|Chapter Number||VI. (Continued.)|
|Newspaper Title||The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||Sisters Three|
[NOW FIRST PUBLISHED.]
N. V. PHILPOTT.
[ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]
CHAPTER VI. (Continued.)
Late that same afternoon the four girls,
accompanied by Hilary, who carried a pair of sculls, were walking towards the river for their usual row. Arthur Thorald standing alone on the hotel verandah,
contemplated them enviously for one moment, and then stepped off to join them as they passed.
"I wish you would take pity on my forlorn condition, and let me go with you,
said he. "I'll willingly work my passage."
"That's a very handsome offer," said Lily, audaciously, forgetting her former caution. "We accept it with thanks!"
"We'll let you off easy, Mr. Thorald," said Nan, smiling. "Mr. Radford has undertaken the business part of this trip, but we shall be glad to take you as a passenger."
"She a stunning little craft. Its mere child's play to send her along," said Hil- ary, as he untied the boat and pushed her into the water, "but you are welcome to a spell at the sculls coming home, if you like."
"Isn't he kind," laughed Freda. "But don't let him beguile you into saying yes. Lily and I have found it anything but child's play at other times."
"We'll improve the shining hour by studying the stroke this evening," sug- gested Lily. "For I have an idea that
the fault lies in us - not in the boat."
It was only Margaret who remained, silent, but Arthur knew by the look in her eyes that she was not displeased with him, and he was content.
Oh, the glory of that perfect summer eve, as the boat glided easily through the still waters! To Nan and Hilary, in the exuberance of their love confessed, it seemed an hour created for them alone, rich in promise of the beautiful picture in- store for them; a perfect realisation of many a blisssful dream, that they had grown to fear had been dreamed in vain.
And to Margaret. Who could express what that hour contained for her, for whom the gates of Eysium stood open wide? In all her twenty-two years no man had ever crossed her path for whom she could feel one tender thought. But now, in the twinkling of an eye a stranger had appeared, awakening a wealth of love in her whose mastery there was no gain- saying. She did not pause to question the wisdom of it, or consider the danger she ran in thus giving her heart's whole wealth to a man she had never seen until a week ago, and of whom she knew abso- lutely nothing. She only knew that her love for him was supreme, and she gloried in its might, as Arthur sat near her, speaking low and looking at her with love-laden eyes.
The sun went down, and the trees that crowned the distant mountains stood ouw in grand relief like purple lacework against the golden back ground of an after sunset sky.
There came a time, and that very soon, when the sight of those blue peaks in the west filled Margaret with a sense of burning shame and anger and a raging bitterness darker than death; but looking into her lover's handsome face that even- ing, how could the dream of the approach- ing revelation that was to be, teach her the madness and the folly of her un- questioning trust?
"I wish you knew my mother," said Arthur one day when he was affixing a stamp to a letter addressed to Mrs. Thorald. "She has the greatest horror of the modern mannish young lady - but I am sure she would love you only second to myself, and you wonld like her too - she is so large-hearted and good."
"Yes, I think I should like her," an- swered Margaret, slowly, "though I have not a great many women friends; but she mast be different to most."
"She is different - she is worthy of the best love any one could give her -"
He paused and moved restlessly for a moment, and then again with white lips and a deadly earnest face.
"Margaret, I have tried to be silent - I meant to wait until you knew me better, but I must speak! - I love you better than my life!"
She did not speak; she only lifted her trustful eyes to his face, and waited.
"Can you give yourself to me, Mar- garet? It is a bold thing to ask when you have only known me twelve days. The first moment I saw you I knew you were the woman I had been seeking all my life - the perfect woman of my dreams, who can crown my life, or make me un- speakably wretched."
Margaret's face was very pale, all her heart went out towards him, and she wanted to respond and tell him that he had filled her life with joy; but some- thing rose in her throat, and no words
He took her unresisting hands and spoke again.
"My dearest, I don't think I can live without you! I want you to give your precious live into my keeping. - Love me a little, Margaret, and the rest will come !"
Love him a little, when her woman's soul was aching for him, and her woman's blood thrilled deliriously under his love- lit eye.
"Oh, it has come!" she breathed softly. " It came long ago; Don't you know that my love has passed out of my keeping? It is yours for always and always!"
* * * *
"Well, it was a liberal education to watch him, too!" exclaimed Freda, some hours afterwards, when they had all been told. "Anything more downright I never saw. You ought to be proud of your con- quest, Margaret, he has been beautifully in earnest all through."
"I am proud of it - at least I am proud of him," answered Margaret, with a strange humility. "I don't know what I have done to deserve such love. I can only try to be worthy of it."
"Don't talk arrant rot, Margaret. If it is a question of merit and all that, we
know he is far the luckier of the two.
But you are well matched, and I am really
delighted. You will live in Sydney, of
"Yes," with a little laugh, " some day." "Well, I mean some day. That will be delightful for me. I shall be so happy to
have you near me."
"But that day is a long way hence. We must arrange that Nan and I change our names on one day, and Lil must live
"I don't feel quite equal to eating his bread," said Lilv, flushing a little. "At least I must first confess that I have always entertained hard thoughts about him, and beg his pardon."
"What nonsense, dear Lil ! As if he
would blame you for your thoughts. Be- sides it is settled - we had to begin mak- ing arrangements, as his time here is so
When Arthur entered the office next morning. Nan and Margaret were the only occupants. He took the two hands of the girl he loved in his, and turned to the
"Now Nan, I have a petition to make. I want you to spare Margaret to me for iihe whole of the day."
"Oh, I like that!"
" I knew you would," he laughed, " and so do we. I see I am going to have the most obliging sister in the world, and I am very grateful, for this is my last whole day."
"Must you go, Arthur?" There was a little catching at her breath as Mar- garet asked the question.
He tightened his hold of the imprisoned
hands and answered:
"Dear love, it is harder for me than for you. It is maddening to think that I must go as soon as I have found you; but I have already been here longer than I
"And what excuse will you offer your firm for your long delay?" asked Nan.
"I'll tell them that I met and adored a rara avis, and that I could not leave until I had won her."
"Oh, take him away, Margaret !" said Nan. "I'll mind the office all day; but I can see that you are uncomfortable over this open air adoration!"
"Come with me!" And Margaret led him into the bright little sitting room that these four girls adorned.
Perhaps it was not a very fashionable room. I am afraid there was not a single decorated gridiron, nor ornamental bel- lows on the walls! But instead of those artistic embellishments there were a few really good oil paintings, and some beautiful steel engravings of famous pic- tures by Brett, Parsons, and Margaret Dickee; and there were wall pockets in liberty silk bearing a generous supply of magazines and music. A few graceful statuettes stood on handsome brackets; vases in Worcester china and Dolten ware 'were filled with maiden-hair, violets and lilies; and a basket of roses, with the morning dew still glistening on their velvet petals, was laid at the feet of a marble Eros. On a gypsy table in a remote corner lay Nan's well used violin, and beside it a music stand.
And the books that their souls delight- ed in were good to see. Shakespeare, Tennyson, Lewis Morris, Browning, Byron, Eric Mackay, Emerson, Thack- eray, George Meredith, Blackmore, Baring Gould, Marie Corelli, Barrie, William Black, and Marion Crawford: a right royal array! They used to say their love for books would make them end their days in a workhouse, for they never could save a shilling from their united
The chairs and a low divan were up- holstered in cool looking dark green plush, and the hangings were green and dull gold.
Arthur Thorald seemed to see the impress of his love on everything in that
most human room.
" So this is your home, Margaret, the holy of holies that I have so longed to see. If you knew how I used to envy Radford when I saw him coming and going; while I had to stop outside and worship from afar!"
"And to think that you no sooner have the right to come in, and worship anear, than you must go!" murmured Margaret,
"Don't mention my going, dearest; don't think of it. Let us be wholly happy for one perfect day, and forget there is such a thing as to-morrow with its parting! Tell me again that I am the first who has ever gained a place in your heart, and that nothing will ever change you!"
"You are the first," she answered, looking gravely into his eyes. "And there will never be any other. Do you think such love as mine could awaken more than once in a life?"
My own, it almost frightens me to think you should give all your priceless love to such an unworthy object. I will try to deserve it. I will devote my whole life to the task of shielding and guarding you from sorrow and harm."
Oh, golden morning of love! Oh, flowing vows that rang in willing ears! Oh, happy day, so soon to turn to gall and wormwood in the memory of one who could never forget!
On the following morning Arthur Thorald had to leave. It would take him a little more than two months to reach Sydney, as he had to visit several settle- ments on his way back from Tarrubin.
Very hard indeed he found it to tear himself away from the girl who had un- consciously gained such complete mastery
"When you are my wife I will give up travelling, and keep you in sight day and night." said he, when he went to say goodbye.
"And will the pot continue to boil?" asked Freda, who could ask as many questions as a child without giving
"There is no reason why it shouldn't," he replied, smiling. "I only took up this business because I had a fancy for it, but I am what you might call well off in the world's goods."
"I don't think you told me that," smiled Margaret. " I suppose you know
that I ha' neither house nor lan's ! ' "
"I am very glad of it. You have all I want on earth."
"I suppose your being well off accounts for the groom in livery!" said Freda.
"To tell you the truth I am a little bit ashamed of that," said he; "but my mother particularly wished it. She comes of an ancient stock you know, and a few of those old fads cling to her."
"What a lucky fellow you are!" said
"I am - now !" looking fondly at Mar- garet.
"Oh, yes, I know. 'To those who have, much more shall be given.' Isn't that the saying? Bat you mustn't let him give up travelling all at once, Mar- garet. Wouldn't it be a good idea to spend your honeymoon that way?"
"Shall we, Margaret?" he asked. " It is for you to decide."
"It - would be very nice - if - you think I should not be very much in your way!"
"In my way ! You spirit of all delight - what a tantalising thing to say!"
Then Nan, who had been minding the office, joined then.
"Your horses are coming, Arthur," said she gently.
"It surely cannot be ten yet !"
"It is ten. Good-bye. A safe trip home, and a speedy one back to us. We shall be always thinking of you."
"Thank you, Nan. You must speak of me constantly too, to keep me green in Margaret's memory."
Lily and Freda said farewell in a few words, and went out with Nan, and Arthur was alone with Margaret.
For a minute he did not speak, he only held her close against his loudly beating heart, and pressed, his lips close upon her face with despairing passion.
"My own, my own, how can I leave
"She tried to comfort him, though her
heart was sore.
"It is not for long - only a little while, and we can write every day.
"Not for long! It will seem an eternity! Oh, Margaret, promise that you will be
"As true as life. As trae as death. As true as you, yourself, my dearest. Now go! While I have strength to say it
How white his face was, and how full of a terrible pain, as he kissed her, like a father on the brow, like a lover, on the mouth, and Margaret was alone.
About five o'clock that day - the day Arthur had left Tarrubin, Margaret heard the telegraph call, "T.N., T.N., T.N." - and she asked Nan to go and receive the
"This is for Arthur," said Nan, un- winding the tape slowly. "What a pity he has gone!"
Margaret went to the instrument and read the message over Nan's shoulder.
"Have not heard from you for eight days. All well here. Your loving wife. -
Nan uttered the word "wife" in horror, and looked at Margaret in dismay.
"His loving wife!" repeated Margaret, in a dazed tone. "What does that mean?" and as she leaned against the table, the tape snapped in two in her hand.
"I don't believe it!" cried Freda: " It is some dreadful mistake!"
"Let me think!" Nan pushed the hair back from her forehead, pressed her two
hands to her head.
"His dear old woman - to whom he wrote so regularly. She was his loving wife! Oh God, what liars men are!"
"Nan, don't say that!" cried Margaret. "It cannot be so! read it again - it can-
not surely be wife!"
"There never was anything plainer! Look at it yourself again. Oh, Maggie, darling, he has only been fooling us -
and we believed in him."
"I don't believe it !" cried Freda. "Men are liars, of course, but he looked
"Yes," said Margaret in a strangely quiet voice, "he did look true, and I trusted him. Oh, girls, it was only this morning I thought there was nobody like him - only this morning !"
"Lily doubted him," said Nan. "Oh, I wish we had heeded her - Lily is always right."
"If this is true," said Freda. "If he has a wife - I'll never believe in any one again."
"Keep to that," said Margaret, in a harsh voice. "It's the wisest resolution you ever made." Then she added with a half laugh:
"Pu not your faith in princes, nor younger sons of dukes!"
"Margaret, for heaven's sake don't joke about it with a face like that! You break my heart," cried Freda, while Nan sat staring stupidly before her, with eyes that
did not seem to see.
"Joke? Well, I won't. I don't feel very like joking," said Margaret. "Nan will you write that message out for me? I'm tired, I think."
She lifted her arms straight about her head, and raised her face as if she could have cried out in bitter agony. Then, with a shivering sigh she let them fall heavily at her side, and turning, left the room that had been the scene of so many gladsome moments, and of this most cruel
In her own room, Margaret tried to collect her thoughts and look the situation straight in the face. She had always prided herself on her judgement, on her keenness in reading character; and so, when this strange man crossed her path, with the look of truth in his eyes, and the ring of truth in his voice, she had not paused to question or debate, but had given him all the love of her clean young heart, almost before he asked for it. Margaret did not spare herself as she thought of every day and hour that had passed since she first met Arthur
She told herself that she had been blind and mad, but oh, so happy, for these two blissful weeks, and now she must bear the
punishment that her foolish trustfulness had brought.
She walked rapidly up and down, her hands clasped at the back of her head, and her month firmly set. Presently her eyes fell on the handsome face of her false lover, smiling at her form in its bronze plush frame, and her brows grew black with bitter anger. She went nearer and stared into the eyes as if she would shame them, but they neither faltered nor fell.
"Oh, Arthur," she said, very softly,
"was it worth while ?"
Then a storm of passion swept through all her veins. She lifted a hair brush, as if she could have struck and shattered the smiling face, but she paused in time, the broken glass would tell the tale to the girls, and she must hide this cruel pain from them as much as possible.
Carefully, as if the picture was some uncertain thing which she dare not handle, Margaret turned it over with the brush, and swept it into an open drawer, out of sight and light. A sigh escaped her as she locked the drawer, a short sharp sigh, like a knife severing her breath, as she shut out the brief dream of life's comple- tion, and contemplated the empty present,
and the desolation ahead.
When she lifted her eyes and looked through the open window, the soft green paddocks, the river, and the distant mountains, seemed to whirl and sway in
If we set a coin spinning it flies rapidly at first, in rotatory revolutions, with action rendered invisible by its swiftness, but it soon finds a central spot to spin its little store of speed away, going slower and slower until we see its form and shape, then one final ineffectual spurt, and it lies
motionless before us.
So it was with the flying circles that spun before Margaret's eyes, as she leaned heavily against the wall. Swiftly and more wildly they sped as they approached her, until they were centred within the room, furiously they spun for just a moment longer, and then, all at once, they disappeared, and she saw nothing but a magnified bottle bearing a red label
Margaret was firm and steady in an instant. She smiled a little at the trick, her eyes and brain had played her as she
"Ah, no, not that way. To many it must bring relief, but I am too strong to be lulled by laudanum."
She drank some water and then walked with a firm step to the office.
"Mr. Thorald left his Sydney address this is it" - said she, taking down an en- velope and giving it to Nan. "You can send that message there to-morrow."
She was going out again, but something in Nan's face arrested her and she asked in a strained voice. "What is it ?"
"I don't know whether I ought to tell you, Margaret - I suppose I must ! - there is a telegram here for you - from him - at
"Let me see it !" Margaret's face flushed scarlet as she read: "Just arrived, writing to-night, let me hear from you to-morrow."
She crushed the paper in her hand and did not speak.
"You must wire to him, Margaret," said Nan, "you must put him down at
"Do you think it is worth while ? I had rather have nothing whatever to say to him again."
"Oh, but you must !" said Nan, iim- peritively. "All the operators along the line have seen this and will draw their own conclusions - and they saw the other too, and you know how they will go on
Margaret took a pen and wrote : "Your uncalled for message received. I forbid you to write to me. Margaret Forster."
"Send that for me, dear," said she. "He will get it before he has posted his letter, and I shall be spared the pain of handling it."
(To he concluded on Tuesday.)