|Newspaper Title||The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)|
|Trove Title||One Christmas|
By Mas. Hehbebt Hamuiix.
Now, I should lmve liked very much to have talked over with Rogerson the incidents of the preceding night, or, rather, morning, for on returning to my room 1 found that it was nearly five o'clock. The more I thought of it all the more puzzled I was to account for Miss M'Varlane's extraordinary conduct. If she had not been carrying the pla'e of food and the Jug of ale no doubt 1 should have come to the conclusion that in some way her mind hud beep-disturbed by Mollie's fears during the past evening, and that she hail been walking in her sleep.
But that was ev dently not the solution of the mystery, and though „ I lay awake till quite time to get up, thinking of her agita tion, ber fears, ber sweet, pleading face, and her earnest entreaties for Bilence. I could think of no other. Rogerson, at any rate, had not heard anything; at least, he never asked me, as on a former occasion, if I had, so I came to the conclusion that he had nbt.
Dear old fellow! he looked as bright as possible when be oame into my room, which Wus mors tl>on I .did, evidently, for he exclaimed at once, " Hello, Angus; what's up ? Yon look as if you had not been in bed
for a week."
" Oh, I'm all right," I answered. " Don't you worry about me."
"I say," he began, suddenly, on our way downstairs, ."you. meant tout last night, didn't you ? You're such a fellow to chaff, yon know."
" Meant what ?'
, "Oh..that I was a bat and a mole" he replied, with rather an awkward little laugh. I turned to look at him, and positively I believe he wits blushing.
" Yes, I wasn't chaffing—I meant It," I answered gravely. " In fact, if it's any con solation to.you, I never suw such a bat-like, mole-like individual in my life before."
" Oh I that's all right, then," with a little sigh of relief. "Ami, I say, Malcolm, you really do——'"
But the rest of his question was drowned and lost for ever by the loud " boom " of the break fust gong. . .
Miss M'Foriane'a place was immediately opposite toroine, but after a rather constrained smile, and a little "good morning" nod
cross the table Bhe never looked in my
direction again, though I could not resist stealing many little glances in her's.
" Kh 1 dear, how itfs snowing," cried Miss Rogerson (who, of course, had ulso stayed the night at the hospitable "Glen"), rubbing her hands and drawing in her lips with a peculiar little hissing sound, " I don't Relieve it stopppd all the night. I'm think ng, Sir John, we'll all be shotted up."
"Ali toe 1 tetter,"said he.gallantly, "if it will prevent you forsaking, us to-day. Miss Rogerson." While Lady M'Fariane added in her own kind, pleasant way—"Oh ! lmt you really must not think of going to-day, the weather is too dreadful for anything. We most all amuse ourselves aa best we can in the house."
?And, indeed, there seemed to be no diffi culty about that.- First we adjourned to the nujraciy, and, with 'Lisa's permission, had a real good romp with the juveniles; then there was a general . move to the school room, with its delightfully. Shabby, old furniture, which we -heaped pell-mell into a comer, and where, young as the day was, we danced as if it .had been in the. middle of the night. 1 generally asked the prettiest of the cousins to be my partner—not that she. was for one moment to be compered to Jessie— but then, you- see, I bad agreed with myself last night that Jessie was not for me. So I had only one waltz with Iter, and that was bo Bhort that I fancied ltogereon had had something to do with the curtailing of it; at
any rate he was suspiciously near the piano
when the musia suddenly stopped. }
There had been a slight break in the clouds daring the morning, but at lunch time the sky became blacker and the clouds heavier than ever, and .very soon a tremendous snow
storm had set in.
True to my promise to Miss M'Fariane, I had broached to Rogerson the subject of our return liefore night, and bail suggested that, even if his aunt remained at " The Glen," jie might easily return to " Dunsrd." Bnt he would not entertain the idea for a moment, and declared he had never seen such a fellow.
" What on earth do you want to go home to that dead-alive house for," he asked, "when we are. all as jolly as sandboys here?"
"Oli, Idon't particularly want to go. I only thought—r
' No, I should think yon didn't. What in
the world arep-ou driving at?"
"Oh, nothing. I only thought that per haps Lady M'Fariane "'
"Nonsense! You heard what she said at breakfast"
"Still, don't you think, Niel, that perhaps
dirflVbflvhg* 'jilfffnnp»^r nu®
He laughed aloud.'; '
"Notshe!.' Slie's'too9raT0.be dull; and, besides, you know, 'she's gpt^Ikbitha."
So l gave it tip. I could hottHink of any other argurofnt to, jbring. forward,: and I determined to tell Miss M'Fariane at the
drat opportunity tha£ 1 bad done all 1 could to persuade Rogerson to' let us take our
departure before ' night; and that I had
It can't be helped," she" said simply, when I told her. I-am«orry; don't think
me. rude, please," she added quickly, looking
kindly at me, " though I'm afraid you must j —only—I can't explain anything about it. Of coarse you didn't tell Mr. Rogerson any thing about—lost night," in a low tone ; " do you think he heard any noise T"
" No, 1 don't think he did, and yon may be
quite sure. Miss M'Farlane, that your secret.
is safe with me."
" I am sure of that, I am only sorry," with a little sigh, " that there has to be a secret. I wish 1 knew what was best. I know I could trust you," Bhe was beginning, when at that very moment Rogerson and Mibs Elsu Graeme broke in on our conversation with eager requests that we should come at once ana play battledore.
"It will soon lie tea-time, and we shan't have any game if you don't come quickly," said Miss Elsa; and ltogereon remarked, as he dragged me out of the comfortable chair in which I had been basking, " What a lazy beggar yon ore! I've been searching high and low for you."
So we were hustled off, and any confidences that Miss M'Farlane might have t>een going to repose in tue were nipped in the bud.
I had no idea till that afternoon that battledore and shuttlecock was such a
delightful game. We ployed in the great i square hall, and as the little feathered cork , flew qnickty from one side to the other, and merry little shrieks of laughter followed our rapid movements, 1 made a mental note that
it was a game I should cultivate in latere, tor j I could no longer withstand the reproachful i tones of my partner—Jessie. I, as an ae- j knowledged beginner, had been handed over j to her—she being the champion player.
One hundred and ninety-nine; oh!
_ _ . Mr.
Malcolm, you mmt get it; don't let It drop i again/' she cried, and though it was a tnile j out of my reach, 1 made a superhuman effort, 1
and was very nearly successful in-upsetting ] poor old M'Greggor with the afternoon tea
" I can't play another stroke now," she | laughed, sinking into a chair—while 1 made haste to fan her with my iMttledore, " but by
imd-by, Elsa, we must have a return match > j Mr. Malcolm, we will not tie beaten." i
Then all the others trooped in to the sound of the cups and sauoers, and a merry half
hour was spent in a snug comer of the hall, j discussing fragrant tea, and tempting buttered1
" And now, Lady M'Farlane," said M'Intyre (who had also been housed the preceding night), rising reluctantly, "I'm foroed to bid ye good-bye. I've got to prepare my discourse for the Sabbath."
" Have you? oh! what a pity,"said Lady M'Farlane, politely. " I hope you will not j take any lmrm, Mr. M'Intyre, the weather does not look very tempting."
" Naw—but it's lifting a wee—I must go the I night, so I'll no bideany longer. Good-bye to! ye. Sir John, good-bye Miss Janet and all. j Ye'll no forget the penny readings next week,
Angus? And you, Archie, ye'll think on i yon hack-sliding ways of yours, I hone." j
" Fes. I'll think on them, Mr. M'Intyre," i said Archie, demurely ; " and I am sure Mr. I Muloolm will only be too proud to assist at the readings."
So the good man buttoned himself up in his big " Inverness," And winding a great
comforter that Miss Janet had made him! round and round his neck, lie prepared to | leave the delightful warmth and friendliness 1 of "The Glen" for bis lonely manse and his j bare little-study. Ah I if things had only I
gone differently in those bygone days that j little manse might now have been a bright-j and happy home I
"He is a dear, good old fellow," said Mjsa j Elsa; as the door closed upon him, " and so < delightfully Scotch."
"'Deed, wye," mimicked Archie, with aj waggish look at Miss Janet, who, bristling j miidlv, asked, " And what for no would he
not be Scotch ? And I'd like well to know j what ye are yourself, Missie f
"Of course, I'm Scotch too, and I would I not be any tiling else for the world. (Chorus | —" I should think not, indeed V) llut still, you know, Miss Rogeraon "
"'Deed, yes. 1 know well enough. Youj
young folks have gotten all sorts of new ideas, which when I was a girl we'd never < have dreamt on. Eh I but ye must not make | game of os old boddiea, ye know." i
*' Oh, no one would want to do tliat, I am
sure, Miss llogerson," said Jessie's sweet j
voice, as she took the old lady's wrinkled I hand in her little smooth, soft palm. No I
one thought of Miss Janet as an old lady j when she was at" Dunurd "with her ancient | mother, but she was over 63 fo; all that.
"And what were yon doing this time last 1 year?" asked Lady M'Farlane with kindly interest, turning to me. " Put on another log, Archie dear, and perhaps Mr. Malcolm B'llI tell us how they spend Christmas in Australia."
"Oil, that will be fun I Yes, do," pleaded Mollie. " Everyone does everything in just
the opposite way out there, don't they?" (
"Well, not exactly," I laughed, "though
Chrislmus does come in the middle of j
"How awfully rum that must be," said
Archie. " You can't feel a bit Christmasy, I j
" Not very, perhaps. Well, let me see; what was I doing this time last year? Oh, yes, I remember well enough. We were camped out for a whole week at a bush fire. It was awful work 1 The heat of the sou combined with the fire was so intense we could'not do much during the day, but all night we—there were twenty of us—worked like niggers, carrying water and beating out the flames with wetbsgs tied on to saplings, but in spite of everything it got clean away, »nd I citi't tell you how much grass wus burnt, and how many thousand sheep, too."
"On, the poor, poor things? how dread
ful !?' said Mollie, with tears in her voice. "And what else, Mr. Malcolm?"
" Well, ' what else' was worse still, for a poor, unfortunate young fellow—a new chum, who. had only been in the colony a few weeks—was killed by a burning tree falling on him, and part of my New Year's Day wasspent in writing home to his mother. Her's was the only address wc could find among his things. I never had such a hard task in my life."
'"Deed no! You.must have had a bad letter to write."
" It was indeed. And another thing that gave us all a shock was finding the skeleton of a man in a hollow log. It had evidently been a tramp, for there was bis con—' billy,' as we call it>out there—and the remains of his blanket. Most likely he hud crept in for shelter from some storm, and, poor creature, he had not been able to get out again. It is horrible to think of, but we must not talk of such sad things any more."
And, indeed, the little ones coming in from the nursery put an end to all conversation. It was the "children's hour."
That evening after dinner, instead of
dancing ami playing round games as usual, we all voted m favour of "hide and seek," and for some little time we grown up children joined in the game with quite us much gusto as those in their " teens." Those under, of course, belonged to the nnraery batch, and were doomed to an early bed. The hall was I to be '"home," and as Lady M'Farlane said j
we were free to go anywhere but in the draw- ? ingropm and the downstair regions.
So off we all set in different directions, Mollie lieing instituted " seeker." I had lain perdu for some time behind the curtains in the picture gallery, and was just considering the advisability of making for "home,", where I heard some one runniqg up behind me. It was Miss M'Farlane. She called to me in a whisper, "Stop & minute please. Mr. Mal colm, I want to speak to you." liut she hesi tated, and then—" I want particularly to ask you not to—not to come to this part of the house for an hour, and to try to keep every one else away too. Don't let us play hide and seek any more," she added quickly.
"Do you mean in this gallery?" I asked, wondering.
"No—o—I mean through there—in the long corridor; and I want to ask you also to
do something for roe; it is only a little thing, but please—yon won't ask me any questions,
will you?" j
I promised that nothing on earth would in
duce me to do so, j
" Well, its just this. I am going through ]
that door," pointing to the one leading to the
unused wing, "and I want you to look it j
after me, and in half an hour to come bock and unlock it." 1 suppose the astonishment, I certainly felt was depicted on my.
countenance, for slic said, " Oh yes; I know, j of course, that you must think it very strange, and so it is, and 1 wish "—putting her hand up to her head in a little troubled way—" but there is no one else I can ask. Will you help me. and will you say nothing about it?"
I vowed that nothing would give me greater pleasure thau to be of assistance to her, and
that I would be as silent as the tomb. She gave me & key, and without another word I; followed hpr ttvfhe on,d 01 the gallery, where at the door she tflrned' to'say—"In half an. hour, then, fdffeae/'^und, passing through,1
" " it after (hei
I locked it aft^r (hermhd put the key in my
pocket. Here .Vja ife^e- mystery V What'
con hi it meonX ver 'it;, was it caused her trouble and^mxiety; I could jw* that,
And with all my wSumggness to assist tier, I'
could not help vvonaerthgCKhy she had chosen' me, an almost stranger, when thehoase was, full of old friends ana relations; and then,
of course, I asked myself why she did not1 ask Kogerson! 1 could not make it out, but j
already I had enough faith in her to feel
" that whatever she did it would be sure to! be right."