Chapter 100894453

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100894453
Full Date1887-12-24
Page Number4
Corrections0
Word Count2777
IllustratedY
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleNepean Times (Penrith, NSW : 1882 - 1962)
Trove TitleA Christmas Angel
article text

A

Christmas Angel.

By Patience Sxapibtoit.

CHAPTER.—I.

Somewhere in Maine there is a seaport town, touched by the sea and guarded by high blue hills always shrouded in a kind of mist, the breatli of the great tide that sobs and beats against the cold, rocky shore. Such an old town this is, fair Athens by the Sea, Years and years ago, fine old sea captains lived here and built stately homes. Thejr named the town Athens—it was originally called some musical Indian word, poetic in its mean ing—and they built their houses after their half-forgotten remembrances of castles and noble mansions across the sea.

These old captains wore wealthy and proud, arrogant perhaps ; but a sea cap tain is always lord of all he surveys on blue water, and it was not strange that

the air and old habit of command re mained with him when ho cast anchor in a home harbor until his voyage of Iifp

ended.

Thirty years ago, in Athens, old Cap tain Perry was the chief man of the vil lage ; now the red glow of the sun tints his pallid marble monument with a rosy light, the monument on which is carved a wonderful little ship that generations of young Athenians will marvel at and re member. A man that was once bo much

is pitiful small in an earthly mound, and yet this is to come to both captains and -ftilora. Old Captain Perry lived in a grand mansion, the best in the village. Three storied, white, and soft-green blinds, and a high-pillared portico that mado it look like a church. The captain's grounds were artistically laid out; gleaming under the noble elms that shaded the lawn were beautiful statues brought from Europe;

car the house a big bronze fountain tossed sparkling diamonds of water all the quiet Summer days.

When the captain left the sea, fifty years before, ho was fifty" years old and " rich as Crocus," the villagers said, with a poetic remembrance of a simple flower, and yet an erroneous idea of the meaning and use of a word. He had a ward, the handsome daughter of a brother captain. Finding the villagers began to talk about the girl of twonty living under his roof, lie promptly and rather masterfully urged his suit to her, and she married him? She was a faithful, obedient wife, quiet and passive, yet he often heard her sob and moan in her sleep. She died giving birtli to a child a year after her marriage. She said no word of regret, nor kissed the girl baby they laid beside her, but only turned her face to the wall and lay there till the end. After her death the captain found a tear-stained packet of letters, a portrait of a handsome sailor, that was all; but it made the captain bitter and distrustful of men and women, so he brought his motherless daughter up like some captive princess. She Bhould have no past that lie could not tell the " Young Princo" who would claim her some day. The captain meant her to marry, but tho man he in tended for her husband was quite too ex alted a personage in character and rank ever to come to Athens in the flush.

. Tho captain used to talk of his daugh ter's future to John Greonleaf, better known as "Cap'cn John." When t'10 little Desdemona, tho captain's daughter, was born, John Greenleaf was a cabin-boy in one of the captain's ships. Grcenleaf senior had been a sailor in the captain's employ, but having no ambition, was never promoted, his ability never rising beyoi.d tho carrying out of a superior's orders j not so with John, and the captain pu.ihed tho boy ahead. He saw there was metal in him ; he liked John's great dark eyes,' his rare bright smile, his intelligent face,' and activity ; so when Desdemona was a maiden of seventeen, John, thirty-two, quiet and grave, almost, stern in manner, was captain of the Othello, one of the' captain 8 best ships. Captain Perry was nt that time one of the largest ship-owners' in the Stato of Maine. . All this was thirty, years ago, and ships were inonarclis of iho sea then. I

Captain Perry talked of his future son in-law to Captain John, and tho latter listened with sad interest lifting his quiet eyes, "that,' like.'.'deep black pools iti the'

forest, Tiii^htji'eyeal so much when stirred,

iiltd glilncmg ot tlio dainty girl out by the bonze fountain—a golden-haired, blue oyeil maiden, feeding the robins that

Hocked about her. Somehow in the storms, nb sfa, the long, lazy daj's and cdlntB in <trnpical climes, she came up before him—

the blue of her dress like the blue of her eyes, the glint of her yellow hair, the B vift withdrawal of her sweet glance when lier eyes metiiis and sho dropped the cur tain of hor long dark lashes. John never saw a senshell but lie thought of the trans p irent pink, of her cheek. He thought, vyhile tho captain talked amiably about /flie expected Prince, of his poor home, a

• mile front town at tho foot of the blue

h lis. 11 o saw, tho rickety old farmhouse, thn barren fields, the lean cattle. He re iiieinberod^ liis crippled father, his aged molltor ; lie saw little Santmy playing by tho gate—liltle white-headod, freckled Sammy, the orphan child of his wild, dis sipated brothei.'whose debts he was pay ing—the debts that were still so heavy and that lie could lo\ver so slowly.

Captain Perry prattled on, for he re garded John ns a sort of slave—the child of one of his ignorant sailors—a man he ha I made. " Rut, great guns, & smart man, and one that knows his place. Why, I've had him in my house like—like a (the captain paused)—a nephew for years. Look at my daughter, indeed 1" (Some one had insinuated such a thinp might ocour). "Old John, quiet, staid John Greenieaf I why, I'd as soon think of Peter Jones, my old cook that went to sea with me thirty year ago, looking at Des jnondy."

In the year 1860, when Sammy was seven and his grandfather somewhere about eighty, tho Othello waB in New York, and Captain John oame home to Athens to spend Christmas. Tho old folks, he saw, were very feeble, the home poorer than' over, and the doctor's bill for his father's sickness staggored him. It was a dreary Christmas ; lifo had always been droary to him, poor John ; but he was so patient, so cheerful always, that no one suspected his sad heart and terrible loneli ness. Ho met the captain—suoh a wliito bcarded old giant of seventy—and the captain, bubbling over with joy, informed

I'ioi the Prince had arrived.

" Met liim lost Summer juat after you wont away, John. Desmondy was ailing a little—I took her to New York. He was there—son of an old friend—a re tired ship commissioner—only twenty-two —handsome young fellow—rich, too— worships Mona. He's here now—told him 'bout you—what a smart cap'en you woro—no cabin-window promotion either, but worked yowr way Hp. Hs'4 like t» He yon."

"Thank you," said Captain John, huskily ; " he's kind, but I'm to busy— ?o much to mb to—time's so short."

" But Mona wants vou," said the cap tain , not noticing in his cheer the chill, gray look on John's face. " She's liked ye from a child—used to sit on your knee —keeps all the gincracks you brought her. I tell her—ha, ha—they will be good for her youngsters to play with when she is Mrs. May. Tom May's his name."

At first Captain John determined not to go to that white house hidden amongst the pines and firs, wearing their bright-green dress in the wintry blast, when all the other trees, the queenly elms and stalwart oaks, were wrapped in winding-sheets of snow ; yet insensibly his steps turned thither, and a servant showed him into a cozy parlor, her own little room, whore everything was dainty blue save a big, crackling wood fire. It was a late afternoon when he went, and twilight was dropping down from tho mountains to meet the thick gray fog from the sea. The parlor was lighted only by the bright fire, but he saw her against tho background of the twilight shadows, sitting near tho hearth. She raised her head from the big volume on her knee when she hoard his step, and lifted her beautiful face, now radiant from the yellow light of the blazing pine that threw fantastic lights on her golden hair and her white gown with its soft, feathery fur. He gazed at her in a sort of trance —the only woman he know besides his wrinkled mother. He had lived a lonely life at sea, and the creatures ho had known in his younger days were not of the same race as this fair, sweebgirl.

" Don't you know me, John t" she said, going up to him and laying her little white hand in his bronzed big one, never to him so big and rough before. He stam mered, and pressed the small hand tremb lingly.

"Shall I ring for

lights ? " she said, drawing him a chair by tho firo and re suming her position with the book on her kaee.

"No," he .aid; '? let.ine look at you for ft momenfc in the firelight and try to f realize that you are I the little child 1

used to pet, the child that was never absent from my thoughts in all my lonely, lonely hours. How 1 used to plan things for her, and try to remember ail her little wants!

Hor happy face, 1 when I filled her ( apronand herdimp ledurraswith quaint foreign toys, was tho sweetost recollec tion of my life." Ho spoke half to him

self.'

"You brought me nothing this time, John," she said, half laughing, but there was it tear ful shadow in her

oyt'B.

"1 dared not in. trude my gifts on tho young lady," Btainmored tho cap tain, awkwardly,

"Your father wrote me tho Prince had come, at last—the young lover he used to talk to me about —the' rich, hand* tome lover. 1 did not know but that you wore already married. How long, may I ask now, be fore tho bine-eyed child in tobolos'. for ever, and tho Prin cess, leaving her en chanted home, will go out into tho great world with the Prince, leaving us woeful and lad as tho faded llowors ?" I "Ah, ma,"sighed the Princess, "1 am very, very unhappy, John." She leaned liar cheek on her hand and looked up into his face. She noticed his Arm lips tremble under his dark moustache; bIio noted he passed his- hand over his eyes as if they were

moist,

"Unhappy Mona? You — now I " he Baid, incredulously, loaning nearer to her. "Why," he oried, brokenly.

" how pale you

are, how sad 1 and your voica—its old happy ring is gono. la it this cursed climate of cold and miat ?—must you, the loveliest of them all, go like the reat, the sweet-faced girls I hare seen grow to young womanhood ? Ah, God t Mona, to think of yoa in the graveyard, your young

life at an end!"

He rose quickly, and walked to the win dow and looked out aoroia the harbor, where the light of the lighthouse at the entrance sent a long, yellow atream out

on the dark wavea.

" I am well," said Mona, impatiently. " It's not consumption, it's—it s (with a little sob)—" it's heartbreak, John,"

Be came back to her then.

"Mona," he said, tremblingly, "you used to tell old John all the little troubles of your childhood, and we would plan a way out of them. Oan I not help you

now ?"

He drew his chair closer to her, and took the frail hand lying on the book in both of his hands. She longed to lay her cheek close to his and sob out her grief as she did when a little ohild.

"I do not lore the Prince," she gasped. Father says I must marry him, and I •hall die." '

"Not love him!" repeated John. *' Ho young, rioh, handsome—all your father desires, and you knowing no one olse. I don't understand it, Mona."

She looked at 1)W wistfully, then quiokly drew her hand away.

"Do you know why I was name*} Desdemona?" she said, shortly.

" Because," said bewildered John, 1 it was the only play of Shakespeare's your father ever read { the same reason I be lieve he named ray ship the Oihtllo."

" Ha named ma far jDaademana baaausa ha fait *7 ?•thar Was," s*M

JHona, atMdil/. ^'Tou sea my mother

loved » dead sailor, and married father with only a broken heart and blighted life in return for his great love and kindness. Father read how Othello thought he had been deceived, but grew to lore Desde mona because she was true after all, atid he wanted me to be what she was. I think he pities Othello, because he might have suffered like Othello did if mother had lived."

" I see 1" said the captain, still bewil dered.

" Imagine now," said Mona, quickly, a pink glow on brow and cheek, " if Desde mona had to marry one of the nobles whom her father liked, and all the time she loved Othello with her whole heart."

" And yet he did not try to win her ; he was too humble, too unworthy, lie thought, for such a fair, sweet lady," Baid the captain.

" But he told her stories of his travels," cried Mona, fixing her glowing eyes on the captain's face, "and she knew by them of his bravery, his nobility. She knew she could adore and worship him, he was so strong in heart, so daring, with the courage of a lion. A woman shut in from the world finds her heroeB in books —in book-people—and when she sees a man like the ideal she has read about her heart goes out to him whether she will or

not."

The captain looked into the fire ; his faoe, half hidden by Ih'b hand, was curiously calm, and like marble in its pal lor. Still that wistful glance in her blue eyes. He felt conscious of a sweet per fume, a delicious dreamy fooling of hnppi ness ; yet crushed his heart as he from a lifetime of repression knew how to do.

" You used to tell mo stories, John," said a tender, broken voice, so close to him that he felt the warmth of her breath on his hand. He started up and went once again to the window. Still darkness

outside, a faint suggestion of snov oq tl)8 fields, a wide expanse of gloomy blacfc water rolling, under the faint, tiny staw, and away across the harbor the gloaming light. How quiet it was t Only the snap and crackle of the fire dying down to deep

red coals.

He heard her soft step; he was road for a moment. Wild, fevered blood poured into his brain ; his heart seemed as if it would choice him. He clinohed his hands. She came close to him and rested her oheok on his arm.

" You are angry. I have been un maidenly, dear John," she said, piteously j " but it was so sooh—the wedding—and you—you would be gone."

" God have mercy on me I" he cried hoarsely. "My heart it breaking I"

He (lung past her and out of the homo, She turned, tremblingly, for she heard a well-known step. Her father was close be

side her.

"I heard it all!" he hissed, his voice strangled with passion. "He came here like a serpent—he stole your love—ho, the son of an ignorant sailor—a pauper! He'll go baok to his poverty, ana you— you shall marry May to-morrow. He slmll

never know this, I was deoeived, so shall j lip be. All women aro traitors—are liars Athe£jr$. Pring lights I " he thundered to the soared TO«i4 # door ; and when the oandles wore b rough ije flung open the big volume. "Sec! boo ! I named you aright i" he shouted—

" Jjook to hor, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see, Bbe hfts depejyed her father, and may thee."