|Newspaper Title||Queenscliff Sentinel, Drysdale, Portarlington and Sorrento Advertiser (Vic. : 1885 - 1894)|
|Trove Title||Katie Bryce's Two Christmas Days|
KATIE BRIYE'S TWO OlHRIST I I DAYS. -0 Br Mits E. STEEL-Awarded first prizein the Hibernian Society's novelette competition.) What shall I do with all the days and hours That must be countea 'ere I see thy face? How shall I chain the interval that lowers Between this time and that sweet time of grace? CHAPTER I. When Phillip Leigh got that letter telling him his uncle was dead, and that he must re turn to England immediately to fulfil certain conditions of the will, under which he in Jherited his uncle's large property-when he got it, as I have said, the news did not bring unmixed pleasure to Katie Bryce, his promised wife. " But Katie," he said, looking down into the steadfast grey eyes lifted to his, "you must try to be brave over this separation. 1 hope to be back in Melbourne by Christmas, and then, soon after the New Year, my wife will come to me." Katie flushed to the roots of her soft brown hair as her lover spoke. "You know I am not beautiful like some girls; but, Philip, you will not let another face make you forget mine, for-" She hesitated a moment, and then added, "You do worship beauty." "How can you talk so, Katie." answered her lover, half vexed byher question. "Are younot my only love? Have I ever given you cause to doubt me? I would not leave you now were it possible to avoid it, but by the terms of my unole's will I must be in England for a time to arrange for the sale of the property. Besides, this money will save us all anxiety about the future, and I can giveyou the home Idesirefor you. I will not stay away a day longer than I can help, and you must have a bright Christmas wa- come for the returning traveller." So Katie tried to feel content, and when the Rome steamed out of port that December morning, taking her lover away, she set her self to bear his long absence as bravely as she knew how. An only daughter, with every wish grati fled by the father, whose one thought was for her happiness, living in a home situated in one of the prettiest suburbs of Melbourne, Katie Bryce had no lack of friends or pleasant occupations to fill up the months of Philip's absence. The winter was spent at Gringigal gona, a station owned by Mrs Ainslie, Mr Bryce's widowed sister. And as every mail brought long letters from Philip, entailing the pleasant taskof answering them, the days did not seem so long as Katie had feared. As Christmas grew nearer, Philip's return was anxiously looked for. What a happy Christmas it would be ! She had busied her self with a thousand things to make it so worked Philip the prettiest of slippers, the gayest of cigar eases. Fern-trees were ordered from Gippsland for decoration; and as the time came closer and closer, Katie went about light of heart, and seeing new beauty "in earth and sea and sky." The steamer Philip Leigh had sailed in was telegraphed as arriving at Albany, then at Adelaide, and at last she ended her pros: perous voyage and anchored off Williams town. How Katie watched every cab after that. Anymoment Philip might arrive. But only the postman came in at the large iron gates, and when she ran down, thinking there might be some letter for her, she was told there was only one for her father, which had been taken to his study. The dressing belt rang at last, and Katie was just going to her room, when her father came into the drawingroom where she was. " Papa," she exclaimed, "Philip has not come yet. What can be keeping him? The Carthage is in, and we saw his name in the passenger list." Her father did not answer immediately, and Katie for the first time noticed how grave and troubled he was looking. "Papa, nothing has happened-Philip is safe," said the girl with asort of terror in her eyes. " Mr Leigh is well, and has landed safely." Poor Katie's heart sank when she heard her father's formal answer to her hurried questions. " But my child," he added tenderly, "you must be content with your fathers love now." He paused a moment, and then sternly added, "Philip Leigh has brokenhis nlighted faith, and is no longer worthy of you." Katie listened to her father's wordslike one who heard the tale of another's trouble. Surely it was not Philip, her Philip, who had done this dreadful thing. ,Then a sharp stab of pain smote her as she looked at her father's stern face and realised he was telling her some terrible truth concerning the man she had trusted and loved so truly. Mr Bryce drew his trembling child into the shelter of his arms, holding her there while he gave her the letter Philip had written to read. It was brief enough. "I make no excuse for my conduct. I think I must have been mad. I have during the voyage out engaged myself to a lady who was a passenger on board. We are to be married almost imme diately. I can only hope youwillforgetyou have ever known one so false as-PnrLIP LEIGOs." Inside was a scrap of paper, with these lines written on it:-"Katie, forget me. I em-I was unworthy of you.' No words can desoribe Mr Bryce's anger when first he read Philip's letter, but un willing to add to Katie's distress, he had de termined to say as little as possible re garding his opinion of Philip's extraordinary and cruel conduct. Katie read until every word seemed burned into her brain. Then saying brokenly, "Papa, we have only each other now," she went away to her room. The old housekeeper, who had come with Katie's mother to Sailderdale years ago, and stayed on when the fair young mistress closed her eyes in death, its faithful friend and guide, found her there and comforted her almost as her mother might have done, and stayed by her until she fell asleep, wearied out with her new and undreamed-of sorrow, CHAPTER II. BROKEN VOWS. "Ah, dim, lost Glamor land ! On whose confines I stand, longing for home that shall be home no more 1" And this is how it all came about: Philip took his passage for Melbourne in the Carthage, and at the last moment, in all the confusion of departure, an old friend sud denly oame to him and said: " There is a young lady on board going out to her brother in Sydney. She is quite alone; does not know a soul on board. Will you show her any kindness you can ?" Philip willingly promised, and his friend introdueid Miss Hedley to him. Philip, as he looked at her, thought he had never seen so lovely a face. How shall I describe this girl, who was to exercise so powerful an influence over Philip's future? Her face and figure were perfect, and she carried herself with a stately grace that was irresistible. Her fair hair, which formed a coronet on the shapely head and shone like pale goldinthe sunshine, and the lovely brown eyes, with their long dark lashes together with her dazzling complexion, might will fascinate a less susceptible man than even phili was. He was intoxicated by her beauty., and from the first she set herself deliberately:to try to win him. This beautiful girl was unscrupnlous by nature, caring little by what means she gainedher end. She had been made aware through some friends she had in Melbourne of Philip'sengagement to Katie Byee,e they having apprised her of the fact. Philip was handsome and wealthy, could give her posi tion and all the means for the gay life she loved. She hadonly the prospect of a home with her brother, a strugglig medical man in Sydney, who had a wife and large family dependinu upon him. "I shall have to help with those tiresome children I suppose," she thought to herself, ' and wear leather boots." She had plenty of admirers on board; her beauty and grace making her a centre of attraction; but it was Philip's time and attention she claimed from the first. The moonlight walks on deck; all the intimate associations of a voyage, all the chances which opportunity threw in her way, she sade use of to gain him for herself; with (2Q41
the result that Philip forgot Katie, honor, all. Only as they entered the Heads did he wake up from his madness and realise that he had pledged himself beyond recall. Then those letters which carried such sorrow to poor Katie were written. Philip never guessed that Miss Hedley knew of his previous engagement. He could not mention Katie's name to her, and she for good reason of her own was equally silent on the subject. Philip went on to Sydney with his betrothed, and there being no reason for delay, the marriage took place early in January. The very month that was to have seen Katie a happy bride saw Philip's beautiful wife established at Oak hurst, his residence in St. Kilda. How Philip passed that Christmas he never afterwards know; obliged to meet strangers and to appear happy when he was conscious how false he had been, and when he was wildly longing for but a sight of Katie. Not but that there were times when he could forget her, and believe himself happy in the presence of the girl who had beguiled him into breaking his faith, andforsaking one who had given him her best affections. And Katie --She did not weep and be moan herself, but, brave little soul that sbe was, she set herself to live out her life, this strange new life without Philip. She would try for her father's sake not to make her home less glad ; but for all her brave resolves she had a hard time of it. Herengagementhad been so widely known, her marriage had been so near, that the idea of allthe talk about her, even by sympathis ing friends, jarred upon her proud and sensi tive nature. And then, how was the Christ mas day she had looked forward to so joy fully to be gone through? It was but a forlorn Katie who woke up to know it was Christmas morning; to be a Christmas without Philip. The decorations seemed to mock her, and though she triedto smile back at her father, wlfen lie gave ~.r his Christmaa-gift, then tears were verynear. She came down, too, without the ring-Philip's gift, which she had worn since that day, now seeming so far away, when she had promised to be his. It must go back now to him, and she had made up the parcel early thae morning ready fcr sending, and felt she had been called to part almost with a part of herself. She went to church, and heard the Christ mas message of pease and good will: but, 1 fear me, Katie's heart was far away. And, oh! the long, weary afternoon, when she could do nothing but think-think of Philip,' and remember that soon even this would bei wrong. " Fortunately they had made no en gagement for the evening, and after dinner Katie roused herself, and tried to make her father believe she was not so miserable after all..
She played his favorite pieces-she could not trast herself to sing. She wouldnot omit the usual game of chess they always played together. The evening came to an end at last, and she was free to go away and lie awake the summer night through: the bur den of her thoughts her lost love-her broken life. The weeks that followed found her growing pale and thin, and her father anxiously watehing her, at last resolved to take her to Gringigalgona. Katie would far rather have stayed at home, but she could not with stand her father's pleading. She dreaded her aunt's inquisition. " But Daisie is at home," she said to her self;. "she is so good and gentle, perhaps I shall feel happier." So the end of the sum mer found them at the station, when Daisie gladly welcomed her cousin. Mrs Ainslie was really attached to her niece, but, unfortunately, she was one of those women we meet with sometimes, who, with the best intentions, are entirely devoid of tact-that quality, or whatever we call it, of onr nature which oils the wheels of life and helps over the rough places. " Dear me, my love," she exclaimed, when she saw Katie, "howpale and ill you do look; and no wonder. Really I think that Philip Leigh's conduct is-" "Katie wants a cup of tea more than any thing else, don't you, Kitty, darling ?" here interposed Daisie, who was not without a love story of her own, though of a happier kiad than our poor Katie's.. So she got her away to the shelter of her. own room, and cheered and petted her sad little cousin, as Daisie only could, and before they reappeared Mr Bryce had managed to persuade his sister it was best to keep silence on the subject of Philip Leigh and his misdeeds, at least when Katie was present. But it was a hard thing for Mrs Ainslie to do. Could she only have seen Philip he would not long have remained in ignorance of her opinion of him. However, she secretly determined that Katie should by and-bye make a brilliant marriage, and then Mr Leigh should see what he had lost. It was well for Katie's peace of mind that she was quite ignorant of her auntie's plans for the future.
CHAPTER III. THE BABY KiN?. " Somethinc to live for came to tile place, And yet it was only a baby." Philip from the day of his marriage was a changed man. He knew, now that the glamor was past, that he had never loved the woman he had made his wife; that Katie alone possessed his heart. But he resolved that he would not mar by any act the peace or happiness of the girl he had married. He would make the best of their lives, so far as in him lay so to do. Hie must put all thoughts of Katie away, as by his own act he had put her out of his life; but it was a sore battle to fight. Katie's face would . rise unbidden before him, and a thousand memories of the girl, who had trusted and loved him would come and almost madden him with the remembrance of all he had lost. No wonder the rich brown hair began to show a silver thread, and the lines deepened about his brow and mouth. His place in soiety was assured, and for sterling worth and all the qualities which go to make a good man he was to be relied upon. To his wife he was always patient and gentle, and, God knows, she tried him sorely enough at times. Alas ! in his early married days Philip discovered his wife did not love h'im. He would remonstrate with her on her reckless disregard of her health. Her beauty and wealth, together with Philip's position, made her one of the leaders of Melbourne society, and night after night she insisted on going out, and her days were one constant round of excitement and pleasure. She cared little for home ties, and her slight constitutional strength could ill bear the constant strain on her health. She fretted at the delicacy, which after a time compelled her to give up the greater part of her gay life. But when her boy was born a change came over Philip's wife. She loved the child passionately, and would sacri fice anything for him. The Baby King drew the husband and wife more together. The year which followed his birth was the most peaceful of Philip's married life. His patience with her way. wardness touched his wife, for sha was not all bad-this girl who had schemed to take Philip from his first love, and she began to feel he was dear to her. Poor Clara ! she was beginning to love her husband, and as that knowledge came to her, so did that other solemn truth-that she must soon leave him and her idolized child also. She had never recovered her strength, but appeared to be going into a decline. She grew gentler, and who knows what thoughts stirred within her as she thought of the past? She said little, but her husband saw she was different, and they grew happier together. And then a resolve came into Clara's mind. It had happened one day shortly after her marriage, in looking through some drawers, she had come upon a packet amongst her husband's papers. "For Katie, Christmas, 1SS-,"was the simple inscription on it. Openine it, she saw thatit eontainedabeautifully.designedbrooch, with a miniature of Philip on the reverse side; Philip as she knew him first-not the grave husband of her married days. She remembered now how Philip always evaded her request to have his likeness taken. ae who scarcely ever refused a request of pers. Now she understood why it had been ýe. She pushed the packet back petulantly nto the drawer, but the thought of it came ,ack to her in these later days, and she re
solved she would send for Katie. She had something to say to her. "She will not refuse me," she thought, " they say she is so kind and good." Katie read Mrs Leigh's note with consider able surprise, for though they had occasion ally met in society, nothing like friendship had been possible between them. She felt how painful such a visit would be, but still knowing how ill Clara was she felt she could not refuse to go. It was with some agitation she prepared for her visit, and crossed for the first time the threshold of Philip's home. She went up the wide staircase with a sense of unreality. Was this the place, the house, she had once thought to become its happy mistress ? And now it was as a stranger she entered within its doors. As she went along a corri dor she saw through the open door a room which was evidently Philip's study. V What a rush of memories over-powered her of the days when they had talked together of this very study, where she was to sit in her own corner, whilst he was busy with literary work; and she was to listen and admire and perhaps, criticise. She hurried on, not daring to stop and think, and followed the maid into Mrs Lelgh's pre sence. Clara was lying on the couch in her handsomely-furnished bed chamber, and her almost unearthly beauty, with the evident signs of her fatal disease, startled Katie, pre pared, as she was, to find her ill. "I am sorry to see you like this, Mrs Leigh,"she said gently. "Is there anything lean do for you?" Clara looked un at the compassionate grey eyes which regarded her, and said "Thankyou for coming, Miss Bryce ; you will have.been wondering why I should ask you of all people to visit me, but I don't think I shall be here long." " I am dying," she added after a pause, as though: to gather strength for what she =wanted tosay, ." and I want a promise frog you. I know I spoiled your life. You have little cause to feel aindly towards me; but will you be good to my boy if--if-" "We will not discuss this subject, if you please," returned Katie proudly. "Had I thought it possible such a thing could have been touched upon, I should not have come here to-day," and she moved away as though to end the interview. " Oh !" said the sick woman, impatiently. "Can you not forgive me? You must listen to me. Katie Bryce, you do not know what my life was until I met Philip. I never knew what a home really was: always at school, or amongst people who cared nothing for me. My mother died when I was a mere child; my father a year later. I had only to look forward to living with my brother, who had no great love for me, and his wife I had never seen. You had a different bringing up to mine. You cannot understand what the temptation was to me. I see now how wicked I was to take Philip from you; but," she added, brokenly, "he does love me a little. \Ve were growing contented with each other, but God will not let me stay." She stopped, exhausted with the effort of talking, and just then little Philip woke up from his sleep in the cot beside his mother's couch. He sat up rosy and tumbled, with one dimpled shoulder peeping out of his little dress. He sat looking at Katie, with no fear in the great dark eyes ; only child wonder ; and did not cry, as some children would have done when she stooped to kiss him. "What a lovely boy," she said. His mother gathered him to her, with a half-jealous movement, crying, " Will you give me the promise I want? Oh, you must ! you must !" Katie regarded the child, who was looking at her with Philip's eyes, and said falter ingly, " The future is not in my hands, Mrs Leigh. His father will care for him better better than any other can do, but," she added, after a pause, "if ever it should be in mypower to be his friend, I promise you he shall not find me wanting." Katie saw the rested look on Clara's face as she sank back on her pillow, and saying, "1 can trust you, Miss Bryce, you will do as you say," she put out her hand to Katie, who, taking it, bent down to kiss the pale brow, and said gently, as the nurse came into the room, "Good-bye, dear Mrs Leigh," and went away with her eyes full of tears, followed to the last by Clara's wistful looks. Not long after this she saw the announcement of Mrs Leigh's death. She had declined rapidly from the time of Katie's visit. Philip scarcely left her, and the day before her death she said to him suddenly, " I shall not trouble you long now, Philip." "Hush," he answered sadly. " You are my dear wife." And the words seemed to satisfy her. Once -just at the last-she whispered, "Tell Katie not to forget." Philip thought she wandered. Later he knew what she had meant.
CHAPTER IV. ANOTEIiE CIIRIST?rAS DAY. " I hear the footsteps of my love, The rustle of her robe I hear, And feel her near." Two years later than the events told in the last chapter, Katie and her father were once more staying at Gringigalgona. They were to keep Christmas there, and Katie was busy helping her aunt and cousin prepare for the large picnic Mrs Ainslie was to give on Christmas Eve. Many of the neighboring squatters with their families were invited, and Katie wondered if Philip Leigh would come also, for she knew he was staying at Elleralie, the next station to her aunt's. They had met twice since his wife's death-once at a garden-party at Toorak, once at a con cert, but beyond a formal bow, or a few con ventional words, they had met almost as strangers. Poor little Katie. She dared to think of him now, as he was in the old days, before that trouble came. She knew too well her own heart was unchanged. But Philip? liad he forgotten her? Well, perhaps she would see him, and oh! how her heart hungered for a sight of his face, for the sound of his voice. Christmas Eve dawned clear and bright. An Australian summer day, but no hot wind or intense heat. The place chosen for the picnic was a lovely spot, with a view of the Grampians rising clear and blue in the dis tance. Alarce party were assembled, and in thehighestspirits, every one prepared'for the day's enjoyment. And Philip Leigh was there. Katie saw him, but he made no effort to approach her for the greater part of the day. Late in the afternoon, however, when she had wandered alone into the bush, looking for some wild flowers, from which to paint a table for her aunt, she came upon him standing under a large weeping gum. He spoke afew wordsthen, and she asked after little Philip. "Ihave a faithful nurse who cares for him devotedly," Philip told her, "and he is a strong, healthy, little man." Then he added, with an almost impercept ible hesitation, "it is well I can leave him in such good hands, for I think it possible I may take a voyage to the old country-even stay there."
Katie stoopea to gather some flowers, hid ingher face from view, and then said quietly, "How nice to be able to travel about. I have flowers enough now, I think," and she turned to rejoin the others. Philip Leigh walked beside her, saying little, and they were soon at the spot where the rest of their party were gathered, discus sing the advisability of a start for home. But somehow Katie felt that the sunshine had gone out of her day. Home was reached in time for an early tea, after which meal all were busy getting ready for the tableaux the great event of the evening. The large hall had been fitted up with a stage, and no trouble had been spared to make it a su. cessfnl evening. Katie and Daisie were both to take part in the first tableau, "Auld Robin Grey." Whilst the two girls were dressing together, Oaisie said shyly, "Roy and 1 are to be married at the end of summer, and oh ! Kitty, dear," continued the warm-hearted girl, as ehe threw down the iress she was just putting on and flung her arms round her cousin. "Oh! I wish, I .vish you could be happy, too !" "Do I look very forlorn, Daisie F" said Katie, with a little smile. "I am not un a'ppy, dear." "No," replied the cousin; "You ira
always nice and good, hut, Kitty, are you never going to forget?-Or, perhaps," she added thoughtfully, " it is all coming right.' Katie had no reply to make to this; she only kissed her cousin, as she said : " Daisie, I think Roy will make you happy, and that will help to make me so, too." Then the work of dressing went on, and then came the summons for them to take their parts ; and all was pleasant chatter and expectation amongst the guests and inmates of the house. Just as the first tableau was concluded-no one'knew how it happened but in some way Katie's gown caught fire from a footlight. All was terror and confu sion, but almost beforoe she had realised her danger a strongarm wrapped a rug about her, and she knew she was safe. Philip's quick movements had probably saved her from a terrible death-at least from much suffering. Katie was a little burned about the arms; sufficiently so for the need of having them dressed, and that together with tie shock, ended Katie's share of the evening's amuse ment. But as she lay on the couch in her room, where she had made them all leave her, declaring she was in no need of "nursing, Katie was far too happy to mind a few burns, or a solitary evening.
For had she not heard Philip's low words ashe wrapped her in the rug? "' My darling, my Katie." What did anything matter if only Philip loved her still? And when on Christmas morning, feeling but little the worse for her adventure, Katie went out into the shady garden, it was with a dreamy coneciousnees of some happy time drawing near to her. It almost seemed to her that the past three or four years had been but a painful dream, and she was aunin waiting and watoh. ing for her lover's return from over the seas. So when Philip, riding over with the avowed purposeof asking how Miss Bryce was after the accident of the past ght, and when he EhaTeen tolfdby )ale thalti her cousin was. somewhere in the garden-few words were needed. Philip, as he came to whereKatiesatunder the shade of the elm tree, which was the pride of her aunt's garden, inquired how she was, and then said almost abruptly, as he placed himself by her side.
"It is impossible, Miss Bryce, that I can meet you as I am doing, and remain as a stranger to you, or see you indifferent to me. Will you come to me after all, Katie? I shall never marry again unless you will be my wife." Katie, as she looked at him, saw the touoh of silver the years had brought into his dark hair, and the sadness which shadowed his dark eyes-and she knew he, too, had suf fered by their separation. Was it not her part to forgive freely out of her great love? Should she not make him glad once more? So Katie's answer brought the old light into his face, as he placed upon her finger the ring he had given her long ago. "I have carried it about with me ever since you sent it back to me, Katie. Was it wrong ?" Katie smiled thoughtfully as she replied to him.
I dont mknow, r.illp, Ctt I am qmte sure I am very glad to have my ring again." Philip told the story ot his voyage out. "It is better you should know how it was, dear, and then we shall close that chapter of our past." Katie, on her part, told him of her visit to his wife, a fact he had known nothing about, and then he understood her allusion when dying to Katie. "1 shall love your boy, Philip, and re member that his mother trusted me.'' Katie kept her word. In after years no childof her own was allowed to put Philip's first-born out of his rightful place in his father's heart and home.
"But how am I to face your father, Katie," asked Philip after a while. The discreet Daisie, seeing nothing of either Philip or Katie, guessed how matters were, and neither disturbedthemherself,nor allowed anyone else to do so. Thus they found plenty of time to discuss all these things. " Oh! Katie, his letter to me made me feel my baseness, but I deserved it all. Will he trust me to take care of you after all, my Katie ?" " His love for me will make him willing," she replied. And then seeing how deeply he was moved at the remembrance of that un happy time, she added, lightly, "See and treat me properly, sir, or I shall not answer for the consequences." So this Christmas Day, with its recovered joy and happy promise, made the memory of that other one when 'Katie was desolate and Philip faithless less painful as the years went on. Yet it left its trace upon both. Philip was grave for his years, and Katie never quite the light-hearted girl she had once been.