Chapter 71321506

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71321506
Full Date1898-12-17
Page Number18
Corrections5
Word Count2126
IllustratedY
Last Corrected2018-12-21
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Legend of the Moat: A Tale of a Christmas Eve
article text

(PUBLISHED BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT.)

The Legend of the Moat.

A TALE OF A CHRISTMAS EVE.

(BY G. MANVILLE FENN.)

(COPYRIGHT.)

CHAPTER I.

"Oh, for shame, Ri! The dear old Isis never looked so lovely before. Just look at the trees all sparkling with the snow, and the lawns and flower garden covered with their white tippets looking so lovely and warm, and the frozen moat actually black. Cold! Freezing! Why I feel all of a glow. Are my cheeks red?"

"Yes, dear, and I suppose it is because your heart is warm with happiness and expectation."

"And so ought yours to be, I'm sure, Roderick Hilton is quite as nice a fellow as my Bob."

"Don't, please don't, Nelly dear."

"I must, for I can't bear to see you looking so unhappy and glum. Come, now, recollect it's Christmas Eve, when we ought all to be full of comfort and joy, and all the rest of it. I used to think I loved Cousin Tom desperately, but fate—I mean father, said it was quite out of the

question, and that if I married at all I must.have Robert Derwent, and what did I do? " I cried for a week, blew my nose till it was quite sore, and then I behaved like a dutiful daughter. What's the consequence? I've got a quiet conscience, and I'm ready for heaps of enjoyment when Bob

comes. Now Roderick Hilton will be here before long, and why can't you be the same?"

"I can't, I can't, Nelly."

"I can't, I can't! Just like a persecuted heroine in a romance but my darling old Sis, you must, you must. What papa plans for us is like the laws of the Medes and Persians. There's no getting out of it."

"Pray say no more, Nelly."

"Must, Ri. Come, Roderick's a dear good fellow, and I know he's very fond of you. He told me he loved you dearly, and he's good-looking and rich. Why not take the good the gods-I men papa-provides you?"

"Because, Nelly, I tell.you it is impossible."

"It isn't. You're weak; father's strong, and you must give in. I was in hopes that all that

about Marcus Croyland ended when, we met in London in September. Oh, what a wicked, dis-obedient girl you are!"

"Is it wicked and disobedient to obey the dictates of my poor heart, Nelly?"

. "Oh, my, what fine language! Yes, it is. Look up there at Miriam Lee frowning down at you."

The bright, piquant speaker pointed up at a half-length portrait leaning forward from the oak panelling of the grand old hall at whose window they stood looking out on the glorious winter scene of garden, moat, park, and Lincolnshire wolds, and the sister started as she looked up at what might have been her own counterfeit presentment, save that it had been painted a couple of centuries before.

"It is not true," said the latter, passionately; "her face is full of pity and sorrow for one who is as unhappy as she was."

"You're a dear, fanciful, loving, old goose," cried Nelly, flinging her arms about her sister's waist, kissing her lovingly, and then forcing her in various directions, as she kept on pointing at first one and then another of the ranges of old portraits in their antique dresses, whose frames

were ornamented with glistening boughs of scarlet and green holly, with pearly mistletoe by way of rellef, while a monstrous bunch depended from the great Queen Anne date brass candelabrum swung from the open dark oak ceiling by its great

tarnished chain.

"Look, look, look!" cried Nelly, merrily. "They're all frowning down at you for being such an unruly girl as even to think of a wicked Croyland, knowing as you do that the Lees and Croylands have always been enemies since the Black Croyland, who went away with Raleigh, behaved so shockingly to Reston Lee by—I say, Ri dear, what was it he did?"

Miriam shook her head sadly, and laid her soft cheek against her sister's white forehead.

"You don't know? Then you ought to. Oh, here's mother." Mother dear, what was it the Black Croyland did in Queen Elizabeth's reign?"

This to a very sweet-looking, plump, grey-haired lady in a dark olive-green velvet dress, half-covered with rich lace, which matched her cap, and who came bustling into the hall with a loud, rustling sound, looking flushed and anxious, as well as warm, in spite of the keen frost.

"Oh, that's right; I'm glad you've got a good fire. Mind there are plenty of logs on. This great draughty hall takes a deal of warming, but we'll have the great curtains drawn at night."

"Oh, we shall not be cold, mother dear," cried Nelly; kissing: her. "Look, RI. doesn't dear old mother look beautiful?"

"Hush, silly girl. But you two! There, I am proud of you, my dears; you look lovely; only Miriam, my darling, you must brighten up now. No, no, I will not have tears. There must be no more nonsense now. You know what your father wishes, and—what was it you asked me as I came in, Nelly?"

"What the Black Croyland did to the Lees

in—"

"My dear child, I don't know. It was some feudal nonsense or another; but do you think I have not enough worry on my mind now without bothering my brains about how the two stupid old families came to be at loggerheads?"

"Oh, mother dear!" cried Nelly, mischievously, "what would father say if he heard you?"

"I don't know, my dear; but he'd say a deal more if the lunch and dinner were not nice, and everybody's bedroom prepared as it should be. The work I have to do to get those maids to keep good fires going!"

"Oh, I feel so idle, mother dear. Ri and I don't seem to have helped you at all."

"For shame! You've both been very good girls with the decorations, and you were two days helping at the church. All I wanted was for you both to be nice and ready for the people when they carne; and really, my dears, you both look lovely."

"You haven't seen my hands, mother; they're red as beet root, and pricked to pieces with the holly."

"Oh never mind that, my dear. Let me see; have I been to all the bedrooms?"

"You haven't had the Red Chamber got ready, of course ?" cried Nelly," anxiously.

"Well, only to haye a good fire kept up in it my dear, /I made up my mind not to us'e 'that unless I was obliged. People are so stupid about such things. I'm sure I wouldn't mind sleeping thore at any time. Ah, here's your father."

Rooster: "Did you ever say. anything rude to the cook?" Turkey* "No. "Wliy?"

Rooster: "He"'says he's going to cut you dead when he sees you Christmas Eve."

Sir Michael Lee thrust a heavy curtain, on one side/, and entered upon the heavy gallery which crossed one end of the hall, marched rather pom pously, along, and then paused, gold snuff box in hard, at the t°P of the broad staircase,

"Ha!" he cried, as he took a pinch of snuff in thè St. James's-street style, closed the box with a Snap, and then dusted away imaginary specks froiu his lace shirt frill and cuffs, marching slow ly down, examining everything in turn,""from the point, of vantage of the stairs', "Capital! Might have been a little more greenery about the old armer, and a few tufts more on these, stags' horns; but; take it altogether, the old hall looks glorious, and I'm proud of it, proud, too, pf our people and-hush! ha! that great bunch of mistle

toe!"

"I think I'll have that rubbish down."

"No,, no, no, Michael dear," cried Lady Lée^ "please don't have anything touched now. Why it's all nice and innocent at Christmas time. Girls like-it too." - .

"Ob, mother!" cried Nelly.

"So you do, my dear. I know I did when I was your age, though I always denied it."

"Hum! Ha!" said Sir Michael.

. "And at such a. special time, too, Michael,

dear." -

"Hum! Ha! Yes," said Slr Michael, unbending with a genial smile; and, taking his wife's hand, he . led her gallantly beneath the pearly clusters

and kissed her.

. "Thank you, my dear," said the lady, smiling proudly.' "Yes, Michael; love, and though I'm an '

old woman I like it now."

"Now, Nelly!" '

Tho father kissed the bright little thing who jumped up and clasped his neck to return the sa lute. . . ,

"Oh, you wicked little puss, you'll spoil my lace frills," cried her father. "Now, Miriam, my dar ling." ,

He took his elder child's hand, drew her beneath the great bunch, and kissed her gravely and ten derly, letting his left arm encircle her waist, and

keeping it there afterwards as he looked proudly ]

' in tho beautiful, sad, wistful eyes whi ch'gazed ui : in his Imploringly. Then turning to look up al

the quaint old world never forgotten decoration

he said quietly

"Yes; it's old-fashioned nonsense, wife, but in nocent, and we'll let it stay. Miriam, my dear, s

word with you."

Still keeping his arm about his child's waist, he marched proudly with, her to the wide mullioned window, the upper part of which was blazoned with armorial bearings in stained glass; while his lady and her younger child drew together, ex changing glances and nods, as they went softly to the huge fire whoso logs crackled and sparkled as the flames rushed up the wide cfcimncy, send ing a bright glow which made reflections all round

the hall.

"Just a loving, fatherly word or two, Miriam, my child," said Sir Michael, after a pompous ma gisterial "Hem.1" one which waa wen known to offenders brought before the bench.

The girl's quivering lips parted to speak, but the-look she received awed her into silence, and she stood looking up in the handsome old face

imploringly.'

"Roderick Hilton--"

The girl winced, but her father held her tight

ly.- :'

"Roderick Hilton, I say, will be here shortly." "But, father," cried Miriam, wildly.

- "Silence, my child! "We have Had all that over in the past, and I have told you it is Impossible. Now listen to me. This is Christmas Eve, a time of happiness and rejoicing-a time of all othf.rs w*hen families gather in good will, ready to for give all troubles of the past, with earnest loving desires for the happiness of all in the future. Miriam, my child, you know my wishes-my com-»

mands, but I repeat them now. I desire that you receive Roderick Hilton when he comes with all maidenly reserve of course, but with the gentle yielding that a daughter of our ancient house should tender to the brave, manly young fellow who is to claim you as his wife."

A spasm convulsed the' girl's face.

r"Father!" she began. "I must---"

"Silence! Not a word, Miriam! You haye your duty to do, my child. It ie our wish. Re member, Mr. Hilton expects to be.considered to day as your accepted husband. I will hear no jaore. It is. for your good.",

: "I can hear a carriage. Michael dear," cried ! Lady Lee..

"Hah! I felt that it must be near the time," «aid Sir Michael, releasing his child. ."Don't leave the hall, Miriam, my love; but you are quite cold. Go up to the fire." ? . -

She drew a deep breath, and went slowly to wards the. fireplace as .her father looked out bf -the side of the embayed window; and as the girl drew near to where her mother and sister stood in the warm glow Nellie caught her hand to give it a squeeze, while her mother kissed her cheek.

"That's over now, my* own darling," whispered Lady Lee.: "Now you will be a good girl, and do exactly what your father wishes."

Miriam Lee's eyes involuntarily rose "towards those of tlie beautiful woman leaning towards her with a peculiar pitying look, and the words of the old legend came back as she had heard it year by year since a child.

"And as they drew, her from the moat all stiff and stark, her eyes were open wide, and staring, and the drops that hung upon her long dark; hair froze hard in the cruel wind till they hung.around like pearls." ' .