|Chapter Title||RENNIE'S HOME.|
|Newspaper Title||Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Mount Macedon Mystery|
CHAPTER XI. ——————— RENNIE'S HOME. It was a rough journey through a wild country which Miss Deverenux had to travel in order to reach Rennie's new home. The sound of crashing trees falling before the woodman's axe broke upon the ear, and in every direction the remains of stately eucalypti, with a small portion only, of the trunk taken away for use, were lying around. The waste of fine timber was almost be- yond conception, and it induced a bitter Nemesis soon after; for the vast quantity of fallen timber, when it became dry, took fire, and swept away many homes and the fruits of much labor. Although distant from Woodend only seven miles, it occupied fully two hours to reach Rennie's clearing. There was no road, save the tracks made by the wood carters which led nowhere in particular, and the steep ranges were not easily sur- mounted. It was mid-day when they reached their destination, and as they stopped for a moment on the top of a high range, overlooking the head of the Campaspe, Miss Devereaux was surprised to see the change that had boon wrought on Rennie's selection. A space of fully a hundred acres had been cleared during the short time the occupant had been in possession, and a number of men with teams of bullocks were still busily engaged in the work. A rough, though substantial house stood on a slight eminence in the middle of the clearing, and several other smaller erections were visible a short distance further on. Towards the main building the driver went, and as they neared it a thoughtful, sad-eyed man came out to meet them with a cordial welcome. As he looked at the lady his face grew a shadw paler, for he at once recognised her as Miss Devereaux, though she ap- peared years older than the eight months since he had seen her would warrant. He easily guessed the reason. "Mr. Rennie," she said, leaping out of the vehicle, "I am glad to see you again," and she went towards him with extended hand. Her kind greeting reassured him, for he had expected reproachful glances and bitter words from the girl whose lover he was the means of bringing to Victoria away from her side. "I am sincerely glad to see you, Miss Devereaux. If I had known of your in- tended visit I would have met you at the station and brought you over. It is a rough road." With all his old grace he invited her inside, and she found the interior much more comfortable than she expected. "I have two married men working for me," he explained. "Their wives and families live in yonder cottages, and the women look after my poor house and do the cooking. So you see I am not such a hermit as you might think." Just then one of the women came into the room, and Rennie introduced her as Mrs. Affleck, and requested her to wait on Miss Devereaux while she remained with them. The young lady expressed her intention of returning to Woodend during the course of the afternoon, but Rennie begged her not to go until, at least, the following day. " We can make you quite comfortable here, I assure you," he urged, "and you will find a few days' change in the bush quite a relief from the bustle and worry of city life. Besides, you must be tired out." She was not anxious to leave, and was easily persuaded to remain. Mrs. Affleck was a good, motherly woman, and Adeline was soon quite at home with her. After changing her dress and partaking of a plain but wholesome meal, Miss Devereaux accepted Rennie's invitation to view the clearing operations. Backed up with the needful money, the young selector had certainly worked wonders in the primeval forest, and was rapidly making a comfortable home. As they walked around, the thought which was uppermost in their minds found vent. "My dear friend," Rennie said, turn- ing to the young girl, and speaking in a low voice. "I know you have come to this colony in search of your promised husband, and my best friend, Charles Edgar. "His strange disappearance has thrown
a shadow over both our lives. I know it has been a fearful blow to you, and to me it seems like a awful dream, from which I shall awake and find that I have been indeed dreaming, and see you and Charles Edgar passing through life hand in hand together. I have been almost hunted from my fellow-men by a foul and unjust suspicion, but I felt rewarded to-day for all I have suffered when you clasped my hand and I read in your face my inno- cence proclaimed there." "Never for one moment," sym- pathetically answered the young girl," "did I think you were to blame for Charley's disappearance. I know that you had a genuine affection for him, and if I can read character at all, I believe you would not stoop to a mean and ignoble action, much less to embrue your hands in innocent blood. "No. Mr. Rennie, do not let us ever talk of such an absurd suspicion. But as we are both interested — deeply interested — I claim your help in clearing the mystery up. As sure as the sun shines in the heavens, if a foul crime has been committed, justice, though tardy, will overtake the criminal, and if not, we must only trust in an over-ruling Pro- vidence to show us light where now all is darkness. I, have dedicated my life to that one purpose, and I shall never rest content until I know the fate of Charles Edgar." She spoke in such a determined voice that her companion could not help looking at her. The flashing eyes and heaving breast bore eloquent testimony to the excite- ment under which she labored. " Our mission in life is the same," an- swered the young man, "for I have made a vow never to miss an opportunity of lifting the dark veil which enshrouds the fate of Mr. Edgar. " Possessed with that idea," he went on, " I could not live out of sight of the last place I saw my friend. There," and he pointed in an easterly direction, as the shuddering girl looked, "is the Camel's Hump, the second peak from here. On that ill-fated mount I stood with your affianced husband not quite a year ago, when the fatal mist came on and hid him from view. Strangely as he vanished, I yet believe I shall hear of him again, and every scrap of information that I can ob- tain from pioneers of the mount I treasure up for future use. I have been told of a strange old woman who lives alone in the wildest part of these ranges, and I in- tend to visit her shortly and see if she can furnish me with any clue." " It was stated in the papers that an- other man named Marshall, a member of a survey party, was lost on that fatal peak the same day as Charles. Did you see a third person on the summit?" she asked, "No ; and we rested for an hour under the landmark or trigonometrical station which this man was sent to inspect. I do not think he could have been on the mount when we were, because at first there was no fog, and the area is so small that we must have met. Besides, a few minutes before the fog enveloped us, Edgar fired at a goat, and the discharge of the gun reverberated amongst the rocks with a noise like thunder, which must surely have attracted attention in that lonely spot." Talking in this manner about the lost one they both loved so dearly, the young people slowly returned to the house. They both felt happier, for they had opened their hearts and shared their sor- rows and their hopes with each other. They were both of the same purpose, re- garding their future action towards the missing man. The power of human sympathy is as- tonishing, for that evening Adeline Devereaux and Ernest Rennie, conscious of a mutual sympathy with each other's griefs, passed the hours far happier than they had done since the young man spent that terrible night alone in the damp cave on the "Camel's Hump." Adeline told him anything of interest that had transpired in Sydney, and Rennie was deeply affected as he pic- tured to himself the childless couple at Parramatta, who, instead of receiving the blessings of happiness in their old age, were tottering to the grave under an afflicting load of sorrow — the first born driven from the door like a pariah, and the fate of the younger wrapped in a dark and impenetrable pall of mystery. It was nearly midnight — a rather late hour for bush settlers — when Miss Devereaux retired with Mrs. Affleck, and as she lay in bed thinking over the events of the day, she felt, with a slight thrill of pleasure, that she was not quite alone in the world so long as Ernest Rennie lived. For the first time in many months she fell into a peaceful and refreshing slumber, undisturbed by dreams of dizzy precipices or murdered men, and when she awoke the sun was brightly streaming through the window, and the sounds of life outside told her that the curtain of another day was lifted, and the human actors were about to play their parts.