Chapter 3006883

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Chapter NumberI, II
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3006883
Full Date1886-02-20
Page Number4
Corrections5
Word Count2147
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2018-03-13
Newspaper TitleThe West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 - 1954)
Trove TitleTwo Christmas Presents
article text

TWO CHRISTMAS PRESENTS.

From the Warder.

CHAPTER I.

" I envy people their children, Susie ! " " Then you envy me mine, I suppose ! " "Yes. And I really think, joking apart, that you might give me one of your little ones, Little Jackie say ! You have another boy."

" Jackie is my baby."

" One of the little girls then ? "

But the young mother shook her head. Four little ones she had ; nevertheless, she could not think for a moment of part- ing with one of them, even to her dear and only sister.

How wonderfully and mysteriously we sometimes mark and shape out our own destinies, and even the destinies of others, by a few unthinking words, which are, it may be, never remembered again.

It was a lovely afternoon, late in sum- mer. Laura Asburnham and her sister had been standing by the open window of a good-sized sitting-room. The window was gay with abundance of flowers-be- longing, however, to the landlady-and the house itself was a very pretty one, situated close to the high road, at the en- trance of the country town of Malling. In this house Miss Ashburnham rented three rooms, and kept a day-school-her sole means of support

She was two-and-twenty years old, rather above middle height, fair, with brown hair, and deep and tender blue

eyes. Thoughtfully she sat down now, and leaning her arms upon the window- board, looked out upon the little patch of garden, her face set in a frame of fuchsias and pelargoniums. And her sister had grown thoughtful also, and was looking not at the garden, but at her.

And neither of them had noticed a stranger, sitting with disconsolate face, in lazy attitude on a bench in the shadow of the old elm that grew by the gate. He could see them; but he had not been ob- serving them, or attending to them in any way, and rising with a half-sigh, he had been about to depart, when Laura's words had arrested him. And then, in- deed, he had looked at her earnestly, and presently had fallen back upon the bench again, lingering to hear more.

" You may marry, you know, Laura, and have children of your own," remarked Susie, when the silence had lasted some minutes.

" I might have done if dear Willis had lived, but now"-and Laura left her sen- tence unfinished, while absently she pluck- ed a withered leaf from one of the pelargoniums.

" My dear, it is nearly two years since he was drowned, poor fellow. And, after all, he was nothing to you ; you were never really engaged."

" No ; but it would have come to that, for he loved me, and I him," returned Laura steadily.

" But you are only twenty-two, Laura. You surely would not think of remaining single for the rest of your life for his sake ?" and Susie almost laughed.

" No, dear ; I do not know that I have any wish even to remain single ; but then, on the other hand, neither do I wish to marry, unless-"

" Well, unless what ?"

*' Unless I see exactly the man I could wholly love and respect."

"Ah, you will never see him, dear, I depend upon it. You expect perfection,

and that is of no use, you know, in this

faulty world. John remarked, only the other day, that you had set your standard

far too high."

" I certainly do not expect perfection, though," retorted Laura. "If I saw a man I could really love, I should love him only the better for his faults."

"You are most unsatisfactory, Laura dear ; and I must own I cannot exactly see what you are driving at, as John

says."

" One of your babies," smiled Laura, " for my very own. I should be happy

then."

"Dear, I cannot spare my babies; and if I would, John would not. You have your school-all your little pupils-make pets of them."

" School-keeping is of course my work, and work I do like, but it does not bring me heart-happiness, do you under- stand, Susie ? I want something upon which I may spend my heart. I wish something that I had a hobby-writing, or painting, or something of that kind into which I could throw myself ; though I do not suppose that it would satisfy me long ; it would be all dead work."

" Ah !" responded Susie, meditatively. " I shall be afraid to trust you after this, Laura. You will be begging a baby from the first gipsy woman who passes."

"Not quite so bad as that," smiled Laura. " But," and she rose, " I want my tea, Susie. It is actually a quarter after

five. I don't know how it is I always contrive to be later on half holidays. Stay and have a cup with me dear ?"

" Oh, you must excuse me, Laura. John

and the babies will think I am lost as it is, and will be running all over the town after me. I did not tell them I was coming in here. Good-bye !"

But before she could reach the door, the watcher outside had arisen from the old bench ; and as he moved away, he said to himself emphatically-

"There is a woman I could love "

He was a young man, apparently not more than seven or eight and twenty ; rather tall, and very handsome, with pale clear complexion, aud black curling hair, and dark eyes full of feeling and expres-

sion.

He walked quite away from the town, to a tiny village, which seemed to be made up of about a dozen houses, and there he stayed. And on the following morning he might have been observed standing in the ivy-covered porch of the village church, very nervous-looking, very carefully dressed, and waiting, in fact, for his bride, who appeared in due time - a little dark energetic-looking personage-whom he had chosen for her fortune, and not for any affection he bore

her.

CHAPTER II.

More than sixteen months had passed away, leaving little outward trace on Laura Ashburnham's life. All around her, life's strange mixture of tragedy and comedy was for ever being enacted-joy coming of sorrow, light evolving itself out of darkness, and darkness again quenching the light that perchance had been just arisen. All around her, histor- ies were progressing, adding either to their successes, or to their failures, and she alone, she sometimes thought, had taken no onward step. She was in good health, her school prospered, she was com- fortably off, she had a sister very near, who loved her, and whom she loved. What more did she want ? Something still, as she had said, upon which she might spend her heart.

Christmas was very near. She would not go away for her holidays, but the whole of Christmas Day she expected to spend with her sister.

"Come early, dear," Susie had said. " John told me to give you his love, and to say that he should expect you to break- fast. He does not often take the trouble to send messages to people, so mind you

come."

* * * * * * * It was Christmas morning, and the ground was carpeted with snow. It was early, and not a streak of dawn was yet visible in the east. The sky was heavy, as if with more snow, and a cold north wind was blowing.

A man clad in a great-coat, the collar pulled up about his neck, and with a large but apparently not particularly heavy burden in his arms, was making his way quickly towards the little town of Mall- ing. It was too dark as yet for a feature of his face to be discerned. He was very quiet, no sight, no sound, or half-uttered sentence escaped his lips ; one heard only the quick firm footstep.

On he went, till he reached the house in which Laura Ashburnham lodged. Then swiftly and silently he lifted the latch of the little iron gate, softly he trod the snow-covered pathway, on the step of the door he deposited his burden, and in a moment was gone again.

* * * * * * *

Laura Ashburnham was an early riser, her landlady a late one. Mrs. Lee, Laura's sister, breakfasted punctually at eight o'clock, and Laura was up and dress- ed and ready to start at half-past seven, just as her landlady, in an old dressing gown, ran down stairs to light the fire. Having exchanged Christmas greetings with her lodger, the landlady disappeared into the back regions, and the next mo- ment Laura heard her making a great clatter with the fire-irons, as she hserself opened the door, and was about to pass

out.

But, uttering an exclamation, she paus- ed abruptly. What was that on the door- step ? A large dark parcel-dark, at any rate, against the white snow-with a ticket pinned conspicuously on the top of it, on which Laura read-

" To be left in the sole care of Miss

Ashburnham."

" A Christmas present, perhaps," laugh- ed she " One ot John's tricks, I should'nt wonder-though the writing is not his.

And how odd the address is ?"

She lifted the parcel. Then, with a curious look of surprise and doubt, imme- diately put it down again. The outer covering was loose. She raised it-and uttered a second exclamation, while a rich colour, as of joy and uncertainty mingled, crept slowly into her face.

There lay, wrapped in soft furs, a little babe- a tiny creature of only a few days or perhaps a week old. For a minute Laura stood irresolute ; then again she lifted the little one, and carried it, cover- ings and all, swiftly up stairs to her own

room.

It had been wrapped round and round in an immense fur cloak. Divesting it of this, which she locked for the present, in an empty cupboard, and folding it care- fully and gently in a warm shawl of her own, she quickly made her way down- stairs again, and was soon on her way to her sister's house.

The child was asleep, and she wished to keep it so for the present

Lightly she trod the snowy pathway, her heart beating with a pleasure that would not be suppressed, Nevertheless her mind was occupied in thinking deeply upon what had happened ; and anxious thoughts would arise. It was a grave charge ; she saw that, despite all he wish to take it upon herself.

She stood at her sister's door, which was immediately opened by Susie herself.

" A happy Christmas to you, darling. I saw you coming. But what have you got there ?"

" I do not suppose you need ask, Susie ! I found it on the door-step, but I have scarcely had time to look at it yet."

Laura was by this time seated by the parlour fire, engaged in taking the little one out of the shawl, Susie meanwhile standing by in unqualified amazement.

" I think I will thank you for your pre- sent, Susie."

"On the door-step! " exclaimed Susie, suddenly. " Oh Laura, how could you take it ? My present indeed ? Can you suppose that either John or I would do such a thing, now, Laura ? "

Susie was quite in earnest, almost an- gry. There was a pause,.

" It is all the more puzzling, then," re- turned Laura at length. "Look here,

Susie ! "

On the little band of the child's dress was written the name " Louise."

Susie looked without speaking.

" Isn't she a little darling ? " Laura went on. "I almost wish she would wake

up. Just see what lovely little black

curls she has ! "

" And what a dark skin ! " rejoined Susie discontentedly. "A little stray gipsey I daresay ! "

TO BE CONTINUED.)

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