|Chapter Title||- XVIII, XIX Silence|
|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.
. CHAPTER XVIII.-(Continuccl).
He pictured life with Ilia lovo in a world pcqi ilea . only by tkemBolvcs, each conteiit to livo I : other, and see the world fl strifo and net or in 6 in the battle. , _ j„„._
Ho heard daily from Acnes tor a littlo scrawls that really said nothing, yet road bo twoen tlio lines meant so much to him. Then come an interval of silence. An lntorval spout in ripening the friendship formed with t Hevotfdcrecl'aiid fretted over the silenco, half honing alio was coming unexpectedly to mm. Each evening on his return to his lodcing he eagerly sought some token from her. un evening of the fourth day it was there. Hfondled the onvolnpe with tlio .>n»»='lt0 fondness of a very foolish lover and eluded h n- self for tho blame ho had silently heaped on her for her silence before lie opened it. . the sense of one luxuriating m happiness ho sa down to read it in leisurely joy. It was the end of his dream, though at first . glance ho did not reuliso.it. Gone book to her dear little oliildren-forgivo licr-aiid lier husband —forgot the last few days— and believo it not in- nate wickedness— only wicked tompor that pi omP" «« . i ... 1 .. .. 00..1 ni'rfi vn llfir.
tea lier— to tno very vonju ui » mid think I urn not all bad— not altogether baa thank God with mo, dear Mr. MeUlrum, that! have drawn back in timo— before it was too lute. Find some good. woman and be. happy. Tho words were neatly written, and sentences connected, but to him they wore disjointed ami hard to comprehend, . . Gradually their meaning dawned on mm. . ilo felt, at first' vaguely, that a Bocond time Bho hud led him at lur will, and let him go at tho sumo sweet force. Tho second timo was deepest hurt, for for her salco he had courted and been spurned by dishonour. Henceforth ho must know himsolt as despicable, and tho knowledge would embitter ll An outward truth, and an inner lie. And he abhorred lying. .... . . l. , Ho ate hia solitary meal in silence. After it he put on his hat, uud ho followed his habit of . leaving his rough, uncongenial lodging-house. That day ho walked far away from former haunts. Away many miles from the township, beyond tho unknown bush, and into a. dense scrub and mountainous gullies, wboro liutnuu foot had rarely if ever trodden. ' . . . Ho walked quickly with his long stride, but tho evening of tho long summers -day was on him, aud tho shadows of a swiftrilying storm came from tho west to greet him. ... But he hooded it us little as ho did the distanco he was from his yet unfamiliar home. Tho clouds Hew quicker and yet quicker, ami soon they mot overhead, and tho storm burst, -t he lightning Hushed every fow bccoiius, followed by heavy cannon-like thunder, and with the rain do- acunded huge, uneven stones of hail. > lo increase tiio din tho wind howled with frightful fury, aiid swept whole branches from tho biggor trees, and the smaller ones bodily away. "Tho rain and bail recalled linn to a sense of self Iireservation. Ho looked round for shelter, ana ooking saw tho strangeness and unfamliarity of the place. He laughed loudly— a sound that was as a singlo drop of water to a raging sea. He had wished himself dead, anu tno strifo of living ended. Hero was his wish fulfilled. lio was bushed! Ab utterly lost as though he was an inexperienced landsman cast udriit in mid- Ho staggered westward, hardly able to keep his feet, the storm and his dreuched clothing ham pering every movement. . Tho storm, though short-lived, was still at its zenith when tho lightning rovealed to luni an opening in a vast crag amid the rooks, Ho wuitod until another flash revealed its true situation, 'and thankfully sought tho shelter it oflarou. A» quickly as it travelled to meet, so quickly did it recede from liiin. While tho storm-clouds still
obscured the north and west, to the south thoy were clear, leaving a starry sky as clear as a storm- swept pavement, and glad as he was to find shelter ho missed the familiar glimmer of tho Southern Cross to the loft of him. He struck a match— feeling ab the timo grati tude that they remained dry and unharmed in his wot pockets — and held it shaded by his hand to throw a brief lantern-like gleam of light across the cave. He dropped it suddenly in surprise on be holding another occupant-, but quickly lit another, that revealed to hrni tho crouching, frightened figure of a man. A swag, with its accompaniments, Jay beside him. A strong, thick-set figure, with dark, gipsy-like face, shrouded with curly locus of dark bait, and small, bead-like black eyes. " "I'm— glad you'vo come. Hid you ever see such a h 11 of a Btorm? Are you a priest or par son t" """ Neither," replied Dolph, with an ironical lauch. "though, if you noeil either, I'll do as well. . The match had almost lived its life, and to save his hands Dolph hastily throw it down. "Dons well— yer. Doyor think so! I never saw bucIi a Rtorm not this last fiye year. I was frightened." ... Dolph felt his companion draw nearer, and his own hands held in a burning grip. In tho dark ness it felt uncanny. " I thought this place would havo struck. H'vor hear that f" Even to Dolph tliero was something awful and fear-inspiring in the peal of thunder that ochood again and nguin through tho emptiness about them. " Damn yor, if ycr were on V a. priest or parson I'd confess and a' dono wi it." The voice was tremulous with fear, and tho faco, dimly revealed by occasional lightning, looked 'ghastly with its beady oyes and crown of black hair. "Confess to mo if you boliovo confession will help you," repliod Mel drum, half in satiro and half in sympathy. As if in reply camo a vivid streak of lightning, followed by a deufoning penl of thunder. "I will— I will. This is judgment, God's judg- mont on mo. I'liis blasted placo'U.be struck, and I'll be burned to death. A hove for a hcye, I know all about it, if I've bin iv wild 'un." Each sontenco was lengthened and brightened by lurid oaths, which even fear could not eradi- cato. " Coufoss, my good follow, it may ease your mind, and do no hnrm anyway." And in tho darknoss lie confessed. The thunder and ruin made discord outside, but drowned never , n word. Tho lightning at limos faintly lit tho. in- ; toriorof tho cave, but failed to roveal to tho con fessing ouo that his self-constituted confessor was his victim's son. With ovory nerve strung yearningly for ven geance that son listened. Listened in silcnco to. the whole cruel story— of the victim's attempt to save himself, of the rifled pockets and the fuiluro of tho plan to compiotely destroy tho body and traces of the crime. " The— head wouldn't burn. The— fire wouldn't . fo pear it. Tho— oyes— well followed me wherever went. Curse tho— tiling, I see it now." The grey head and llio scorched boot danced be fore Meldrum's eyes as on tho day in tho mortuary ho in reality behold thorn. He could not wait for legal justice; bo had waited too loug. f " Murderer I Fiend ! At last 1" Ho faintly remembered grappling for life, justice and vengeance, and then Silence I CHAPTER XIX. Silence. Tho roturn to consciousness brought with it pain and perplexity. Before lie was aware of physical weakness, or tho unfamiliar surroundings, tho foul ing hung ovor him. Suddenly tho romenibranco of previous events camo to him clearly and distinctly as though no darkness intervened. Tho mur- dorouB thought of vengeance that was his camo back to him. Had he motod out justice to his father's des troyer, and was ho in turn bearing just punish ment ? Was that tho meaning of this utter silenco ? This silence that held nothing of tho soothing silence of roprcssed sounds emanating from human life, but as of death. He movod slightly, and witli indiflbrcnco tried to gathor from his surroundings knowledge of his nhodo, With no disturbance of the silent atmosphoro Lena Edgars camo and bant ovor him.
" Whore am i?" lioasked; but no soundreaohed bis cars. \ Her lips moved, but bo Hoard nothing. Ho repeated his quostion with the pettish im patience of an invalid. ' An expression of howildormont eamo into hor oyes. With it still in them, and u smile on hor lips she loft his side, Slio came again, this timo with Nita. Oh I the pity that shone from tho eyes, of thoso self-appointed, untrained nurses. The tearful smiles tuid sweot words of comfort that fell from their loving lips but failed to reach his cars. Ho grow impatient under their loving scrutiny, lie wanted f sounds, sweat sounds ; harmony, music, noise, discord ; anything rather than this deathly silonco. . T'lioy detected with the quiokness born of lovo and womnnly sensibility a suspicion of tho pitiful truth, and he read tho change from smiling hope to sorrowful dioniay in their frank, opon fncos. lie turned his houdiii fretful pctuluuco,and sloop, that comes with sweot respito to till, eamo to him. Whon awakening camo tho local doctor — lie know him through his friendship with tho Malcolms— was in tlio room. But abovo, and beyond t ho memories born of disuppoiutod hopes camo tho dreadful hush. Tlio doctor's symnathotio faco, wherein sym-
pathy wns moderated- by professional cxpuricnco of life's unfulfilled triumphs and successes, nipped ere tlio bud wiis fully formod. Nitu's grey eyes, which no habit of solf-ropression taught deceit, and Lena Edgars' sweot, sorrowful face, euch in turn told him a tulo tlmt was unfolded with pain ful suddonnoss to thoso about him. Tlio im probability of it all vexed him. lie waved his hand impatiently towards Nita and tlio physician,. Their presence irritated him. Why should either waste pity on him. Had thoy not cneli a super abundance of iifa's good tilings.; Let them enjoy to tlio full, and leave him alone. They left. him, Nita witli a littlo glance of re sentment. Lena Edgars stood with him alono. To hor lie turned, " I am deaf," lie cried, angrily, as though asking tlio why and wliorcforo of his infliction. She plaeod hor soft white hand on his. Tho ton- dor pressure, the unheard sympathy, touched liim. He drew hor hands closa to his face, and with u low soli burst into hysterical wouping. That fit of weoping, had tlioy known it, altered the currant of their lives. Something of the ten derness and lanioncy that a mother shows an erring child entered into her liking for him. From tlio delirious talk of his short illness slio and Nita gathered much of tho ronowed acquaint ance and its ending with Agnes Cobb. Lena was not a woman to lay the wliolo blame at the door of thu fomininc olleiidea Slio blamed Dolph accord ingly, and but for his illness it is doubtiul if her acqtmin tunca with liim would ever havo ripened into anything greator. The littlo buret of tears aitcrod it nil. The womanly weakness painod her, and ut the samo time drew hor to him. A tear from iter oyes foil on his bowed head, as slio choked back tome consoling words at remem- branco of the dulled ears it would fall on. Then he grow calm, and tho silence was harder than tho stormy tears. There, remained so much to tell him, so much to ask, so much to demand — for instance, to bid him keep quiot— aud words could not reach him. " Blindness would bo no harder," she murmured. Slio patted his hand soothingly, and with a sign bade him lio still, and loft him. Wlion sho returned Bhe brought him some light broth, and on tlio tray besido tlio bowl lay a littlo twisted note. Like a child ho did her bidding. The brief re bellion agiunst fate left him iiqfploss. He took from lier hands the food sho brought, and aftor it ho oponcd tho folded missive. She left him to read it alone. "Dear Mr. Moldrum. You were brought into Wooinu by a stranger, n swiignian, who left you at tlio Diggor's Rest. Ho was n stranger, and said
you had lost your way. Dr. Mulkin says your boat cliauco of recovery lies in keeping mind and body perfectly quiet. Lena." His lips tightened, and lie plonched his long thin fingers in a vain ofl'ort to rise from the vouch. With a shivering sigh lie foil back. 'The bitterness of it all gulled linn. So inueli of it lio had brought on himself ho acknowledged with an increased pang. Lena and Nita, in the next room, heard tho sigh. It recalled to each memories of past sorrow. The sorrows of each woro dead, but tho corpse of ono was barbly buried, whilo from tho gravo of tlio othor blossomed a fresh life. Lcnaliud by onoof thoso accidents thatgo to mako or mar our efforts through lifo learned Nita's naino aud abode, and to her in tlio first hours of his illness sho sent word of it. Nita answered the summons with all possiblo haBto, bringing her baby with her, and she, witli Lena's assistance, nursed liim back to lifo. In tlio latlcr's heart during her self-imposed nursing there Bjiraug that pity that is akin to love, like that life that comes from death in nature. Possibly lutd she known under what adverse cir cumstance his hllogianoo to Agues had never fal tered she might havo hardoned hor heart against him- Tho first day of Ids convalescence sho began weaving plans for his futuro benefit. Nita, with her characteristic frankness, hud without omissiou given a full account of the trials and crosses that marred tho domestic peace of their early lives. She madn much of Dolpli'scnduranee,hio brotherly euro of herself, una his filial love, until Lena Ed gars found herself imagining him that anomaly— an ambitious, but honest and thoroughly unsolfish man. . " His disappointment proves," sho said to her self, " that it is necessary for a man to climb high, and remain in attained position, to think of nothing, to dream of nothing beyond keeping thu position lio has attained. Unless lie is thoroughly imbued with selfish principles let him forego am bition. But," with that inconsistency common to tlio sex, " I'll do my best to help liim retain his hold." And she did. It was years afterwardR before Dolph learned that liars were tlio bunds that prompted the in fluential onos of her father to movo on his be half. But the manner of hor prooeduro lio no.vcr know. A man can novor understand the dclicato tactful touches of a woman's mind when she sets to work to hotter ono she cares for. Moldrum 'never know hor solo thought at that time was to assist him. Ho knew nothing of tho little coaxing speeches anil caresses bestowed on 1 lier fond, hut cautious purcnt. Her delicato insinuations of past trouble, and conquests ovor obstacles difficult to over come, tier evident intorest in tho subject, and above all tiie appearance of huppi- uoss that beamed like a roturn of iter early youth wore all needed to onlist the services of tho old man on behalf of tho stranger within his gates. During the successful years of his lift.- in business ho had plodded steadily on to tho desirod goal of retirement and a goodly fortune, without asking help of nnv, and it noeded all his daughter's ploading to rouso liim to ask it for another. Had it been a matter of money it had been forthcoming, but to ask favour from a party savoured to his honest soul of political chicanery. "I havo never dono it, child, and I shall never do so," lie said, looking up from his hook and peer ing at her over ills glasses. " With a dissolution imminent, they will willingly grant a favour now— and look for payment ut the general election. I'd he like a slave — ." "Tut, father. That is nonsense. You need merely state tlio call— dwelling on its snddest fea tures. I am sure Mr. Appleby will only bo too proud to believe you have singled liim out us a wire puller." He shook his head. " Besides," sho went on, "I am sure Mr. Ap pleby is kind-hearted, and if lie knew the true facts would gladly give his help." Ho smiled derisively, " Even to giving up his seat— doubtless," lie commented. Slio sat down near liim. Ho was lounging in tho plainest furnished room in tho houso, a room that knew no alteration ill -style, or rcnovution in fur-
nishing, sinco tlio building of tho houso. It was his own holovcd apartment, sot apart at his re quest for his sole use, Bccanso sho know ho was ut his best there that sho souglitihim in it. " Woll i not exactly. But I think, if it meant no inoru solf-saerifieu than a little time, lie would gladly give his littlo help " "Maybo; but has bono ona noaror with more right to ask it— no mother— stepfather with in fluence— sister — - "Oh 1 father, cannot you see whatever is done must bo dono at once." How it would havo ended is hard to tell had not a visitor entered tlio house. Before his nroseuco
» ssp iiiiiiuniiv,vit vv sua h14 tu tiu tup nuusu and parlour work of tlio hoiiBO as "the parson wishes to sco you, sir," bis loud, clicory voico was heard on tho varanduli. "Let him noma hero, Annio," replied Lens. Until he camo to thorn slio made no othor re mark, but sat waiting oxpoetodly. " The parson " was a young- man, tall, woll built mid fresh coloured, and as .uiiliko a buck-blocks clergyman as it is passible to conceive ono to be. Clad in soft felt lint and summer puggaree and light dust coat that hid none of stouter mako, and almost covered his black cloth trousers, turned up from his stout, blnek-lnced boots, be looked more like the sail of a well-to-do city man, who had bc'on scut on tlm laud early in lifo, and dwolt there learning to love it and its people intensely, than a clergyman. His face, clean shaved, florid com- plexioned and bluo eyed, was as happy exprossioned as a child's, and as guileless. Absolutely devoid of prido and formality, .his parishioners had on that accouut and that of his boyish appearance dubbed him in derision " The Parson. . " To send such a light-hearted, thoughtless lad to preach the Gospel to inch roughened nnd hard- onod by bard work and tlio ways of tho world and bush lifo was preposterous," agreed some of tho older ones, But gradually tho Parson, imbued though ho was with boyish ways aud jovial spirits, became in a manner indispensable to them. From the bare footed little bush larrikin to the. gentleman that represented tho township in Parliament his pre sence was welcome. No social or religious gather ing was a success without tlio Parson's presence. No buriul was properly curried out without the Parson headed the proeossion. No marriage wits considered sufficiently tight aifd proper unless tiie Parson was nn honoured guest at tho jollification afterwurds. As to christenings had lie not at first struck against tho charge ho would lmvo been god-parent either by proxy or reality to ovory child born in Wooma and its district, 1 . -' Ho held out his woll-kopt hitnd — for tho parson,, if frco from stiffness and cliqueishuess, was a gentleman— to Lena. " Good morning, Mrs. Edgars ; rathar warm out- sido, but delightful insido. I am pleased to seo how well you have drillod Anuio Guggerty into a domestic servant. Do yon know I feared at first you would bkmo me for asking you to train her. Lena laughed. "Father, listen to that," she cried. "You must remember how ho said ho bopod Jo see me reap tlm reward of my pains ; now he confesses ho feared — " The old man laughed with hor. " Trust a parson for making black look -white," ho said, glancing, with a little smile, however, in
tno visitor s race. Tho parson grasped his friend's hand with a hoarty shake. "No. It only shows tho good fortuno that awaits tlios'o ill earnest about thoir wotk. ' I can hardly boliovo Annie the same girl in her trim dress qs tho girl in bluchers and short wincey skirts splitting logs with her father and brothers in the quiet bush. " She has altered— not without oomo surrender of her own inclination. She know uotliiug at all of indoor work,- and the first few weeks .of unac-'. customed soclusion in tho house told on her health' and spirits. Slio has got- ovor that now, and is as Iiroud of lier white apron as a child of a ribbon, mt sho is far from a good servant yot— she com mits many stupid blunders, So many and so foolish as to surprise one." "Aud your patient? Is ho progressing favour ably?' I have been at Uudgereo station, and only returned late last night, so havo heard nothing of Wooma yet." Then Lena, whose heart was full of liar patient's affliction, told the parson of it, and he wuuld not have been -tho parson had ho not holpcd hor, and brought the power of his counsel to boar on the wavering old gentleman sho had boon -trying to bring to a desirable state of mind. (to be continued.)