|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||A Real Old-Time Christmas|
The clock of the Guard-room struck as Vincent passed through the barrack gates. He turned in stinctively to look at the time. "By Jove,'" his thoughts ran. "I must have sat there for over an hour. What an ass I am.. Not that I would have been any better off out here. If anything, I fancy it is scarcely as bad as it was."
The weather, was, however, quite bad enough, and the piercing wind whistled through and through Vincent's heavy coat, chilling him to the very bones. He strode along with his collar up and his hands well thrust down into the depths 01 his pockets, and presently got into the shelter of the houses with which the town proper began, where he was a little less the butt of the wind and the still falling sleet than he had been before. He found Danford a most disappointing place to
shop in,; and with difficulty made his various pur chases. ' Having, however, accomplished his ob ject, he turned into the Club, in which somehow or other neither he nor any of the regiment seemed to feel at home, and ordered himself a cup of coffee and a brandy. And having partaken of this and glanced at one or two of the day's papers, he turned up his collar again, and passed out into the dreary night.
He had just got clear of the main streets when his attention was arrested by the sound of a child's weeping. Now although he had outlived the ro mance of his life, Derrick Vincent was not a hard man, but one to whom children and dogs took as naturally as the flowers turn to the sun, and when he heard this small child's bitter wail, he stopped short and listened.
"Oh, what s'all I do? What s'all I do?" the
little voice wailed.
Vincent turned sharply round. "Hullo, little maid, what is the matter?"
The weeping ceased instantly, and the little figure by the dark wall seemed to huddle still nearer to the scanty shelter it afforded. Vincent laid a hand upon the small shoulder.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
"I've lost my money," the child replied; then broke into sobs again. "Oh, what s'all I do?"
"Where did you lose it?" he asked.
"Just here, just here. It was all my Mummy had. Oh. what s'all I do?"
"Will .your mother be very angry?" he askerl, wondering if it was fear or regret that causal such bitter grief as this.
"No, not angry, but lt was all she had,' I he lit tle soul replied. "And I've looked-and looked and looked, but I can't find it, nowhere at all."
"How much was it?"
"A whole half-sovereign," she returned. "My mummy said I was too small to go, and I should lose it, and I said I could, for she is ill and mayn't go out, and-and I held it so tight in my hand, and lt's gone, it\3 gone, and she'll never be able to trust me any -more."
A fresh burst of grief betokened bow sore tho shame was, and Vincent hastened to administer comfort of a solid kind. "There, now," he said, kindly, "you mustn't cry, for it was an accident, and accidents will happen, you know, even in the best-regulated families. I'll give you another half-sovereign, and you shall get the things you wanted, and not a soul will be any the .wiser. How will that do?"
"But-but-I don't think ray 'mummy would let nie take it," said the child, hesitatingly.
"I really don't think, as she is ill, and as it was her last half-sovereign, that it would be very wicked if you were to any nothing about it," said Vincent, judicially. "No, I don't, really. See, here it ls. Now, >had I not 'better see that you get your things bhis tiime? Where were you going?"
"Just round the corner," she replied. Her tears were dried now, and a sweet, wet face and a pair of dark-set 'blue eyes uplifted to this big .wonder ful man, who had found such a simple way of heal
ing her grief.
"All right. I'll go and eeo that you get through,"
He was as good as his word, and went with her to a .providion ©hop, where ¡he was mightily amused to soe how wiiaoly she made her purchases. And then, when ehe emerged, he asked her a question. "And .where do you live, little one?"
"At No. ll Osborne Terrace," was the, reply,
"Oh, 'do you?" The terrace in question .was a TMY of'small, unimportant houses running off the .main roiad a little further if rom the town than the barracks. "Well, I 'have to nearly '.pass Osborne Terrace, so I will go with you and see that you come to no hanni," he said.
The c*:l cl gave a 1111 ga p- "0:h, I am m f ijht_ ed to go along-ai one," she said, "and it was twite daytime w-hen I came out. I t'lnk my mummy will be frighted abo.ut me." .
"All right; then come along and let us get home a« ßoon as we can," said Vincent, who was him self fairly chilled by this .time, and he had iseen the child was wet through when ahe had been in the better .light of the shop.
So the big young man, .who had for years >per »3lstently .growled at everything and almost at everybody, and the frail little, blue-eyed child went along the slippery road together. It Was exces sively dark, and the frozen rain beat mercilessly upen them both. "Little one, I think I had better carry you," said Vincent at laßt, for the child
seemed abie to make no progress against the fury
of the elements.
, She stopped at once and held up her arms. "My poor feet are frozed," she- said, with a sob, "and my mummy will'be so frighted about me."
The soldier gathered her In his arms and strode
along at a great rate. . He could feel that she ; was shivering, and soaked through and through, and she cuddled up against him a& if she had found a refuge from a hard battle. "Put your arm round .my neck," he .said. "I can «arry you ever so much easier so."
. The child obeyed, but even then it was no such very light task that he had taken upon himself, for what with the driving sleet, the dangerous state of the footpath, ajid the weight of the child all clogged by her wet garments and her basket, he had all that he could do to get along. Still he was strong and young, and he strode manfully
along, keeping as much, as he could under the shelter of the various houses and garden walls that they passed. And, at last, they turned the corner of Osborne Terrace; only there to find that the wind had changed, and that they were even more cruelly exposed to the driving sleet than they had been before. "Is this the house?" Vin
"No, not that one, the next one," the child
As Vincent strode up to the door it was flung open, and a loud, but not unkindly, voice called out, "Is that you, little Missie? Why, wherever 'ave yer been? Yer ma ls well-nigh frantic about you, and naught would serve 'er but she must go tearing down the town to try and find yor. Surely yer must 'ave met 'er; she's not been gone ten minutes."
The child burst out crying piteously. "Oh, Mrs. Mitchell, my Mummy, my Mummy, and her cough so bad; what s'all I do?"
"Why, my dear, let me get yer wet things off yer as soon as I can," the woman replied. "Why, ye're just soaked through and through. Wher ever 'ave yer been all this long while, and 'ow came this good gentleman to be a-carrying of yer
"Well, simply because I saw that she was dead beat and couldn't get home by herself," said Vin cent, in a tone which betokened a certain amount of severity. "This is no day for a child to be out on; it's not fit for a dog."
"Aye, sir, well may you say that," Mrs. Mit chell exclaimed. "And if I could have walked the child shouldn't 'ave been out, that's certain. But 'r poor ma is that ill with browntitus she'll get 'er death to-night, unless I'm very much mis
"Oh, I did not mean to say anything offensive," said Vincent, who began to feel that lines were rather hard for this family. "Look here, I'll go back and meet the child's mother. How shall I know her?'-' :
"Which she is in widder's weeds, poor thing," said Mrs. Mitchell, "and carries an umoielia wiih a white 'andie, one poor Mitchell, dead and gone these five years, give me on my forty-' ighth birth day." .
"I'll find her," said Vincent, departing hastily, and bolted out into the night, quite forgetting even to ask the good lady's name.
As he turned the top of the terrace into the main road, a grim sense of amusement overcame him. " " ' *ti>
"Upon my soul," he said to himself, "I have let myself in for the maddest wild-goose chase that ever fell in my way before. Here am I tearing along to find a perfectly unknown woman with no bet ter clue to her idanti.y thî-n ¿hat she is in 'widder's weeds,' and that she carries *an umbrella with a white 'andie,' and all the rest of it: H'm, it's a d-e-vilißh .good thing that none of the fellows have iseen me, for I should never hear the hst of it if they did."
However, he prarsad forward, and kept a keen look-out on* both sides of the road, twice orcesing over when he caught a sound of footsteps which he fancied might prove to be these of the lady in widow's weeds. It was not until he had reached almcst the spot where he had first picked up the
.child that h© met anyone at all answering to Mrs. Mitchell's description. "Excuse nae," be began, "but do you live in Osborne Terrace, and are
".Looking for a little girl," she broke In hastily. 'Yes, yea, caa you tell me where ehe ls?"
"I have taken her <horoe," said Vincent, "she la quite safe." Aud then aa the sickly gleam from an adjacent lamp fell upon tho woman's face, he ut tered on ejaculation of surprise, and cried, "My
God, Kitty, le it you?"
For a moment ehe. stood staring wildly at him through the driving snow, for line sleet had ceased by this time, and the snow was falling, now softly, now whirling along in gusts euch as. fulfilled the promise of a real old-fashioned Christmas. "Ia it you, Derrick?" ehe said, Indistinctly, and then reel ed, just missing the hand he put out to save her, and falling to the ground in a senseless heap.