Chapter 160139539

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Chapter NumberIX
Chapter Url
Full Date1880-12-25
Page Number37
Word Count3589
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAdelaide Observer (SA : 1843 - 1904)
Trove TitleClare's Christmas Eve
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Ah, keep Dear and close,

Tliou dove-like telp ! and when my fears would rise, 'With thy broad heart serenely interpose,

As soon as Olaie had consented to stay a few days with Helena she was assailed with the fear that Harleigh would call instead of writing an answer to the letter, which she now so bitterly repented writing. She expressed something of this fear to Dolly, and that astute young woman, who, as we have seen, had her own thoughts of the angelic amiability which Mrs, Joseph of late displayed to wards Glare, said, " If Mr. Roxburghe calls to-morrow I'll get him to drive with me over to Fingal House to see you—see if I don't!" Dolly gave an emphatic nod of her little head, with a malicious joy in the pictare she drew to herself of Helena's dismay at having her little plans so rudely dislocated.

Christmas Eve that year was an oppressively sultry day. The sky was obscured by masses of dull-coloured clouds, yet the atmosphere was hotter than it would have been if the sun had shone with all the brilliancy of a midsummer day. There was hardly a breath of air, but when the foliage of the trees was faintly moved it was by a wind that seemed to come from pitiless wastes of sand lying white and shadow

less beneath a fierce sun.

" It is a really horrible day," said Mrs. Hart ingdale, resenting the unseasonable heat that threatened to mar the success of her party. But she looked at her great lofty rooms, at the broad verandahs closed in with Venetian blinds, at the wealth of shrubs and flowering plants with which the hall and wide, shallow stair case, with its deep piled carpet, were decorated, and she took heart of grace. "After all, it is sure to get cooler towards evening." Then she noticed with some anxiety how white Glare looked, how impassive she was, how monosyllabic were her replies. "It is the weather; she is always sensitive to that," she thought, and when in the afternoon Glare fell asleep in a low easy-chair in the silent darkened drawing-room Mrs, Hartingdale stole softly out, hoping the girl wonld sleep for some hours to come and then waken up refreshed. At the door a servant met her with a telegram that had just then arrived. She tore open the envelope with an unusual tremor in her hand, and her face flushed as she read, " Accomplished. See G. as arranged. J. Hartingdale." Her heart throbbed with gratitude, for this mesiage con veyed a hope that the disaster which her soul dreaded might be yet averted. She ordered the carriage to be in readiness to take her to town in half an hour. When she went away Glare still slept. It was close on four o'clock" when she woke up in a strange fright. She had been dreamiDg. In her dream she saw Harleigh standing on the edge of a precipice, his hands bound, his face deadly white. She strove to call out to him, but she could not utter a sound. Then she crept slowly and painfully up the steep slippery crags that rose between them; at last she drew near him; she would uutie his

hands and lead him away from that terrible height. Bnt in the moment that she stood near enough to touch him the beloved face, with its look of pain and sorrow, vanished in the yawn ing precipice below. It was then that she started up with a cry of horror on her lips. Clare had slept very badly the past two nights, and that day she had been unable to eat any thing. Probably this in part was the reason why she now, though wide awake, burst into a violent fit of weeping. The tears fell down her face like raiu, while her whole frame was shaken by convulsive sobs. " Oh, my poor old darling," ehe murmured, brokenly. Then her tears ceased, and she fell into a profound reverie, which put into words ran thus— "I am awfully miserable; but I deserve it all; ever since I wrote that abominable letter I have felt that sackcloth aud ashes are heavenly luxuries compared to what I deserve. Har leigh's letter vexed me, but if I had given myself time to think over it I would have seen that it was his unselfish love which urged him. to write it. But no— I must always have my own way, alwayB act on impulse, and then repent and suffer. That is what has led to all my trouble. If I had not behaved badly to Victor Mayiands my father would not have made himself a nui sance about Harleigh. Well, what do you mean to do now ?" aaid Clare to herself abruptly. In answer to this stern enquiry she rose up with a resolute air, aud went to the library to write oneof thetendercst, meekest, and most contrite letters which ever rejoiced the heart of man. In passing through the hall she aaw the evening papers, whioh had just been delivered, lying on one of the tables. She took one up and glanced id'y over its columns. Presently her eyes fell on a paragraph headed"Tbbhiblb Outbaqb at Babbaja.—Yesterday evening, about eight o'clock, a'rumour spread through Barbaja that a builder named William Barnwell had in a fit of drunken fury Bhot his stepson dead, and dan gerously wounded the Bev. Harleigh Box bnrghe." Details followed, which showed that these first rumours were in some parti culars untrue — that Barnwell's step son, John Patterson, was not dead; and that it was hoped Mr. Koxburghe's wound was not of a fatal nature. This much Clare knew, and then what followed always remained in her memory like fragments of a feverish dream—a dream in which faces come and go, in which there are gleams of unrealized scenery, sounds that are vaguely heard as if at a great distance, while an unspeakable dread lives in the heart and overmasters every other emotion. She hod a remembrance that one of the servants told her Mrs. Hartiugdale had gone to town and expected to be back between 5 and 6; that ehe had then looked at her watch and found it was a quarter to 5. Then in her misery and perplexity one coherent purpose was formed—to go to Harleigh at once; to leave the house without delay; so that she might avoid

the remonstrances and all the infallible reasons

which Helena would certainly nrge against the plan. Cold, faint, and bewildered as she felt, Clare in an incredibly short time left the house, walked the half-mile across the grounds to the highway where the suburban omnibuses passed on their way to and from town every quarter of an hour. The omuibus passed within five minutes' walk of the railway station from which trainB started every half-hour. Barbaja was one of the intermediate stations at which the train stopped. The 6 o'clock train left tho city just as Clare reached the station. There was nothing for it but to wait half an hour for the next train. Half an hour! Bather an end less procession of miserable days in which there was neither rest nor peace, and in which despair seemed kept at bay only by a faint gleam of possible hope; in which rattling vehicles drove

up and left crowds of people who stamped about with hideous laughter and constantly asked each other if they had heard of " that affair at Bar baja in which above all there were shoals of newsboys who followed the poor girl into every nook of refuge, offering her countless evening papers, and tempting her to buy them by shriek ing out " Houtrage at Barbaja—two men shot!" So often was this horrible piece of news shouted

out to her that Olare at last felt it was the one

thing which had been dinned into her ears since the first conscious dawn of intelligence. At last she was safely in the train and away from these hideous cries. But she had not been two minutes in the carriage when an elderly man with a stout red face asked another elderly man who was pale and cadaverous-looking if he had beard anything fresh of the " Barbaja affair," "I believe both are dying, if they are not already dead," replied the cadaverous-looking man promptly, bb if he found a grim joy in a catastrophe of such vivid horror. Olare felt for an instant as if she were on the point of shriek ing aloud. Her overstrained nerves and sicken ing fears made her over-credulous. She could not pause to reflect that a hundred wild and sensational rumours are constantly afloat when a tragedy or deed of violence firjgijjeeomes public property. " Both are dying, if ^jt dead!" The words seemed to fill all space; to jrise in surges of sound around her; to standi out in lurid characters wherever she looked; and her last words to him were bitter, scornful, and false. No, she did not now dread that she would shriek or faint or weep. When life's cup of supremest bitterness has to be drained there is no escape or relief from the heavy, slow, intense throbs of the agonized heart. We are forced to be horribly vividly conscious of every moment that crawls by with the cruel Blowness of a torture devised by the Spanish Inquisition. Whereas in the first moments when she only feared that Harleigh was wounded and in pain,

Clare was oblivious of all external surround ings, she now seemed endued as with donbled and trebled senses. She took in every trivial detail without any conscious effort.

The narrow platform at the Barbaj c'station was crowded with a throng of men, women, and children. Olare shrank from asking any ques tion. She went on for a little, one of the busy, hurrying crowd, not knowing where she was going or which way she should turn. She looked up and down at the long narrow rows of bonses, at the brickfields to the right and to the left surrounded by mean grimy habitations, at; the gaunt narrow-windowed mills and manufac tories. Then she noticed a quiet-looking, poorly clad girl of thirteen or fourteen carrying a

small bundle.

"Can yon tell me where Hr. Harleigh is

since—since he met with the accident yester- ? day?" Clare asked, her voice very low and shaken. She nerved herself to bear the answer, but it seemed like baring her heart to the opera tor's knife when the girl replied quickly—

"Oh, yon mean the clergyman as was shot.

Miss? I've heerd tell he is at Hr. Barnwell's. Some says he's dead, bnt some says he's not; but, la! Hiss, mother says you never know what to believe with so many people given to lying.'*

Olare slipped half-a-crown into the girl's hand, saying, " I want to go to Hrs. Barnwell's. Can yon show me the WBy ?"

"Ob, yes, Hiss, thank yon; IT1 go within sight of the bonse. This way, please—this is a short cnt. It's awfol dusty here. Father says it's a real shame, all we pay in rates, and not a smell of a water-cart from one year's end to the other. If there were a few nobs living about we'd soon 'ave halterations, father says."

The loquacious girl poinred out paragraphs of talk on the slightest pretext, or no pretext at all, while Clare toiled on, atriviug to keep up with her nimble nnwearied steps. Thongh it was yet little more than half-past 7, and the

?sun had not long set, there were no lingering •lights on the hilltops, no golden gleams of a •gammer sunset on the skies. There was an •angry flush of crimBon low down on the west, fading into a deep lemon tinge higher np. There

•were sure indications that the storm which hid

'•keen foretold all day by the oppressively sultry

•thunder-charged atmosphere would soon burst. IBound the horizon wide slow sheets of lightning now played almost incessantly, while all over -the cloud-laden heavens^ a purplish darkness •crept with startling rapidity.

" I fear 1 am taking yon out of your way, and -there Beems to be a storm coming on," saidOlare,

in her slow tired voice.

" Oh! we're close to Mrs. Barnwell's, ma'am, •and I can easy run into a neighbour's House," •answered the girl cheerfully.

•' I 'ope yon ain't ill, Bliss," she added in a •tone of concern, struck by Glare's faint tones, •and Bceing that her face was painfully white.

A low peal of thunder broke afar, and large .heavy diops of rain came down, as itahaben from the wings of some Titanic bird in rapid •flight.

" There, ma'am, that is Mrs. Barnwell's place," •said the girl, pausing, and pointing to a neat looking cottage a little way ahea'd, surrounded by a garden end several well-grown trees. Then •she hurried away, and Glare, with weary lagging 'footsteps, gained the white garden gate in front •of the cottage The click of the latch as she .lifted it, the sound of ber footi teps on the shell .gravel that covered the path, the swaying of the fig-trees and acacia in the wind that was rapidly •rising from fitful moans into a high gate, the lightning flashing between the gloom of the •distant woods, and the darkness of the threaten ing sky— all was vividly imprinted on Glare's .memory, and made a picture which long years afterwards, in season and out of season, rose •up in ber mind with haunting persistence. There cvas a light in one of the windows, but no sound or sign of life was to be heard. This .-stillness smote Glare with a terrible conviction that ail her worst fears were to be realized. Already she seemed to be in the very presence •of death. Pale and trembling Bhe stood for -some minutes at the door. Before she could •summon resolution to knock, it was softly •opened by an elderly woman with a pale anxious face, ber eyes red with weeping. When Glare tried to speak her tongue .seemed to cleave to

the roof of ber mouth.

"Is—Mr.—Harleigh—here?" she asked in a .low, hoarse whisper, with an odd pause between

the words.

" Yes, yes. Please coom in," said Mrs Barn well, for it was sho. "You are not well," she -said in her gentle voice, as she noticed Glare's uncertain,faltering Bteps,&nd the excessive pallor ?of her face.' " Sit down tbeer and rest," she said, -and Glare found herself led into an easy-nhair, in a room which wa9 in partial darkness. The woman's thoughtful kindness broke down all

artificial barriers.

" Tell me how he is," entreated Glare,holding •out her bands, as if instinctively seeking for come support before the worst was told her.

The unhappy mother's tears overflowed. She ?clasped the stranger's hands in both hers.

" Oh, the doctors think there is a little hope •o' his recoovery," Ehe murmured in a broken


The room was illumined by a vivid .flash of lightning, and a loud, long, continued peal of thunder crashed overhead. Then there was a .-silence, broken only by the mother's repressed eofis. As for Glare, she simply lay back in the chair. She did not become insensible, but neither was 6he capable of emotion or thought; least of all capable of considering that Har leigh's weal or woe was not after all the nearest Interest of Mrs. Barnwell's life. Ordinarily -Glare was far from being open to the reproach that ber own joys and troubles made ber insen sible to the interests and sufferings of others. But in the pitiless mental and physioal strain that now prostrated her she had no thought •even for herself—no thought for anything on •earth, for any human being—save one; that Harleigh was hurt unto death by the husband of this gentle, sorrowing woman, for whose sore grief she felt a vague compassion. Just then oil was vague, terrible, and unchangeable. A •stony, undisturbed stupor fell on her. She knew, after a little, that a subdued light was brought into the room; that Mrs. Barnwell "bathed her temples with some pungent perfume, end slipped out of the room so gently that the most acute listener could not catch the sound of her footstep or of her voice as she passed into the adjoining room, where her Bon lay insen sible. Harleigh, with his left arm bound up end in a sling, sat near the bedside, having just riFen from along refreshing sleep.

"Has the doctor been here since I slept?" he asked, in that hushed voice one unconsciously adopts io a sick-room.

"Yes, Sir; he called at 5. He Bald the signs •o' fever bad lessened, and that lie would call again between 9 and 10 to neet. Theer is a lady in tl e parlour, Sir, who asked for you. She •seemed suddenly taken ill after she came in. Happen she belongs to th' congregation."

The thought flashed through Harleigh's mind that possibly the lady was not one of the pew holders of St. Christopher's.

" I shall go and see her," he sa'd, and quietly left the sick-room. At the firstglauce be thought —standing in the half open door—the parlour was empty. There was a lamp on a small table in one corner of tbe room, bat it was lowered; «ud the arm-chair in which Glare still lay pas sively stocd between tbe fireplace and the door, •and was partially concealed by the latter. Har leigh advanced into the room, and looking round he saw in that corner the outline of a figur •, clad in a soft, grey silk, with creamy lace round ?the tfliite throat, and the hands that lay nerve lessly on her lap; he saw a white, still face with closed eyes, and his heart gave a great :jomp of mingled joy and fear.

" Clare, my darling," ne Baia in a quicK, impaFsioned tone, bending over her. He thought she must have fainted, but when he ?spoke she started np with a low cry.

" Oh, Harleigh!" There seemed to be no need for further words; all the agony, the -suspense of the 'last few hours, the sudden, -almost overwhelming rapture of this moment ?seemed to find expression in that exclamation -and in the girl's eloquent face.

" Harleigh, I have heard nothing for an ?'eternity but people saying that you were shot — that you were dymg or dead; and for an ?eternity I believed it. I thought I might xever again hear the souDd of your voice or feel the touch of your hand." She looked into his face with a pathetic, unutterable tenderness. Then Harleigh knew that all the fears and terrifying doubts which Mrs. Hartingdale's swords end Glare's bwn letter had roused were utterly groundless—idle as the visions of one -who dreams that he is in a treelesB desert strewn -with blearhing skeletons, but wakens np to hear the sound of hidden waters and the song of happy birds. He knew once for all that Glare's -fidelity wbb unshaken, and her love stronger

lh«D death.

" Harleigh, I have been so horrid," she said, lifting her head from bis shoulder, and speaking in a voice which by reason of its meekness was - hardly to be recognised.

"Did you come all this wsy to tell me that?" ?said the lover, with serene scepticism, "and did -yon really come all alone ?"' he' continued, draw* icg ber "closer to him, and again laying her wearied, happy face on his shoulder.

-"Yes. I wes staying at Helena's, and she

was away. I suppose it's really a kind of elopement. Oh, Harleigh,- how can I ever be good enongh to deserve each happiness; and you are not even badly butt."

Ob, no, my pet, only a flesh wound; a mere scratch in the arm. Poor Patterson is badly wounded, but I hope he will with care recover. His wretched stepfather, Barnweil, is the one to be most pitied. Why, Glare, you are not cry ing, are jou?"

"I cannot help it," answered Glare, softly. ."Why should I be so supremely happy when so maDj aie crushed with misery ? I seem now to see so clearly how selfish I have always been. I blamed my father for not sanctioning our engagement at once, but it was my own fault, I taught him to mistrust me."

"Hush, buth, my darliDg; don't you know this is Christmas Eve, and the first one we have ever been together, and that God is so un speakably good to us that henceforth till death do us part we belong to one another?"

Without the storm raged with tropicat fury, lashing the rain violently against the windows, and mercilessly fliohiug twigs and boughs from tbe trees that swayed, bent almost doable before tbe blast. "Strange weather for Christmas Eve," people said querulonsly. But to theBe two it was a day to be remembered with infinite thankfulness and abiding content. What need to say that their gratitude and happiness found fitting expression in working for the outcast and the disinherited of tbe world; that their lives, enriched and completed by mutual help and family life, were bravely and faith fully dedicated to sowing and reapiug in the harvest-fields of God, which stand ever in need of labourers meet for the toil?