|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Edged with Gold: An Australian Christmas Story|
EDGED WITH GOLD !
AN AUSTRALIAN CHRISTMAS STORY.
BY F. S. WILSON,
Author of " Woonoona," "Broken Clouds," "Aunt Milly's
Christmas Box," &c., &c.
Hermione—.... Pray you, sit by us,
And tell us a tale.
Mamilius—Merry or sad shall't be ?
Hermione—As merry as you will.—THE WINTER'S TALE.
DECIDEDLY the house was going to rack and ruin !
Everybody said so ; and, if we believe in the old adage, everybody's opinion must have been in- controvertibly true. People who had just arrived from the country said so, and so did the town's- folk who passed it every day on their way to business. Some expressed the same opinion who had no deeper inte-
rest in its helpless old age than to get out of range of its toppling walls; and others, of more extensive ideas, said so—whose curiosity urged them to peep in at the dust-crusted panes, at day-time (always in the day-time, mind you ; for there was a blood-curdling, hair-erecting legend linked with the old build- ing that hinted at its being haunted ! Not that I believe it was, but as this is a Christmas Story, wherein ghosts and sprites are popular, perhaps it would be better to strain a point, and agree that it may have been haunted !)
It had strange little sheds projecting over the windows, like quaint bunching eyebrows ; and the eaves of the roof hung far over into the street, offering a tempting lodging for swallows— but no swallow was ever known weak-minded enough to build
its nest under the eaves of that house.
Then, who did live in it ?—rats ? Certainly they were the principal tenants—ay ! plenty of them, I'll be bound ; but some- body else lived there as well ; and if you had looked into the back room of this friendless fabric one Christmas Eve, some time ago, you would have found it occupied by three human
beings conjointly with the rats.
The name of the man who paid the rent, if any rent was ever paid, was Jobey—Uncle Jobey—and if anybody asked me " Who gave him that name?" I'm sure I shouldn't like to say, nor do I think that Uncle Jobey himself could have answered the ques- tion ! I don't even know whether it was his surname, or whe- ther it was plain " Job" in an ornamented form. Certainly, Uncle Jobey was quite patient enough to have been the name- sake of the " patient man"—at all events he bore no other name, and whether you regarded him in his office of bill-sticker, or in the capacity of boot-cleaner, or as a "supernumerary" attached to the theatre (for he was at different times and seasons engaged in all these lines of business), you regarded him as Uncle Jobey.
On the evening in question he sat on a chair—so bottomless that it required the practice of half a life-time to ensure your not doubling up like a spineless doll, and tumbling through the seat; but Uncle Jobey balanced himself on the edge quite con- tentedly. His apparel was as dilapidated as the house he tenanted, but his face was so genial and hearty that it resembled perpetual sunshine lighting up some fine old ruin—sunshine bubbling up from tho blue depths of his eye—sunshine flitting up and down his spare white threads of hair—sunshine twitch- ing about the corners of his mouth, and always gilding the rude lines scarped by the chisel of Time. But leave his face, and there you left the sunshine—all else told of present gloom, and past struggles with pain and poverty.
His thin attenuated figure and his lank limbs attested the fierceness of the battle he had fought—his gapped and fractured garments, mottled here and there with patches of different coloured cloth, testified it—even down to his two odd boots, whose only resemblance consisted in their both opening in a wide gash at the toes, like the bursting skin of an over-ripe fig.
By some unaccountable misadventure his coat had been de- prived of one of its tails (of which it had possessed two at some far remote period), but its present proprietor had supplied the deficiency with two large horn-buttons and a piece of packing canvas, inside of which he had sewed a sort of haversack— very handy, no doubt ; but, when filled, quite inconvenient enough to weigh him down behind like a log-chained criminal,
as he came home from his marketing expeditions, followed by a tribe of dogs who made sundry felonious grabs at this ' portable cupboard,' much to the anxiety of Uncle Jobey. On the present occasion (being Christmas Eve) the pocket was loaded to an alarming extent, and had dropped through the seat of the chair as if it wished to anchor him securely to his present position.
At the table sat a boy and a girl—the latter, one of those frail, delicate little things, apparently only fit to spend her existence among sunshine and flowers, a meet companion for butterflies and humming-birds.
" Now, then, Popsy, darling," said the old man, bending over to kiss her, " let's have tea, because, you know, there's a world of business to be done to-night—all the second lot of bills for the pantomime to be put up; besides a deal of business to be transacted on our own account—for,somehow, I shouldn't wonder if a real goose was to find its way home to-night to this
" You've made the paste better this time, eh, Fip ? last lot wasn't good at all, all lumps and not biled enough : you must pay attention to trifles, Fip, or you'll never be at the head of your purfession."
" All right !" growled the urchin denominated Fip, who might have been taken for a juvenile-looking old man, or an ex- ceedingly-ancient-looking boy ; with a weak little body, apish arms, and a giant's head, into the mouth of which he was pro- ceeding to place a proportionately large piece of bread.
" Hold hard, Fip," said the little man, " let's all start fair and square. Moreover, as times is as bad as we are ourselves, and we don't deserve nuthink, let's remember to thank some- body as gives it to us, nevertheless, and takes care on us as well as the sparrers—'specially as this is the blessed Christmas time !" and here the little man bent his head reverently, and the Christ- mas sun, in recognition of the act, glinted on his scant hair with
a still holier radiance.
" And how have you been getting along to-day, Mabel ? Two spoons of sugar to mine, darling ; I like it sweet."
.'Oh! very pleasant indeed, Uncle Jobey," responded the girl—" I've been looking through the hole in the wall, watch- ing the boats and the steamers going down the harbour, and the birds floating on the water. Mustn't it be pleasant, Uncle Jobey, to be a bird, this hot weather, floating on the waves, or
a fish far down below ?"
.'Yes, Mabel, so long as you wasn't caught !" qualified the little man. " Everything has its pleasures, and no doubt birds and fishes has theirs; but it's a pity people doesn't know how many pleasures they have got. Fact is, they're allers wishing for what they ain't got, and that makes 'em miserable; but what I says is—Heaven grant us all contented minds to take kindly whatever it sends ! Now, there's this house—see what a deal we have to be thankful for here," pursued Uncle Jobey, describing a graceful curve with his arm, wherein he included an ugly rift in the wall, some feet in height, and wide enough to admit a barrow, together with the man wheeling it—" 'Tisn't every house has a crack like that in the wall, where one can sit and watch the blue harbour, and the ships go sailing past, without opening door or window—'tain't every place as has sich a perfect system of ventilation as we have here. Why, if you was to put me into another house with less cracks in it, I'd die
in a week ; and then, see how quiet it is!— people don't like to come near us, because they fancy the place is haunted—well, let 'em ! I wouldn't have it noisier for—Another cup of tea, Mabel. Sweet, you know, for it's Christmas Eve !"
"I don't like cracks in the wall," grumbled Fip, "they let's
in the 'skeeters."
" Well, 'skeeters wasn't made for nuthink," argued the old man, '. and if they wasn't they must have somethin' to eat to keep 'em alive."
" 'Tain't myself as I cares on," said the lad ; " but what busi- ness have they to come bitin' on her ? Let 'em bite here as much as they please—I'm big enough, and ugly enough, I am— but let 'em keep away from her, that's all."
" Why, bless you, Fip ! they haven't got any sense !" cried the child. " Besides, they don't hurt me—much."
"Do they hurt you at all, darling ?" questioned Uncle Jobey, "We'll manage all that for you. See, I've got some splendid canvas here, and when we tack it up and cover it with some of our best bills it'll look as grand as a Queen's palace ! Hand me the paste, Pip, and I'll put one on the wall. There! there's beauty and liveliness for you ! Red, picked out with green— 'Royal Victoria Theatre—New Pantomime—Harlequin Prince Pretty Pet and the Fairy of the Golden Isles !' I must take you to see that, Mabel, one of these nights when the attraction dies off and I can get an 'order,' because I'm going to act in it. Just fancy !—me in a suit of armour and a helmet, standing behind the Prince's Throne with a real flag in my hand, when the fairies come to visit him ! Why, I shall be getting too proud
soon—to blacken boots or stick bills !"
" Mustn't it be very pleasant to be a fairy ? mused the child, ain't they very happy and good, Uncle Jobey ?"
" Some on 'em," responded Uncle Jobey, conditionally, his mind reverting to one in a pink tarlatan dress at the theatre, who seemed to entertain a very unfairy-like (and rather unlady- like) preference for bottled stout.
" Only some of 'em," repeated the child. " Do you know what I've been thinking of to-day, Uncle Jobey ?"
" I've been wondering when I shall see father and mother
"Lor' bless the child!—what on earth's put that in your
" Did you ever see them, Uncle Jobey?"
" Of course I did ! They left you in my care—at least your mother did, when she went to look for your father. She put you
into my hands five years ago, when she fust heard of his where- abouts, and says— 'Take care on her. A mother's blessing or curse, prosper or wither you, 'cording as you acts by the child. Them was her very last words, and then she went off, quite
" Went ?—where to, Uncle Jobey?" asked the girl.
" That I couldn't undertake to say," replied Jobey, shaking his head, and looking at his paste-brush meditatively. " Heaven knows that, but I don't. I believe it was to the diggings, but
more nor that I never found out."
" And why did father go away ? I was asking Fip, this after-
noon, and he said——"
" What did you say, sir ?" demanded Uncle Jobey, sternly— " I told you never to speak on that subject."
"And so I didn't never, till she asked me !" growled the boy, sliding off to the door ; " and then I told her how her father bolted 'cause her mother was a regular bad 'un !"
"What?—take that !" cried Uncle Jobey, poising the brush excitedly, but dropping it again—" No, no-it's Christmas Eve? Never mind him, Mabel. Some years ago when you were a little wee thing, like that doll of yours in the corner, some wicked people told your father lies ; and so he left your mother because he believed them ; but he'll find out the truth, some day, if he's alive, and if he's dead he's found it out already. Five years ago your mother heard he was working on the diggings, so she left you in my care, and went off to see whether she could find him. Since then I've never heard from either. But ain't you con- tented with me, darling?"
She lifted up such a loving, trustful little face, beaming so brightly that it seemed the very reflex of his own. It quite satisfied the old man, for he bent down and kissed it affec- tionately.
"And why do they call you 'Uncle Jobey?'" enquired
" Haven't you ever thought of that before ? Only because it's my name, I suppose."
" But haven't you got any other, Uncle Jobey " " Why ? Isn't one enough ? "
" Not when everybody else has two ! " answered the child,
"All the good people in the old Bible times had only one, and if they was contented with it, why shouldn't I be ? But come, I'd almost forgot to take out of my pocket all the things as I'd bought. There's the plums and the currants for the Christmas pudding, and the candied peel, and the spice, and the flour. There's the sage, and the onions, and the potatoes, too ; but the goose, me and Fip'll see about as we come home from the play ! Ah ! now I feel lighter. Good-bye, Mabel, and tell me what shall I bring you home for a Christmas-box ?"
" Father and mother ! " she whispered in his ear.
"Poor little soul!" murmured Uncle Jobey, as he moved off, with a swinging professional trot, after the boy Fip ; " poor little soul, she yearns for her friends to come back again. God grant they may ! Mine will come again never, never ! Heaven help me ! "