|Newspaper Title||The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939)|
|Trove Title||A Christmas Wedding|
A Christmas Wedding.
[WRITTEN FOR THE 'QUEENSLANDER' CHRISTMAS SUPPLEMENT.] CHAPTER I.
BY C. B. FLETCHER.
A Queensland clergyman's study does not always present points of interest to tho casual student of human nature. A palace or a prison would be more exciting, and both have broader
foundations for the emotions to risa from. Any thing before the commonplace. Yet to the eye that could scan aright there was something unique in the sanctum of the Rev. William Bronder. His library wan old and weather-stained. South Sea hurricanes had left their imprint on the books from days when Mr. Bronder'ti timo was his own, and when philo logical researches occupied more of his hours than tractates on theology. But wealth, moderate though it had been in this instance, had Hown, and the Australian continent had for some years afforded him a home. The library shelves were home-made, of pine, and boasted neither varnish nor stamped leather to set them off. Yet both books and fittings looked as if they were parts of a workshop wherein were few idle tools. The air of alertness that oarefully used books often wear was accentuated in this instance by their methodical arrangement. Every volume had its place, and the books in the several departments of literature wore each given their own special niche, while tho sizes were so graded that the general effect spoke aloud of the good man's orderly habits. Mr. Bronder could command a tine etching or two as well, and a beautiful photograph of Ouido lleni's ' Muter Dolorosa' graced the study table A love of order and of tho beautiful was conspicuous, and gave a key to the fine mind and gentle life of the occupant of the study. The minister, however, at the moment this chronicle begins was thinking of anything but art, though his eyes were fixed upon an engraving, signed in autograph, of one of Constable's rain speaking paintings. A brother minister had written three days before Christmas from a country town asking for a verification of author and text to a quotation he had rashly made from the classics. In some newspaper controversy tho country brother to show his strength had quoted from a translation supposed to bo made from Catullus, taking memory for his guide. Now when asked by his antagonist for chapter and vorsu he stood in some danger of being found want ing. Yet thoie was timo if tho linos were indeed from Catullus, and if Brother Bronder, 8.A., were able to protect the rear by bringing up his reserves. It is hardly fair to ask a man who tins said farewell to Alma Mater many years since to leap back once more to Catullus at a moment's notice. Hod it been a mere matter of Greek or Latin composition the trouble would have been nothing, but to send a very free translation from one of the poets and ask for author, chapter, and verse at a glance was just like Brother Farrow. That good man's weakness was triumphant asser tion. 'No mau daring to make us afraid' was his motto, and to fall back upon his brethrsn in the faith in moments of weakness was his prac tice rather than admit the impeachment of a purely Saxon education. Hence it had now fallen to Mr. Bronder to search the cheap copy of Catullus he had bought for the pur]H>iH!, with evident marks of worry ou his forehead, aud with despair inliis heart. His own preparations for Christmas were still incomplete. The evening was drawing in with uvory token of approaching wet weather, though the festive season usually laughs at rain. The clouds had been marching up steadily since noon, and the battalions of lowering vapour were crowd ing the heavens with their equipment, while things terrestrial were drooping in anticipation. Just as Mr. Bronder was becoming discouraged in his efforts to crush back a free translation into the narrow limits of the original lines, and was growing more depressed with the increasing gloom, a loud aud very decided knock at the front door startled him. Sitting upright in his chair, he waited while light footsteps hastened to obey the summons. Soon the sound of voices followed an o|iening door, aud a gentle knock at his own was the next item of mental disarrangement. ' Come in,' ho said softly, for he knew the gentle girl who awaited his bidding 100 well to answer impatiently. Tho door opouud, aud a head of golden hair appeared. ' l'apa dour, I know it is disturbing you, but Mr. Mas ton wishes to hoc you very particularly.' ' Does he say what he wants, Myaie V asked tlio liiiuihler resignedly. 'I am very buny.' ' No, papa; I think lie must have lost a speci men, or perhaps he is translating his book on frogs into Fijian, he looks so absent-minded.' 1 Ah, you saucy girl,' he said with a smile and a shako of the head. For since Mr. Bronder's- return from his mission to tho islands a translation of tho Scriptures into one of the Polynesian dialects had filled every spam minute, aud had been responsible for much abrteiit-ntiiidediieHH. Only the day bafore he had entered his own drawing-room, if the modest front room could be so called, to receive Mrs. Golden Beetle with his hat ou and his boots off. Ho had taken off his slippers,, and, as he fancied, had replaced them with his boots. Unluckily, however, instead of so doing, he had merely donned his hat. Mysie's way of putting it, therefore, prepared him for Mr. Maston, and with a heartfelt sigh for his inter rupted work he gave in, saying quietly, ' Show him this way, my dear.' The visitor entered with every symptom of dis quiet, and the minister rose to greet him, uncer tain what variety of treatment was required. The trouble did not appear to be one which called for spiritual medicine, and yet Mr. Maston evidently needed help of some sort. Judge then the state of Mr. Bronder's feelings when his visitor locked the door and pocketed tho key. ' Do not be alarmed, my dear nir, T beg of you,' said the guest. ' I feel only that I must keep your eye and ear till my tale is told.' The assurance given was not altogether unwelcome to the minister, who was beginning to cast his eye on the fastening of the study window. ' I must got myself unburdened like the Ancient Mariner,' continued Mr. Maston, 'and I do not wish you to l>e able to show me the door till I have done.' At this the minister settled back in his chair as if persuaded that the man was sane after all. ' Yes?' was his reply, meant to be encouraging but sounding somewhat dubious, while there ran through his mind in a. sub-current Dr. Wendell Holmes'e strictures on just such a use of the affirmative. 'Well, sir, I am almost a stran?nr to you I know. I have attended your church frequently, but I have not given you much opportunity of under, standing me. The fact is, I have been a bachelor
or forty-livo years, and now Satan or somebody ordera mo to take to mysoif a wife. I am encumbered with tliu uare of my sister's four children—nil girls, und all vory young—and I ' must have them mothered if I am lo do my duty by them.' At thin juncture the niiiiibtcr looked appre hensive, and his visitor began to plead again. ' Now, my good s.r,' he resumed, ' pray don't look uo mistrustful. lam in love, I suppose, or perhaps out of sorts. Do not misjudge me in this, I bog of you. How to settle the unfortunate business I do not know. I bellevo I love the lady, but how to play the fly in butter to her I cannot see unless you will help me.' The minister nettled himself once more with a doubtful' Yes ?', and n second time Dr. Holmes warned him. ' I have com? to tall you my position, because the lady I wish to marry in under this roof.' ' I beg your pardon,' sivd the minister, feeling an icy shiver run through his uystoin at the thought of sweet Mysio; ' you wish to marry ?' 1 Yes, sir; have you any objection to my pro posing for Miss Castles?' "Miss Castles! Oh—ah—just ko,' ea:d Mr. Bronder as he sat bolt upright with a sudden gleam of enlightenment on his firm good face. ' I thought the man wanted Mysie,' he commented inwardly as he said: 1 Why come to me ? Miss Castles is her own mistress, and quite able to judge for herself.' 'Exactly. But I cannot quite see how lam to plead my cause unless you give me leavo—and opportunity.' Miss Castles was a lady well past her first youth, who had for a number of years acted as mauager of the minister's household; so it seemed fair enough to put the case thus. Misß Castles, however, had repeatedly found some thing to advance in Mr. Maston's favour when that gentleman and his somewhat strange habits were discussed at the parsonage table, and there was reason in the minister's disinclination to force matters. Only that morning, too, his son Charlie had asked Miss Castles with a twinkle in his eyes whether she would not like to be one of Mr. Maston's ' specimens.' His tasto for ' specimens' and his peculiar habits seemed to find favour in her eyes, aud she gave Charlie a chase as a ' little nuisance.' She and Charlie were always sparring, and the boy would tell his younger brother Arthur in confidence that her eyes seemed to 'spit' and her hair to get 'frizzier' when a fellow teased hor. It was good fun seeing her ' smoke,' aud old Maston was not' half bid' when beetles wero plentiful. ' Does Miss Castles—is she aware of your fueling* towards her ?' asked the minister a'aiu. ' Well—er; your know—in fact I can't understand her,' was the reply given with a meditative rub of two fingers across a smooth shaven cl.iv ' I—in fact —I think not. 1 told her it was a bilious attack, aud she seemed to believe me. But it is a much deadlier thing than bile—this feeling. I have just had the pleasure of sharing my umbrella with her, and I have seen enough now to make me determined to end it.' ' Ah, end it, you say ?' Mr. Bronder asked some what absently. His eyes were fixed dreamily on the open copy of Catullus before him, and in a half doubtful way his mind had now grasped the gist of a line. ' Yes sir, end it. And you must help me. I have no experience in these matters. I wish to ask you, sir, as Miss Castles'* greatest friend, whether I am too old or too great a fool or—or — in fact whether there is any reason on earth why I should not, with grace and patience on her part, make a fairish husband. I have money enough. lam strong and well; and these children must be mothered—must be, sir.' ' Well, I think, Mr. Maston, that it is entirely a matter for Miss Castles. There is another——' aud then the good man exclaimed, elated with a sudden discovery in the book before him, ' Dear me, how strange! It is the very couplet, I declare! Pray excuse me for a second, I must send at once,' continued the minister, not noticing the pallor of his visitor as he muttered: ' Another ' Mr. Bronder hastily scribbled a few lines on a sheet of paper, enclosed it in an envelope, directed and stamped, and then rushed to the door. As it was locked he turned to his stricken visitor with a kindly look. ' I am very sorry to interrupt you,' he said,' but Miss Castles will bo the first to blame me if this is not sent at once.' ' But this is rather sudden, is it not ?' inquired the unhappy suitor. ' I ought to sptiak to Miss Castles first,' he pleaded. 'Oh dear, no! not at all. 1 must catch this mail at any cost,' said the minister, in his excite ment forgetting altogether the drift of his visitor's thought. ' Well, as the other mail has been written to in such haste, I shall propose th ? very night,' he said doggedly, 'if I die in the attempt. 1 thought all along some other man must want her too.' Mr. Mastou had unlocked the door by this time, and as the minister had forgotten everything but Catullus and his letter he took no notice of the speech. Mr. Maston strode to the front door in a rush, and thence into the streaming wet.
Chapter 11. The parsonage did not abound iv expensive furniture, nor were the rooms remarkable for height or capacity. Yet the house was filled with a true home light, and every corner would bear inspection. Mrs. Bronder herself was an invalid, but her mother-presence waa felt everywhere, though physically uhe was absent. Mysie and Miss Castles asked for no outside help in the ordinary home duties, and were right and left hands for the gentle woman whose heart tilled so large a space in the parsonage. They occupied the same bed room, and shared a great deal in each other's thoughts, as good comrades in womankind will. Mynie this evening met Miss Castles as she came m glistening like a wet holly berry, and she noticed that the ull-alive air, which uncertain agu could not quench, was more pronounced than usual. 1 D.d you get what you wanted, Miss Castles'.'' 'Yes, dear,' said that lady demurely with a Hush. ' What a colour you have brought buck with you !' exclaimed Mysie. 'If you were any one else I should ask for the happy man's name, but you are always bo thorny to men-folk.' Mysie nodded with an air of sagacity, and the heightened colour on Miss Castles's face made her eyes twinkle. Before either could make any remark, however, the study door was unlocked quickly below, while a strong man's feet traversed the hall to the front door, and it was thrown-open. There was an exclamation as if two people had collided in the porch, and then Charlie's voice was heard: ' Hello! You great hunks. Oh, I beg your pardon, sir! I really didn't know you were going to charge nut liko that.' llt i>> all right. I cannot wait,' wuh the sotuu what inconsequent reply.
'I say, Mr. Maßtou, I've got one of those worms here ' Bui the person addressed evidently had out tho buy short by striding round the ournor. Thou the minister's voice was heard : ' Charlie, run with thin to the post office. Be quick, my boy, it must catch to-night's mail.' 1 All right, father; juut take them) worms while 1 run. If old Mas ton had only waited 1 would have let him have them, but he bolted as if you were after him with a dose of rhubarb !' The minister's protest at further delay was forestalled by Charlie dropping hits treasure on the oilcloth. ' Ugh! bless the lad with his beetles and worms and Btrango friends. Off you go—quick!' While Mr. Bronder downstairs was preparing for a short discourse, and wondering at intervals what could have sent Mi-. Maston off like an angry hornet, Mysie and Miss Castles upstairs were feeling as if the air had become electric. ' What is the matter ?' inquired Mysie. ' Mr. Maston is in a hurry, and papa has sent Charlie out into the rain again witli a letter, as if it wero a matter of life and death.' Miss Castles was now something like Brer Rabbit with Mr. Fox after him, and kept on saying nothing. She had not ventured ta return Mysie's gaze, and was busy unlacing her wet boots. With her hat aud cloak off she looked very trim and alert. Her features were not the counterpart of some noble face on a Greek gem, but they were full of character nevertheless. There was a certain sparkle in the eyes that made Charlie restless till he was teasing the owner. The pair were usually fencing good-humouredly, just as the boy would play with his terrier, and nothing delighted him more than letting off all kinds of schoolboy fireworks at her. Perhaps the look she wore now was due as much to fear of the youngster's searching questions as to the loving curiosity in his golden-haired sister's beautiful eyes. Miss Castles devoutly wished that tea were safely over. However, a brave heart had always heli>ed her, and after the finishing touches to dress and hair she sa id to Mysie: ' Is tea nearly ready, dear ?' ' Yes, Miss Castles, everything but the toast, and there is a good fire. Listen to the rain.' ' Yes. the rain is like my worries, I sometimes think—they never come as spies but in battalions.' ' What a deluge of trouble you must be having to talk like that,' was Myme's reply with a smile that meant more than the words. ' Come away, come away down, Down and away lielow, as the Forsaken Merman said.' ' What do you mean, you saucy girl ? If you quote any more of Matthew Arnold's rubbish I shall tell your father you learnt that piece off lust night. You cannot bear to recito uny of your poetic fancies.' ' You traitor! I shall give Charlie a hint if you do, and then the truth will rise triumphant. I know you have stolen a nest somewhere like that game hen of ours.' The sound of a clanging knocker drove Mysie downstairs at the 'double,' and Miss Castles followed more steadily with a strange feeling behind the resolution that stood first in her eyes and that gave firmness to her mouth. As she reached the hall Arthur and Charlie were com paring notes, and the fair-haired lad of fourteen wan accepting Charlie's statement of defence on the subject of mislaid frogs and undelivered beetles. ' Old Maston's off his pannikin, I think,' said Charlie. 'He regularly butted me nut of the front door, and when I wanted to give him his blessed worms he started off again like a half hooked toad ! It looks as if Cass -' At this point in his representations he lifted his head and caught Miss Castles's eye, but before he could trim his intentions that way she, too, had vanished. ' Well, I'm blest!' he exclaimed. ' There must be something wroug. Here's old Maston carts Miss Cass home under his gingham, and then he comes out of our house ten minutes after like a whizzer, with the pater behind threatening him with a letter. Anyhow I had to |MJst one for somebody named Farrow up country, and the " bobby" at the back's name's Farrow t;to. And now Cass clears when she sees me! " Oh, there's some fish frying, don'toherknow?"' sang Charlie, and he went upstairs caroling the refrain of a schoolboy parody. Arthur had been watching his vivacious brother during the foregoing expression of opinion, and when Charlie had huug up a wet overcoat and began to change damp clothes for dry ones he said: 1 Frummie told your class to prepare Ciesar instead of Greek exer. for to-morrow.' 'Ctusar! Well, I'm sugared! No going out to-night, I s'pose, and Tarpot has got " Dog Crusoe" for mo. Well, if Unit isn't a jolly shame!' It is only fair to explain that tho boys were working up their classics ho close to Christmas with soino friends because Mr. Bronder had been obliged to give them long holidays in midwinter on account of the mcaslos. But Christmas Eve would como to-morrow, mid work would bo aban doned till school reassembled in the ordinary way. When thu tuu-bell rang tho two boys came downstairs with an alacrity that told of a good appetite, aud as if their mother's gentle voice wore the food's best blessing. They had entered her room softly, kissed the sweet face as only large-hearted strong boys can kiss, and now came down to the table ready for whatever good was waiting them. Miss Castles was at the head of the table pour g out, and Charlie, as he passed, kissed the air ust at her ear and made her start. 'Good gracious, Charlie!' she exclaimed, ' what a boy you are. I shall send you hot water instead of tea for six months if you do not apologise.' 'Ah! now Miss Castles—you might be married ' said Charlie. The minister's face worn a much-amused ex pression as he broke in hastily : ' Tjot us ask v blessing, please. I shall be late.' Grace was hardly finished when Charlie's voice was first as usual: INo decorating for me to-night. Old Frummie wants Ca>sar to-morrow. I think he's los ng his daylight, like Mr. Maston ' 'My dear boy! Will you kindly call Dr. Stokes by his right name and leave Mr. Mastou alone ? You had another sobriquet for your master yesterday, I think. Do you follow the Japanese plan in providing a new iiamo for each net in a man's life ?' As Charlie's mouth was now occupied with Miss Castles's celebrated scones, and as moreover he gathered from the expression on his father's face, which was somewhat severe, that silence would bo counted us pure gold, he wisely abstained from replying, and winked sadly at 3lysie with the eye not on duty. ' Mysie,' said hor father. ' I think you had better come with me tonight. Miss Castles can attend to your mother. There will be very few at the schoolroom I am afraid, and we may decide to
push the decorations for Christmas to-morrow. Mr. Froiioh is certain to coino.' 1 1 Very well, papa,' replied Mysie. ' The boys i had butter do their work downstairs, I think. Mother is not <|iiitc uo well to-night.' i Chat'liu luiJ kept very quiet as in duty bound, but he could see that Mian Castleß was uneasy. I ' Papa, may Arthur and mo do our work in tho study to-night,' ho asked, ' instead of in the front i room here ?' j ' Yes, my boy, if you will say "I" instead of i " me" in similar sentences in future. And do not forget to wipe my pens and put them back when you have done with them. I found my middle finger much the same colour as your own usually is after you had used my favourite poroupine quill last time.' 1 Thank you, papa,' said Charlie. Miss Castles chimed in in her motherly way : ' Don't you think Arthur had b -tter go to bed early this evening, Mr. Ilronder ? He has a nasty cold. Charlie is quite hoarse, too. I will give their feet a good mustard bath, and see that they are warmly tucked up before you return.' ' Oh, I say now, Miss Castles. You want to get U8 out of the way. It is too bad just when a fellow wants to work out a good Ct»tsar exercise. We haven't got colds worth a dump, and I believe Mr. Maston will come to-night.' ' Well, nty son,' interrupted his father, ' you must be in bed sharp at t).' ' Let them stay till then. Miss Castles,' he added as they rose from table. In ten minutes the house was quiet, and Miss Castles went upstairs, while the boys were making Cwsar tight his battles to the tune of ' Whan the cat's away the mice will play.' Chapter 111. Tho gathering at the schoolroom was larger than might have been expected under the circum stances, though Christmas will explain many things that other seasons of the year cannot throw much light upon. The rain had kept ferns and branches of various bush trees fresh, and soon a merry party had arranged to make a night of it in the church preparing for the day after the morrow. A strange shadow rested on half the interior of the building, caused by the gas at the back being unlit. The patter of rain made a pleasing accompaniment to the voices, and the spirit of the season seemed to be everywhere in spite of wet without. As the young people congregated in the nave and transept, a new comer appeared through the gloom behind. Mr. Brouder could not at first be sure of the identity of the individual whose head seemed to float upon the semi-darkness, and there wan trepidation in the sound of the footsteps. The man seemed to be looking for some one, and at last placed his hat on a back pew to leave hi* hands free to doff the wet black mackintosh which made his presence somewhat ethereal-looking in the murky shadow. Then he came forward very slowly, till at hut the fexture>> of Mr. Maston were revealed. Mr. Brouder did not move, but waited for developments. One of the ladies had seated herself at the organ to add music to the evening's charm, and the visitor evidently felt doubtful as to who the player was. The organ itself might have been guilty of some crime by the way Mr Maston looked at it. By-and-by he made hi* way back into the great shadow with surprising soft ness of tread. Evidently his quest had failed. Gathering up his hat and waterproof, and striving to still the rustle, he vanished altogether, like some dissolving view in a magic lantern. Five minutes after, the waterproof stood before the parsonage door, with a more visible tremor stirring its glistening folds as the light of a street lamp fell upon it. The wearer, as he fancied, had carefully closed the iron gate into the garden instead of allowing it to herald his approach with the usual clang it gave on falling hack into place. He now stood us if debating some momentous question. Like many bachelors upon whom old age is preparing to leave a card, he would occasionally mutter to himself when absorbed in thought. '•I turret w«i quite right,' he murmured, 'when he called love a disorder. Confound the whole business! Why on earth should not the women propose ? Even scotching an adder is nothing to catching a lively woman for the wedding ring. Ah, well—here goes!' Turning round as if in desperation he gave a disordered knock at the door, and then seemed unite staggered to find it almost instantaneously open under his hand, softly and very quickly, whilst Charlie's brown eye* were dancing as ho welcomed the startled wooer. ? We've caught two more of those frogs you wanted,' remarked the boy. ' I heard the latch squeak just now when you opened the gate, and Arthur'd trod on the cockroach one of 'em was after at the same time.' 1 Is Miss Castles in?' asked Mr. Maston with a twitch of his chin that meant either annoyance or nervousness. ' Oh, yes,' replied Charlie, ' but shu wouldn't help to catch "urn this time. I've ' ' Look her<\ my boy,' said Mr. 51 as ton. ' I don't want specimens of any sort to-night. I just wish to see Miss ' ' Oh, all right,' said Charlie hastily, interrupt ing the visitor, as if he had suddenly found more light on the subject than he could bear. 'Just wait till I fetch her down,' and he darted up the hall us if to catch a train. But as the boy went upstairs two steps at a time Miss Castles quietly stepped into the passage from the front room door with a quiet ' Good evening, Mr. Maston,' and a smile that looked the brighter because of her heightened colour. ' Will you come in '.'' 'Thank you,' he replied. 'May I put my waterproof and hat down h»»re first?' After divesting himself of these he followed Miss Castles into the room, uucont>cious that hu had failed to return her salutation, and wus look ing us if ho were about to charge on a forlorn hope. As Miss Castles was essentially a self !>ossesscd woman, und could face a shut door or this awkward lover with equal decision, it may bo as well to leave him to his fate and see what Charlie thought of the situation. ' I say, Arthnr,' he began. ' Bother, Charlie.' said his brother, ' 1 can't get this blessed frog out now. The bottle's jammed him up somehow.' ' Sh—old Mftston's just come in, but he don't , want frogs to-night. I went upstairs to find t Cass for him, mid sh« was keeping quietly down all the time, and sneaked him into the next room before I coulu sing out. What a jolly lark ! ! I wish those folding doors were a bit open.' ' They were just now, but bhe's pulled 'em to. | What's up, Charlie ?' , 'Blest if I know. If hu thinks Cass'll catch j frogs for him he makes a mistake. She'd smack every frog Hat and him too before she'd do it.' 'Look here, Charlie.'Arthur entreated, 'let's r get this fellow out. You y.ut him into papa's ' jujube bottle and you'll get " what for" if h« catcheshim there.'
•Ob, novor mind! Papu'll think ho got in by himself. Just stick the bottle in my bug anyhow without the stopper. I'll iix him.1 ' Wo'd butter finish these lessons or it'll be worsu'ii frogs.1 For a woiulur Churlio was willing to nettle down to work, or rather to quietness. His active bruin whs unravelling the mystery behind the door. He could not quite understand why the pair should not have gone out under the umbrella again if they had any sweethearting to do. Umbrellas were in his eyes sure signs of courtship. Two people in the park under one umbrollu meant much fun in his eyes. Of course in wet weather the arrangement might not mean so much. Even then, though, it looked rather like business. Charlie had known Miss Castle* all his life. He had always found her a bright, cheerful woman, but she had never before to his know ledge shared a masculine umbrella. Nobody in the guise of a wooer hud made the parsonage v new land for his enterprise. Mysie was only budding into a beautiful womanhood, and laughed with Miss Castles at men and boys. But now an umbrella hud appeared on the scene, and there was no mistaking its import. After a while the low murmur of voices censed from beyond the folding doors, and soon the front room door was opened; then the hall door; and then there was a brisk closing of both, while Miss Castles tripped upstairs as fast as her active feet could carry her as a finale. ' Well, I'm dumtnixed!' exclaimed Charlie ; ' let us see what they've been up to, Arthur,' and Charlie carefully opened the door between the study and the front room. The gas was turned low, but there was light enough to see by. ' Nothing moved. Where'd they nit?' ' P'raps they stood,' suggested Arthur dubiously. INo fear! They talked too long, and C»ss alw.iys makes people sit. She siys it fidgets her if anybody stands long talking to her. I'll take it out of Miss Cass far allowing old Muston to talk frogs for itn hour.' Just then the front gate slammed to, and a latch key waB put into the front door. A foreboding of their lather's displeasure came to their eye? as they thought of a neatly stoppered bottle ' bunged up with that beastly frog.' an Charlie put it, under his breath. They slipped quietly back into the study, shut the dividing doors very softly, and were the most studious pair of boys on this earth when Mr. Bronder und Mysin entered. ' Now boys, off to bed quick '.' said their father. 'It w past 5) o'clock. Gather your books tidily and say " Good night." ' ' Yes, papa,' wus tho prompt answer us the boy s began to cram their books into their school bags. Charlie's books would not go down without making a very suspicioiis-lookin* lump in the bag; » bulge that needed explanation. Nothing was said, however, till Mr. Bronder guvo a jump that was coincident witli an agonised note of frog remonstrance. Tho large frog that the boys had potted had slipped from its prison a few minutes before Charlie's father came in. ' Bless the thing!' exclaimed the minister. ' What place will the creatures find next to worry ins in ? Never mind, boys, I will catch it. Where's my jujubo bottle —the stopper is here. ?Oh, I think it must have got into my bag, papa. Yes, here it is,' said Charlie sheepishly. • M—funny place for it to slip iuto. Well, never mind; good night.' ' Papa.' Charlie began,' Mr. Maston says ' Miss Castles had come iuto the study in the meantime, and now hurriedly interposed. 'Mrs. Broudur will be glad if you can come upstairs soon,' she said. ' She has not been asleep.' • Thanks; I shall come at once. Let mo just put this cover over froggy till I can tiiko him out.' Charlie and Arthur had vanished after their ' tfood nights' were said as quickly as if they were to be shot, and Miss Castles followed Mysie up stairs without loss of time.. There was mystery in the air. Chapter IV. Mr. Mastou sat smoking next morning by his favoutite window in a room that had ' bachelor' writ large on every square yard of its surface. An array of pipes beneath a hanging shelf of well-used books was the first distinguishing' mark of the beast.' A wide disarray of papers and magazines emphasised the first impression, while a litter of • specimens' filled every corner. A microscope pointing its nose of inquiry semi-vertically and a telescope mounted for astronomical purposes completed the sense of masculine predominance. The master of this Paradise, whose Eve was not yet to hand, was considering some question of grave iinporf. Charlie would have been quite certain that Mr. Maston was thinking of ChriHtmus boxos, and he would have been right. But in this instancu the thinking had referenco to a new variety of Christmas-box with a personal applica tion. Mr. Maston felt that the gate to a wider life hid been opeued, and tho fact of four little motherless girls cast upon his mercy had woko him to the consciousness Unit without a wife ho would be a spectacle for men and angels. Miss Castles was filling his vision as a strange luminary whose presence he had been uware of but had never realised. She might have passed him daily and crossed his path times without number if the even scientific tenor of his life had not been disturbed. The pranks of Charlie Bronder had been turned to good account by his showing the boy how interesting the frog of a practical joke may become under the microscope, and the result was a compact between them on a ' specimen' basis. Without quite realising what he was doing Charlie had introduced Miss Castles as the best specimen of common sense and courage he knew; and with the general fulfilment of the compact had come naturally several meetings between the two elderly people. Then there had fallen to him tlrs responsibility with regard to his orphan nieces, und it had dawned upon the lonely bachelor that a woman's face other than his old housekeeper's might be worth study ing after all. At one stride hud coinc tho dark, however, for the man doubted whether any rational woman would care to marry him. His awkward attempts at love-making, notwithstand ing the encouragement he received, inutle him feel as" a man might do who wns hunting wild elephants on horseback when he would have been better on foot. He went determined to shoot straight so far uk his proposal of marriage wus concerned, but he hud been desperately afraid that hi* ignorance of woman-nature would bring him to jrrief that the frightful catastrophe of being laughed at might befall him. However. ' All's well that ends well.' and Miss Custle9 might herself have proposed to him for anything he could afterwards recollect to the con trary. This surging of love within him had beea a ttrrible experience. The breaking of a dam across his life had let out the waters in a rushing turbulence that made tho new experience a painful one. Then came the question, how lontr must it be before th« woman he loved would gladden his dull
hoarth with her prebencc? When should ulio coino to hit) homo V At oneo lie told himself, ' Surely with theso littlo girls coming by the morrow's steamer theru were excuse enough for a speedy wedding. Yen the sootier thu better. They hud bust bo married, ' if possible, that same, day.' And having thus resolved Mr. Mubtou put down hia pipo, arrayed hiinaelf for a morning call, and set off for the minister's house. Mr. Bronder hud heard from his invalid wife of Mi. Mus ton's proposal to Miss Castles and of its acceptance, and was prupured to receive the gentle man when he was shown into the study. There was an air of resolution about the bridegroom elect thnt made Mr. Bronder doubt once again whether he was quite mine. ' Good morning, Mr. Mas ton,' he said, ' I have to apologise for the interruption to our chat last night. It was occasioned ' 'Do not mention it, sir. You did me infinite service. I should not have summoned courage so quickly as I did but that I misunderstood you.' ' Yes, it was rather stupid on my part, but some of my country brethren want a little help now and then. 1 was rather busy with Catullus on be half of one of them at the time. However, I moßt sincerely congratulate you. We shall feel lotting Miss Castles more than I can Kay. She has been with us sixteen years next month,' said Mr. Bronder with a sigh. ' Well, sir,' remarked Mr. Mas ton, ' I have to thank you for giving her so good a home, and for having been so kind a friend to her. It is about her home, I may as well say, that 1 wish to speak to you. 1 should be glad for our marriage to come off at once. Tc-day if possible,' and Mr. Muston sat up with the air of a man invincible. ' To-day !' gasped the minister in amazement. ' Yes, to-day. My four nieces will be down by to-morrow's steamer, and I should be like an un armed native in a jungle without my wife to help me.' The way in which he spoke of his ' wife' reminded Mr. Bronder of the girl who counted her chickens before the eggs were hutched, but Mr. Mas ton seemed to know where he was on the racecourse of matrimony. ' Well, if Miss Castles does not object,' he re plied, ' I cannot. I will send her down to you if you will wait.' and the minister seemed positively relieved to be delivered from this resolute lover. The result of that morning's conferences was that Mr. Maston and Miss Castles were to be married at 6 in the afternoon. What obstacles were surmounted do not concern thin matter-of fact story. Before Arthur and Charlie were homo from school the affair was over, uud bride and bridegroom had received the congratulations of their friends. It was insisted that thu newly wedded pair should stay to tea, and Mrs. Mastoa asked that nothing should be said to the boys till she herself broke the news. Even under thu responsibilities of matrimony she was delighted at the thought of having t>ome fun with the dark eyed youngster who had so often been her torment. When tea was ready Charlie came in with thu rush his father had so often restrained by a look. On this occasion the minister seemed filled with a quiet amazement that made his face a study. The boys felt as though something was in the air. yet Mr. Muston's presence did not seem to afford them any olue to the state of affairs. After a few minutes, in which grate was said and the cups were handed round, Charlie remarked suddenly: ' What IB the marriage-book out for aguin, papa ? Have you been tying up another old pair like the last ? I never felt so queer in my life as when I was sitting as witness lust week !' ' Yes, my Bon,' answered Mr. Bronder with a preliminary uough that might mean crumbs or cold to the uninitiated, while a deadly silence prevailed. ' There was a wedding here this after noon.' ' Well I'm blest, what a Christmas-box for some body ! Did they shake hands or kiss after it was all over ? Old Baxter looked as if he would have as soon thought of swallowing the old lady as of kissing her, so he shook hands on it instead after the business was fixed up. He looked ao miser able, too, as he made a pump-handle of her arm,' and thu boy laughed at the recollection. There is no knowing how far the lad would have rattled with his reminiscences of weddings, such as every minister's son has some experience of, unless some one had interposed. The bride was : evidently feeling as if her chance of turning the tables on Charlie would vanish unless she seized it quickly; but just as she hesitated her husband intercepted a critical glance thu boy cast towards her, and asked him: ' What have you done with those frogs you pro mised me ?' ' Oh, pupa's got 'em in his study, I think. I'll get 'em all right. Have you got any new speci mens '.'' ' Yes,' said Mr. Maston with a twinkle in his usually sedate eyes. ' I captured one this after .noon bigger than I can comfortably carry, v splendid Christmas-box !' 1 What is it ?' asked Charlie with his eyes wide open. ' Must be a big frog you can't carry.' ' Oh, I never said it was a frog. It is a very beautiful specimen I can tell you. I caught it with a ring.' Cliurlio was rather nettled, for he saw that somebody was taking a ' rise' out of him, and that Mrs. Maston was nearly choking with laughing. ' You needn't laugh, Miss Custle*, he said, * I suppose the next thing will be that-Mr. Mastou has caught you with a ring and made a " speci men" of you. That would be a beautiful Christ inas-box for you.' ' Charlie,' interrupted the minister with a laugh, ' you must remember that Mrs. Maston is not now under your jurisdiction.' ' Mrs. what ? inquired the boy with Biich a gulp of bewilderment that the bride felt revenged. Not another word said Churl ie. He seemed to subside suddenly, as if a great catastrophe had happened. It had dawned upon him that the Miss Castles he had known and loved so long was gone, and for the moment he turned upon Mr. Mastou a look of repugnance that spoke volumes. Nobody could win him hack to fun and smiles. When the time came for the bride and bridegroom to take their departure he wwit forward to say good-bye, and then suddenly putting his arms round Mrs. Maston's neck he burst into tears. The effect wan magical. From Mr. Bronder downwards there was not a diy eye, and Charlie broke away and raced up to his room with a storm of sobs about and behind him. Mr. and Mrs. Mastou settled df.wn at ouce in their nice home not far away. Mynie soon grasped the reins of management, and still made the old parsonage bright and beautiful with her charming presence. Churlic eventually became reconciled to his loss, und was us much at home with the Mustons us under his father's roof. Mr. Mastou looks forward to making a brilliant biologist of Charlie, and foretells a groat future for the pleasant-tempered and warm-hearted lad I who h«»lpod him to win for his own the good woman in whose companionship year by year ho > hus learned [ How much the wife is dearer than the bride.
At the Forks of the Johnstons.
Horse Hunting in the Mulca. [See " Sketoher."] " You'd better scoot along and fnd 'em; and mind—no bones no capper.