|Chapter Number||PART II. I|
|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Crowned with Good|
? G 11 0 WfED WITH GOOD.
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PART II.— DIEU DISPOSE. CHAPTER I.
' A blazing midday sun was shining down on the rank grass and 'tangled brushwood that covered the ground between 'Leslie's' and Hawk's Rock, many miles north of the town of Dunesk. 'Wide tracts of this brushwood lay, further than the eye could reach, on all sides, up hill and down dale, with not a single tree higher than a man — no shelter, in fact, for anything larger than a wild pier.
Not a living being was visible excepting a man, stretched at full length on the grass, his wide-awake pulled over his face, and a fine horse, tethered by the bridle to a bush, grazing near him. The man appeared to be sleeping, and had not stirred for above an hour. Suddenly, however, he started up, and laid his ear to the ground, listening intently. The horse, too, pricking up his his ears, seemed to hear some distant sound. But it was only by a practised listener that the approaching tramp of a horse's hoofs could be detected. As the sound grew gradually louder, the horse neighed and impatiently tossed its head, and the man rose from the ground, shook himself together, nnd taking up the huge Btockwhip that lay beside him, mounted, nnd proceeded at a walking-pace along the narrow and at times scarcely traceable footpath. lie was a tall, fine-looking man, and not even the wdrn wide-awake, rough, ill-made coat, and splashed gaiters he wore could disguise the fact. Occasionally, as he rode along, he turned in his saddle, and reconnoitred the country behind him with a keen, far-reaching glance. It was some time before anything appeared in sight, but at last a distant horseman became visible, evidently making his way at u good speed in the same direction. . The distance between the two was quickly lessened, until each could distinguish plainly the other's figure. At this point both seemed to be simultaneously satisfied of the desirability of human companionship on the way, and while the foremost reined in his horse and waited, the other urged his steed to a gallop, nnd the two were soon riding side by side. The new-comer was a surly-looking stock-driver, who, though equally as well-dressed as his companion, was evidently very far nferior to him both in birth and education. The man himself, however, did not seem aware of such social distinctions, or, if
he were conscious of any, he ignored them, and addressed the other in a tone of friendly familiarity. ' Well, Leslie, and how have you got on with your beasts this time ?' Leslie laughed. ' I'm sure if they were half as knocked up as 1 was when we all reached Northbury, I pity them 1 I've been half asleep ever since, my good man, I assure you.' 'Money all safe?' 'Oh, ay,' replied Leslie. 'I have slept with one eye open this time. And what you been doing, Gurnett?' 'I've been to Hawk's Rock with some of my stock ; the rest I took to Kilkampton. I was in Northbury one day, too ; just come from there. Didn't you see me ?' ' No,' replied the man called Leslie. ' The fact is, I had neither eyes nor ears for anything but my bensts, besides trying to keep awake. Glad to say I've made a good sum this time.' 'Ah,' responded Gurnett in a congratulatory tone, 'the missus '11 be all the better pleased to see you, then, eh? How was it you didn't wait, nnd come down along o' me?' ' Why, I wanted to stnrt as early as possible. You didn't go until Thursday, did you? How is it you're back so soon, by the bye ? You're not the man to over-drive.' ' Not I,' said Gurnett, laughing heartily. ' The fact is, young man, I don't know how you'd get on without such a man as Grierscm to see after your interests !' Leslie goqd-humouredly echoed the laugh. ' I'm afraid that's true,' he said. 'All the more reason to be thankful I hit upon fauch a trustworthy fellow. Any newspaper?' 'Well, if I ain't clean forgot that paper! Bless me, what'll my old woman say !' And Gurnett felt in all his pockets in an agitated manner. ' Don't distress yourselr, I've enough for both,', said Leslie, handing over a packet. ' Just give me one or two when you've read them, and you en n keep the rest.' ? 'Well, here's one for you, so we'll swop,' answered Gurnett, jokingly, diving once more into a capacious pocket, and produc ing an ancient newspaper, discoloured both by a-j;e and dirt. Leslie took it, humouring the jest, nnd carelessly opened it, letting his horse choose' its own way along the rough footpath. The two men rode thus side by side for a considerable distance, reading as they went, indifferent to the hot sun that beat down upon their heads. Suddenly an exclamation from his compnnion mnde Gurnett atart and gaze in amazement at him. 'Good Lord! What's the matter? Arc you took ill?' he
cried, perceiving Leslie's bronzed countenance to have turned to a ghastly pallor, and his eyes to have fixed themselves on the old newspaper with a dull, fascinated look, of horror. He obtained no reply. Leslie still glared at the newspaper. 'Wot's the matter, old man?' persisted Gurnett, alarmed. ''' Sunstroke, I'll be bound. Here,' he said, laying his hand on Leslie's arm. This had the effect of rousing the young man. His first act, however, was to gather up the reins, and urge his steed on with hand and voice. In great bewilderment Gurnett followed, reiterating his inquiry as to what ailed his companion, and seriously fearing that he had gone mad. In a, moment or two Leslie turned round, though he did not relax his speed, and his face was yet pale and 'scared-looking,' as Gurnett after wards said. ' Have you read this paper ?' he asked abruptly. ' Yes, bless you, I s'pose I have — long enough agone, though — why?' said Gurnett, mystified more than ever. ' Do j'ou remember anything about a lady — a ? ;' he stopped', 'Xny,' replied Gurnett, 'how should I? Is it anything in the paper as 'as overset you so ? Lord, I thought you was gone crazy, I did ! What ia it now, and for the devil's sake rein in at bit till you tell me.' Leslie, however, still kept on at abreakneck speed, and Gurnett; was compelled to follow it' he meant to listen. But Leslie had relapsed into taciturnity. He refused to give up the newspaper, and Gurnett could extract nothing from, him beyond the tacts that he had rend of the death of a lady whom he knew, and the tidings had startled him, especially as the event must have occurred, from the date of the newspaper, more than six months ago. Scarcely satisfied, Gurnett would have inquired further as to the lady's connexion with himself, which, if a near one, made his hearing of her death thug, six months after, a very odd thing indeed. But Leslie evaded his questions, and seemed1, so anxious to drop the subject that his friend finally desisted,, and they roJe on in silence until their horses began to show signs- of fatigue. Leslie slackened speed a little, and Gurnett gradually dropped far behind, consideration for his horse, nnd, it must be confessed, . a 'feeling of pique against Leslie (now that he was; satisfied no physical suffering was answerable for bis singular conduct) conspiring to mnltc him desert his friend. Our readers- may have guessed that Leslie was but Lionel Lindsay in disguise,, and that the news' be had so strangely come to learn was no other than a detailed account of the sad end of his poor wife,, whose death made him a free man once more. Lionel it was, indeed, nn older and a graver, nay sndder, man than when we last saw him riding through the bush-country by Gertrude's side 10 months ngo. Those 10 months had held years of sorrow for Lionel nnd Gertrude. It could not be that two human beings, entirely separated from tho world, and from ali they had hitherto held dear, might live and not suffer from from the deprivation ; added to this an, anguish of remorse
'here's the baby, sir— ain't she a pretty ox£&Y-Ct$\iV. rul.
'here's the baby, sir— ain't she a pretty ox£&Y-Ct$\iV. rul.
tortured the girl's sensitive Heart,' and I fought witti her passion for him, for whose sake she had cast away the love of her beat earthly friend. And for Lionel was a remorse deeper still. When, the first rash step was taken, and his entreaties had pre vailed — when Gertrude was -persuaded to -turn aside with him from the path of truth and honour, whilst the glamour of their mutual love led them on an enchanted road, who3e beginning or end were unthought of in the bliss of the present— Lionel had allowed himself to drift with the resistless titie of his passion. But a day of chastisement was at hand for him, if not con sciously so for her. Surely it would have come sooner or later by some other means, but now a certain dread retribution haunted him with a constant self-reproach. Gertrude looked forward with a glad hope to the day when their dwelling should be brightened with a child's presence. It seemed to her that this was all they needed to make their home ?a perfect one. Wo shadow of the truth troubled her, and Lionel looked upon her dawning peace of mind with a fierce joy. For a 'time at least — as long as it was in his power to keep it so— she should retain such peace. For her sake he daily stifled his own wretchedness and tenderly cared for her comfort, with a heart that was full of bitter sorrow. ?vt^lI1'8 **me **e ^ad keen compelled to take the journey to JNorthbury on business, and at the opening of this chapter we find him haltmgon his return journey to ''Leslie's,' his own farm. During the last 10 months he had held no converse with the outside world, beyond what the affairs of his sheep farm necessitated. He had devoted himself to the task of making money, in which he appeared likely to succeed. Thanks chiefly to the efhciency of his overseer, a hard-headed, conscientious Scotchman, he was prospering beyond what he could have hoped. But this gave him no great comfort. Lionel had been too long accustomed to plenty for the acquisition of wealth to afford him that keen satisfaction which is felt by a man who has had his own way to make in the world ; and even had this not been the case, the overwhelming trouble in which he was plunged needed a better consolation than the world's good things could give. The knowledge that he had brought it on himself was a bitter still' to him, and the impossibility of receiving sympathy from her he had so deeply wronged only increased his mental torture. Since Captain Merton had informed him of the loss of his b yacht, and of his own supposed death, he had heard nothing, directly or otherwise, of his father or of Gertrude's friends. News from Dunesk seldom travelled as far as the remote hamlet near which he had made ^s home, and both for expediency's sake, and from a disinclination to recall the past, he had avoided the few chances he ever had of learning how affairs wept in the town. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that six months should elapse before he received tidings of his wife's death. The newspaper he had so singularly met with gave all the particulars of the calamity, with the harrowing minuteness of public journals all over the world. When first he read it, Lionel felt as if he were indeed no better than a murderer. For was not his criminal silence about himself the direct and sole cause of Alicia's suicide 1 ? But the wild joy that filled his heart over mastered even this remorseful thought Now he could honestly and with a clean conscience claim Gertrude for his lawful wife ; and surely she would forgive him. Though he did her but tardy justice, it would not come too late ! Too late! — the words, even unuttered, made him shiver and instinctively urge on his wearied horse more quickly. But this pace could not last much longer. Lionel felt that if he continued at his present speed the animal, how willing soever ifc might be, must inevitably breakdown before he could reacli home. So he reluctantly drew rein, and proceeded at a gentler pace along the rough footway.