|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Crowned with Good|
CHAPTER IV. ' ' Lionel, who had not slept, and who had scarcely eaten or drunk during all this time, looked like the ghost of his former self, as, mounted on a fresh horse and with a torch in his hand, he rode forth on. the third night. Hope had died out of him utterly. He fully believed, as he ha;d every reason for doing, that Gertrude* and her child were by this time far from all human hejip. The bitter cold or the New Zealand night, the fierce heat of the mid day sun— twice endured— shelterless, starving of hunger, they ? must have died, even had the ocean not been their grave. Just . before midnight Lionel had reached a wild tract which he did not remember having explored before, about ten miles from his home. The moon served him better than it had done on the previous nieht. Its bright rays now rendered the torch-ilame unnecessary, and as it rose higher and higher in the heavens every-bush and tuft of grass became distinctly visible. The ground here was somewhat damp, owing to a spring in the neighbourhood, but Lionel did not remark this until his horse suddenly slipped and -' ? stumbled on the moist clayey soil. Looking down to see what had caused the accident, his heart gave a great bound, and he drew reiri'so violently that the quiet animal reared and plunged in startled indignation.. Lionel dismounted instantly, and bent down, examining the ground narrowly. Yes J he had not been ? - mistaken' A footprint was visible, small and lightly made, but , yet plain to be seen. Could it be Gertrude's ? If so, she must be near him now, for he could s'ee that this footstep had not long been made in the marshy ground. He tethered his horse, and carefully followed the track for a little distance, then lost it. He sought awhile all around the spot, but coming upon no further traces he began ? with a trembling heart to search the bush in a circular direction, widening the range each time he reached the point from which he had started. For long— hours it seemed to, him — his efforts were in vain. At last his watchful eye' noted a. trampled condi tion of the grass. This in a few minutes disappeared, but in its stead he again detected the footstep ! A moment more,' and he stood face to face with the dread truth, whose possibility had - ', haunted him during all those terrible hours of suspense. A few boulders had fallen, at some remote period, from a rocky eminence behind, and now lay scattered aboutin various direc tions, some overgrown with creepers, some almost hidden by the rank grass, others naked as though they bad only just parted ? from the cliff aboye. Against one' of these Lionel descried a ? figure lying — a human figure— shrouded in a cloak, and holding something in its arms. Ah ! was that pale face upturned to the moon the face of his Gertrude ? ? He knelt beside the figure. It certainly could hot be Gertrude. He tore away the cloak from between the stiff fingers, and hardly could draw from within those faithful arms the little still bundle that lay there. This must be the poor, benighted woman's child— also dead, doubtless. He gently opened the wraps,' and looked pityingly upon the tiny form of a dead baby, .''.'- quite dead he could see. Its limbs were rigid and distorted. It v . must have died in convulsions, perhaps brought on by starvation. ; He tried to close its staring eyes, which looked so horrible in the ! bright light of the moon, but in vain. So lie covered the little body up again, and laid it softly among the grass close by, and then turned his attention to the other silent figure. It occurred to him as strange that the woman's eyes were closed, and that her jaw had not fallen like that of the infant, which he thought of, ? shuddering. Perhaps she was not quits dead after all. He attempted to pour some brandy from his ilaak down her throat, but it only trickled out of her mouth again. She wa8 evidently too far gone to swallow anything. lie moved her into a more natural, .attitude, and began to chafe her cold hands and feet, taking the
rug strapped, to his saddle to wrap 'her v in.' At first he could detect no pulsations, but by and by, as he continued to chafe her hands, he fancied, laying his fingers from time to time upon her wrist, that he could feel p, faint fluttering there. Yes, he was sure of it. He went on rubbing, and the beat grew gradually stronger. How like to Gertrude's hands were this woman's!—, white, slender, nervous hands, just like hers. But Gertrude had worn a thick gold ring on the third finger of her left hand, and- this woman had- none. ? lie had not dared to look in her face, even when he tried to make her drink; but now he pushed .bdekthe hood of her fur-lined cloak and gazed at the pale features, and passed his hand through the wealth of her fine golden hair, almost wonderingly. It was dawning upon his tired brain that this was indeed Gertrude. The shock of finding her, as he supposed, dead, was so great at first that it had literally stunned his senses. Even when we can anticipate a fearful calamity, it often comes at last with more or less of the strangeness of an entirely undreamt-of woe. And thus, when Lionel disco vered that all the life was not starved out of this, woman he had found, so did his dulled mind, begin to revive, and he recognised in this wretched and forsaken creature, clasping her dead baby in her arms, his cherished idol — the victim- of his wrongdoing. The sting of this thought roused him more completely than anything else could have done. He redoubled his efforts, wildly calling upon her to speak, to let him know by the faintest s;gn that she was yet alive. Again and again he tried to make her drink,- and at length he succeeded in inducing her to swallow a spoonful or two. The usual effect showed itself at once. The stimulant brought a slight tinge of colour into the wan cheeks, and a quicker beat to the feeble pulse. She raised her hand, and a struggling sigh escaped her lips. Lionel now waited in speechless anxiety for the moment when she should recognise him. It came at last. The heavy lids unclosed, and she fixed her eyes — alas ! so hollow and wild with suffering — upon his face. But she did not withdraw them in shuddering aversion, as he had feared she would. , He whispered softly 'Gertrude,' and reverently kissed her hand. She answered with a faint, weary smile. ?' Gertrude,' he said, ' I must leave you now for a little while, to get help to take you home. I dare not keep you longer in the, cold night air, now are revived.'.' ' '? . She smiled again for answer. Lionel crumbled some biscuit; into a few drops of liquid, and gave it to her. She could hardly take the nourishment, though she was evidently craving for it. Then he made her drink some more, and leaving the flask and some food close to her hand, he wrapped her up' more warmly, and, mounting his horse, rode homeward as he had never ridden in his life betore.