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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71321568
Full Date1898-12-17
Page Number45
Corrections0
Word Count2443
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleA Real Old-Time Christmas
article text

(PUBLISHED BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT.)

A Real Old-time Christmas.

BY JOHN STRANGE WINTER.

Author of "Booties' Baby," "Beautiful Jim," "Heart

and Sword." etc., etc.

(COPYRIGHT.) CHAPTER I.

i The Red Horse were just home from India, that is to say, they had been lying in vDanford Bar racks for about five weeks, and, it must be con fessed, they were one and all feeling the cold horribly. For many a month before leaving the shores of the shining East behind them, they had pined, as only exiles can pine, for their own " na

tive land.

"By Jove, when,I think of the rot I;heard pra ted about the joys of living In India before I came out here," quoth one Intelligent young gentleman to a select group of his comrades one night when a rumor had crept through the station that it was quite within the bounds of possibility that the Red Horse might be passed over for home orders this autumn, "I can only wonder whether those who prated were the bigger fools or liars. For my part, I would rather live in one room in the worst-found barracks in Ireland than in the most gorgeous bungalow that is to be found in all the length and breadth of India."

"It's a beastly shame to keep us without our definite orders, anyway," remarked another, who was not prepared to be quite so sweeping in the condemnation of India and everything in lt. "I've

had an uncommon good time myself out hero, taking it all round, but I shall be devilish glad to see the old country again, that's a certainty."

"Paddy forgets," laughed another voice from the depths of a huge chair. "I say, you fellows, doesn't he remind you of the Irish chap in tha

song:

They say there's bread and work for all,

And the sun shines always there; But I'll not forcet old Ireland,

"Were she. twenty times less fair." ,

As the strains of Hammond's rollicking voice died away, the man who had spoken first broke in. "Yes, by Jove, I was given an idea that I was; coming out to a life of elegant ease, with a good: bit of sport thrown in, with tigers as common as rats and pig-sticking to be had every day if one wanted it. But the real thing, with its beastly energetic commanding officers, who want to get another year of command, and, by Jove, do" it" put of the body and bones of their unfortunate officers, especially subalterns," is a very different matter. That yowl Hammond treated us to just now is right enough in one way, there's bread and work for all, especially work. And the sun shines always there. . . . By Jove, yes, it does, the old brute, and-" '

"Oh, stop that," shouted out half-a-dozen lusty voices. "Nobody wants to hear you, "Vincent, when you've got a growling flt on. Why do you want to be chortling at everything as you do?"

"Oh, I'm so sick of this prison," replied Vin cent with a laugh, as, he hid his face in a huge beaker.

However, as after events showed, the powers that be did not wish to keep the Red Horse a season longer in the'East than was their .due. In course of time the regiment received its route, duly embarked on board of the Caliope, and sailed away for the shores of old England.

.. ... Their first quarters were at Danford. Now

Dani ord Is not a very favorite station for cavalry regiments, for lt is an extremely dull place, and 1B, moreover, almost entirely given up to great manufactories, which produce most uninteresting articles of commerce. Of society, as the term ls used in ordinary by men who go into cavalry re giments, there is absolutely none, and altogether

a deadlier spot is hardly to he found in the whole of the three kingdoms. At any other time than that which immediately follows upon a return from a decade In the shining East, the Red Horse would probably have bitterly bewailed the hard ness of the fate which had sent them to vegetate in such a place as Danford; hut it was the same with them as with all the rest of the world, and circumstances altered cases to such an extent that they did not grumble at Danford or anything in it for quite a month after they marched in and took possession of ita cavalry barracks.

It was ; surprising to what an extent the regi ment, to a man, seemed to feel the cold. For. one thlrg, they had teen for the past three years In a very hot station, and the change of quarters had come rather late in the season. Then, too, Danford was noted as being one of the coldest places In the United Kingdom, and Danford Caval ry Barracks enjoyed the reputation of being damp. Be that as it onay, the Red Horse were simply shrivelled up with the cold, which was unusually severe, and by the time that Christmas was as near as two days, several of the officers were within an ace of being on the sick list.

"What a dog-hole this is," remarked Vincent, a couple of days before Christmas, to Hammond and Berkeley. "Who but the War Office would have pitched upon such a spot as this in which to dump down a thousand -men for the express pur pose of making them miserable?"

"What was that I heard you declaiming just be fore rwe got our route?" asked Hammond. Then quoted: "I wouild rather live in one room in the wcrst-found barracks in Ireland than in the most gorgeous bungalow that is to be found in all the length and breadth of India."

Vincent laughed. "Oh, yes, I did hate India, no mistake about it; but my hatred of India does not make me -contented with the other ends of . th» earth. And this is a God-forgotten hole, and there's no denying it. Besidés, look at the wea ther-did; you ever see such weather dn your life?"

"Well, yes, I have," replied Hammond, with becoming gravity. "It's what they call a good old fashioned Christmas, with all the barrack square looking dike an exaggerated Christmas card, and everyone stamping their feet and trying to make hedeve that lt's healthy."

"Beastly, I call it," said Vincent crossly.

"You ought to appreciate it," remarked Ham mond, mildly. "It's enough of a contrast to the gorgeous East, which you hated with such in tensity."

"I don't mind it," declared Vincent, "only only--"

Hammond laughed outright. "Yes, my dear chap, I understand. You needed no such fearful contrast, eh?" .' , ?"; ?

"I wonder," said Hammond, reflectively, to Berke ley when Vincent had betaken himself, still grumb ling, away, "I wonder what it waa that curdled the

milk of human kindness in poer old Vincent?"

"Was he ever amy different?" said Berkeley. "He's always been the same sort of fault-finding chap ever since I have known him." .

"Yes, you've only known him since you joined the Red Horse. I was at Marlborough, and then ab Sandhurst with him, and he is as different to what .he was then as chalk is different to cheese. I sup pose there is a woman at the bottom bf it Any way, the change had come upon him during the time that he spent in the Cuirassiers and before he joined us. Now-a-days he makes me think of the pessi mist frog."

"What did he do?" inquired Berkeley, as he struck another light.

"There were two frogs," replied Hammond, "which one day jumped through a pantry window, and landed in a large-bowl of milk. One was on optimist frog, and the other was a pessimist frog. 'Oh, oh, I shall drown, I shall drown,' cried the pessimist frog. 'Not at all,' cried the optimist frog, the maid is sure to come in the morning and she will take us out of this. Paddle on, paddle on.'

*I can't paddle cm,' returned the pessimist frog, 'I tell you I shall be drowned, I shall be drowned.' And in the morning, when the dairymaid came to .her work, she found the pessimist frog lying dead at the bottom of the bowl of milk, while the optimist frog was gaily palling around on a pat of butter of his own making."

"Very good, yes, awfully good," laughed tin, other, "and you're right, it is like poor old Vincent, I shall call him. the pessimist frog from this mo ment."

Vincent meantime had gone off to his own quar ters, and was thinking ruefully of how he would get down Into the wretchedly uninterest ing town, there to buy certain season able presents which were always due from him in certain quarters at this time of the year. The time was between three and four in the afternoon, the day was, even for the time of year, very dork and lowering, a fine drizzle of something that was neither rain nor snow nor sleet was steadily falling, the barrack square was Uko glass, and the skies gave no prospect of the smallest improvement for days to come. A greater contrast to what tho Red Horse had left behind in India could hardly have been found, and much as Vincent had hated and detested the Orient, he could not go quite so far as to say that this was the kind of thing that he liked. "Oh, well, there's no parti cular hurry," he muttered, as he turned from the window. "I'll have another pipe, anyway."

He sat himself down In his favorite armchair which stood invitingly near to the Are, and filled his pipe. His thoughts, as he sat there watching the rings of blue smoke curl gracefully up into the air, were of Hammond, and of what he said. Poor

old TJnmmnnñ ha wns «nnh

a cheery, . easy-going chap, he never would he able to un derstand what lt was that had made his old schoolfel low change from a gay and light-hearted lad into a man to whom the darker side of life usually presented itself first. Well, well, if she had been different he would have been different too. He was almost tempted to take the first chance that came to him and tell Hammond how and why he had changed as he had done. He would under stand then.

How he did hate Christ mas-time, to be sure. For it was at Christmas-time just seven years ago that tho great tragedy of his life had been enacted, and all the joy and light and graciousness had gone out of his heart for ever. He had sworn on that never-to-be-forgotten day seven years ago that he would not let hie broken hopes influence his life one Jot. He had resolutely cut himself off from his old regi ment, the dear old Cuiras siers, of whom he would al ways be one at heart, and had exchanged into the Red Horse, in which he had never felt himself thoroughly ait home, he had thrown himself into whatever might happen to be going on, and had, be ing fairly well oft to begin with, and, for the latter part of his time among them, ex tremély well off, done the East from end to end, and he had tried hard to be just as he had been before. Well, he had succeeded only in a certain degree, and he had won for himself the reputa tion of being a somewhat dis agreeable kind bf chap, who would always growl if a growl could by. any chance be possible.

Then his thoughts drifted off to her, and of the first time that they had met, when he was little more

than a boy, a schoolboy proud of his first tail coat and tall hat. She was quite a school girl, little Kitty Kilroy, the daintiest, wildest, sweetest little maid to be found in all the length and breadth of County Tipperary. He remem bered ever so well how she had put her horse at a fence that would have proved a facer to many a man keeping a dozen hunters in the Shires, and how she had hopped over it like a bird and with as little concern. He recalled a dozen such 'nci dents of which George Kilroy's little girl was the heroine. And then there came to his mind tho final scene of all when she had told him that she was engaged, she, the darling of his heart, the pride of his life, the loved centre of all his day dreams, and to the most shameless blackguard that ever disgraced the society bf - gentlemen. "You can't be going to marry O'Sullivan," he cried, aghast at the news. "Sir George would never allow such a thing."

"He is delighted," returned little Kitty, promptly. "And what have you to say against Mr.'O'Sullivan, pray?"

"Kitty," Bald he wretchedly, letting the question of what he had or had not to say about O'Sulli van go to the wall, "you don't mean to say that you meant nothing all this time?"

"How meant?" she asked, with a blush that be trayed the guilt that was in her heart.

"Do you like him better than me?" he de manded, miserably.

"I think he is just splendid," quoth Kitty, on which Vincent dropped her hand as if lt had been red-hot, and turned away without a word of farewell.

He had never seen her since. It might seem as if he had dwelt too much on the memory of what might have been, but it must not be for gotten that it was no sudden love, born in a day and dead in the tragedy of & week. Not at all, for three long years he had worshipped at Kitty Kilroy's shrine, and he had even spoken to old Sir George of his hopes, and had received from that improvident old gentleman a prospective blessing, and what had seemed like very sound advice. "You must wait till you are of age, my boy," he had said. "And the little girl must be free, free as air. She ls very young yet. She may change her mind."

And she had changed her mind, and here wat

he sitting in his quarters in Danford Barracks, a lonely disappointed man of nearly eight and twen ty, from whom the romance of life had gone for ever. Well, it was foolish work grizzling over broken hopes and the unattainable. Ile would sit there thinking no longer.