|Chapter Title||- XV, XVI "The lie that divided unites us."|
|Newspaper Title||The Australian Star|
|Trove Title||Dolph Meldrum's Wooing|
DOLPH MELDRUM’S WOOING.
An Australian Story.
By Mrs. BALDWIN HODGE.
: ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
,. CHAPTER XV.-Contin'uod.)
Her voice sounded tremulous as sue whispered. "I married, thinking you had forgotten me. His face brightened perceptibly. His thin fea tures quivered with repressed feeling. His voico wns cold and distunt, howover, when ho spoko.
Un what grounds l His severe tonos broke down the slight amount of reserve remaining to Iter. " George told 1110 so — said you woro going to marry a girl — " she began. His reply was brief, if assortive. " Tho liar I" ho cried. , " Hush I Verlio is hero," she said, as tlio child, with iier faco buried in Dolph's keroliiof, olung to lior mother. " Is she your child 1" ho asked, distantly. " Yos ; sho is the eldest. I have throo— Ho moved as though to restuno his walk. , ' " Yon — you will como mid soo me—Goorge and I— before— if you go away again ?" . A curious gleam of scorn and ropressod pam shono from his oyes as ho looked at hor in response to tho invitation. Tito same strange blonduig was in his tones when ho repiiod. " No ; 1 cannot." At her words ho had stopped sitddoiily. After Ins brief refusal he touched his hat to leavo lior. J5I10 stretched out hor small, slight fingered hand to prevent him. ' " Will it make it easier," eho.-nslceq gently,' , " ; I toll you I have suffered terribly?" 1 „ " No," he said, taking her hand in his. It will mako it worse." ;! ' , . "I am 'sorry," sho faltorod, standing in the deserted roadway, with bare, bowed head, lior child clinging to her skirts, tho ho.no of her hus band's provision before hor, and ' lior lovor — with heightened colour and quick-boatiug heart she owned him such— holding hor hand. " But it can-
not bo undona — tho past must be forgotten, wo musttliink of tho future." " Future ! " he cried bitterly, " I have n no future. You hnvo nil you bargaiued for. I have nothing." He dropped her baud, again lifted his hat, and went his way. " Muvver,"snid tho child, looking at nun, as no walked quickly from them, " Him tried to kip and him touldn't." With a quick blush alio caught the child s hand, and walked into tho houso ' i "Don't tell anyone, Pet!" Bite murmured. " But him did," repeated the child. , Dolpli reached his destination in a bowildering- ly, thoughtful manner. . Viewing the nllegod remains of tlio idiot ro- cnllod painfully tho manner of his father's death. It needed little imagination to recall the reeling sensation that overwhelmed him ut sight of tlio grizzled grey head. With a fooling of self-loathing ho recalled tho tumult of fooling and yearning for possession that assailed him oil beholding Agnes. Other duties waited him, and at slightest temp tation were forgotten. His kin had forgotten their protector, but never again should he have occasion to reproach himself for such selfishness. Fato had purposely left him alone to bo tho instrument des tined to weigh justice. Tho peculiar development of the idiot s frame wlion living mado recognition of his remains easy enough. They were umniatakcnble, although nei ther clothing nor fleshly covering remained. " Ho has not been dead more tliuii a couple of years, tlio doctor uilirms,'' said the officer in charge who, as an old resident of Pulmorston, know Dolph, and was acquainted with the main parts of liis family history. " At is four years since ho disappeared," retorted Dolph gravely. " That's nothing. He has evidently been the wild bushman whoso unties a few yoars ago alarmed so many women and children." Possibly," murmured Dolph. - " It's a blessing bo's where he is." went on tho officer, cheerfully. "There's no knowing what- mischief he'd have done. Seems to mo a pity such youngsters are allowed to grow up. They're only a misery to themselves and everyone belonging to them." ' "That's truo," replied Dolph, musingly. Tho idiot had not troubled his Berenity vory much, still it was pleasant to know he could trouble thorn no more. " While it sounds strange to say it of one's flesh and blood, I suppose. Ho was only a: 'soured of anxiety to us' .all. That would not justify taking his life. Ho was a living creature, almost in appeuronco a man." . ' . " That's right enough. But there's a difference, and a mighty big one, I can toll you." They turned to leavo tho morgue. " Strange thing tlioy never got a cluo.to your poor old man's murderer. And yet, when you come to think of it, it nin't. Bolievo mo, there's more murders nnd tho like committed in the bush than anyone 'd dream about." " I shall nevor rest until I find him," said Dolph, in a low teuso voice, that made his companion turn back to look at him and remark, " Take my adfice, Meld rum, nud leave it alone. I'vo heard the trouble you went to to try nnd find him, but it was no use then, and it's lees now. Every day makes it easier for him and harder for yon. He might ho a hundred yards of you, us the saying goes, and ho might ue on tho other side of tho world, and small us it is there's room to lose your- Bclf in it, if you're a mind to do it, or lie might be in the other world— there's no saying." " Well, I hopo not." "Tako my advice, and forget all about it. Wo wore all glad to hoar your family- were doing so well. All things considered you might have had more to grumble over. Nita's— I mean your sis ter's — wedding was mentioned in tho 'Palmer- eton Advertiser.' So was your appointment at Gudgerea Gudgcrec. There's no knowing how high you may climb when once your foot's on the lander." Dolph returned to his lodgings, his first task beiiig to indite a letter to Nita and another to his mother, informing them of the discovery of tlio re mains and their intcndcd.burial. He was engaged performing this duly when a letter was brought to him, contained in a largo blue official ouvelope. Tho O.H. M.S. 011 its surface prevented any in terest ill ita contents. His indifference changed after perusal. The letter forwarded to him held the news of a fresh appointment. He was guzatteil polico magistrate of \V 00111a. Adolphus Meldrum, P.M. The magic lotters changed life for him. He still had a future before him, and ono, at that moment, he felt individual pride in. At that moment lie felt amply . repaid for former disap pointment. What mattered it that VYooma was a small 'unimportant town vey far inland. Each year added to tho importance of sueh colonial places. , , CHAPTER XVI. "The lie that divided unites us." Dolph added this last item of- news to his let ters, having at tho same time a suspicion that to his. mother it would not he fresh news. Tho small room felt close and stuffy. Fresh air was needful after tho pleasant tidings. Partly with that idea ho proceeded to post his letter. On the road he entered a hair-dressing saloon, ono that sprung up during his absence. _ Liko many of its kind, hairdressing was its legitimate trade, while gamiug was its illegitimate one. Dolph walked int'p an inner room, where some dozen liion wero assembled — all in heated discussion. So excited were they that his intrusion was unnoticed until bis short-sighted eyes had made out one or two faipiliar faces. Among them wero Hansen, a contractor with some pretensions to social superiority, well-to-do, and a justice of tho peace, who made it a holding dutvtosit once a fortnight at least beside tlio P.M. on the Palmeraton bench, and Allpass, u journeyman plasterer, whoso family often needed the bare necessaries of life; Taylor, a tailor in business, whose life was one alternate change of cheeseparing and reckless extravagance. As luck came so he fared, and near liim stood George C'obb. Him. as the only one known, Meldrum ad dressed. A familiar fuco in a once familiar, but ' uoiv strange, land was pleasant to tho beholder. Cobb's face was flushed with drink anil excite ment. His attire, while bearing evidence of the work of a good tailor, lacked something to make it the attire of a gentleman. Doubtless the appear ance of the place and that of his companions had something to do with tho deficiency. Dolph stepped towards him, greeting him in frienuly'fashion. - Cobb looked in the other's face. Tho cool, col- j lected indifference expressed iu tho clear, healthy
visnge, and tho orcct etirriago of tho neatly-atti red, lithe figure, seemed to mirror the disorderly nspect of Ills own appearance. , ' Oh I it's you, is it ?" ho oried disdainfully, scorning the outstretched hand. This change of attitude towards himself did not affect Dolph any deeper than tile change of appear- mice. Time hud dealt hardly with Cobb, or he had effected a mortgage on his future, for had 15 in place of five years olajisud he could have looked no older. Under most circumstaucus years younger. He was about to leave tho place without effect ing his crrund there, whon Cobb noticed his inteu- tioii and hecaino iiiore insolent. ' Oh I xlon't go," ho said, with a poreeptiblo sneer, " miloss you've grown so high and mighty tis to slum tltoso you were onco glad to grovel at." Meldrum, proud .with recent success, and wountlod with Agnes Cobb's avowal, repiiod pas sionately— . . "I never grovelled to yon nor any man, and I should certainly scorn to bo oil friendly terms with a man in a plauo like this I" " And whut's wrong with a pljieo liko this?" I repeat my words. At ono timo you were glad of my patronago, and becauso I tried to befriend you you tried to get round the girl I wanted to marry." Mchlrum's faco whitened, passion hold him still: You lio," ho orictl, hoareoly. Do I? I Imppon to know I don't! Clevoras . you -wero I learned all about it." ' ' So have I,' replied Dolph, quickly. "I know tho lies you told to got your way, you Tying scoun drel 1" 'Tlio men around them looked interested in what at first begun as a mere drunkc sent-to but now promised somothiiig better. They took every pre caution that a sate distanco existed between the two, and enjoyed the passagc-dt-arms. ' Your informer!" sneered Cobb.
»» 1 4 Us vuim: tito i uuuv tujjij' At tho words Meldruui's passion collapsed. He had acted despicably to mention u woman in such a place, and tho knowlcdgo galled him. Cobb made no further remark, and loft tho place in absolute silence, so far as spcecb implied. Tho glory of tho P.M.-ship was gone. It had faded completely (luring that fivo-minutcs' tuik in . tho tobacconist's room. Ho had envied Cobb, and ho might as well have envied a slave. What- evil fortune guided him there! When there, why had nngor prompted him so infamously to liurin a helpless woman ? Former acquaintance with Cobb assured him that his was not tlio nature to forgot a fancied slight or injury ; nor feel compunction over thowoakness of li is adversary.' Unless ho had altered considerably, Agnes would suffer for his foolish words. Tli - following day the unceremonious burial of the remains was carried out, and Dolph was frco to leave l'almorston. Wooma had had justice meted out by sundry justices of tlio peace, and was becoming restive for her own particular magistrate. Following the re ceipt ot the appointment came orders to be in readiness to take' his seat ou tho bench the fol lowing week. With less intention of hastoning his departure from Palmcrston than of pnssing the time, ho was gathering his few bolonguigs together, when tho housemaid enmo with the nows that "a lady wished to see him — ou business. Sho had been shown into tho private sitting-room downstairs." Iu soino surprise Dolph foiluwed the girl. "In there"' she said, briefly pointing to the door and left him. Agnes Cobb, evidently .in great distress, awaitod him. " Oh, Dolph !— Mr. Meldrum," she began, "I —George— ho is so cruel— I cannot— " Then she began to cry as bitterly as slie had ovidently been crying before. . Dolph possessed little experionoe bf tearful women, and hot condition alarmed him. To bring her to such a state Cobb's conduct must have been unmentionable. " Try and tell mo," he said softly, carefully re fraining from moution of her name. " I may be able to help you." She obeyed with a voico rendered incoherent by sobs. " He accused mo ot— of— something terrible. He had been drinking and know I had seen you. Ho said such terrible things bofore the girl and the children, He is often unkind, but not like that. Then I— I--don't know exactly, but I told him I would go away. He— he replied he would be well pleased, anil when I got outside I board him look tliedooraiid'oriior thogirlnevcrto allow me to cuter tho house again. He said I was no fit creature for any house." A fit of weeping followed tlio recital, ami the man beside her turned his head from tho pitiable sight. . The action that to her. savoured of indifference roused her. " Dolph," she. said, turning her faco to his, " what shall I do ! I cannot return to him. He would not have me back if I oould." Ho remained silout. Only a few minutes, but during their pas sage u multitude of thoughts assailed him. Since his father's death be hod thrust silently all appearance of religious observance from him. , Ho was no louger u regular attendant at church, at long-drawn-out intervals when somo special subject by some spacing preacher was announced he had accompanied Nita. Siuce her marriage lie had broken tho habit. Now lie told himself that all roiigiou3 ceremonies were vain, that a marriage dovoitl of gaud feeling, mutual forbearance, and unselfish love was no inarringo at all. Hence, Agnes no more belonged morally to Cobb than to him. Lessjio, for under no circumstances could lie treat -any woinau— far loss a wife— as Agnes, with such' brutality. . Ho walked tho length of the room from her, then back agniu. He drew a chair and sat before her. "Agnes!" he .said, as.ho laid his cool firm hand oil her cold trembling fingers.. " Agnes. I listen to to ino ! If he lias been cruel to you, as you say, you are wronging yourself by going back to him. You cnunot do sueh a thing. You belong to m'e, tho lie that divided us unites us — ." Like most quiet, shy natures when fully roused ho went at a greater : speed whon started than less backward ones. Every theory put forth against the unnatural bondage of marriage came to him. No woman was morally bound to a mail" whoso every action denoted him a liar and a gambler. (Dolph possessed uo knowledge of Cobb's life, but with his rigid ideas of life and its duties, had no hesitation in calling the' man a gambler on wlmt his own eyos holiold.) Apart from the lovo and mutual attraction that hound Agnes to him there were many reasons why she should belong to him. He went oil quickly in his low persuasive tones, bending his long buck and head over her bowed lictul. " Can you not sec the effect of the cause is that yon aro mine— mine while life lasts. You acknowledge that love never bound you to him. Nor has ho sought by' kindness to win your esteem and respect. Neither you nor I owe "him anything. You are niiiie, Agnes— mine. Speak and let ino know you agree with me. Let there bo full understanding between us now, that a second timo our lives bo not severed." Sho lifted her head. Doing so her. soft, dis ordered hair touched his face. It sent the hot blood rushing through liis veins. The pent-up love of a lifetime made him delirious, "Oh, Dolph! why did' you not niiiko ino marry you — before! All this would have been spared us then. George would have found a dozen women able to make him happier than I. He, I am sure, never really cared for me — only because I was pretty ? Even in that hour Meldrum felt this half- apologising assent to give herself to him was not what lie expected from the woman he loved. Something shallow in her words struck him un comfortably. "Doubtless," he murmured, "I am to blame. To you I may havo seemed half-hearted, to— him I have been tho same. I am not Imlf-hearted now, I need you — only you — to complete my happiness.' The word " complete " roused her. " I saw— your appointment as police magistrate. They — they — if I were to agree with you — tliev would never let you live— with another man's wife." " I have hands ; I havo worked with- thorn, nnd. can do so again. Say 'yes' sweetheart, and 1 will arrange everything for you." , ; " Rut a man never respects a woman — "
" I shall always respect you as a woman whose life was first troubled becauso lior knowledge of life and all its duties was limited." "But you will hate me whon you .find your- self—" ... " Leave my affairs out of tho question, Is it ' yos ' or ' no ? " " Everyone will scorn mo." " I cannot plead again. Much as I love yon, 1 will not hnvo you como to mo unwillingly. We shall both sacrifice something for the other s sake ; ! if .that on your side is too groat, I may help yon in - somo othor way. Shall I endeavour to make peace ; with your husband ?" . , ... "No, no, Dolpli 1 -It may bo wiclcod and sinful, . but I can nover forgive' hum. l-lonvo myself in your hands;" '' "Freely?' - " Freely." ; ' .''v: "After, so long I. do not regret thoeyctirs .pf wuiting now." . ' , ; Sho liftod hor face. Ho kissed her face pas- sionutoly, and , with no memory of hor children's love she allowed the compact to be mude. With mnnv men there would liavo boon no re turn. but Dolpli. in trusting faith, treated her as
though a betrothed maiden with tho fuller life of ono . spent together before them. The fulness of joy that comes to un accepted lovor camo to him. (to be continued.)