|Chapter Title||- VI, VII Identification, VIII Sydenham Meets the Widow|
|Newspaper Title||The Australian Star|
|Trove Title||Dolph Meldrum's Wooing|
DOLPH MELDRUM’S WOOING.
An Australian Story.
By Mrs. BALDWIN HODGE.
ALL BIGHTS RESERVED. '"'v> 7 . /;" ''7'. "/
CHAPTER VI.— Continued.)
"NoVef mind, dear. You may have tho light, but go to sleep quietly — and wlien you say your prayers, Jack, pray God to take care of father.' Jack, who had sneaked to hed prayerless, hop ing Nita's preoccupation would hide the omis-
t an, promptly leu on ms anues uy wiu u«ua.uv,, nad repeated tho Lord's Prayer, and "Please God, bless father, and all of us, and let him como lately homo with loads of gold for Nita and mo and Bobby. Amen." Nlta caught tho child with something that sounded llkO n. half cry and half laugh, and ended Id oil 'outburst of weeping. "Nita I said thorn, and now you're not satisfied," grumbled Jack whilo Bob looked with openfeyed wonder at the phenomena of the mas terful Nita reduced to. tears. , "Whose bin hitting you, 'Ita. Cos I'll thump them/' he said slowly, with a halt between each Word. , "Nothing — nothing, darling. Go to hed ana tion't make a noise, while I see to Fred." Nlta wiped her eyes once more, and tho boys In silent wonder fell asleep. She knelt a moment by the hoy's bedside, ut- tering an impassioned prayer for her father' safety, and then joined Dolph. Ker supplication refreshed her, and her faith gave her fresh hope and strength. , 1"'"' " CHAPTER ' WL— IDEWTOPIC ATI ON . It -was a dismal journey that journey to Sofala. Thore were so many causes for anxiety, so mucli planning for .the best course, that Dolph felt- be fogged as ho sat in tho jolting coach. Ho was not alono numerically, yet for the uses of either reposing confidence, or seeking advice, he had been better alone. Opposite him sat a woman and a baby, and a girl about fourteen. A lad, a toll, gawky follow, evidently on hiB first visit to a township from the far bush, sat in a corner, already making inroads into his lunch basket. On the same seat with him sat a Chinaman, evi dently on tbo Tvay to the diggings, judging by tho paraphernalia he carried with him and kept gudrd over.. . .With the driver sat tho woman's husband and iSs travelling companions, save for the fidget- ting baby, never Interrupted his thoughts. Ab eagerly as he had hoped for some decisive negation to his fears, so had he hoped for some word from Agnes Holme Ho felt his action in obtaining her avowal of love, and tho clandestine manner he was pursuing in following her wishes, were not those of an honest man, and at times the thought would come that she was trilling with him, and regarded what he loked on as the most sdrlous affair in his Mfo as a flirtation. To do away with such doubtB he had again and efgalh' to recall tho caressing tones of her words, and remind himself of her willingly given pro mise and sincerity of manner. He did not like to leave Palmerston without a word, yet jhe .could not do otherwise without vio lating bla given promise. Her sympathy would have lightened tho burden lie bore. Arriving at Sofala, ho sought the police station imd'thero told the sergeant the cause of his visit. The sergeant listened attentively, and hoped the young fellow's fears were groundless. "The quickest way to end your suspense will bo to see tho remains. It will be a gruesome sight. Part of -a log with a toot on, portion of an arm, and hack of head and upper part of face." . A feeling of nausea came over the listener. "Was th— the body much burned?" he asked, and bis voice sounded strange to his own ears. "Aye, nearly burned beyond recognition as a human body. Only for blood wo might have supposed be hhid fallen in the fire," The ser geant had recounted the various items relating to tho remains and tho story of tho recovery so many times that the first horror had wprn away. "Have you the purse how?" "Yes, but you'd botter see the remains first, and set your mind at rest. It may not bo your old man, after all," said the sergeant, kindly. "Come this way, and I'll show them to you. Did be carry much money with him?" "About nine or ten pounds in gold, I think — and a little silver." "Enough to make his life unsafe these times— you see, men get tho gold fever, and tho symp toms are not all alike. Some'll have gold at uny risk, without work, and others'll work for it. Here we are," he said, stopping and inserting a key in the lock of a small room built at the back of tho premises. Until that hour, in looking backward over his life, Dolph Meldrum never knew the meaning of life. Until then he was possessed of a human soul, subject to slight pain and Joy, but after that life expanded, and he underwent a complete chango, and tho pain of it all novcr left him again . for there entered into his life a distrust of his fellows lio never folt before. Tho Bergeant led the way to a table where lay the ghastly object of their mission hidden from view under a v»;bito covering. Throwing It off It revealed the hideous remnants. 'Dolph gazed- a minute, then held his hands before his eyes to try hnd shut it from his view. . , But the boot, and the grizzled grey danced before his eyes, never again to be erased from his memory. "Here, ifiy lad, drink this," said the Itlndly ser geant. . "It's your- -old man, I Buppose." Dolph -held' his hands for tho glass, and put it to hiB shaking lips, and essayed to speak once of twice beforo he finally found his voice. "Find me the wretch," he cried, "that has done this deed and you shall bo amply rewarded. Poor klndlhearted man — to come to such an end ing. He ate bitter bread living, and death brought him no sweeter." Ho tore tho covering from the remains, which the sergeant with sym pathetic forethought had re-covered them. "No, no," he cried, as the sergeant tried to, lead him away. '-'Let me fix it on my mind' that I- may never — never forgot it." He never realised how much ho had hoped until he stood beside that table. That tho earth.; could bring ' forth a huhian ihonster 'whoso, en- , orgies w'bro expended In performance of such cruelty seemed Impossible until the work Itself was presented: to hiin. That the worker was still free, still unpunished, and no means of detec tion seemed as yet forthcoming to hasten tho ends of justice. What had become of his fancied mental abllltids when a brute such as this could- outwit him. "Have you no clue?" he asked, as they stood together, while tho sergeant locked the door. "No clue — but suspicions," was tho enigmati cal reply. And later on Dolph learnt what trust worthy things suspicions are to lead one into wrong directions, but just then they warmed the. stagnant, ley blood in his veins, and gave him life where dormant energies seemed dead. But he owed duties to the dead .other than vengeance. He must have ; the last blow to Nita's hopes, "and'On her let tho task of enlight ening tho mother fall. Apart trom the sentiment al horror of it all, the practical hearings— aa in all bereavements of similar kind— were hard to bear:' There wore numberless things to bo considered, and numberless troubles of minor size to cause worry. For two dayB lie waited anxlouslv a reply to his message to Nlta, hut none came. Later in the day, when the- coach drew up to its destination, Nita and' his mother were among the passen gers, As he went to meet them a sense of tho re sponsibility that came upon him with his father's death sent a thrill of pain through him. The welfare of the family would greatly depend on him, and that justice he meant at all hazards to mete out to his father's murderer was to be hiB especial work. .. His mother's, grief was loudly hysterical. At sight of Dolph her tears that had evidently been falling for some time changed into sobs, loud and unrepressed. Ho hurried her into the par lour, of: the public. house, for a small crowd of sympathising onlookers had gathered about the doors. Tho landlord hastened to thom, bearing In frlendllness-brandy and. a tumbler. . Ho offered It to Dolph. f6r the widow'6 benefit. ' "No— no," Bhe cried, '"don't give me that, Dolph." "All right, mother, we will got you something else," But It is only prolonging a painful story to glvo a dotailcd account of thoso sorrowful hours, to mention the harrowing, revelations that mot the' weeping' women. Tlie formal inquiry began, and then adjourned at the request of the polico for a week, - The burial, >aqd all the necessary arranging of their future' lite had to be seen into. Each had Its modicum of pain, "Luckily," said the widow, as /the three sat together an hour after tho funorai; "your poor dear father was ofa saving disposition. Ho might have loft us in worso circumstances— all things considered." Here her tearR prevented her words from being distinguishable, but they made out of her Incoherent sentences an Intention to ".write to England, and endeavour to find for-
giveness and financial help on the ploa of hor bereavement. . . To Dolph tho Idea of work without his parents' help was as distasteful as all Ills 'mother's prac tical arrangements for tboir future comfort were. While his father's murderers still walked un punished ho felt his own life's welfare was as nothing. ' .» . « The threads of 0110 man's life becorno at times entangled in thoso of another, whoso llfo one would never suppose to como into contact with ' it. A man of whoso existence Dolph had no knowledge of beforo his father's death became the unconscious factor through which Dolph reached tho goal of his life's object. It happened In tills wise. During ono of his numerous visits to the polico nnd their surround ings ho made the acquaintance of an elderly man named Sydenham, commonly called Captain Syd enham. Originally ho had been connected with tho police, nfid through luck and those attributes that belong to a successful life, without which luck Is as barren soil, he made a name, and achieved a very fair fortuno for himself. Ho loft tho police, and settled down to private life. IIo was n bachelor, possessed of ample leisure, nnd one of tho moans of filling it was haunting the sconos of his early labours. In the days whon It was a relief to Dolph to pour forth torrents of abuse, and threats of justifiable vengeance on bis father's murderer, ho became the recipient of Ills troubles. It pleased the Idle man to llEten to thorn, and with tho ploasuro came a liking for tho young fellow, and n desire to help him. In many little ways his exporlenco and ready assistance was useful to Dolph. Those practical, hard mattor-of-fact details that bring so much pain In tho carrying out were simplified for him, and the Interest bla mothor, and oven Nlta. evinced concerning this new acquaintance of gentlemanly hearing and kindly inannors, was a relief from tho unchecked regrets and tears. Tho varied demerits that formed his old life — with two exceptions, Agnes, and his mother's weakness— wore unfolded to tho sympathising friend, and nil tho now-born thoughts of ven geance' wore told as well as tho history of the past. "I wish,'' snld- Dolph, one morning — tho morn ing following his mother's arrival — while speak ing of these thoughts. "I wish I could hear of employment here fore a time, until wo find some clue to work upon." Ho expressed tho hope, but with no thought of its fulfilment, whilo tho words rested in Syden ham's mind. And when- tho day after tho funeral a clerk In ono of tho offices died from' exhaustion following a short, but sharp attack of delirium tremens, ho begged the officer in command to give his protegee a cbanco of the vacant oponlng. There were reasons that have. nothtng in com mon with this story Why thb one In command wlshod to pleaso Sydenham, and as the appoint ment was no sinecure in itself, and savo for those of possible, promotion of small value ho let Sydenham have his way, and gives Dolph hope of the appointment if he applied for it. There was a flutter of satisfaction in Syden ham's llfe-as ho sallied forth with the tidings to Dolph. Perhaps something of this satisfaction was due to the fact that Dolph's female relations woro yet with him, and tho staid old bachelor was very susceptible to a woman's influence, moro 'cspociajly when they woro types of perfect phy sical womanhood, as Nita and hor mother were. | In his old occupation he had come in contact iwlth many typeB.'but they wore mostly wrecks of once beautiful women, or very pitiable speci- raeiiB Indeed. ' ' ' ; . On Dolpli's part the change of occupation was a very desirable one, It brought with It the ncces- - slty of immediately taking up his life's work again. To weep may properly form a great part of Nita's llfo ,but work was his portion, and work without planning, was only half work. During theso weary days a lino or two of con dolence from Agnes Hdlmo would have, lightened tho gloom but none came. And, trustful' as he was he felt that head her 16vo been As unselfish and . real as his for hor she would have made oppor tunity for overcoming tho barriers between them.. He knew by this time his father's tragic death 'was common talk in Palmerston, and that Agnes among others must be cognisant of tho fact. How sweet it would have been to be able open ly, like an honest man, to tell her of tho trials he had gone through of the now hopos that had entered and changed his ideas of life, but not his love for her. He applied for and obtained tho coveted posi tion offered by Sydenham. While Nlta and her mother, finding their presence not only unneces sary, but encumbering, did not wait until the inquest was reopened, but started for homo. "My little boys," said tho widow, plaintively, to Captain Sydenham, "will need their mother. They are so used to my presence that I am afraid they will find the days long without me as it is.'" Grief had subdued Nita, and notwithstanding Sydenham's presence she would have spoken her mind and given utterance to her opinion on the subject. Ab it was the disdainful expression in her dark eyes gave some surprise to Syden ham. "I trust you will find the little fellows all right," he said, "Do they, at all resemble my young friend Dolph?" "Hardly," said the mother, deprecatingly. "Dolph has nothing in the shape of good looks to boast about, and my little sons are rather good-looking— you must pardon a mother's vanity. Their poor— father." But tho widow could go no further, and ended In a flood of tears that completely abashed the poor visitor. To shorten this story. The mother and daughter returned homo, and somehow or Other the message that Dolph had been yearning to send to Agnes through Nita's mediumshlp ,was not given. Partly because he did not care ;to place his love lu tho false light of a deceitful /daughter, and partly ho did not care to hear Nita's comments on the subject. Then he thought of writing and making a confidant of Cobb; a memorandum belonging to tho storo had reached him addressed in Cobb's handwriting with a— "Dear Meldrum,— Sorry to hear your fears wore correct. We are all aw fully shocked to hear of 'it. Bear up, old man." So he wrote a long letter to Cobb, telling him everything, and complaining how bis declaration of love came about, and begging him to keep Agnes's secret and deliver on tho first oppor tunity a message from him. His hopes, nil his plans for the future, were made known in it The length of tho letter did not BUlt him. It seemed lessening Agnes in hiB eyes to speak so openly of their love to a third person. Ho de stroyed the letter, and wroto another, a Bhort one, in which he only desired Cobb "if chance favoured tq let Agnes know of his change of fortune, as he believed she was not wholly indifferent to tho lovo ho bore her. Ho thanked Cobb for the brief line of condolence." Tho inquest was oyer, and a verdict of "wilful murder against somo person or persons un known" was returnee); Dolph. entered on his now employment/, and thb Btory of tho murder was forgotten in a few days, savo by tho vic tim's immediate friends, and perhaps by the murderer or murderers. CHAPTER VIII.— SYDENHAM MEETS THE WIDOW. At first, with all a lover's foreboding, he waited a reply to hiB letter to Cobb, half in fear and half in hope. Fearfully, because he thought Agnes might construe his letter into a slight, and writo him to that effect; hopefully,: that she might write and put an end to the- clandestine manner of tboir love-making. But lie waited In vain. No lettor from either Cobb or Agnes reached him. At length, ho wrote Nlta, whoso letters to him were regular, and well filled with Palmorston gossip, asking for news of Agnes. Tho roply came slowly. When it came, she apologised for forgetting to answer the question
in hor former lettor. and sakl all sho know of' Agnes Holme was from ' hearsay. Sho had not- spoken to her for months. She hoard that she was, likoly to marry Goorgc Cobb; perhaps there wits truth in tho report, for from a distance sho had Bocu them together in tho garden surrounding '.lie' rcsldonco of tho Holmes.Slio — Nita — had not mrich heart just then for listening 'to gossip, and did not care at any time for other people's affairs. : After reading this he looked mora eagerly than ever for a reply to his letter to Cobb, and on- doavourod, by believing that 'Cobb was merely fol lowing his behest and delivering hiu riiessago,- to give his time and leisure .to work, and .as two months wont slowly by ho wns lorn tictweon two desires— that of seeing Agnes, again, and tho'do- ! sire to keep -Ills 'present employment; Twice he (essayed to writo to Agues, aml.tyyico lio falterbd (and Gcstroyed tho opistlo3'befdro. completion:"" ' ' He could only .wait, and tho noxt mon til brought' ; with It a slight hopo of finding. his father's raur: doror. Tho police . had, or thought they , had, a clue, and he anxiously waited .any rosultB. A fortnight lator, when he began seriously .con templating visiting his old home, at risk ot losing prosent and congenial work, he received h letter from Nlta. -'/ Ho glanced through tho lettor before reading it; and Agnes Holmo's name arrested his attention. This was. tho. message it bore: — "I was true in my suianlsos concerning Agnes Holmo and George Cobb; they are to be married on Wednosday. Everything Is arranged, and thero is to bo a grand wedding. Old Cobb retiree from the business, and George takes, his place, so I suppose they will live in grand style." Ho read, but certainly paid no lieod to tho other contents of the letter. He had trusted in hor word so Implicitly that had ho received daily communication from her the shook of her marriage could not have been, heavier. A sense of having acted the fool for a, coquetto to play her arts upon rankled him. Whilo he believed In her Bhe had merely played on Ills credulity. He understood now tho reason sho had for secrecy. He folt very bitter that night. Was It every man's right to fatten on tho vitals of his follows as need or fancy dic tated?. Was Agnes Holmo but a sample ot other womqn, aud Ills father's murderer of other men? Were thoso whom he believed unselflpli merely foollBh and devoid of self-preservation and self- help? At evening he relieved his feqlingB in writing to the fickle one. Four pages of fair- sized note paper, filled with the bitterness he felt was tho result. Tho bride was destined to receive it on her wedding morning. She awakened gladdened by no additional joy, or expectation of happines, nor did the idea of the responsibilities sho was about to assume lend weight to her feelings. She was to be married, and married to one able to give her tho comforts sho had been used to and In addition luxuries sho' had .never known. This In itsolf wns a good thing, for she had been trained to look on marriage as a state most to be desired, and a single life— for a woman— aa utterly de spicable. Marriage wns the aim of every true woman, aud she that missed it spelt hor life a failure. That she had never taken courage, nrid avowed hor preference, and glvon promlso to Meldrum, but allowed herself to drift into a second and more binding contract .with Cobb, often caused, her pain, hut she weakly let days pass and her, .mar riage draw nearer. After all, she would reason, at times, sho would nevor be able to marry Dolph, nnd, as sho would havo to many, or become that, most nbhorent — to her mind — of all things, an old maid, sho;would be acting wlsoly-. to marry, while, she had. .the chance, and, as well marry -Cobb -as. anyone else. Then there romained another thing,, just a few lightly spoken words, spoken at a time that lent balnnco In favour of Cobb's wooing. Cobb who would at this time of his life disdain to toll, a lio outright doomed it only right, In justice to himself, to keep silence nbout Dolph's lettor, and put forth inuendos concerning Dolph's- sojourn from Palmerston, and she, conscious of her own infidelity, fell a ready prey to the lying tattle. Sho was arranging the last fow things that be longed to her maiden days before donning the bri dal robe, ready for her bcautiflcation, when her aunt entered tho room hearing Dolph's letter. "Moro congratulations, my dear," she Bald' proudly. Sho opened the letter, and turned aside to reed it in privacy. Every word burned itself into her heart. It needed no second perusal to apprise her of its contents. (to he continued.)