Chapter 32726718

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberNone
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article32726718
Full Date1890-02-01
Page Number34
Corrections1
Word Count4935
IllustratedN
Last Corrected2015-08-08
Newspaper TitleWestern Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)
Trove TitleThe Story of a Christmas Eve
article text

THE STORY-TELLER.

THE STORY OF A CHRISTMAS

EVE*

BY MOSTYN BRIMYARD.

(Specially written for the Western Mail.)

" Tes," said the inspector iii a medita- tive voice, as ho slowly puffed at his cigar, " yes, those were lawless times, and We were a set ot wild youDg scamps tco, up to all kinds oE tricks." He had the air of a man who has done his work well, eaten a good dinner, and is prepared to enjoy himself, as he lounged on the verandah, in his spotless white snit..

At his words a curly head was lifted from a hammock swinging near, and a clear young voice said, lazily, " Fancy father "being a wild scamp ! It must have bee«iinuieuse ages ago" thc voice udded

saucily. j

" Yes, indeed, nearly 40 years ago, Pussy."

" Melbourne was a very different place then, 1 expect," said a youth, sitting near, vaguely.

He was far more interested iu the movements of the dark curly head, and a pair of white arms, gleaming very attrac- tively in the moonlight, than iu the development of Melbourne.

" Nothing but a few miserable shanties and tents," nodded the iuspector. " And now look at it! No wouder they call it

' Marvellous Melbourne 1* "

" Yes, very much !" answered the youth, still more vaguely. " How can a fellow bo expected to listen to the father while the daughter swings herself there right in front of a fellow, looking so prel ty," ho thought, resentfully, as Miss Pussy laughed mischievously at him.

She was half out of her hammock now, and with one« pretty slippered too touch- ing the floor, she swayed herself back- wards aud forwards, as gracefully and lightly as a bird ou a flower spray. Behind her a passion flower, Bpread its dark green leaves in a wide screen, agaiust which tho little whifce-g.iwned figure, with its fair nock and arms showed charmingly.

Tho inspector's reminiscences con- tinued, rather prosily, until at last the youth rose, murin ur iug something indis- tinct about its being late and time to go.

" Sit down, Charley," Pussy com- manded, " wo are going to wait Iwre till thc carol-singers come. It's quite early,

isn't it father i"

" Must be near eleven," said the in- spector, rather drowsily, from his lonuge. " Yep, there go the three-quarters," as the chimes were heard through the still-

ness.

"Well, that's quite early for a warm night like this," persisted Pussy, and Charley, accustomed to obey her slightest behest, like tho abject slave he was, and nothing loath to stay either, slipped iuto the comfortable chair again. " Besides," contiuued the girl, with a wilful air,

" this is Christmas eve, and as we have, listened so politely to father's old sta- tistics, I now command him to entertain us till the carolers como, with an account of bow they spent their Christmases iu those dreadful times. You will, wou't Îou valor," she added coaxingly, touching

is kuee lightly with the tip of her little

shoe.

"Eh! What! Dear mo, I believe I was nearly asleep! What is it PussyP" And the inspector pulled out his cigar case, helping himself, and then offered it to Charley.

That crafty youth took a cigar, though he was not fond of smoking ; for he knew that he would be able to stay there until it was smoked, and resolved to make it spin out as long as possible.

The inspector smoked for some time iu silence, after Passy had repeated her request ; then presently he gave a great " Hem !" aud Pussy, nodding at Charley, to intimate "it's coming!" sank back into her hammock, her bright eyes fixed

on the iuspector.

" It's just 34 years to-ni^ht, I believe, let's see, yes, 34 years since tho most terrible night I ever passed in uvy life, and it was Christmas eve. I mast have been about six or seven and twenty then, and a harum scam in fellow too. I had been two years on the Bendigo Diggings with poor Harry Jauder, my mate, and wo had made up our minds to spend Christmas in Melbourne. We had a standing invitation from D --, who was only beginning like then, to stay with him whenever we came to town, but lie was only lately married ; so we decided not to intrude upon them until we got a few -decent clothes, and made ourselves

presentable for ladies' society. We made au early start for town, with horses that cost us about £70, the two, misérable screws they were, and fodder was hardly fo be got for love or money. We had been unusually fortunate the whole year through, for we were both steady and hardworking when we were at it, though I was wild enough when I got a chance,. but poor old Harry generally kept me as straight as a rule. He was a quiet, ¡r od, steady-going old chap, hut was always sad, through having had a great trouble. But anyhow, we had' a very

neat little sum to our credit afc the

bauk, aud when we set' off on our trip to Melbourne, I was in high spirits. I must tell you though, what poor Harry's story was. .

" He and Iiis younger brother had como

out from England. They were orphans, 1 and had always stuck together through ] everything. Harry told me that his i brother was a most loveable fellow, so affectionate and good, and always looked up to Harry in everything. Well, they worked hard, and made money fast, aud saved, intending to set up in business together. There was no bank at their diggings, so they decided that one of them should take their gold to Mel- bourne, sell it, and bank the money. Harry intended going, but he had not been well for some time, and he felt so poorly at Inst that it foll lo Jim to go instead. He had a pair of revolvers, a

howie kuife, and had managed to get a wry good horse. The uight before the start tiley dug up their gold from where it was buried, doep down, nuder the tire, aud put it into a large digger's bflt which Jim fastened round his waist. This belt was a peculiar one, Harry said, with a wide clasp fastening by a spring, and en- graved with his natue.

" Pour Harry often told mo about th it uight. It was near Ohristmas, and they read the Bible together as usual, and said tho Collects from tho Evening Service ; then, when they lay down te get a few hours rest before Jim started, Harry conlrl not sleep at first. When lie did fall off he dreamed that a beautiful, wicked-looking woman came creeping up to tiie tent, and seizing Jim by the throat, with long, strong, white fingers, triad to strangle him. Harry waked up in a fright at this, but Jim was lying with his arra across Harry's breast, and sleep- ing as peacefully as a little child. Soon afterwards, Harry had to wake him up to start, thinking it bettor for him to get off before tho men were all about. Harry told me that when the time came tor Jim to, leave him he felt awfully bad about it, and was nearly saying . Don't go.' But J im was quite delighted and' happy at the prospect of going. Harry waruod him to ha very careful about the gold,' for Jim was a trástful, uususpicious chap, he would believe in auyone, and was easily «heated. However he promised, to ba cautious, and told Harry not to be anxious, as be would soon bo back.

'. ' Öood«bye, dear old fellow, ' he-said, 'Take care of yourself till I seo yon again,' and was gone.

* AU Bights Reserved.

" Affcor he had gone Harry said he felt dreadfully queer, heavy and drowsy, racking headache and a biirniug thirst ; and at last he was obliged to go to bed .again. * He forgot everything from that time, nutil he woke one day, as weak as a baby; to find that he bad been unconscious with fever for more than a fortnight. His first word was ' Jim,' but Jim wasn't there.' The miners had nursed him amongst them as well as they Could, but he was terribly weak, and the worst was not a soul kuew a word about Jim. There was no lotter, and from that time not a single trace of him could be found, except that lie reached W. safely, sold his gold there to a respectable broker, aud had been paid in sovereigns. .From there he had disappeared completely. As soon

as Harry could crawl, he got, off his sick i bed, aud searched far aud wide, leaving: j no stone unturned to find poor Jim, but j it was no nae, he was ns clean gone as if

the earth had opeued and swallowed him j up. The horse bo had ridden was found { in the bush, without either saddle or, bridle, near Melbourne, but what had j become of the unfortunate rider no human ! being seemed to know. Poor Harry, deprived both of his brother and his gold, was like a madman fur a time, though the loss of the gold WAS nothing to him, except .that tie needed it to seek poor

Jim.

When I first knew him Jim had been lost four years, aud Harry was a poor lonely fellow, with no heart to work, seemiugly. I think I must have re- minded him of his brother Jim, for he took to me at once, and we became mates, and I believe he was a bit comforted, though he was always thinking about Jim. At uight ho would kneel down, and read the Collects out of poor Jim's prayer book, that he always carried iu his bosom, and pray BO pitifully to be permitted "to find him, that I could never listen to him without the tears coming into my eyes,

wild fellow as I was.

" Well the day wo started on our trip was the 22ud of December, aud as we rode along Harry said 'It's six years to- day since my poor Jim left me !' Theu presently he added in a low tone, bring- ing up his horse close against mine, 'James/ I was always 'Jim' to other p.'oplf, but he never called me anything but James, 'James, I saw him last night!'. I stared at him, thinking he was going queer, but he seemed as col- lected as ushal, only he was staring straight ahead, with a look in his eyes I bad never seen there before, a wistful ex- pression, as if ho saw something in the distance before him. Presently be re- sumed, 'I know now why I ain going on this journey.'

" ' To enjoy yourself, I hope old man,' I put in cheerfully, hoping to brighten him up a bit, poor fellow.

"'Ño James,' he said solemnly, 'my prayers are going to be answered, I shall, finol my poor Jim before long!'

" He was in this mood nearly the whole of the journey, sometimes he would cheer up a bit, and then he would be so melan- choly I could not got a word out of him.

" Our horses were poor so that it was late on the 24th when wo reached the .outskirts of the city. I was pushing on at once to the best hotel, bat Harry, who,

as we neared the town seemed like a man

walking in his sleep, said, ' we will go to the right one.' I was beginning to feel quite awed at bis strange manner, he

was so quiet, and usually left all arrange- ments to me, but now he took the lead altogether, and I followed, feeling almost scared, and afraid of i did not know what. AU ideas of a lively Cm-isluias-ovo had disappeared from my mind, and I thought only of Harry. About dark wo stopped at what in thoso rough days was con- sidered a pretty good public house, though il was miserable and dirty enough good- ness knows. The keeper of it was a greasy-looking man, with u hideous fur cap on, and a long coat reaching to his heels; uo linen shewing, aud hands with

nails like claws. His wife tjo was a

frowsy creature, but in those times it did'nt do to be too particular, so after seeing that our horses were fed, or rather, after doing it ourselves, we went inside. It was a raw, chilly sort of evening though it was suinaijrtiine. There was a long room, with a fire at ouo end, and a deal table down tho middle, on each side of which sat the company, and a queer lot they were, all shouting, swearing, and drinking like mad. Most of them wore diggers, come into to.-vn to spend thoir bard earned gold, and kacp Christmas after their own fashion. The inn-keeper must have beeu coining money, for in those days it was very plentiful, and these little shanties generally got the liou's share. You see they were mostly kept by unscrupulous men ; it wasn't like the big hotels where everything was done ou the square. The woman gave us a coarse meal, very roughly served, on a small table in tho corner, aud from where I sat I could see a good deal of what went on.

Ono druuken fool, in his bravado,, was lighting his pipe with a bauk note, while his companions were loudly applauding him. Presently another, so tipsy he could hardly walk, got up from the table, and staggered to where we sat, and seized a large knife and flourished it helplessly. Thinking he meant to do some harm, I laid my hand on his arm, when ho de- manded a slice of bread. I cut it for him, aud diving down into his pocket he brought up a dirty £20.note. Doubling the bread over this he proceeded to eat the unsavoury sandwich, declaring with loud aud dreadful oaths, that 'he wasn't going to be beat.'* The noie», the heat, the drinking, swearing and tobacco-smoke, were intolerable, aud as I sat wondering at Harry for styaing in such af hole, he whispered,, ' Let's get out ' into the .open air !' and we slipped out quietly, pursued by a few facetious and scornful comments as to pur pride, etc. We stood outside the ina some time in silence, Harry was evidently wrapped in thought, and [ hardly knew what to do. At last: he linked his arm iu mine, and we walked down the rough, dusty road in this direc- tion. About 100 yards from the inn, and standing a little way back from the road was a small building, of the kind they used to call ' wattle aud dab.' I couldn't see then what it was built of; for it was à cloudy night, no moon, and pretty dark, and wa contd only faintly distinguish the outline of the place, lt was all in dark- ness. I saw afterwards that it had one

I door and window facing the road, and a door at the back, while at one side was a window hole, but it was nailed np with rough boards. Well, Harry and I walked about, up and dowu, till I felt ready to drop. Harry hardly spoke a word, and then only iu answer to my re- marks. I remember thinking, rather selfishly, that our trip didu't promise to be a very jolly, oue after all, if poor old Harry kept in this mood. At last I could stand it. no longer, and when 1 told Harry how awfully tired I was, he seemed quite augry with himself for keepiug me up, but added confusedly he was 'only waiting uïitil-?' Here he broke off abruptly, and hurried rae into the house. Tho revelry was still at its height ; auother digger was about to give an ex- hibition of his foolishness by taking a footbath of champagne, at 25s. a bottle,f much to the delight of the onlookers.

" When we asked to be shown to a bed- room, the host said he had not a corner io spare, and indeed 1 don't know where he could . have put us. I was just on the poiut of begging Harry to go on into the town, when he fixed his eyes on the man's face, and said, ' you have a place for vs, show it !' The man looked at him quito startled, and said iu à hesitating sort ol way, ' Well,'sir, there's really no place but an old shanty outside, but it will be too damp and "dirty for you gents I'm afeored. ' Lead the way !" said Harry

*Afaot. fAfact.

quite imperiously, and talcing up his swag he stepped outside. I did the same, feel- ing sure that the poor fellow's trouble had at last ruined his reason. I lingered behind while the man went into the dirty kitchen and was lighting a lantern. I heard him whispering with the woman, and she replied with an a wo-struck voice, 'Not there, Pete, surely, and this Christmas-eve too !' * I can't help it,' he said, bidding her shut up, with a curse, and the next minute lie joined ns, carry- ing a small bundle of sticks, and some candles besides the lantern. We soon reached the hove), it was no better; it waa the place I had noticed before. As

j our guido unlockod the door, which I

remarked was very heavy and strong, and ushered us iuto tho larger of two rooms wo disturbed a whole army of great cook roaches that scuttled from the table and rushed away. The place was thatched, und the walls were the colour of mud; in one corner was a large wooden bedstead with a moth-eaten rug over it ; that, and a bench, was all the furniture, except a table fixed to the wall under the window, which was covered with cobwebs. It was

all very uncomfortable, bm I did not feel afraid, for we both had revolvers, and no money on us worth robbiug us for. The man lighted a small fire on the hearth, aud then hurried away, gruuting out a surly good-night. All div long, as I have told you, Harry had been quear ana dreaming, but now he was all alert, with

such au air of expectancy about him that. £ wus quite astonished at his manner. I tried to persuade him to lie down, think- ing he needed Test, but ' no,' he said . he wasn't tired a bit, and had writing to do !' He bade me go to sleep, and said good night in his usual voice, and very kindly. I felt dreadfully down about him, how- ever, and determined to ask D-'a opinion next day .

Before lying down I lighted a candle, stuck it into a rusty candlestick that was on tho lioor, and taking the lantern off the table I went into tho other room to see what it was like. It was smaller and oven nastier than the other, there wa« no door bf communication, only a doorway and it was furnished like the larger room. There was a door at the back, but when I tried it I found it was nailed up, and very securely too, and the window was safe also. Bath floors were of earth, but as I walked across the one it sounded hollow nuder my steps. Just as I turned to come out again after my inspection Harry found me, and I began to slmw him how firmly the door and window were secured. He took no notice of me, however, bnt walked over to au empty space near the front wail and stood there. Suddenly, just as if he wore answering a call he cried out ' All right Jim, old fellow, I'm coming]' I never saw a face so happy as

his wa« then !

" ' Didu't you hear that P' lin said to me, ' I shall soon find him now !'

" As for me I was so frightened by this time that I hardly knew wliot to do. I took him by the arm, aud he let me lead him into the other room. Everything was so strange and unreal that I could scarcely

believe we were tho same men. When

Harry got into the other room he knelt down, and taking out the little prayer book of Jim's, began saying the collect, ' Lighten our darkness, we beseech Thee, 0 Lord!' f After a time he was so quiet that I thought I might venture to take a nap, for I was nearly worn ont between anxiety and tho fatigue of the journey, so 1 lay down as I was, in m 7 clothes,'and 1 believe I fell asleep in a moment. It must have been nearly 12 o'clock when I went to sleep, and I cahoot toll how long I slept that night, but I was awakened by a hand on my arm, and Harry's voice in ray car, ' Come,' he said softly, and I sat up in my bed. Only the candle was alight, with a heavy wick ; the lantern had gone out, though I thought at first I must have left it in the other room, for there was a dim light shining through the doorway. Harry gave me no time to wakeup properly, but led nie.across to tho doorway. Ho seemed as if he wanted to go into the roam but at its threshold we were stopped. Some unseen power, I caunot tell what, prevented oar going a stop further. I felt paralysed, and we both crouched there, staring intently in. , Harry's face was full of horror, and his

eyes seemed starting from his head, I don't know how I looked, but I know "iny blood felt frozen in my veius, and my hair seemed to stand up with terror, while 1 wo were compelled to watch the scene

before us.

"On the bed lay the figure of a hian, it looked to me like Harry's, and I felt a 1 stupid sort of wonder at seeing him there,

' for I eau tell you I was pretty well.

1 dazed.

" There was a woman standing near the 1 table, she was at work sharpening a small

cleaver, such as butchers use, with a

, whetstone, and we, at least I could hear -

tlie dull grating of the steel on the stone as she did it She was very beautiful, and was dressed in a violet sort of gown. Her hair and eyes looked as black as ink in the dim light, but the expression of her face was something quite devilish. She was certainly a hornd-looking creature. After trying the edge on her fingers, she laid the cleaver aside, and began to lay the table for a meal. When it was ready she stepped over to the bed, aud roused the sleeper. As he rose and seated him self at the end of the table I thought at first it is surely Harry's ghost ; when the tho dreadful truth dawned on mo, ' Why it's Jim!' It just flashed on me in a , moment, you see I had never seen the

poor fellow, and it had not occurred to , me before to counect all this with him.

" A horrible-looking old hag seemed to wait on him, and I could not see the young womau. Presently, however, she caine backhand sat down by Jim, She

seemed for a long time to bs persuading him to do something, and laid her white ? hand on his arm, and looked into his face 2) to coax him I suppose. She kept this ftp "*for ever so long, and tba mau 6at restiug

his head ou his hand, lookiug at her. At last he appeared t » yield, aud took from round his trais t a digger's belt. All this time I could hear p >or Harry breathing hard, like a man does iu running, and groaning tan, but for tao life of me I couldn't turu my head from, the sight before us. Jim, orf his ghost, rather, shook some sovereigns out on the table, . and gave them to the woman, who .took

them greedily, and then she disappeared, and I could not see the old one either, then.

Jim thea emptied the contents of his belt oat, and I could hear the chink, chink, chink, of -the sovereigns as he counted them. I have never heard the sound siuce without having that horrible ^ scene before rae again. But as he counted >, his money, sittiag at the end of the rough

table, his left side to us. a figuré advanced gently towards him. Softly and stealthily ehe crept up, behind him; that demoness eyeing the gold with a fiendish, greedy look ; in her hand was the cleaver. I tried all I contd ta cry out, but I was dumb, and though E was.in an agony of terror, not a sonnd would come, and I was as power leas to more as if I had been held ina

_ ¡great i vico. - Peor Harry was gleaning, 'but I knew instinctively that he was just

as helpless as I was.

" Meanwhile the murderess crept nearer, and nearer, pausing at every step in her caution. Jim had counted his money, laud was putting it into the 'belt again, quite unconscious, poor fellow, of that awful figure at h*s back. I saw her raise her arm, the clearer iu her baud; again : ? I tried to cry out, but in vain. I tried io

ahnt ray eyes upon what was coming, but they remained staring open. Ohl the horror of that moment ! I shall never

forget it. With one heavy, sickening blow abe struck bim on the neck, and as the lifeless body fell. I could hear, tja * more but became nncouscious. . When il ' «ame to myself again there was ho light

but (he dim one in our room; the other

place was dark and empty, and for a pe-

inent I thought I had had a horrible: dream, and I rose to my feet to see Harry putting a fresh light in the lautem. I kuew then in an instant how it - ell waa. There was not a trace of emotion un his face. Beckoning to me to follow, he. un- fastened the.door and «veut out. \

"I don't know to this day, where We went; or what we did, but I ktrowjthis, that presently we were back in the ter- rible little room, with picks and shovels, Setting down the light. Harry fell ou his knees^n tbe placs where he stood, esrlier in the evening. ' * O <3od !' he cried, claspiug bis hands in ag-my, * I uover thought of this answer to my, prayer ! Answer one more prayer, O Lord, and

take me to him !'

"\ knelt down beside him, and put my arm around his neck, and my teirs fell; f ast too. 'Dear old fellow,' I anti, trying to comfort him, 'your Jim's uot liere, : you've been dreaming '

*' But not heeding my. words, he sprang \ n^,' and seiziug a sp «le in a p «rfai:t

freuzy, cried * Dig ! dig!' awl. to humour j him I dug. We work-id lo* s »me time" by the dim lauternVli-rht. O r ! whtt a Christmas-eve it was !

"Suddenly ray s pad J str.W« ^gAuist something that clink id, I lif tc i it oar. of the hole-it w»e a «mall buteh^r-'s-cliiirer. . the handle rotted awav/thV bia le nut? ! At the sight of it I felt as if I should faint again, but Harry only redoubled his efforts, and urged me to gb on. Just asl Ϋrepared to ob îy him he stoppâd saddeui y, and stooping down lifted something from the earth at hts fo.it. It was all . that-remained of the digger*** heU,:tSi . shreds held together by the metal binding

and elasp ! Stooping once inore he h.«ld ' thö clasp it the flickering light, theti '

without a word, or a groan ho fell acews \ the .grave. Poor Harry, his prayers

wereauswered, he had found .Timi" " .

; :*' ;. '* ' ' # ' :#;''-,;* . .#

:x., " W*s that all, father?" Puisy said

next day. ???

; ^?¥e^''d»M'0^Jrt;'tha1i iwe buried them side by aide wpv Jim's little' prayer- book in poor Hare's Jiaud."

, "And did they find that dreadful romani." ? ?.

" No, she and her wether kept l'ldg iug honse in the shanty aud had di-ap* neared years before. No one suspected

that such a horrible crime had 1>£öu . committed, though the place was said to be haunted. That waa why the innkeeper did not want us to sleep there. Tho poor man was dreadfully shocked next day. The place was pulled do wa aud burned.

That*« all Pussy." , . . < .

" Poor Jim !" said Passy softly.