Chapter 160139456

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter TitleTHE OLD STORY.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160139456
Full Date1880-12-25
Page Number33
Corrections0
Word Count4317
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleClare's Christmas Eve
article text

CHAPTER II,

THB OLD STOBT.

" With angels planted In hawthorn bowers.

And God himself in the passing hours."

There are few lives in whioh there do not come one or two rare days marked off from all the rest by the wonderfnl emotion we call happiness. It may be the exaltation of self surrender to some great purpose; or the dawning of a new mental life, lighting the way out of the honse of bondage to some far-off and supremely beautiful Land of Promise; or it may be the actual realization of some dimly looked for joy, which has come to us at last large and unmaimed, a perfect gift from God. And for some hoars—nay, for some days, perhaps—we thought that this large and serene horizon, this " light that never was beheld on sea or land," were to be our daily portion, our everlasting heritage. Fate was to be henceforth like one of the angels of Signorelli, who, with radiant faces, scatter roses for elect souls. The monotony which had so oppressed us, the perpetual chafing of trivial cares, the wearing sense of loneliness, these had passed away, and in their place there were the rosy hours fresh as the very breath of Paradise, golden with the light of coming achievement or happy love. It is impossible to imagine that in the drear evenings of a future autumn-tide the love and the hopes which are new so vivid and victorious will then be lean and lifeless as the leaves that the wailing wind blows whither it

listeth.

It was with some such feeling that Glare Butherford stood enjoying the fresh brightness of the spring morning the day after her arrival. The keen, almost intoxicating, 'perfume of the things of God,' the breath of thou sands of open roses, of unclosing buds and of frnit-trees in fall blossom, seemed to welcome her back to each well-remembered nook; to the pleasant seats under spreading trees where she had passed so many hours In company with her best beloved authors; to the little creek at the bottom of the large velvety lawn, that ran so blithely on its way till the fierce suns of summer had drunk np its waters and stilled its infantine prattle. And a few miles away, beyond the intervening elopes and valleys, which were dotted with houses rapidly spreading between the hills and the eastern suburbs, lay the town clearly outlined in the light of the morning sun. Glare remembered with something akin to wonder how often she had looked on that rapidly enlarging colonial city, almost with repugnance, and thought it a mushroom growth of ugly buildinga without historio associations, devoid of any instinct of harmony and beauty. Now she saw in it countless habitations, with an infinite wealth of life and human interest; she saw in it churches for worship, halls for national and civic government, and theatres where the spectators were moved to tragic pity or light laughter; and away still some miles beyond the town, the sea, mystical and restless, mailed in sunshine and stirred by the air, lay clinging to the borders of the land. That sight at least had never been trivial or wearisome or wanting in be&nty. Bnt how much more tolerant and tender were the feelings which henceforth it would awaken in the heart of the girl who looked at it with a smile of supreme gladness parting her red lips, with the light of love shining in her beautiful dark eyes. Glare wandered away across the lawn down to the creek, hamming snatches of the Volkslieder she had learned from the peasant girls of the

Haiz mountains.

No vexing thoughts of the past, no anxiety for the present, or mistrost of the fatnre dimmed the deep joy, the blissful oontent, of these bright morning hours. The laburnum bushes, with their summery trailing blossoms rising in the soft air, seemed as if they were crying "Hosanna;" the swallows with shining pointed wings, buoyant, eager acd swift, darted about and made suddeu dives into the fountains, then suddenly assumed quite a solemn air, and lifted up a tiny scrap of material as if ihe cares of a coming family lay heavily on their minds.

Here was a rustic bench beside the talkative little stream, beneath the shadow of a patri archal gumtree—a tree that looked with lordly benignity on the snrronnding country; and though far from being by nature haughty or overbearing, it could not choose bat see that there was no other tree near or far which could claim equality of stature with it. This was a spot wbioh bad grown to be looked on as Glare's special domain. Seated on the bench one heard the soft dash and fall of the water from a oas cade on a miniature scale, which had been formed with considerable ekill by Matthew, the sole son of the house; as also the hamming of bees, hovering above and amidst the bushes of sweetbriar, bulks of periwinkle, the Fior da morte, with pale-blue flowers, the clumps of native lilac, lavender, and other fragrant and flowering shrubs whioh grew luxuriantly along the banks of the little creek.

With bands folded idly on her lap, Glare sat in a waking reverie, vivid recollections of her eventful voyage baok to her Australian home succeeded by swilt memories of her late life in Germany. "Can it really be only three days ago aince Harleigh and I stood talking on the deck of the Lahore ?" The talk had been first of the merest trifles—the change of atmosphere as they neared land, of the birds- and seaweed that went floating by. Then there had been a pause. Some dim instinct had brought the colour throbbing into her cheeks. Sue oouid bear the words again as they were spoken in a. low tone—"Isuppose you oan hardly realize that I look forward to the end of our voyage with dread." " It has been a very pleasant trip," she had answered, trying to speak lightly, un concernedly, bnt feeling that she failed horribly,, knowing that there was a tremor in her lips, a

false note in her voice; wishing yet dreading,

that Mrs. GhardiBgle, who had been an 'ideal cbaperone—confined to her cabin most of the time—would pace up slowly to the vacant seat near her, and say languidly " Thank Heaven t' we shall be home to-morrow." But neither Mrs. Ohardingle nor any one else had approached that vacant seat. There seemed te bis no one within miles and miles but the man who stood beside her, looking into her face with beseeching earnest eyes—her tell-tale face that always played the-traitor when it should remain calmly impassive. " A pleasant trip," he had repeated with a sadden change of voice. u Yes, I suppose so, only—" he broke short and laughed a little, and she laughed also, hardly knowing why. " What I want to say is that there are some things which are either too dear or too bitter to be called' pleasant.'" What a vindiotive hatred tbi9 grave, calm man had taken to that un offending adjective. In the midst of her agita tion this thought had flitted through her brain. Then, looking np, she saw with a sudden pang that his face was very pale, and as if possessed by another will, stronger and more instant in sincerity than her own, she had said in a low. distinct voice," I think I know what you mean." "Are yon sure that you know?" he had said in a rapid, shaken voice. " What I mean is that yon are so dear, so precious to me that if we are to part merely as strangers . . and if—if you say that we are not . . Was that what you understood ?" Trembling, happy, ashamed, thrilled through all her being with a rash of bewildering emotions, she had looked np and

answered "Yes." "My darling!" To the last day ot her life she would remember those low, passionate words. They could nut even clasp each other's hands, bnt they drew a little nearer, and stood in blissful silence looking over the restless, limitless sea, across which the sun's last rays were gleaming red and warm.

Though Olare coald not speak of this unreservedly ' even to her own sister, yet it was delightful to recall it when alone in her old familiar haunt with the lisp of falling water so near. What did the sound remind her of ? Ah, that day in the Bavarian Alps when she heard the ringing of distant bells and the runniBg of swift moun tain streams blending in an exquisite melody.

There was a sudden sound ol swift movement, and a lithe little figure in pale blue, with coquettish golden tassels all down the front came rapidly acroBB the lawn.

"Clare, Glare, I've been looking for you everywhere," cried Dolly, breathlessly. "He has come; and oh, isn't it fuo, with only me to look after you. I was crossing the hall, when I heard a gentlemen ask if Mr. Rutherford was in. I guessed who it was even before I saw his card. I went aDd shock hands with him, and said, I am Clare's sister; and ob,' what a smile I got."

Poor Clare, confused and happy and Bilent, listened with a loud-beating heart as she went hack to the house with Dolly, who was brimming over with excitement and delight.

"And, Clare, do you know he decidedly looks more like a soldier than a parsou. He is not handsome, exactly, but he is distingue. I think 1 should be a little afraid, of him. Oh, not a bit like George. Welt, I won't play the duenna so far aB to go in with you. I suppose we will have luncheon at the usnal time, so you have only an hour for spooning." " Oh, Dolly, you horrid little thing," cried the elder sister, in a tone of dismay and disapproval.

" Well, of course it's rather irregular, without father or mother, or even Helena, to sanction the proceeding. That soft Carmelite grey, with touches of cardinal, is really a sweet dress—did yon wear it on purpose? Ob, you'll be like any body elsenow, sailing o'er life's solemn main with a young man, like every other common place girl. But, Olare, what makes yon so pale, and your eyes are quite big and dark—juBt as they look when you're going to cry, which I most say is very seldom."

How much Clare heard of this incessant chatter it would be hard to Bay. She was, in truth, very pale and nervous when she paused at the drawing-room door to regain some measure of composure- Vrfnre passing into the presenceof the man to wbom she bad given her whole heart, but with whom she had never before stood face to face alone.

Harleigh Roxburghe, on bis part, stood with bis eyes fixed on the door with a look ofetrained and eager expectation. Dolly was right in saying that he was not exactly handsome, but distinguished, in his whole bearing he certainly retained traces oi his military training and ser vice. His face was one whi-h always strnck the observer with a sense of nnusnal power—one in which largeness of soul as well as of intellect was very legibly written. The eyes were dark and clear, with a keen far-sighted look; the brow was broad, with dark and rather heavy eye brows ; the mouth, which was clean shaven, was firm, and noble, but somewhat stern. It was a face that struck one at first sight, and grew on the observer as the face of a man keen in spirit and unselfish of heart—of a man not faultless iu temper, not .particularly patient , and long suffering, hut never- wanting in fearless, instant sense of the right. There were lines about the month, and eyes which seemed to have been graven there more by some heavy sorrow than by'time—and, indeed, the whole face was in Tepose rather grave and set for a man of thirty two ; but thiB fault, if such it could be called, wjas not now apparent as he waited with fast-beating pulses for the woman who in so short a time had taken tyrannous possession of

bis heart.

He sat down by a little square mediaeval - looking table, on which stood a tall vase of antique form, containing a bunch of white moss rosebuds and a few sprigs of heliotrope. The sweet subtle perfume of the latter touched some ?dormant spring of memory, and in a moment a troop of recollections of other days and far dis tant scenes filled his mind. He thought of that bdnr which seemed at once so curiously near and far away, when he was struck to the very soul with a sorrow that seemed impossible to be borne. Then the sudden awakening to a new ideal, the,elation of heart and soul in realizing that faith was not a mere dogma, but had sud denly become to him an. immense governing power—a, lever which raised him above his own immediate despair, and taught him to live, not fpr himself, but for others. He remembered how for a'time his faith had been hard and absolute, without speculation, almost without enquiry, dnd tben the time bad come when with a deso late heart and a spirit darkened with ques tioning uncertainty, it seeihed to him' as if r.eligion: everywhere were strangled by theo logical by atoms, and crystallized into dead for mulas—a .time when the messages of life and bealirg which tie had so often spokes to others with ferveht and undopbticig joy were be comingparty catch WotdB,' repeated with parrot like indifference, or forged by ecclesiastioal pride into heavy chains to bind the human intellect. After well nigh'five years of unremit ting work—work of mind and body—this strange torpor fastened on him, till at last the'travail ing brain and . intense nerve called for relief.. It was then that Harleigh Roxburghe

leu the scene or his labours—his daily services,

his nightly meetings, his incessant ministra tions among the poor hopelessly chained down with poverty, the weak and vicious still more hopelessly kept down by their ungoverned paSsions, their undisciplined instincts. He found a fellow-labourer to take his place, a man whohad the dauntless -courage, the strength and th&» unshrinking energy which fitted him welfltfto carry on the work of a poor London parish^ -

' At first to his overwrought mind and irritated nerves'the eight and the sonnd of the sea with its haunting memories had in them something of torture. But by degtees the complete rest, the change from the clanging haste, from the

monotonous streets crowded with meau abodes

and eqnalid lives, to the free impassioned splen dour of the Bea stretjbing to vast limits that seemed to find no shore on any side, wrought a steady cure. The'days that dawned serene and unclouded--as -the eternity from which they came; the'-pungeht salt air, the ewift course of the gallant ship over the great deep with its mysterious sounds and colours, its passiug shadows and swift Changes, filled his nerves and brain with the old delight of living, and braced mind and body alike. And in the midst of it all this beautiful-girl, with her frank smile and untroubled brow,- became' his friend, bis inti mate companion, his love. Tea, without a moment's warning, without a sign of conquest, she had taken possession of. his heart. After tbe overwhelming sorrow of his early life he had been' bo sure: that the passion of love would henoeforth play no part in his existence. In tbe bearc of London he had lived the life of an anchorite, neither desiring nor dreaming of a woman's love. Bat' now! At last the door opened and Glare, very- pale and grave, feeling as if there >was a heavy mist before her eyes, slowly entered the room. She bad vaguely wondered what she would say, bow she would

i ? .

hide the shrinking shamefacedness which was so new a sensation to her. Harleigh met her with ontstretched hands, his face radiant with happiness, and when she felt his strong firm fiDgers close over hers, the recreant blood rushed

red and hot into her face.

" Clare, it is no dream, then; you do really

love me a little."

She looked op, her lips quivering, the tears gathering in her great dark eyes.

"Tell me, darling," he repeated in a low en treating tone, drawing her nearer to him.

" No, not a little, a great deal," she said, with the most charming distinctness, the old habit of quick retort coming back to her as the glad senBe of unalloyed happiness vanquished hrr timidity. Their lips met in a long lingering kiss, and the great measure of that day's strange happiness for both was reached,

" Clare, I feel almost dazed at my new-found joy, it seems so sodden and bright, like a dream that one fears to drive away by moving or speaking too loud," said Harleigh after a long pause, which to both seemed more eloquent than any speech.

" And we are such strangers to each other," said Clare with mock gravity, as if suddenly recollecting that till they met on board the Lahore a few weeks ago they had been oblivious of each other's existence. Yet the observation, tbongli quite true, seemed so absurd that they both laughed—the glad laugh of happy lovers which comes so lightly, and is so unexacting as

to its cause.

"Mr. and Mrs.. RutherEord, I find, are from home. I suppose no one expected the Bteamer

so soon."

" No, they are to be back to-morrow, and tbey tbongbt that I would be bome the day after. Mother has not been very well for some time back, so papa took her for a week or two to Nillanilla, one of oar sheep stations—such a nice old place in the heart of the bush. It is nearly 200 miles from town."

" I am afraid you are very rich people," said Harleigh, with a half comic smile.

" Is that because of the camel ?" asked Clare seriously.

" The camel ?'* repeated Harleigh, in amaze

ment.

" Yes, the camel who can go through the eye of a Deedle —you know the comparison."

" Oh! I am not thinking of the future world, but of the present. I am not at all a rich man, Clare. I am not absolutely dependent on my calling fer a living. I might have a great deal more money, hat I had no nse for it; and I have not been looking forward to marrying. I can never give you a home like this."

"Nor two magpies that bite the legs of unwary strangers, and swear now and then for

recreation ?"

"Are these included in your present posses sions ?" asked Harleigh, smiling broadly.

" Yes, and likewise a pony getting well on in years. I havo other horses to ride of course, but I never feel any of them belong to me but Tony—the first one papa gave me when I was ten—that's thirteen years ago. Two magpies, a pony, and my dresses. Do you think I am too rich?" said Clare, with her bright catching smile. " Because, if so, I might send the mag pies into a convent; they have long stood in need of better morals and more confinement; and the pony, do yon think yon conld make use of him,. Harleigh, going about to see your parishoners ?* He would do any thing—I believe he would even preach a sermon for a few lamps of loaf sugar."

" Weil, when the parishoners are forthcoming we may give Tony a fair trial," said Harleigh. " I suppose you would like better to remain in Australia, for some time at least, than to go back to England, as I intended doing, in about a year?"

" Ter, I think I would," retained Olare, a little wistfully as the memory of lowering skies and divers people of the type represented by her annt Marshland rose to her recollection.

" I have always worked in London—mostly among the very poor," continued Harleigh. " By-and-bye I shall want to return there, but in the meantime I suppose I can get an incum bency in the colony. Of course, before we can speak of any definite arrangements, I must see your father. I suppose you know, Olare, that most rich men are, as a rule, not violently pre possessed in favour of sonB-in-law who are not capitalists, nor even ambitious to become such "

Olare kuew this, and was also perfectly well aware that her father was no exception to the rule. And with this thought came that other unwelcome one of her father's deep displeasure when she had so abruptly broken off her engage ment to Viator Maylands. " Of coarse it was shameful of me, but I know my father would not have been so incensed it Victor had been poor instead of being so absurdly rich." A.t that moment a strong impulse rose in Clare's mind to tell htr lover all. But it was so hard to spoil the first few hours they had together by such a confession of folly, and weakness, and vanity. She herself could never quite realize how it had all come about—how much less would he whose 'life was full of noble purpose and unselfish work. "By-and-by, when we have known eaoh other longer," thought Olare," I can more readily speak of it. I am quite sure if I began now the words ; would stick in my throat. When Harleigh

knows me better he can more easily understand how I could dosuch a thing." Ignoring her dis quieting thoughts, Olare said lightly,

"My eldest sister married a millionaire, so my father will have to keep his mind's eyes fixed on her, if he is displeased at your dislike of money."

"What makes you think that I dislike money ?" ?

" Ob, Patrick told me heaps of things about you—among other tales how you had a legacy of ten thousand pounds left to you, and spent it all in buying np some of those awful London rookeries, to have them pulled down, and have decent dwellings for the poor built instead."

" So Fat used to gossip in that way when you sat by him under the awning. How lovely you used to look, Olare, in that low chair, in the blue dress you used to wear, with a soft cloud of lace on your shoulders."

"And you paced up and down, looking so solemn and preoccupied. I am sure I used to think you would not know whether I was arrayed in sackcloth and ashes or decked out

in Batin."

" You did think about me sometimes even then ?•'

"I thought about you a good deal, even before we spoke to each other. Harleigh, when did yon first begin to—to—love me ?"

" The first time your eyes were lifted to mine with a smile. Look at me now, Olare. It is really quite necessary that I should mike up my mind as to their colour."

Clare looked into her lover's face, and as she met bis long fond gaze, a happy smile parted her lips.

" It is so wonderful," she said in a low voice. " What is so wonderful, my darling ?"

"Why, that all our lives—every hour and day—has quietly gone on bringing us to each other, and we neither of us knew."

•' No; two Bbort months ago we were uncon scious of each other's existence, and yet to-day, Clare, you are going to promise"

" Oh no, Harleigh, don't speak of promises," entreated Olare, a sadden trouble in her face.

It was very hard that in the midst of her new-' found happiness a stray thought or a chance ford should so vividly recall to her that hutnfli mtiog episode she most wished to forget. " To promise a man to marry him, and then in two

days to jilt him shamefully." How Helena, in her bitter wrath had repeated this over and over again, till the word "promise" had grown

hateful and sinister to Glare—a word of evil

omen which she could not bear to hear Harleigh utter. " Don't think me very unreasonable and whimsical, dear," she said oosxingly. " Well, take all the vows and protestations for granted, yon ean-even begin to coach me up in my future responsibilities; how I am to behave on divers solemn occasions, &o. I'll never be able to put on a look ot wisdom, and talk to people about the commandments and things. Tell me, Har leigh, what you say when you go to see your people. Suppose I were a poor—oh, dreadfully poor—washerwoman without even a potato in

the house, and with my two arms broken, what"' would you say to me?"

Harleigh laughed and drew the girl clo

him, saying softly, "Too mocking little pus!

- That's what I call shameful conduct, to f

a poor helpless womaB, and call her names 1 wise," said Glare gravely.

" By-and-by, when you go to see people, my pet, you need not trouble about what to say. Just let them talk to you, and you will soon acquire a vast store of miscellaneous knowledge. For instance, if a child is badly scalded, what is the best thing to be done ?"

" Keep out of its way," responded Glare promptly.

In the midst of tbeir laughter Dolly came in looking very demure Bnd responsible.

" l't seems a little profane to tell yon, young people, that luncheon is ready," she said very gravely.