|Chapter Title||A CHRISTMASTIDE.|
|Newspaper Title||Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (NSW : 1851 - 1904)|
|Trove Title||The Mount Macedon Mystery|
Adeline Devereaux had apparently taken up her residence in Melbourne per- manently. Her friends, the Evelyns, had persuaded her to stay with them, and as her affairs in Sydney were going on smoothly she was not anxious to go back.
In fact she had few friends there. Brought up strictly she had entered little into society, and until she met Charles Edgar scarcely saw the outside world. She still clung to the hope that in Vic- toria she would discover the fate of her missing lover. "I lost him here, and I will find him here," she would say. In company with Miss Evelyn she paid several visits to Ernest Rennie's home- stead. Her friendship for the young man increased with every visit as his noble character unfolded itself to her. She had promised the young man to spend the Christmas tide amongst rural scenes, as she preferred the peaceful quiet
of Rennie's home to the more luxurious hospitality of the bustling city, and Christmas Eve found her on the Woodend platform, shaking hands with the young farmer who had come to meet her. Up to this time she was ignorant of the fact that the missing Marshall had been seen, as Rennie thought the news would only shatter any lingering hope she might have that Edgar was still alive, and he loved her too much to willingly cause her pain. Yes. Ernest Rennie loved the devoted young girl, over whose life a shadow had fallen. He loved her with the deep, strong affection, that only such natures as his is capable of, but he would willingly have buried his lasting love in the grave of his own heart to see Charles Edgar stand before him again as he did at the Forest Inn three years previously. He had never uttered even a hint of his feelings to the orphan girl, for until he was assured of his friend's fate he could not bring himself to do so. Miss Devereaux, we might mention here, knew that Mr Simpson, the visitor at Evelyn's, had disappeared, for it was in all the papers, and though she won- dered at him doing so, she attached no importance to it until Detective Lynx called upon her to ask the particulars of her conversation with him. She told him all she knew, and then it dawned upon her, as it had upon the officer, that Simpson was in some way connected with the Edgar's. " Who do you think the man is ?'' she pointedly asked the detective.
" I am sure I don't know. I suppose he is what he represents himself," re- plied the officer, who had been asked by Rennie not to tell his suspicions to the girl. "Do you think he is Reginald Edgar ?" she suddenly questioned. Taken aback by this straight query the detective looked somewhat confused, but recovering himself said, "It would be extraordinary if he were Charles's step-brother ; such a thing is scarcely possible." '' It is both possible and probable I think," persisted the young lady. The detective, anxious to escape such direct questioning, got away as soon as he could courteously do so, and left Miss Devereaux to puzzle out the identity of Phillip Simpson as best she could. "There is something in the detective's mind about this man that I would like to know," she murmured. As she stood on the platform with
Rennie this beautiful summer afternoon she felt that sense of security and con- tentment only enjoyed in the company of a good and true friend. She was soon seated in the strong but comfortable buggy that Rennie had added to his farm, and in a few minutes they had left the town behind them, and were plunging into the forest. Miss Evelyn had not accompanied her friend on this trip as she — like most other people — wished to spend her Christmas at home. With kind thoughtfulness Miss De- vereaux had brought quite a bundle of periodicals and newspapers from town, for such literature was not easily obtain- able in the district at that time. They spent the time pleasantly enough on the road, chatting about commonplace subjects, until they came in sight of the homestead.
"Each time I come here I can notice improvements," the girl said. "I am doing the best I can and expect in a few years to have quite a fine place if Providence spares me. I have managed to secure a large area of ground around me by purchase, and on one lot I have discovered excellent brick clay, which I will shortly turn to account. Just at the back there, in that creek which you can see," he added, pointing in the direction, " there is a splendid slate quarry. It is, in fact, called Slatey Creek. I have all the material to my hand almost to build with, and before another year passes I will make a start on a new house." Thus the sanguine young man went on
sketching the future, and the girl listened with a feeling akin to pride at the recital of the improvements he contemplated. Mrs Affleck was waiting for them at the door with a smile of welcome, and a couple of robust looking youngsters were playing in front of the house. The almost friendless girl felt as if she were entering home when she stepped across the threshold. "I feel as if I were coming back to my own house," she laughingly remarked to Mrs Affleck. "Indeed mistress," the good woman answered with her Scotch accent, "I wish it was your own house." There was no lack of Christmas cheer on the farm, for wherever the Anglo- Saxon goes he carries his customes. Eating tremendously heavy indigestible dinners when the heat is 100 degress in the shade is even more foolish than the practice of our judges and barristers en- veloping their heads during summer in oppressively hot wigs ; but it is custom, my dear readers, custom, and cannot be
dispensed with. Ernest Rennie had not been very long from the Christmas festivities of his native land, and he left nothing wanting on the farm that was necessary to celebrate the festival at the antipodes with the same hospitable cheer that it was being marked in the Old Land. Some of the surrounding settlers and others who were still living a bachelor life in a very primitive fashion visited the farm, and were treated to the best it afforded. On Boxing Day Miss Devereaux and Rennie strolled out in the direction of the Campaspe, and reaching one of the beau-
tiful waterfalls seated themselves on a rocky ledge, admiring the fantastic shapes that rose out of the rocky bed of the stream and the water that fell like a sheet of crystal over the small precipice, The romantic nature of the surround- ings impressed them both, and for a time neither spoke. At length the girl broke the silence by asking — the thought being uppermost in her mind, — "What is Mr Simpson's real name? If you know Mr Rennie I beg of you to tell me, for if it has any bearing on the matter we are so anxious about you should not conceal anything from me." The young man was troubled at the question, but as he looked at the plead- ing face his conscience smote him at the slight concealment he had been guilty of, though it was to save her pain. "Miss Devereaux," he answered, "myself and Mr Lynx have a suspicion as to the real name of Simpson, but it is only a suspicion, and we did not tell you because it might cause unnecessary pain. It is almost a certainty, however, that Simpson is the man named Marshall, who disappeared from the Camel's Hump the same day as Charles Edgar.'' . . "Then, " she faltered, "if that be so, the— the bones that were found must be — " Here she fairly broke down as she thought of the terrible fate that must have befallen her lover.
" It is only the merest conjecture " broke in Rennie, consolingly. "I would not dwell on any such suspicions." Nevertheless, the young girl could not stifle her natural feelings, and she re- turned to the farm house with a sad and despairing heart. " Charles is dead. I feel it now " she moaned, as burying her face on the pil- low that night she gave way to a passion- ate outburst of tears. The next morning found her calm and resigned, and after the heat of the day had passed she again strolled out with the young farmer. He was unusually moody and reserved. He was so preoccupied that he frequently neglected to answer questions she asked him. At length she looked at him smiI- ingly and said : "Mr Rennie, the Christmas cheer has surely disagreed with you. I just asked you twice if you were going to take me to that kangaroo hunt to-morrow as you promised, and I cannot get an answer from you." "I beg your pardon Miss Devereaux. The fact is I have something of the great- est importance to say Something that may, perhaps, cause me to forfeit your esteem, and — and lam very nervous in- deed." " I do not know of anything you could say that would lower you in the esteem I hold you. I regard you as the best friend I have on earth, and I trust I shall always do so." "Ah, Miss Devereaux — Adeline, for- give me for saying so, but I want you to regard me with something more than friendship — I want you to love me, for I love you devotedly. " I don't ask you to give up your pro- mise to Charles Edgar, for I would give all I hope to possess to see him standing again at your side, but if— if it will be no longer possible for you to see him again on earth, will you promise that in the future you may give me cause to hope." He spoke passionately, and with the pathos of true affection in his voice, and she was sensibly affected. "Mr Rennie," she answered. "I am sure you do not expect me to answer you just now. The offer you have made is one worthy of you, and I am sure you will give m time to consider it. I may tell you at once that so long as Charles Edgar's fate is unknown I will not marry. That much I have finally decided. If I were certain on that point I scarcely know what I would do, as I have never even thought of giving my love to any other man. Your proposal, under the circumstances, has been a surprise to me, and I consider it an honor. Do not let us talk about it again until we know something more definite regarding Charles Edgar's fate."
She gave him her hand as she finished, and turned in the direction of the home- stead. They had scarcely entered the door when a horseman was seen approaching. As he came near the house Rennie said — " Why, that's the telegraph messenger from Woodend. I wonder what's the matter now?" The young fellow jumped from his horse, and coming to the door handed Rennie a letter. Ho broke it open, and after glancing over it, read aloud — "Middle Gully, Come at once to Forest Inn here. Most important. Thomas Lynx." " It must be in reference to the my- stery " exclaimed Adeline Devereaux. "Oh, do go and help him, and I will accompany you if necessary." "If you do not mind I would rather you stayed here. It will be almost im- possible to get accommodation at Middle Gully, and I will send you the news daily if anything important occurs. She agreed to this, and Rennie, hastily packing up necessary change, was soon ready to accompany the messenger back, and one of his men had the buggy at the door waiting for him.
Taking Adeline Devereaux's hand he said— " I hope this journey may be the means of clearing away the shadow that has rested so long on you. God grant that I may be able to restore Charles Edgar to you." " Whatever happens I pray that you may return to us safely " she replied, looking at him gratefully for the kind words he had spoken, and which she knew now must have cost him a pang. He wrung her hand as he turned away, and little did the girl or himself dream of the deadly peril he was going to en- counter.