Chapter 159557061

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Chapter NumberIII
Chapter TitleA LETTER AND ITS ANSWER.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article159557061
Full Date1890-12-27
Page Number42
Corrections0
Word Count2961
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleCooee! A Christmas Tale
article text

CHAPTER III.

A 1.KTTEB A2CD ITS AN6WEK.

A few weeks later Hugh, quite strong agam at last, was walking down North-terrace with a moody, dejected expression on his handsome

far*;. Since his return to town he had run uo

once a week at least to see Mary, and there is no need to say how ho looked forward to these visits, or how, when they were over, he dwelt on every tone of Mary's voice, and on every changing expression of her sweet bright face ; but this time he dreaded going, for he had bad news,to tell, and though by no means deficient in moral coinage, found it hard to break it to the girl he loved. He was ruiiied; fairly told, it came to that. Ho had sold out his share in liis father's old run before leaving New South Wales, and determined to look about him a little before he settled down for life. On return ing to town after bis last trip he had heard rumours concerning the stability of: • a certain . Bank in which the bulk of his money _ was invested, and .next. day they were confirmed ; still each day he put off

writing, hoping against hope thatchings might. look brighter, till a week had gone.by, and they only grew worse. He. could, net-bring himself to. write it, so it rnusfbe told,.'yct every minute seemed to make his hard task the' harder. He went slowly , down the station steps, and paused at the foot irresolute; there were ten minutes yet before his train started, no need to take his ticket yet, so he took, a turn along the platform. A Port train was on the point of starting, and half a dozen small newsboys in half a dozen different tones of voice were working off their papers on the strength of "Last news of the Bank failure !" Business men bought them, read them, and talked over them in the smoking-carriages; ladies, burdened with the care of many parcels, hurried past him, a small child vaiuly trying to keep up with his too energetic mother who, laden with a baby, a basket, and several bumpy parcels, had hurried on before, got himself entangled with the umbrella he was carrying, and came a tremendous cropper on the tiles. Hugh was just helping him up when his mother returning gave the child a vigorous

slap for hurting itself, and dragged it o!f lamenting; two guards, a tenor who suoko rapidly, and a bass with a slow and solemn intonation, began a sort of fugue on the words, "Seats please; take your seats for the Fort!" and Hugh watohed and listened, feel ing as if it were all a play and he only a looker on. Just the same scene he had watched so often lately while waiting for his train—the some faces passing to mid fro, all so unchanged and yet so very different, for then his mind was foil of bright hopes and plans, and now— now, he eaid to himself, he had few hopes and no plans at alL But yet—the brightest hope of all remained to him—Mary, surely she would not change; if she were true to him, if she would wait for him, he must, he

would suoceed.

The train had gone, and the tenor and .bass duet had begun again with slightly altered words. "Forward on your left" was now the burden of the Bong, together with a long string of names, among which was Hugh's destina tion ; if he meant to catch the train he must get his ticket at onoe, and yet he lingered, seem ingly absorbed in looking at the long array of yellowbacks on the bookstand. He could nob

bear to think that he who loved her so dearly should be the first to bring a shadow into Mary's bright young life; still it had to bo done, and he was just turning towards the ticket office when he met Dr. Brown. The little man had a troubled look, and was walk ing quickly with his eyes on the ground ; he looked up as he passed Hugh, but his face only grew sterner, and he hurried on without a sign of recognition,'

Before Hugh oould recover from his astonish

ment the whistle hod sounded, the duet con cluded abruptly, and the train was steaming out of the station. After all, he said to him self, it would be better to write; but as he went towards his lodgings despondent thoughts came thicker and thicker, and when he gob there he found a letter stating that some mining shares, on which hehod hoped to realize, were for the present unsaleable, so that ho was thoroughly low-spirited before he began to

write.

Now, people who are in low spirits should never write letters, or, if they cannot help it, should at least not post them, for others is no knowing whatharm they may do. Letter after letter Hugh wrote, only to be torn up, and . then he took up Mary's last note, a sweet, shy,

lqving little letter; dated a week before. She must be waiting for an answer and wondering why he did not write, he thought, a wholc'long

week. Why, it Was on thatvery day .that the " news about the —— Bank was m the papers. She must know of it; had it. anything to do with her silence? Ho put the thought away from him as something beneath contempt, and

yet and yet ? What did it mean?'

Had it anything to do with'Dr. Brown's strange conduct? Ho wrote and wrote, yet always tore the letters up, till at last towards midnight, wearied in brain and heart, he gave up trying to write to Mary, and scribbled a short, bald, not particularly lucid note td her -

mother. •

" Dear Mrs. Grant,"it ran, " I think it right to inform you that the failure of the Bank will make a considerable difference in my plans. My regard for your daughter will always be the same, but under the circumstances 1 cannot think of holding her to her promise.

You will, I am sure, understand my reasons - for writing this. -

! "Yours sincerely,

" Hugh Berks ford.''

Next day as soon as he had posted it he re pented ; exactly what he had written he could not recollect, but he had a strong impression that it was absurdly stiff and formal. What would they think of it, he wondered. He had half a inind to run up and explain ; but no, he

would wait till he heard the result of that letter. The day dragged'slowly by; be had nothing on earth to do, and could not decido on his plans for. the future till he had seen Mary. He tried to employ his mind by read ing the papers, but they failed to interest him, for even in the answers to correspondents he could not reasonably expect to find'an answer - to the question that rang through'his brain like the refrain of a song, "What will she think of it, what will she say?" and as nothing else seemed of the least importance he gave up the attempt in despair.' He got through, the day somehow, alternately hopeful and despondent.' If Mary were true to him—and how oould he doubt her—what a happy, hopeful affair life would be after all. A little waiting, _ a little work, the harder the better since it was for her, and then'a life in which even careB being fully shared would only serve to draw them closer together. It was a very pretty dream while it lasted; then came a re vulsion. What a selfish brute he was to tjxink of dragging Mary» sweet, sunny Mary,. who knew about as much of care hs a, bird or a flower, down into that dismal slough of despond —genteel poverty—'with its thousand humdrum worries and small irritating cares. No, no ; they must wait till. he .had secured a good position. He was conscious of good abilities, and hod, moreover, that chief ingredient of genius, an unlimited; capacity for hard workj and nothing seemed ? impossible with 6uch an incentive. " But," a dark

thought came, "suppose she would not wait for kun ; suppose she took the freedom ho had offered her and broke off their engagement. What would life be like then ?" In liis inmost heart he did not doubt her,1 but yet ho dwelt on the idea and tried to realize a future without her. Six months ago life had seemed full enough of interest, but then he had not seen Mary. Now not a thought, or dream, or plan, but her sweet presence pervaded it, and was, in fact, its very soul and object. So bis thought moved in a circle, sometimes bright and sometimes very, very dark.

Next morning the first delivery broughjb him nothing. He bad not expected it, he per suaded himself. Of course not, he could not

possibly hear till the afternoon; so to pass away the time till then he sauntered into town. Whyf what on earth were so many people about for? The shops were decorated, tod, and crowds of children clustered round .each windpw. - •

. " By George!" he said, " it'slChristmas E ve, . and I'm. hanged if I hadn't forgotten' all about it. And bo that's what Mrs. Dixon was 'hint ingatwhen she wanted to know if I'should be at home to-morrow. Of bourse; landladies always expect a fellow,t'o go out on,.C.hristpias Day.' Got their ownffriends coming I suppose. Poor old soul, I might "have reassured her, for of course I'm dudait Fejndell."." "

•The subtle. cheqiy influence of Cbristmasti'de insensibly raised liis spirits, raid his heart was full of hope -and. happy plans, .but. Riinijle , street on Christmas Eve is not the plape. for day dreams, and when he'had .had his hat knocked over his eyes by a bunch of; gorgeous blue-and-red balloons, and got; himself., tangled up in a long string of children trotting hand-in hand, he brought his thoughts .book to earth again, and watched the people round him. It was a very carnival of mothers and children, the streets were crowded with them. Mothers, whose hardened hands and sunbrowned faces told of hearty, healthful work, who hurried along intent on their purchases, calling to

Annie and Katie and Jimmie and Joe, or whatever might be the names of the struggling contingent of children _ who, absorbed in divers windows, were going astray in half a dozen different directions, to "Come along,

nnw, do; and don't keep me writing. Where's Joe, Annie? Why, if he isn't running after the balloon man! Fetch liim back, now, quick." Others strolling along, taking their pleasure after the wholehearted fashion of country folks determined not to miss anything, but to enjoy their outing to the full. More wealthy mothers, with their daintily clad chicks, were searching the toy shops for their richest treasures, or, may be, shopping alone to provide surprises for the little ones at home, yet each and all celebrating the glad festival of goodwill, and, knowingly or unknowingly, commemorating by their giving the great Gift of long ago, and, for once in the year at least, loving their neighbours as themselves. These thoughts and others like them were passing through Hugh's mind as he strolled along.

"What a foolish way we have," he thought, "of measuring everything by money, as if it were the only source of happiness, as if it were not often the cause of sorrow—seldom the cure.

As far as I can see on a day like this the poor folk have the best of it. They have such a lot of treats and pleasures that rich folks cannot have. Look at that little chap, now, with his tin trumpet. He's as happy as a king; and bis mother, her daughter (in service I sup

pose) lias given her a teapot. I do believe she

almost cried over it. They will use it for tea 1 to-night and to-morrow in honour of the day; but after that it will stand on the chimney piece, and only come down on the greatest occasions. Then there's that slight woman in black, a lady evidently, but poor, poorerlshould

think than many working folk. She has bought

her little daughter a violin. The child is a musician to her finger-tips; but still she is not quite sure she is right—it is so dreadfully ex travagant. But, there, see how the child's fingers clasp her treasure, and bow her cheeks flush and her lips tremble, What if. her motber'has to wear that bonnet another year and do without new gloves and shoes ! What if she has to Btint herself even in necessaries! Why, it is worth it. Is not self-denial the very soul and essence of giving! How, this young man"—looking at a small boy with silky flaxen curls falling over his wide lace collar, who was languidly trying the paces of the very biggest rocking-horse—"why, be]s beginning to find things slow already, poor little beggar!

He bos nothing to wish for."

How and then, the pavement was obstructed by a small crowd watching and laughing at some mechanical toys. It does not take much to make a crowd at any time, and very little to make folks laugh at Christmas. How a knot of schoolgirls passed, eagerly talking about their purchases, and going over lists of those for whom they were intended—lists that generally began with father and mother, and from which " present company" was studiously, omitted ; or some sweet-faced lady, shopping by herself—evidently some one's aunt—busy about to-night's Christmas-tree. At last Hugh stopped before a jeweller's shop: something in the window had caught his eye. The very thing for Mary, he decided—a quaint little bracelet in the form of a golden cord tied in a true-love knot, with a turquoise forget-me-not upon it.. As lie came out of the shop after buying it, Hugh looked at his watch. By Jove, how the time had flown. The afternoon deliveiy would

be in by thiB time. He took a tram, being too j impatient to. walk, and as it ground its way along the dusty streets to the suburb where he lodged, he tried to imagine what letters would await him. All his fears had fled by this time ; they knew him too well to misunderstand him, he was sure. There would be a playfully in dignant letter from Mary, asking what he meant, with a. few tender reproaches for. his

pretending to believe she would desert him in

his trouble; a kind letter from Mrs. Grant,

sympathizing with him for his losses, and tell-' ing him to come up and be scolded for bis ridiculous letter.

"Any letters?" he asked, as Mrs. Dixon opened the door to him. " Yes, a letter arid a parcel,"she answered; "you'll find them on the dining-room mantelpiece."

Hot till he reached his room, a neat but

rather unhomelike apartment, did he glance at ] his treasures. The letter was from Mrs. Grant, the parcel from Mary. ?

" A present! I wonder what my darling lias sent me?" Putting it aside on the principle of best last, he. opened Mrs. Grant's letter; a small enclosure fell out as he did so, but he did not notice it. He was staring dumbly at. the letter in his hands. It seemed to take him a

long time to read it through, though it was by no means long—

" Mrs. Grant, though somewhat surprised at Mr. Beresford's letter, can fully comprehend his reasons for wishing to cancel his engage ment, and, with her daughter's full concur rence, begs to return the enclosed."

"Ferndell, 23rd December, 18—" _

What did it mean? What could it mean ?

Opening the enclosure, he found a little ring, ^ the ring ne had so lately placed on Mary's finger.. Surely this was not all, surely she had not dismissed him without a farewell word. He tore open the parcel, only his own letters, of which even in this short time a goodly pile had accumulated. _ Merry letters, tender letters, letters in which he pretended to write of indifferent subjects, but always drifted back to that hackneyed theme—his love for her. In each and all he had poared out his heart to her as he never had done to any one in his life be fore. He set his teeth and read them over

one by one. It was a painful process, but it - strengthened him, searing away like a redhot iron every tender thought and feeling. Ab he sat there he thought of everything he had said to her, recalling every look and word of hers. At last-he rose and gathered the letters together, he seemed inclined to destroy them at first, but on second thoughts he changed his mind.

"Good thing to keep them just to show what a fool a fellow can be." ho remarked, as he produced from his pocket-book a narrow bit of blue ribbon and tied them up into a neat bundle, then taking the little velvet case from his pocket he tossed both it-and the letters into an old portmanteau.

"Good Mrs. 'Dixon stared at him as ho

Sassed her on his way out, and quite forgot' to

rop another hint about the morrow, his face

had altered so.

"Handsomer than ever," she decided, "quite, striking, I suppose, they'd say; but goodness me, if he's. goin to keep that look ojj his face .1 hope ne won't stay here, that's

all,"'