|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough. A Story of a Christmas Card|
"Under the Blossom that Hangs on the Bough."
A STORY OF A CHRISTMAS CARD. BY 'AUSTIN SOUTH.'
[WRITTEN FOR THE 'QUEENSLANDER' CHRISTMAS SUPPLEMENT.] CHAPTER I.
'Sunflowers indeed! Why one bough of this is worth a whole garden full of them!' And the speaker, a bright happy-looking girl of about twenty, stands on tiptoe to pull down
a golden spray of the fragrant wattle to her pretty little nose. 'Smell it, Jack; isn't it sweet?' 'You evidently think so,' returns the young man addressed as 'Jack'. 'That yellow fluff on the tip of your nose is highly becoming. Don't do that!' for his companion has resented this attack on her personal appearance by sending a liberal shower of the flossy yellow blossoms into his face and neck. 'I didn't ask to share your attractions, Esther; I rather flatter myself I have enough of my own without.' 'Conceited creature!' laughs Esther. 'That's just like you men. You think of nothing but yourselves. But, Jack, you haven't told me yet how long you mean to stay away. How long will it take you to "square the lawyers", I think you called it?' 'Well, you see, I can't be sure, but you may be certain that I won't be a week longer than I can help, and then, Esther — ' But Esther has dropped the golden spray she has been holding, and of course they both dive down after it, with the natural result
that their heads come into violent contact. As they struggle up again, laughing and con fused, she remarks, more for want of some thing better to say than anything else, 'How very pretty these flowers are!' Then suddenly, 'Jack, do you believe in presentiments?' 'Well, yes, sometimes,' says Jack, some what surprised by the unexpected question. 'Why?' 'Because I have a feeling that these wattles are going to have some sort of influence over our lives. It's silly, I know, but somehow I can't get over it.' 'Bosh!' is Jack's prosaic rejoinder. 'How can a bunch of flowers have "influences" over any one's life, even if it's as fine a specimen as that? I tell you what, Essie, you take that home and paint it. It will make a jolly good Christmas card.' 'A lot you know about it, Master Jack! But it is a fine specimen, as you say, and it will look pretty on a card, if only I can paint it properly.' 'Of course you can,' returns Jack readily, 'and — By Jove, how late it is! Why, Essie, we've only one half-hour more together.' That half-hour, a very short one to Jack Marsden, has passed and he is riding hastily yet reluctantly away. As he reaches the paddock-gate he turns round to take one last look at the picture, which he will carry away with him across the sea, of a little figure with the dying sunlight glinting on her white dress and sunny hair, and the yellow blossoms droop ing unheeded from her hand. . . . . . . . . . And now a few words of explanation with regard to Jack Marsden and Esther Deane, and why he is riding so hurriedly across the plains, and she is left alone beneath the scented wattle-trees, indulging in that true woman's luxury, a hearty cry. Jack is the son of an old New South Wales squatter, who had lost his all in one of the terrible droughts which too frequently visit that colony, and had not long survived the wreck of his fortune, leaving the young fellow to fight his own way in the world. After considerable difficulty he had obtained a situation upon Wattle Creek station; and there he first met Esther Deane, the owner's only daughter. As few strangers visited the station the young people were thrown a good deal into each other's society, and a great friendship sprang up between them, which after a time was exchanged for a deeper feeling. To make a long story short, within two years of Jack Marsden's arrival at Wattle Creek, Esther and he were engaged, with the full consent of old Robert Deane, who loved his only daughter too well to refuse anything that would make her happy, and who was only too glad to see her love for a man whose sterling qualities had already won him a place in the old squatter's heart. He stipulated, however, that the marriage should not take place until Marsden should be able to keep Esther in a fair degree of comfort. So the lovers had resigned themselves to a delay of three or four years at least, when one day an event occurred which changed the whole current of their lives. Jack Marsden received a letter from England, which proved to be from a London firm of solicitors, informing him that a distant relative, whose very existence he had forgotten, if, indeed, he had ever known it, had just died, leaving him the whole of his fortune. The letter further said that, as the property was considerable, the affairs would take some time to settle, and in the meantime Mr. Marsden's presence in London was desirable. So a berth was taken in the first steamer leaving Sydney; and one sunny afternoon, as we have seen, Jack and Esther parted for a time 'under the wattle trees'.
CHAPTER II. 'There now, father, I think it will just do. But I want a motto for it. Christmas cards always want a motto, don't they? And I can't think of one to suit my wattle blossoms.' 'Let me see,' says the old squatter, coming to Esther's side, and looking at the newly painted card on the table. A pretty little picture she has made of it, with a little view of the shady creek and distant blue hills be yond, framed in a border of yellow blossoms formed by the drooping golden spray. 'Very pretty indeed, Essie. Well, for a motto, con sidering all things, I don't think you can do better than Shakspeare's "Merrily merrily shall I live now, "Under the blossom that hangs on the bough." Only you ought to paint portraits of yourself and Jack walking by the creek under your blossoms,' he adds mischievously. 'I hate Shakspeare!' Esther protests; but she writes the lines down all the same, with a little quick flush as she thinks, 'Perhaps it is a good omen for the wattle's influence,' for strangely enough the presentiment which Jack stigmatised as 'bosh' has been running in her mind ever since. 'There, father, it is done; now what shall I do with it?' 'Frame it and hang it up in my office,' says her father, 'or put it in your album.' 'No, I won't do either of those,' Esther answers, as a sudden thought comes into her head. 'Do you remember old Nurse Martin, who lived so long with us in Sydney and went back to England when we came to live up here? In her last letter to me she said she wished she had a picture of our new home, as she calls it. So this will just do nicely, and before Christmas comes, father, I'll paint you another every bit as good.' . . . . . . . . . Nearly a year has passed away. A happy year it has been to Esther, on the whole, in spite of Jack's absence, for every mail brings her letters from him—letters full of interest, though she cannot always make out what he means when he tells her that So-and-so has a lien upon this or that property, and such like legal expressions with which Master Jack besprinkles his epistles. But of one thing she is sure, that he is well and in good spirits, and, after all, that is what she most cares for. And now the wattle-trees down by the creek have again begun to put on their golden spring garb; the air is again heavy with their fra
grance—and Jack is coming home! 'All is settled at last,' he writes, 'and I shall sail for Sydney at once in the Pelican. She is a sailing ship, but a very fast one, and a capital sea boat; besides, her captain is an old friend of mine, and he says we shall be there nearly as quickly as any steamer. We start in a day or two, so you need not expect to hear any more of me till you see me.' Esther has walked to the two-mile gate to meet the mailman this afternoon, and has read Jack's letter walking slowly back under the trees by the creek. There is a pretty large pile of letters for the station, among them the Sydney Morning Herald, which Esther eagerly opens, and turns to the 'Shipping Intelligence' for news of the Pelican. 'She must be near Sydney by now,' she thinks as she runs her eye down the page. 'It's more than seven weeks since she left, by Jack's letter, and' — She stops suddenly; the letters and papers fall in a disordered heap at her feet as these words stare out from the page before her, burning into her very soul: 'The Messageries Maritimes s.s. Salazie reports that the barque Pelican foundered off Cape Leuwin during a heavy gale on 23rd June. The captain and two sailors clung to a floating hencoop, and were picked up by a boat from the steamer, but the remainder of the crew and all the passengers perished.' . . . . . . . . . Ten days have passed since that terrible afternoon; only ten days, but to Esther Deane they have had all the bitter experiences of a lifetime. Again it is evening. The slanting rays of the sun are glinting through the foliage on to the still clear waters of the little creek, and throwing just the same soft purple light on the distant hills as they did that other evening only a year ago, but which already seems to Esther like part of some dimly remembered happy dream. She is trying to think it all out, sitting there under the trees by the water; hardly able, as yet, to realise what it is that has hap pened, but only knowing that something has gone out of her life and taken all the light with it. Over her head as the scented boughs rustle and wave, a low spray, stirred by the wind, bends down and touches her cheek. It brings back memories of another spray plucked in the same place at that last parting, and involuntarily she glances up, almost expecting to see by her side the dear familiar face and form of him who bade her good-bye beneath those same trees just a year ago. Is she dreaming, or has the sea given up its dead, and the spirit returned from the far land to speak a message of comfort and peace? For one moment Esther Deane's heart stands still, and then with one great cry, 'Jack! Oh, Jack!' she springs forward, and is clasped in a pair of strong loving arms. . . . . . . . . . 'But, Jack,' Esther says after a while, when she has had time to think, 'I don't understand it at all. I thought the Pelican was wrecked. How is it that you weren't drowned?' Jack does not reply at once, but turns a little aside, plucks a branch from the golden masses above them, and lays it in Esther's hands, saying as he does so: 'Do you remember what you said to me a year ago, Essie?—"I feel that this wattle spray is going to exercise a great influence over our lives." I laughed at you then, but if it had not been for that spray we should never have met again in this world. Essie, it is to that spray that I owe my life.' 'Oh! how, Jack?' She has kept fast hold of his arm all this time as if afraid to let him go lest he should vanish, but at this she lets go to pick up the flowers, which have fallen to the ground. 'Tell me.' 'There isn't much to tell, dear. After I had written to say I was coming out in the Pelican, I got a note from an old chum of mine, Bob Hazlitt, asking me to spend my last few days in England with him at his place, Net wood Court, in Sussex, and saying that if I took a train back to London at a quarter to 2 on the day the ship sailed, I should just catch her nicely. So I finished all my arrangements, put all my heavy luggage on board, and went down and had a good time generally.' 'What is Netwood Court like?' Esther asks, growing interested. 'Oh, it's a splendid large house, with no end of long corridors and galleries, and acres of conservatories and hot-houses. Both Bob and his wife were very nice, and I was very sorry to leave them to catch the train. The station at Netwood is about half a mile from the court, and I was walking quickly through the village, when I passed a little shop window, in which were two or three dozen cards of various kinds. I was just taking a hasty look over them when I caught sight of something I knew. It was your card, Essie.' 'My card?' says Esther, wonderingly. 'Why, that must have been old Nurse Martin's shop. Oh, of course; how stupid I am! I thought I knew the name Net wood; that is where she lives. Was it Nurse Martin's, Jack?' 'Yes, Martin was the name over the shop door. Of course I went in, and finding a nice little old woman in charge of the shop I asked her where the card came from, and what it was doing there. She told me that it had been sent to her by a young lady in Australia, and that she had just been showing it to the vicar's wife, who had said that such a pretty thing ought to be put in the window for every one to see. I guessed who the young lady in Aus tralia might be, and we got talking and grew so interested that I forgot all about the time till I heard the clock strike two —and I had missed my train. I got another in a couple of hours, but the ship had gone. Of course I took the first steamer for Australia I could get, but it wasn't till I arrived in Sydney that I learned what an escape I had had; and then I didn't wait to write, but came straight up to meet you under the wattle trees.' . . . . . . . . . The last rays of the sun are gone, and the gold of the skies is fading into the gray, as Esther Deane turns her face at last towards her home. She is not in a mood for talking, her heart is too full for that, so she walks silently by her lover's side; a happy light in her eyes, and on her breast a bunch of wattle-blossoms.