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Chapter XXX.

I am bound to thee for ever
By the pleasure of this day.

FESTUS.

MRS. Markarld and several members of her family were not a little surprised, as they started on an equestrian trip one day, to find a tall gentlemanly person leaning over the gate. He drew aside politely, and opened it; and addressing one of the boys, enquired if “that road led to Mr. Markarld's house.”

“This is Markarld Park,” returned the young gentleman awfully.

The stranger did not appear overcome by the announcement, but closing the gate proceeded up the road with such a firm step, and erect carriage, that the party paused to watch his receding figure, till a turn in the way concealed him from their sight. Not less was the servant impressed with his manner; and she was leading the way to the drawing-room, when his enquiry for Miss Gonthier, altered her course.

Gertrude was still pale and delicate looking; she was very busy, for Mrs. Markarld had supplied her with a great quantity of work, which was to be done prior to her leaving. She looked up from behind a pile of calico and gingham as the door opened, but the languid air was quickly supplanted by a look of delight. “Mr. Tudor!” “Gertrude!” were the mutual exclamations; and her hand was taken in a strong friendly clasp.

“How—When did you come here?” Her colour was coming and going, and he led her to a seat, casting a glance upon the gaping attendant, which induced her to close the door, and gratify her visual organs by means of the keyhole.

“I have come, Gertrude, to see you.”

“Have you! how did you know where I was?”

“I saw an article in the paper.”

“About me?”

“Yes. I was much gratified,” and he looked approvingly at her. “I have much to say; and indeed Miss Gertrude, I hardly know how to explain to you what I would say. I have found of late, that I have been very proud.”

“Oh no.”

“Yes, very—you must permit me to blame myself severely; it has been my only comfort of late.”

“A poor one,” she returned smiling.

“I have been blinded by pride; those who walk on stilts, are less likely to see the surface of the earth clearly, than those nearer it. I am afraid I have been using the stilts.”

She smiled; and then with sudden revolution of feeling burst into tears, saying—

“We have not met since the sad event, which scattered us all—our dear Mrs. Doherty. Who could have murdered her? Oh Mr. Tudor, if you had been there.”

“I fear Gertrude, it would have been the same.” A long and painful silence followed: she wondered why he grew so pale; and his brows worked so uneasily. At length he said—

“You know nothing more than what occurred at the time.”

“Nothing, do you?”

“I do! I know much that will, I fear, deeply pain you; I would give anything to spare you, but it might reach you for the first time, through rude and unsympathizing sources. Gertrude, the hand which deprived our dear friend of life, was not wilfully raised to murder her. It was a passionate impulse awakened by a dispute about various matters, where each felt aggrieved; and that deed has been truly repented of, and I trust pardoned”—he lingered; his tongue refused to utter the name of the murderer.

“Tell me, who, I must know,” she sprang up, her cheek white, her eyes wild.

“You shall, it was, Charles Inkersole.”

There was a long pause, Gertrude had fallen into the chair, and her face was buried in her hands; but her deep sobs told him of her distress, and wrung his very heart; when she was calmer, he talked to her as he used to do, quietly, and firmly; he spoke to her as a Christian, he dwelt on the hopes of forgiveness; he repeated to her the conversations he had had with the clergyman who first acquainted him with Charley's crime and death.

That the unhappy man was dead, was evidently a relief to her; he was spared from ignominiously bearing the punishment the laws of his country demanded for his crime; and the sensations of horror gave way to pity, and even hope. Tudor had delicately concealed from her the actual cause of dispute; and she was saved that additional suffering. There was much to say, and to hear, when the first poignant emotions were subdued.

Gertrude was to have left in a month. “Would you like to leave now?” Tudor enquired.

“Oh yes: but I cannot.”

“Will you allow me to try?”

A grateful smile answered him. She was so happy to have some one to act for her. Yes, he was now to be her guide and protector; she knew why he had apparently neglected her; but all was now explained: she was quite bewildered, when he left her to arrange with Mr. Markarld for her immediate departure—she sat trying to collect her thoughts, but she could not for the present; there was nothing but a delicious consciousness of affection and power, which was exerted for her; and a grateful sense of God's blessings. He had done more than she ever dared to hope, or expect: the time was not come to steadily consider the duties which lay before her; for the events of the last hour, or two, were almost stupifying in their abruptness; but earnestly she prayed that she might choose rightly; and that her light might so shine that others should be attracted to that Source of Light; even Christ—for the rest she added, “Thy will be done.”

Just as years before, Tudor had entered upon his situation at Murrumbowrie, and bowed every will to his, so now he carried his point; he was so courteous, yet immoveable, that it did not suggest itself to oppose him: he evidently meant to succeed; but his bearing was so gentlemanly, that the favor must necessarily be yielded gracefully. Mr. Markarld deprived of his arrogant bearing looked awkward and uncertain: he had wine and biscuits brought into the drawing-room, but a consciousness that the Miss Gonthier in question, was only a needle-woman, perplexed him.

A short time more, and Gertrude had left the Park for ever; she was shedding tears of mingled emotions, which it took long to analyse: the scrutiny had to be waived for the present: there were friends to bid farewell to, and hasty preparation for a journey to be made. Miss Lenny was intending to visit her mother, and would accompany them.

“I'll take her under my charge to mother's sir,” said she.

Tudor thanked her.

“What a beautiful manner he has,” whispered Miss Turkinton to Gertrude, as she stood gazing in admiring wonder at the stranger. “I wonder you never told us.”

Gertrude thought how little, and yet how much she had had to tell: but she was saved a reply by Tudor's warmly thanking Miss Lenny for her kindness to Gertrude; and then turning with an acknowledging smile and bow, towards the beauty.

“I'm sure Mr. Tudor, I am very happy to do anything for Gertrude. I always was very partial to her, from the first.”

No one was inclined to question her veracity just then; and the females fell into a state of happy confusion, packing and unpacking, providing for the safety of best bonnets, choosing travelling costumes, and the other matters so important to woman-kind.

Miss Turkinton was actually aroused out of her dormant state, she was even seen to run in Gertrude's service: and the epithets “dear,” and “love,” were always coupled with her name; Miss Lenny's kindness was less demonstrative, and Gertrude felt more sincere; but she was in no humour to cavil; and she had Miss Watchorn to bid adieu to, and the little doctor; altogether it was a relief to find herself at Mrs. Lenny's. Julia was enchanted, and must express her pleasurable sensations in a dance.

“And how long will you stay—and when will you be married?”—

“I do not know. Mr. Tudor is going to his mother's; and he will return with his sister, for me.”

“What a love he is, Gertrude.”

Gertrude laughed at the idea; it sounded rather weak for such a grave, strong-minded person. The meeting with his mother and sisters alarmed her: if they were like him she would appear so childish and feeble to them; they would find so many faults in her; she feared she was not worthy of their son and brother—her head bowed down upon her hand, and the tears filled her eyes. A moment afterwards, there was a hand laid firmly on her shoulder; the touch conveyed sympathy, and courage—it made her tears flow faster.

“Gertrude will you not bid me good-bye?' he said in a low tone.

“Are you going?—surely you will not go so soon.”

“Yes I must start to-night—my absence will be very short—then in a tone which only reached her ears, he added, “I wish to take you from here; you will be happier with my mother and family dear Gertrude: these people mean well, and are really kind, but they will wound you at every turn.”

“They do.”

“I know it. All will love you at Riverside.”

“I am afraid”—

“What of?”—she had paused, and looked reluctant to complete her sentence; but Tudor stood waiting for it.

“I am afraid they will think me so childish, I have so many faults.”

“Is that all—we will compound with that,” he returned with a merry smile; and then gently, “they are not perfect either; at first they will love you for my sake, and then for your own—my mother is the kindest, and most affectionate of women; and I am sure the girls will be really sisters to you,” again his hand was laid firmly on her shoulder, and then he departed.

“Law what a pity! I thought Mr. Tudor would have stayed the evening; and we could have had a nice dance. I was just going to run in next door, and get them to come in after tea.”

Gertrude was trying to appear composed, but she made an effort to console Julia Lenny, and consoled herself at the same time. There was shopping to do, but she was too tired that day to trouble about muslin and laces; and the evening was passed in thinking of that family party at Riverside Farm; and in listening to Julia's musical performances. It is to be feared that “the last new song,” and “such a pretty polka,” were equally disregarded—she was tracing Tudor along the road; wondering if he would travel all night; and fearing he would, for he never seemed to feel fatigue; and he was just like he used to be, only kinder; and she admitted it now, he was formerly a little stern in his bearing. Charles Inkersole and his crime, reverted frequently to her remembrance; but she dared not dwell on it: happily Mrs. Lenny and her daughters were so absorbed in the surprise the appearance of Mr. Tudor, and her change of fortune had given them, that Mrs. Doherty's death was over-looked. Gertrude felt she could not have borne that: she could scarcely command her feelings, when Mrs. Lenny sunk into her arm chair, and drawing a footstool towards her, planted her carpet slippers thereupon, and requested Gertrude to tell her “all the particulars.”

The request was clearly not to be evaded, the attitude indicated that she was prepared to listen, and expected a narrative of some length. Gertrude was utterly at fault, and stammered out “that Mr. Tudor was always very kind to her, but he was not at home when”—a flood of tears finished the sentence, and as she abruptly left the room, she caught Mrs. Lenny wondering—“My word, who'd have thought she would have took it that way.”

Whatever way she was expected to take it, she evidently could not recover her composure sufficiently that evening, to bear any further questioning; and she mentally applauded Tudor's idea of removing her immediately. “He was quite right, he always is,” was the satisfactory conclusion, and an early bed her safest retreat.

The sea breeze was blowing fresh and cool, when Gertrude and Julia Lenny a few days later, strolled through the Botanic Gardens, and seeking a shaded seat prepared to enjoy the scene, the blue waters of the harbour lay calm, and bright, before them, slightly lined by the white crests of the waves formed by the wind; boats with their curious wings spread, glided along, and a large vessel laden with some hundreds of emigrants, was sailing slowly towards her long coveted haven; Gertrude had too recently left her native land, and made one of such a crew, not to enter keenly into the emotions which must have stirred those many bosoms, as they turned their gaze on their future land, where they might expect to live and die; for how few, if any, of those three hundred Emigrants would leave that land again. For herself she adopted the words, “the lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places, and thou hast given me a goodly heritage;” most earnestly she desired that her earthly happiness might not weaken her love for God. “I will go in the strength of the Lord God; I will make mention of thy righteousness, even of thine only,” she said with David.

“Gertrude, an't that Mr. Tudor and a lady?” exclaimed Julia, whose eyes had found more to attract them in the persons roaming through the gardens, than in an emigrant ship. The question made her start. It was Tudor and a lady, his sister, she knew in a moment; there were the same fine features, and thoughtful eyes. She advanced quietly, with burning cheeks; but the welcoming smile, and the “dear Gertrude, I am so glad to see you,” uttered in a sincere earnest tone, dissipated her fears. Tudor looked on with a satisfied smile; he had selected his elder sister, because she was less mirthful than Fanny, and he knew that Gertrude's spirits were not equal to mirth just then.

“Our mother is all impatience to have you at home Gertrude dear,” said Annie Tudor.

How those words “our mother,” and “home,” echoed in her heart: she who had been for years motherless and homeless, was suddenly restored to all these ties.

“I am ready,” she returned in a very low tone, but her companions understood the depth of emotion which absolutely hushed its expression, by it very intensity.

Julia Lenny was now formally introduced to Miss Tudor, and gracefully thanked for the care she had taken of their dear Gertrude.

“I am sure I don't know who would'nt be kind to her; they can't well help it,” returned she; her natural good feelings surmounting the icy restraint her gentility habitually put upon her. “Shall we return home now Miss Tudor? Ma will be proud to make your acquaintance.”

“And I shall have much gratification in personally thanking her; but my brother and I are going to stay at an hotel, and we will take Gertrude if she would wish it, with us.”

Gertrude's wishes were legibly inscribed upon her countenance, and when Mrs. Lenny had been called on, and the favours she had extended to Gertrude acknowledged gratefully, they withdrew to the hotel.

That happy evening, it would never be forgotten, it was one of the stars in life's sky; it disarmed the fear Gertrude had felt at the thoughts of meeting the family at Riverside; she felt she already knew and loved them; and that she was no stranger there; that she was indeed going home: she could even feel that their separation had been a blessing, her mind and character were matured, her Christian faith increased, and she was now fitted to enter upon the duties of life, in a very different manner to what she could formerly have done. With what confidence may we not utter “our Father which art in heaven,” for the hand which rules our destiny is indeed paternal, and unerring in wisdom; with truth has it been said, “it is often darkest before the break of day;” let us believe it in our hours of sorrow, that which we have pronounced impossible, is possible with Him. To Gertrude the future was a happy uncertainty, which she cared not to lift the veil from, even if she could have done so.

Their stay in Sydney was short, and the way to the Nepean soon traversed. They had left the high road, and by one of those uneven, rutty, and root-crossed tracks, known as “bush roads,” were penetrating a part of the country before unknown to her—it was level, and wooded, chiefly by the Blue Gum and Oak; and the wind as it sighed softly through the wiry leaves of the latter trees, sounded a pleasant welcome to her—it was pre-eminently a farming district: now they skirted wide fields under good culture; then were detained for a few moments by some friendly recognition from a farmer, busy among his hay stacks, or appearing flail in hand, from a huge barn door; all knew, and were glad to see Mr. Tudor; some had a word of greeting for Miss Annie. Gertrude was not displeased that only a “fine day miss,” was bestowed upon her. These rural scenes deeply interested her, it was the day on which the farmers left home for the hay market; and from every stack yard turned out a dray, piled with hay, or straw, each driver had a word for Tudor; some were unmistakably Australians; the tall thin figures, the straight features, and national expression: again she heard the prices current discussed with interest, and probable fluctuations of the markets speculated upon; it carried her in imagination back to Murrumbowrie; sometimes the loads consisted of fat calves in frame pens, or poultry, lamenting their approaching fate, in tones varying from the gobble of a fat turkey, to the shrill clatter of a ruffled hen.

The scenery was not striking, but pleasing, to the lover of the country and of improvement. That it reminds of “Home” is the British meed of praise, which, perhaps can hardly be improved upon—since it suggests a well-tilled field: a comfortable farm-house, among its orchard trees; and a great barn stored with good things.

After a while they drew up at one of these farms—the dwelling and flower garden evinced the presence of a cultivated taste, the river between its deep banks, flowed near.

“Is this your mother's place?” Gertrude enquired, with a fluttering heart.

Tudor's smile answered her. She was glad he did not speak, for his smile conveyed more than words could, and then she was clasped in the warm embrace, of one of those gentle, large-hearted women, who seem born to be comforters, and to share and remove all sorrows if it be possible to do it.

Kenneth was from home for a few days; but had left a kind message with Fanny for her. Some little evidence of affectionate expectation met her at every step, it unnerved her completely, and she sat down and wept.

“She is timid and strange,” said Fanny sympathizingly, “but dear Gertrude we all love you: you must not be lonely among us.”

Tudor understood the case better; he drew her hand through his arm, and wrapping a light mantle around the slight bowed form, led her from the room; for awhile they paced the garden walks in silence, her tears flowed till they had spent themselves; and then he began to speak; he knew she would be better for allowing her long pent up emotion to find vent. There were no more tears that evening, the little face looked cheerful, if quiet; and the family party were very happy.

In viewing the future, Gertrude did not fall into the common fault, of expecting an utter cessation of all trials and sorrows for the time to come; but left their distributing to her God: she looked hopefully and firmly forward, and she would be by the side of him she loved in life's battle, that alone would be a shield and a joy; it would turn cares into pleasures.

“Gertrude are you inclined for a walk?”

It was the following morning, and although quite early, she was out in the poultry yard with Fanny, who was eagerly explaining what fine broods of fowls, and ducks, she had reared.

“It is very early Ned,” interposed his sister, for the catalogue was by no means gone over.

“It would not be our first walk of like nature,” he returned cheerfully, leading Gertrude away: “do you remember the time we ascended the bald hill to see the sun rise?”

“Yes, well—what a fine view it was. I often admired it afterwards; but where are we going now?”

“To see an old friend of yours.”

“Of mine. I know no one here.”

They went on through a lucerne field, which was unmistakably dewy; and entered a little meadow bordering the river. The high native oak trees almost concealed the clear waters rippling above their sandy bed. There was no habitation there, but a few cattle pasturing; they paused before a little white heifer; Tudor called it, and it ran forward familiarly.

“Is it my Snow-ball—where did you get her Tudor?” inquired Gertrude, passing a caressing hand across the sleek pure sides of the animal.

“It is the calf you reared, Gertrude. I found Mr. Batally considered it his; and it looked so disconsolate wandering about uncared for, that I offered to purchase it, and did so: you know I had some cattle running there, and I brought it down with them. I intended to take it up to the Hunter some day.”

Gertrude stroked the calf with increasing pleasure; and said it was very kind—and then he made her walk quickly back, and remove her damp shoes.

After a week Tudor had to return to his farm; there were preparations to be made there, which he must personally superintend; and Gertrude exerted herself to be every thing his family could desire—the making of cakes and pies; and the fitting and sewing of dresses, were very important things, for she felt kind anxious eyes watched her capabilities; and that they were kindly partial eyes, did not lessen her desire not to disappoint them. The painful situation of a woman ignorant of her duties was happily spared her—and she felt that among a practical people, like the country population of New South Wales, she gained considerable respect; from the fact that she was not helpless. If an anxious thought crossed her mind, she rested on such words as these, “Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine,” and her fears were dissipated. “God is our refuge: a very present help in every time of trouble.”

Often did Mrs. Tudor draw the young girl to her, and talk to her of those future days, as only a mother can; and that mother a Christian; she was not dissatisfied that her son had chosen a portionless bride, for she knew that there are riches out valuing gold and silver, and “a prudent wife is from the Lord.”

Newspaper advertisements in some respects occupy the place of beacons upon a foreign shore, lighting up a small space in the surrounding darkness, warning of shoals, or telling of safe havens; so through the medium of the advertising columns was the blank silence broken, which would otherwise have rested upon some of the persons to whom her wanderings had introduced Gertrude: first was an announcement of the marriage of Peter Linken, esquire, of such an such a hill, or hollow, to ‘Miss Catherine Kenlow, only daughter of Mr. Kenlow, of Golden Acres.’

Gertrude said, Kitty had married very well, but Tudor seemed to think it sounded grandest in print. ‘The Kenlows were rather genteel, you know.’

“Quite! Edward—I wonder where Kitty has gone to.”

“I really am in perfect ignorance of Mr. Linken's locality; most probably he is a neighbour of theirs: we shall not find him on the Hunter, I dare say.”

The Gertrude Gonthier of our tale was Mrs. Tudor then; and reading the paper in her sitting-room, at Burrengumbie.

Some little time after, they saw that Mr. Batally had sequestrated his estates, the incompetent proprietor robbed on every side, and perfectly incapable of directing the men he employed, had rapidly fallen into an embarrassed state of affairs; but his creditors permitted him to retain the homestead, with the option of redeeming it in a fixed time: whether gathering experience from past failures he would be able to do so, remained to be proved.

On Mr. Batally's sudden succession to his deceased aunt's property, his ripening friendship for the family at Wattletree Flat, had met an abrupt termination. The important question Tudor was to have solved, was not propounded when he returned to Murrumbowrie; and for a while all connection between the new proprietor and them, was at an end. Staples however, watched the tide of events, in much the same spirit as a wise old crow may be supposed to entertain, as perched upon some leafless branch, he calculates the mortal span of some jaded horse, or bullock, released from the team, and vainly endeavouring to drag its failing limbs along, to where pasture may be found. After some time Staples endeavoured to propose a partnership, in which Jimbindoon was to fall under his management; he having “just a handful of sheep above what his own run could graze convenient.” The handful turned out to be a second Egyptian flight of locusts, Mr. Batally's sheep did not prosper; Staples bought them, to save him further loss, and as a run without stock could be no use for a consideration, it was thrown into the bargain. About this time Ellen complained of her piano going out of tune; through the draughts. “You will have it in mother Doherty's neat parlour yet my girl,” resumed he. Staples was not in the habit of communicating his projects, or seeking advice from women, so he did not unravel the meaning of his remark.

Of the minor characters little remains to be written, for this reason, that little is known. A correspondent from one of the Victoria diggings writing to the Argus, mentions that M'cMasters' party were doing well; but whether it was the ex-sawyer and his good natured Mary, is undetermined—for the others we may presume they are, if living, wandering up and down these broad lands of ours, leading a life of checkered weal and woe, of good or it is to be feared preponderating evil; till at length the burden of years, and ills will bow them down into that narrow resting-place, the tomb—perhaps adding their brief record of name and death, to the “accidently drowned,” or “appalling murder”—which creates a momentary interest in the newspaper column.

By similar means, that is through the public prints, Gertrude read that Miss Lenny gratefully acknowledged the liberal patronage she had met with, and solicited a continuance of the same, for the young ladies who succeeded her in her business; she withdrawing in consequence of the failing health of her mother requiring her presence. Below was an advertisement on the same subject, signed by the Misses Turkinton and Wedlake; under which names the business would in future be carried on, &c.

Mr. Ben it is feared has not yet met with a discerning Editor, or that attention from the world, his poetic talents entitle him to: that he is not discouraged, the postmaster affirms from the number of versified epistles which passed through his hands last Valentine's day: he may therefore be heard of among the famous in days to come; and tell his own tale of the struggles of rising genius.

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