|Newspaper Title||Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)|
|Trove Title||Mildred Austin's Two Christmas Eves|
MILDRED AUSTIJN' TWO CHRISTMAS EVES. BY 3L M. POLLARD, AUTHOR OF " CLARA." ETC. CHAPTER IL-CONTINUED When she began the beautiful words of Job, her spirits seemed to to rise to the theme, and her clear voice, so pure, so fresh, so full, rang through the room amidst breathless silence. Only when she had finished she faltered a little, and a momentary rush of feeling made her turn aside, for she remembered that when last she sung the anthem her father had been present and had played the accompaniment for her, and now he was gone where he could realise the mystery, for ho had passed beyond earth's dim shadows, to where faith is lost in sight and the "pure in heart see God." Mildred was soon aroused from her reverie, for Mrs. Hillyard wasover whelming her with encomiums, Mr. Bilson was shaking hands enthusi astically with her, and Mr. Fordham was quietly standing near her, looking the praise he did not speak. "Now you must come to the vicar age with us," urged Mrs. Hillyard. "Tea has been ready for us this hour past, and I .am..sure~t he cook is'in despair by this time." f . But Mildred was already going away. " I am very sorry I cannot stay ; mamma will expect me." " Then I must not try to keep you, I suppose ; but recollect to be here at six o'clock, the doors will be open at half-past." When the time arrived, a large crowd had assembled round the door. The school children, in their best clothes, and with bright happy face', were let in first to get the nearest to the orchestra ; then came their relations, also in holiday attire, then the public generally. In they rushed until every seat was occupied; chairs werebrought in to fill up vacant corners, but still there were people gathered near the door, looking head over head, and will ing to stand all the time if they could only gain admission. The oratorio proved a complete success. Those who had heard it before were charmed to hear it given in sunch good time and style; those who had not, thought it the most beautiful singing that could be; and old Mrs. Fricker declared," Now she could have some idea of what the grand chorus would be when the multitude whom no man could number sing before the throne of God." No loud applause and no encores were permitted, but when Mildred sang there was silence deep enough to hear 4 the proverbial " pin " drop, and when she had finished a low buzz of applause swept through the room, and Mrs. Hillyard openly wiped away her tears. As soon as possible Mildred slipped I away, anxious to get home, but Mr. Fordham overtook her outside the gate, and told her he could not allow her to walk up the lane alone, " Indeed I am not timid," she replied, with a smile. .' But it would hardly be fair to desert you after the rich treat you have given us this evening." And so he walked up the lane with Mildred as far as the gate, the stars sparkling frostly over their fieads. They conversed about music and various I other things, and found their tastes agreed in so many points that Mr. Fordham laughingly wished the lane had been twice as long. Mildred opened the door with a latch key, and found Martha seated in an armchair and nodding before the parlour fire. The girl started up with sudden sur- 1 prise " Oh, miss, I found it so lonely out in the kitchen, and so draughty, that I came in here to be comfortable," I"' hope you found it so, ]artha, for I have kept you up longer than usual. Where is Miss Florence ?" " She has gone to bed, miss. Had a pain in her head, and she did say it were too bad you went out twice on Christmas Eve, and she didn't go out at all." "*Poor Floy ! It was rather hard on her, bnt I could hardly help it," said Mildred to herself. It was one of Floy's many peculiarities to have a headache whenever she was in lack of amusement, or when she was disappoint ed in going anywhere, Miss Austin ran up to her mother soon afterwards. ' I heard you come in," said the in valid, "Not asleep then ?" "I could not sleep, Mildred, for I was thinking anxiously about you. How did you get on darling ?" "You think far too much mamma. I believe I got on pretty well, for Mr. Bilson shook hands with me twice, and said it had all been a success, and everybody seemed so pleased and kind. Mr. Fordham saw me home to the gate, so that altogether it was a delightful evening." While Midred spoke she arranged her moth r's pillows as she liked them to be, and the sick woman, looking white and fragile as a snowflake, smiled back her thanks. and drew her daught er's hand within hers "Christmas Eve once more," she said softly. "Yes, dear mamma." "Just two years ago this very day your beloved papa was taken from us, and little did I think then that I, the ailing one, should be spared so long." "I hope you may live to see many more Christmas Eves, dear mamma.' "As God wills, my child, but I do not think it likely; each one finds me weaker, more helpless, nearer home. ' Only a few more shadows And he will come,' Oh, may I be ready to go forth with joy to meet Him !" As Mrs. Austin spoke, merry Christ mas peals rang forth from the old church of Hillerose, and came sweep ing up the valley borne on the frosty breeze. Mother and daughter sat with clasped hands until the chimes died softly away, and another Christmas Day was given to the world. After the evening of the oratorio, Mildred found herself at last welcomed into Hillcross society. Many people called on her, and she had severial in.
Svitations to musical parties, all which she declined. But good natured Mrs. Hiilyard and her daughters would take no refusal, so Mildred often found herself spending a sociable evening at the vicarage, or dropping.inwthere to afternoon tea. Mr. Fordham stayed on at Hillcross and throng the dark dabs of winter; and when priog came, with its pale sweet flowers, its snow-drops and violets, he was still there. By Ihis time it was pretty well known at the vicar age, and often surmised in the village, that there was a reason for his stay. Mildred herself was the last to guess his secret, so it came to her as a surprise when one day he asked her to ba his wife. He was seeing her home from after noon tea at Mrs. Hillyard's and hbe told her of his prospects, his hopes. He held a good appointment in India, and had come to England on leave. In another month he must again start for the East, and he wanted Mildred to go with him, to share .in the future his joys and sorrows. " I loved you from the first day we met," he'said'; " but why do you turn away from me ; surely you are not v?exed -,at-my telling you of my affection " No, but I dare not do as you wish; I cannot le ve my mother." 'Pe u do not love me enough tears ! Do I pain 'ou is saying ell-m' do 1i1jreall3 care f ad-is duty str er'tbhan love ?'.!t 'ed down into. the sweet eyes th e so full of sorrow, and read the w'at made him urge his suit still more:. " Cannot Florence take your place ? She is no longer a child, and could surely give your mother the attention she needs." " You do not know what Florence is nor how it would grieve mamma to part with me. I can never leave her, Philip." Mr. Fordham would not give up hope ; again and again he entreated her to change her purpose, and it was only on the esa of his departure he took her reply as final. Then he left her in tears, and went away lonely and sorrowful to his distant home. On that same evening Mrs. Austin heard the weariness in her daughter's voice, and called her towards her. " Mr. Fordham leaves Hillcross to morrow, does he not ?" "Yea, mamma" "Think well ere you decide, Mildred. Not for worlds would I counsel you to give up one so true hearted and honor able, the love of your youth. Do not think of me, child, 1 shall not be much longer here ; a few more weeks or months, and my life's journey will be over, and your self-sacrifice will be in vain." "I have decided already, mamma, and given Philip my answer," replied Mildred, with an attempt of cheerful ness." "' What was it, child ?" asked Mrs. Austin eagerly. "That I will never leave you-never! Did you think I would forsake you, my darling, for anyone in the world, even though he were the best and noblest of men?" But Mildred's bravery gave way as she finished her sentence, and kneeling by her mother's bedside shed bitter tears in silence. Mrs. Austin's thin trembling hands softly smoothed her hair as she whispered as if in prayer "May God's Holy Spirit rest upon you, my child, and bring you peace through a blessed Saviour. This a time of trial to you now; may joy come hereafter." Thus Mildred and Philip parted. There was no promise between them, no talk of an engagement, or of letters being exchanged. He returned to the land of strangers, where doubtless fresh interests would await him, new ocnupa tions engross him, that perchance might make him forget Mildred, and all the associations connected with Hillcross. And she, with cheeks a little paler, steps a little more weary, went about her duties more devotedly than before. If her heart ached sometimes, and she looked back with regret to what might have been, she took care her mother should never know it, nor would she even allow inquisitive Floy to suspect it.