|Chapter Title||THE GHOST.|
|Newspaper Title||Launceston Examiner (Tas. : 1842 - 1899)|
|Trove Title||Farmer Mack|
CUAPTER II.-THE GIIOST. Wee Wan station was to be a lively place during the Christmas holidays, and it took considerable persuasion on the part of Guida and her husband to induce Farmer Mack to remain there for the gay and festive season. At last, however, he con sented to do so. and shortly before the great Natal Day the guests began to arrive. The visitors were strongly representative of youth, and ere long the old man was an acknowledged favourite among the same. Still it came about that a few thoughtless ones made fun of him behind his back, fun which at length reached to the extent of the planning and perpetration of a practical joke having 0for its victim Farmer Mack. Christmas Eve was the time chosen for the same, for between the hours of eight and nine the old man had fallen into the habit of taking a meditative stroll by himself in a certain picturesque but shadow-loving shrubbery. Here it was proposed by some senseless youth that another boy who by reason of his
untoward height had been nicknamed ic Lanky Bob should appear in the y region of a particular pond (which, overhung by much dark foliage looked j black, deep, and dangerous enough to afford a retreat for a more than ordinary ghost) in the orthodox h habiliments of a denizen of another world. The night arrived-a sultry h one, with a sullen: sky and ominous- b looking clouds hero and there. d Farmer Mack took his good old h pipe from his pocket, and gazing r] intently into irs savory depth ri with a' eye well pleased proceeded to b add a little more cut tobacco from his if leathern pouch before entering It upon the delights of a prolonged T smoke. Unknown to him a slight little figure in some pretty light frock had been observing very closely with wondering blue eyes the movements of her new friend. This was a mite of five years, who had developed at first sight b a precocious adoration for the good old man, and now, when her mother supposed her to be safely asleep, she 0 had redressed and crep' ?oftly down 8 the stairs, and then waited in a niche between the marble pillars of the hall g till Farmer Mack should come out of the study for what this baby termed a h 'toddle in the darden.' She had not long to wait before the a short stout figure in the long-tailed coat, wonderful waistcoat, and gor- e geous tie came with heavy footsteps in to the huge resounding hall. He did not see her and the little one had too much tact to come out of her hiding place until Farmer Mack was going slowly down the stone steps which led to the garden. Then she flitted swiftly after him, as a veritable fairy to which she was often likened; and so they went t down the broad gravelled drive, and % turned into the shadowy path whichf led to the shrubbery. Farmer Mack's boots made far too much noise to 1 permit him to take notice of the twigs which cracked under the light tread of his little follower. They entered the shrubbery, dark shadows lay everywhere, and the sky loomed blackly overhead. Though Farmer Mack heard nothing, there was a rustling in the bushes not far off, and much whispering intermixed with boyish laughter going on. Nearer and nearer drew the intended victim to the region of the Black Man's Horror, as the uncanny-looking pool was called; and nearer and nearer crept the 'ghost' and his accomplices, but either Farmer Mack walked faster than they had anticipated or they had miscalculated the time it would take them to reach the chosen spot, for the former had passed the same, and the wee mite following him was abreast with the pool, when an unearthly cry between a groan and a cat-call rent the air, followed by a parting of the bushes where they grew thickest, and the appearance of a figure ghastly white, with eyes, nose, and mouth of gleaming fire. Then an appalling shriek rang out on the night, a shriek which could only have issued from the mouth of a little child, and then came a splash and a bubbling sound as the waters of the Black Man's Horror closed over the golden head of Farmer Mack's tiny devotee. The scream and the succeeding splash sobered the 'ghost' and his companions in a moment, but before they could tear off the sheet and rush forward with the turnip lantern which had formed the apparition's head there was another and a greater splash and Farmer Mack had jumped into the pool. He was a good swimmer, but now the reeds which grew thickly for some distance into the water impeded his progress terribly, added to which his clothes and heavy boots formed no slight obstacle, and for a few moments it seemed doubtful whether the old man and the little girl ?ould not share a watery grave. But now Lanky Bob's long reach came to be of good service, for quickly twisting the sheet into a rope he caught hold of a bough and leaning forward threw one end as far into the pool as it would go. Presently Farmer Mack succeeded in reaching it, and with his tiny, appa rently lifeless burden under his arm was drawn gasping, dripping, and well nigh exhausted to the bank. Here several pairs of arms belonging to conscience-stricken boys were ready to haul him on to dry land, and once there Farmer Mack quickly regained his senses. 'Do you run to the house,' he said to Lanky Bob, ' and tell them to get blankets and hot water ready. And you, Dickson, carry the poor child as quickly as you can, and show him the way with the light, Small, for no time must be lost.' These orders the boys at once obeyed, and Farmer Mack himself followed more slowly, the water oozing out of his boots as he went, dripping from his clothes, and forming little channels down his furrowed face. The night was a close one, but the old man began to shiver and shake and his teeth to chatter before he reached the house. IHe went rounid to the back, but even then was loth to enter in his drenched condition. Standing in a little pool of water, which had run from his clothes, he glanced irreso lutely into the cheerful-looking and well-kept kitchen, and whilst doing this a stream of light fell upon his bald head and blanched face, revealing both to the sympathetic gaze of the red-faced cook. She hurried to him 'Sure, Mister Mack, sir; you must
come in. The Lord love ye, yer'll get yer death o' cold.' ' A. mist swam before the eyes of Farmer Mack, he felt sick and dizzy, and tottered,and would have fallen had it not the kind-hearted girl supported him, while she called to some of her ii fellow servants for help. They got 1 him before the glowing fire with the t best of intentions unfettered by the dictates of common sense, and then he fainted away. When consciousness T. returned he was lying in his own luxu rious bed,while his son-in-law watched by his side. The old man opened his laded blue eyes, and regarded Mr Melrose attentively for a few moments. Then he said- 'Eb, lad, but this is a bad business,' Mr Melrose nodded. b ' How do you feel ?' f ' A bit done,' said Farmer Mack, ' a bit done, lad.' Guida came in at this moment, a cup of something fragrant smelling and ii steaming hot in her hand. 'Drink Ihis, father, dear,' she said gently, ' and then try to sleep.' ' How's the little one, Gui. ?' asked her father, ' Going on nicely. Now be quick and take this before it cools,' 'What's to be done with the boys, eh ?' Mr Melro e's face darkene, a 'They shall go straight home in the morning,' he said, decidedly. A troubled look crept into Farmer Mack's expression. ' I call to mind,' le said wistfully, 'some lines my wife used to say a' times, something like ' More offend for want of thought-than for any want o feelin. ' Guida quickly comprehended that her father desired to plead 'or mercy on behalf' of the young conspirators. She put her hand on her husband's arm 'Don't decide anything to-night, Arden, leave them to their consciences for a few hours.' Mr Melrose looked somewhat sur prised, but replied ' Be it so.' The next morning, Christmas morn ing,lFarmer Mack was so stiff and sore he could scarcely turn in bed, never theless he begged that the offending boys might be sent in to see him before they left. They came, and remained in the old man's room fully an hour. What he said to them no one was per mitted to hear, but when they left him they did:so with eyes both red and swollen, and yet he had sheaken hands with them very kindly as he said good-by. Then Farmer Mack sent for Mr Melrose and as a result of their interview the latter sought the room where the three delinquents were packing their belongings. ' Boys,' said their host not unkindly They looked up and a rush of colour flew into their shame-stricken faces. ' Boys, Mr Mack has interceded for you. If you like to remain for the in tended fortnight I shall be pleased to have you do so.' Two of the number murmured their thanks, but the other, Dickson, sprang to his feet. ' I am worst of the lot,' he said with eager haste, ' I got round the others to play the trick. They were a bit scared at it, and I talked 'em over.' ' Spoken like a man, Dickson,' said Mr Melrose, ' you acted the part of a mean coward last night, but I can't believe that that senseless prank is a keynote to your character. It is bad enough to play a trick on anyone, but on an old man it is-but there, I do not mean to go through or over that again. I do not excuse either of you in the slightest, though it was not your idea in the beginning,' he added looking at Lanky Bob and at Small. ' However, you Know what I think of the matter, so shake hands, boys, and remember I look to you all three to give us cause to alter our opinion of you before you leave here. Of course the" social" we were going to have to.night is out of the question now, as the little girl is too ill to bear any noise.' 'Too ill,sir,' said the boys in startled tones. They had remained in their rooms and had breakfasted there,so had learned nought of the condition of the wee mite who had fallen a victim to what they had been pleased to call a ' practical joke.' 'Too ill,' returned MIr Melrose gravely. In a darkened room lay the sick child, ever and anon restlessly turning from side to side, while little moans broke from her parted lips, sometimes intermixed with cries of delirious alarm; and outside everything was bathed in brightest sunshine, the birds sang in the trees, the cattle I licked themselves in the shade of the great branches, and the sheep I drowsed under the hedges. It was i Christmas Day, and all nature seemed Sto rejoice, for in the early hours a Sheavy shower of rain had fallen, which Sbad washed off the coating of yellow : dust which everywhere prevailed, and I now a smiling freshness reigned in its - stead. The birds carolled in the trees Sthe animals stretched and licked, gay young voices echoed in the great i garden and resounding laughter filled Sthe air, but upstairs in the quietest I wing of the house lay this little white - faced thing, white save for the fever t spots in each tiny cheek.
'Muddy,' said the poor baby 'feverishly ' don't let it come Muddy. Quick ! Stop it ! Stop it I It's hiding behind the curtain and keeps popping its head out.' 'There is nothing there, my darl ing,' said the mother soothingly. ' See '1 go behind the curtain. There now, there's nothing here.' (To be Continued.)