Chapter 160091149

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleMAB'S PROMISE
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160091149
Full Date1883-12-22
Page Number1
Corrections0
Word Count3699
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleFor Mab. The Story of Two Christmas Gifts
article text

"FOR MAB."

THE STORY OF TWO CHRISTMAS

GIFTS.

By Lindsay Duncan.

CHAPTER L mab's promise.

"You are not a bit altered, Sara, since I saw you last-nor Mabel neither, for that matter. As far as yon are concerned 1 am glad of it; you were always sensible and

serious, and yon are keeping your good looks surprisingly. No one would believe that yon were close upon thirty to look at you. But as for Mabel I Well, I don't want to Inter fere, but,- really, my dear Sara, I must say I am surprised that you and your father have allowed her to grow up such a complete mad cap as she is. Her wild ways wtere not of so much consequence when she was only a child, but they strike me as being singularly out of place in a young woman. You should restrain her a little, my dear. Your poor dear father always was as weak as water, but surely you have some influence over her, Sara."

This little speech from her aunt's lips stabbed Sara Mainwaring in three distinct places. For one thing, few unmarried women, however handsome and sensible, care to be gratuitously reminded of their age when that age is close upon that dreaded terminus of feminine youth—thirty 1 But that was a small sting compared to the depreciation of her petted half-sister, and the scarcely veiled contempt for the indul gent father whom she almost adored. So that there was an indignant flush on Sara's face and a proud ring in her clear voice as she responded—

" You must forgive me, Aunt Marcia, if I fail to see what you have to complain of. Mab is a very good girl, and I have never known her to commit an unladylike action. She 1b young, of course, and has high spirits, hut I cannot look upon that in the light of a misfortune. In fact, papa and I often congratulate onrselves that she con trives to be so happy in this dull place."

"No duller for her than it was for you, Sara."

" That is true," assented Sara, repressing a sigh, " but that makes it none the less hard for Mab."

Possibly it occurred to Sara that Aunt Marcia might have made life a somewhat less monotonous aflztir for her had she so chosen. The wife of a wealthy merchant, dwelling in a gay colonial city, she might perhaps have been supposed likely to bestow a kindly thought upon the daughter of her own brother, who was spending the prime of her youth and beauty in an enforced seclu sion. It had not been so, however; but when the apparently prosperous merchant died, and his prosperity was proved to have been more apparent than real, his widow had found it convenient to make a stay of indefinite duration with her brother's family. Indeed, when needing change of air, Mrs. Willis had occasionally paid the Mainwarings short visits before, always departing with that cheapest and most unsatisfactory acknowledgment, "a general invitation" to them to visit her at her own home when they were in the city. No one who was well acquainted with Sara Mainwaring would have expected her to avail herself of an invitation of that sort: so her monotonous, but not nnhappy days, had been chiefly spent in teaching her motherless step-sister, and waiting on their father. But apparently no thought of this kind intruded itself upon Mrs. Willis's placid self-com placency as she lay back in a comfortable chair in the spacious verandah.

" Well, well, my dear, of course it is no business of mine," she 'replied, fluttering the strings of her widow's cap with the move ment of a huge black fan. " But I suppose opinions differ as to what constitutes ladylike conduct. For instance, in the few days I have been with you, I have seen Mabel climb a fence, mount a horse without assistance, and catch it herself in the paddock. And yesterday I found her sitting reading in a gum tree! By what means she contrived to get upand down I am at a loss to imagine." Mre. Willis's voice was expressive of unmiti gated disgust as she recounted these exploits of her younger niece; but Sara only laughed. "I confess I cannot see any harm in those things, Aunt Marcia," she said. " Mab would - not indulge in any such pranks before strangers, and surely they are innocent enough in themselves."

"Oh, very well, my dear. Of course if you think so I have no more to Bay," returned Mrs. Willis, tranquilly. " But it is not the way in which I was brcnght up, that is

all."

"No, I should hardly think it was," said Sara, with grave deliberation. "But, you see, Aunt Marcia, it isnot every one who can beast of your advantages."

With which parting shot Hiss Main waring departed into the house on some domestic mission, leaving her aunt in some doubt as to whether her speech was serious or ironicaL

" Sara is becoming disagreeable," she mur mured placidly, deciding, after a while, upon the latter interpretation. "Decidedly dis agreeable) She is fast growing into the typical old maid, and in a few years she will be insufferable. As for that hoyden of a girl, she is detestable already. Dear, dear, I am afraid the next few months will be very unpleasant; but I suppose 1 must endure the infliction of spending them here."

Mrs. Willis sighed deeply. Whether that sigh sprang chiefly from regret for her de parted husband, or for the worldly pleasures which had departed with him, is not for us to decide.

Meanwhile, Mab," the madcap," Mab, "the hoyden," as her aunt so flatteringly desig nated ner, was sitting quietly enough on a rough wooden seat in the Freahfield orchard, dividing her attention between a book and a little heap of golden apricots which lay upon the bench beside her. I doubt whether yon would have felt inclined to call her by such names if you had come upon her then. A simple white gown, relieved by judicious dashes of blush-pink, on a figure which was rather remarkable for its rounded grace in thiB part of the world, where (with deference be it spoken) good figures are not so plentiful as gooseberries; a pretty foot and slender ankle, clad in a pink stocking and somewhat clumsily made shoe (which, however, could not make the foot look clumsy, strive as it might), peeping from beneath theloweBt frill of the white skirt; a pair of plump, long-fingered sun-browned hands; and a wealth of wavy, Bhining, golden-auburn hair, from which the plain straw hat had fallen, and on which the dying sunlight flickered lovingly through the slightly stirring leaves of the big cherry-tree —this is all you would have seen at first, and a refreshing picture you would have deemed it. But when the bent head was raised from the absorbing page, and you met the foil frank gaze of those great dark-grey eyes, and bad well noted the soft curves of cheek and chin, the rich colour of those ripe and mobile lips, and the delicate arch of the clearly de fined brows, yon would say that the fearless, happy, trustful expression of that charming face was even more beautiful than its purity of form or its perfection of colour.

Probably something like this was in the

mind of the only person who did thus see her this hot summer afternoon. Anyhow, he stood quietly watching her, at some little distance, with an expression of face which might have been taken to mean any amount of admiring and appreciative tenderness. A very young man, slight and good-looking— not an unfitting admirer, you would have said, as far as appearances went, of that un conscious young beauty sitting under the great cherry-tree.

However, he did not watch for any great length of time, but advanced as noiselessly as possible, and suddenly threw himself upon the ground at Mab's feet, pulled off his sun helmet, and, pushing back a refractory lock of brown naur, looked np busily, and re marked with striking originality—

" Warm — isn't it?"

" Warm, indeed 1" returned Miss Mabel Mainwanng, with considerable asperity. "I should think it was. Your sndden appearances are enough to startle any one into a condition of fever heat! And now, please, go away; or else do not venture to speak another word until I have finished my book. So tiresome of you to interrupt just at the most exciting part 1"

The new comer received this gracions speech with a contented smile.

"All right, Mab. I'll be as mute as a fish. Only don t be too long over your heroine's sorrows, because I want to talk to you a little about my own."

" Your sorrows!" ejaculated Mabel, with contemptuous emphasis; and immediately reimmersed herself in her book, and to all appearance forgot the sorrowful one's pre

sence.

Certainly her contemptuous indifference to his alleged sufferings seemed justified by hiB expression, with which serious trouble of any kind appeared to be entirely incompatible. Royston Nuttall, at three-and-twenty, looked as u the world treated him very well indeed ; and perhapB also just a trifle as though he were conscious of entirely meriting such kindness on the part of the world. Stretched indolently at fall length upon the .gronnd, be patiently and complacently awaited the ter

mination of Mabel's novel.

" Finished at last, Mab?". he enquired, as with a half-sigh that young lady closed the volume and allowed her eyes at length to rest upon her companion. "And how does it end? Does the hero get shot or drowned and the heroine pine away and die of grief, or do they marry in the orthodox fashion and live happily for ever afterwards ?"

"Neither," replied Mab thoughtfully. "It is an unsatisfactory sort of a book, I think. The heroine is persuaded into marry ing a man she does not love, and both are miserable. The man she does care for goes away and he is wretched too, and .you can't help wishing that some of them might die, so as to set things straight. But they don't; end I suppose after all it is truer to nature, and therefore more artistic, than if it were all made to tit in properly."

"Is it true to nature that things shouldn't fit in,'as you call it, then, Man?" queried Boyston, smiling.

1 I think so—at least, of course, I do not know from experience, but I can't help thinking that things don t generally turn out so satisfactorily in real life as tnev do in novels. Look at Sara, now, Boy 1 Did yon

ever eee a more beautiful, a sweeter, or a cleverer woman than she is? I don't say so because die is my sister, but because I can t help seeing it. And yet"

And yet she is apparently on the high road to becoming an old _ maid ! That s about the English of .it, isn't it Mab ?

44 You are coarse, Roy-—rovoltingly coarse!'

pronounced Miss Mabel, with a disdain ful distention of her delicate nostrils.

44 Your disposition is appallingly devoid j of sentiment! Still, in your own rough way, you are not far from the truth. Where, I ask you, could you find the lover too deserving, or the husband too adoring, for our beautiful Sara? And yet, with the single exception of a vulgar and superannuated sheepfanning widower, no lover, so far as I am aware, nas come across her path!"

44 Awfully hard lines I" commented Boy, in the elegaDt and appropriate language op his age ana time. 44 But, look here; Mabel.. I shouldn't he at all surprised if there wasn't a good time coming fori Sara after all iYou know old Hurryyhas jsold his Station, don't yon ? Well, the nlew ojwner came up to take possession yesterday. {He's not a bad-look ing fellow at all—for apiiddleaged man, you know. Been in the army, ana looks like a soldier, every bit of him."

"What is his name?" asked Mab, with considerable interest; for strangers were rare and valuable acquisitions in the solitary neighbourhood of Ereshfield.

-Captain Hallerton. Let us hope he will prove agreeable and tractable, and have the grace to fall a victim to Sara's charmB in due season. In the meantime I don't want to talk ahont him any more."

44 What do you want to talk about, then ?" 44 Something vastly more important."

44 Oh 1 that is yourself, I suppose," suggested Mabel, saucily. .

44 Well—yes," admitted Boyston ; 44 but only myself in relation to you. I came for the purpose of seeing you, Mab j hut descry ing the ample form of Aunt Marcia on tne verandah, 1 at once concluded that it would not be of much use to look for you in that neighbourhood. So I obeyed an instinct of divination, and traced you here. And now that I have found you, I want to have a little Berious conversation."

44 Oh, don't be serious, Boy 1 It is so un becoming to your style of face I" laughed Mabel, with the slightest possible shade of uneasiness in her eyes and voice, 44 Besides, it is fax too hot for serious conversation to day. Here! Eat some apricotB, and talk nonsense; that is a good boy I"

So saying she extended a handful of the golden fruit towards the young man, who took possession at once of the proffered re freshment, and the hand which held it.

petulantly strugglin

serious frame of mind to-day, and nonsense is out of the question. Keep your hand still— there's a dear girl—I can talk better while I am holding it. You won't ? Oh, very well then, we won't quarrel about trifles. Only listen to me quietly, Mab, until 1 have said my

I do not wish to listen to you, Boy. Itis getting late, and §ara will be wondering what has become of me. I am going indoors now. You may come and have some tea if you like, but I really cannot stay here any longer.

So raying Mab hurriedly rose, but Royston detained her with quiet force and made her

resume her seat.

44 You are not going indoors yet, Mab," he said. 44 So sit down quietly until I have finished. Mab, I want my answer."

411 gave it to you weeks ago, Boy," said Mab, flushing hotly. "I hoped you had forgotten all that folly, and that we were going to be happy and comfortable again as we always used to be."

41 It is not folly, and I have not forgotten it, Mab," replied Boy, seriously. 44 As for your answer, that was folly, if you like! But I am quite sure you did not mean it, so I have

not allowed it to trouble me. And now that you have had time to think it all over. I want to hear you say thatyou are ready and willing to do as I wiBh, and that I may speak to your

father at once."

44Oh no, Boy! No, no. no!" cried Mab, startled and troubled. Indeed, you must do nothing of the kind! I have thought it over, but it has made no difference. I cannot marry you, Roy."

41 Then you don't care for me ?" said Roy, now kneeling beside her and holding the little fluttering hands that lay clasped upon her lap beneath his own 441 don t believe you, Mab! Call me vain and conceited if you will, but I can't believe thatyou have no affection for your old playfellow. Why, Mab, I can't remember the time when you were not my first thought, and the creature I cared for most in all the world! And you always seemed fond of me when we were children. Has it all gone away, Mab? I don't believe it, dear."

The young fellow looked very handsome and tender as he gazed confidently into the girl's fair, flushed face.

"No, Roy, the old affection has not gone away," she replied rather tremulously. " How should it, when you are always so kind and good to me ? As good as a brother could have been, if I had ever had one. But that is jnst where it is. You are my dear friend, my old playfellow, my kind brother; I could never think of you as my husband. I am very, very fond of you, dear Roy—you know it; don't you ? But not like that. The very idea seems so strange and absurd !"

44 It is neither, Mab: it's the most natural thing in the world. I love you dearly—you love me. Don't shake your head,-darling— you will soon get accustomed to the idea, and we shall be as happy as the day is long."

441 hope we shall be happy, Boy, but it cannot be as yon wish. Yon will find some one else to he your wife, far better than I am, and I will always be your faithful and affectionate friend. And now that it is all settled, let ns go in."

44 It is not settled, Mab !" cried Royston, in a tone of deep vexation. 41 It is all very well for yon to play with a fellow and tease him a. little, but I think that has gone on long enough now. It is a serious matter, and I can't stand any more trifling about it. Mab, 'Mab, don't. you see that I am in earnest, dear? You don't wish to break my

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heart, do you?" ? .

Royston's handsome face was almost tragi cally earnest as he said this—an expression so strangely unlike' its usual careless com placency u to be Btartllngly striking.

41 Mao, you don't know all that this is to me," he went on, hurriedly and passionately. 44 Yon don't know how precious you are to nie, nor what a safeguard your constant in fluence would be. I swear to yon, Mab, that I don't know what would become , of me if

you were actually to cast me off! I believe, 1 positively and firmly believe, that I should go to the bad altogether, body and soul."

Royston Nuttall was not the first lover who has-used this vague threat^-so manly and generous in its character—in order to in fluence the decision of his lady-love; but in his case it perbapB produced more than its usual effect. Mab was veiy young in ex

perience, very warm - hearted and very trustful; and Boating rumours had from timer to time reached quiet Freshfield about certain' wild doings', in which her old playmate was reported to have borne a part. Whet if she should render him careless and reckless by

her persistent refusal, and drive him to seek consolation with evil associates among un worthy pleasures ? The idea was horrible! She was very fond of Roy. How, then, could she bear to think that she was delibe rately sending him away from her into sorrow and danger ?

With the quick inBtinct of love Royston perceived his advantage, and rapidly followed it up with a torrent of entreaty and protes

tation.

"You see, darling, you hare my future in your hands!" he said at last."With you to help me and cheer- hie in jny .difficulties, to share my joys and^comfort me by your sweet presence^ in OTy'troubles, if any come, TjthinkT might i be a fairly good man, and, a •hsefhi atdrrespecKible 'member df; society, {Without you,'\i should J haVe nothingtolive for,"• arid' should just ^o frofn bid toworfce Until We end', M can'tBo withbut -y6ey, Mab! Say 'yes,' darling, and you will be the"saving

of me."

Such eager, passionate pleading, backed up by a pair of eloquently earnest eyes, ana

Sunctuated by ardent kisses pressed upon

er close-clasped hands, could hardly "be

without its effect. Mab. felt as thongh a strange spell in the guise of- something like duty cast a glamour over her senses, and forced her into, unwilling acquiescence. Sorely against the grain, and with a shrinking heart, she yielded.

Half an hour later the newly betrothed pair entered the pleasant shady room where. Sara sat, looking cool' and calm as some' stately white garden-lily, politely entertain? frig Aunt Marcia in the manner which that lady liked "best—namely, listening with some" appearance of interest to her slightly egotis tical and diffusive monologues. Aunt Marcia looked up with some displeasure. She did not by any means approve of Mab's uncon ventional rambles with "that youngNuttall," even although they had been playmates in their childhood. But then there were few things that Mabel did which did not result

in displeasing Aunt Marcia. It is true that self-willed young woman took no pains to conceal her indifference to her aunt's opinion, and had obstinately refused to wear the slightest semblance of mourning for the -deceased Mr. Willis, whom she had. never seen, gnd for whom, she argued, she. conld not possibly be supposed to entertain the smallest regretful regard. So, perhaps, the pink ribbons upon the white dress (instead of the black ones that Sara wore) came in for their share of Aunt Marcia's disapproving

look.

" Where have you two been?" asked Sara, smiling up at them. "Surely it was too warm to walk to-day ?"

" We have been sitting in the orchard eat ing apricots, and it was horribly warm," said

Mab.

"You look pale, Mab 1 Has the heat made your head ache ? Hadn't you better go and rest a little, dear ?" asked Sara, kindly.

"I think I will,"replied the girl, in a voice that sounded somehow unnatural in Sara's quick ears.

Roy stepped out into the passage with Mab, and she suddenly turned her pale face upon him and said in an eager and breathless wnisper—" You have my promise, Roy—but mind you are not even to think of—of—any think else for ever so long."