Chapter 138657946

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Chapter NumberIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article138657946
Full Date1893-07-29
Page Number35
Corrections0
Word Count3405
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)
Trove TitleOne Christmas
article text

THE STORYTELLER.

ONE CHRISTMAS.

By Mrs. Herbert Hamhill.

Chapter IV.

The moat delightful week followed. I cannot say that we spent much of our time

at " Dunard," the attractions elsewhere were I too strong and too numerons. j

Altogether it was rather a farce saying that j I had come to pay Rogeraon a visit, for we both spent all our days at " The Glen," either

on the ice, or in the big shabby old school-1 room, where we got up charades and tableaux ? wherewith to electrify the company in the i drawingroom later on. For the house was full of visitors; MTarlanes, Graemes, M'Donalds, Campbells, all the relations in fact to the third and fourth generation seemed to have congregated there for that

festive season.

New Year's Day was one that I remem bered long afterwards. Immediately after breakfast we had, as usual, found our way over to the " Glen," and np rill twelve o'clock we had spent the time in skating and snow balling, we big children pelting each other as gaily as the yonngest amongst us. At twelve o'clock the tenants and neighbouring farmers had arrived for the grand curling match that always ushered in the first dayot the new year. This was a great gathering in which everyone, including the laird and his visitors, took part The greatest excitement pre vailed, and all the performers Beemed to get Scotcher and Scotcher the longer they played.

"Soop it, man ; soop it, man. What's the beesoml" cried M'lntyre, frantically, to one of hie flock, a stalwart, red-haired, young farmer, who stood broom in hand all ready to keep smooth that part of the . ice that was devoted to the curlers, and swish, swish the heavy granite stones came eliding up, one after the other, while old men skipped about like boys, and cried, " Weel played, M'Duff 1 Eh, but that was gra-and. M'JPherson 1" or " Soots, toots, man 1 wbat s taken ye 1 Soop it!" or "Dinna soop it 1" as the case might

be.

On the little island a Bumptnons feast had been prepared in the boathouse. Long boards, supported on tressles, bent beneath the weight of huge rounds of beef, jugs of spiced ale, bottles of whisky, and junks of Christmas Bun. (Having nearly died of Christmas Bun when I was a child, to this day I stand in gnat awe of it, and always write it with a capital B.) .

Everyone went in and out of the host house, and helped themselves when so dis posed. Lady M'Farlane, wrapped in her handsome furs and surrounded By her little (Hies, smilingly, watched the proceedings, and while entertaining her more fashionable guests, did not forget the humbler ones, but had a kind word and a ready smile for all, while Jessie and Mollis were instructed to see that the more bashful and retiring ones had their fair sham of the good things that were going. Miss M'F&rlane and I had beoome very good friends during the week, but after one enchanting spin round the mere, that villain Niel had monopolised her, and I saw nothing more of her till about four o'clock in the. afternoon, when we finished np the day's festivities by dancing "Sir Roger" by torchlight. Then the farmers and tenants all trooped home, and we, laughing and talking all together, hurried up to the house just in time to escape a fall of

snow.

The tableaux that were in preparation for that evening were to be somethiugmbre am bitions end gorgeous than usual. They were

to take place in the long picture-gallery, which was particularly well adapted for the purpose, aa heavy curtains portioned off the lower end, where we managed to fix up a very good stage, at the back of which was a convenient door leading into the long corridor. This corridor connected the main part of the building with the old wing that nad been built generations before, and which was very seldom used except in cases of emergency, or if, as sometimes happened, there was an extra large party of visitors, then two or three bachelors would be told off to the best rooms, which were, of course, aired, and made as comfortable as possible.

Rogerson and I ,were going to sleep in the old wing tliiB Ifew Year's night, as Lady M'Farlane very kindly thought it -would be much pleasanter for us than going home at one or two o'clock in the morning, for, of course, after the tableaux every one was in favour of a dance, and. what more natural when the house, was. full of pretty girls and gay, light-hearted young men.

They were nearly all related to each other, at any; rate as the kindly Scotoh count rela tions, so there was no stiffness or formality of any kind, and I am quite sure if 1 live to be a hundred—which, Heaven forbid !—and am still able to remember anything, I shall look back on that Christmas as the happiest that I ever spent,:

But to return to the tableaux. Six pretty

Eictures, even if they were a little hackneyed,

ad been ^presented to an indulgent

audience. The' last was to be " Pygmalion and Galatea,'' and it had been arranged that Miss M'Farlane was to be the beautiful statue, and Niel Rogerson had'been chosen for Pygmalion but at the last moment, for some reason or other, he had come up to me and said, ".Look here, old man, I don't want to be that confounded sculptor fellow. I wish ydu'd take'my part—do. like a good chap." - •

So I bad agreed, and we were all busy arranging things behind the curtain, and Jessie and I >had just got into position beauti fully—though, by the way, Rogerson objected to my- attitude and said I " need not make such an. ass of myself"—poor old Neil, he was as cross 'as a bear, and 1 remember think ing that he had repented asking me to take his part. Well, the stage manager was just going to pull up the curtain, when suddenly there came a long piercing scream—a scream of real terror from the long corridor, and Mollie buret through the door and on to the stage. She was shaking in every limb, and her face was deadly-white. In an instant audience and performers were mingling together, and all were crowded round the terrified child, eager to know what had hap pened. At last, leaning against Lady M'Far lane, with her head buried on her shoulder,

she sobbed out—

" Oh, mother, mother, I saw it! It was I quite close to me—it—touched me."

"But what did you see, darling? What touched you ?"

" It was the ghost," she faltered; " I know

it was."

" Nonsense, dear child; there are no such things as ghosts."

" Oh, but mother," persisted Mollie, " there really was a great tall figure, in a long black cloak. 18aw it quite distinctly."

"Nonsense," repeated Lady M'Farlane; "yon have been frightened by those silly tales the servants have been telling you. If there really was anyone there it must just have been one of the servants themsel ves, and it is very wrong of anyone to. play such

tricks."

" Oh, no, mother 1 it was much taller than anyone I have ever seen—much taller than father even."

" Where was it, dear?

" I was just going into the long corridor to get something that I had thrown down, and that we wanted for that lost picture, and I opened the door suddenly. The light was rather dim, only the light from the stage you know—but I distinctly saw a big black something, crouching in the corner, and when it saw me, it drew a black thing over its head, banged the stage door to, and rushed past me, it .really and truly did. Oh, mother dear! I am so frightened."

" Poor little girl 1 it was a cruel trick," said one of the numerous cousins, " we most find out all about it." .

" I don't think it was a trick, Elsa," said Mollie, shaking her head gravely, " I'm afraid it was the ghoBt. Martha says Bhe heard that same 'tramp, tramp' noise again overhead

in the attics this afternoon, when she was

getting the bedroom ready in the old wing; die says she will never go to that part of the house by herself again. I heard her tell 'Liza

it was not canny."

" Silly girl! I thought Martha was at the bottom of all this nonsense," said Lady M'Farlane. "Well, dearie, think no more about it 1 See, father is asking for a reel, run and ask Jessie to play for us, and well soon dance all the ghosts.away."

But Jessie was nowhere to be found, and when I saw her again in an hour's time, she was very pale and in her sweet eyes were the traces of tears. All her pretty smiles and dimples had gone, and in their stead had come a horrid, frightened look, the same look that I had noticed—though only for a moment—on that first night when 1 had lost my way on the moor, and they had so kindly taken me into;their family circle.

" Do rive me this schottische, Miss MTar-1 lane," I asked, following her into the deep reoeasof a window. She was sitting on the1

low cushioned seat, with her pretty golden head against the crimson curtains. " That is to say,' I added, looking at her white little face, " if you are not too tired."

"I aui rather tired," she confessed, "but I can't resist that music. How well

Elsa plays! 1 don't know anyone with a more inspiriting touch than her's. Just look

at my father!" '

And sure enough there was the M'Farlaue

in his handsome kilt—that m Scotland most j picturesque dress—dancing away with all the

tire and vigour of his youth, with one of the 1 prettiest girls in the room for his partner. I

"But look! Only look at old Miss Roger son and Mr. M'lntyre," I cried. "Wonders will never cease. Why, I thought they con'

iful. ? Bidered dancing 'seen„

"So they do," laughed Jessie; "and I don't know how they reconcile it to their consciences on New Year's Day; but they always do, and I am glad, poor things ! Do you know, Mr. Malcolm, that they were going to be married nearly 40 years ago."

" What a lifetime, and why in the world were they not

"Ah, that is a very sad story," she answered gravely, " and I have always felt very sorry for them both since mother told

me."

" Well, now you have roused my curiosity, Miss M'Farlane, you can't be so cruel as not to tell me tlie story too."

" But surely you must know it; you must have heard it all these years you have known the Rogersons. Have you not ?"

" No, indeed 1 Strangely enough, I never heard any story and never knew there was one to hear. Do tell me," I urged.

?" Yes—I will tell you," she said, after a little pause, lifting troubled eyes to mine, and I thought what a sweet sympathetic nature 6he had to still feel sorrow for those disappointed lovers of long ago.

" He was always a very good, honourable man," 6he began ; " though I am afraid, we do make game of him sometimes—but he had a brother—and this brother brought great trouble and disgrace upon the family. He was—ah! well! he was a very bad man "— with a little gasping sigh; " and Miss Rogerson's father, who was very stern and bard, would not hear of their marriage after

wards. He never had liked the idea of it, for j Mr. M'Intyre was poor, but after this he'

drove him out of the house, and would not allow his daughter to speak to him. It was of no use all their friends trying to point out that it was no fault of this poor Mr. M'Intyre's, and he himself did all he conld to make up for his brother's dishonesty and wickedness. But old Mr. Rogerson was like a rock, no one could move him when he bad once made np his mind to anything. So the poor lovers were parted, and, as you see, they have neither of them married anyone else, and mother savs that twice or three times after that Miss Rogerson could have been married if she liked."

" Yes ! I call that rather hard lines, I must say. I "wonder, though, that they did not get married, long ago—after her father died."

" Oh! no said Jessie, in a shocked little voice : " they would neither of them do that. It would not have been right, you know."

" No, I don't know ! I think the old father was very wrong to begin with—a regular old tyrant! They Bhonld jnst have taken the law into their own hands and run away."

" It would have been all the Bame," said Jessie; "they would not have been any happier then."

" Well, they don't seem particularly happy now—not at this minute, for I never saw either of them with such a smile on their faces before. They ought to be made to dance a schottische every day of their lives—

but as a rule I mean.. Ah! there, the music;, has stopped/and we never had owr schot- j { tische! I wonder if Miss Greene would play . i a waltz. No, go away, Kiel," to that young i ] roan, who had found as out, and who, for' reasons best known to himself, had not his

usualdebonnaireappearance. "Goaway; we don't want you, ana Miss M'Farlane has pro mised me the next dance."

So putting my arm ronnd her slight figure, I whirled her oflf on to the smoothly-polished floor. Up the long gallery and down again we glided to the dreamy strain of that dreamy waltz, "The Garden of Bleep." Her little hand was in mine, and every now and then I could feel a little truant carl wafted lightly against my cheek, and—but pshaw! what's the good of thinking of all that now!

The music died away, and then we all went to bid Lady M'Farlane "Good night." As she gave me her hand 6he said laughingly, " I hope you and Niel will not be disturbed by the ghost, Mr. Malcolm. Yon are in the uncanny part of the house, you know."

Ab Rogerson and I reached our rooms he proposed that he should come into mine for a smoke, for, as he said, we had that part of the bouse to ourselves, and no one would mind. So we settled ourselves comfortably one on each side of the fire, and he began alter a preliminary cough or two, *' I say, old fellow! a joke's a joke, job know, hut I think you carried it a little too far to night" ,

" What m the world do" you mean," I asked, " what joke, and where did I carry itr ; :

" Oh ! you know well enough; but if you think you, don't I'll enlighten you.- Why, man, yon never danced with anyone else but Jess—Miss M'Farlane—and you'kept her in tbalrconfbnnded window half the night; and yon were that sculptor fellow, sprawling at hfer feet in the most idiot

1 That was entirely to oblige yon," I inter

rupted. ' ?' '

fShifjitf not ktiy to

if soil .the same thiqgjQa Thaijlraf you wage very kind, and when shcplayed yon tarnedover tliei her fj. '

"Ididf*" lc "Ohll

hung ovefr^ cfoho. ^ and then y< the reeiPbf Mal)qhh; with her,

danced

yon r-';''uH E ' 4 BR*

" Oh! fprHeavcn's aake ^ never knpwX hwtftohe so/tnany - my life IMbrfe! Mylsteai olfl'^matt leaning forward obu putting mylw

knee, toll me, are you jealous ot me ? you need not be. I do admire Miss M'Farlane more than anyone else I know—and I—well, we need not talk about that, but I am quite sure there's notthe slightest chance of her ever liking me one-hundredth part as much as she does someone else. Why, you dear old bat 1

yon blind old mole! I discovered something" the very first night I saw you both,"

''•Did you really?" he said, his face" brightening wonderfully, " how awfully nice of yon—I mean to say I have lov—known her stash jvtong, time you aee^ and l/think," 'old fellp#, it wasn't perhaps quite thething forym*Ui^ofjmow wKatlmean."

Yes, t thought I did, so I said "Cheer up, old d would- e/et-do

nowoff

sweet out of the air.

not quite so pis,

, ..... Utt. _

aariU HDt things that I

might perhaps have been. At last, 1 fell asleep in my chair, and 1 think 1 must have slept for some hours, when a noise overhead awoke me suddenly,

I started up and listened, but all was quiet,

and, thinking it could only have been my j fancy, I was just going to undress, when I distinctly heard heavy footsteps in the attic above me. I stood still a few moments, wondering who it could be at that hour, when again I heard footsteps—this time very light ones—pass my door, then 1 thought I heard the door at the end of the corridor close very softly.

" I'll go and rouse Rogerson," I said to myself, " it might be one of the servants play

ing tricks, or, indeed, it might be some one j

after the silver."

However, I waited a few minutes longer, till I heard the footsteps coming back again, and this time I fancied 1 heard a quick little sob, and, very strange to say, a faint clatter of china, as if someone were carrying plates or cups and saucers. Instantly I seised the candle, flung open the door, and ran into the corridor, and there, Hying a yard in front of me was a little golden-haired figure, dressed in a long fur-trimmed coat. Hut as Bhe ran, she tripped and fell, and down fell also a jug of ale and couple of plates, on which were evidently the remains of a meal !

I ran, of course, to her assistance, wonder ing what in the world had brought her to that part of the house, at that hour, and with a plate of provisions, too !

" Miss M'Farlane," I cried in amazement,

" what does it all "

" Oh. hush ! hush !" she entreated, looking hurriedly up and down the corridor. " 1 can't explain : I don't know what you will think of me, but please, please promise not to say any thing about it—oh, do promise ! I can't explain," she repeated, " but—but—oh ! I can't bear it any longer!" and burying her face in her hands, she burst into tears.

" But tell me what has happened? What is the matter ? Oh, don't cry de—don't cry ! I can't bear to see you in such trouble. I will do anything in the world to help you," 1 began wildly, when she stopped me.

" There is only one way in which you can help me, Mr. Malcolm," she said earnestly, " and that is—do not say anything of what you have seen to night. Do not mention it to anyone—and—and will you and Mr. Roger son promise to go home to-morrow

" Yes—but what on earth have u-sdone ?'

" If you will do that you will help me very, very much. You must think me very strange, I know—but—well, it can't go on much longer," she added incoherently. I promised faithfully to keep her secret, whatever it was, and she, with my help, having carefully gathered np the pieces of broken china, wa6 turning away to leave me, when something seemed tc occur to her, for, coming back to my side, she said in a low voice—

"And will you please promise.that if you should hear any sort of noise—or, perhaps, voices—yon will not speak of it to anyone /"

She was gone, and 1, thoroughly mystified, returned to my own room.