Chapter 114441014

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Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article114441014
Full Date1872-12-28
Page Number4
Corrections0
Word Count2266
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Herald (Fremantle, WA : 1867 - 1886)
Trove TitleBertha's Christmas-Box
article text

THB STORY-TELLER. BERTHA'S CHRISTMAS-BOX. "There are a good many neverthe less. Take care thatyou do not bring them with sorrow to the grave." After looking back at the door with a smile and nod, Nellie hastened out into the lighted streets, mentally counting her money as she went, and cheerfully passing many a longed-for but un attainable purchase; and in the little room which she had left, Bertha lay and slept beside the quickly-dying fire. There were but few passers now in the quiet street but the lighted win dows all along shone cheerily upon the night; and to and fro upon the blinds quick shadows passed, that told of life as well as warmth within. Only one window in all the street grew darker and darker as the cold Christ mas night passed on. Clear and sharp through the frosty air came the sound of the great church clock. Ten strokesit told, slowly aitd lingeringly. As the last one died away, Bertha raised her head, and looked round the room with a shiver. A few coals lay black and lifeless at the bottom of the grate; the room was all in.gloom and shadow, save w here the uncurtained window let in the gas light from the street, and where a small candle burned on the table at a distance from Bertha. In its sickly light sat Nellie, sewing; her head bent, her fingers quick and busy, the great, full work-basket close beside her. Bertha rose alittle, and began to excuse herself for letting the fire go out. "You stayed so long that I was tired, and went to sleep," she said. Without a word in reply, without even looking up from the tdress in her hand, Nellie viorked on. How plainly the unsteady little flame showed the grey hairs on her temples! Bertha wondered how it was that she had never noticed them before. She rose a little higher, her eyes curious and intent. Now that she saw her sister's face without its glad and cheery smile, she could not help seeing how thin and worn it was. Yet she worked on, as fast as Bertha had been used to see her work, night after night, for almost as many years as she could remember. Her rapid fingers looked very frail and white in that dismal light; yet how untiring theywere! It was quite natural to see Nellie sitting sewing there for her, Bertha felt; yet it had always been so natural to hear her gay, bright voice, and to meet her sweet and readlly smile, that she longed for them now with a strange, new longing. "Nellie," she said, leaning forward alittle; but the white face was hot raised ; the still, patient lips were not unclosed. "Nellie !" Bertha's hands were stretched help lessly towards her, her eyes enger in their gaze. " Nellie, are you so tired that you cannot speak to me ?" Watching with painful intensity, Bertha at last saw the quiet head raised very slowly, "Oh, Nellie, speak!'" she cried, a long-drawn sigh of relief escaping her. The dark, sunken eyes went up be yond her face, with a tired, far-off lookin their depths. For an instlant Bertha raised hers, trying to follow them; then they came back, trying but trying in vain-to meet the answering smile which had always been so ready for her. "Speak to me, Nellie," she pleaded, in low, frigh tened tones. Still the dreamy, weaTry eyes gazed up beyond her; and Bertha with quick breath and parted lips, watched them. "Nellie, Nellie !" " It is nearly over," Nellie said with a deep patience on her tired face. " It has been a hard and thank less task for many years, and I am glad that it is over now, for I am very weary. My love has been a self-re nouncing love; my life an uncomplain ing life. And what has been the re ward? I have loved her tenderly, waited on her, and watched over her. I have spared her all her life; and her retaun has been cold and fretlul words or gloomy and complaining looks. I did not ask for acts and deeds of love, I asked only for words and thoughts; and she has given me none. Has she ever lightened niy day's toil with lov ing, pa'ting words; or met me after it with a glad, welcoming smile ? Every hour of every day have I : thought of her. Every morning have J left her with a prayerfor her upon my lips. Every night have I returned to her, trying to bring her happiness and ease; but always has she coldly seen me conme and go. My life has been a hard, long task, and has failed in its one aim. I am very, very thank it is over: for I am weary in my heart." The wide, piteous eyes grew dim in their far gaze; the thin, worn fingers fell from their task. "Nellie !" Bertha had risen to her feet; and, standing so, with hands outstrethed,

she saw the tired eyelids close. "Nellie ! Oh Nellie i" One quick movement she made, as she saw the slight figure fall back in its chair; but she knew then that Nelly lay there-dead. Tottering only for a moment, Bertha crossed the room, and fell upon her knees beside her sister, clasping the thin cold hands, and kissing them passionately, as she moaned to her to come back and listen to one word. ' Nelly, my dear, my dealr ! It never shall be again as it has beeen so long. I have been wicked and uligrateful all my life, but I never can be so again. Nellie, Nellie, forgive me! I am strong now; I will spare you now, if you come back to me. I will not let you work for me all day, unloved, un cared for. Mly darling, yu have never been unloved. Oh, what would my life have been without you? What will it be, now you.are gone? Oh that I might die too! Nellie, Nellie, -my dear, come back, and I will show youho I love you. Oh, why didI never think of this before ?" The sobbing cry was hushed, as Bertha, clinging to the drooping figure, prayed softly, in low, tremulous tones; but again the pleading, passionate cry rang in the silence.-" Oh Nellie, Nellie, come back to me !" And then again she bent her face upon the lifeless hands, covering them

with hot, anguished kisses; while the awful and unutterable lonelines, crept into her heart and seemed to still ite very life. The cry, " Nellie, come back to me!" was but faint and feeble now. Kneeling in the utter stillness, in the intense, terrible loneliness, Bertha saw the history of her life clearly, as she had never imagined it before. She saw the years she had wasted in help less self-indulgence, in fretful indo lence, in selfish complaining. She as the worth of the care and devotion which she had thanklessly accepted for years. She saw how willingly and. uncomplainingly Nellie's tasks had always been performed for her; how brightly, how cheerfully, how unsel fishly! She saw what Nellie had al ways made her home for her, what happiness and love she had always brought her. Then she saw how she had repaid all this; and the feeble cry arose again, " Nellie, come back to me, and it shall be so different!" Then, in the horrible solitude, she seemed to see the life that stretched before her now, without Nellie; the terrible, aching life, made up of endless hours, when she could only long for Nellie; when her light foot step would never come near the door when her bright face would never bend over the gloomy couch ; when her loving, tender-voice would never break the awful solitude and silence of her life. Never! Oh if she could bring back the days when Nellie had loved her!-she could never care for any other blessing. Oh if everything else had been taken, so that God had only left her Nellie And again the sobbing cry rang out into the gloom of the chilly room, "Nellie! oh, Nellie come back to me!

"Yes, I am come, pet, But how dark it is I So you did let the fire out, after all. Well, never mind ; only if Rhea Sylvia-- Where are the matches, I wonder ? I am not coming over to the sofa until I've lighted thelamp. There now! Why-Bertha oh Bertha, where are you ?" Nellie was standing gazing, be wildered at the empty couch, when the lamplight fell upon Bertha, kneel ing on the floor with her hands clasped on Nellie's own empty chair, and her face buried in them. " Bertha, my darling, how can this be? How are you here? Did you really try to walk, after all, and with out my help? Oh, you should not have done it, my pet." But when Nellie stooped to take her sister in her arms, Bertha arose unaided, and stood before her with a long, wistful, intent look in her face. Ah, yes, it was thin, and a little pale and tired ; but pretty still, and bright and sweet as it had ever been, and very, very much surprised. " Nelie," cried Bertha, holding her with trembling hands, as her eyes danced and sparkled with joy, "you are come-you are come back to me! And then she stopped and laughed a soft and happy laugh, and then she cried, and then she laughed again. And Nellie, in her great surprise, laughed too; and then theyboth cried. All this time they stood gazing into each other's faces, so puzzled, yet so glad, and holding each other's bands, Bertha neither fainted nor fell. Slowly, at last, Nellie took her to the sofa, but she would not lie down. " Nellie, oh Nellie. what a Christ mas gift I have had !" " You should not have made that effort until I came," said Nellie, bat tling with the glad tears that rose to her eyes. " But it was no effort," Bertha

whispered. "The power came to me- came to me quite suddenly in my great fear. Nellie, I feel that I need never lose that power. Ah! can I ever lose it, no~ that you are given back to me ?" '" I suppose you have been dream ing, dear," said Nellie, softly, as she stood beside the, couch,-" Was it a dream ?" mused Bertha, wonderingly. " Of course it was, pet," her sister answered, cheerily, though her lips quivered as she spoke; and it is not very wonderful that you went to sleep in the dark." " Nellie," whispered Bertha, ear nestly, " I want to tell you how grate ful I am for the love and care you have given me through all my life. You will never reproach me by telling me how many times I might have told you this before. NAllie, I have felt what it would be to-live without you. I seem to have seen it all, as-as I fancy only the dying see what might have been. I have felt the agony of its being toolate, too late to tell you how dearly I love you-how dearly I have always loved you, though I have never shown it, never. cared to lighten your toil, never cared to brighten youc home. Oh Nellie, I will do so now-I will do so now." '" Let me go, my darling," said Nellie, in a choking voice, as she kissed her again and again, while Bertha clung to her as if she could never lether go. " Lie quietly here for a few minutes, and watch me un pack my parcels. Do you see these two particularly compact ones ? Well,

they-ere our Christmas-boxes to each other. This is my present to you, and this is your present to me. Can you address it yourself, if I bring you the pen and. ink ?"-" Yes-oh yes." " It is rather square, and rather like a packet of note-paper, perhaps- at least, I could fancy it like it," said Nellie, examining it comically; but of course I hav'nt any real idea on the subject. How Ishall enjoy unpaclk ing it to-morrow ! Now I will address my own gift to you, and put it here on your little table by the couch, ready for the morning." " No, not there," pleaded Bertha, eagerly. " Put them both together on the large table." Nellie smiled happily as she rose to obey, and held out her hand for her sister's parcel. Bertha glanced at the words her sister had written be fore writing herself-" To my sister, with my love and Christmas wishes;" than with trembling fingers, . which had not held a pen for years, she ad dressed the packet in her lap, 'Nellie.' She wrote no other word; but, as her sister tDok the parcel from her,

she raised her eyes, and whispered very gravely, very earnestly "Nellie, my real Christmas gift for you is a better one, and a dearer one, I trust, than this. It will be the gratitude and love and devotion of all my life from to-night. Oh, my darling, a poor and late return it is for all your tender care, for all your unre turned. unselfish love; but you will take it from me, and forgive me for all the wicked, wasted years." (C'oncluded.)