The New Arcadia/Chapter 21



Only a silent grief
When in her room alone;
But tears bring no relief
When every hope is flown.
Only the constant memory
Of their meeting 'neath the trees,
Yet a girl's fine heart is breaking
Over trifles such as these."

Australian Poets, Frances S. Lewin.

"Why, let the stricken deer go weep,
The hart ungallèd play;
For some must watch, while some must sleep,
So runs the world away."—Shakespeare.

Mrs. Dowling was one of those genial, sunny natures who have a warm welcome for all. A specially cordial one she extended to Gwyneth as she met her at the open French window.

"Come in, child," she said. "You look pale, and usually you have such a fresh colour. What is the matter, my dear?"

"Nothing, thank you; I hurried rather."

"Well, then, sit down, and give me all the news," and the old lady proceeded to retail hers.

"I must tell you about Eva's good fortune," said the garrulous old dame. "She has gone to Gumford, you'll be glad to hear, with Travers Courtenay. I may tell you," she added, lowering her voice confidingly, "you are so sensible. She is really very fond of the dear young fellow. We all are. She has been cooped up here all her life. And he's about the first real gentleman, other than her father, she has ever met. Do you not think the young man charming, dear? But I suppose you have not seen much of him. How should you?"

"Not much," was the reply. "You see he is a gentleman, and I——" The old lady was not versed in the gossip of the place.

"Eva was pleased as a child to go with him," the dame ran on. "He has often been here of late. I am not sure whether it is only to consult Mr. Dowling, as he professes. Certainly they did talk a good deal of 'shop.' But his taking Eva to Gumford to-day looks as though he were interested in the child. Does it not?" Mrs. Dowling was not aware that her husband had, in the simplicity of his heart, and for his own convenience, himself proposed the arrangement. "I do despise anything like match-making," continued the old lady, "but, do you know, if it came about in a natural sort of way, of course there is no one I would rather have for a son-in-law than young Mr. Courtenay. You should be bridesmaid, dear. Would not that be nice? We have known Travers' parents so long. Then, again, it is not wrong to remember that he will, of course, be wealthy."

"And you really think she returns his affection?" suggested Gwyneth. She was choking, but felt she must say something.

"I am sure he has a very warm place in her heart, but of course she is young and unsophisticated. I should not let her marry for a couple of years, I think. Would you?"

"I do not know," replied Gwyneth, with difficulty retaining her calmness. "The sooner the better, I should think"—with some suspicion of bitterness.

The old lady looked up and eyed her in the kind, rude way elderly folk often affect.

"You do not seem quite to like the idea. You are not yourself this morning, dear. You know no ill of the young man, do you? One has to be so careful in these days. Eva is the apple of our eyes," and the proud mother paused and pondered as she wiped the gathering moisture from her spectacles.

"Shall I get the book now, Mrs. Dowling?" asked Gwyneth, as cheerfully as she could, while a burden was pressing upon her heart, and a storm of mingled feelings agitating her. But, despite her sorrow, she would do her duty.

"Yes, dear, please do; you will find the volume in Eva's room, on her little book-case over the bed."

Gwyneth involuntarily started, but in a moment rose calmly and sought Eva's apartment. She seized the book nervously, intending to hurry back with it. Her eye would rove, however. It caught sight of a shining object on the top shelf.

"It could not be!" she exclaimed in anguish. "I will not believe it. I shall not even look." She hesitated. "Yes, I will," she continued, "to settle the matter. Of course it cannot be mine!" Standing on tip-toe the girl reached down the little case. Her heart beat wildly. Behold, in her hand, her poor, dead mother's gift passed on by her child to the man who swore he loved her! With trembling fingers she opened the case, and closed it again, and sat, lest she should fall, on the pallet bed, and gazed far across the creek, through the gum-trees to the fields beyond, where reaping-machines were merrily rattling, and harvest-hands, youths and maidens, mothers with their children, sang as they set up into stooks the golden sheaves. All became as night for Gwyneth. Then a cruel glare; and in the centre was fixed the vision of her mother's gift, with the portraits of Eva and the man she loved side by side!

"It is too cruel! too cruel!" she sobbed. "He might at least have returned my gift." There must be some mistake, she tried to. think, but all was so circumstantial! What her father and Malduke had wildly uttered of yore concerning the heartlessness, the viciousness, the cruelty of the "upper classes," flooded her mind. For a moment the stricken thing lay on the bed, her face buried in her hands, as she moaned, and called her mother's name. Had she been at hand to guide, her child would not have yielded herself so freely, to be cast off with scorn by the first monied youth, with attractive face and speech, who pretended to woo her.

"Can you not find it, dear?" the old lady was calling from within.

Quietly, now, the girl replaced the silver case—took up the blithesome ;;Foresters, and hurried forth. She smiled as she entered the room.

"I was looking at Lancelot and Elaine, she remarked, cheerfully. "I have brought it too. May I read that, instead of the babble of Robin Hood and Maid Marion? It is somewhat weak and wearisome."

"Anything you like, my child. But how your hand is shaking! Are you sure you are not ill?"

"Oh, dear, no"—with a light scornful gesture—"only indignant at the thought of the gay knight's treatment of 'the Lily-maid of Astolat.' I was peeping at a few pages. I suppose it's the way of the world, especially of knights and gentlefolk."

"My dear, I never heard you speak like that before. The true gentleman is the soul of honour. Blood always tells."

"Yes; and sometimes cries to heaven for vengeance!" Gwyneth spoke with vehemence. "What a picture is this!" and she read in tones of mingled pity and indignation—

"In her right hand the lily, in her left
The letter—all her bright hair streaming down—
And all the coverlid was cloth-of-gold.
Drawn to her waist; and she herself in white,
All but her face, and that clear-featured face
Was lovely, for she did not seem as dead,
But fast asleep, and lay as though she smiled."

"My dear," said Mrs. Dowling, "how your voice trembles! You enter too fully into the feelings of these mere creations of the imagination. Your nerves are too finely strung."

The girl read on, of the last missive of that other broken-hearted maiden—

"I, sometime called the maid of Astolat,
Come, for you left me taking no farewell,
Hither, to take my last farewell of you.
I loved you, and my love had no return.
And therefore my true love has been my death."

The old dame wiped her eyes and spectacles, saying, as she curiously scanned the girl's face—

"Gwyneth, darling, I believe you have a history. You have been badly treated some time or other."

"Perhaps I have," replied the girl, shortly; "but what is that? I am only a plain common girl!"

As, after an hour's reading, Gwyneth stepped quickly with beating heart towards her home, glad to be free from the guileless but garrulous old soul, the returning dog-cart flashed past her. True to his sense of propriety, Travers again did not rein his horse. Without raising her head Gwyneth passed on.

"Strange she did not see us," remarked Eva.

"Dear Gwyneth, whither so quickly?" called Travers, a few minutes later, having deposited his charge at the gate and hastily turned to pursue the retreating figure. "You are playing me a trick," exclaimed the young man. Though close beside her, he failed to attract the girls attention. He slackened speed to the pace of her walk. Jumping out of the trap, though still holding the reins, he laid his hand on her arm. It trembled. The maiden shook as though she would fall. As she turned, Travers, observing the pale face and strange, wild expression on the countenance, ordinarily so serene, drew back.

"Gwyneth, what has happened?" he exclaimed, thinking some dire misfortune had overtaken her—as indeed it had.

"You must not touch me," she almost shrieked, shrinking away. "You must not call me by that name. Leave me. I can be played with no longer." She looked round like a hunted thing.

"Gwyneth, what do you mean? Played with! You know I love you, as no one else in the world. What has come over you? What has risen up between us? Who has been troubling you, my darling?"

Gwyneth faltered. Could this fervour be all assumed? But the sister's letter!—that revealed like a lightning-flash their relative positions. She would give her life to know that all she had lately seen and heard was indeed a dream, as it sometimes appeared. Might she not take his outstretched hand and trust him to answer? She hesitated.

Turning, she looked the young man full in the face— eyed him as though she, the penniless carpenter's daughter, were princess, and he humble yeoman.

"Show me the keepsake." She would give him one last chance. "Return that to me, and at least we will part in peace."

The young man coloured, became confused, so unusual with him.

"Gwyneth, I hastened after you partly because I was eager to confess to you that I had lost it. Do not look like that. What have I done? I flung off my coat to show that fellow Malduke and some others how to straighten a fence. Half-an-hour after the pocket-case was gone. I cannot trace it."

Ah, had she not seen it herself, amongst the trinkets of the girl he had been driving about all day—the photographs side by side?—had she not heard the old lady talking? Otherwise she would have believed him. But all was against him. His manner was refined, no doubt. Splendidly he lied, finely he acted and braved it out, and yet—she loved him. Her heart was breaking, but her lips did not falter as she said deliberately—

"I am sorry to say I cannot believe you. Unfortunately I know the truth. Choose your gentlewoman, but pray leave me alone. Do not come after me," she said, as the young man stepped towards her, "I cannot bear it." She bounded away. Travers stood as one stunned, holding the horse's reins and gazing after her. Then, as in a dream, he mounted his trap and drove moodily away, feeling that for him all the light had fled from Mimosa Vale.

"Miss Elms, dearest Gwyneth, let me comfort you. The proud upstart has cast you off; let a humble follower lay the tribute of his devotion at your feet."

It was Malduke who thus accosted the pale, scared-looking creature as she entered her garden—calm retreat no longer.

"How dare you speak to me? Step from my path at once," imperiously insisted the long-suffering girl, as she moved towards the porch.

"Because Travers Courtenay is a fraud and a deceiver, a specimen of his class."

"Again you lie," was the reply. "He is not false. I will not believe it. But he is nothing to me," she added, recovering herself; "much less so are you. Begone, Richard Malduke, and dare not dog me or cross my path again." She fairly glared at him. She scarce knew what she said.

Like a whipped hound, the young man retired, muttering to himself—

"Not tamed yet! But she shall be."

Meanwhile Gwyneth flung herself on her bed and sobbed her heart out. Then she sat up, put her hair back from her face, and gazed over the lake, on which they had sailed so happily, and said—

"I cannot, I will not believe it. But there is an end to it all. A foolish fancy! But the trouble is—I love him still."