|Chapter Number||3. IV|
|Chapter Title||BECAUSE OF THE PAST.|
|Newspaper Title||Evening Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1869 - 1912)|
|Trove Title||Whatsoever a Man Soweth|
WHATSOEVER A MAN SOWETH.
BOOK III.-THE REAPING OF THE HARVEST. CHAPTER IV. EECACSe OF THE PAST.
Reece Meadowsere was in love. How it e&me about he oould not tell, but so it was ; and with the realization of his love came the memory of his past sin. Tbe love whioh now had sprung up in his heart had not grown in a day ; it came there gradually and imperceptibly. Love at first sight is a fallacy; it is against the law of nature. We may be attracted, we may experiences feeling of repulsion when first meeting a stranger, bub we oan neither love ncr hata him. These two passions oan only come with time, and as their strength increases slowly, eo when ones aroused their death is slow also; but onoe dead the ashes oan seldom be rekindled. It is necessary for the oreation of a truly perfect love that there should be reciprocity of thought and feeling between man and woman, and only in very rare oases does this exist. Between Reeoe Meadowsere and Hilda Remersque there had been no such reoiprocity; their characters were totally dissimilar, and a marriage between them would eventually have resulted in unhappiness to both. Yet they had loved eaoh other ; of this there could be no doubt; but on one side the love had been almost of a wholly sensual nature, and perhaps in time its very strength would bare proved its weakness. With Meadowsere the case was somewhat different. There had been a strong element of the sensual in his passion, yet his love partook somewhat of the spiritual. But, in epite of this, he had not been blind to Hilda'sidiosyncrasies. Hehad realized that her nature differed from his own, and that when finally united thsre would need to be an exeroiee of forbearanoe on both Bides, or else even a resemblance of real happiness would be impossible. Tbe inexorableness of fate bad, however, deoreed that man and wife they should never be. And now, after years spent in freedom from all thought of love, Meadowsere found that tbe tender passion had again taken possession of his heart, but in a more purified form. Miss Melville, the woman whom Reece Meadowsere deemed to be essential to his hopes of earthly happiness, was one well calculated by her influence to enrich and ennoble tbe life of any man. How much more likely was it then that her influenoe upen Meadowsere would be intensified, when her very thoughts and feelings were identical with his. It seemed as though nature had moulded these two after the same pattern, and now had brought them together, that they might be united, and thus in very truth, by their inner resemblance to each other, become one. But now, back in the distant past, there loomed up the shadow of a great sin, and Meadowsere's heart sickened. What right had he to expect the love of a pure-minded and noble woman? How could he ask ber to share a life haunted by tbe memory of conduct whioh even now caused him tbe keenest remorse? But then other men had erred, and were yet married and happy. Indeed, there were few men vhose liveB would bear olose inapeotion by those most dear to them ; and why should he suffer more than they? Save that one false step so long ago he had nothing to reproaoh himself with. Was be then to doom himself to a future of remorse and vain regrets? Was there no hope for bim? He oould not recall the dead; he oould not undo the past: why, therefore, should he turn his gaze backwards and forfeit ail hope of future happiness? It would be foolish, weak, and unmanly. It would not be making the best use of the life Grod had given him. Reece Msadowsere felt st one moment that he would be justified in seeking Miss Melville as hiB wife; then at another a doubt would arise within him, and he would imagine himself debarred by his seoret from seeking any such consummation. He was above all things conscientious, and a great struggle was taking plaoe in bis heart. How it would have ended it is hard to say, but most pro-
bably love would have gained the vistory had it not been that Mies Melville herself seemed to supply the answer to bis thoughts. The governess, who had previously shown that she derived pleasure of no ordinary kind from MoadowBere's company, now changed completely. In his presence she was oold, and almost silent. She was always ladylike, but whenever possible avoided Reeoe, and their daily walks came to an abrupt conclusion. Once he asked ber "What he had done to offend her?" She answered, "Nothing;" but avoided him all the same; not in a conspicuous manner, but very quietly, though none the less effectively. ixeeoe was" pu&zled, as well ho migiifc ue. But his pride and sensitiveness forbade him seeking any other explanation, and he in his turn was oarefui to see that Miss Melville's wishes with regard to himself were gratified to the full. Save at meals they rarely met, as in the evenings Reeoe absented himself from the family oirole, and kept to the room which had been set apart for him. The time had oome for him, he thought, to leave Warrydong,and the day for his departure was already fixed. He would go back into the world with his seoret untold, and strive to forget the woman who had made so great an impression upon his heart. It was not a brave act,' perhaps, to leave one whom he loved without first avowing his love and seeking to know his fate. Nor would he have acted thus had it noil been that the scene enacted on a night long ago was ever fresh before bis eys, pursuing bim like an evil spirit, and causing him to realize bis unworthiness to beoome the husband of a woman he regarded as the personification of all that was goo∧ pure. Truly retribution had overtaken hiai now, even if his past and never-ending remorse had not proved sufficient atonement for his tim9 of weakness. Although this little tragedy of everyday life was being enacted in the house of the Austins, only one person bad any idea of ib, and this was the irrepressible Mabel. Although a matter-of-fact young lady, she was not altogether devoid of an element of romance, and bad some time ago arranged to her own satisfaction a marriage between Meadowsere and her beloved Miss Melville. Vet even in this matter she took a somewhat practical view of the hoped-for alliance. Miss Melville, she knew, was poor. In time the children would grow up, and a governess would no longer be required. What, then, was to beoome of
her? She might easily, perhaps, with good references acquire another situation; but then how much better to marry a handsome, wealthy man and possess a home of hsr own ! And who so fitted to beoome her husband as Reece Meadowsere? He was handsome; be was undoubtedly rich, and held a good position in the social scale; and, moreover, he waB a thorough gentleman, so that his qualifications for filling tha position regarded by Mies Mabel as a most important one were exceptional. This much decided, the scheming girl did her utmost to throw these two together, and as they speedily displayed a marked partiality for the oompany of eaoh other Mabel found that ber selt-inpoeed task was an easy one. To her mind things were going swimmingly, and although her owu experience in matters of this sort was limited to the knowledge she had derived from works of fiction, ehe was beginning to tbink, when the month of July dawned, that quite enough time had been taken up with the preliminaries, and that Moadovrsere ought, in her own words, " to come up to the scratch." But judge of her astonishment when the aspEOt of affairs underwent a complete ohange. The two who had previously been pleased to be together on all occaaions now avoided each other whenever possible without exciting observation, and Miss Mabal was sorely puzzled. What did it mean? she wondered. HaB Meadowsere proposed and been rejectaq? But no; this she regarded as outside the range of possibility, for Mabel had carefully
studied tho position of affairs at all its stageB, and her intuition had led her to believe that Miss Melville at least was deeply in love. With regard to the etate of Meadowsere's feelings she wa9 as yet uncertain, and so decided that eomo difference of opinion was accountable for the prosent estrangement and that the quarrel would Eoon blow over. But several days passed, and a reconciliation was seemingly as tar off as ever. Mabel felt an inclination to take Maeter Bob, who wasnowathomefor the holidays, into her confidence, thinking that he might be able to suggest soma way whereby she might solve the dilficuity which had presented itself. But the matter was a delicate one to broach, and, moreover, she was no lunger the choscn companion of brar brother's idle hours. Bob had brought a College chum to Warrydong to spend the holidays with hiin, and now considered it ir.fi a dig. to bo <<ontinually in the company of girls. He WEB fast reaching that age when a boy begins to regard the society of some other boy's eister »3 infinitely praferable to the society of a sister of bis owe. And FO poor Mabel, who bad been the accomplice of her brother in many a practical joke aud wild, outrageous prank, and had proved his faithful ally at all times, was caeS aside for a boy several years her junior. She was deeply hurt, her prido was wounded, and she held aloof from the assertive self-important Master Bob. No matter'in what direotion her inclinations might lie, it was cli'.arly impossible to confide a seoret of so great moment to one who might perhaps treat the whole affair as a huee joke, and even enlarge upon it at the dining table for the amusement of those present. There wns no pretence about Mabel. She honestly desired the welfare of the woman who had won so warm a plaoe in her regard, and believed that this was to be accomplished by Miss Melville's marriage with Meadowsere. Her heart was eet upon it; the more eo since a certain evening when ehe had
surprised the governess in tears. Miss Melville was by no means accustomed to indulge in this weakness, and Mabel at once concluded that her outburst was in some way or other connected with the man who had evidently won her affections. What was to be done? Mabel oonld not tell; ehe felt altogether helpless, and when one morning at breakfast Reeoe announced his intention of leaving for Melbourne on the following Friday (it was then Tuesday) it Beemed to her that the hopes she had eo fondly oherished were doomed to bitter disappointment. But until Meadoweere bad really gone, and she knew for certain that no engagement had been made, she would not believe that all h°lT was Wednesday evening. Mr. Austin had gone out opossuming with Master Bob and this young gentleman's chum. It was a kind of sport that Mr. Austin was not partial to, but as he hardly cared to trust the two boys alone with firearms at a late hour of the night, and yet did not wish to spoil their enjoyment, he took the only other alternative, and accompanied them. Miss Mabel had evinced seme curiosity as to the intended route of the shooting party; and her ouriosity having been satisfied she privately obtained the consent of her parents to go out and meet the sportsmen as they returned, provided she could persuade Meadowsere to accompany her. All through the evening she sat before the fire, very silent, but very restless. Mrs. Austin was dozing in an easy chair, whilst Minnie eat reading a novel, and Miss Melville appeared busy with eome sewing. There were no other occupants of the room, as the ohildren had gone to bed, and Meadoweere was writing letters in hiB own room. As the clock struck 10 Mabel rose nnd quietly went out. Going to ileadowEere's door she knocked, and responding to his invitation to enter, said demurely— " Dad told me I oould go out and meet him and the boys as they oame home, provided you would accompany me, Mr. Meadow*ere. It is a lovely night, and I should dearly like a walk. Would you mind preteoting me, or am I too much of a girl to prove a suitable companion for a moonlight ramble ?" Reece smiled as he replied— " You would never dream of saying that to a younger man than I am. Mabel; it makes me realize my age, I can assure you. But when shall we start, for, of course, I shell be only too happy to oblige you ?" "You are sure I am not interrupting your work?" "Quitesure; I was thinking of going for a stroll before you eame in." " I am so glad. Bad said they would be coming baok by theawamp, and it you really don't mind we had better start at once. If you don't think it is too oold you may wait in the garden and smoke a oigar whilst I am getting ready. I shaa't be many minutes, and will help you on with your ooat first. Will that suit you ?" She had gone into the hall as she spoke, and returned carrying his hat aud overooat. " Here you are; and now let me assist you, Mr. Meadowsere." Before Reece had time to protest he found himself with hiB hat and overooat on, and Mabel asking for hie cigar-oase. This he immediately handed to her, and she selected a cigar. "This looks good. Shall I light it for you, or will you wait until you reach tbe garden ?" " I think I had better wait; your mother may not like to bave the hall smelling of cigar smoke. Where shall I meet you, Mabel?" " At the back of the house, by the small gate that leads towards the stables." She saw Meadowsere safely out of the house, and then retraced her steps to the room where she had left the others. Opening the door softly, BO as not to disturb her mother, ehe beckoned mysteriously to Mias Melville, who at onoe joined her in the adjoining passage. " What is it, Mabel?" ehe asked nervously. "There is nothing wrong, I hope?" "Nothing at all; but am going to meet dad and the boys, and I want you to oome with me. It will be better for you than straining your eyeB over that detestable sewing, Miss Melville." " But what about your parents, Mabel? They may not like it."
" Both dad and tbe mater said I oould go, provided some one went with me." To a certain extent this was etriotly true; but Mabel failed to mention that Meadow- Bere had been the some one intended by her father to act as her oompanion. She considered that under the circumstances a suppression of a portion of the truth was perfectly justifiable. If Miss Melville had been unused to station life it is more than probable that she would have declined to walk through a lonely sheeprun at that hour of the night. _ But as it was, being acoustomed to ramble with the girls to all sorts of out-of-the-way places by day, it did not eesm to her a vory serious trader Calnng to take a walk in direction of tJao returning sportsmen on a beautiful moonlight night. Indeed, she rather liked the idea, and assented without tbe slightest hesitation. " Hadn't we better see whether Minnie would like to join us ?" she asked. " Not much !" answered Mabel with quiet determination. " Besides, I know ehe wouldn't go. Bat we had better look smart." It did not take long for the ladies to wrap themselves op warmly, and in a few minutes they were racing down the garden path, for Mabel bad thrown out a ohallenge which was at onoe taken up by her oompanion. The race was to a small gate at the rear of the house, and resulted in a " dead heat," so Mabel said, Meadowsere, who had been quietly smoking hie oigar and thinking deeply, was too startled to offer any opinion when appealed to. He felt plaoed in an awkward position, and Miss Melville was even more embarrassed. Both were inclined to blame Mabel, but that innooont young lady appeared perfectly unaware of any existing uneasiness, and chatted most unooncernedly. " I didn't keep you waiting very long, did I, Mr. Meadowsere ? Miss Melville consented to come too, but I forgot to say that you were going. However, it doesn't matter: I suppose ; I can have you all to myself some other time, and I hope you will not be OTOES with me for bringing a third party, because I intend to devote all to-morrow morning to you. \Ve had better make straight tor the swamp. Come along!" There was nothing to do but to follow her, which they did. Meadowsere couldn't very well refuse to aooompany them, nor oould Miss Melville say that she Lad changed her mind about going withoutcdisplaying too pointedly her objection to Meadowaere's presence. Fortunately Mabel's flowof nonsense
had shown them both clearly (as Mabel had intended it should do) that she alone was responsible for what had occurred; and, while Meadowsere was considerable relieved to find that Miss Melville oould not possibly imagine him to be guiity of having acted towards her under false pretences—tbe governess was also pleased that Meadowsere had no excuse for imagining that she had been aware of his intention of joining Mabel until they met at tbe gate. As to how far Mabel's action had been intentional neither of tbem could decide; and nothing was to be gathered from her •manner or conversation. She chattered volubly and gaily, and presented all the appearanoe of being perfectly at ease. "Isn't it a lovely night, Mr. Meadoweere? Just the thing for 'pasBuming. On very bright nights you oan't see tbem at all, so Bob says ; but when you have the sky covered with thin white clouds, like it is to night, you know, why—you—you can't beat it, that's all." "It's a wonder you didn't go with the boys,"said Reece, rather indifferently. " Dad wouldn't let me; he thinks me boy enough already, and the m&ter and Minnie consider me too much so. If I had gone, though, I am sure tbey would at least have proved lively oompamons. The moonlight makes some people almost afraid to open their mouths, but it doesn't affect boys in that way." This was intended as a bint to Reece and Miss Melville, who had hardly exchanged a word since they started. Seeing that Mabel
was not a young lady who kept her eyes closed to what was going oc, however, they each made an effort, and started a desultory conversation, but they soon lapsed again into silence. But still Mabel talked on, until at length, after having walked for a little over a mile! they reaobed the edge of a large swamp, and here, influenced either by the weirdness of the soene, or the moodiuessof her companions, ehe also grew silent. It was truly ft Bcene which, once looked upon, could not easily be forgotten. Overhead sailed the moon, enveloped in a mass of white, vaporous olouds ; at the rear stretched the large paddock, through which they had come, lying silent and still beneath the moonlight. In the distance could be discerned tbe lights of the bouse, which gleamed like huge atari through the night. Thehouco itself, with the surrounding garden, looked dark and gloomy, save where the moonbeante fell upon the roof, causing it to glisten like polished metal; but the stable and outhousep, standing ia the open, showed out clear aud distinct, so bright was the night: nnd their whitewashed walls presented a striking appoaranot* in the peaceful landscape oi lights and shad owe.
But it was to the swamp tbab Mabel and her two companions chielly turned their gaze. Almost at their feet were ita waters, dark, forbidding, *.nd motionless. In the shallow portion of the ews.ir.pthe reeds aud rushes bad grown thick aud high, forming a home for the wild duck and swan. AH round were <!esd and dying gums, their barkless trunks and leafless branches looking weird and ghostly in the moonlight. Grim, silent sentinels they seemed ; huge skeletons of their former greatness. And to add to the strangeness of it all, they eaw no human thing save themselves. Yet from tbe depths of the swamp oame the croaking of frogs ; and occasionally the cry of some wild fowl, disturbed in its sleep, was borne to their ears, together with the melancholy rustling of the reeds and rushes.
"It quite gives me the oreeps,"said Mabel at length, after a long pause. "I shouldn't fancy coming here alone. "iSor I," admitted Miss'Melville. "Listen a mament. The swamp seems haunted by strange voices, and behind us there is atter silence." The others half-turned as she spoke, and listened intently. It was as Miss Melville had said. On the one side was tbe swamp, teeming with life and sound; on the other there stretched a vast, level tract of country, which was enwrapped in a stillness as of the grave. The effect produced was peculiar and not altogether pleasant. As Mabel said, "It seemed somewhat unoanny." But even as she spoke the report of a gun was heard far away to the left, and tha oharm was broken. "There they are!" exolaimed Mabel, and hollowing her hand and placing it to the side of her mouthshe called aloud, " Coo-ee!" There was no answer, and again her olear, girlish voice rang through the night. "Coo-ee!" Baok on the still air there oame a faint answering call, "Coo-ee!" whioh sonnded almost like the eoho of Mabel's own. But apparently ehe was satisfied. "That's dad's voioe; I would know it anywhere. Grood-by ! Keep straight on, Mr. Meadowsere, and you will soon meet us." Without waiting for a reply she darted off like a hare, and Meadowsere and his companion were alone together. " MabelMabel! oried MIBB Melville in distress. " Wait a moment; we are ooming °They heard a merry laugh, but that was all —Mabel had gone. . "She is a remarkable girl," said Meadowsere, for want of something else to «ay. "Yes,"answered Miss Melville. She felt strongly inclined to raoe off too, bnt that was clearly her to have impossible; taken leave Meadowsere of her senses. would imagine " I suppose we had better follow » little more deliberately," he suggested. "Yes, it would be as well," she assented. They had gone but a short distanoe, however, when Reeoe stopped abruptly. "You must bo tired, Miss Melville. Here is a log which will serve as a seat. Sit down and rest; the others must pass near by, so we shall not miss them." " Had we not better go on, Mr. Meadowsere? They may cut straight across the paddock towards the house. It will be nearer than coming round by the swamp." •* fiven so, we oannot faU to notioe them; and there is no need to tire yoarself unnecessarily." She offered no farther objeotion, bat sat down as he had advised her. Reece stood close by, and stared moodily at the weird soene before him. Presently his eyes strayed towards the silent figure of the governess, whose face was turned away frem him. He took in at a glanoe the shapely form seated almost at his feet. From where he stood he could just trace tbe dim outline ef her profile, softened and rendered more beautiful, he thought, by the moonlight than it had .ever been before. Should he apeak to her? Should he tell her of the love that was in his heart? Or should he be silent, now and for ever? How it happened he could not tell; bnt the past faded away as a dream, and for the moment he lived only in tbb present. "Miss Melville," he eaid without altering bis position. She started suddenly, and a look, almost of pain, came into her eyes. " Yea, Mr. Meadowsere." "Have you avoided me because you have discovered that I love you ?" She did not answer, but her lips trembled and she clasped her hands tightly together. Reeoe waited. He picked up a pebble and threw it aimlessly into the water, as though hardly oonsciouB of what he did. Still then was no answer. " You do not speak. Am I to understand, then, that my love displeases you? Yon have but to say so, and I shall not mention it again." Here was the opportunity she wished for. She bad but to answer bis question in the affirmative, and she knew that be wonld net attempt to continue the topic. Yet she could not do so, though ehe desired to escape the pain bis words infiioted upon her. But was it all pain? Was there no pleasure in hearing that she was loved?—and by Meadow-
sere of all others ? There was; yes, a pleasure too deep for words, though she felt that never oould she give him the answer he wished for. And so she said weakly, " I—I did not know that—that yon cared for me." " But yon know it now; that I love you tenderly, deeply, and reverently; that I see in you the embodiment of all that is purest and best in woman." " Hush 1" she said in a low, strange Toioe. " You must not say that." For a moment Reece was silent. His was a love which partook more of reverenoe than of passion, and something within him seemed to make him feel that his cause was hopeleES. Presently be continued, " Why should X uoi uoy bLui. ZJ«vo J-on ? X Jo<»|C JU|» «o you as one far above'me; and VhaV * " " No ! No ! You must eay no more; I beg— I implore of you." "Why not ?" he demanded, almost sharply. Because—because it is wrong." " Wrong ? Surely it is not wrong to tell you what you are to me?" ' • Yes—yes," she answered hurriedly. " Yoa —you do not understand," "Understand what?" "That—that lam not what yon say. We —we all have a past," and she laughed a little bitterly. These words struok to Meadowsere's heart like a oold chill. "We all have a past!" Why did ehe Bay that ? Why did she remind him of a faot be had for the moment forgotten? He grew almost angry. "Wbaiia the past to us? It is dead and done with." " It is never done with," was the sad reply. "Never! never!" Was thiB an answer to the thoughts which had troubled him for many days? But no; be would not believe it. "I have told yon of my love, Miss Melville. You know what I desire ; what I long for. X wish to call yea wife." No ! no ! It is impossible—impossible." " There is no hope far me V He spoke in a weary, listless tone, which told how literally he had understood ber meaning, and Miss Melville wavered in her resolve for one short mament. If Reeoe had only known that it was so; if be had but caught a glimpse of the tears upon her cheeks— the light of love which shone in her eyes—he would have bad no doubts at all, and the woman he loved oould have resisted no longer. But he saw none of these things, and the moment passed. From bloodless lips which quivered in the effort to control them be had
his answer; and in his ears it sounded cold and harsh—"There is no hope." From the distanoe there eame a merry peal of laughter, and then, save tbe croaking of tbe frogs, no other sonnd was beard. Mechanically Reeoe stared upwards at tbe moon, and in the strange light his face was almost ghastly. Yet near by there was one more gha**ly than his own, though he knew it not. "You are not angry with me I hope for speaking as I have done,"he eaid at length. Angry ! when her whole eonl went out to him with a love almost superhuman in its power and purity ! She held her breath and forced baok tbe words which arowded to her lips, stifling them with a sob of anguish. In her hour of trial she bad conquered ; but her heart was broken. It was her atonement for the p&Bt she could not forget. And (thus it iB, that a deed once done oannot be undone ; and there must follow the inevitable, neverending reaping. " Have you no word for me at all, Miss Melville?" asked Reece, a little bitterly. " I—I am very sorry," ahl began, but Reeoe interrupted her. "There iB no need to be sorry, Miss Melville. It is my own fault; you are not to blame. Shall we go on a little further ?" Mies Melville rose, and they walked on. "They—they ought to be close at hand now," she said, in a broken voice. "There is Mabel with her father, just passing the gum in front of us. Tbe boys are a little behind. Do you see them ?"
She could not. Her eyes were blinded by her tears, nnd yet Meadowsere, in his pride aud his hopelessness, was unoensoious of ber agony. Silent and miserable, be strode along, and soon they reached the others, who received them with a shout of weloome. The boys had much to say on that homeward walk, so that Meadowsere's preeooupation and Mi»s Melville's silence passed unnotioed by all save Mabel, who eaw at a glance that her kindly stratagem had failed. What she had hoped for bad not oome to pass, and her m»rry laugh and cheery ohat were stilled, as tba litiie party wended its way through the moonlight. Far into the night the solitary figure of Reece Meadowsere paoed to and fro in the garden at Warrydong; and from the window of her bedroom Miss Melville watched him with eyes that told of a great but hopeless love. Her tears were spent, but on her pale cheeks their traces still remained, and upon her drawn and haggard face was stamped a look of unutterable despair.