Chapter 160139463

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Chapter NumberVII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article160139463
Full Date1880-12-25
Page Number36
Corrections0
Word Count4079
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Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleClare's Christmas Eve
article text

CHAPTER VII.

Oh, lonely night, art thou not known to'me, A thicket hung with masks of mockery,

And watered with the wasteful warmth of tears ?

AN rNEXPECTED VISITOB.

It was within a week of Christmas, just ten days after the events recorded in the last chapter, when Harleigh Boxbarghe sat one afternoon writing at the open window of his sitting-room. His pen travelled rapidly over the paper, and now and then he paused with a half-smile on his lips. There are some people to whom it is impossible to write without imagining the replies they would make to what we say. Patrick Dunstan was one of these, and it was to him this epistle was written.

" My dear Boy—Tour tales about kangaroos and wallabies and natives, about splendid fleeces, cattle-hunting, and buckjumpers, about camprng ont, damper-eating, and emu-chasing inspire me with due awe and amazement. X have quite a vivid picture in my mind's eye of the old man kangaroo you described as beiDg ' quite like a Christian—he was so spiteful and cunning.' My adventures are in comparison so trite and common-place that I hesitate to dwell on them. If I enlarged on my daily duties yon would probably feel more strongly than you did even at St. David's that the most exciting event of a parson's life is when an intemperate washerwoman turns over a new leaf, or a favourite little arab gets run over. But, stay, there is an element of dire menace in my paro chial atmosphere at present which would no doubt atone a little in your estimation for the placid monotony of sermons and pastoral visiting. Tcu must know, then, that there is a man here—the landlord of an inn called the Black Panther—who vows that if 1 go on interfering with his customers he will ' do' for me! He originally honoured me with his enmity because I was in some measure the means of preventing a man from squandering a large sum of money in the Black Panther. This man's stepson, John Patterson, has become an especial friend of mine. He is one of nature's true aristocrats. He is by trade a builder and carpenter, but will one day be a skilful architect. He has a great deal of talent in that direction, and uses most of his leisure in qualifying himself for the profession. Some of the plans he has by him are marvellously well conceived and equally well drawn. He has gradually collected a large number of books —which he has thoroughly read—and digested. Tet he began to work hard when he was a lad of fourteen. A man like this, who has been from his yonth sbrrounded by temptations to coarse excess, who yet has learned to love beanty in nature and art and to hate vileness, and whose passions are curbed with a strong will and a tender conscience, is indeed one worth know ing. He has been laid up with a broken leg for some weeks, and I spend many hours with him. His mother is s gentle amiable woman, whose choice of a second husband has been very disas trous. Well, I suppose I must not inflict more biography on you."

At this point there was a knock at the aitting

rcom door.

" A lady to Bee yon, Sir," said cne clergyman's landlady in a enbdned tone. The visitor had driven np in a carriage and pair, with servants in livery, and this nnnsnal display of grandeur, not to apeak of the lady's sweeping black velvet and Parisian bonnet—in itself a marvel of costly elegance—had somewhat taken Mrs. Dimble's breath away.

It was with a feeling of eurprise that Har leigh recognised Urs. Hartingdale. She lost no time in disclosing the object of her viait.

" Mr. Bozburghe, I mast ask yon to excuse this intrusion on yonr time. Yes, I knew yon wonld; I have a special favour to ask of yon."

" Pray name it," answered Harleigh as be sat opposite his visitor.

" I have to ask that yon will look upon what I am abont to say as a profound secret. It con cerns Clare, and I can hardly decide whether it is wise or foolish of me to be so candid. Bat I am snre yon will consider my anxiety on my sister's account a sufficient excuse."

A chill fear struck through Etarle'.gh'a heart, and for a moment this sharp sudden pang kept

him dnmb.

" I shall of coarse respect any confidence yon may repose in me," he said at last, speaking quickly; " but if it concerns Clare"

He stopped because he could not find words to express his meaning without seeming dis courteous. "W hat he would have aaid was that no one—not even a sister—could have a right to say any thing to him respecting Glare which must be kept secret from her. No doubt Mrs

Oaxtingdale divined the gist of the unfinished sentence. Obtoaeness of perception was not «ne of her failings. Bat it did not suit her jnst then to be fastidiously sensitive.

•?Thank you. I felt instinctively that I could trust you not to misapprehend ine," she said with a gracious Smile. Then, lowering her voice in a semi-confidential manner, she said, " Of oourse yon know that before Glare went to .England she got engaged to Mr. Viotor May lands, my husband's ward."

Harleigh flashed hotly. " I have not heard anything about that," he replied.

Mrs. Hartingdale looked surprised, and this at onoe vexed and irritated Harleigh.

"Ton are of course aware," he said, in answer to this expression, " that at present oar inter course is very limited, so that many things of which, under other ciroumstanoes, we might speak, are overlooked."

*' True; and now I have to explain why I apeak of the matter. Glare broke off her engage ment a day or two before she left for England. J cannot now go into details as to her reasons. -Suffice it to say that I believe it was under a -cruel misapprehension. I know that she loved "Viotor Mayiands. Since her return their friend ship has been renewed. And now you will see why I speak of the matter to yon under the seal -of secrecy. I have nothing but my impressions to go on, and nothing except the conviction that .'her happiness may be at stake has led me to speak to yon."

" Then, may I ask what yon propose that I shoald do?" asked Harleigh, fiercely sceptical •SB to the trnth of Mrs. Hartingdale's conjec tures, yet cruelly tortured by the thonght tnat -they might not be fonndationless.

" I hardly know what to propose," answered -Mrs. Hartingdale, with an accent of distress. " The only thing that occurs to me to suggest is -that yon should in some way make Glare Tealize that she is perfectly free at the end of the six months to act as her inclinations lead -her."

" Bat that iB so completely understood by the relations in which we stand," answered Har leigh. " I do not . eay that it is impossible Miss Rutherford may have acted too hastily in breaking off her engagement before going to England. If she has found that she did this vnder a false impression, she is too true and .just not to be penitent for the pain she inflicted. But if, farther, she finds, as yon seem to imply, that the old love has reasserted itself, and that her engagement to me wonld be a mistake, I have every confidence that ehe will be true to

me and true to herself."

"Still, yon know bow from conflicting motives people may sometimes be misled into committing irretrievable mistakes," ?urged Mrs. Hartingdale. "However, I feel sow that as you know tbe true state of affairs—no, I will not put it in these words—I mean that as you know what my fears are you will be more guarded; and I know you will respect the confidence I have placed in you."

" Certainly, and in return I can only assure you that Glare's feelings in the matter will be my sole consideration."

As Mrs. Hartingdale drove home she reflected sorrowfully that her visit might bring forth but little fruit. A restless and feverish anxiety bad driven her to take the step. There was not -pn hour of the day in which she did not rack her brain with schemes and intrigues to bring 'Clare and Maylands together. At her own louse, at the houses of friends these two met perpetually. At first Clare's manner had been reserved and guarded, but she had speedily 'taken her cue from the really lofty way iu which Mr. Maylands ignored the past. He was evi dently far removed from the weakness of har bouring vague regrets or lingering memories of bygone times. So gradually the old intimacy bad in some measure revived between these two. This was excellent, bo far as it went. Indeed, Mr. Victor's placid self-complacency, his serene enjoyment of the situation, left nothing to be desired. Only a few days ago he had stroked his agonizingly cared-for moustache, end asked Mrs. Hartingdale in confidence whether she thought Clare would expect him to speak soon. " Oh, no; not for some months yet," Mrs. Hartingdale had answered, a cold perspi ration breaking out oo her brow. And then the terrible thought that in some unexpected way the yonDg man might find out how she was -duping him led her to devise some means of making a breach, sowing the seeds of a distrust that wouldat least render Mr. Roxburghe's visits still rarer for the few weeks that would inter vene till the family left town. But now that she had acted on the impulse she did not feel as if the stratagem were likely to be attended wish any very brilliant success.

Harleigh sat for a long time after Mrs. ~ Haitingdale left, rehearsing and pondering all

«be had said. He had a wide experience of life, and a keen instinct in estimating the characters -of men and women. But after all the keenest of us are apt to be strangely deluded where our affections are concerned. If Mrs. Hartingdale bad been an indifferent stranger to Harleigh Roxburghe instead of being the sister of the girl be loved so tenderly he would have been far more likely to gauge her motives at their real worth ; and then, again, the feeling that from "the first his new-found happiness was some "thing almost too good to continue tempted bim to donbt its stability more readily. When the blaBt of fate has shattered "the hark in which our first dreams of happiness were stored, we are ever after wards more timorous, more ready to doubt ?that it is possible we can know the ineffable joy which God grants to his children in a happy love. Far ioto the night Harleigh Roxburghe -sat in his solitary room, tbe lamp lowered, bis pen and books untouched. And then the thoughts that had floated through his mind, the -doubts and fears that had assailed him, found -expression in the following letter:—

u My dear Clare—You will not, I trust, mis understand what I am about to write. Half the

time of our probation is now over. At first it ceemed very hard for both of as that your father should insist on our engagement being post poned so long. Bnt, after all, I suppose he was Tight, for how little you really knew of me when I had the boldness to confess my love. And even now, Clare, I ask myself as I sit here to-night alone how muoh have yon realized the •difference between your easy luxurious life as the daughter of a rich man and the wife of one who never looks forward to anything but a spare competence and hard work, hedged in by -surroundings that may dot unnaturally be very uncongenial to yon ?"

Here Harleigh laid down hiB pen and leant biB head on his hand for some moments. Then be wrote very rapidly, " My darling, if on seeing bow deeply I love you yon were moved to meet my love aB much through tender sympathy as affection; if you have the slightest fear or doubt within your heart that as my wife your lot may be less happy or complete than some other form of life within your reach would be, do not hesi tate, I beseech yon, to draw baok. Do not be =sweyed by any false feeling of self-sacrifice or pity. I cannot deny that it would be a hard and hitter blow to me." Here the writer paused. "I must guard against this sort of thing," he -said to himself severely, " this is nothing but an appeal, flimsily disguised as a renunciation." Bo be tore np the half-written sheet, and wrote ii stead—" Nominally, of course, we are both free til] we are formally engaged.. If, in the meantime, any circumstance or feeling leads you

to think that oar engagement would be a mis take^do not, I beseech yoa, hesitate to tell me. Nothing, dear Glare, should weigh with yoa in finally deciding this question bat one conviction—namely, that it is the best and happiest step for each of as equally,"

Harleigh read this letter over very slowly, and was far from being pleased with its wording. It seemed stiff and almost hush. But he reasoned that it was better so, since Glare might thas find it easier to answer if she really were placed in the position that Mrs. Hartingdale had insinuated. Bat in his inmost heart he could not realize that this was possible. He had anch a vivid picture of the girl's deep, passionate eyes ss she looked into his face on that glad spring day, and said with an enchanting honesty that she loved him a " great deal." And yet "Well, her answer to this would be decisive. He received it in two days. "Dear Harleigh—Thank you for reminding me that we are yet both free to ratify or annul our engagement. I suppose we ought to be very grateful that we are still in the position of a child who in a certain game stands in the centre of a ring of playfellows and is requested by them to 'choose to the east and choose to the west, choose the very one you love best.' I daresay nearly every one who marries thinks it at first the best and happiest course. Gan you imagine a more cynical commentary on human wisdom 'i ' I must contesa that I enjoy my present surroundings so well that the prospect of living'near a place, say like Barbsja, does not appear to me at all ravishing. No doubt this is the sentiment of a wordly self regarding nature. Well, it is better that we should know each other's weak points before it is too late. Jack Sprat and his wife, if I remember rightly, got on well in •'culinary matters, because what one did not like the other relished. A difference of taste in morals is, I am afraid, a more dangeronB bar to harmony."

Harleigh read this with a curious feeling of incredulity. The flippancy, the studied cold ness, and careful avoidance of any approach to the frank precious avowal of trust and love which he expected so confidently, smote him with a deep, dull pain. For a little he felt inert and stupefied, and yet it seemed as if the most trivial details around him were being slowly branded into his memory; as if for all his life to come he would remember the sturdy

roBes on a drab ground that formed the pattern of the cretonne which covered the couch and the chairs that Mrs. Dimble was so careful to

arrange in a rigid row againBt the wali, as if under the inspection of a phanton drillmaster. " Did the man who formed that design ever see roses growing ?" he said to himself, as if that were just then the most momentous question of his life. And then be again read over that pitiless—one might almost say unwomanly letter, with a terrible feeling of loneliness creeping over him. "It is true, then,17 he thought; "Clare has found probably- that she wronged her former lover; the old love has revived, and the new, sheet-lived love is dead. Women sometimes perform these acrobatic feats with their hearts."

He rose, paced up and down, sat again by the table, leaning his head on his hand. Then thoughts of his early love, of his mother, whose memory he worshipped, came crowding in on his mind. When God had taken away the idols of his life before, when in the midst of his careless buoyant life he suddenly found himself bereaved beyond what he seemed able to bear, the first escape from despair, the gradual dawn of consolation came to him with the resolve to dedicate his life to the service of hiB fellow-creatures. And now again he hungered and thirsted for the love, the constant companionship of the woman who had so suddenly restored to him the passions and the hopes of his youth. Was he not in this like the man who, having put his hand to the plough, looks back—like one who has wearied of the Master's OrosB and grasps greedily at the phantom of happiness ? It was thus that the strain of asceticism in the man's strong self contained nature reasserted itself. Hut, oh! how he had learned to love her; how her face would always haunt him; how the low glad laughter, the warm blush that came so readily to ter cheeks, the changing light of her lumi nous dark eyes—nay, the very colour of the dresses she wore, the faint penetrating perfume that cluDg to her hands, would come back to him with vivid distinctness. When the moon rose above still woods, when the evening wind wan dered upon the wave, when the flowers opened their hearts to the midday sun -everywhere and always would not these disquieting recollections .follow him? Could the time ever come when

these memories would pass into the quietude of a tranquil remembrance, when shb would stand crowned the queen of a quiet land into which his imagination strayed only now and agaiu as it by accident?

The peace of evening fell on the house—the hilltops in the distance were touched with the rose tints of the setting sun; a flock of white breasted pigeons flew by to their dovecot near a neighbouring house. Kindly bustling voluble Mrs. Dimble came in with a snowy doth on her arm, and seeing the clergyman grave and silent, with neither book nor writing before him, she at once began a mental review of the most salient features of local history, trying to decide which should be put forward to bring back the ani mated look which she had been accustomed to see his face wear.. At all times when there was an opportunity of nsiDg one's tongue Mrs. Dimble regarded silence as a gratuitous addition to the burdens of life. "Some men folk are that backward and helpless," she wonld sometimes explain, "less yon help 'em with a little talk, they'll just sit and stare a hole through your carpet. Sometimes Mr. Roxbery he's one o' them. Bnt I often makes him laugh when I tells liim a little about this one and the other, and the early days of the gold diggin's, an' how them batchers is alajs trying to put down jints to me I've never had. It don't do to keep oh for ever thinkin' about people's souls. Give the flesh its due, says I. The Lord gave us beer as well as hymnses, and a body can have too much of one as well as the'tother. It's wearin'en the con stitootion to be too much in earnest."

" I dessay you know, Sir, as that pore critter Barnwell has broke out again," she said, by way of averting that catastrophe to her carpet which she seemed to think would be the resalt of a long silence.

" Surely not,", said Harleigh with a startled

look.

" Oh yes, Sir, it's no hearsay. This aternoon I bad to go all the way to Briney's gineral store. That limb Scorpion, or 8orophina, or whatever her name is—such rnbbish, Sir, ain't it, for navvies and bricklayers to give fiames to their daters yon can't-rightly name them 'less you've been to a high school or a college ? Well, Sir, as I was tellin' you, that girl, though her weekly wage is seven shillings a week and many a dress o' mine, besides as good as new, whioh I have to give away through gettin' on in life—she never will remember two things at a time. So I just hed to go to the store myself, and I took a short cnt coming home by Bell's-lsne and np by the Black Panther, and there was my gentleman that far gone he could hardly make one foot follow the other. A fine time that pore .lad and bis mother will have of it. Yon see, it's the holidays a cornin' od, Sir. It gave me a sort of a turn to see so many here and there standing round them publics, till I counted up and found we're within three days o' Christmas. Why,

Sir, you're surely not going mjr before you 'ave some dinner ?" said Mrs. Disable, in an aggrieved tone, as Harleigh rose to leave the

room. ?

"I cannot dine just now, thank you, Mrs. Dimble; but X daresay I shall be hungry when I return. 1 have a meeting to-night, and I want to call at Mrs. Barnwell's on my way."

'•Well, Sir, you knows best; but I can't think ifs good for you to go so long without victuals. And there's just one thing I'd like to tell you, Sir, before you go to Barnwell's. Of all the eantankerest men as ever lived he's the wust when he's in licker; and it's my belief Bampton edges him on to worrit that pore woman into givin' him money. X dessay you know, Sir, as she and her son John has about forty shillings a week from a row of cottages— five, I think—left 'em by Patterson, as it's a pity he ever died—not that he could 'elp it. pore man. But still there was no call for 'er to marry again. Men, as a rule, is not such treats

that a woman need hanker arter 'em to the toon

o' marryin' more'n once."

This latter reflection was made by Mrs. Dimble in solitude as she resentfully folded up the tablecloth which she had spread to no pur

pose.

When Harleigh reached Barnwell's house he found that Mrs. Dimble's report had not been fuundationless. Mrs. Barnwell met him at the garden-gate going out with her youngest boy— a child of six years of age.

" I have had siccan froight, Sir," she said in her low tremulous voice. " I was i'the parlour wi' a bit o' sewin', and John .was asleep o' the sofa. He had a bad toime last neet, what wi' a headache an' workin late at a plan. I heerd steps, heavy steps; an' when I went to th' door theer was my mon quite, quite drunk. Eh, Sir, but it's hard. He left whoam quite pleasant an' good-tempered, an' theer he Btood, scowlin' at me an' sayin', 'Gie me some o' the money thou hast. Bampton has a score agin me, an' I mun pay it.' To mowt ha' knocked me down wi' a feather. X ne'er said nowt, I was so feared he wonld get mad-like and wake John. I just gied him some mooney I had wi' me, an' he said that wonld do to morn, an' he wonld then come for more. Then he went, an' I was just goin roun'to see yo, Sir, for I'm hard put to."

" I am o'n my way to a meeting at our school room, Mrs. Barnwell. As soon as it is over I 6hall come here and talk this matter over with

your son John.' If you are in danger of violence at Barnwell's hands you must have protection."