|Newspaper Title||Mercury and Weekly Courier (Vic. : 1878 - 1903)|
|Trove Title||Margaret Dalling's Christmas|
MARGARET DALLING'S CHRISTMAS. BY AUTHOR OF " THE TROUBLES OF CHATTY AND MOLLY, " "THE DINGY HOUSE AT KENSINGTON," ETC. MY heroine is not of high degree; her father had been organist in some country' church, but he and her mother, and every relative she ever had, to the best of her knowledge, had died long ago, all except- her aunt Gibbs-Mrs. Gibbs, who kept a large house in London, which she let out as chambers to single gentlemen, and made a good thing of. Now Margaret Dalling, as my heroine was called, had been fairly educated, and, through the influence of one of aunt Gibbs' single gentlemen, Captain Stanton (a wiry-looking man with an iron-grey moustache and so little business of his own he concerned himself a good deal about other people's), she had obtained a situation as humble companion to the Hoen. Mrs. Marston; and it was as Mrs. Marston's humble companion we are going to make her acquaintance this cold, bleak, December morning. She is hanging about on the ugly sandy road leading from Skipton-off the-sea to Shelverton, which is the next town, and any one with the least discernment would say she was certainly waiting for somebody. A strange-looking young woman was this Margaret Dalling ; I doubt if it be possible to describe her justly. She was tall, perhaps a trifle long, yet her figure was singularly graceful, and there was something almost poetic in her swinging noiseless walk ; it might have belonged to a barefooted Arab or an ideal Spanish woman. Her face was thin, her cheek-bones a shade too high, her mouth a trifle large-yet, oh, the tragic power in that mouth ! and her eyes, well, the large dark deep eyes were perfect, there could be no question about that. It was a grave, half sad, almost discontented face; some few might call it ugly, many would call it beautiful, and certainly all would remember it. There was a questioning, waiting look in it that haunted you. I doubt if you would have taken her for a lady as she sauntered along the Shelverton road. She was not exactly a lady in manner, and she was certainly not one by either birth or culture, and yet she might have been a queen or a beggar maid; she had the physique that would do for either. She did not look a girl, and yet she was a girl still in years, but girlhood was a period she seemed almost to ignore, and the grave face belonged to a woman. In years she was somewhere between twenty and twenty-four, but her exact age I never knew. She stood still for a moment, and shading her face with her hands white ungloved hands-from the biting wind and the driving dust, looked long and eagerly towards Shelverton. Presently she saw a tall figure-the figure of a man-in the distance, and with a sigh of satisfaction she waited. The man who came forward joyfully to meet her was a soldierly-looking young man of six-and-twenty. "There's my Margaret," he said, tenderly, "I am so glad to see you ! Did you have much trouble in getting here ?" "No, none," she answered ; "but I have been waiting a long time, and I am very tired, Mr. Arthur." "I wish you wouldn't call me Mr. Arthur," he said, pettishly. "Put your arm in mine, dear," he went on, recovering his good temper in a mo ment, "and we'll warm ourselves with a good brisk walk. And now tell me how my amiable aunt is, and -" "You shouldn't speak of her so, Arthur ; she is very kind, and though she is proud, consider who she is." (Mrs. Marston was honorable in her own right, and the grandee of the family.) "Well. but consider who I a'n; I'm as good as she is ; and if she means to leave me her money, why shouldn't she let me have a little of it before hand, and so help me to wish she may live the longer ?' "Oh, don't, don't !" and the tears gathered in her soft dark eyes. "It breaks my heart to hear you talk so, it makes me think you are not-" "Not what?" he asked, bending down, and looking into her grave, al most sorrowful face. "Not what?" Not what I always have thought you and loved you for being," she said, in a low tender voice. "You think me much better than I am, I fear," he said. "But don't let us talk of that. Let's talk of some thing else. Look here, Margaret, I want to know why we should make a fuss, and row, and bother all for nothing, my leave will be up in March; let's go on till just before, and then get quietly married, and go off, and write and tell them when we are safely in India. My aunt will get over it in time." She never would !" the girl answered, bitterly. "She never forgets I'm her companion and a nobody; and if you make me her niece she would never forgive you." "All the more reason for our doing it on the quiet," he answered. "If your mother would consent " "She never would," he answered, hastily ; and a cloud came over the face that showed somethling weak about it through all its bright eagerness -and yet how Margaret D)alling loved it ! "She never would-there are other thlings you;! ,!6 not understand," he addlled, almne.t as an afterthought?: "Then it cannot be," she said, with. withli a long..long:fsigh. "Nothing shall makee lme oit without her. knowledge." *'I have a right to do as I like." : •'You have no right Io. dleceive: her, You. have told me may.?i?time.h;o~ god ando loviiig she i.." • Af;.r all, don's tlhink you love uu much, Margaret," hIe said. ''The tear?cl?hasel each otlher down: her cheeks. as she clasped: hler hands together, and looked up itt,-his face. "'Not love you ?" 'she answeie'l, and it -emrned as if all hei soul went into h,-rI voice; "not love you, A.thur ? I never kred any one else in my whule lif Neverjanygone or any thing at all. I
only wish you-.were a .beggar in the street that I might work for you or beg with you. I have loved you ever since I saw you first, years _ago now; when I first came to your ant, before you first went to India. My life owes all its brightness to you," she went on, incoherently; "for you know how dull and miserable it has been. Not love you ! Oh, Arthur! I love you so much I could die for you ; and so well, that I- will die rather than let you do wrongs for my sake." "Doni',get excited, dear," he said, almost alarmed, and a little wearily. "You know hoir Lhate a scene. You see, the fact is my niother wants me to marry Mary Cameron ? " "Who is Mary Cameron ?'?' "Well, she's-she's Mary Camerobn she's pretty, and an heiress,; and all that." "And do you like her, Mr. Arthur ?" she asked, in alarm, her dark eyes flashing and her mouth twitching with excitement. "No, no-of course not," he an swered, hastily. "But I am obliged to keep the old lady-my mother--quiet, and the idea of Mary Cameron pleases my aunt, and all that; so I am a little civil to her, that's another reason why I don't want them to suspect anything. It would be much better just to let things jog on, as I say, and to do it gently at the last without any one's knowing it. It would avoid so much fuss and bother, and I do so hate fuss and bother," he added, nervously. Margaret looked up at him with something like alarm in her dark eyes. "Let me go back," she said, sadly ; "I want to think it all over, and Mrs. Marston will he down-stairs, and ex pecting me to read to her," and with out another word she turned round, and set her face towards Skipton-off. the-sea. "What a fool I was to get myself into this scrape," Arthur Marston said to himself as he strolled back to Shelverton that morning. "She's the sort of girl it won't do to trifle with; besides, there's something awfully fine about her, that Mary, with all her prettiness, can never come up to. I'd marry her like a shot if she'd only take me without making a fuss, and trust to luck for everything else." Luck with Mr. Arthur Marston meant, in this instance, his general prosperity and a conspicuous place in his aunt's will.