|Newspaper Title||The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946)|
|Trove Title||One Christmas|
By Mrs. Herbert Hammill.
According to our usual custom, that night Rog( rsou and I smoked our midnight pipe in ray room. We had both been puffing away in silence for some time, for I had been busy with my own thoughts, and lie was evidently too much in the blues for conversation. At last, alter an abnormally heavy sigh on his part, he knocked the ashes slowly.out of his pipe, and looked mournfully at it A Then he rose from his chair, leant his shoulders against the mantelpiece, stuck his hands deep into his pockets, and gave a little sort orsnort. I thought the time hod come for me to speak, so I said, " Well, old man, and
what is it *"
" Oh, nothing,'' in a light and airy tone ; " only you were not quite so long-sighted, and your vision was not quite so unclouded as yon imagined, that's all."
" What's the matter, Xiel ? Some! hin<j s
" It's all up," he replied, dropping his airy tone for a most sepulchral one. " It's 110 use, Angus she won't have anything to say
to me "
" And I could have sworn "
" Of course you tould ; any fellow can do
" I could have sworn," I continued, " that she cared for you. Well, I suppose one can never quite understand the ways of women."
" X'o, but then you know she's totally unlike any other woman—you must have seen that for yourself, Malcoim ; *he* got no llirting ways, leading a fellow on, just for the l'uu of the thing. Oh ! I've seen it done."
" Sow listen to nie, old man," I said, " I still think that Miss MTarlane does care for you. I've reasons for thinking so; You just take my advice, lie by for a bit, and try •again." But lie was not to be comforted, and declared that it was all that " blessed big brother " business that had done for him. " And yon take my advice, Angus," he added, "don'tyou let any girl look upon you as a brother, or if you come to fall in love with her, you'll find that that's what cooks you alto gether !"
" I daresay you are about right," I replied ; " 6tdll, in this case I can only repeat what I said—try again."
11 wonder, now, if I were to go out with you to Australia, if she would like me any
better when I ca
' came back," he said, looking
speculatively into the Ore.
" Well, yon might try that extreme measure if yon fail next time," I answered.
" Ye-es. Do yon know, Angus, I sometimes fancy that she dots like me, bat that there is some reason why she won't say so."
"In that case, my dear fellow, you've only got to Ond out the reason, and overcome it with convincing argument."
" If I can! Well, 1 won't stay growling here any longer. Good night, old man! I daresay yon think me a confounded bore, and I sup pose I am, but yon wait till yon're hard bit, and then yon come to me."
I promised him, and off he went, to dream, no doubt, of bis hard-hearted little love, while I—well, I am not going to say what I
thought of, but I threw on more logs, filled ] my pipe again, and sat by the fire a good long time, feeling that among all the pleasures I
had enjoyed that Christmas, a little pain had, crept into my heart too.
At last, however, after having several times called myself an ass, and many other names of a complimentary nature, I blew out the candle and got into bed, determining to allow myself no nonsense, and then I came to the resolution that at an early opportunity I would cut my visit to Rogerson short, and tear myself away from the too dangerous happiness of " The Glen."
But I could not sleep. In vain I tried all the well-known receipts for prodncing slumber; they were none of them the least soporific in their effects. I remained obsti nately wide awake, and I had begun to take counsel with myself as to the advisability of finding my way downstairs and looking for a book to while away the time, when I heard something moving ontside my door. As I thought it conld only be Miss MTarlane again bent on her mysterious errand, I lay still and listened. Twice I distinctly beard footsteps pass my door—a pauBe—then the handle was turned very slowly and softly, and to my utter amazement there glided into the room an immensely tall figure, enveloped from head to foot in a long black cloak. It stood for a moment at the bottom of the bed, and as the light from the fire suddenly flickered and shone on the mys terious figure, I saw that it was a man, and instantly I recognised bim, though I conld not believe my eyes. He stood perfectly still, and looked fixedly in my direction, bnt I lay in shadow, and he could not see my face, though I conld see that his was deathly white, with hollow cheekB and burning eyes. For the moment I really felt as if I could not move, mnch less speak, there was something so unearthly-looking about my visitor. So I lav as still as possible and kept my eyes half closed, as I watched him walk toprards the fire, and saw him hold ontto its blaze two long, thin, white hands; then, with a sort/of shivering Bigh, he sank back into the chair in which I had that evening been weaving each futile fancies and dreaming such idle
As he did so he threw the long cloak from him and turned so that I could see him more distinctly. Fascinated, I still oontinned to gaze at him. fot thtre before me was, most undoubtedly—Gentleman Jim—the very same map. that I bad seenkilled in the raoe last
YesjT remembered him well! His extra-'
ordinary height atone was^ unmistakable^ j last aeen it -when they fmd filled him out]
from under; his dead' horee. I am .not
* ^to^aytbrt I. was litetally frozen
li the weird, supernatural ' beard &L crdwded into
TCw bed pn iwSch l |sm"MLj
* shadow, TM ™
Jiim/wtmlyi too. distinctly
. with bis head resting on
explain everything. I—I thought this was N'iel Rogerson's room." Here a violent fit of coughing, which he tried to smother under his cloak, interrupted him, and, seemingly quite exhausted, he 6ank hack into the
Being convinced by this time that, who ever my visitor was, he was at any rate human, I jumped out of bed, and, standing by his side tall he had recovered himself enough to 6peak, I again inquired who he was, and begged him to explain his extra ordinary conduct.
"I thought you'd have remembered me, Mr. Malcolm," he said, after a few moments. " You have seen me before, you know."
" I know I have, but—well, I can't understand it all. You—when I last 6aw
"I was one of the shearers on your run last year, and maybe you'll remember the races we had, and how I came to grief at
that last fence."
" Indeed I do! I remember it well. It
was the very day before I left for Sydney, j
and I stayed there and in Melbourne for two
months before I started lor England. But 11
don't understand—you were kiikd, you
" Not I: better if I had been, perhaps. But I was taken up for dead, sure enough ; however, I pulled through. And now, Mr. Malcolm, can you give any sort of guess us to why 1 aiu here?"
" Indeed I cannot It is all Greek to
" Then I will tell you, for it does not matter now who knows it I can't keep up the game any longer. I don't suppose you've heard of me"—bitterly—" but my name is Robert M'Farlane, and I am in my father's house."
For a moment I thought he was a madman, and then Isuddenly remembered that Rogerson had just mentioned the existence oi an elder
"But how did you come to he a shearer? And why do you come here in this extra ordinary fashion ?" I asked.
" I had a row with my father," he answered shortly.
" And does he know you are here? Have you come to make peace with him?"
He laughed bitterly. "Not much chance of that; you don't know my father ; but"— and his voice broke—" I did so want to 6ee my mother before 1 died—for 1 am dying— that I could not resist coming back and risk ing everything."
" And what is the risk ?' I asked him. " Prison!" he replied shortly.
" Oh 1 no; it cannot be as bad as that
" Hut it is, though. I know Niel would forgive me. he was always the best of fellows— but my father vowed, if ever he saw my face again, he would give me np to justice—those were his very words. He meant them, and I have never forgotten them."
"What has Rogerson to do with itf* I asked. " And you—what did you do ?
" Forged his name fortwo thousand pounds," be answered, in a voice half ashamed, half
" That was pretty bad ; and Niel, what did j he doT |
" Behaved like a brick, and wanted to hush the whole thing up, but it came to my father's ears ; so he paid the money and sent me out to Australia, with fifty pounds in my pocket, and arranged with his lawyers to pay me a pound a week to keep me bom starving."
" Ana so yon changed your name and
" Oh, I was a good many things before I was a shearer. But don't let us go over all fibafc"* i^^d-conldn't help coming back to see rby\ -Y*00 can't think what the thought^herywasilQ me out there, all these years, mid I wi&ttj^to ask old Kiel's for gi vI tried t^ice before to get into
?*" Ah?t?m.t?i^ course, explains the whole
Siii^g.. I see it all now. Your sister knew of four retain, andshjima been helping you all this timer-—-—
" Yes, poor little Jessie 1 She was only fifteen years old when I left home—that is nearly five years ago now. I did not mean to give her all this Dother, hut I happened to meet her the very first night I came back. She nearly died of fright, I think."
" I daresay she did.
"She wanted to tell mother and then Kiel, but I could not face the whole thins then. The house was full of visitors, so I made her promise to wait till after Christ mas was over, and all the people gone."
" And so yon have been in hiding in the attics all this time—nearly a month, you say —and your sister has been bringing you food?"
" That's just it, and often I've been a great deal nearer you all than you thought, or, in deed, than I intended to be. but it was hard lines staying up there all the time, I can tell you. And I could not have managed it either if I had not bribed one of the servants to help me."
"I can't think how you did manage it for bo long. And what do you propose to do nowf I asked. " You can't keep on like this, you know. What's the use of it? And ifs not fair to your sister."
" Oh, I shan't bother her or anyone else much longer. I'm boohed; can't you see that? For though that fall didn't kill me, it injured my lungs bo that the doctor in the hospital, where they took me after the acci dent, declared I couldn't live many days. I did though. And the moment I was out of i hospitallgotaberth—aecondclass—inthefirst P. and O. boat that was going, and landed in i the old country just a fortnight before you' did. Jessie told me Rogerson was expecting you, and from what sheaaid I guessed you were the aame Angns ltalcolm that I bad been shearing for just three months before. It's a f unny world, isn't it r
After a pause, be went on again, and told me that he had been on the juxxitkat fint night in all the storm £thalhetud beard my " coo-ee," and guesfthg wbo.it was bad shown me the nine not rightly fhinfcjng that I would follow ^ - w^was a
lantern," be. added. " Softens after.d&rk, youoee, and a*n " had caught a glimpse of tne 1 cloak, which T had pnt on gmsenawannth, I rather
tost, fori Shythir
v „ ^ 6ttt of tftgrwoy ak iart
"W^I, | w®ider youjeereal found '-pp}
ng ago, or some one might have fired atiou mtm.nocfcT'
"So they mightTjeen a'-uiterir monthlToantril m*wto care now what becom«<B4xm'r -,\J W.
Here another long fit of coughing inter wopted Jbixa. and though 1 knewhebod been
t h'dp feehhg* pltir for yon can't do much for A bed log I oouia jodt help fe anch asriedk. TNo, you oan't me,"-be oaid. -in answer to
"except tofegl the poormoAnM
| rathfer ahmtetobtt^ti^' thnef po*'^!
yjhink.it wasa gmtsfadaon youshonld not have tried bar no
did you -not get bold of Hwgen
son f I am sure you need not have been afraid of him." , T
" To tell you the truth, I was ashamed. 1 don't know how I came to play him 8uena mean trick, and he was always such a K°°f* sort, too! Not that I really meant to rob him, I would have paid him back some day,
, I made up my mind X you know. At last * -r — . . t ,
would find him out, and then to-niglib by mistake, I found my way into your room.
" And when you have seen your mother what are you going to do ? W ill J°u stay
" I don't know that I shall get the chance, though when my father sees me perhaps he II not think it worth while to turn me out. 1 wonder now if he could ever be brought to forgive me! I—I am so awfully sorry and ashamed. I can't think how I " but here the poor fellow broke down, and between 6oba and another coughing tit he could say no more for some time. Py-and-by he be came quieter, and then he asked me what I was going to do, and if I intended returning to Australia. I replied that I thought I should find my way back there eventually, though at one time it had been the dream of my life to buy back the old home : " but," I added, " I am afraid I could scarcely persuade your father to move, even if I were quite
sure that I wanted him to."
And then, after a little more talk, lie rose from bis chair, saying that he thought he had better return to his attic tofore the house was astir. " You will see Jessie as soon as you can." he said; "and don't think worse of me than you can help. Perhaps yon don't know what bad companions and sudden temptation can do for one. I may never see you again, so good-bye."
I held the candle for him, and watched him steal noiselessly away down the longcorridor, his tall figure bent and his black cloak drawn closely round him. He disappeared through the far door, and I went back to my room with the feeling that I had just awakened from a very unpleasant dream.