|Chapter Title||THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT.|
|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||The Golden Link|
THE TRAIL OF THE SERPENT.
Blue Mount, the residence of Matthew Bolton, was erected, as we have already said, on a rocky plateau, from whence a magnificent view of the surrounding country could be obtained. It was situated a few miles from Talbotdale, from which it was approached by a clear, well-made track. This track had been cut through a most beautiful piece of country, where au artist would have found abundant materials for his sketch book.
As the visitor drew near to Blue Mount he passed through dense groves of lofty gum trees, through narrow openings in which might be seen the snow-capped summits of distant mountain ranges.
Once clear of the forest, a broad track of luxuriant vege- tation intervened before the immense mass of rock, on the crown of which Matthew Bolton's residence had been con- structed, could be reached.
The dwelling was a veritable paradise. True, there were ?no statuary, costly paintings, gilding, or other art luxuries which, in older countries are regarded as inseparable from the abodes of wealth ; but there was something more than All this, there was real comfort, and when strangers found their way to Blue Mount it was not long before they learned to envy its proprietor.
When Matthew Bolton first pitched his tent in this part .of Australia it was a wilderness, in which the black man ruled as king. It was dangerous then to travel about un- armed, to leave the hut without a guard.
Matthew Bolton was a brave man. As we already know, he had faced perils of the most deadly character, and it was because he was a brave man that he wished, if possible, to
avoid bloodshed. So he built his house on Blue Mount, the narrow, winding path forming its sole approach being easily made impregnable, as a party of strange blacks not long afterwards discovered to their great mortification.
But the blacks have long disappeared, and from the par- lour window might be seen a clump of gum trees, the rapidly decaying stems of which were covered with rude carvings, which indicated the spot as being the burial place of the last of the native kings.
Not far off also might be seen the barn-like, wooden struc- ture which so long formed the only place of divine worship in the neighbourhood of Talbotdale. Here the good old. minister of Talbotdale would sometimes hold services during the shearing season, when the hands were few and the sheep
He was much liked by the station hands, for he never " preached to them," so they said ; when he spoke to them it was as a father, as one who wished them well ; he seemed to understand them better than did many who complained that their words fell like good seed in stony places.
He had heard of Matthew Bolton's determination to afford
shelter to the children of John Armstrong, and he had told him that in so doing he was acting as a man and a Christian.
When Phillip, his brother, and sister first arrived at Blue Mount they found the clergyman awaiting them in the par- lour, which opened on to the broad verandah encircling the
house on three sides.
He kindly shook hands with each of the young visitors and bade them feel at home ; they did feel at home while he was present ; but when Martha Woolston glided serpent- like into the room they felt a cold chill creep over them. They thought it was the keen mountain air ; for, elevated .as Talbotdale was above the sea level, Blue Mount was con-
But they speedily became undeceived.
No one possessing warm, generous instincts could remain .a few minutes in the presence of Martha Woolston without -experiencing an icy sensation, no matter how warm the weather might be.
Matthew Bolton, perhaps, was an exception. Had he seen more of the world, at least of its darker and more secret ways, it is probable that Martha Woolston would not have so easily obtained such an ascendancy over him.
As it was, her influence in his household was unbounded, whether for good or for evil we shall see.
Wise men have said that a woman can make a man what she likes, can make a home what she likes ; and perhaps Martha Woolston, was aware of this, but if so she kept her knowledge to herself. She was not so powerful that she . could risk incurring the displeasure of Matthew Bolton.
So she assumed a smile that was at variance with the real
feelings of her heart-affected a humility which ill accorded with the real arrogance of her nature.
She had determined that Matthew Bolton's wealth should be hers, and hers alone.
Phillip Armstrong had instinctively divined her secret thoughts, and had resolved that such should never be the case if he could help it.
He did not care for Matthew Bolton's money, not he, for he had determined that whatever fortune he possessed
.should be of his own making ; but he detested this woman, I
this mercenary adventuress, who was secretly plotting the unhappiness of all around her.
When he told Geordie Poulton how he disliked this Martha Woolston, Geordie asked him to repeat the name.
" Woolston-Woolston"-he said ; " 1 surely have heard
that name somewhere."
And so he had, for it was associated with the sad fate of a favourite cousin, Willie Poulton.
When a merry, curly-headed lad of some six summers, Willie Poulton was the happiest, brightest urchin one could imagine, but in later years, in the prime of manhood, the smile was gone from his lip and a terrible cloud hung over his brow ; and when he walked he hung down his head as one whose sin has found him out and makes him ashamed to look on his fellow-men.
Later still, when he was laid on his last sleep, the smile came again to his lips, the frown passed away from his brow, and he looked as if he had woke and " beheld the glory of the world to come.''
And the cloud and the smile were both the work of Martha Woolston.
She had won away the heart of Willie's father from the memory of his first wife, and, ere three summers had passed since the boy had stood by his mother's grave, his life was maddened by a tyranny which only a woman can invent, and he forgot the God who had made him, and plunged deeper and deeper into sin as his tormentor waxed ' stronger and stronger-on, on, until he stood on the very
brink of hell.
And then his father died.
" Willie, come back !" waa the message sent by his dying father ; Martha Woolston would have stayed it had she dared, but she felt like a coward as she crouched at the door of the death chamber.
The cry carne in time to save Willie, for the demons had battled around him, from the temptations which encircled his path ; and, as he knelt by his father's bed and received the forgiveness and the blessing of the dying man, he smiled in compassion on the woman who had caused him such bitter misery.
And when the last sad rites were over, when the lifeless body of his parent had been consigned to the silent keeping of the cold dark tomb, and he found himself alone, in the home from whence the sunshine of happiness had long since departed, he told Martha Woolston that it was not for him to condemn her-the evil she had wrought could not be undone, and she might depart in peace.
Then Martha Woolston did the only good act recorded of her-she sent him an angel-a wife ! to comfort him, but the battle had beisn too hard and his wounds too deep to be healed, and so he went to rest, sleeping the sleep of those
whose love has cast out their fear.
Father and son were dead, but Martha Woolston was none the richer by their death ; she was forgiven by both, and that forgiveness had already crushed her.
She disappeared from the neighbourhood, and none knew
what had become of her.
And thus it was that she found her way to Talbotfield, to the genial warmth of Matthew Bolton's household, to act the part of the viper that stung the hand of the bene- factor which had saved it from perishing.
(To be continued.)