|Chapter Title||-XXIII, XXIV Effigy|
|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 XXIII. -Continued. .
The magistrate gave a slight start at the lnrtiio fiance, and the vision of tho grizzled head danced efore his byes. He brushed his hand across his brotv, and the hand was far from steady as a magis trate s should be, for ho, wo know, should not bo litunan or know aught of human passions while on
cue noncli. . The following day a spectator on whom little of interest was lost remarked to a dozen others, " that from the outset the beak had a sot on him." The accused furtively glancing at the bench bsw the recognition was mutual, mentally " blessed— or cursed— ins unlucky stars," and kept Iub oyos henceforth from that direction. Accusod was charged with attempted assault on a free selector and robbing him. Tho assault must have been light or imaginary, and tho robbcrv 011 much tho same lines, for the; evideneo against the accused was trilling, and- ho, moroovor, was a stranger to the Wooinn police. Tho P.M. knew tjiis, and yet I10 remanded ac cused for a week'. '!! What ' for, your Worship?" asked accuseds cpunseli' with scant ceremony. "You canpot — h'ecemghed slightly, and went on. "Tlicro is 110 .evidence "against my client. The police have not asked for a remand to produce any. It is agauiqt all " ' "I liavo heard tlio evidence,- and remand tho prisoner," said Meldrum quietly; Counsel sat down for a liiinuto ; then, with that peculiar action known as " bobbing up," ho stood again and addressed the, bench. " =" "Bail allowed, your ' Worship?" ho askou. drily. "No," replied the P.M., with chilly brevity. "Is your Worship aware tlio charge is oiioon|y of attyiiiptod common assault, and that not a tittle of evideneo sustains tlio cliarga?" Tlio caso is remanded for a week?' "But-— " "The lust, I think, sergeant, " said tile P.M., gluiicing at thu" churgo-sheet and ignoring tho lawyer's iijterriiptioii. ' "Tlieldwybr sab' 'down, casting a lofty look on tho assemblage in tho smnll, bare courtroom. Meldrum walked quickly home. Ho had taken advantage of his position to endeavour to right — to bring to justicu he called it — the most fiendish of human .crimes 011 record. . He needed to discuss tho moral and legal right of so doing with some one unprejudiced by outsido influences, and who Was n)oro most likely to help hiin than Lena his wife.' But Lena Raw only the plain facts, and remembered tho state of fiis mental anil physical ' condition at the itiiiio of tlio alleged confession. ('Itis so long ago," she said, "and you wero in trouble at the time. You may be mistaken, or under a delusion. You let tho matter troublo your mind so much." . If No, np ! Ho is the samo, and what is moro, ho recognised me." " Why should ho return hero?" "Ho was brought hero from Trenobah, about thirty miles from hero." "Anyway," said Lena softly, as though not liking to admit tho fact, " you did wrong to talto ndvantilgo of your position. You liad no right to keep liim under arrest if tho evidence against him on the ciiurgo did not warrant your doing so. Be sides, it will hinder you in bringing home to him tho greater crime by warning him of your suspi cions. Believe me, yon had bettor leave it all alone, -and iu God's own timo justice will bo doiip.1' , "You know, Lena— or should, know— that I have little faith in that— 110 more than I should dream of putting off a momentous journey on a Friday." ' " Oh, that is so different." " Not to mo. A few years ngo I fought a battlo and religion lost. Subsequent events weighed in tho scalo against it. 'What I may call myself I know not — unless, using a paradox, I call myself a non-believer in anything— good— ovil—" SI10 took his urm. Ho stood near her. Slio was seated in a low garden chair in the shade of the' (sheltered verakduh. " Come," she said, chocking him by tho chiding in her voice. " I see I have given you too much rein. Lot us have one of ourold'talks together, and see which of us comes oil' best, you or I." " A walk will suit mo, but I cannot discuss any thing with you— iny brain is iu u whirl. I fesl as thbugh'sometliing greater than myself prompted me to Btnnd so firmly oil tho side of apparent wrong. I am us a rule rather inclined — too much I fear— to let a stronger will than mine prevail, but to-day I was as firm as iron and as difficult to wield." - V Vet," slio Buid gently, as tlioy nearcd tho ver andah edge. " You believe there is none moro poworful than we." " No, nover yet. I know there is a foroo com pared with which we are tiniest straws. But I do taot think' that force is imagined in our likeness, nqr do I think lira mortal that bows in super stitious awo, either before graven image, or in house built for the purpose, is better than he who bravely tries to hotter tlio condition of those about hiin. harming none, hut in his small way helping the lagging onwards." '' Religious belief encourages a man to do all that." "It may, but at times religious fervour is apt to 'increase in had degrca one's solf-esteem, and - creates that love of self that iB the seed of all folly, and in est crimes. Of course to the diffident it may give courage, to tho wcuk strength, but tlio strong-willed, innately, bad man it will never give unselfishness. "But wo all liavo our hour of weakness, and in sorrow who pan denv tlio comfort it gives." " Aye," assented Dolph. unconsciously using tlio monosyllable his fathor hud often used in discus sion. ''To those possessed of faith sufficient it is a comfort — but- tlio faith comes not at tho bidding—" " ". Wo can bid that coming a welcome greeting, or frown it from us." Ho sighod tho mere scmblanco of a long-drawn breath. . " To return to our beginning," he said, " you wore blaming mo for taking navaiitago of my position to further, my own views of justice. Do you.really think, Lena, that if I professed religion and believed religion I should have withstood tjia temptation to keep that man longor imprisoned ?" " I am ufraid not," slio said, gently. " You have learned to dream of bringing him to justice an'one of tlio possiblo triumphs of your life that thought of it comes foremost, nnu takes precedence ofalfother. Thu idea is always with you. Itis gradually poisoning your life." Slio lind almost said " It conies between you and me," but paused h moment, and wont on, " I am afraid your uctiou to-day was the effects of the poison you liavo uc- customed yourself to take." " Olio would think I had committed somo great crime. With no motive at all magistrates have made worse decisions," ho said, testily. "Two wrongs— you know." ; " Well ! All I know I'll commit the same wrong again," and with 110 other word he left lior for the privacy of his own particular dcii and tlio com panionship of his books, silent companions that cb'id not, out from among whom I10 could not find one to suit his present mood of thinking. It was their first unpleasantness, their first misunder standing. Tlio following day the parson sat in ins email parsouogo cogitating. Hp was going along tho passiige memory marked for him ovor tlio day while lie was yet a stranger in Wooina, when Lena Edgars, a recently-bereaved widow, first appeared to him. Tlio lines of grief wore on her face, and her eyes heavy with uuslied tears. Ho was fresh in his work then, and the comfort religion brought to her troublud life first attracted liim. She waB a widow than, stricken with grief, a widow who had known tlio blessings of mother- lioqd, and been deprived of wifehood and mother-, iiood at 0110 fell blow. Afterwards sho was a woman endowod with a woman's beauty and more than avcrago menial ability, a woman softened, but neither broken nor siddeued by hor sorrows. ' Thou ha believed himself in love with her. A' divinity whom ho worshipped at a distance, and from whom lie had barely began to expect somo return when a living rival presented himself. ' He bore his disappointment bravely, emulating the example set liim by tho widowed woman. Through steadfast adhoronco to a faitli that would brook no sinful passion ho smothered his love until it dwindled to one of more friendship, proving clearly how tho will may master tho woak- lies'! of tho flesh. He remembored all the stages his lovo had gone through, and felt proud of his love, and proud of his eonqnest over self. And lie remembered tho troubles that threatened
tho happiness of his early love. He sat down for tho express purpose of thinking over somo means for helping her and averting the threatened mis hap. The result was a visit to Lena on tho mor row. Ho clioso a timo purposely when Meldrum would bo away from tho house. There was a pleasant friendship between tho two mon, hut not 0110 of sufliecnt depth to warrant' meddling in his neighbour's affuirs as ho intended. Lena's brow was smooth and her maimer placid, though sho had had food for thought of a trouble some nature t!|u. proyious evening and that morn ing.- . " ' . . " ' " . Tho parson strode across tlio lawn that inter vened bctwoeii thpin — slio was feeding a few call- nries in hor garddii— aiid' stood.hes'iilo her. Slio started at his voice— her thouglits were far away from her bircleago— and turned to great 'him with a smile. "You are early abroad," she said. "Do you know Mr. Rood, I sometimes think you are too energetic, and not quito dignified enough for a clergyman. You must learn to cultivate tlio sluek-looking, well-fed parson, if you wish us to liavo proper fear of you." " 1 am afraid I should ill fit the part. It would he as difficult for mo to overenmo my quick, till- gjiiiily manners as for the sleek-looking parson to l'idc like a'cniisliilk. For such you insinuate I aih, Mrs. Meldrum." " Weil, anyway, you can admire my pets hoforo yon preach the sermon you-liavo como to preach." The ((arson's preaching was li standing joke with Ids parishioners, there wits so littlo of it. While: admiring, the birds lio brought his re marks to bear 011 tlio subject of the' magistrate's decision. Lena was pleased to have so prudent a confidant, ono likely to look at hor husband's conduct through his wifo's byes. She guvo him Doiuh's vorsion of tho affair, one lmrdly so highly "coloured as tlio many different ones of the affair already heard. Unlike Lena he did not bcliovo tho nlleged con fession 1111 illusion' of Moldhini's troubled brain. Ho know tlio part Biiporstitious fear dan play ill tlio lives of some men. But that belief did liot re move the ihaiu difficulty that was still apparent, and tlio reasons prompting it' as far from helping to remove it as over. The difficulty lay iu making others boo with his eyes, and that whs an impossibility. . Tho convincing could only bo dono in proving the guilt of the suspected one; and ' could that bo dono? ' " . yHAPTER XXIV. Tiie Effigy. A week passed, and daring its pagsngo tliepolico magistrate s decision was freely aud adversely coin- men ted oil. Ear though Woomn was from Pnlmerston and communication unutterably slow, stories of tho early life of tlio P.M. wero rife. Evoryono had a story to tell, and black indeed and discreditable wore tlio many versions that gathered during their circulation from ono tongue to another. One gossip knew for a certainty that his parents wero rich and influential, liance his being pitch forked into his present position. Another knew that ho was meddlesome in politics, and wus sent so far inland to be out of tlio way. varied and untruo as tlio storios wore tho ono shameful episode in his lifo that savoured of truth fulness came to Wooina with the others. Someone had heard something about a row in a tobacconist's shop. In fact, a brother of tho tobacconist's lived 111 Wooina and had once visited Palmurston, So lie should know, having it direct from tlio shop keeper himself. " The language exchanged," so tho story went, " >vas very lively, ami highly coloured ; iu fnot it was more than doubtful if a fight had not taken place, aud tho tobacconist himself had not parted the disputants, But it was quito evident that the brawl was oyer somo woman the virtuous beak iiad boon living with as his wifo, and that thu woman Was tlio poor man's wife." This was tho story, as it was at the beginning— at tho end 110 one would have recognised it in its extreme hideousiiess. Men that had been at log gerhouds over politics bccamu friendly, and mutu ally lamented tlio stato of things that allowed men of such depraved instincts to hold power. In sevon days not avestigcof the polico magistrate's hitherto unquestioned rectitude remained whole. " Hypocrite," " Wliited Sepulchre," wore among tho least opprobrious of tho epithets coupled with Ilia unmo when thu ease was discussed by tho stragglers of Wooma. So great was tho interest takon in tho cnsctliat on tho morning tho case against Joe Cle&ry was again called tlio courtroom was filloil with a crowd, mainly larrikins, and almost, without exception, of unfrioudly altitude to their chief magistrate. Luckily a sccno was avortcd by his absence from town. Ho was coroner of the district, and the dis covery of the remains of n man- some miles out of town muds it necessary that lie should hold an in quiry there. A couple of J.'sP. acted for liim, and Joo Oloary left the court without a stain oil liia character and with more professod friends than lie had over known in his life. Ail tlio oncmics of the P.M. became Cloary's friends. Tho eireumstiinees undor which tho Coroner hold his inquiry were unique enough to attract liim and quell any disturbing thought of disquieting affairs at Wooma. In tlio wild scrub— in the opposite direction to whore Meldrum inot his disaster of his life— many miles from human habitation, the body was found. Tho witnesses wore tho constable in chargo of proceedings, a mate of deceased, and a doctor. A sheet of. bark did duty for the official desk, and tho sky abovo and the dense bush as its domain, Thoro was nothing suspicious surrounding tho dentil. Weak heart, enfeebled lungs, unaccus tomed hardship, nccolcruted by continued physical toil; did tho mischief. Whou after the fow moments' tnsk — that took hours in coming to perform— be was driving homo through tho lonely rough bush he gavo an involun tary shudder as lie thought of the opportunities given a murderer iu the country nrouud him. A fow inches oitlior to left or right of him there were numberless spots where a body might rest for years undisturbed; It might bo yours ngain hoforo human oyo would brighten at tho majesty of tho sceua or human heart feel awo at its solitari ness. " No need," ho thought, " to burn it here, naturo would hide man's foul handiwork." It was Into at night when ho reached Wooma. His horse wus plucky, his'trap light, and his hand was merciless, for ha had no wish to put up at somo bush shanty along the road until the follow ing day. Ho know something of tho disquieting rumours current in tho town. Tlio parson had Bpoken of them in a friendly fashion ; so had his father-in- law, but in manner not conciliatory. Tho conver sation ended in the blunt-spokan old man calling his son-in-law " a selfish ass, endeavouring to draw upon himself, his wifo, and his wifo's relations the scorn of the township, for the mcro resemblance an unfortunato man held to somo creature his hallu cination pictured as real.'" Meldrum iiindo littlo reply. A stinging rotort was on iiis tongue, but it lay tiioro unuttcrcd. " Ono would' think it could be as easily undono as dono," I10 snid calmly. Tlio cool tones irritated tho old man. " D— it, d — it 1" he cried. " That's where it is. Afto'r all I've dono for yon, to keep your place hero warm for you until you got all right. Lot you marry my daughter, and trusted you as only an old dolt would liavo trusted yon. It cau't bo un done. I know it can't. I know it can't ; but man alivo you wero mad— stark, staring mad to do it. Mad, mail as a butter. But I could look over that j but d — nto if I can look over these yarns. If you belonged to that class of men why didn't you stick to your colours, and not eoino like a snoakiug thief aud marry an honest - man's daughter." " 1 have not heard of theso rumours ; thoy may bo false." " Come, come 1 Did you or did yon not have words in some barber's shop, before you came here, ovor a lady ?" Malcolm fixed his oyes unrelentingly on tho
other's faco. - 'J'lio heightened colour nnd flinching eyes -prepared him for Moldinin's words. . "There was something," he said hesitatingly. ".Lena know of it before our marriage." -' "I don't boliove it ! I don't believe it I" oriod' Malcolm savagely. "And if slid did slio was a fool, and a great tool too." With that lie loft tho liouso, taking no farowpll of either daughter or son-in-law, hqt someljqw the knowlcdgoof her father's wrath came to Lend, and had much to do in widening tho breach already begun between the husband and wife, These were not pleasant memories for n mall of Moldruui's calibre to edrrv with liim in the fading twilight of the summer's day. , ' It was quite dark when lie cum p within sight of , his homo and within sound of the noisy voices of : a crowd gathered in front of it. . - His first fear was that something had befallen. Lend; his second that Cleary had gathered-. to gether— he never doubted tho man was freo— his friends; and meant some harm to him. ' As lie drew closer he know liiB-secpnd thoughts wore correct, for ho recognised one or two woll- known larrikins in the noisiest among them, and . knew their presence boded him 110 good. ' He drove insido the sido entrance, and, rocog- - nising him, tho crowd uttered a deep groan. Ho alighted, and entered the house by a back door. 1 Lena camp to greet hiin. "I am frightened" she oried, and her hard, wliitcfiica verified her words. " Those men mean lissome harm." He made an attempt to soothe her, but sho withdrew coldly from him. " Thoy only intend some harmless pleasantry," hesiiid. "Probably " . A cry from tho crowd interrupted liim, and tlio servant entered with stiff, forbidding mien, un like her usual manner of pleasing patronage. She addressed her talk to Lena, . "If you please, mum. They're going to hum the effigy now. They might burn- tho placo ' down." "The effigy. What effigy?" "Tho master's, please," and she held her head higher, and her tones were colder. " Nevor mind, Mary. Mr. Meldrum is hers now." "There's 110 knowing ivjiat they'll do anyhqyf, aud sniall blaine to them— — " "I uover thought you 'would turn against mo," said Lena, with a little catch in her voice, as Dolph opened tho door, facing tlio crowd, and the street. " Neither have I, mum ! But I must say I never ; thought it of tho master— so quiet like,- and so little troublo, but they says as quiet 'una are deepest." Lena answered in her customary soft voice, " Not always— not often," sho said. ,1 . . " Anyhow there's a lot o' talk, aitd where there's smoke there must be fire." " Least fire, most smolto," she began, and then, while Mary cogitated over the moaning, u roar ot , laughter came from the visitors in the street. It wa3caused by Dnlph'3 appearance 011 the verandah, aud his unmistakable resemblance — in dress, and long, lcait length of figure at any rate— .to the figure they held nloft. A figure whoso dress wus oruniciitca by various devices, as " J ustice," " Law and J nstico," " Melly the Beak," " Melly tho Ass," and " Melly the Muddler." As Lena nnd Mary approached the verandah the laughter died a way, anil the leader— if such there were— harangued hip followers. "If we was free to express ourselves, in. words we'd let the blooming Govornmoht know what we think of them putting such nincompoops into jiower, and if we was allowed tho privilege we'd do with the blooming fraud what we are about do ing with his imago here."- 'A cheer from tho crowd greeted this neat little' speech simultaneous with a bluze of light, as tho man of straw was ignited, its brightness iliumi- 11 ing the house and its surroundings. (to be continued.)