Chapter 71321505

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Chapter NumberII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71321505
Full Date1898-12-17
Page Number18
Corrections0
Word Count2431
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Legend of the Moat: A Tale of a Christmas Eve
article text

CHAPTER II.

"Ah! lt is the boy's!" cried Sir Michael, and as a post chaise drew up three or the baronet's men servants.in their quaint/ bid-fashioned' coach lace liveries hurried along the hall, and threw open the wide door, admitting a keen puff .bf air, which

' mado tho great brown curtains sway and Ibo Ure

roar.

Tho chaise door was rattled open, and the steps down, and two young men leaped out and hurried in, to be greeted warmly in turn by Sir Michael, who cortainly showed good taste in his choleo of

/sons-in-law elect.

"Glad to see you, my lads!" he cried. "Come in, como in. See to the gentlemen's valises, Thomas, and give the postboy some refreshment. Here they are, my dear, half-perished with their cold drive. I wonder thoy had the heart to

come."

"So glad to see you, Mr. Derwent. So nico of you to come the long journey, Mr. .Hilton," prat tled Lady Lee, warmly. "There, do conio to the

fire, my dears."

"Cold?" said the younger of the two young men, as he shook hands with Miriam, who smiled at him rather sadly, before turning to his com panion with tho wan smile dying out. "I feel hot," he whispered, as he took both her sis ter's hands. "I'm blushing, I know I am. Oh! Nelly, dear little Nelly, at last!"

"Hush! Don't!" was the reply.

"Ah! but you might tell me you're glad to see me," he pleaded.

"It would only be waste of words, slr. ,Don't make a fuss, Bob, poor RI is so unhappy."

"Then she ought to be happy, little one, for all through the drive from Lincoln I've had to listen to that chap's stilted talk about her. I say I'm not half such a lover as he is." «

At the same moment Roderick Hilton, Sir Mi chael's choice, was making that gentleman feel proud of his selection, for he was talking to Mi riam and her mother in tho most courtly style. Perfectly at his ease, and evidently proud of his position as accepted claimant of the beautiful, pensive-looking girl's hand; he was talking plea santly and well, deftly bringing in remarks that appealed to all, and Sir Michael looked pleased as he saw his child grow more animated, and ac cept the chair Hilton placed lor her a lit'tle way from the fire, following it up by fetching a screen to place between her and the too fierce glow.

"Someone else coming, my dear," said Slr Michael. "We're sure to have a full house to

night, boys."

"Indeed! I'm glad of it, sir," said Hilton.

"Are we to have a dance?"

"Dance? Yes," cried Sir Michael. "Music and mumming, and the bell-ringers. A regular old fashioned Christmas Eve. Yes; here they come, my dear." -

Sir Michael led his lady toward the door. .

"Did you ever see a handsomer pair, my dear?"

he said, softly.

"No,-my dear, never," replied Lady Lee. "But they, don't seem a bit like lovers." '

"Pooh! Bah! Tehan! You don't want our Miriam to play the coquettish hoyden like Nelly. Nothing could be better. Walt till to-night and you'll see." "

A carriage stopped at the. door-a regular old fashioned coach drawn by a pair, of heavy horses which worked at times on the glebe farm¿ and' from it descended two well grown young men from: the rumble to help hand-out from inside the stout vicar and his-well, fat wife. It was his two daughters who were plump, and who would, have been plain, only .they had' Such good com plexions,-rosy cheeks, and a general appearance of being nice. - .- - ?

Hardly had the kissing, hand-shakJng and con gratulations come to an end, and the wrappings without end been discarded before, another car riage arrived, and another, and another, for lunch at one meant lunch at one precisely in the. country a hundred years ago; and as the friends from miles round thawed at once under the hearty sunshine of their host and hostess's smiles, tho conversation rose loudly among thc carved oak beams of Sir Michael's grand old heritage, till interrupted by the sound of the great bell, one of

five in the clock turret overhead.

At tho same moment the head man in livery, for Sir Michael kept no butler, announced lunch,

"I say. Hilton, the old man does things well," said Derwent an hour later, as they stood to gother among "the male guests back in the hall.

"Yes. To my mind. Sir Michael is a grand specimen of the hospitable fine old English gen tleman so rapidly dying out," said Hilton, rather

stiffly.

"That he is," said Derwent. "It's a pity ho ! has no son to succeed him."

t "Oh, I don't know," replied Hilton with a pe

culiar laugh. "He has daughters,"

"Bless 'em! yes," said Derwent. "Ah, I see what you mean. We're to keep it up, eh? Well, I'll do my part. But long life to . the dear old boy I say. He's stiff and-er-a bit overbearing, but a thorough gentleman, and as * for the dear old girl-wait a bit, and, If I don't kiss her, and call her mother right out, I'm a Dutchman."

"Öh, all right," he said; "I daresay I'm a bit of a fool, but it's Christmas time, and I'm going to open out and help the old lady to keep the thing going. I suppose we shall dance here."

"I suppose so," said Hilton, carelessly.

"And tho old folks will have their card games in the drawing-room. You'll help me, of course?" ...

"Oh, yes, I supposé so," said Hilton, rather coldly. . . ' '

_"I say, what a while the girls are. Are you

good at skating?"

"Oh, tidy; but it's rather nonsense to go out

-there on that old moat." -

"Nonsense! Get out. Splendid. I'll get those two chaps of the parson's to help start some snowballing. You'll join?" .

"No," said Hilton, decidedly. "I shall take Mi riam up and down the moat once or twice and then bring her in. - Think it's safe?'' .

'.'If you don't want., to be fixed to'the engage men£, I should say no. .Too decided."

I "Fixed to the'engagement. I asked you if you

thought the moat was safe."

"Oh! the moat? Safe, yea. Two inches thick' by this time. I hope they've got it swept clear, j of last night's show. Oh, here they are."

"This way all of you," cried Sir Michael, whose silk stockings were covered now,by top boots; and, throwing open a door at the side, he led the way down a long corridor, quaint oak panelled, and provided with dark old coffers In half a dozen win dows where they formed seats, while half way down there was a seoond staircase leading to the

gallery above. ' *

v "By George, Nelly, this ls a fine old place," said Derwent, warmly, for, by accident.'he found him self Nelly's cavalier, a similar accident having

happened to Hilton, who was walking and talking gravely to Miriam, close behind. ' . -"I'm glad," said Nelly, laconically;

"Of course you are ! It's a glorious old house." -

"One I shall never want to leave." . -

. "Eh? I say, you don't mean that, do you?"

, There was an arch look which set the questioner at rest; and directly after Sir Michael threw open a great oaken door at the end, the wind rushed In, and a broad grass-walk, lately swept, opened out before them, leading down between two broad arid ancient hedges of well-clipped yew to an ancient pedestal and sun-dial, and beyond to the head oí a flight bf stone steps, on each side of which, on dwarf pillars, stood a great stone ball, snow bound now,.but showing, when clear, traces of me ridian lines, equator, ecliptic, and the rest.

At the head of the steps grooms, gardeners, and gamekeepers were In waiting with .chairs, strips of carpet, and skates; and a very short*time elapsed before the elders wer« cautiously prome nading the slippery back ice, which rang and bent as the skaters made It ring with the rapid stroke

of their irons.

"Safe?" cried Sir Michael. . "Why, we had all the men in a body strolling along from end to end to test it. Safe as.the road." .

"Oh yes," cried Lady Lee; "and I wouldn't be satisfied till they'd run the great stone' garden rol ler all along as far as It was swept." -'

' But the skating did not last long enough tb tire its votaries, for an alteration was at hand. -A' great, veil of black clouds came sailing up from - the south, borne on a mighty wind, and before

the change could be" realised, the sun was blotted out, a few flakes of snow came flitting hy the avant couriers, of what was coming, 'and a retreat was made to the great house. ' Before the blue sky had quite disappeared from the north, a great puff of wind smote the front, followed by a minute's silence, and then the short after noon was turned into evening, the air was thick with driving snow, borne on the wings of a furi ous gale, which struck the house, roaring, shriek ing, and rattling the windows as if charged in fury by spirits of the storm. Directly after all were conscious of a peculiar hissing sound as through what at another time would have seem ed impossible interstices, snow in the finest dust of crystals began to powder the interior of the window fittings, rushed beneath the keyholes of the great front door, and powdered the mat with

white.

"Heaven help all poor creatures exposed to such a storm as this!" said the vicar, as the party in the great hall looked appalled.

"Amen to that!" cried Sir Michael. "Why, we shall be snowed up if .it keeps on like this! The snow's blinding. Look at that. The air -is full ot it. I wouldn't cross" the moor now for-what's that?"

The heavy hanging handle of the outer door was wrenched and the latch raised to fall with a click, but the door was fast, and directly after came a

heavy thumping delivered by a fist: . 1 - .Sir Michael and Derwent ruined to tho door to

gether,, the former, slipping , the bolt that had. been fastened, and raising tho latch, when both men were forced back by the violence of the wind, which drove the door suddenly open, there was a rush of fine snow, which came in a cloud, and in the midst. thereof, a white figure staggered in, stood for a moment, as if Btunned, and then turn ed quickly to help the others thrust to and re ; fasten the door.

"Ah!" cried the figure, taking off his hat and shaking the snow from his over-burdened cloak, "I believe if I had had five hundreds yards more to come I could never have, reached the house. It is the most awful storm I was ever in!" ,

"Sir Marcus Croyland!" cried Sir Michael, who looked stunned. ,

"Yes. I suppose I look like something else; - I apologise, Lady Lee. A most unceremonious entrance, but I was beginning to feel that I could do no more."... . . .

There was a dead silence in. the hall for a few náoments, and then Sir Michael said gravely

. "Will you be good enough to step this way?"

- "Yes, thank you," cried the new-comer. . "I . feel that I am not fit to stand here."

\ Sir Michael ceremoniously led the way to the library and rang the bell.

"This is most unfortunate, sir," said Sir Mi chael, sternly.

"Yes; but it does not matter now. Who could have anticipated such.a fearful storm. Coming on so suddenly, too." v ;

? Just at that moment a piteous howl came .from outside the window.. : , . . '' .

"I was not referring to the storm, Sir Marcus, but to your presence'here."

"My presence here, sir?" - -

? ? "Yes", sir; it is as painful as it is unexpec ted." - - '

"You rang, Sir Michael?'" ' .

"Yes; .take' this gentleman's hat, cloak, and boots, and bring in that wretched dog." - .

"Into the house. Sir Michael?" -

"Yes, yes!" said the baronet; impatiently. "Do you think it's flt for a dog to be out?"

The man left the room, and the unwelcome visitor held out a letter of Invitation which he took from his breast.

Sir Michael looked aghast. ? »

"A mistake, sir, a mistake," he cried, angrily. "After what has passed, do you imagine that I should invite you here? A Croyland, too."

;"There is such a word as forgiveness, Slr Michael, for others' deeds. And a child's hap piness."

"Silence, sir. Not a word of that. You know it is impossible. My child is now yonder with

her bethrothed."

"Hah!" ejaculated the freshçomer, thrusting back his wet dark hair and drawing himself up to look proudly in the frowning eyes which gazed at

him-so sternly, a handsome, monly fellow of, elght-and-twenty or thirty, and at last Slr Michael's eyelids fell for a moment, and then they rose and he spoke quickly.

"The storm ls frightful, Sir Marcus," he said; and then with the ghost of a smile, "not flt for a dog to bo out. You are here through some mis take, slr; the first Croyland who has .entered these walls for nearly three hundred years. You are a gentleman, sir, as I hope I am.. Kindly accept my hospitality as a stranger."

Sir Marcus bowed and was silent.

"As soon as you are ready we will rejoin my

friends."

"I am ready-now, Sir Michael." -

. The latter bowed, smoothed his countenance, and led the way back into the hall, where their

appearance was'the signal for a dead silence. ¡

"Sir Marcus Croyland has had à narrow escape in this terrible storm, my dear," said Slr'Michael. "He has been driven here by stress of weather, and he has consented to accept our hospitality for the night. Come, come,'good people," he cried, "never mind the storm, it ought'to help to make tho fireside seem more 'cheery. Everyone must help, for we shall get no amusement from outside. Come, girls, boys, the old house is too strong to give way to twice as strong a gale."