Chapter 20711831

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Chapter NumberXXXI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20711831
Full Date1881-12-24
Page Number809
Corrections0
Word Count3461
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)
Trove TitleGathered In
article text

The Storyteller.

Gathered In.

CHAPTER XXXI.

THE BLOT ON THE SCUTCHEON.

BY CATHERINE HELEN SPENCE. Author of "Clara Morisod," Mr. Hogarth's Will," "Hugh Lindsay's Gucst," &c.

EDITH saw that her friend was comfortably settled, and withdrew with Kenneth into the adjoining room, which was the library, or, as she preferred to call it, the book-room.

" Don't you think some ono should write de finitely to her friends about how she is situated with her husband, and tell them how hopeless a scoundrel he is ?" eaid Edith. "I am more and more couvinced that he intends her to go on the stage, and thinks there is no uso in his returning till hor strength and her voice have come back. And, in this tour they are taking, you may be suro he is visiting the thoatreu and gutting acquainted with managers uud directors of opera companies, uud preparing them for her debut. Ho went provided with photographs. You re collect the very fine ono he had taken and coloured before he left, that your cousin got surreptitiously copied for himself. She would succeed, I do not doubt, if she gets back her voice, and he would live in idleness and vice on hor oarninßs." " Mrs Elleiton has net told you of any such intention," eaid Kenneth. " No, but what between her words when sho could not keep a bridle on her lips, and many other trifling Bigus in corroboration, I am ny convinced of it ns if she had distinctly stated it. The look on her face when she is about to open his letters is even more pathetic than after she has read them. It seems as if she expected even worse than what Bhe receives. Her father surely could not be such a good man as she represents him to be to allow her to marry that man at seventeen ; only think of it, at seventeen to chooae such n fato !" " And to bo bound by that choice," said Ken neth ; " the pity of it, oh ! the pity of it. Uut you are rigbt, Misb Gray ; her father ought to be informed, and he will no doubt urge her to ro-

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turn to a safe aud happy houio. There is no living child, thank Qod, to complicate matters." " If I writo for hor, I mußt only write what she says, and, though 1 have spoken of the matter to papa, ho does not like to inform Mr. M'Oiarmid without Mrs. EUerton's sanction, and that he cannot ask until ahu ib stronger. If he writea for her to join him, I shall, however. So long as she is at Wilta, I think we can shield her from a good dtal. She looks upon you and me as her best frauds, I know." " Does feheT I am proud to be joined with you thus. Jlow proud you cannot even imagine!" •aid Kennqth. " This is the sort of feeling I am sure you and I have-aboot her," and Edith took down a volume of Robert Browning's playa anddramatio lyric*, raid read aloud Gwendolen's speech to Mildtfg}— 0 WKBboLKK—Here, Mildred, we two friends of yours will wait Your bidding, be you silent, deep or mute ; Only when you shall want your bidding done How shall we do it if we are not by ? Here's Austin, waiting patiently your will— One spirit to command, and one to love And to believe in it, and do its beet, Poor as that is, to help it; why, the world Has been won man; a time, its length and bre 'dth, By just such a beginning. Mildred— I believe If once I threw my arms about your neck, And sunk my head upon your breast, that I Should weep again. "But how can we do her bidding if she will not tell us what to do. If she would just throw her arms about my neck and weep out her sorrows, I should feel encouraged to advise her to part for ever from that worthless man." Edith Gray read with feeling. Kenneth took the book from her hands. "The Blot on the Scutcheon," was the name of the play she had quoted from. He started, coloured, but oould not help trying to see what was the subject of the drama which had a title so wounding to his sensibilities. 11 Don't you know this play of Browning's J it seems new to you. I think it is so pathetic. I never can read it even to myself without tears. 1 think it would be inexpressibly touohing if it were well aoted. I believe it was aoted shortly after it was written, and good judges pronounced it very successful. But I fear it would not be popular with ordinary audiences." " They say there is too much condensed thought and too much analysis in Browning's dramas for the stage," said Kenneth, "but he can conceive most powerful situations. I like 'In a Baloony' extremely." " I like this still better. Oh! here is another passage which relates to the subject we talked of when we had our ride together." "Who knows but the world may end to night?" murmured Kenneth, quoting from Browning's lyric of that name. " That's not what I mean, and you know it very well," said Edith, laughing, "but about Charlie and his incomparable Helen, only in reading this you must reverse the sexes and make brother stand for sißter and vice vend, and I think it will be still more true." Trksham— Amor vincil onmia— Mildred, here's a line (Don't lean on me); I'll English it for yon— " Love conquen all things. What Jove oonquen then ? What love should you esteem beet love? Mcldbkd— Best lore I Tresuam—l mean, and should have said, whose lore is best Of all that lore, or that profess to lore t Mildred—The list's so long—there's father's, mother's, husband's— TnesHAM—Mildred, I do believe a brother's lore For one sole sister should exceed them all; For see, now, only Bee ! there's no alloy Of earth that creeps into the perfeot'st gold Of other lores—no gratitude to claim ; You never gave her life—no, not even aught That keeiM life—liorer tended her, Instructed, Enriched hor—so your lore can claim no right O'er hers, save lore's pure cUim ; that's what I call Freedom froru earthineso. Tou'll uever ho|» To bo such friends, for instance, she and you As when you hunted cowslips in the woods, Or played together in the meadow hay. Oh, yes I—with age, respect comes, and your worth Is felt, there's growing sympathy of tastes, There's ripened friendship, there's confirmed esteem. Much head these make against the new-comer— The startling apparition—the strange youth Whom one half-hour's conversing with, or nay There gazing at, shall change (beyond all change This Ovid ever sang about!) your ioul, Her soul, that is—the sister's soul I With her 'TwaB winter yesterday ; now all is warmth, Tho green leaf's springing; and the turtle's voice, " Ariso and come away 1" Come whither ?—far Enough f roiu the esteem, respect, and all The brothor'a somewhat insignificant Army of rights ! All which he knows bofore— Has calculated on so long ago ! ? I think such love (apart from yours and mine) Contented with its little term of life, Intending to retire bo time, aware How soon tho background must be place for it; ' I think—am sure—a brother's love exceeds .' All the world's lore in its unworldlineas. " And you have come to feel like this,' Mid Kenneth, " about your brother ?" " I think so, only I feel mortified that I did not accept the situation more magnanimously at first. I know I must be second evermore. But a man'H love for bis wife is one thing, his love for his Bister must be quite auother, in some things better and higher. Don't you think so ? There are tho early associations of which Brown* ing Hpeaks, which nover can enter into the happieat married life, unless ib has been a childish courtship, which is very rare." Kenneth's love for his sister was of course en tirely detached from youthful associations, and Edith's words brought back to his memory the figure of the little Nellie Lindores hunting cow- Blipa in the woods, and playing with him in tho meadow hay. " You had neither brother nor sister, so it is of little use asking your opinion ; it is like girls asking my views about love, as Miss Roberts did tho other day. Ouly I think I feel quite satis fied that I shall always be very dear to Charlie. He is going to bring Helen over after they are married, and if we do not get on together it will not be my fault. His letters and hers are as satisfactory as possible. But, if you would like the book, take it home with you. I am always glad to lend Browning to an appreciating reader. Tell me if you can read dry-eyed ; for now that you have confined to a little womanish wenkneps in tho tear-line I should like t» know what moves you. My father aud Walter laugh at me because my vuice fails and I become inarticulate when I read to them anything pathetic, so I have uover ventured on this to thuin. It i« one of ujy favourite individual utudieH, and Charlie liked it greatly, too. But in the play Mildred's lover is killed, and she dies, and the brother,

too, so mistaken, so curried away by his wrong apprehension of circumstances, hurries out of life. I pity him, I think, moat of all." " Our poor friend, Mrs. Elleitin, has got to live," Baid Kenneth ; " and what, can we do to make life tolerable for her I" " For the present much," said I'.dith. " San Francisco is a good way off—let ub »iope he may never return ; but after all that is .1 wild hope. What could keep him in California when he is the possessor of such a valuable property as Sybil's voice ?" " Did she betray much of her unhappiness or her husband's unkindnees in her wanderings," asked Kenneth timidly, " if it is fair to ask ?" "No, very little indeed, except about the stage; she seemed to ignore him a great deal. She went back to Castle Diarmid and the home of her childhood, and all her people, but especially her father. You know The M'Diarmid, or, as he is now called, Norman M'Diarmid, Esq., it a Highland proprietor, not very rich, but better than rich. 'No blot on that scutcheon,' unless this scoundrel brings disgrace on the family." " Not by any meanß so rich, I suppose," Baid Kenneth after a pause, " as a Victorian squatter of the first class ; but I suppose many of them would exchange." " P*P*» !am sure, looks up to the family with a great deal of the old clannish reverenoe, though of course we Qrays have not the honour of belonging to the race; but there are old asso ciations close and kindly which bind him to them. I know papa would do far more thau he has done for Sybil on her owa account now that we have come to know her, but the first thins that drew him to her was that she was a M'Diarmid." " You have been the truest and kindest of friends. I never oan be too grateful—sensible, I mean—at least Mr. M'Diarmid must feel any old family obligations repaid tenfold," said Ken neth blunderingly. " For my part, I am not like your aunt, Mrs. Oswald, who rejoices in the newness of her possessions, and envies the people who go home and Bell off everything in their houses and furnish ifresh. I found out that when I cabled the other day," said Edith. " So much to my uncle's delight," Baid Ken. neth; " but I was unfortunately at CowarreL" " Now, I am rather ashamed of the newness of everything at Wilta, though it is not glaring, I hope, and we do our best to keep everything in everyday wear. I would rather have that old ring which Sibyl has as an heirloom than the Bet of ornaments papa got for me last birthday, which are really in excellent modern taste. The dear old gentleman showed great judgment in the choice he made, and he is ordering a fac~ timile for Charlie's Helen as his wedding gift. She is dark like me, and what suits one will Butt the other, and I think Charlie will be pleased that the two women he loveß best in the world should wear the same things." " But to return to our subject, Mibb Gray. I never told you before — but I have a slight knowledge of Mr. M'Diarmid, and if neither you nor Mr. Qray can make up your minds to acquaint the family with her true position I think I ought to pluck up courage and do it myself." " Will you ?" said Edith with sparkling eyes. " How good of you! but it is only what might be expected from you. Only don't misunderstand me about what I said of the degradation of Sybil's going on the stage. I honour the artist who feela that she can interpret the divinest thoughts of the matters either of music or poetry ; but to be forced reluctantly on the stage to gratify the selfish wishes of her husband is what no friend of Sybil's could bear to see." " Your idea is corroborated by some chance talk I have heard from Ellerton about his wife, and often half in jest and half in earnest to her with regard to the money value of her voice. He used to make my cousin Jim wild by Bayirg that with a little special training his wife could be the reigning prima derma and might realise a fortune," said Kenneth. " And your cousin did not like it 1 I scarcely thought he bad so much good feeling," Baid Editb. " It was perhaps his dislike to Ellerton's claim* ing any property or mastery over her, or perhaps his fear that, once brought before the public, other men might step in with moro words than he had to express their admiration in, that irritated him bo much ; but I could only guess at poor Jim's feelings. He nuver confided them to me, though some of them were only too patent to all eyes." " If your letter produces the effect you expect, we shall lose Bybil altogether," faid Edith. " Yes," said Kenneth, " but it will bo for her comfort, safety, and happiness, if happiness she can regain after such sorrows; and what friend who loves Sybil Ellerton would not looee tho pleasure of her nocioty for such a good to her / Aud you have tho chauco, almost the ccrtaiuty, of seeing her again. As for me, it is of no consequence." "Of course it is best for you," said Edith, " that she should go ; but do not think I under value the effort it costs you, or your generosity in bringing it about." Kenneth bit his lip. This delicious praise, this eager sympathy, this open confidence, was all given under so great a misapprehension. Was he pained or pleased moat by it ? Could ho strike any sort of balance ? On the whole be was, ho thought, most pleased. W hen Sybil whb gone, she might see differently; but then the " blot on his scutcheon," which he must disclose before he ventured to ask her to marry him ! What was in this book she loved so much? What light would it throw on her aentimuntH ? He was turning to say farewell, when she stopped him and asked somewhat abruptly : — " But you know Mr. M'Diarmid. and you never told." " Very slightly you would Bay, and on so much lower a level." "Of course, we would all feel that. Dut what I want to know i«, does he Htrike you art tmch a paragon ? Does what you caw of him, uiuch or little, bear out Sybil'd extrnvagaut praiae ?" " I don't think I am quite a fair judge ; my opportunities were limited," Baid Kenneth more aud more embarrassed. " Now, Mr. Kemietb, I know what the English of all this is. You think Sybil absurdly in fatuated about her father, and you fancy it

would be uugrucioua to eny ao. I do uut need you to Bay unythiug more." " You tnjfltuko mo, Miaa Gray, you nro always mistaking me. 1 only wanted to put iuto worda my impreBtioDB of Mr. M'DiHrmid in bucli a way aa that you would not think mo as absurd iv tho same direction." " Then you eudorae her opiuion as far as you cau j.idge/' suid Edith eagerly. K<nneth bowed acquiescence. " Why do you uut tell Sybil of this acquain tance ?' " You recollect the Frenchman who said tha King had spoken to him, when ho had merely told him to j?et out of his way. That might be the extent of our acquaintance, but yet ho may have said it so kiudly and graciously that I may thrust myself iv his way again, if it will do Mrs. Ellerton any good. I had rather you did not tell her or any one dee, only I thought you would be glad to know I had some excuse for writing beyond the desire to meddle iv other people's affairs." " That is what I am coustautly^accused of, so you must excuse my, perhaps, impertinent curiosity with regard to jours. Forgive if I have offended you." " You could never offend me, Miss Gray, never," said Kenneth, with a voice that trembled; and then with tho borrowed book in his hand ho went into the dravviug-room to have another preoious half-hour with the sister he meant to do his beat to send out of his Eight and hearing for life. * Wheo he got home his first buniness wub to read the drama over which Edith Gray had ho of tru wept, and he could not read it without tcarß. It did not sting him so much an he ixpccted—tho circumstances were ao different, ai.d, as Kdtth said, all the principal actors died ; their difficul ties were ended with one tragic cranli ; whoreitH in the real case in which ho was implicated thoy all lived for years,dislocated,separated from each other, and were a 8 strangers henceforth. Edith'H love of the book and the author gave it au interest of another kind, and he a uld not help feeling that the giri who had wept over Mildred's fate, " who was bo youDg, God left her, and she fell," would not judge hardly the mother who bad redeemed her error by ten yeare of angelic good* ness and filial and maternal devotion. If Mr. Shiel had still lived, Kenneth would have written to his father under cover to him, but the news of his death made it necessary to address direct to Castle Diarmid. As in case of illness, death, o absence, the letter might be opened by other hauds, as all news from Australia might relate to the beloved Sybil, Kenneth wa* careful to claim nothing more from his father than a slight acquaintance with himielf in Stot* laud, and his near neighbourhood and Ultimate knowledge of Mrs. Elfcrton in Australia, might warrant. He thought it right to let them know what the Grays, from motives of delicacy to their guest, might object to doing, that Mr. Ellerton's character was worthless, and that hia careless neglect of his wife in this loug illness was only less to be blamed than his probable intentions towards her when she had recovered. It was hard for him not to expand in expres sions of sympathy and affection towards Sybil herself. It was still harder to write as an in different stranger to the father whoso affection he longed after so sorely ; but after careful writing and re-writing he satis fi»d himself that no uninstructf d eye could suspect any connection, and hoped that, if his father did not Bee word* of love, he might be able to read between the lines, and know that the affection was in his heart.