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THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 100, 15 May 1880
THE CHIMNEY CORNER.
A LOVE STORY. ( Continued.) ‘ls anybody ever drowned hereabouts?” she asked the coast-guardsman abruptly. “No,” returned that obstinate functionary ; immediately adding, “three years ago a man tumbled off Cleve Cliff, and never came up again.” She looked toward the cliff. “ Well, then he was drowned, wasn’t he?” “Some say he was dashed on the rocks,” answered the coast-guardsman grudgingly. “ Was anybody with him when he fell?” “ His sweetheart.” “ Perhaps she pushed him over.” “ Good heavens ! ” ejaculated the coast guardsman : “ what should she push him over for ? ” Clara Wraxall made no reply, but walked to the summit ‘of Cleve Cliff. The placid ocean, beautiful in the morning sunlight, was laving the foot of the rock beneath her as she bent over the hazardous railing. “An easy plunge and a swift death here,” she thought, “ if the worst came ■: to the worst. Depend upon it that girl pushed her lover down. Perhaps he deserved it.” She stayed there an hour ruminating. “ I don’t know,” she reflected, “ that 1 could ever kill a man with my own hand, however much I might hate him ; but I know I could see him killed without putting forth a finger to save him. ” So ■ saying, she descended the cliff and returned to the house, where, with the irresolution which was her one claim to womanhoodj-she set about a last effort to win back the straying affections of Arthur Golding. But all her arts were to no purpose. Arthur remained cold and distant, and her womanly instinct detected a rival. One day Golding had determined, for the seventieth time, to leave Clevedown on the morrow, and announced his resolution to his host. “What, leave us now at best part of the autumn ? ” exclaimed Mr. Burnet; “oh, nonsense! It’s too late to shoot, and for idling purposes there’s no place like the south. Besides, we’ve our picnic to-morrow on Cleve Cliff. You must stay for the picnic. ” And Arthur yielded and stayed. Oh, those picnics—disastrous ever to the peace of incipient lovers ! Blessed beyond the name (unfortunately unrecorded) of the man who invented sleep—blessed by young hearts is the man who invented picnics. If Arthur had been as learned in psychology as he was in law, he would 'have shunned the new danger. But he was ignorant, or perhaps courted danger —at all events, he went. The inevitable fate befell him. A row to Cleve; a shifty banquet on the grass ; a stroll over the headlands looking on the sea; a ramble down the rocks to blue water; and he found himself with Kate. They were alone and the tide was coming in. (I have remarked that tender hearts are always softer when the tide is coming in ; doubtless because the moon regulates both alike—love and water.) The day was declining ; an autumn evening, calm and cool, growing apace. Arthur Golding could stand it no longer. “ Miss Burnet,” he began ; “ Miss Burnet—Kate—may I call you Kate 2 ” You know what followed. When a gentleman begins by addressing a young lady by her surname, and immediately substitutes the Christian name, it usually leads to one result. Arthur Golding obeyed the immutable law; and before the sea had advanced another foot it was over ; his love was told and a sweet admission obtained in return. The tide was at its flood. He walked up Cleve Cliff, a cooler man. Kate Burnet had rejoined her fossil mamma. Kate loved him and confessed it. So far that was satisfactory. But how about Miss Wraxall 2 He lit a cigar, and pondered over that problem, looking down over the rickety rail on the cliffhead into the sea, on which the shades of night were thickly falling. He thought over it until the difficulty of the situation had melted into clouds as thin and unsubstantial ai the wreaths of smoke curling from his cigar. Turning to join the picnic party now wending homeward, he encountered the subject of his meditation. “ Miss Wraxall! ’* The was pale, and unnaturally calm ; he could see that, dark as it was getting. She advanced full upon him. “Sir,’. she said. “They are going home. You are too late to overtake them. You are too late to overtake her. Sit down.” “ Pardon me—l ” “ Sit, I say. I have something to speak to you about.” He bowed, and sat down on the rustic seat on the cliff. He could do little else, in common politeness. She took a seat beside him, placed her hands on his knees, and looked into his face. “Arthur” —her voice was troubled: “why have you changed towards me 2” He did not reply ; the truth being that - he was for the moment nonplussed. “ Arthur Golding,” she resumed, after an awkward pause, ‘ ‘ for the last month you have led me to believe you loved me. You told me so. Silence, sir ! If ever looks—lying looks —spoke love, yours did. Did they not 1” He had recovered himself somewhat by this time. “If they did,” he answered coldly, “ I am unfortunate. Ido not love you, and have never loved you.” She started up, her hot blood on fire, and her passion over-mastering her. “ You love that chit—that doll—that baby-face ; .you have thrown away me for her; you have trampled on a woman’s hears for a thing of plaster, with the soul of a puling child ! Is it not so 1” Her fierce invective almost bore him down. He rose, and stepped back towards the railing on the edge of the cliff, she fiercely following. “ Speak, you smooth-tongued villain !” hissed Clara Wraxall ; “am I not right ? Do you not love Miss Weazen-face 2” “ You can say nothing of Miss Burnet,” answered Arthur, ‘ ‘ that does not raise her in my estimation and make me loathe you more.” She threw up her clenched fists in the whirlwind of her passion. “If I were a man, I would throw yon into the sea for those words. I would strike you dead before me if I could. Hah !” she cried, looking over his shoulder, down the path which led to the land side of the cliff; and to his intense surprise she flung herself into his arms, clasping him close, swaying backward and forward, and emitting shriek upon shriek of piercing - hrillness. ‘ ‘ Good heavens, Clara, what can you * mean 2” exclaimed Arthur Golding. Are a you mad 2—Clara !” j Still she clung to him, screaming, and affecting to battle with him. A dim figure ascended the cliff by the pathway—came nearer, and revealed Edward Burnet in the shadows of the growing night. f Clara Wraxall burst away from Arthur, j and flew to the new-comer. “ Oh, Mr. Burnet,” she cried ; “ you —you will at least protect me ! That man has insulted me—has offered me violence.” “Mr. Golding!” exclaimed the aston- . ished Edward, recognising him. g “ Thank heaven you came,” she sobbed. “He I cannot say how grossly he endeavoured to wrong me.” Arthur Golding, standing against the railing, had, up to this, had no opportu- h nity to interpose a word. With an infa-
tuate cry of fury the young'Wn rushed at him and aimed a blow at his head with a hick stick which had aided his ascent. “Scoundrel!” cried Edward, delivering the blow. Interposing his arm, Arthur Golding received the blow—a severe one—while with the other he stopped the young man's mad rush. There was a momentary scuffle, a push from Golding, and Edward Burnet was hurled against the railing, which crashed beneath his weight, and he disappeared over the edge of the cliff. “Merciful heaven!” cried Arthur Golding, horror-stricken. “What have I done 2 ” “ You have killed him,” screamed Clara Wraxall. “He is dead. You have murdered the brother of your beloved.” And like one possessed she fled screaming down the path, and was lost in the darkness. Stunned with the weight of his involuntary crime, Golding crept as near as he could to the edge of the precipice, and looked over. To descend in the direction in which the unhappy youth had fallen was impossible ; the cliff was as precipitous as che wall of a house, and at its base the retreating sea cast on the rocks a white border of foam. The night, too, had deepened too with the swiftness peculiar to that time of year. He could see no trace of the young man. With a heavy heart he made his way quickly down the path on the land side, intending to get a boat and some assistance, and endeavor to find Edward Burnet alive or dead— the alternative he had only too good reason to fear. At the foot of Cleve Cliff he met a party of the alarmed villagers, among them Clara Wraxall raving. Then Mr. Burnet and several gentlemen from the picnic party hurried to the spot. And then and there Clara passionately denounced him as Edward’s murderer. The violence of her rage, the falshood of her charge—false in its minuteness, a terrible lie in every circumstantiality—overwhelmed him. She had witnessed their quarrel; it was Golding who provoked it, she said. His jealousy of the young man had prompted the attack, and he had ruthlessly seized the less powerful stripling, and flung him over the cliff, breaking the railing in the act. He could not repel the terrible accusation which left every cheek pale, and a horror in every eye. Directing two men to guard him, Mr. Burnet procured a couple of boats, and beaded a search at once hopeless and unavailing. In an hour’s time they sorrowfully returned to land. Not even the dead body could be rescued from the cruel waves that washed the base of Cleve Cliff. All that night Arthur Golding remained in guarded seclusion in the house of his former entertainer. Next day a magistrate’s warrant was procured, and he was committed to prison on the charge of attempt to murder. An examination before the magistrates dieted no new facta beyond the repeated statement of Miss Wraxall as to the circumstances attending the attack. Questioned as to the precise cause of the quarrel between the two young men, she admitted, with some reluctance, that their quarrel had been about herself. She had unconsciously (and oh, how bitterly she reproached herself now) afforded them a pretext for a violence which in one had led to death, and in the other to a crime which—judging from ominous expressions which he had confided to her, and which at the time she had set down to the jealous ravings of a lover—she feared was premeditated. Arthur was then formally committed for trial. A damaging part of the evidence against him, was the fact that he had had a slight tiff with the deceased on that fatal afternoon, and during the picnic excursion. It had amounted merely to a few hasty words provoked by Edward himself, in whose mind a jealous hatred of Arthur had been artfully sown by Miss Wraxall. Still it was enough to prejudice the case against him. For Miss Wraxall a great deal of public commiseration was created, by her unfortunate connection with the crime, by her having been a witness of the murder, and by the manifest suffering which she experienced in giving her evidence. On Golding, public opinion was heavy and strong. Of all interested in the tragedy on Cleve Cliff, there were but two hearts that steadily refused to believe in his guilt—one, the unhappy girl whose lot it was to mourn a brother slain by a lover’s hand ; the other, sturdy Frederick Burnet, who had been summoned by telegraph, and who undertook with all his legal energies to conduct his friend’s defence. [TO BE CONTINUED.!
THE CHIMNEY CORNER., Ashburton Guardian, Volume 1, Issue 100, 15 May 1880
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