Chapter XVIII

Then did my heart in lone faint sadness die,
As from all nature's voices one reply—
But one—was given:
“Earth has no heart, fond dreamer! with a tone
To send thee back the spirit of thine own—
Seek it in Heaven.”

—Mrs. Hemans.

Mrs. Fenwick, that is, Elice Fenwick, as she was usually called, to distinguish her from her mother-in-law, was standing at the open window, watching the distant path, along which

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she hoped, rather than expected, to descry the advancing figure of her husband. Daily disappointments had taught Elice to anticipate rather his absence than his presence; she had found that his business led him so often from her side, that she must reconcile herself to his absence, and seek her pleasures apart from him; but this she could not do. Those few months had greatly altered her: the cheerful smile had vanished, the light step was spiritless, and her manner was quiet, timid, and almost repining. Elice was not understood: Mrs. Fenwick and her daughters were coarse, robust women, who gloried in dairies and kitchens, who scorned books and ‘bookish’ people, and cordially agreed that poor Fred was very unfortunate in having a sickly, useless girl for his wife.

When first she came there, the timid bride, Mrs. Fenwick made a show of giving up authority to her:— “Of course, she must now; she had been mistress there thirty years, but of course she must resign her place now.” This address had the intended effect: Elice was used to Aunt Nancy's gentle household rule, and cordially begged Mrs. Fenwick to retain all her wonted authority. From that day “Mrs. Elice” was a mere cypher, regarded as a valueless encumbrance, and constantly told it was a dreadful thing she was so useless and sickly. Elice looked at her little hands and slender waist, and thought she must be “a mere doll,” and certainly she was useless, if the business of life had no other form than robust labour. All those days of domestic happiness she had pictured came not: those cheerful evenings, when business and care were excluded, and her smile and her presence were to be the sunlight of the quiet hearth; how neat and comfortable it should be, and she might look up to her husband, and accept his opinions with unquestioning faith. What had become of the bright dream? Frederic Fenwick was absent at a cattle sale, or witnessing some trial race of horses he had betted on, or accompanying drovers with stock across the country; and when he came home, how gaily he talked and laughed, and made the dull house ring with a loud hilarious voice; then he took his little wife out riding, or visiting, and called her a rose-bud, and was universally pronounced an excellent husband; but he never thought of her wanting sympathy and counsel; why, there was his mother and the girls, and in a day or two he was gone again. Mrs. Fenwick was an Australian,

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limited in her education, physically disposed to be severe, from an exuberant power which could feel no pity for weakness, and, like the ignorant, egotistical and prejudiced against everything or person who differed from herself: none are more unpitying to the inexperienced, or readier to crush the accomplished, and defame their ashes; yet she had her good qualities—industry, frugality, and, withal, generosity in gifts. Her daughters were like her in disposition and appearance—all tall stout women, with heavy black brows.

Elice did not communicate the annihilation of all her hopes to her friends, for she fondly loved her husband, and she could neither blame him nor suffer others to do so; and she was so dispirited, that she believed what Mrs. Fenwick and Jane and Kate told her — that it was a pity she had ever married Fred. As to her music and drawing, they were of no use; Fenwick liked a tune when he was at home, but the folio was packed away with the French books, and never looked into. But it was not the loss of these things which grieved her: she wanted her husband's love and confidence; even he treated her like a child; he told her nothing, she was ignorant of his concerns, and if she inquired, he bade her not think about it; she did not understand these things; and if he needed advice, he sought it from Mrs. Fenwick and her daughters. Elice had so much feared to offend them, that she had yielded them the obedience of a child, and received in turn the acknowledgement that she was a poor, childish little thing. She could not take offence, or she ought not, where they spoke so, for they always informed her that, of course, it was for her own good; they had no other motive in speaking, and if she had any feeling, she would be glad to improve.

She was reviewing these things that evening, and forming plans for the future, and watching eagerly for Fenwick's return; she had resolved to explain the matter to him, and beg him to make her a home, however humble; but let it be her own and his, and let her share with him in his cares and joys; she had pictured better days, and hope glowed warmly at her heart. The drooping head was raised, the timid eyes glistened, and the fretful hanging of the lips disappeared. Alas, poor Elice! she did not know that he could not feel with her, because he had no sympathy with the higher feelings and more refined shades of character.

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Evening's shades fell on the landscape; she watched them jealously, for they would conceal the distant view of her husband; the uncertain flickering of twilight did indeed for awhile dazzle her, and then she saw him; but it was no time to spring to his arms and open her heart's confidence to him, for one of his Turf friends rode by his side, and, as they cantered up the road, she heard that they were discussing the merits of White Stockings and Princess, and she knew they were talking of their horses. Bitter tears—tears which the agony of young hopes blighted forced from their source—rose to her eyes, but she smothered them by an effort, and Fenwick and his sporting friend found her languid and pale, while Mrs. Fenwick and her daughters laughed and talked loudly, and bustled about providing a good supper.

“We must be off by peep of day, Fenwick,” said his friend, as he sipped the glass of hot brandy and water Kate had just mixed for him; for she had a toddy-making celebrity.

“Where to?” Elice inquired.

“Why, dear, I've entered Princess against Bates's Rainbow; it's a private race, you know, and we must be there to see it.”

Jane was as fond of horse-racing as her brother, and she prevented further remark by commenting on the merits of the horses.

Alone in her room that evening, the young wife listened to the voices of the gentlemen, and the occasional clatter of a glass, and she asked herself, had she done right in uniting herself with Frederic Fenwick? She buried her face in her hands, and implored forgiveness and a blessing from God. The sin of her husband's worse than wasted existence stood out prominent before her, but he did not see it; he did not love her Saviour; he would not willingly hinder her in a life of faith, but he did not even desire to share it.

An hour later, Elice Fenwick's head was pressed on the shoulder of her husband, and his hand clasped in hers, while, in low accents, she spoke to him as she never had before: she told him that she was unhappy, and she showed him how he could remove her sorrow; she would make his home happy and comfortable; she would endeavour to compensate to him for the loss of these unholy pursuits, if he would relinquish them. Earnest feeling gives eloquence, and Elice's manner awed her

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husband, it was so tender and firm—so hopeful for the future, so hopeless for the present.

“Well, Elly dear, you shall have what you want. I am very sorry you and mother can't agree. I did think she would be quite a comfort to you, taking care of things; but we will do differently for the future. Don't fret, Rose-bud,” and with real feeling he quenched the strange light of those earnest eyes in hopeful tears.

At length. Leigh Osman's friends replied to him; they had delayed to do so till they could communicate some information. That information was the news of the loss Gilbert and his party had sustained, and their departure from Ophir, for Victoria.

Ever, as Rachel believed she had approached him, did he appear to fly before her, and the proposition which Mr. Osman made was an uncertain relief, so counterpoised was it by regret. He had grown impatient, he alleged, of inactivity, and would no longer remain in idleness, but proceed to Melbourne, and from thence to Mount Alexander, where he hoped to find Gilbert, and in that colony to discover what he sought—a remunerative field for his exertions.

“I do not approve of your going to Victoria, Osman,” said Captain Dell, when his intention was communicated to the family.

“Why so, Sir?”

“I don't like the place. As for work, you can find it here. What does Arney say? Consult him. You are a good penman, a bit of a scholar—could correspond in French and German, and half-a-dozen other languages, I suppose. No, I say: stay where you are, and look round you leisurely. We don't want to lose you.”

“Accept my most sincere thanks, my kind friend, but I have already been too long idle; instead of doing more, I am doing less, than formerly. I must go; this life of case and happiness unnerves me.”

“Bless my heart, Osman, you speak as if you were going on a campaign, and that a feather bed would prevent your afterwards sleeping on a camp mattrass. Unnerve you—what for—how?”

Leigh bowed slightly.

“My life may be as trying as a soldier's, without its glory,” was his only remark.

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“We shall miss you extremely; the house will be gloomy without you. Won't it, Rachel dear?”

How she would have answered the appeal remained uncertain, for Leigh replied quickly—

“No, it will not be gloomy where Miss Dell and your grand-daughter are.”

“True, Osman, very right; but we shall feel your absence.”

Leigh bowed slightly, but his eyes had sought Rachel; he thought she looked pale. Did she—but he recalled his resolve; he had yet his way in life to find—his provision to make. Thus they parted.

“When shall we see you again?” the Captain repeated; but the time when he should return was uncertain.