|Newspaper Title||West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Vic. : 1898 - 1930)|
|Trove Title||Noel: Or Love and War|
NOEL. Or, I LOVE AND A~,AR. By "WAIF WANDER." (Concluded from last week.) In a strange dream, as it were, the stranger stood and watched Plevna sweep, with a bit of wood, the red char coal from the firm clay beneath, and hav ing placed her large cake on it, draw back the embers and hot ashes till the whole was covered. Terry was watching the operation with interest, too, but was evi dently relieved when his young mistress went back to the river to wash her hands and return carrying a billy, closely co vered. "'You can fetch the lunch. Terry," was her welcome order to the dog. who presently bounded after her wi:h the bun d!e grasped in his teeth. "It was the old man who looks after the boat who showed me how to bake damper," she explained as she set the billy on the grass and began to unfasten the towel round her well-provided lunch, and unroll it. "It will bake i:self now, and there will be plenty of time for us to have lunch before it is ready to be taken ou:. If you will sit on the grass I will put your lunch on the box," and as the young fellow arose she deftly spread a napkin on the box and placed a large paper of sandwiches on it with lite pan nikin full of milk that had lately held the water for mixing the damper. "How can I possibly deprive you of your lunch?" he asked, hesitatingly; "I could wait for the damper." "Deprive me? You will not even de prive Jerry. I always bring plen:y. If we have more than we can manage we give the bread to the ducks on the river. It is great fun to see them quarrelling for and diving after the pieces. We have some currant pudding, too. Jerry is fond of pudding. Won't you sit down?" "I think." said the stranger gravely. "that as I have the advantage of you as regards names. I ought so far to intro duce myself. My name is Noel." "Your surname? Or is there another name?" "There is another: Noel is my Chris tian name. The one that follows it is Kenneth." "I think that Noel is a grand name," the girl said thoughtfully when both had commenced their lunch, and even Jerry had been liberally supplied. "Long ago they used to shout 'Nowel' as a cry of rejoicing at Christmas. It has the same meaning, has it not?" "Yes, Noel is the French spelling." "It is an uncommon name, but I think I love it more on account of its being that'of the brave young hero of the Sou dan, Noel Bethune. You have heard of him, of course?" "Yes. I think so." was the almost hesi tating reply: "got too much credit for carrying a wounded comrade off the field, didn't he?" "Too much credit! How can you say that?" Plevna cried, her face flushing with resentment. "It was a private in a Dragoon regiment, and at the risk of his own life he dismounted and lifted his wounded comrade to his saddle. There was a hail of bullets around him for minutes. but God held them so thai neither he.the wounded man,nor his horse were touched. He was little more than a lad too, and he led the charger and the man he saved through a belt of fire as coolly as if he had been crossing a mea dow in England. Do you think such an action could gain too much credit?" "It would depend on what value he set upon his life. Perhaps he wanted to lose it." "I wonder at you! Why should a ydung man with the grandest career in the world before him want to die? And the man he risked his noble life for was only a private like himself, so that he could have had no ulterior motive. If it had been an officer he might have been suspected of a hope that reward would follow. Noel Bethune was a hero, and I love him! They made him a lieuten ant for the noble deed, and, what I am sure he would value a thousand times more, they gave him the Victoria Cross! alJy father says that he would give ten years of his old life to have been deco rated with that badge of honor." Noel Kenneth shifted uneasily on his box, and presented Jerry with the re mains of a sandwich. "If that fortunate young man knew you appreciated his prowess he would surely feel proud," he said; "and I am glad at least to share the 'Noel' with him." Plevna flushed a little. "I fear I have been talking what appears non sense to you," she said. "My father often warns me against too much enthusiasm, but Noel Bethune will always be a king and hero to me." "He will so be always a man to be envied." Plevna rose hastily, her fine sense of the fitness of things warned her that Kenneth was either indulging in a little sneer at her hero worship, or approach ing dangerously near an attempt to flat ter her; to a soldier's daughter neither w-as admissible. "I will go and see after the damper," she said, stiffly, and pre sently returned with a large, well-risen darmper loaf in her towel. "It is quite baked." she said. carefully setting it on edge against a sapling. '"I am deeply grateful for your kind zess,. and am glad that you did not know my name when you kindly made the damper." "Why'?" she askled, with her grave eyes fixed on his. "Because you might have done it for the sake of a name. Now I know it was out of pure charity for the helplessness of a crippled stranger." "I have done nothing worthy of thanks," she, said hastily, as she refilled his pannikin with milk and set the billy down for the delectation of Jerry, who lapped up what was left noisily, 'and now I must go. I shall leave you the pudding, and bring you some bread to-morrow.n I shall not forget to speak to my father about you, and perhaps he may come to see you." "Because my name is Noel?" he asked with a smile as he rose,to his feet "But I do not like to give Colonel Brandt so much trouble. If you gain his permis sion I will gladly wait on him." "Will you?" she asked brightly. "I will let you know to-morrow. Jerry, finish your milk; we are going into the boat." The dog expressed his delight in his usual manner, but he also expressed a distinct wish that his new friend should acrcompany them. Noel smiled as he patted Jerry's rough head, and was the recipient of much canine goodwilL "I will come some day. Jerry," he said; "just now go and take care of your mis tress." When Noel had assisted the young girl to place the billy and other things in the boat, she turned hesitatingly to him and held out her hand. "I hope I dd not hurt yout feelings by cantradlicting your opinion about my hero. Noel Betthune?" she said. simply. "Good-bye for the pre sent. "Only till to-morrow, I hope, good-bye. I am greatly reconciled to my name since you approve of another Noel so highly." The strong brown hand clasped Plev na's smaller and softer one closely for a moment, and then the girl pushed her boat from the bank as Jerry sprang into it. Her heart nwas beating strangely, but she was glad that, from her position in rowing away, her eyes could rest on Noel without notice until a bend in the river intervened. But she carried away a brain photograph of the tall, slim figure standing on the banks watching her, and the last look of the fine grey eyes that had rested on her so seriously. Plevna's first act on reaching home was to tell her father the story of the stranger by the bend, and to ask help in -getting him something to do. The Colonel laughed easily as he replied, "If your dear mother heard of these good Samari tan deeds I think you would be in for a scolding. Plevas; but you say the young fellow is qute the well bred man, 648
and, after all, there is not much harm i in mixing a damper for a one-armed man. But how do you know the fellow wants assistance, my dear? As far as I can gather, he did not actually ask for work." "No, papa. bu: his clothes are shabby and he looks sad. When I asked him if hea had never thought of being a soldier, he !ooked almost angrily at his useless arm, and said he had, but that any such career was now closed to him. 1My idea is thet he is po-r, and travelling with some friend who is better off. The tent is a new one, and I saw fishing rods and a gun inside. There was a revolver, too, in the pocket of on old coa: hanging on a corner of the tent; I saw it sticking out." "My girl mus: be careful how she makes acquaintances," the Colonel said, :nre gravely. "This young man mey be a gentleman. by education and that, but :here are too many of the class out here who have reduced themselves and dis graced their friends. Youscan tell him if you see him again that I shall be glad to have a talk with him if he wishes it. Noel Kenneth is not a bad name Scotch, I take it." "I am sure he is not unworthy of it, papa: If ever I saw a gentleman he is one, and I am so sorry for him!" "Plevna has taken this stranger's case up on accofint of the name," the Colonel thloueht when the girl had left him," and she is so romantic that there may be d:anger in it. I must make a paint of see ing this Noel to-morrow." :What pen can faithfully d-Žpict thi dawni':g of love in an innorent and pure yaung ghl's heart? Plevna was unusually quiet a:l the remtainder of that aftern:on. She decorated every vare and epergn? in the :ottage with bunches of :va:tle, she •illed every empty tireplace and even made the kitchen gay with the golden blos oml and rieh. feathery green foliage. But she did not sing as was her wont: she was to: th :ughtful. and her though:s were down by the river where Noel Kenneth's little tent was. The young man's dark face, and deep. belancholy eyes were ever before her mental vision, and on her lips. formed, yet unuttered, the sweet name of her Soudan hero Noel, though it was with! ano:her Neel one ccnnected it. The day, following was bright and beautiful, and i:nmediately after break fast Plevna and Jerry once more took the boat up the river. She rowed straight for the paint. but did not dare to turn rJund and look if he was awaiting her, until she had turned in to the bank. Then, as Jerry barked joyfu:iy and bounded ashore. Plevna drew in her oars. and saw Noel standing awaiting her. his eyes alight with a feeling he had given no words to as yet, and his hand outs:retcher to help and welcome her. The girl felt shy, as she had never felt before as she put her handl Into his, and then stooped for the things she had brought him. "I feared you would not come," he murmured. "and as it is my last day here, I should, perhaps, never have seen you again." .i "Your last day here!" she gasped,with her great eyes searching his face. "Yes, my friend returned last night, and an imperative necessity calls us both away for a time. Shall you care, Plevna? If you care, I shall come back again." "Of course. I shall be sorry," she re plied, as a deep blush mounted to her dark hair: but I have known you so short a time that your absence ought not to break my heart." '"True, it is but a short time, and it cannot affect you," he returned a little stiffly. "I am too premature. You will not, however, forget the name? When you think of your Soudan hero you will recall the unfortunate one-armed Noel by the River." "Indeed I shall; but you are not gone yet. My father wishes to see you. If I you come and talk with him, perhaps the necessity for your leaving may not be so great" She looked so wistfully at him that Noel Kenneth's heart gave a great throb. "I shall certainly see the Colonel," he replied qu'ckly, "though nothing he can do will render my going unnecessary. I must go. but my coming back will not be an impossibility." "Here is your loaf and a billy of milk. I am going up the river behind your tent to Farmer Docey's boundary fence. There are some of the very finest wattles on the river at that fence." "May I go with you?" "Oh. no, you must not. If you will come back with me I shall row you up to see my father with pleasure." "Thank you, I shall certainly accom pany you." Glad to escape from the wonderful look in Noel's eyes, Plevna hastened up the rise among the bushes until she was out of sight. What wonderful thing had happened to make Plevna's heart bound with joy? Noel had called her "Plevna,' and he had looked in her eyes as no man had ever looked before! How handsome he was. how noble-looking. How glad she was that she would take him to the Colonel. but, oh. if he had to go away the light would have gone from the Eroken River. Farmer Docey's fence was only at tie top of a grassy s:ope not a hundred yards behind Noel's tent. Plevna cut and broke down her wattle boughs until she had quite a goodly little heap, hear ing all the wh!ile. but scarcely heeding, Jerry's excited and continued barking.All at once there was a terrible bellow, and a crash, as a furious red bull broke through the fence and bushes, and went in full career for the taunting dog. At first he did not see the girl, and was easily eluded by Jerry's active feet. but unfortunately Mr Jerry had so little knowledge of the position as to seek his mistress for the purpose of securing his own safety. The moment that the animal turned round to pursue his agile enemy he caught sight of Plevna, and the object of his pursuit was changed. Plevna had caught up her bundle of wattles and fled down the hill, but as soon as the bull turned she saw that her escape was hopeless. The cry for help she ut tered was almost a shriek, as she, in very desperation, flung the bundle of wattle between herself and her enemy. As she cried "Noel! Noel! Help!" the sound seemed to further infuriate the animal, who. with a terrible bellow, plunged his hornis into the wattle, tossed it aloft and scattered it to be trampled under his maddened feet. Some of the bits of wattle got caught in his horns and in furiated him more, but as he tossed the last bit off he bellowed again and re sumed his career after devoted Plevna. Noel was sitting disconsolately on his box when Plevna's cry reached him. He had been sadly disappointed when the young girl refused his escort and help, but was too much of a man to ev:en fol low her with his eyes since she preferred to be alone. When he heard his own name, and a cry for help, he seized his revolver and ran to the rescue. Seizing the position at once, as soon as he had got round the bushes and seen the girl's danger, he stood still and with set teeth aimed at the heart of the bull. There was a report, the animal bel lowed loudly, plunged to its chest, rolled over, and in a moment was quivering in death. Another moment and Plevna was clasped to Noel's breast; with one arm only, of course, and he had to drop the weapon to hold her. In her terror she had run to him. Of her own free will it was that she lay trembling and panting where she was so welcome. "The animal is dead, my dear girl; there is no more cause for alarm. Try and come down to the river lest there should be any more of the animals about." "I was so near death, and such a dreadful death! If you hadn't come I should have been dead, and oh, my poor father and mother! You have saved my life, Noel, I can only.thank you! Come to papa." "You have thanked me abundantly, Plevna; you have called me 'Noel.' When I come back again will you call me Noel again?" " ". :'"Will you come back?" ........... .? ....... '.
"As surely 'as the Broken' River rins, and God spares me strength to do it, 1 will be here again. I will be here' by Christmas-will you then say, 'Welcome back. Noel?' " "I will, I shall never forget you, Noel." "A pledge; dear Plerna," A spray of wattle bloom was tucked into the'front of her jacket: he drew it out and parted it in two. "Will you keep that bit till I return? As for this it shall lie in my grave.". From his breast somewhere he took a small moroccb case, which he carefully opened to tuck the little spray of blos som into it. Plevna hil somewhere the other half. If e'er there weas love at fils sight, it had been on the Broken's banks when Noel and Plgvna met. Many more words than I can record passed between the two before the boat took them back to the Colonel's little landing place. The Colonel, feeling under the know ledge of personal new acquaintance, a ,little uneasy about his girl, had gone to the bottom of the garden to look for her return, and soon reccgnised her return, In company with a stranger. Plevna was very pale and quiet as she landed, and waiting for Noel. introduced him to her father. "This Is Noel Kenneth, father. He has just saved my life. If it had not been for him, you would never have seen poor Plevno again. Good-bye. Noel," and then she hurried up the gar den, leaving the two men together. Having reached the verandah, it was not in human na:ure not to turn for a last look at the young man she knew now that she loved for all time. The Colonel and Noel talked together for perhaps ten minutes, then :they entered the boat, and Colonel Brandt rowed the late stranger back to his camping ground. When he returned, he did so with the queerest look of bewilderment. Plevna avoided him for a little, but when they were. at length alone, he spoke to her gravely. "My darling girl is very young; and she is very. romantic. Is she sure that this young man is liked solely for him self, and not for sentiment in his name? If Noel Bethune were to come at Christ mas instead of this poor, one-armed young man, are you sure you would not prefer the hero of the Cross?" "How can you ask, papa! This is my hero: he saved niy life." "It was worth saving, my love. Well, we will wait until Christmas, and see if you then think of him as you do now. Take care that you are aot afterwards sorry that you did not choose a soldier and a rich man," and the good man ac tually laughed. Plevna was hurt. "You are mocking me, dad," she said; "but I am In ear nest. I shall never forget Noel-never." If the Colonel explained all to his wife, she acted with great discretion in shar ing the knowledge with her daughter. Plevna did not speak about Noel either to her father or Mrs Brandt until Christ mas was near. She was often puzzled at the ,strange way her father looked at her, and a sort of unaccountable chuck ling that seized him at times, but she went on her usual way and waited-that was all. The little tent had disappeared the very day of Noel's introduction to Colo nel Brandt, and it was almost daily the camping ground of Plevna and the jubi lant Jerry. There was no danger of wild cattle now, as Farmer Docey had heard a few words from the Colonel about the vicious bull, and carefully re paired his fence. Plevna would sit near the spot where the tent had been, and take a queer interest in the few odds and ends left behind; Indeed, I will not gua rantee that she did not take an empty match-box home and keep it as a sacred souverir of "Noel." She had got very quiet, and rarely answered Jerry's chal lenges for a game, though she was fon der than ever of caressing the dog that had so readily responded to the caresses of "Noel." Two days before Christmas old Tom rode down to Benalla and brought the Colonel's mail. There had been no ques tion of correspondence, but now that Christmas was so near now was it pos sible that Plevna should not hope that some sign of a promise to be kept should come by the mail? When she gave the letters to her father she watched him wistfully as he opened and read them, and at last the Colonel looked up at his daughter. "He is coming," he said, with a smile. "He is to be here on Christ mas Eve," and that was all; he didn't even offer to show poor Plevna the letter. Christmas Eve was the following day, and in spite of all her attempts at cheer fulness her heart was very low, during the intervening hours. Something might happen; Noel might never come. She told her fears only to Jerry, who pre scribed for comfort a row in the boat. Jerry had his own way of talking, and now he seized Plevna's skirt in his teeth to draw her riverwards. It was a morn Ing full of grace and sunshine, and the river rippled with sweet, encouraging murmurs, and Plevna would have gone only that she heard the roll of wheels that stopped at the gate, and drew has tily into the shelter of the verandah. Presently her father came. all over smiles, and at his right hand Noel! A rejuvenated Noel, in a dark military undress-a grand, handsome-looking Noel with two arms. He approached the young girl quickly, and held out his hand. "IIave you no greeting for me, Plevna?" "Yes. Noel: I am so glad to see you." "I have kept my word!" "Yes, and I have kept mine." As she said that she produced the scrap of wattle blossom. now dry and faded, and laid it in his hand. He took it, laid it gently on the table, and drew from his breast the morocco case in which he had placed his share of the token. As he opened this case the Colonel laughed aloud." "You must give her the case for a Christmas-box, Noel! I am sure she will value it more than a dozen bits of faded wattle." Noel handed Plevna the open case, where his bit of wattle was curled up over something else. Wonder ing at her father's words Plevna took out the wattle flower and gazed at what was beneath. Her eyes glowed, her lips qut vered! She lifted the article softly. and looked at her lover, for we may safely call him that now. "It is a Victoria Cross!" she whis pered. "Aye!" cried the Colonel; "and It is the very one your hero Noel Bethune won! To think of a soldier's daughter gi sn" her heart to a man whose very name she was unacquainted with! My dear child, let me introduce Noel Kenneth Bethune, your hero of Soudan!" and the good man "made. himself scarce" at once. In the happy weeks of preparation for a return to the Old Land, Plevna and Noel almost lived on the Broken, wcith Jerry in a continual delight of dog enjoyment! There was not much to ex plain, but the explanation was repeated ab libitum, and annotated with kisses. Noel had seriously quarrelled with his elder brother, on whom an unjust will had made him-.lmost dependent, and Noel had enlisted as hrivate in a regiment ordered to the Soudan, dropping his sur name, and leaving Kenneth to be sup Dosed his real name. Having been severely wounded in the same action that gained him the Cross, he was in valided. and having no wish to return home accepted a fellow officer's invita tion to accompany him on a trip to Aus tralia. It was the death of his brother that had necessitated his return to Eng land, and the object of the return was to prove his title and sign his papers as Noel Kenneth Bethune, Earl of Craig! Shortly in the next year the Colonel and party returned to the Old Land, and you may be certain that Jerry also had passage in the mail'steamer that bore his happy mistress. Nothing as yet had been said about a wedding, but, you see, the late Earl was hardly cold in his grave, and Mrs Brapdt's addenda is always that "Pl~ivna ls so young!" One or two facts are, however, assured: when the marriage dlk take place it did not far separate Plevna from her 'goo parents, and Jerry was at it. (The: End.)