|Chapter Title||XXVII "Come to Me," Said One, "And, Coming, Be At Rest." (out of sequence), then XXX Penalty Paid|
|Newspaper Title||The Australian Star|
|Trove Title||Dolph Meldrum's Wooing|
DOLPH MELDRUM’S WOOING.
An Australian Story.
By Mrs. BALDWIN HODGE.
ALL EIGHTS RESERVED.
The . following clinptcr (XXVII) was inadver- tently omitted from its proper placo CHAPTER XXVII. ,c Comb. to Me," said One, "and, Coming, be- at Rest." .
" After long years " thoy stood togcthor. Two men, that in curly youth hud been companions,
finding in tho other what ho himself lacked, xney faced each other again, but the ubushod ono was victor, for ho had come at a time when the confi dence of . tho other iu his own power and wisdom was shaken. , Since thoso early days in the drifting apart they had been falso friends to ouch other, later on rivals,. still later foes, and now thoy were—well!, hardly strangers, for past friondshix> never, leads to that. The Jumilinrity of the. past forbade that, although tho meeting of perfect Btrangcrs could havo boon no loss formal — nor colder. .... " I called to seo your wife," said Dolph, disdain ing to notice tho meekly proffered hand of Cobb. As ho did so he saw tho change dissipation had wrought in tho still handsome face. 41 My wife is ill — dangerously ill!' returned Uobb, to whom tho memory of that momentous tight and the letter written during it beetuno durrod. A stroko of luck hud rendered it need less. . "I received a letter from her ; do you know any thing of ilY' v, . O noU' , ; < :V .1 ;%' : v' Tho words came quick enough, nut tho suspicious quicknes3 recalled youthful denials of guilt in the past to Dolph'e mind, and gave hiui tho lio at its worth. , - . . . , ' f 14 1 am sorry I troubled you, lie said. 4< hut as your wife is ill my business with hereon wait." _ Cobb stood beforo him barring his exit. lor a moment lie stood thus silently, then, with u hesi tancy. that, told of the painful oifort, hn spoke. "Mcldrum !" he said, 44 1 may ns well tell you that I caused her to writo to you. Many men would have made money of it before." Dolph llushod, and his lean lingers twitched nervously. " I have been very lenient with her . 44 You and I are .to blame. She ia not. A hotter wife Ims uo man than you," interjected Dolpli, '" (3ortninly we were. I loat my temper anil you took, or rather tried to take, advautage of hor just resontment of my conduct." Mcldrum shufilcd uneasily, and wished lumsolf anywhere away from the discussion of his own conduct, anil tho charges ho dare not deny. " But a woman should bo above suspicion. She
cots tho blame, and should be circumspect accord ingly. But sho is fatally ill now, and a few days at most anil sho will bo gone from us. It has killed mo to hour her constant erics for you and your sister Nita. I wish she lmd come instead of you : she could havo seen her! and; poor rou), it would niako it casior for hor if sho know for cer tain you understood slio wrote to yon undor com pulsion. I promisod to tell you, but I know sho docs not trust mo. You see I am, or havo been — fori trust hor illness will mako mo hotter— a bit of a bad egg." 5 " My wifo is with me began Dolph. " Would she soo hor 7 Women aro so strange sho might turn rusty if she knew all, thoy ." ''She knows all : know it before I married hor. Cobb gave ono of his old derisive laughs. " Aro rou still ub soft ob over, and as little a favourite with . tho fair sex that a trifline affair like that passes for an episodo in your life— and so groat an ouo that you must needs make confession of the fact." Mcldrum moved impatiently. : "I havo lived through too much and at too high pressure to over again take the part of an liumhlo admirer of yours, being gratoful if only your humour allowed yon to lioticc me— if only with a kick," ho said, proudly. "Naturally so. When a working man dons a black coot seven days instead of ono in a week it behoves him to leave off playing second liddlo," returned Cobb, good Immorally. "Let lno toU you, Dolp)i, you uro a lucky dog to monnt tho top of tho tree so soon— tho brute who did away with your guv' nor did you and your family a good turn." , With the sense of tho wrong still unavenged it raiikled Dolph that such a view of tho wrongcould ; betaken. _ _ "The only influence tlmt in any way benefited mo would have benefited my father in somo de gree. Ho would assuredly have come in contact witli thoso that I have." "That is nonsense, .Moldrum. Yon, a young mechanic, could never alone attain your present position without — " " Without working hard to pain it a step at tho time," interrupted Mcldrum.. " Work has been a pleasure to me, and as necessary to mc, us ease and comlort aro to you, but as wo each do as inclination prompts wo need .not brug of our uetions. If T — which you assert and I deny, owo anything to influence, tho samo factor holds good in your life. You started better than " Yet somehow it was a hail start, a start that found me unprepared. Only lately I begin to un derstand tho life my guv'nor spent in saving tho money 1 havo somehow let go again." ' Ho stoppod talking suddenly and laughed ironi cally. "'There is something in past liking after all when wo two are talking together as of old and past grievances forgotten." The words and harsh laugh recalled Meldrum to the object of his visit. He becamo once more tho formal stranger. _ " If your wife is dangerously ill iny business can wait l it oan do no good." \ "If you could persuade Mis. Meldrum to call, an explanation would ease her mind—" began Cobb in a low constrained voice.. "I will ask her." was the brief reply, and a fow seconds later the men separated. They nevor mat again. . # # " Tlio old woman took the invalid's hand and patted it gontly to gain timo to steady' her break ing voice. She was hor last child, tile last of a little flock cared for, and kept by her own labour und industry. She was the youngest born too, a buirnio born amid tribululion, a baby 011 whoso face no father's eyes hud rested. .One by one in their immaturity she had seen the others go to Iiirii, and now this other, with so many youngor lives depending on' her, was going as well. Oh ! the cruelty of such separation. Oh 1 the bitterness and anguish of the impending loneliness that would leave uo many motherless babies, and a lonely old womun childless anil broken-hearted. The Bielt woman moved slightly. "Are you easy, deavio?" murmured tho wrinkled lipB. "Yes, quite easy, but weary aud tired, and sleepy— so sleepy." " Well, sleep my pot. George is hooping tho house quiet himself, so you muy sleep." "He iB good, mother. Let mo see him." In silence lie stood bending over iter. They were bitter days those, with despairing sorrow and awful regret banging over. I jin. i -r . " You look bettor, Aggie," lie whispered. " I am bettor— just a little tirodf. If the pain keeps away I ah all get well, but I do so dread it' that- fear, of it nearly kills me." " Don't think of it." " If only that lotter had never boen posted." "I have explained it ail. Moldrum is inPahner- 'ston with his wife. Sho knows of it. Would you like to seo her?" "Yes. And tho children j let them como. Their coming will do mo less harm than this longiug for them. So tho children camo, with faces awestruck and
pale, to seo the quiet, wnitc-tuceii mother, with tier strange, eager oyea and weak voice. . The youngest, a little toddlor of two years, with eyes and clear complexion resembling his mother, bore with hiui iiis baby treasures— a dirty doll and a halfpenny. Those, with u touching air of resig nation, he pressed in liis mother's hands. , " My sweet darling 1" said tho inothor, and on- doavourcd to draw him to hor. The attendant nurse was too quick. "No, no, Mrs. Cobb. You niu9tnot exert your self. Kiss mother, my dears, aud go away." They kissed her timidly anil awkwardly, with little frightened faces, and then tiptoed away from the room. Thoy were frightened. The little baby sister bail died before they saw her. What would they do if mother died while they woro away from her? When Lona Meldrum called in the afternoon the patient was brighter— it could do no harm if sho talked. Nothing, in fact, eould do good or harm her now. It was a mattor of timo, and time only, aud tliun the blessedness of pcrfcet peace uud free dom of care, and timo is no more. For twenty-four hours she suffered no pain. The almost unbearable bodily torture was gone, and ouly a graduul sinking was visible. She was al most happy, and tho huppiuosa brought back a brief semblance of her youthful beauty that to Lena, so grave and sedate, the delicate face seemed but as a girl's, aud a slightly envious feeling stirred her heart at sight of the shell-like complexion and clear, bright eyos. Before long tho feeling vanished and Lena heard Agio s' '. ersion of tho affuir that caused her joalous tiouble, She listened patiently to tho account of
the letter, to her narrow oscape-fromirrotrievablc wrong, " but," she said to Dolpli, whon speaking of it, "she was overwhelmed at thought of her robolliou over her husband's treatment and with thought of tho shame that might havo been hors— she holds herself sinless since sho turned hack before aotual sin— but soos no shame what ever in having married a man whilst thinking of anothor, solely because her friends thought it de sirable. Iu my idea, -hor former mistako was tho grcatcrsin." "I wish," murmured Agnes,' softly, "wo bail known oaeli other earlier. I am suro wo should have loved each other." Lotia said notliiir;, but 'thought otherwise. Agnes was a -womun wIiobc greatest delight wns afternoon tens, lamenting over her neighbours' troubles, anil adding up the probablo cost of hoop ing a friend's house going. Lena detested after noon teas and petty ecamlul, and tho feminine spite tlmt seemed tho chief factor in somo women's lives. " l am suro wo shall always got on together — and—if— wlien-I got well You know, I lost my liHlo baby. Have you nny cliildren 7 " lho reply givou sadly told the dying mother that tho lack of children hurt tho other woman. "I was married before, and loat husband 'and ohihl almost together." " Oh I I am sorry," uuil tho tears gathered in lho pathetic brown eyes, "und you have nolle now? What a pity. I have had so many. Six.' The eldest a mere baby'." '' Shu closed her eyes with tho lmbit sick people often have. She held Lenu's hand clasped iu licrs. Lena sat perfectly still, mid telegraphed by a glance at the nuso in tho far cud of the room the belief, that she was sleeping. She only dozed, a Bort of stupor. that appeared to take tho plaeo of the pain. Her fiugurs relaxed their hold of Lena's liand, and she stole sorrow fully away. Tho doctor came, and after a little word of good uheorto the drowsy pnticnt told tho nurse tho end was nearer than ho at first expected. When the shades of tho short summer night lmd fallen tho husband iiml.mothcr ceased to hope. The nurse, idle in tho dim corner save for tho adminis tering' of 'refreshments unil inedioino at . short periods, was hopeloss long since. She wished the end woro over, tlmt tho feeble mother, worn out with anxiety and sorrow, might rest. The dying woman moved. "A, drink — mother! Lift . me— George," she whispered. ' ' ' The old woman hold tho cup whilo tho strong arms supported the frail body. Sho sank bnck, feebly groping witli her hands. Sho smiled slightly
ns sue icit tne tender touch of the woman s soft fingorB on her right hand, and on her left tho grasp of tho man,'s stronger member. 'J'lioy wa'telied liar close her eyes in silent an guish ; thoy held her fast us though to stay her going without a tremor; they even smiled m re sponse to hor fleeting one; but when, like the slightest breeze, her hps parted with a sigh, and tho slender fingers grew heavy in their clasp, tliey lifted their eyes to one another, and each saw tho anguish the other endured. "Mother I" Such a wailing cry to come from a man s lips. "George!" such an appoal from the wrinkled, aged lips, emphasised by the stooping figure and tho white head. The nurse from hor post knew of it from their attitude, stepped forward and pitifully led them away, -the old lady leaning on her son-in-law's arm, he half-supporting, half-carrying her with him. , CHAPTER XXlX. — (Continued.) They have taken the" opportunity of sending your dressing-case hero fearing you might need oliungo of clothes after your journey. I will leave you to comealono to the hall, my cioth forbids uio being too demonstrative, although I ani weuriiig it vary loosely at most times." _ lho preparation did not take Moldrum long. Ho lmd always boon neat in attire, but it was always as plain anil unassuming as bis porsoital appearance. It would take long training to render it otherwise, if training ever did make an altera tion. fl'is faco was whiter than usual wlion ho stcfiped across tho threshold- of the 'brightly-lighted and .decorated - hall. ' That >vat the only pcrcVptible change in him than when he walked daily through \\ ooma streets. During the days of his prosperity a dress coat had never been added to his wardrobe, and the cheers that greeted him because he camo iu dress cut in ovoryday fashion woro really unde served, for he had 110 thought of altering the cut of Ilia coat. A few of the number present wore loading lights iu \\ ooma society.. Notably the doctor, thu law yers, the parson, a couple of wealthy squatters, a few well-to-do business men, and others of good local standing, but tho majority woro men of rougher mipn. It was these that raised tho cheers that the others tolerated with smiling faces. The guest of tho evening took his j»laco, and the thought struck him that under tho circumstances ho should surely do something more than be morelv compliant to the affair. He looked diflidont an ill at ease as ho stood a moment at tho end of the Jongtablos.' Then the familiar faces of -friends pleased him. t He amilingly bowed, and the com pany, ono evidently beut on noisy merriment, again cheered. If they understood little else thoy did the art of pheoring and Ri oaning. -As tho weekly issuo of tho loeal no wsimper said, " It was an enjoyablo func tion. Its freedom from constraint rendered it one of the pleasant momorica that will livo for yours in the minds othoao present." Tho same organ also rendered coherent the faltering words of Mel- drum, and called them " A speech rendered touch ing by tho ovidont sincerity of the speaker." A couple of columns woro devoted to tho report of the banquet and its accompanying toastB. " Wo never romombor voicoa moro" triumphantly pro claiming that 'He's a jolly good follow,'' aiul think it a long timo before it will bo hoard again with such enthusiasm," woro the organ's conclud ing words. Still to tho guest it was a relief to feel it was over. Ho felt ho no moro deserved their laudation now than a month previously he had thoir disap proval. Perhaps not as much. When in tho " woo sum' 'oors " ho and tho par son woro walking homewards the lattcrgave to liim tho account of deary's confession. "Ha is really penitent, and to mo has given a full account of ins life. It Ims boon a career of crimo— tlie crime of a cowardly, Godless creature. Bofore commiting murder the idoa of it lay dor mant ill his mind for years. Doubtless but for tho fear of hell it would havo been followod by othors of like brutal kind. But bo ims nmdo ponco with his Maker, and calmly waits his trial. He was committed on his confession and tho evidence ho put tho police in tho way to gather. It appears that but for his cunning in remaining near Sofulu ho would long ago have been suspected. The opening of tho goldfielils near Woomn a few years ago brought him here, it seems, but to mo it soems as though God's hand directed his movements. It lias brought him pcaeo, and you the satisfaction that iustieo is dono his victim. Dolph drew a goiitlo breath. It- sounded liko in gratitude to diffor in opinion from his companion, yot tho thought would room- that such crimes woro not wiped away by a coward's appeal to God after all temporary props fuilod. From along tho memories of his youth there were waftoil words of his father's, spoken not to him but in his hearing when discussing the conversion of somo notorious criminal. "If such men," ho had said, "occupy room, and breathe tho air of heaven, give mo imdos. Hell and all its torments would bo preferable to com-
CHAPTER XXX. Penalty Paid. Somo months later Moldrum stood in tho small room called his study. It was hardly dawn, nnd the lamp, lit somo hours curlier, still did its best to rival the coming day. Those hours were anxious ones to Mcldrum, for Lena wns ill, and hail been ill for somo hours. Besides that, thu coming day was tho ono ap pointed for tho execution of Cloary. In a fow hours ha would givo his life in return for tho ono ho had tukou. A worthless exchange, opinod Dolph bitterly, inivybo more bitterly Jbecauso he folt somo remorse for tho wasted hours ho himself-' had spout in trying to bring to justice Buch a piti ful atom of humanity. Ho had visited tho crimi- nul ; the first timo with thoughts gloating over his captivity. Tho sight of the creature, cringing and caged, sickened him, and onco of twicoagrout yearning to free hiiiiself ft om all thoughts of crimo and its consequence camo to him. Ho heard Lena and tho Parson talk gratefully of tho creature's salvation, and lie felt as though ho must cry aloud nnd alarm their calmness by telling his thoughts. It required all his strength to re frain from telling them "that if such creatures called God 'Futhor' ho refused a liko relation- ship," Still he did refraiu, and thoy know nothing of his impious thoughts. Ho had receivod letters from Sydenham, his mother, Nita and Will Dcmpsey on tiio subject. It was tlieso lie re-icad iu the groy dawn of the wintor'a'moriilng.
Sydenham's letter was characteristic of hiu courtly, unselfish self. He told Dolph "how proud ho hail full, when reading tho account of tho banquet in the papers. . Of tlio other painful affair lie must congratulate him on lho achievement of tho task he hud years ago set himself." That was all, and Mcldrum, reading it, impgiued tho pain the old man folt when writing it. His mother's was in a different strain, and though her cobwebby writing was hard to decipher, ho read hor disapproval in overy word. Iti truth it was oponly uvowod. Sim characterised: it as. gross selfishness for hor son to bring into publicity the old story. There was soniotimcB romance in a murder, hut there was liono in tho murder of a man journeying to seek gold ill flic lonely bush. Murders in tho uusli woro so common as to bocomu quilo vulgar. Sho ; wns so upset, "as her -two younger sqns woro such intolligont boys, and liltoly :to bo u comfort to iler, and siio intended to induce hor good husband to allow thorn to study, ono for tho law ami tlio otlior medicine, that sho should feci it her duty to allow tlicni to discard tho name of Moldrum and Lnlio tho honoured ono of Syden ham if ho yielded to hot' entreaties concerning their education." Nita hoped "that tlio ropo would break when the wretch was being hung, so as to torture him us much as pos sible. Sho had boon rending a lot lately about criminals and executions, und only hoped lie would bo tortured as groatlyus somo she had read about. However, it shows that God still lives to- bring retribution to evildoers. Will's lettor was written. ." with a youngster on- his lap, for which allowance was to lie made. He was pleased Meldrum's ability was not lost on tho Wooinaitcs, mid that they appreciated him as he deserved. Ho was pleased that nt- lust justice was to bo dono, and was struek by tho remarkable why it had boon brought about." Moldrum read and re-roud tho letters, but iiis interest in them was divided by bis anxiety for Lena, Tito doctor was iu tlio liouso, and the air tlmt nccompanios illness was iu overy room. Ho wondered if tho condemned, man weroyot- asleep Would tlio comfort religion gavo to hiin stay with him to tho etui 7 Had life been so Bwcot to him that faith in another after death buoyed him — one of Nuture's cowards— to moot death iu perfect calmness. Ho, Meldriini, know; that ho himself had hot that faith. Ho told himself ho road too much aud ton dcoply for that, and yet ho could hardly reconcile his mind that way. Lena thought ns deeply, yet hor woman's faith nover faltered. . Both hor faith and Nita's were firmest in dnrknoss. Then tho parson's work and faith, it illumined every not of lus life, niado his youth a happy one and gave .a glorious promise to Iiis old ago. Then tho belief of his mother, to whom outward form was neces sary from custom aud because respectable ; the reverout bearing to all things religious of his step father, and the half tolorunt, half heretical viows of Malcolm. "Thoy all bolievcd a little in something tangible, and ho in his dim unbelief stood alone— honest un belief lie eallod it. Slowly at first, then afterwards moro rapidly, day succeeded dawn. Heoxtinguishcd the lamp, and going to tho door listened for sound from the sick room, hut nil wns silent, almost ns silent as death. Ho went out into the garden, the glory of tlig early day was still in tlio air and on tho leaves and trees about him, and ho shivered iu tlio chill Mfintry morn. It was a grey morn with promise of a gray sunless, cheerless day, yot it was hotter outside than, inside tho luuely liouso. A pang of pain shot through him as ho wondered wlint tho house would ho liko without tho presence of Laua. It would be worso than ten thousand do it lis, and many men.lmd lost their wives qnd ward compelled to livo 'lonely lives without tlicin. Ilo recalled Cobb's bereavement, and his thoughts of him sof toned as ho remembered the days of curly friendship. Tho hurried gallop of a horso's iioofs on the pub lic ronil beyond tlio bouse started liiin. JHe looked, up aud saw the Parson, and tho Parson, -giving a friond ly glance to the house of his friend, saw him. " I am going to that poor follow," ho said, bond ing from his horso to shako Dolph's hand, held out above tlio gate. " I wns with him late last, night. Ho is porfectly rosigned and almost hapny. If one wore inelinod to doubt the comfort religion gives a easo liko this would convince him of its help. He scorns anxious to have your forgivenoss— he real ises most painfully tho enormity of his sill, und thinks of you. I expect you would hardly liko to seo him this morning aud'toll him so. Last night lie told mo of tho torture he underwent when the body of his victim would not burn." Tho vision of the grey hend nnd tho charred
boot dunoed vividly beforo Moldrnm'soyos. "For Heaven's anko, don't ask it, ho cried, hoarsely. "You aro dovoting your whole ener gies to givo comfort to tho brute that gave neither timo nor mercy to his trusting victim. If my just aneer troubles him, by all means lot it." The Parson looked pained, an expression that ill-suited his pleasant, boyish face. "As you will, Moldrum," ho said, gontly, and soou centered out of sight. Meldrum was uneasy. Even Lena was for gotten. Presently ho found himsolf walking near the gaol. If I can manage to do so, I will see him," he eaid, and he did manage it. Just a fow minutos. Tho Parson was with him, and as tho execution was not until ten, tho irons wore still on him. "You will say good-bye," said the murderer. " I have God's forgiveness, and He in His goodness has pat it into your heart to give mo yours. I need nothing more." Meldrum pitied tho croaturo, bnt egotism an noyed him. , Ho returned home, and there waited for tho stroke of ten. That morning it was qcito twonty- iive minutes past the hour whon tho P.M. took his seat, and no one cxpactod him earlier. Ho sat until a few minutes beforo the hour bo fore his untested breakfast. The housemaid oamo and added fuel to the tire, and looked inquiringly at tho table, but ho novor noticed tho hint. Then tho doctor caine to him tlio first timo that day. The portly little man never condescended to givo any notice to the master of tho house. "Mrs. Moidruin is doing nicoly, and tho baby a fine little son," ho said, coming towards tho fire place, and rubbing bis hands in tlio cheerful blaze. The new-mado father triod to speak, but words would rtot como. Just thon tbo clock on the mantol struck toil. " Not auspicious," said Dolph, with a little laugh tlmt belied his words. " All rot, that sort of thing. Lucky stars, and tho rest of it," said tho Doctor. "But it moke's one miserable, the necessity for executions. You may have a poop at mother and son— just a poop, mind; no more. Good-byo, old man," and tlio genial littlo fellow went gladly homewards. Meldrum lookoil ill his wifo n face. Its radiant happiness exulted him. Ho hail soen her brightly happy beforo, but never such brightness us this djvine joy of motherhood gave. Ho bent and kifiSftfl Imp nnr? Dm lil-.t-.7r> fnrm linen linn
Dolph, I om so happy.' And that poor man, ho ims paid tho penalty. I heard tho clock striko ton." s At twenty-five past ten tho P.M. took his seat, and found a cloan shoot on tbo desk boforo him. Tun End.