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Chapter XV.

“Humbled beneath His mighty hand,
Prostrate, His providence adore;
'Tis done! Arise! He bids thee stand,
To fall no more.”

MONTGOMERY.

Shortly afterwards, Mr. Batally returned to Sydney. Gertrude suspected, but was not quite certain, that Mrs. Doherty had lent him money. She had heard him say in a careless manner, “I can give you an I.O.U., but it is not much consequence, for a trifle of this sort.”

Mrs. Doherty replied curtly, “no, you need not mind.” But Gertrude withdrew from the threshold, supposing her presence was not desired, and heard no more.

Next morning he went, on one of his aunt's horses. Poor old ‘Don,’ Tudor's favorite, being easy to catch, he had used constantly, and ultimately lamed; Tudor said, past all recovery.

Mrs. Doherty drew her chair close to the fire, that evening, with a face expressive of relief, and pleasure; and asked Gertrude for a German hymn.

The fire looked unusually bright, the candles superb; the whole room wore a comfortable, and blissful air of repose, which both females appeared fully to enter into; till Gertrude found she had sunk into a reverie, with her eyes fixed on Mrs. Doherty's face, and was startled out of it, by her inquiring what she was thinking of. The burning blush mounted to her temples, and called forth a keen, sharp glance, which increased her confusion, made her knot her cotton, and produced an impatient ejaculation from Mrs. Doherty, followed by fits of musing, which did not seem pleasant; but the cheery home feeling ultimately conquered.

Outwardly, as the world looks on things, all went on as heretofore. Mrs. Doherty was as active and brisk in manner, and speech; Tudor as indefatigable, perhaps a shade less severe, and more grave; and at times, even a sad expression might have sat on his fine features.

Gertrude also was much the same, much, but not quite; the spirit was growing stronger, was preparing for life, with an increasing sense of the responsibilities of life: to be, to think, to act here alone. Oh! how alone in moral responsibility, and yet one of millions; making up a part of those millions: acting on others, and being acted upon by example, by affection, and sympathy. Never for a single moment, apart from the presence of the Almighty! Always, waking or sleeping, he is there! With a life that must be made up of hours and days: of work, not manual, of mental work only, but of moral work.

Ignorance, and superstition go hand in hand: sin, and misery, a dark fraternity, walk through the length, and breadth of this world of ours, and every being is living for good, or for evil; helping on the cause of righteousness, or swelling the foul tide of sin.

To no one could Gertrude speak of these things. As spring advanced, she saw less of Tudor, the only one who could understand, or counsel her: he was very kind, soft, and tender in his manner, and she knew that he watched from a distance over her: but she felt, rather than saw, that he avoided other than business calls at the house, though when there, was as composed as ever.

“Tudor never comes to spend the evening with us, now,” exclaimed Mrs. Doherty, upon one occasion. “How provoking it is! The house is lost without him.”

Gertrude felt grieved. Instinctively she feared that her presence had deprived her employer of that pleasure. Yet she never suspected why it had been so.

“He knows” pursued Mrs. Doherty, “how welcome he is, and how much I like it. What can be the reason, Gertrude?”

“I don't know, Ma'am.”

“And don't care, I suppose.”

Gertrude was conscious of any thing but indifference.

“I shall speak to him very seriously, and—whose voice is that, I hear in the yard? Bless me! was it not Charley Inkersole's?”

Happily she had not waited for an answer, but went to see; and Gertrude flew to her room, with a thousand emotions, that took so long to analyse, that Charley, who had found a strange servant, who did not enter into the thing, like Mary of old, and had turned from the kitchen, to encounter Mrs. Doherty, felt a strong propensity to mount his horse, and decamp.

“Good day,” said she, sharply. “I did not know you had returned.”

“I only came home this morning,” replied he, with a careless manner.

“We are honored by so early a call, upon my word.”

The bitter satirical tone, called up a rather warm color; but he said as calmly as before, “You have been well, I hope, Ma'am.”

“There has been time to get well, and to forget illness, since you left.”

The young man turned a wistful glance towards the door, and then said, “Is Mr. Tudor in?”

“He is at Dugdale's.”

“When he returns, will you tell him that we dropped some of our mob, coming through the scrub, and will come and get them, in a day or two.”

“You brought down cattle, then.”

“Yes, one hundred.”

“Ha!” The meaning Mrs. Doherty threw into this interjection, shortened his visit. A brief ‘good day,’ on either side, was all that was exchanged; and he rode away.

Gertrude was working in the parlour, and looked up very calmly, as Mrs. Doherty entered, saying:

“It was Charles Inkersole; he came down this morning.”

“Indeed.”

“He has grown very manly; and looks as if he had had nothing to disturb his peace. He never mentioned you.”

Gertrude reddened.

Mrs. Doherty opened a book savagely, and began to turn the leaves, in a short, snapping manner.

No woman can feel otherwise than mortified at being forgotten; and Gertrude feeling, for she did not look up, that the keen eyes were flashing upon her, and trying to penetrate to her very heart, changed color painfully; yet preserved a composed demeanour.

To rise, and leave the room, was to acknowledge agitation; and therefore she remained.

Presently Kitty's voice was heard calling Gertrude, and she gladly laid down her work to go into the verandah.

Mrs. Doherty joined them, having a message for Mrs. Kenlow.

“I am going to see father count the sheep in. Will you come?” said the girl, addressing Gertrude.

“Not to-night.”

“Do.” There was something beyond counting the sheep, promised in the look.

“Not to-night, I am busy.”

Kitty looked at the quiet face in bewilderment; and with increasing meaning in her countenance, continued “and mother says you never come to see her now. Run down with me, it will do you good.”

“Thank you, not now: some day soon, I will.”

“But mother took up such a fine damper, when I came away, and you like damper.”

Gertrude laughed, and declared herself not hungry enough to be tempted; and with a smiling “good night,” escaped Kitty's assiduities; whilst she, with hasty steps, proceeded home, not at all surprised, evidently, to meet Charley Inkersole by the way.

“Where is she?” was his greeting.

“Taking her tea, I suppose,” replied Kitty, rather shortly.

“Didn't you see her?”

“Yes.”

“Wouldn't she come?”

“Mrs. Doherty was there, and I couldn't make her understand, or she wouldn't, or something.”

Kitty was a little irritated by her want of success; and the young man walked by her side, with very knit, and gloomy brows: quite forgetting that he had suffered many a weary month of unbroken silence to pass; and ready to blame sundry and several people, as false, and insidious: nor did the sight of Tudor tend to mollify his humour; and the salutation was equally cold, and haughty on both sides: whilst Tudor requested to be let know when the stray cattle were to be searched for.

One week of quiet passed, and then came a letter from Mr. Batally, to say that he was about to visit the farm again.

“I am sorry for it, particularly as Tudor goes to the station, soon,” remarked Mrs. Doherty.

“Does he? when?”

“In a few days. I do not like his going, Gertrude. I wish he would not go. Will you ask him to stay?”

“I! He will think me impertinent to interfere.”

“True; he must go, too.” She sighed, as the sudden impulse died away.

“I cannot bear to think of his going, this time: I hope nothing will happen,” continued Mrs. Doherty.

“Perhaps it is because Mr. Batally is coming—” Gertrude hesitated, and reddened; for she had herself experienced a decided chill at the thought of the promised visit.

“True.” A long, long fit of musing followed.

A day or two more, and Tudor was to start; but the last evening, he came to spend in the house. It was an evening to be remembered, and dreamt of, in many a long, dark day in life; a scene that would rise up before the eye, years afterwards. Never had he so thoroughly exerted himself to give pleasure—never had he been so free from austerity.

Mrs. Doherty sat with her eyes sparkling, eagerly watching each change in his expressive countenance, and catching the wise, or lively words he uttered. While Gertrude forgot her reserve, and laughed with a clear, silvery laugh of pleasure. Who has not spent some such evenings? What heart, but has its treasure picture, carefully guarded? The reality so precious, and fleeting, and yet engraved for life upon the heart.

But the morrow came, cheerless, and silent; yet the sun shone brightly, and the birds chirped, and chattered. Tudor was miles away: he had started before daybreak; and the farm felt that master-mind withdrawn, and collapsed accordingly.

Mr. Batally's arrival rather deepened the gloom; and renewed in Gertrude's mind, the painful feelings connected with the disclosure he had made.

“Gertrude, are you sleepy?” asked Mrs. Doherty, a few nights afterwards, looking into her room.

“No, Ma'am,” she replied, closing the book she was reading.

“Then come and sit with me, I feel rather downhearted.”

When they had taken chairs before the vacant grate, for the weather was too warm to admit of a fire, Mrs. Doherty fell into a fit of musing; and Gertrude found full occupation in watching her changing countenance. She was very pale, and evidently agitated, and sad.

The silence grew oppressive; the candles grew dim, and needed snuffing: still she sat, thinking sadly, even wretchedly.

Gertrude had left the parlour early, that evening, and now asked herself in alarm, what had occurred? Had Mr. Batally taunted his aunt with the stain on her character? Had bad news reached her, from Tudor? Still she sat there, with her sallow, thin features pale, and pinched; and her black eyes full of unwonted light.

Gertrude could bear it no longer, and inquired, “What had happened?”

At the sound of her voice, Mrs. Doherty started. “Happened, Child?” she asked.

“I beg your pardon, Ma'am: you look so pale, I feared you might have had bad news from Mr. Tudor.”

“No, no—Gertrude!”

“Yes Ma'am.”

Mrs. Doherty rose, and paced the room, then returned. “Child!” she said, “you have wound yourself round my heart: you are like a daughter to me—I never knew what it was to have a child of my own—I never heard any creature call me mother, and hang upon me for protection, and love; but I know what love a mother feels—I know it by my feelings for you.”

Gertrude looked up lovingly, but knew not how to reply.

The other, without waiting for it, pursued. “'Till to-night, there was something I supposed buried between us. There was a dark spot, and unknown to you: he has undeceived me: he taunted me with it: he tried to drive me to give him money, to buy his silence. He told me that he could, that he had torn me from a place in your love: that he had sunk me in your eyes, to my proper level: that you would despise me, as he did.”

“Dear Mrs. Doherty, don't, don't,” sobbed Gertrude, throwing her arms round the slight form, that vibrated, and trembled with agitation, and passion.

“My child, my child!” she said, convulsively pressing the young girl to her, and the tide of passion giving way, bursting into hysterical sobs and tears; tears that rushed in torrents over the cheeks, and left her exhausted, and faint in Gertrude's arms. Then gently she laid her in an easy chair, and brought scents to bathe the cold, clammy brow, and a glass of wine to drink, and slowly strength returned.

“You must know all,” she whispered.

“No, no, I don't wish. Tell me nothing: nothing to pain you,” and she hung over her with confiding, loving eyes.

“Yes, it is right—presently,” a long sigh closed the sentence; and then silence followed, only broken by those deep aspirations that succeed Hysteria, and which mark the relaxation of the nervous excitement.

By and bye, Mrs. Doherty began “Gertrude, I am, you know, an English woman. My mother died when I was young; but I was well brought up, well fed, and clothed, and taught in plain things; but they forgot I had a soul, and a heart: and they were left to run wild. I grew up self-willed, and violent, I owned no duty to God, or man; petted, and threatened by my father, and the old woman, who was at once his servant, and housekeeper, I reached womanhood; unprepared for life, unfit for duty.”

She seemed to dwell on these painful recollections, as if they were an old wound, the extent of which, she had resolved to probe, to seek a remedy.

“At eighteen, I met with, and loved a young man, named Hyram Carr; Gertrude, that was my error; not to love, that is natural, nay it is right; but to love without reason—in opposition to all that conscience whispered, or friends said. They expected me to obey; to yield up the dearest, strongest wishes of a woman's heart, who had no sense of duty to bid her do it—I had been trained to disobedience, as hundreds of children are—I had been forbidden to do, and I did it; was threatened, but the punishment never came—I knew it was empty breath. These things Gertrude, make children disobedient, and liars. Mind what I tell you, the time may come, when an infant mind may be placed in your hand to mould. Oh! mould it well—Oh, Heaven! to think of an immortal being, for whom no one cares beyond a certain routine of schooling, and dressing, and feeding, and who people love, and yet treat with the bitter curse of moral neglect.”

Again she paced restlessly, up and down the room; and Gertrude was awestruck, and silent.

“I left home, and friends for him, and with him, his wife, but the cursed of my father; and then followed neglect, jealousy, and sorrow; the curse came too surely. I will not tell you, Gertrude, of all that I suffered—I could not tell you—I knew I was cursed in my husband—I found that he was lawless, and dishonest: that when the voice of conscience pleaded with me, and restrained me from participating with him, he scoffed, and hated me. Then came the time when the hand of justice stretched out to avenge the broken laws: and I fell a victim to its vengeance. Was not the home in which I dwelt, furnished, and supported by the fruits of embezzlement, and midnight robbery? And together we became exiles!—He died on the sea, far from friends, and home; but I lived, as the young do live, through sorrow.”

“Through the matron's recommendation, I was assigned to a respectable, and wealthy family, where I spent my time of bondage, and then married Dr. Doherty. I loved him, Gertrude, I had reason to do so; and never did he allow the past to shadow the present. And now Child, can you love me as before? Can you respect me as before?—as Tudor does?”

Gertrude sprung to the open arms, and wept. For a long time they stood so; the elder woman entwining the younger with her arms, and trying to shut her out from the temptations, and sins of her own life, yearning over her, as the mother yearns over her child. Even now, she could but dimly understand the ‘Everlasting Arms,’ that were spread around that fair young girl—she could but faintly see “Him who carries the Lamb in His bosom.” She did not (for the lesson had been but faintly taught by sorrow) know the power of holiness, the safety of the armour of religion. That the gentle, and meek may tread life's thorny path in safety—that the cheerful, and artless may not heed the siren voice of gilded, and painted temptation; that the slight arm may slay the giant. “Trust in the Lord for ever, for the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.” This is the strong tower into which the righteous flee, and are safe. And as her low, yearning cry of “My child, my child” at times broke the silence, faintly there stole up through chaos, and disorder, the entreaty, “Into thine hand, Oh Lord!”

Like the ray of light which just penetrates the pall of night, thrown over the dead yesterday, there arose upon her, the light of faith; and when again she commenced her narrative, it was in a softer tone.

“Many” she said, “had been injured, almost ruined by him—I knew it, and when I found myself wealthy, then the power came to fulfil the determination of repaying them, with interest. By the assistance of Tudor, I have transmitted large sums for this purpose, and now the last is paid, I am free from debt, a debt which could not be claimed, and which I no less felt just. I am not rich, Gertrude: not moneyed, on this account: but perhaps I shall be so in time—but I have enough, more than enough, already.”

“Now you must go to bed; it is midnight. There go, God bless you!” she pressed a kiss on the pale cheek: but Gertrude still lingered.

“You will not sit thinking?”

“No, no, I promise you. And you, child, must sleep, you are as pale as a ghost.”

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