You know it is. You are a coward '." Stornhill WM atnused. You are growing angry, my dear ; but come, sit down—I have something to say to you." "Then be quick and say it," Hilda observed sharply and without changing her position. " You are in a hurry !—is your time so pre oious ?" H'lda did not deign to reply, and Stornhill oantinued " I think you were out for a walk this morning." " Do you " Yes", I do. Did you enjoy yourself?"
" Is this all you have to say to me':" "No—there wiii be something more when you have answered my question. I asked whether you enjoved your walk." "Did you?'' SturnhiK's amusement was short-lived, and ho bsgan to grow irritated. " Why the devil can't you answer a question civiily ?" "I would if the question were worth answering." " I suppose, if some one else had questioned you, vuu would have been only too willing to reply" eaid Stornhill sneerin^ly. "Very poasi'oiy. Have you iinished''." " Oh, go to the devil " Thact you ; even that wouid be preferable to my present life,"and she was again about to leave the room when a thought Beemed to strike ber, and she quietly seated herself in an easy chair near the window. " I soe, you can't tear yourself away," remarked Stornhill sarcastically. " No,"answered Hilda with contempt, "I can't. I have something to say to you now." Indeed—that is pleasant. Wait one moment will you, while I light a fresh cigar." Hilda ignored his remark, and gazsa quietly through the window at the distant hills, until Stornhill, who had mado himself very comfortable, and Was smoking with evident enjoyment, said in a self-satisfied tone:—"Now, my dear; I am quite prepared to listen to anything you may have to say." "Thank you,"answered Hilda, with meek gratitude. "Ian: going to tell you about my walk this morning.'* "Ah! how very interesting 1" "I am glad you think so. I went some distance into the scrub, as perhaps you are isrsrs." "There are several very pretty spots to be se°n, if you only know where they are," observed Stornhill, evasively. "Oh! if you say so—of course there must be. I saw a tree, which struck tn« as bein^ in rather a romantic position." "What'.you really saw a tree? 1 thought there were several there, but never came across them myself." "•'Cheapsarcasm wellbeoomeeyou, Stephen. Fortunately it rouses so great a feeling of ooatsuips within m<\ that there is no room for annoyance. Now let us return to the tree a mument." "By all means; anything to please yon,my dear." " It was a fallen gum," eoatmued Hilda, and Stornhill started nervouely. "There were two names cut deep into the trunk—yours nnd a woman's." "Very interesting indeed, ' observed Stornhill with well assumes indifiereuiie. But below his breath he muttered a curae.
"Yes; it is interesting, isn't it? I waa rather struok with the woman's name, Soo— Grace Arkoyd. You must have known her well, Stephen." "Yes, yes. We were children together; and like most youngsters, I suppose, wished to oat our names everywhere." "Dear me! There was a date too; that was added when you grew to manhood I presume, for it appears to have been cut nearly two years ago. At least, so tho dato would lead one to believe. Perhaps the year was post dated though. That ia the oorrect term, isn't it ?" "Hold your tongue!" esclaimed Stornhill, rising angrily. ^ "That is hardly the way to apeak to your wife, Stephen," Bfiid Hilda in a tone of reproach. " Besidee, I am very much interested in this mysterious friend of yours. " " What the devil is she to you ? and Stornhill picked up his hat, whioh he had worn into the drawing-room, and was now lying on the tioor near the couch. " You are not going surely," Hilda said, with well simulated surpribe. "Do you expect me to remain here while you talk a lot of infernal nonsense V growled her husband. "Ob, no! It isn't nonBenee, Stephen. By the way. Miss Arkoyd must have been very pretty; provided of course that her photo ie a good one." " What do you know of her?" demanded Stornhill with sudden fierceness. "J saw a photo in your room, Stephen, aud ooncluded from what was on the back of it that the original waa Miss Arkoyd." Hilda spoke with great meekness, but there was a ourious smile upon her face, which belied her tone, and Stornhill grew furious. " What the devil do you mean by prying amongst my private papers?" he shouted. " Prying is not in my line," was the quiet reply. "Heave that work for others. The portrait was on your dressing-table; Mt there by 'mistake, no doubt, and naturally I picked it up. Then, again, I heard of Miss Arkoyd on the day I arrived here. That was by a mistake, too. It is ourious how mistakes do ocour sometimes, isn't it?" " What—what did you hear of her?" asked Stornhill, striving hard to appear aalm. "Enough to conclude that she must have been—well, a little weak, shall I say ?" and Hilda r&iBed her eyebrows enquiringly. " Say what you like about others, but do not mention G-raoe Arkoyd'« name again," hissed Stornhill, savagely. "She is worth a dozen such women as you : women whose weakest point is their virtue." " That is a cowardly lie," exclaimed Hilda, her bosoa heaving. "But it is worthy of you," she added. "I should expect nothing else from a man who never knew the meaning of the words honour and virtue." " Bah ! You can keep on iu that strain till doomsday; but leave Graoe Arkoyd alone. She was a erood woman, whioh you are not." "Yee, she muss have been. She was too srood for Hallowton, and that is why she left, I presume?" Hilda laughed a low, irritating laugh, and Stornhill became almost frantic. "Silenoe! Curse you! Or, by heavens, IU " "Well? What will you do?" and Hilda looked up at him proudly as he stood over her with clenched hands, and & faoe dark with rage and hatred. But Stornhill muttered a curse, and turned away. Again Hilda laughed. " You must have been very fond of Miss Arkoyd Stephen." " I was," he answered in a calm, cold voice. His passion for the moment seemed to have spent itself. He was pale, but quiet and selfpossessed. "How fond? Not fond enough to marry her, eh?" " I loved her as I have loved no one else. Yes, and I love her oven now, and will do always," he added with sudden intensity. • " What a oonfession for a wife to listen to. But go on, Stephen. I like to hear you talk in that way ; one gets BO little amusement in this plaoe, and really it is amusing to hear you holding forth upon the tender passion."
H»r laugh, sweet yet mooking, roused a very devil within him. "Take oare! take care!" he exclaimed, hoarsely. " I feel that I oould murder you. For God's sake do not go too far." But Hilda had no fear. " It is strange," she continued, gazing at him musingly, "that you did not marry her. I wish you had. You must have been fond of her, or you never would have gone to all the trouble you did in cutting the two names on the trunk of that tree. What work it must have given you, not only the initial*, but the whole name in each oase. How long did it take, Stephen ?" But Stornhill had dashed open the foldingdoors whioh led' into the garden, nnd maddened beyond endurance was making blindly towards the stableB. Hilda went to the open doors and looked after him. " Are you going to visit the fallen gum in the scrub?" she called aloud, and ber clear, ringing, mocking laugh followed him far liis ears! * ' Stornhill, upon reaching the stables, ordered a horse to be saddled, and then stood cursing the groom as he obeyed hie orders. When the horse was led out into the yard it proved raBtive, and Starnhill's ill-temper increased. Throwing himself into the saddle he plunged in ths spurs, and punished the poor heist severely with his riding whip. The horse resented such treatment, and tried its utmost to unseat its rider, but in vain. From a window of the drawing-room Hilda was watohing tbe fierce struggle breathlessly and with intense eagerness, but when at length the noble animal, cowed and flaked with foam, passed quietly through the gate aao proceeded for a short distance at a steady pace down the road towards HoUowton, Hilda turned from the window, and sinking upon a oouoh buried ber face in tbe cushions, and burst into tears of mingled anger and despair. A wild and terrible hope had rieen within her aB she had watched that brief struggle between horse and man; a hope that her husband might be thrown and killed, thus leaving her a^ain a free woman. But th6 hope was vain ; Stornhill was master uf hie horse and of his wife. She oould never expect to ba the victor, and, realizing this, she clinched her tiny hands with impotent fury. Meanwhile Stornhill, with his ohin sunk on his breast, was riding slowly in the direction of the township. For the laoment his pasBion seemed to have cooled, and he appeared deep in thought. Suddenly, however, he raised his hand aud, with an oath, struok his steed savagely across the nejk'with his riding whip. The horse sprang high into the air with a loud snort, then getting the bit between its teeth set ofi down a side road at » mad gallop. Stornhill, after a vain eudaavour to check the maddened animal, settled himself firmly ia the saddle, and, smiling grimly, prepared to await the course of events. So long aa the horse kept to tbe track he felt that there was no danger ; but should it make for the sorub the chances were that his brains would be dashed out against the spreading branch of some tree. Still this thought ttoubled him little, and when at length tlie horee showed signs of slackening its pace Stornhill plunged in the spurs, and on again tliey went as though au evil spirit were behind them. But the pace could not last, and preeently the jaded steed began to exhibit signs of distress. Stornhill pulled up and dismounted His sympathy for the brute oreation was etronger than his sympathy for his suffering fellow-beings, and tho animal be rede was ono he valued. Therefore he waited patiently
until the horse was rested ; then mounting again turned back by tbe way he had come. Before reaching tho ma:n road, however, he entered a gate which opened into a paddock, aud following a well-defined track sj>on reached the edge of the scrub, from which the paddock was divided by a Ion- fence. At this he put his horse, and, wearied though it was, it cleared the jump readily, and, urged on gently by a slight out from the whip, forced its way through the dense undergrowth iuto the depths of the scrub. Preeently the ground became more opsn. The thickly growing bushes and wattles were suoeeeded by redgums, and the soil was firmer. Cnttl6 were grazing h«re and there, and some of them lifted their heads with mild ouriositv as Stornhiil cautercd by. About a mile further on. however, the way again became rough, and Siornhili, dismounting, tied the bridle to a sapling, and proceeded on foot. He had go no but a short distance when he reached a fallen troe, and at this spot he stopped. It was the tree that Hiida had mentioned BB having seen in the morning, and Stornhill stood silently gazing at the names which had been out in the trunk. The afternoon was very stiil, but occasionally a faint " tinkle, tinkle.'"of acattle bell was heard in the distance. Below was the earth, above was the sky, obscured by white fleecy clouds, which drifted slowly towards tho north; around there stretched the sciub, dark and gloomy, and unconscious of it all Etood a solitary figure ; and near by a dead, dry gum, with two names and a date oarved deep into the bsrk, and the time was September. The afternoon was slipping by; tbe shadows were lengthening, and the sweet scent of tho wattle blossom filled the air. But Stornhill was indifferent to these things ; he was alone with the past. Presently the hoarse "c»w, caw" of a crow reaihed his oars, ami almost mechanically it seemed, be rmsud bis head and stared at the topmost branch of a lofty gum hard by. But she crow was tot there. It was far to the west, and he heard it-B cry no more. But the dead tree, with all its memories lay before him, and ha could not tear himself away. Stephen Stornhiil—Grace Arkoyd. and the date of but littlo more than a year and a half ngo, seemed ever before hie eves, and his heart grew heavy, and a creat weariness of life came over him. Taking a knife from his pocket, he proceeded to out away the names ; bu<; the knife fell from his hand and he turned aside. I cannot do it," he muttered. " I cannot do it, I must go home and speak to Hilda. We shall have to part. I have been a fool; 'oat it is never too late to mend," and with a bitter laugh, he cast a last lingering glance at the familiar «eeno, and returned to the spot where he had left his hcrse.
Itwa« growing late when fa* reaohed the ball, and going round to the Btables, be nanded the horse over to the care of ® g«»m, ««jd turned towards the home, walking alowly through the garden. In the west the eun was nearing the horizon, and its golden ray s flooded the landscape. The white, fleecy clouds wera turning to a bright vellow, and the many windows of the hall glistened like burnished silver. The distant hills were growing crimson, and even the sombre aspeot of Dingo Sorub was changed, as the soft baama of golden light fell across it, touohing the trees and busheB with a lovely ruddy glow. Over all there brooded a spirit of rekt and peace; and no sound, save the song of the bird*, disturbed the solemn evening stillness. Stornhill moved onward with bent head, and hands elapsed behind his back. He was indifferent to the glory of the sunset; to the sweet scent of the flowers. And the strange melancholy hour which marks the death of day and the approach of night, did in no wise appeal to hia senses. Ho strode on mechanically, and his long thin shadow stretohed along the gravel path before him, and on and on he seemed to follow it, until at length he stood in the open doorway of a lofty room, and there he paused, and raised his head. At the far end of the room he saw his wife. She looked up suddenly a« Scornhill's figure darkened the doorway, and a low cry of terror escaped her. On the sideboard olose by waa a decanter of wine, whioh Hilda had evidently but juat placed there, and aa tbe iaat rays of the sua streamed through the window, they flashed brightly on a small glass phial whioh che held in her hand, Stephen Stornhill felt his blood run cold, and his limbs trembled beneath him. He seemed rooted to the spot, and hi» faoe was pale as death, for he understood well the meaning of what he saw. And no word was spoken, but husband and wife glared at each other as the momenta passed—moments whioh appecred long as eternity itself. From Hilda's cheeks the oolour had fled, bnt her dbrk eves shune like living fire, and h«r lipa were parted as she strove to recover her selfcommand. Slowly she tottered across the room towards her husband, and her eyes were fixed staringly upon his faoe. Yet, still Stornhill did not move. Nearer and nearer she oame, until but a few yards separated the one from the other, and still Stornhill remained motionless. Then a loud, ringing laugh—a laugh full of despairing madness, hurst from Hilda's lips, and she sank to the floor senseless. Stornhill looked round hastily, and seeing no one, turned swiftly back into the garden, and was soon out of sight amongst the shrubs. Here he paused to reoover himself. His forehead was bathtd in perspiration, and his heart beat rapidly ; yet in a few minutes he walked qaieily to the front of the house, and entered by the hall door, outwardly eelf-possessed, and a trifle preoccupied. "Mistress is ill in the dining-room, air," were the first words he heard as he hung up his hat. They were spoken by an old servant named Lapton, who met hia master in the hall. "What is wrong?" asked Stornhill, and there was a faint tremour in his voices 1 1 don't know, sir ; but several of us heard a loud laugh, whioh seemed s bit strange, and we went into the diningroom, and found the mistress on the floor insensible." The tears were rolling down the old man's cheeks; for though he knew tittle of Hilda, his heart was tender, and the soene be had witnessed had unmanned him. "Follow me," said Stornhill briefly, and he strode off to the dining-room. His wife, surrounded by helpless servants, was lying where he had left hei, and taking her in his arms, he laid her gently on a couoh. "Send MoUer into the township for Dr. Arthur," he said in a sharp tone, and a servant left the room immediately. The sun had set, and the room was growingdark; but at tbe far end was a large window, through which the gleam of the western sky shone on tbe polished sideboard.; and as Stornhillglanced round, theunstoppereddecan-
ter met hia gaze. A strange loek came into his face. " Pour out a glass of old port, and bring it here, Lepton. Let us see how that will act." With hands that trembled painfully, the servant did as he was ordered, and gave the glass to his master. A faint oolour had oome into Hilda's cheeks, and consciousness was returning. Stornhill raised the glass to her lips, and mechanically she drank theoontents, even to the last drop. Then she sighed heavily, and opened her eyes. Stornhill still held the wise glass in his hand, and close to him stood the anxious Lepton with the decanter. Hilda lay spoeohleaB with horror, and Stornhill ordered the servants from the room. Hie breath oame in short sudden gasps, and he turned to the open door for air. Hilda staggered to her feet with a choking cry, and pressed her band to her heart. Then followed a eilence, deep as death, broken at length by a hoarse whieper. " Bnt~S1ornliilt Til'a no* mr*wcr, aoa mrtr», swaying to and fro, clutohed at a table for support. Then she reeled, and fell heavily, with a lo JV agonized cry. Her body was oonvulsed ; long fits of shuddering seised hold upon ber, and she straggled fiercely; bnt not for long. In a few moments the and had come. She lay still; a last long oonrulsive shudder passed through her, and with . the name of Qeece Meadowsere upon her lipa, aha passed away. Her brief, sad life was ended. Lovely above all women though ahe was, death had not spared her. Murdered by th* hand of her husband, she had gone to that far-off land, from whence she could not return; and in this world her voice would be heard no - more for ever. The twilight deepened ; the beauty of the auneet had faded fast, and the chirping of the sparrows in the trees was hushed nntll the morning. Stephen Stcrohill, bis faoe white as ashes, knelt by the body of her who had been bis wife. H« called her name, bnt there was no answer. He stooped lower, and gaced into the faoe which so many men had admired: but tho faatureB were growing rigid, and the dark eyea were fixed and staring. A great fear came upon him, and he called aload in his terror. But when the servants oame in answer to his call, thev found only the lifeless body of their mistreBB lying stretched upon the floor.