Chapter 160091146

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Chapter NumberV
Chapter TitleMAB's CHRISTMAS GIFTS.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160091146
Full Date1883-12-22
Page Number3
Corrections0
Word Count3671
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleFor Mab. The Story of Two Christmas Gifts
article text

CHAPTER V.

MAB's CHRISTMAS GIFTS.

It was the afternoon of the day before Christmas Eve. Perhaps it was owing to the depressing influence of a hot wind, which had already blown with merciless persistency for

the last two days, that Mr. Mainwarine's health seemed to have taken a turn for the

worse.

Weak, nervous, and fanciful, he was un happy without the constant society of one of his daughters, while that of Aunt Marcia irritated him into a fretfulness of speech that suiprised them all,

"I can't stand your aunt, Mab!"? he said, almost peevishly. " She worries me beyond endurance. Don't let her come here ; there is a good girl. Come and read to me, my dear.

And so, all the long hot morning Mab had sat patiently reading aloud from a book whose interest, if it had ever possessed any, languished and died at the withering breath of the north wind; and, to make matters worse, as Mr. Mainwaring's attention fre quently lapsed into an utter oblivion of what sne was reading about, she was under the painful necessity of constantly gathering up the tangled threads of the narrative ana explaining the position of the various cha racters. All this was trying and tiring, in spite of the genuine pleasure afforded her by rendering any service to her father; and it was with a sense of relief that she ceded

her place to Sara as the afternoon wore on,

and became free to follow her own devices. The atmosphere of the house seemed suffocat ing, Bhe thought: and as the wind appeared to nave partially lulled, she took her nat and sallied out into the garden.

The sky was veiled in a shroud of soft, grey clouds, gathering in parts into heavier, darker masses, and the heat was oppressive. Mab wandered listlessly into the orchard, and paused at the rough seat under the cherry-tree, where we first saw her. 4

The occurrences of that day were evidently in her mind as she seated herself, for she murmured, half aloud—

" It was foolish to promise. I think it was even wrong! I knew I did not wish it, and I hardly hoped to be happy. But I never dreamt that it would prove so cruelly hard. Oh, Boy, why did you urge me so? Why did you force ine to speak against the dictates of my heart ? Why did you wring that wretched promise from me against my will?"

Then, after a pause— . .

" What has changed him so, I wonder ? It was hard enongh before, but now that he has

frown so strange, so inconsiderate and angry,

dread to think of the future. I sometimes

think he cannot care for me as much as he

said he did, or he would never behave so strangely. Nearly a week since I had a letter from him—and then only a few lines. Can it be that he has ceased to love me, and is only waiting for me to set him free ?"

This sudden idea flashed across Mab's troubled mind like a gleam of light, and she was profoundly meditating how to approach the subject on her next meeting with Boyston, when sue started at the utterance of her own

name.

" Mab!"

Could that be Royston's voice, Bounding so harsh and strange ?

Sure enough, RoyBton himself stood before her; but how different he looked from that day, now nearly a year ago, when he had sought her in this selfsame spot, and so eagerly demanded- her much-regretted

promise! Pale and haggard, with dishevelled hair, and an eager, furtive look in his once bold and brilliant eyes, he seemed another being from the Roy Bhe had known so long and felt so affectionately towards in past

years,

" Roy! You here ?" she almoBt gasped in her surprise. " Why did yon ; not let us know you. were coming? I began to think you were not coming down for Christmas at all." C3

He made no attempt .to greet her, even by an extended band, nor did' he mako any reply, but stood looking at her with a curious expression, in which it seemed to the astonished girl that she could read both shame and fear.

"Roy! What is the matter? What is wrong? Are you ill? Why do you look like that?" she queried eagerly, laying her hand upon his arm. , .

He made a sudden movement as if he would have shaken her light touch from him. TheD, as though moved by a fresh ini

pulse, be seized the pretty hand, and gripped it with almost painful force.

" I was going to tell you not to touch me," he eaid, with a liareh, unmeaning laugh. " But that would never do, under the circum

stances, would it ? For you are my promised. wife, aren't you, Mab ?"

"yes, of course, Roy," replied the girl, hesitatingly. " I have been wanting to see you—to speak to you—about—about my promise, Roy. But we will talk about that another time. Tell me now what is the matter, for there is something, I am sure. You look so strange—so unlike yourself 1 Are you ill, Roy ?"

"Yes; I am ill," he replied, roughly, in answer to her repeated question. "Ill enough in my mind, at any rate, if not in my body. Things have not been going so pleasantly for

me lately as to make me fed particularly

comfortable. It is all up with me, Mab I"

"What do you mean, Roy}" aeked the girl, growing pale with apprehension. "What has happened 1 For heaven's sake explain yourself.'

-"You are a true-hearted girl, I believe, Mab," Royston replied, slowly, watching her face with that curiously shamed and fearful expression upon his own that she had noticed before. "You've always been good and patient with me, and you have promised to he my wife, haven't you ?"

"Yes, Roy," answered Mab again, re luctantly.

" But what would you say, Mab," he went on,intheeame slow strained tone, "if you found that you had promised to marry a felon?"

"A felon, Roy?" she repeated, in bewilder ment. " I cannot Imagine such a case—it is too absurdly • impossible. Why, Roy, how could I ever nave promised to marry any one hut yon?"

The confiding smile upon the girl's half frightened face proved too mach for Royston's self-control, hardened young sinner as he was.

"Don't look at me like that, Mab—don't look at me like that 1" he half sobbed, cover ing his face with his bands. " I don't deserve it It is not impossible, Mab. It is troe. The man you promised to marry is a felon— a forger 1 I am a forger, Mab I Do you un derstand ? A forger 1"

" Roy 1" Mab almost screamed his name in the excess of her horrified agitation. She could say no more, hut leant trembling and panting against the gnarled trunk of the tree, her face as white as its vanished blossoms and her great eyes dilated with

terror.

"Of course you shrink from me. It is only natural, I suppose," Royston said,.half sullenly, raising his head again. " But I did

hope for a little sympathy from jou, Mab,

even if you couldn't help me. I thought

perhaps you might be a little bit sorry for me. at least."

"Oh,Roy, lam sorry—dreadfully sorry," replied Mab, finding her voice with difficulty. "But it is so shocking—so awful 1 I can hardly believe it Surely you are not playing some silly trick just to frighten me, Roy?" she ventured, with a faint gleam of hope, recollecting many such foolish pranks of his in the past, when he had terrified her with his boyish inventions.

"Do I look as though I were playing a trick ?" he asked, bitterly; and his tone at once dispelled the faintly hopeful idea. "No, Mab, it ib the solemn truth, worse luck.. I have forged another man's name to a bill, and to-morrow the forgery will be discovered and then there's precious little hope that I shall escape detection. So you may look forward to seeing me figuring to an exciting extent in the police reports, and then taking up myflodging for a few years in the Stockade. Pleasant prospect, isn't it ?"

His tone had changed to one of would-be reckless bravado, but his voice shook a little, in spite of himself.

" Oh Roy, Roy I The disgrace! The bitter,

cruel disgrace 1 cried Mab, •

wringing her

hands in"despair. "If you'wanted money why did von not come to us? We have not much, it is true; but you should have had it —or we would have borrowed, or even begged for you, to save you from such a dreadful crime. But I always thought you had plenty of money of your own, Roy."

" So I had, if I hadn't been a fool and squandered it," replied the young man. " You see, Mab, my father left the property so that 1 could only touch a small portion of it during my mother's life-time—quite enough, though, 1 must admit, to have kept me comfortably, and you, too, if I had only been content to plod on steadily, as I should have done if I hadn't been the confounded idiot, and worse, that I have been. It has all oome of betting and cardplaying, Mab. No fellow living ever had such cursed lack as I have, that Til swear. I meant to give it all up when I asked you to be my wife, Mab. I did, indeed. As truly as I stand here, I said to myself that if yoa wonld only promise to marry me I would bet and gamble no more, and that your in fluence should keep me straight. But it was no use. I didn't touch a card for a month— and then one night I started playing euchre and lost a lot, and it was only natural that I should try to win it back, wasn't it ? But it was no good. As I said, luck has been against me all the year, and things have been getting worse and worse. It was no use applying to

my mother. ...She is in Europe, as _ji

know, travelling about; and even it I

knew where to address her, ft would take such a deuce of a time to get her answer that it would have been no use. Besides, the gave me some money before she went away, and told me pretty distinctly that I should get no more out of her. Well, three months ago I was driven nearly wild for want of money. I hadn't a friend who wonld lend it me—not one—confound them! Pretty

friends, Ito leave a fellow in the larch, as i some of them have done! I couldn't ask yonr father, Mab. For one thing, he was not himself, you know; and then, bad as I was, I didn't want to run the risk of losing you, Mab, as I certainly should have done if your father knew. I was in such desperate need of money. I couldn't ask Hallerton. I bated him too mnch." Mab started at the name, and the savage emphasis with which Royston spoke it.

" You bated Captain Hallerton!" she ex

claimed breathlessly. "Why?"

*' Oh, I hardly know—tor a hundred reasons—it doesn't matter why," responded Royston, quickly. " It is quite enough that I aid hate him; and that makes it all the more impossible that I should go and grovel at his feet and ask him for pity, like abeaten hound! I can't do it, Mab, I can't do it! And yet it is my only chance. If he refuses to acknowledge the bill"

Mah's white face had blanchedjwhiter, even to the very lips. She could hardly frame the words, 'and her sweet voice had grown strained and dry as she interrupted him!

" Royston, don't say it was Captain Haller ton's name yon forged! For heaven's sake, don't say sol"

" Why shouldn 11 say so, if it is the troth?" replied the young man, in surprise. "Idon't see that it makes it any worse because it happenB to be him. If you're distressed on account of Sara you may make your mind easy. It won't ruin him. It is only for

ninety pounds. Come, I say, Mab, you needn't go on like that. Yen might hear me - out first, at any rate."

For Mab's head had sunk upon her clasped hand, and she was Bobbing passionately.

" Go on," she said, presently; " tell me all. I am listening," and calming herself by a great effort, she heard him to the end.

" There is no use trying to explain to you how it was done—you wouldn't understand it. But in a few wordB, Icontrived to personate Hallerton mid signed his name—it's easy enough to imitate his signature—and got the money from a Jew money-lender. Of course I fully meant to take it up myself when it came to maturity, as they call it, and then nobody would have been a bit the wiser or worse off. I felt so certain that I should be able to do this, that I didn't trouble myself much about it. I stood to win over a thou sand on the Melbourne Cup {done, as well aB a lot more on the other races, and felt as sure of the money as though I had it in my hand. But my infernal luck was too much for any thing. Dorello came in nowhere for the Cup, and that swamped all my winnings on the other races, and more. I didn't tell you I was going to Melbourne when you left Ade laide—but that was what kept me. I tell you, Mab, I had hardly enough money left after the races to pay my passage back to Adelaide; and if it hadn't been for you I don't think I should have come back at alL unless I was forced to, later on. But I wanted to see you; I couldn't stay away from you altogether. And I was always hoping to raise the money to meet that infernal bill in time to prevent its being presented through Hallerton's Bank, as it will be now. It's due to-morrow, the twenty-fourth, and, as I told you at first, it's all up with me. I only wonder I haven't either shot or drowned

myself before now. the thing has made me so I insufferably wretched."

Here he ceased, ~and his bravado had all left him. Miserable and shame-Btricken as he evidently was, however he might have striven to simulate indifference, Mab could not reproach him now.

All through that day Captain Hallerton had been, as the majority of people are upon " a hot-wind day," restless, dissatisfied, and

ill at ease.

His mind was troubled, and his body refused to sit still and endure the discomforts of the day with equanimity. Ever and anon, listening to the mighty rush and roar of the boisterous wind, ana watching the wild swaying of the few hushes before his window, his mind was filled with the recollections of such turbulent gusts at home, and he could think only of the cold, refreshing strength and freedom of such a wild north wind in the old home-land. More than once he was driven outside in epite of himself, in the un reasoning idea that where there was so much movement there must also be some coolness only to he driven back by the fiery breath of the furnace-blast that met him in the face, and seemed to almost scorch his skin.

Later, when the wind had lulled, be stood out under the shelter of the slight verandah, watching how the gathering masses of clouds began to fling from out their darkening bosoms swift chains of fire that flashed and ran from one to another till all the horizon was belted with a quivering girdle of electric light. Never before had he seen such won derful lightning—so almost absolutely free from pause. Hardly a second passed with out its vivid gleam in some portion of the teeming sky, and ever and again great rose coloured flashes lit up the earth in one grand momentary glow of ruby-tinted light.

Then came the thunder and the rain; and when the storm was at its height, a drenched and frightened female on a galloping horse came into eight.

Straight to the house she came, and Hal lerton, hastening to help her dismount and bring her in out of the fearful storm, recog nised Mab Mainwaring.

Half an hour later, in dry garments belong ing to a woman servant, Man sat in Hugh s parlour, and tremulously told her ead story.

" You will forgive him, will you not ?" she pleaded. "You will acknowledge the bill when it is presented, or whatever it is. 1 do not understand about it—hut Hoyston said that you would know what to do, if you would only do it, and save him from open disgrace. He said I was to tell you that you would not lose the money in the end—that it should certainly be paid some day. Poor fellow, he is so wretched, so miserable 1 I am sure you would have pity upon him if you only saw him. Captain Hallerton."

" I do not think I should." Captain Haller ton mentally observed. "He deserves no pity, the selfish young cur! But he has chosen his ambassador well 1"

Then, aloud, he said—

" If I do this it will not be from pity for him, Mab."

He had never called her Mab to her face before, but, in the excitement of the moment, neither seemed to notice anything unusual.

" You will do it, though 1 Oh Captain Hal lerton, say jou will do it 1" Mab en treated, unconsciously stretching out her hands in eloquent supplication, Hugh took them in his own and held them.

" I will do it, Mab, for your sake. It is Christmas time, and Christians should be for living at Christmas lime, should they not ?

But remember always it is for you, not for 1 Mm. My consent is a free gift to you—a Christmas gift, Mab."

" Thank you," Mab stammered. She said no more, for her eyes met his, and met within them such a look as stilled all further speech upon her tremulous lips.

" Don't thank me, Mab, but tell me one thing in return. Perhaps I have no right to ask, but I cannot refrain. Do yon love him?'

"I—I—have promised to marry him," faltered Mab, dropping her eyes towards the gronnd.

"And you do not love him?" pursued her questioner, holding her hands still, and per

For a moment Mab did not speak. Then at last raising her head, she sua quietly, " I will tell you the truth since yon ask it. I do not love him—not in the way you mean. He

has always been very dear to me, as a brother might have been, bnt that is all. I gave him my promise at last, hut it was never with my heart."

" Mab! darling Mab," cried Hugh, seizing her in his arms. " Thank heaven for this 1 Yon are not bound, yon cannot be bound

"I. Tell

against your will. Tell me yon love me,

dear one, tell me eo."

With one swift look of. blushing surprise, one look of unhoped-for joy, Mabs answer came in a little trembling sigh, and her pretty head sank for a moment on Hugh's stalwart shoulder in blissful repose. But it was soon raised, and she struggled to free herself.

"Let me go, please," shebeseeched. "Oh, Captain Hallerton, this should not be !"

" Why not f he asked, smiling at her sweet

distress.

"Because of Boy—and—and—Sara," Mab half-whispered.

"There is no reason why we 8honld not love each other, Mab, my darling. Boyeton shall consent, and Sara will approve."

"But, I thought*" murmured Mab, brokenly, glancing at the picture on' the easel, with a look which Hugh quickly interpreted.

" No. Mab, that was a mistake," he said. "Sara has been to me like the sister of my poor first love. It is you, dearest, who are my second love. As I told you, Sara will approve: and, Mab, I will tell you something in confidence: Dr. Chinnery is coming to visit me next week."

" What has that to do with it ?" questioned Mab, wonderingly.

"Oh, blind Mabel," said Hugh fondly. "Do you not know how much Chinnery ad mires Sara? Bnt come, the storm is over, and I will take you home. Soon, darling, I trust it will be my blessed privilege to care for and cherish you always.

Need 1 say more? Only that Boyston's Christmas gift to Mab was the most precious he oould bestow—her freedom. Learning a bitter lesson from what had passed, he went to another colony and sedulously improved, his life, till he could look his friends in the face again, feeling that he had in a measure retrieved his folly and sin. *

Mr. Mainwaring lives happily and con

Hugn, th

tentedly with Mab and Hugh, though his

health has never been fully restored. Sara's

dignity and beauty well entitle her to the envied position which, as Mrs. Chinnery, she enjoyb in Adelaide society; and Aunt Marcia has gone to some of her late husband's rela tives in Melbourne. This Christmas our friends are happily assembled at Dr. Chinnery's handsome home, and Mr. Main waring is fully occupied in playing with and amusing a tiny blue-eyed Sara and a sturdy little Ralph, whose united baby voices lisp the name of grandpapa together with the good old-fashioned wish, "A merry Christ mas,"

The Ens.