|Newspaper Title||Illustrated Sydney News (NSW : 1853 - 1872)|
|Trove Title||Edged with Gold: An Australian Christmas Story|
Hand in hand, and side by side,
Through life's storms and sunny weather, We will our one fortune bide,
And at last grow old together !-CHAMBERS'S JOURNAL.
Uncle Jobey's duties in daily life and the Royal Victoria Theatre, were of a multifarious character. As I said before, his ostensible occupation was that of a bill-sticker ; but in ' pieces' where a crowd filled in the back-ground, Jobey could hold a banner or join in the huzzas (when the Lord of the Manor, or the King in a tinselled crown came on) with the best of them. Of a retiring disposition, the meek little man suffered all the battledore and shuttle-cock experience of theatrical life to flow over and around him, and to float him about without ruffling the tide of his contented existence. Thus it was that all the attachés of the theatre were on friendly terms with him, and more especially was this the case with Walter Randall, the second scene-painter. In fact, on such good terms were they that Uncle Jobey (after the play was over on Christmas Eve) brought home Walter Randall with him to assist in a small scheme he had on foot for the benefit and pleasure of his little charge, Mabel.
"You see," said Jobey as he dived deeply into his coat-tail pockets, trying to fish up a small goose and some other Christmas commodities, "I've covered up this gap in the wall with canvas ; and as my little girl is fond of flowers, and has been wishing all day to be in a fairy scene, I want you, Mr. Walter, to touch up this rag wall a bit, so as to make it as fairy-like as possible ! I want it to open in the middle—so !—because I'm going to put this bough of Christmas-bush there for a Christmas Tree to hang all my little gifts there, and Fip's by the side of 'em—we haven't much to give her, but little as it is it'll please her, poor child !"
"All right! Uncle Jobey," answered his visitor, "Here! hang up my coat for me. Fip has brought round all the paint- pots and brushes I picked out, I suppose ?—very well. Bring in a bucket of water, Jobey—and you, Fip, stir up that green a bit—there's a good fellow ! And so—," said the artist, as he slashed the groundwork over the canvas right merrily. " This little charge of yours has neither father nor mother?"
" Well, she has, and again she hasn't!" said Jobey, enigmati- cally shaking his head—" that is, she doesn't know as either on
'em's dead ; and yet to her actually they're both as dead as—
" Herrin's," suggested Fip.
" Just so—," nodded Jobey—" and to me there's something more dreadful in having one's livin' friends dead to 'em, than to have 'em lyin under six feet of earth—away in the buryin'-
" True !" coincided Mr. Walter, dipping into another pot of colour—" I think we'll have a sort of porch here, so that the flap of canvas may draw back to show your Christmas Tree. Will that suit ? he added, as, with a few facile touches with the brush, the lattice-work leaped out, pillar and arch, till an imposing
entrance was depicted.
" Beautiful !—Mabel will be delighted !" cried Jobey ; while Fip ground lustily away at the paints, proud to have a finger in
the pictorial pie.
" And so, as you were saying, the little one still has yearnings for her parents?"
" Yearnings ! Why, I don't know, sir, how to describe her feelings with sufficient force. I've tried her with dolls, for in- stance, from the splinter-legged dolls of the common folks to the wax ones of the harriscrats ; but no ! it only seemed to make her memory better, for she said every fair-haired one put her in mind of her mother ; and a soldier-one (with a red coat and white kid legs), she said made her think of her father, though for all I can remember he was never distinguished by such marks. Then, as to me, she considers me a good friend, and Fip another ; but I believe both on us thrown into the scale together, with all the dolls in creation for a make-weight, wouldn't turn the balance from either father or mother."
" Well, she ought to think on us—we think on her," chimed in the lad; "and if I have got a big head, I've got a bigger heart, I have ;" and with this bold, and scarcely reliable ana- tomical assertion, Fip returned to his task vengefully.
" So she does love us," responded the old man. " Just fancy, Mr. Walter, me—a poor bill-sticker and a shoe-black—and a delicate, golden-haired little butterfly like that caring for me and Fip ! Puts me in mind of the angels up above follerin' people about and takin' care on 'em for the sake of their Master, who cares for everythink. Sometimes it troubles me to think that we've no right to such a companion in a place like this ; and that she's like a caged bird—waitin' to fly away up'ards and home'ards ! But how surprisin' you do make the flowers and leaves come out, seems to me that you work better to-night than ever I saw you do before, and I've often watched at rehearsal time from the wing, and seen you painting away."
And so, to one totally unaccustomed to scene-painting and its marvellous effects it would have been surprising to see the roses growing, as it were, by magic—leaf after leaf spreading,
bud after bud bursting, as the rapid touches twined the strag- gling branches together, and wrought out the startling effects of light and shade.
Fip clapped his hands, and Jobey exclaimed, "Well, if ever anybody was pleased on a Christmas morning, it'll' be little
Eh?" said the painter, turning suddenly round, "What name did you say ?''
" Mabel—Mabel Meredith, my little girl," replied Jobey.
" Singular !" cried the other, "and it would still be more singular were her mother's name Maud; and her father's Gabriel."
" Why, they are, just that and nuthin' but it !" said Jobey in astonishment.
" Then her mother is a sister of mine, and consequently I am the uncle of this little girl!" exclaimed Walter Randall. "I have spent greater part of the last three years in the Australian Colonies, searching personally and advertising for traces of Maud and Gabriel Meredith, but hitherto my search has been fruitless. You need use no reserve with me, my friend—I know the cause of my sister's absence from home, and of Gabriel Meredith's
estrangement from his wife; but his jealousy was without foun- dation ; and three years ago the villain (who plotted unsuccess- j fully to overthrow Maud Meredith's innocence, but succeeded in destroying her happiness) was bowie-knifed in a drunken street fight, and disclosed the whole of his infamous design as he expired in my arms,''
Uncle Jobey was perfectly bewildered, and stood gazing rue- fully at the scene and its painter—partly moved to laugh, but still more inclined to cry ; and Fip ceased from his colour-mix- ing, and eyed Walter Randall savagely, as if he saw in him some instrument designed by Providence to put an end to the plea- sant companionship of himself, Uncle Jobey, and Mabel. So neither spoke, and the painter turned and worked away at his canvas in silence; and though the blossomy wreaths and gorgeous bouquets of flowers in marble vases started out as deftly as before, the mind of Walter Randall was otherwhere than|on.
the screen before him.
(Concluded on page 94.)
Morning came, and the Christmas bells rang out to tell what day it was, though there was scarcely need for that : for how could the hea- vens smile with such blue intensity, and the sun- light sparkle, and glitter, and crumble in such golden flakes from roof-top and church-spire on any other than Christimas morning in Aus- tralia. Love and good-will sat crested on people's faces, as if the spirit of the season had passed over the city during the night, and had rubbed the searing seams of care from every brow; causing habitually-frowning faces to start from their sleep on that blessed morning with a merry expression that fairly puzzled their owners. But few people in the fair land of Australia were merrier than the four tenants of Uncle Jobey's dilapidated house, for Walter Randall had stayed, at the latter's urgent re- quest, to witness Mabel's delight at his night's
handiwork. Jobey had been very busy since daylight, arranging his scanty purchases on a sort of altar within the screen ; and surely never altar bore a more sincere and loving sac- rifice than did this particular one, for many a little act of self denial had been endured, and many a sacrifice made, during the past month, to stock it with its present light burden of poor toys. At last, breakfast (procured through the means of Mr. Randall as treasurer, and Fip as messenger), was brought to a close; and the grand transformation scene from the dark den of everyday life to the realms of fadeless roses, was announced by Uncle Jobey in a speech more remarkable for depth of feeling than grace of lan- guage. Fip was all ready with the side-rope to open the painted door of the painted palace, and Mabel with a flush on her cheek and an un- usual brilliance in her eye, stood with parted lips marvelling at the poor room's change. Clash, clang, went a neighbouring church-peal. Ding, dong, clash, clang, bang, as if the air was alive with merry music, putting in a cheerful ac-
companiment to Uncle Jobey's trembling voice.
" You remember what the day is ? Mabel, darling."
Clash, clang, went the bells. Of course, she
" Well, just to afford you some pleasure, this gentleman kindly worked here more than half the night, to change our poor room into a palace, for once in the year, God bless him. And now, darling, as you are to be our Christmas queen, is it your Majesty's pleasure that the palace door should be opened ? "
Mabel laughed, and nodded ; and as Fip drew the rope, the portal of the floral bower drew aside, letting in the flood of gladsome Christ- mas music brighter and merrier still, with the glorious sunshine streaking the floor and gilding the broken bricks of the gap in the wall, glowing on the harbour waves, and glinting on the thick masses of bush backing in the picture, until the beams rested peacefully on one white cloud, floating bird-like, across the heavens. But, bet- ter than all, it gilded two figures standing behind Uncle Jobey's altar, and those figures were none other than Maud Meredith and her lost and found husband, Gabriel. The painter was astonished, so was Fip, so was Uncle Jobey, and so was Mabel; then, with one wild cry and a flying leap, she had one arm round the neck of father and mother, with her sunny curls divided between each.
Now, if I was to go on any further, I should only waste time—by endeavouring to perform an impossible task—that of describing the happi- ness of those long-parted, but now re-united to part no more 'until death, the consoler, laying his hand on their hearts should heal them for
ever.' But, if I chose, I could enter into a short explanation of how Gabriel and Maud Meredith had arrived in Sydney that very morning, had found Uncle Jobey's mansion ; and, passing un- invited through the gap in the wall, had paused listening to the voices within until they were disclosed. Then I could go on to tell how Walter Randall, (Mrs. Meredith's brother) repeated the dying words of Martin Thornley—that black shadow of their life-confirming Maud's inno- cence, and her claim to the title of an honest wife. And how they kept Christmas right royally, to the merry chiming of the tireless- tongued bells.
So may our Christmas seasons pass, dear friends, so may the blight of passion and suspicion dissolve before the hearty warmth of this hallow- ed time, so may mutual misunderstandings die out for the sake of Him who died for us, and so, in after years, when we look back on past Christmas times and reflect on the manifold changes and trials of each, may we have grace to find, and gratitude to own, that every cloud has been "Edged with Gold."