Chapter 58433206

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Chapter NumberIV
Chapter Url
Full Date1886-01-08
Page Number0
Word Count2375
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleMercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)
Trove TitleMildred Austin's Two Christmas Eves
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CHAPTER IV. CHRISTMAS CHIMES AGAIN. THE lamps were already lighted in the drawing-room when Mildred entered it; the soft rays shioing through opal shades fell on a pleasant home-like interior, where bright coloring, and comfort, and warmth made a vivid con trast to the wintry scene out of doors. A group of people were assembled there. Mrs. Beresford came forward at once with outstretched hand and bade her welcome, and Agnes Beresford nodded and smiled at her from the sofa near the fire. "Excuse my rising," she said, "but these children make me a prisoner to my e seat. They are insatiable at listening , to stories, and will devour any number. c I have been telling them the tragic I history of ' Red Riding Hood,' and they will not let me move until they hear a whether the wolf devoured the young i lady or her grandmother." Mildred glanced at the two children, her pupils that were to be, and saw b that they were about five and six years c old. The one perched upon Agnes's * lap was a girl, with yellow r hair, cut straight across her forehead k and falling in soft ripples down her , back, and she had blue eyes and pale cheeks; the other little girl -;ated on li a low stool and clinging toAgoes's dress, was much like her sister in face, i and equally fragile looking. Both were dressed in white merino dres'es with blue sashes. All this Mildred noted with a rapid glance, and then she saw, standing at the back of the sofa, a tall man, bronzed and bearded, who did not seem to be a stranger, for he came towards her with d a smile on his lipe. " Philip 1" exclaimed she, in sudden ii recognition; and then a hot flush mount ed to her cheeks, as she recollected that b she had no right to call him by his Christian name now. "You have not forgotten me, d Mildred ?" "No, I do not think I forget easily." " Yet it is ten years since we parted, v and that is a long test to the memory. f You have not changed much; I should have known you anywhere. Time has n dealt kindly with you, while it has n turned me into an old man. Let me introduce you to my two daughters." a He led the little girls towards her, a and Mildred stooped, kissed them both, , and bent down to speak to them, glad for the moment to hide the surprise and bewilderment she felt. f "Now, papa, may we go and hear more about the wolf and whether he ate up 'Red Riding Hood' and her grandmother ?" said Dolly. '* Off with you ! and tell Agnes I t hope she will not set you dreaming about wolves." replied her father, , laughing. t So Mr. Fordham was married, and t these were his daughters ! Mildred had , never heard of or from him since the day they had parted at Hillcross, and this sudden revelation startled her not' a little. Of course, it would have been f far more romantic and characteristic had he remained single all these years, as she had done. But deeply has he had loved Mildred, disappointed as he was at her refusing to go to India with g him, he had considered her'rejection final, and had hardly expected to meet her again. Ere he had been many months in India he met Blanche Danvers, a merchant's only daughter, who some how reminded him a little of Mildred in look and manner - and in due time they were married. a It had proved a happy union, for Blanche was a high-principled, tender hearted woman, who deemed her hus-. band perfection, and loved him fondly. t But she was alway delicate as a hot house flower, and a sudden chill had ยป brought on rapid consumption, that , ended in death. This happened three years before, c and Mr. Fordham, dreading the effects T of the Indian climate on his children, had brought them to England, where f he had hoped to settle down for the future. He had an ample competency, - his girls were provided for by their mother's fortune, and bhe wisely decided i to return to his native land while he I had health and strength to enjoy it. i Mildred knew nothing of this, and still felt puzzled as Mr. Fordham handed her down stairs, and talked to her with something of his old manner. Other friends had come to dinner, and the table from end to end was filled with guests. It was a family gather ing, usual at Hadleigh Hall at Christ- - mas. Uncles, aunts, and cousins were represented in goodly number, sociabili ty and good fellowship prevailed. Mildred was the only stranger there. She looked round at the bright aud pleasant gathering, at the oak-panelled dining-room, with its gilded family portraits, its crimson curtains, its log i fire in the old fashioned grate, its table shining with plate and glass,. and decked with rare exotics and good fare, tempting enough to rouse the dullest appetite; but, strange to say, a little of her old loneliness of feeling returned. A kind of restraint came over her; she answered Mr. Fordham in few words, sometimes let the conversation die altogether away, while she was thinking of the past and wondering at the present. This meeting with Philip was so unexpected, so altogether different to anything she had antici pated, that she was even glad when the ladies retired to the drawing-room, as here she might be better able to think, or at any rate, to try and compose her thoughts. She seated herself in the shade of a stand of greenhouse plants, and, with a wistful expression in her eyes, began to wonder why so many things happened by the "rules of contrary," Mrs. Beresford, a tall, gracious lady, in a black velvet dress, with Brussells lace trimming, with a kindly face, and a sweet smile in her mild, grey eyes, came over and seated herself by our lonely heroine. "You were no doubt surprised to meet Mr. ForJham here, were you not, Miss Austin ?" "Very much surprised. I had no idea he had returned to England." "He only arrived very lately. I hope you will like your pupils ; are they younger than you expected ?" "Yes; and I think they look rather delicate." "They are delicate. Perhaps the climate of India may be partly blamed

for that, and I fear also they have in- a herited a little of their mother's con- c stitutioo." "Is their mother in England ?" ( Mrs Beresford turned quickly to F Mildred with a look of surprise on her e face. " Have you not heard ? Their 3 mother has been dead more than three r years.. Mr. Fordham felt her loss severely." n " I am sure he most have done so." ' "'Thus, you see, the charge of the n children will be more than usually im portant. It will be a serious responsi- n bility, and I do not think you or any- A one else should undertake it without an 7 earnest, prayerfol desire to act al. y most a mother's part with them. fc Should you like to undertake it Miss b Austin ?" But Mildred had the same question asked her for the second time later on in the evening, and perhaps the answer she gave then was more conclnuive. The guests kept up Christmas Eve by singing old English carols and T chorals, to which Agnes Beresford, G seated at the piano, strummed out N rather noisy accompaniments. She knew them all, or, at least, she managed w to extemporize some chords and scales rs when her knowledge failed her. A tt little out of time and tone they were to now and then, but as everybody joined E in the chorus the mistakes were not g noticed. During a pause Mr. Fordham came , over to Mildred, and said softly- cl "I want to ask you a favor ?" o0 " What is it ?" " Will you sing that glorious anthem w for me again, 'I know that my Re- E deemer liveth'? Though years and years B have passed since I last heard you sing it, I recollect it well. I have gone fe through much trial, seen many changes, r but the exiquisite air and the truth its f words teach have never left my memory. b Will you sing it for me again, Mil- p dred ?' Of course she did not refuse. She o seated herself at the piano, and her w voice, a little timid and faltering at firt, soon sang out pure, rich, resonant u as ever, filling the room with sweet b melody. Mildred forgot her nervous. ness, her self-consciousness in the beauty of her theme, and when she had finish- p ed Mr. Fordham thanked her gravely, , aid led her away to a sofa near the n window. Many of the guests knew the chorus p from the " Messiah," and Agnes Beres ford's services were again in requisition 31 to play the accompaniments. Under cover of the rather consider- 2 able volume of sound evoked in the performance Mr. Fordham found oppor- E tunity to talk to Mildred. "Thank you for that anthem, but I B will not ask you to sing anything else this evening. I wish the remembrance to stand out clear and sharp in my mind as a realised dream, a long-hoped- G for desire gratified. After Blanche was taken away from me, I often wished to hear your voice, to see your face again, and I resolved to wind up F my affairs as soon as possible and re- I turn to England to search you out." Mildred looked at him wonderingly. " Yes, though you had sent me away from you once; I began to hope my banishment might not be final. 3 Time removes the rough edges of re buff and disappoin:ment, does it not ?" "I believe so." " I went first to Hillcross, but there of course I was not successful in finding you. My friend Mrs. Hillyard, how- C ever, answered my inquiries. She told a me of your mother's death, of Floy's p marriage, also that you had gone to p Hadleigh to wear out your life in school A teaching." "Ohl 'school teaching' is not so d bad as that," retorted Mildred, with a p smile. It "I must be very nearly so, or your p cheeks would not be so thin and pale. c Next, we came on to the hall, my girls I and I, and here we have been more t: fdirtunate." o "You knew Mrs. Beresford before, I n suppose ?" t * She is my own dear cousin Emme- n line. When I was a mere boy, I c lived for some time in her father's I house, and I believe I was both her e plague and pet. Emmeline would do a anything in the world for me now, and she was quite rejoiced to know I had d found a dear friend to whom I counid entrust my girls. There is no other woman in the world in whose care I could place them with equal confi- 2 dence." " You think bitter of me than I deserve," faltered Mildred. "Indeed I do.not. Will you under- ii take the charge for me ?" "If you think me capable of it." d "I do, indeed I do I Thank you I Mildred. There are the Christmas ? bells 1" exclaimed he, rising from the sofa and putting aside the curtains. He drew Mildred to the window, I and together they looked out on the d shrubberries,thelawn of Hadleigh Hall, and on the hills beyond. It was a white world-snow on the grass, the ii trees, everywhere, and the full moon shone placidly down on the calm scene, turning the white capped hills to molten silver. The churches of Hadleigh town sent a forth their grandest peals and chimes, crashing, resounding, echoing, repeat- 5 ing I now dying away in a soft roono tone, now bursting but with renewed t vigor, heralding in ". His birthday-His., the only one Who ever makes life's meaning wholly plai". . Dawn ii He to our night i No longer rain And purposeless our onward stroggling years; The hope he bringeth overfloods our tears." "How thankful I am to hear the t English chimes once more in our own dear English land i It is worth coming hdme to listen to them, and to have you near me, Mildred, that we may keep our Christmas Eve together." He took her hand within his as he spoke, and she did not withdraw it. Thus, with hand clasped in hand, as she had watched with her mother on that eve, ten years before, so did Mil dred watch now as the peals rang over the trees and swept up the valley. Kindly greetings were exchanged I amongst the guests at Hadleigh Hall. Everyone had some good wish to ex press, some pleasant thing to say. Mrs. Bereaford came towards the window where Mildred and Philip were itill

standing hand in hand, looking on the ca~li scene beyond. "I wish you both a very happy Christmas in the true Christmas spirit peace of mind and peace of life," said she, in her clear, genial voice. -" Thank you very much," replied Mildred, a little shyly, as she turned round and held out her hand. ." It is indeed a happy Christmas to me." exclaimed Mr. Fordham ; " for Mildred has promised to take care of my girls, and of me also." " So, so," retorted the lady, once more holding out her hand to Miss Austin. "Is that the case Mr. Phillip ? You set us huoting.for a governe3s for your children, and it seems we have found you a wife instead. Many happy Christmastides to you both. [TaE END.]