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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1884-10-22
Page Number165
Word Count2157
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)
Trove TitleCrowned with Good
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iu'ji. ::^. . _pAHT n.— DIEU DISPOSE. ' - * CHAPTER III. ' ' '.\J-3ot as the days went on and merged into weeks, and Gertrude became strong enough to carry baby out herself into * the sunshine, the cloud began to descend once more upon Lionel's spirit. He was not utterly abandoned. Suflfering had taught him much — much that our excellent lathers of families would do well to learn. He was not void of all conscience. The life he hod been leading for the last ten months and more was no longer possible for him. The nobler part of his nature — so long, and alas ! so fatally dormant — now asserted itself, and on his knees, with bitter anguish of soul, he acknowledged his trans gressions, and resolved that his life henceforward should be one long repentance. It \vas~not without a terrible struggle that lie chose thus between good and evil ; for he was fully persuaded that Gertrude, though 3he might forgive his sin as regarded herself, would steej her heart against the father of her innocent little one. But, - notwithstanding that in his future course of action he foresaw no result but separation and loneliness, yet the very first step — his decision — brought with it a healing balm and a mysterious strength to nerve him for the coming fight with self. The greatest source of suffering now to him was the thought of Gertrude's blighted life. Ho felt she would never allow him to make what reparation lay in his power. He knew his Gertrude very well. He would try what he could do ; but if Gertrude refused to become his wife, he must humbly leave the result in the hands of that God whom he had so deeply offended.' Six weeks had passed, and Gertrude was her old self once more, the brightness ? of the home, with an added sunshine gathered from the little life she chcrinhed with such unconscious gladness. It was evening, and Lionel had returned from a long ride about his property. He and Gertrude were sitting, after their colonial tea, in the garden, witching the sunset glories of sea and sky. There was perfect stillness everywhere, not a late bird's note disturbed the complete hush of Nature, and the usual night sounds of the bush hud not yet begun. Lionel was thinking deeply. Ho had felt for some days past thut the crisis was drawing near, and to-nighc he determined to speak. But he

lingered yet a little while ere he severed the slight link that bound their two lives together — ere he cast away the happiness he could never know again. . Long and deeply he thought, while the shadows darkened on the hill-side, and crept upwards from point to point, slowly but surely extinguishing the brightness — while the sky changed from gold to crimson and purple, and again softened into palest, most exquisite tints of rose and blue grey, and the calm summer sea took on the hues of the dove's wing, breaking on the yellow shore into a line of white, and the sun sank lower and lower, and Lionel knew he must speak. ' Gertrude,'- he said, and his tone was so infinitely tender that Gertrude looked up, smiling happily, and stretched out her hand with a little caressing gesture. 'Gertrude, darling,' said Lionel again, taking her hand in his with a reverent touch, ' I have something to say to you. Let me say it now, holding your hand. I do not know how you will bear it, darling, what I have to say ? ' ''Lionel, how strangely you speak!' cried Gertrude. Then one look into his eyes, and her heart sank, as with the prevision of a dire calamity. She turned pale to the lips, yet her eyes lingered, fascinated, fixed on his. And thus they sat, while Lionel told her gently, patiently, not seeking to excuse himself in one single particular, and not dwelling unduly upon any point — told her all the story, and Gertrude sat listening, a deadly sickness paralysing her. At length — it seemed hours-fthe sad truth was all revealed, and it only remained for Lionel to urge his last hope. . — ' ' 'Gertrude,' he said, a yearning unspeakable in his voice. 'Gertrude, will you pity me ; will you take my name now that it is mine to give? Will you, for your child's sake?' Alas ! , The stony look had given way as- he began to plead with her. The infinite sympathy of her noble nature shone fora brief moment in Gertrude's eyes. But at the 'last words 'it died out utterly. In its stead came a passionate cleam of righteous anger, and in the low tones of her voice there was a, ring of bitter scorn that thrilled through the wretched heart of the man. 11 Forgive //oh-? Never, whilst my child lives, if I starve to save her from you. Do not speak. 1 pray God I may never see you, nor hear your voice again.' Another instant and she had vanished from his sight into the house. Lionel sank buck on the chair from which he had risen. The dull aching of his despair reflected a look most Bad to see upon his young face. His form was bowed, as if stricken suddenly with old age. All seemed dark to him in that supreme moment,. He sat long, gazing straight before him, perhaps scarcely at times actually feeling his desolation. By degrees the stupor wore off

somewhat, and he began to realise. his position. It was. only what he had anticipated, after all: — only what he would be the first to pronounce right and just. But — well, he had hardly estimated at its true value the intensity of the mother-love. That was all. Be it so. He rose and went into the house. Gertrude was not in the sittingroom. He had not expected to iind her there, yet the chill and desolation of the empty room went home to him as it could never have done under any other circumstances. Wearily he found his way to his own chamber, and threw himself, dressed, upon his bed. The house was very quiet. He did not think Gertrude would take any steps to leave him suddenly, yet an undefined anxiety kept him watchful and listening. No sound, however, disturbed him, and presently his strained senses relaxed, and he lost himself n ia troubled sleep. He could not have slept for more than, an hour, when something caused him to wake up and start wildly to his feet. He was conscious of some presence that was either in the room, or had only just quitted it To convince himself that his first supposition was groundless occupied but a moment, for the apartment was Hooded with moonlight. The next, he was cautiously treading the passage, and had entered the kitchen. No one was there. He distinctly heard the loud breathing of Eliza, as she slept the sleep of the hard-working, in a small apartment corresponding with his own. He saw that _ the fastenings of door and window were all safe, and hastily examined the sittingroom and the other chambers of the house, leaving Gertrude's till the last. It was not at all likely that she had been disturbed by the . nocturnal visitor, whoever he was, or she would have given the alarm. Her bedroom windows were secured with shutters; to which hung a bell, and her door had the means' of being carefully fastened. These precautions he had taken for her comfort at a time when a party of bushrangers were making themselves a terror to the neighbourhood. As Lionel knocked at the door the panel seemed to give way at his touch. He pushed it, and found with real alarm that the door was open. Entering quickly, his vague fear was too soon realised. Neither Gertrude nor her child was there. The window stood open to the ground, letting a flood of ? moonlight in upon the empty bed, and that was all. Stunned by this new calamity, Lionel remained a moment in despairing indecision. Collecting his senses with an effort, he sprang to the door, fastening it on the insitlo ; then, stepping out into the garden, he drew the windows and the shutters as closely . as possible together, and set forth to iind and bring home the; lost ones, an unwonted prayer on his lips. But where to look '! Whither in all these solitudes were they gone? Single-handed the search seemed a hopeless one, indeed. Yet to call help and expose the niuI secret of their life was nn alternative that only crossed his mind to be dismissed from it again. He went ' CONTINUED ON PAGE f70.



to the stables, saddled a horse as noiselessly as he could, and j rode away down the glen, thankful for. the bright moonlight, { . ' which enabled him to see for a great distance around. (?:??'??'. Lionel liad not deliberately chosen the way leading to the i shore, but now, as, he hastened along, a sudden terror arose in i his mind. Had Gertrude, indeed, trodden this path before him, and ; in Her despair sought to end her ruined life as Alicia had done ? Wild.'y he urged his horse down the'steep road, and, now that he was at a safe distance from the house, called aloud her dear name, faintly hoping that she might hear and answer But only the sullen, monotonous plash and roll of the ocean and the flowing of the rivulet met his ear. . i lie gained the beach at last, and, pausing, swept sea and shore \ . with his keen glance. But not a living creature' *was there to be i seen. He rode back and forth upon the sand, still vainly uttering i Gertrude's name. At length he despairingly turned, and retraced i his steps homewards, determined to lollowone path after another, f radiating from that spot. ' And surely,' he' muttered, 'she j . -:annot have gone very far. I must find her before morning, I unless ? ' But that awful thought he dared not put into distinct ji form. Shuddering as the ceaseless ocean-voice beat upon his '?$ t-rain,he rode onwards, and struck out at a point about a hundred i yards from his garden gate in a westerly direction. He went further than Gertrude could have walked at her utmost speed, ! ?? and then returned to take another and yet another route. ', The hours dragged on, and thus the wretched man wandered to and fro in the moonlight, finding not a single trace of her whom besought, till cold, grey dawn dispersed the pale stars that shone after the moon had. set. Now it was impossible to conceal the truth. Within three hours at most the whole country side would be ringing with it. Disgrace, misery, loneliness; but even these were less than the anguish of the thought that, perhaps even now, he was thrice a murderer !; His horse was trembling under him when .Lionel returned at last from his I fruitless search. . A sleepy and astonished stable-boy came to 3 lead away the exhausted animal, while his master, without a I word of explanation; strode off in the direction of his overseer's j house. Here the astounding news was followed by the promptest } ' measures. The honest Grierson waited not to wonder how Mrs. Leslie and her baby came to be lost in the bush, but at once took steps to organise a party of seekers from his own premises, and sent to the adjacent farms for more help. ' ?. i The whole country was soon aroused, and there was no lack of ready and efficient aid from far and near. The search was continued all that day, but evening brought with it no result. Lionel's despair, as one after the other the men returned tired , and disappointed, grew into a positive agony. Ab night fell, fresh bands of men with torches were sent out, Lionel and Grierson leading the way. A second night passed, another morning dawned, and still the wanderer was not found. ' At the close of this day people began to shake their' heads. It was not likely that two such helpless creatures would be found alive now, if they were ever found. But while there remained the slightest possibility of success the search went on with unflagging energy.