|Newspaper Title||The Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil (Melbourne, Vic. : 1873 - 1889)|
|Trove Title||Crowned with Good|
Ihe road was now. rapidly growing easier and wider. As every half-mile lessened the distance between Lionel and his home, more frequent signs of life met the eye, and at length a few scattered wooden cottages, with the usual accompaniments of a thatched wood-pile, and an untidy 'hen-ran,' in place of garden, were to be seen at intervals. Patches of greener grass here and there gave a cheerful promise of water at no great distance, and groups of trees relieved the weary expanse of brushwood.
The way had been growing gradually steeper for the last six or seven miles, and Lionel had nearly reached the summit of a hill, where the cottages now stood in twos and threes close to the roadside. One of these was dignified by a large board over the door, on which the name of M'Glashan figured largely in white letters on a blue ground, fianked with the important announce ment in gold leaf, that within were retailed wine, spirits, and general stores. In the window, side by side, stood names oddJy familiar to an English eye — Bass and Co.'s pale ale, Morton's pickles, and Huntley and Palmer's biscuits, and large tubs of pickled pork reposed at the open doorway. Just within this door a stout woman was standing, with her arms akimbo, bare to the elbows, and a red handkerchief tied loosely round her throat, over her blue cotton gown. A clean, cheery-faced woman she was, and just now her merry countenance beamed with an unwonted delight. She had been thus waiting for above an hour, every now and then sauntering out into the afternoon sunshine to shade her eyes with her hand and gaze down the road, as if expecting some one. But unless she had gone some way down it she could not see very far, as at this point it abruptly turned and wound away behind the cottages. It thus happened that Lionel was close upon her before she noticed his approach, for he had ridden slowly and upon the wayside turf up the incline, ?even had not the noisy cackling of a troop of geese drowned all ?other sounds. It was evidently Lionel that the woman expected, for as soon as he appeared she ran out with an exclamation of :satisfaction — 'Eh, Mr. Leslie!' cried she, in broadest Scotch, 'but we've news for ye, mon! I told Peggy O'Donaghue an' th' ithers thet I wad be th' firrst to gev' ye the tidings. Hev' they told ye? No? I thocht they wadna fash theirsels after that!' And Mrs. M'Glashan smiled at this acknowledgment of her superiority and importance in the neighbourhood, while Lionel waited a little impatiently, the remnant of his natural ex clusiveness slightly offended by the fact that every house was now adding its quota to the centre of attraction in the person of some slatternly Irishwoman or suggestively unwashed child. 'With his mind yet full of his one absorbing thought, he gave only a, divided attention to the group, or to what Mrs. M'Glashan isaid, being too well accustomed to such scenes to attach any undue importance to the present excitement. 'He doeana guess !' exclaimed Mrs. M'Glashan, looking de lighted ly round, ns if she relished the moment of suspense, ?while an awed silence chained the tongues of the assembled ?crowd. ' He doesna yness .'' she continued slowly, now watch ing Lionel's fuce with a triumphant smile, anticipating the rmomcnfc when his thoughtful and pre-occupied air bIiouIcI give way nnd vanish before the astounding intelligence she had to communicate. 'He doesna guess !' — for the third time, and
still more slowly — ' wha he's gaun haine to see ! His wife an his wee bairnie 1 Eh, sirs! An' whaat's the matter with ye, Mr. Leslie?' ? 'What did . you say, woman ? What did you sny?' repeated Lionel fiercely, his pre-occupied air gone indeed, but replaced by a gaze' so wild and intense that Mrs. M'Glashan's ready tongue faltered, and she positively cowered before him. 'Weel, Mr. Leslie,' she stammered hastily, 'all I wad tell ye's this — ye're pretty wife has a bairn, sir, at sax o' the clock the morn,' an' weel ye may be prood an' glad she's no deein', an' seven months an' a' ? ;' but before Mrs. M'Glashan had arrived thus far, Lionel had shaken her hand from his horse's mane, and sped away towards his house, while the disappointed group began loudly to comment upon his strange reception of such joyful news. Mrs. M'Glashan retired into the privacy of her own back parlour, whither no one dared follow her uninvited, there to indulge in mortifying reiiections on the public insult she had been subjected to, and occasionally ejaculating, with an indignant toss of her head — ' 'Woman,' indeed !' as if the word implied some aspersion to her character. Meanwhile Lionel rode over the brow of the hill, with his stem set face of despair, a hopeless heartache supplanting the deep relief of a moment ago. Quite heedless of the now beautiful prospect, he rode on, seeing only the smoke curling from a well known chimney in the hollow, and but dimly aware of an added pain in the bright, mellow, afternoon light, and the sweet air wafted in his face. It was in a rarely beautiful nook that Lionel had hidden his treasure. The land sloped suddenly down from the hill-top, into a breezy hollow, clad with brushwood it is true, but boasting many a group of familiar-looking trees to vary the landscape, and no signs of the sheep-farm on the hill had been allowed to intrude upon and mar the almost English beauty of the glen. Through the midst of it ran a 'creek' — in other words, a clear stream of spring water — born among the snow clad hilis above, that ilowed, sparkling, into the sea. For the glorious breadth and beauty of' the South Pacific bounded the glen at its eastern extremity. Gertrude's home luy about midway between the ocean and the foot of a purple mountain. From the rosy sunset glory on the sea, she could turn to the solemn peak, wrapped in the unspeakable splendour its snowy robe took on at evening; or, in early morning, compare the amethyst shadows creeping down the hill-side with the vast sheet of opal-tinted waters where the sun was rising. At all hours, in almost all weathers, the valley was beautiful. The slow lapse of the water made perpetual music this afternoon, and a thousand soft, sweet odours floated on the bright air. Predominant was the smell of turf, diffused from the chimney of Lionel's dwelling. Dismounting at a little distance from the gate, he left his horse, and softly approached the house on foot. It was a wooden building, like all the others in the neighbour hood, but considerably larger than any, with one or two bay windows, and with carefully-trained creepers hiding the walls. A well-trimmed lawn lay in front, having a winding path across it from the rustic porch to the gate. A few flower-beds, gay now with gladioli and geranium, gave colour to the picture. Lionel had tended the little garden with assiduous care in his leisure moments. He devoted himself to Gertrude's comfort and pleasure with a pathetic eagerness, as if striving to atone for the injury he had done her. Alas ! had he ever realised until this hour how great was the injury ?
Passing unseen into the porch, he entered a sittingroom, which opened directly from it. Empty and silent! It seemed' to Lionel as if the sweet and gracious presence of Gertrude had gone from his life for ever. He sank down upon a rough couch under the open window, and buried his face in his hands with a weary sigh. Now Lionel was surely finding out that sin must bring its own punishment. In those few minutes of reflection was con centrated such mental anguish as men seldom have to enduser' The exultation his sense of freedom had given him only iriade. - the hopelessness he had now to bear more dreadful by cpntras.tr' Life seemed ended for him. He shuddered to look beckv./yet there was no escape from the intolerable present in the/wtetched^ blank of the future. How could he drag through file .years, ??, And, worst of all, how could he reveal the truth to/ GertruaeM How could he tell her of sin that would tear her from his side? And yet, if he would bind her lawfully to him, he mxibl explain. Would she consent now ? No, he felt sure she would hot ; and thus his thoughts wandered on until the dead silence became ' oppressive to him. He lifted his haggard face and looked around. The walls of the room were of darkly-stained wood, relieved in many places by water-colour landscapes, framed gracefully in twigs and moss. Curtains there were none, and only a square of Chinese matting on the stained floor. The chairs and tables were of common wood, unvarnished, and, had it not been for the lovely view from the window and the many little tokens of feminine occupation scattered about, the chamber would have appeared dull and bare, in spite of its perfect cleanliness and the shafts of sunshine that brightened the walls and floor. As Lionel gazed vacantly about him, however, the wealth of flowers arranged by Gertrude's hand, the pictures she had coloured, the dainty basket of work she had left upon the table, were all so many silent reproaches. At this moment a sound smote upon his ear. It was only the feeble wail of a little new-born child, but it brought the bitterest of the few tears he had ever shed into Lionel's eyes. ' I cannot go to her — I dare not,' he muttered. Footst-ps were heard outside the door, and Lionel suddenly rose, grasping the stockwhip he had unconsciously carried in with him, and strode to the outer door. He had not reached it, however, before another, communicating with the rest of the house, opened, disclosing the figure of an uncouth girl of 15 — Gertrude's only servant — her cap awry, and her face swollen with crj'ing. In her arms she held a small bundle of flannel, which she nearly dropped, so violently did she start on seeing her master. ' Oh, sir, air you come home ? Did ye know, sir ? Here's the baby, air — ain't she a pretty one?' And the girl began nervously to undo the bundle. 'No — nevermind, Eliza. How's your mistress ?' said Lionel, turning away with an unconquerable repulsion. Eliza afterwards, in the bosom of her family, described Mr. Leslie as an ' inuman parint,' but for the present she restrained her sentiments of disapproval, and contented herself with ostentatiously hugging the bundle, replying to her master's inquiry — ' Missus is very bad, sir. Doctor's gone, an's coming again to-night at 10 ; an' the missus ain't to be woke, sir. That's why I've took away the baby, cos it began 'owlin'. ' 'Is your mistress— did Dr. Keene say your mistress was vent ill?' asked Lionel, remarking for the first time Eliza's swollen and tear-stained visage. ' Yea, sir ; she's very bad, an' ain't to be woke,' said Elizn, repeating the formula. Lionel removed his heavy boots, laid down his whip, and quietly trod the passage outside to a door at the end, which he opened after a moment's hesitation, and entering, stood by Gertrude's side. An elderly woman, sitting by the fire, rose and walked to the window. Lionel saw no one but Gertrude. She was sleeping, so far it seemed to him well. His inexperienced eye could not detect that this was but the slumber of exhaustion. Only the expression of her sweet pale face was sad. He saw that, and it went to his henrt. Even ns he stood there she stirred and -woke. One bewildered glance — 'Gertrude,' Lionel said. 'Oh! is it you? I thought you were never coming, Lionel!' and the fair paleness of her cheek changed to a burning crimson, that did not lade so quickly as it came. It stayed and deepened, and the fragile hand lie clasped burned, too, in Lionel's. 'Gertrude, I have just come home. X have not long heard n bout you. Did you want me?'
'Oh, yes. Have you seen baby, Lionel?' ? ?? He bowed his head in answer. ' And Row tired you look ! You have had nothing to eat yet ? Send Eliza to me that I may order your tea. ' She spoke faintly, and Lionel regarded her brightening eyes, as her glance wandered round the room with an anxious, nameless fear. The nurse now came forward, and looked meaningly at her charge. Lionel bent down and kissed Gertrude reverently, as he might have kissed her, dead, and went away. But he did not send Eliza. Instead he got some food for himself, which he could hardly eat, and then went out of the house and wandered about the garden, pretending interest in the tired condition of his horse, which had been led home and groomed, but with his thoughts far away. Presently he re-entered the house, and sent Eliza for the nurse. She was a woman of the hamlet, and, like all the neighbours, she felt much concerned in the affairs of the family at ' Leslie's.' Therefore, it was with a friendly manner, which the uninitiated might consider to be wanting in respect, that Mrs. Macarthy entered Lionel's presence, and seated herself in one of the most comfortable of the parlour chairs, smoothing her apron in a way that somehow suggested unlimited conversational powers. But her cheery presence certainly brightened the room, as Lionel's gloomy countenance failed to do. 'Now, Mrs. Macarthy, I want to ask you what you think of Mrs. Leslie,' began Lionel, hesitating strangely at the mention of Gertrude. 'Weel, sir, an' the puir leddy hae getten weel ow're it the noo,' answered Mrs. Macarthy. ' But yemustna excite her, Mr. Leslie ; an1 the bairn ? ' : 'Never mind the baby just now,' interrupted Lionel. 'I want you simply to tell rne if you think Mrs. Leslie any worse. She seemB to me feverish, and if so I should wish to have Dr. Keene here before 10 o'clock. I need not trouble you about the baby, you know, because I am quite sure you will take care of it better than any one else could.' , Mrs. Macarthy looked gratified, and proceeded to assure Mr. Leslie of her reliability in matters of this kind. She left him satisfied that Gertrude was no worse than she might reasonably be at seeing him after his long absence, and betook herself back to the sick room to enjoy a cup of tea, with the baby aeleep on her lap, while Eliza, noiselessly for her, built a fire on the hearth, for the evening was crowing chilly. And Gertrude? In spite of Mrs. Macarthy's assertions, the blood was coursing through her veins more rapidly than the agitation of seeingLionel could warrant. Her eyes were strangely bright and eager, and the flush on the cheek deepened and deepened. It seemed to her that never before had unwelcome and saddening recollections eo pressingly crowded upon her mind. Notwithstanding all her efforts, the sorrowful past rose up again and again, and the more she drove away the thought the more vividly it returned. And Lionel's manner had been so strange. What was the matter? What was that dreadful shadow on the wall! Why was the air so stifling, and could that glare be only the firelight ? A moment more, and a horrible singing in her ears deadened all sound, the light went out, and the blackness of darkness over whelmed her consciously for one awful moment before she became utterly insensible. Rising from her knees by the fire, Eliza caught sight of the still, white face, and with a shriek rushed from the room, crying to her master that Mrs. Leslie was dead. In five minutes a messenger was scouring over the darkening country for the doctor, and during many long and terrible hours Lionel paced outside in the starlight, watching a faintly-glimmering candle in that room where the struggle was going on between life and death. Dawn was just beginning to make the outlines of hill and rock visible when a quiet hand was laid on Lionel's shoulder, and the doctor's voice, subdued but cheerful, said — 'She's turned the corner now, Leslie ! Not much left in her, to be sure, but enough to pull through with. Come indoors, and go to bed at once, or ,y.pu.'JLbe ill yourself. Good Lord, how white you look — drink ', fchig'i'rJilFhi Dr. Keene led Lionel into the sittingroom, where a _-T3rignx|ure\iad been kept up by the faithful Eliza, and poured out a generous portion of whiskey. Lionel mechanically took it _frorn\thj}.. doctor 'a hand, and swallowed it as if it had been a dose ^o£physiCv'/But even as he set down the glass, the stimulating s^nflueiicejrtiowed itself in a faint return of colour to his face. ' N;o\$rBit down for five minutes to get warm, and then go to bea;T*-said Dr. Keene. ' If you'll allow me, I'll just take a ''sWijpcte on your hearth — it's rather early to be going home. See s,h-fr, do you say ? Not if I know it, indeed ! Why, you'd finish ' her off in two minutes with such a miserable mug as that. No . wonder you sent up her temperature if you looked like that ! Well, good night to you. Don't know whether you're on your head or your heels, eh ?' and Dr. Keene talked him out of the room. Lionel staggered as he walked to the bed assigned him. Dr. Keene's homely phraseology had accurately described the young man's state of mind as well as of body. Thankfulness unspeakable struggled so strangely with the woe that over whelmed him in the tiny person of that nameless little one. But the thankfulness predominated as he laid him down and slept in complete mental and bodily prostration. The noonday sun was shining in upon him when Lionel awoke. It was some moments before he could recollect where he was, or call to mind anything of the exciting events that had taken place since that same hour on the preceding day. But the thoughtof Gertrude brought memory back with a flash, and he rose hastily. The instant he opened his bedroom door Eliza darted from the kitchen, eagerly exclaiming — ' Oh, master, missus is better, an' she's been wantin' you this hour or more, o'n'y when she heerd you was asleep she wouldn't let you be woke, an' doctor says you may see her.' . His Gertrude wanting him, and lie sleeping ! Lionel hurried to her room, all thought but of his joy and thankfulness at her restoration to him entirely gone. How different she looked, though not twenty hours had passed since last he saw her ! Fragile then, she was ethereal now. The fever flush had faded, and a calm that might be felt breathed around her. She held out her hand with the old sweet smile — his Gertrude once more ! No need for him to try and banish the hideous thoughts of yesterday ! Even the child's existence only brought a passing pang, in the aupreme present joy of Gertrude's assured recovery.