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THE CHIMNEY CORNER.

CHRISTMAS AT MUD FLAT. By Leander P. Richardson. She had been in camp four days. "Where she came from, why she came, or who she was, no one could tell. But she was in camp, and had come to stay, there was no doubt. She was quiet, modest, and simply clad—three qualities which commended her to the residents of Mud Flat as a change from the ordinary run of females who from time to time invaded the precincts of that classic settlement. Nor were these the only points that had been noticed by the boys. As Andy M'Corkle had gallantly handed her from his mud-bespattered coach to the portico of the hotel, everybody saw that she clung almost convulsively to the little child whose arms were twined about her neck. They observed also that her features were pale and bloodless to an extent that was almost pitiful. By that delicate intuition which sometimes exists under the roughest exteriors, the sturdy miners of Mud Flat understood that the lady was suffering from mental as well as physical illness. Their sympathy was aroused in her behalf from that instant, and every man in the place immediately constituted himself her champion and friend. A day later, when she had rented a cabin near the outskirts of the town, without disclosing to anyone her intentions for the future or her story of the past, their interest was increased, and they began to show their interest in substantial ways. A great heap of fire-wood was mysteriously placed within easy reach the first night. Bags of flour, quantities of coffee and sugar, a whole ham, and a quarter of fresh venison likewise made their appearance from some unexplained source the third morning. Little was seen of the recipient of these treasures however. She had only been on the street once, and then only to purchase a few necessary articles. Upon that occasion she met the reverential gaze of a score of loungers, and turned her head away, pretending not to see, when the jovial Bill Carter smuggled a huge package of candy into the cliild’s capacious pocket. But aside from this she had remained hidden from view, and the miners knew as little about her on the fourth day as they had on the first. The 23rd of December was unusually cold even for that locality. As the frozen moon came up over a distant crag, cutting with chilly hands the dusky gloom, one might have fancied that he had suddenly been transplanted into the Arctic regions. The ground was covered with a thin layer of snow, which glistened like burnished silver in the pale light. Here and there along the sides of the gulch, giant pines, standing like ghostly sentinels, threw their spectral shadows across the white expanse. The roar of the Potato Creek, wrapped in the icy arms of winter, was subdued to a tiny, muffled trickling. And the wind, gently sighing through the passes, played AEolian melodies among needles of pine and tassels of hemlock. In the main apartment of the Magnolia saloon, a party of boys were sitting round a table, upon which steamed a large bowl, emitting a fragrant and aromatic odour. “Whoever she mought be,” observed a tall and rather angular personage known to his companions as Long Tom Rollins—- “ Whoever she mought be, she’s alone, barring thet kid, and unpertected besides. She’s sickly, too, and orter hev a doctor. This ain’t no sort of a place for a—a—inverlid,” he concluded, hesitatingly, removing his heavy boot from the table, and helping himself to a liberal allowance of the punch. Then, after a pause, he continued, “I wonder what ails the critter, anyhow ? ” “ A man’s at the bottom of it, gentlemen, you hear me,” observed Judge Gashwilder from the other side of the table, nodding conviction at each of his hearers in turn. “Take my word for it, ther’s a man in it, as ther allers is in any deviltry that robs a poor woman’s cheek of its bloom, and her eye of its light.” The Judge was eloquent at all times. But when his round pate glistened from the effects of good punch, and his theme was woman, he was thought by the men of Mud Flat to have but few equals. Therefore the little party seated around the table were considerably startled when, just as their favorite orator had thrust his right hand into his breast as a preparatory gesture leading to a more extended tribute to the sex. Long Tom Rollins leaned forward and exclaimed; “ See here, old man. How do you know all this I ” For a moment everybody was aghast. Whether they were astonished at the suddenness of the interuption, or at the halfsavage tone of the speaker, or whether it occurred to them that the Judge might possibly have so far over-stepped the bounds of prudence as to have attempted “ pumping ” the interesting stranger may never be known. For an instant his naturally serene countenance wore an expression which in another would have been mistaken for guilt. If the confidence which the others had always placed in him was a trifle shaken at that instant, it was quickly restored when, after a moment’s hesitation the old gentleman explained his peculiar position. “ You see gentlemen,” he said, gradually assuming the attitude from which he had been surprised by the abrupt speech above quoted, “ I was prowlin’ round her cabing last night, when all of a sudden I heered voices inside. The door was open a leetle bit, and by standin’ where I was I couldn’t miss a syllerbul. I will here explain,” he continued thrusting his red bandanna handkerchief into his breast as was his wont -when speaking publicly, “ that I was there for the purpose of findin’ out, if possible, whether the gal was in want of anything that I could help her to.” “ Which accounts,” observed a bystander, ‘ ‘ for that chicken which was hung up alongside the door when I came by, this mornin’.” “I heered her talkin’ with the kid,” continued Judge Gashwilder, not noticing the interuption, “and I couldn’t help lissennen. As near as I could make out, the talk was like this : “ ‘ When shall we see papa ? ’ ” “ ‘Heaven only knows, ray baby. We have sought him long, and when God is ready He will restore him to us. ’ ” “ ‘ Is Crismas cornin’ soon mamma?’ ” “ ‘ Yes, baby darling. But there won’t be no presents for my little one this time. We are away from home, and poor. But when we find papa we will go where there are lots of pretty things, and then baby shall have plenty.’ ” Here the Judge leaned forward and whispered in a mysterious voice, telling his companions that he had heard the mother repeat to her child the sad story of how her father had gone West four years ago to seek his fortune ; how for two years his letters, containing money for her support, had come like rays of sunshine through the clouds; how they had suddenly stopped, and no answers were received to her agonized appeals ; how for two years more she had supposed him dead; how, at last, the Postmaster in the little village where she lived had, upon his dying bed, confessed to having stolen the letters from her husband so as to get the money they contained, and suppressed her missives to him, for fear of discovery; and how she had started out with the little one to find the lost husband, who had been last heard from in Mud FlatAll this the Judge told to the few friends he could trust, speaking in a whisper, lest the precious secret should be passed to others in the room. I

‘■'And now,” he added, resuming his rhetorical attitude and voice, £! I axes you, as gentlemen and representatives of Mud Flat chivalry, shall this gal and her kid, being too poor to have a Crismas of their own—shall they go without it or not 1 Remember, gentlemen, that kid is the fust one as ever came into this place, and p’raps she’s our luck. Let us nurtur her, my friends, and let us show her mother that we ain’t so lost to virtoo an’ principle as not to appreciate it when rye hev a good woman and an innercent kid among us. Let us give em’ a Crismas. I will now proceed to head the subscription.” So saying, the gallant old man moved the punch-bowl to one side and emptied j the contents of his breeches pockets upon the table. Others followed suit, ! and when the last man had placed his contribution there the pile contained a goodly sum. “ Row, gentlemen, some one of us has got to take that money, ride to town and spend it for ’em. Who shall it be ? ’ j “ Let me be your agent,” responded a deep bass voice. Turning, they saw a tall stranger stand- { ing near by, who had just entered in time to hear the Judge’s call for contributions, j One or two in the room recognized him as a miner w 7 ho had come in from the diggings that afternoon, having found it too cold to work any longer in the mountains. _ | They were inclined to resent the interference of an outsider, and probably would not have heeded his request had he not spoken a second time. Drawing near the table, he said : “Gentlemen, I was once a married j man myself, but my w’ife, God bless her, is dead. For the love I bear her memory, For the affection I have the remembrance of the little one buried with her, I ask you to let me aid in this matter. ” The sadness in his voice and face was so sincere, and the utility of sending a man who had “ been thar, and knowed what wiinmen folks would like,” presented it self so favorably to the miners, that with but little hesitation they allowed linn to do as he 1 ad wished. In an hour he was gone, and, the settlement was lost in speculation as to what lie would bring back for the strange lady and her child. The morning of December 25th dawned crisp and cold. The fresh, biting air of the mountains raced among the trees right merrily, whisking among the branches with real holiday gaiety. It was nearly noon when the stranger rode into camp, loaded with bundles. At the Magnola he met an eager crowd of miners, who, headeded by Judge Gashwilder, were soon on the road to the strange lady’s cabin. Arrived there, they felt a sudden hesitation about entering. It was like intruding upon some sacred ground, and they were almost tempted to deposit their bundles upon the threshold and fly. “You take the stuff,” said the Judge to the stranger, “ and go in fust. You’ve bin familiar with wimmen, and know how to handle ’em. We’ll wait outside. ” But the stranger felt the same hesitation. Perhaps his long absence from feminine society made him bashful. Perhaps a thought of the memory he revered caused him to hold back. Finally, the J udge consented to take the lead, and, doffing his hat, knocked softly. The door was opened by the child, who bade him enter. Beside the fire sat the mother, who X’ose to meet them. All passed in but the stranger, who stood outside. “ Marm,” said the Judge, who somehow had lost his usual ease of speech and gesture, “ we—that is, the citizens of Mud Flat—has come to wish you a merry Christmas, and to offer you these few tokins of our respeck an’ esteem.” Having thus delivered himself, the old gentleman deposited the bundles on the table, and stood beaming serenely on all his companions. The strange lady, completely overcome by this unexpected kindness, could not find words to reply for a moment. Then, in a broken voice, she said : “ This is a glad moment of my sorrowful life. You are good, kind men, and I know God will repay your generosity to the widow and fatherless. I ” She stopped suddenly, and stood with blanched cheeks and distended eyes, staring towards the door. The miners turned and beheld the stranger, who with a great stride forward, and a cry expressill g the wildest joy, caught the woman in his arms. Thus they stood, heart pressed to heart, and lips to lips for an instant. Then the stranger turned his eyes devoutly toward the ceiling. “ Thank God,” he murmured gently, “ the wife I had supposed dead is restored to me.” The miners stoic softly away, and left the stranger standing thus, with his arms tenderly twined about the woman of his love, and the little child clinging fondly to his knees. The air was balmy outside ; the sun shone with ineffable sweetness upon the scene ; bluejay screamed his delight from a neighboring tree, and the wind played a joyful tune among the rocks. Christmas had come to Mud Flat. DODD’S TRAGEDY. He came into the store with a face full of misery, and sat down upon a box beside the stove and began to cry. It was a queer thing for a man like that to do—a great rough laborer, fifty years or more. Some dreadful trouble must have come upon him to make him show his sorrow that way without disguise. The strangers stared sympathetically. After a while the proprietor of the store went up to him and said : “ Well neighbour, you seem to be in trouble ; can we help you any ?” The man did not look up ; he shook his head and said : “No, no, no ! It’s very kind of you but nobody can help me. I suppose you all think I’m an old fool; but she was all the family I had, and now she’s dead,” and a great tear splashed upon the floor. “ She’s dead. You can’t do me any good now ; but if you’d come around to my little shanty there about nine o’clock last night you might have done some good—l dunno. When a man is determined to make a brute of himself he’d do it, perhaps ; but if there’d been some one there to say : ‘ Dodd, what on airth are you about ? ’ why, mebbe—l dunno, tho’ —I was mad. When a man is mad, and has had a glass too much, what’s the use of talking to him ? It’s fixed things for me. Any way —Lord, forgive me ! she’s dead,” The tears splashed down again, but the people looked at him with faces that had lost a little of their sympathy. “You did’nt—did’nt do anything to bring it on—whatever it was?” said an old lady with a large basket on her arm. “I shouldn’t have thought it of you.” “Yes, I did—l did,” sobbed the man. “Ifit had not been for me it never would have happened. I loved her too. Yes I did love her. Nobody could say she’d ever had a hard word from me before in all the days we’d lived together; but last night I’d a glass too much, and I stopped at the butcher’s down in the village and bought a bit of steak—a man wants a change from pork once in a way—and she was fond of steak, she was, and I just fetched it in and said to her : “We’ll have a supper to-night, eh : ” and she sort of nodded and winked at me jest as jolly, and then I went out to the well to draw water, and as a body does sometimes when anybody is in a hurry, I lost the bucket off, and I was a terrible time finding it, and when I went in —well, you see, I went in with an appetite—and there she sat, and—well I ain’t dainty, but I couldn’t have touched that steak to save me —and I got mad. Well, I got madder than I ever was before, and I jest goes around and gave her a kick. Yes I did. If I was to be hung for it to-morrow, I’d have to own up. I kicked her.” “You brute!” said the woman with the basket; “ kicked her because your steak didn’t suit you; well may you cry,”

“ Yes’m,” said the man. “You can’t speak harder to me than I feel to myself. I kicked her in the side, and, what is more, opened the door and kicked her out of it, and then I jest sat down alongside of my fire and talked the worse kind to myself—l did indeed —Lord forgive me ! and 1 said I’d never let her in again. Yes’m, you can look as you like at me —I deserve it—and then I went to bed.” “ Went to bed and left her out in the cold ? ” said the old lady. “Never seeing whether she was dead or not ? ” “Yes, I did,” said the poor man, sobbing hard, “ More than that, I went to sleep— I slept sound, too j and what do you think waked me ? Why, her voice— I knew it from a thousand. It was the awfulest shriek, and then another, and it came all over me what I'd done. I’d turned her, that had slept alongside of me winter nights more years than I could remember, out into the cold night. I’d kicked her out. Oh ! I was sober then. I tell you. I saw what a brute I was to do a thing like that, all fora bit of paltry steak, and I got up and went to the door and I called, but she didn’t come. I called again, and then I heard her scream, but fainter and farther off; and then I felt a kind of horror come over me, and I dressed myself and took my lantern and went out. I walked this way and that. I looked and I called, I swung the lantern low and I held it high. There wasn’t a sign of her; and at last I got down to Bolton’s Pond, there by the edge of the woods, you know, and I heard a kind of a growling ; and past me, all in a hurry as they go when they’ve been doing mischief, flew those dogs of Bolter’s—fierce devils—but they knew enough to be afraid of me then. “ And when I saw them my heart stood still and I swung the lantern low again, and I saw her. Sh e lay alongside the pond, and her gray baits were dabbled in blood, and the marks of dog’s teeth were on her neck; and I just took her up in my arms and carried her along the road home, and brought her to the fire, and there I cried over her and called her all the pet names lused to call her when I first had her a little, young thing; but it was’nt any use —she was just as stiff and cold, and I laid her on the bed and there she’s laid ever since. Oh 1 its dreadful 1 ” “Yes, and you deserve to be hung,” said the old lady; “but, now, suppose she isn’t dead, and maybe she isn’t. Let us go over with you, and stop and fetch the doctor. Folks have been brought to what seem dead. Anyway it’s all right. “Well, I’ll do it,” said the man; “ but it’s no use, I know. ” The proprietor of the store called his wife to wait on it, and he headed the procession of his customers, and they all went down to Dodd’s cabin, calling on the doctor as they passed his house, and taking him with them. But when they came to the lonely little house no one cared to be first to go in ; but at last the doctor, as being used to such things, opened the door and stepped in. It was a mean little room, and furnished only with a table, two chairs, same shelves, and a bed, and on this bed sat his old grey cat washing her face. _ As soon as Dodd’s eye rested on this animal he uttered a cry of joy, and flew to her side ; but she uttered a loud “ Mee-ow,’ - while her tail swelled to immense proportions. “Oh, I don’t mind,” said Dodd ; “ I deserve you should be mad at me —anything, anything, so as you’re alive. She’s come to life again Glory, glory, glory !” “ Why, you don’t mean to say you were talking about a cat all the while?” screamed the woman with the basket. “You said she didn’t cook your meat properly, and—” “ Ma’am,” said Dodd,” I meant to say she eat most of it for me, and tore and chawed what she didn’t eat ; but she’s welcome. So that she’s alive, I don’t care. Though she’s weaned from me; I see that. Our happy times are over ; she doubts me.” ‘ 1 Called me in to a cat, indeed 1” said the doctor. “ Left my business lor a cat 1” cried the storekeeper. “ Oh, what an old fool!” said the woman. “ Miaow !” yelled the attendant train of boys ; but old Dodd never looked at them. He listened to none of their insults, and they left him doing his best, with tears in his eyes, to get that offended cat to take a little milk from a saucer that he held before her lips, and saying: “Oh, make up, pussy; your own Dodd will never do it any more.”

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http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AG18800221.2.21

Bibliographic details

THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 64, 21 February 1880

Word Count
3,577

THE CHIMNEY CORNER. Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 64, 21 February 1880

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