A TRAGEDY IN REAL LIFE.
* The Story of One Terrible Christinas.' [The following story the judges considered was deserving of honorable mention. The writer, a recent arrival from England, represents that, it is the actual unvarnished narrative of his own sad experience. We can only say that any person who has passed through such an experience is deserving of the reader’s sincere commisseration.]
The season is now at hand in which that joyous festival comes off called “ Christmas,” ringing almost in every person’s ears in a civilised country, from a towerly lord down to the toil-worn rustic, with a sound of felicity, revelry, and luxury. The celebration of this Nativity brings forth to the memory of, many gay times and brilliant days, while to me it sheds a recollection of gloomy hours, disaster, and deadly losses, which are now the sole cause of my relating the following narrative. I was born in the year 1850, in a village called Sunny Grove, in the south of England, where I was brought up to manhood by godly parents, together with two brothers and an affectionate sister, 1 being the youngest of the four which once constituted the happy family, as the neighbors around; were wont to express. We held an extensive farm iri the aforesaid place, the proceeds of which . amounted to a pretty considerable suth, ' out of which we led a social and happy life. It was customary with the people of that place that those who were under good circumstances, and could "afford,, (o spend a little, would have a Christ-." mas party each year; so accordingly we entertained our party every Christy mas while "lining together, during my ; memory, being supposed to be the, most comfortable family, in the locality/ ' besides having a great desire to coiir; verse with our friends in our own habitation about matters past and future. From the year 1850 to the year 1875 we lived happily together, never missing the opportunity J bf having all our favo-' rite guests at the Christinas dinner, and enjoy and pass the time away to t'he nj best advantage, in all the local gossip, music, dances, and songs, these sub-" " jects being our only discussion for fully f two months previous to the celebration , of the festival. '
During that long though short period ' of time, for it then appeared short to me, we lived more contented and una- - nimous together than 1 am at present ; able to describe, always entertaining a firm determination to be never severed J from one another, except by death,’’ alone, which we all well knew would : sooner or later be an inevitable de-
stroyer. . i There was no lack of anything at any Christmas that was necessary to make . tHe time enjoyable, and all the sur- ; rounding villagers appeared to gaze on • the white-washed cottage which belonged to the wfell-to-do family, as they used to say, who always entertained their party with palatable dinners and ’ teas. However, as the Christmas ' 'of the afore-mentioned year had drawn ' pretty nigh we resolved to be well prepared, and as usual to get in a good - supply of the different eatables," and drinks of every description, with a hope of giving our party a satisfactory recep- : tion, and of enjoying rt ourselves to the''";: best advantage too. Accordingly, having issued the invitations to our select friends, with the desired effect • of their arrival at an earlier hour than the previous Christmas, for we were all ; 3 over-anxious for the table-talk, and the ’ • afternoon amusements, we flattered -.-i ourshlves with the idea of having a ' jollier time of it this Christmas than ; any of the by-gone ones, more espe- " dally as we were to be graced with the " ’ presence of two relatives who had been away somewhere during the six preced- C ing years. At length the wished-for day and appointed hour had come, iand the invited guests had assembled in < ; twos and threes, the arrival being much greeted by the whole family successively. All having complied with their promises, we collectively proposed that the inspiriting cup be served round, and a each to partake of their favorite ingredient, cognac, wine, lemonade,: etc., as " they-. 1 preferred. > This course having J.; beenTchhipleted the tables were laid, ;; jE and Slifmer was ready in a few minutes, as
All having agreed to lose no time, so that we could perambulate the walks of our nicely-selected garden, which lay to the back of the house, before evening would set in, and bask in the sunshine, which poured down on the mounds and centre-space of this horticultural ground, or rest ourselves under its mild and invigorating shade, which was so much adapted for local gossip. Directly as the dinner-bell rang, all assembled in the diningroom, save my father, each occupying the seat pointed out to them, my father’s place to be left vacant at the head of the table, his usual and favorite position at meals, he having had occasion at the time to be absent for a few minutes, as we all supposed. Ten minutes having elapsed, and he not coming, my eldest brother went to ascertain the cause of his proFonged absence, and hasten him to the vacant chair, which he was then never again fo occupy, for he was no longer a'living father. - In the meantime, while the brother tyas in search of him, from room to room, through the entire house, all the guests and the remainder of the family seemed to be enjoying the Christmas dinner, not imagining that there was anything wrong, or that any serious occurrence had taken place ; when lo ! a piercing shriek was heard from one of the inner apartments, which stagnated the blood of every person in the house, more than my pen can describe or my tongue narrate.
6h ! how that shrill and terrifying cry of a brother still rings in my ears whenever I hear the word “Christmas” uttered, and makes me shudder like an autumnal leaf in a blast of wind.
The very tone of it caused some of those who Were at the table not to move, for they were scarcely able ; but, such as were, they lost no time in rushing head-long in amazement to the apartment from which they thought it originated, where there lay one of the most appalling spectacles on record.
Oh! how 1 tremble at the idea of describing it, and how feebly does my hand guide its instrument, with a nervousness which it is never more to lose. There was the father strung up by the wall of this gloomy apartment, suspended from an iron hook which had been driven there for a very different purpose, and from which the ill-fated man, horribly designed to strangle, and hang himself, and commit that dastardly suicide which is never to be forgotten by me and several others. Life was quite extinct, and no remedy could be put in execution that would restore the least symptoms of vitality to the blackened corpse, and much less were there any hopes of the recovery of the brother, who also lay a lifeless trunk on the floor. But thinking that he was only in a swoon, caused by the dreadful sight which he beheld on entering the room, there was little or no delay made in procuring medical aid. The doctor having arrived, directly examined the two deceased, and having found that medical skill was quite futile, pronounced them both to be totally beyond restoration to this life, and ordered that the matter be reported to the police authorities, and an inquest held to let the public know the cause of the awful disaster. But what had occurred was not sufficient ; troubles never come alone ; at the critical moment such words dropped from the medical attendant’s lips, my overawed and terror-stricken, benevolent mother, who stood tearing her
hair, and clapping her feeble hands in dismay and trouble, was felled to the floor by the overpowering hand of death, never again to rise, or utter a solitary word, for she was, alas! no longer a living matron. The doctor being now at hand, there and then used the utmost efforts to restore consciousness, but to no avail; and as he alleged, she was killed, not by the slow stroke of death, but similarly to the brother— instantaneously dropped dead with the effects of the ghastly sight which was before her gaze, and the woeful thought of never more having the father or her first born to converse with. Now there was nothing to be sought, nothing to be obtained, nay nothing to be looked for, that could suffice to console, not only myself, brother and sister, but all our wailing guests, who were deeply interested in the welfare of the whole family, or that would tend to mollify the bitter grief and regret with which every individual present was overladen. They all remained in the house until the following day, when the inquest was to be held —a small number, indeed, when compared to the number of people who came that evening and night, from the various localities around, to console us, and endeavor to assuage the triple deadly loss, which is still quite new in many of their memories. The inquest and post mortem examination having been gone into subsequently, there was no testimony to show the cause of death, save death itself (ipso facto), only that my father committed suicide extempore while being of unsound mind. There being no other proof of this startling disaster, the funeral ceremony was admitted to be held at the most convenient time to ourselves, and was accordingly carried out on the following day. <On that memorable day it would even touch the hearts of the most hardened strangers to behold the numerous sympathisers who flocked from various distant parts of the country to take part in the funeral procession, and endeavor to console the. heartbroken “ three,” who were merely spared for a short period as a vestage of the once happy “ Family.” Thus they were interred in the sacred burial ground, where many a shrill.voice was that day to be heard, bemoaning their departure, and who were never more to be seen by corporeal eyes, but never to be forgotten. Many a bitter tear was shed on the verdant turf beneath which they lay, and more were the fervent entreaties offered for their eternal salvation by those who had only heard of the name. My brother, and sister, and I continued to occupy the same tenements, but there was no such enjoyment or contentedness as before, and we all appeared to participate in turmoil and. misery, and regret to be the sole result of our futurity. These were the baneful results too, my sister having departed this life about the middle of the ensuing year, leaving two individuals to pine away pul lament over inevitable losses. Shfl
died broken-hearted, and as well did my then only surviving brother, who was more than dear to me, follow her example. He too died as the sister died, with the same incurable complaint, and in the end of the same year, and left me to spend that Christmas not in revelry, enjoyment, or happiness, but in solitude, lamentations, and wretchedness. Thus was I left alone, the one and only surviving member of the family, to drag along a miserable existence, excluded from all social circles, and leading an indoor life in the most poignant weeping ; for I could not then bear the thought of mixing with the public, after the terrible losses I had sustained. There was nothing on this earthly world, I considered, could afford me the least consolation, and whether any amusement could be obtained or not, I suffered myself to live devoid of any. However, I managed to retain the leasehold property during the two subsequent years of my beloved brother and sister’s death, and has the wearisome time glided by, the thoughts of past misfortunes began to diminish a little from my mind, and I at once perceived that I was under declining circumstances, through the long negligence of my business- which I had undergone. Seeing that all my means and effects were gone useless, andhaving cohtracted some heavy debts, I apprehended that my creditors would directly pounce upon me with the zest of a famished wolf on his prey. I gave up all hopes of being indulged any further time by them to pay up the amounts 1 had incurred, for they considered me totally insolvent. Being of an honest disposition, I was fully inclined to sell out all my chattels and interest in the land, and pay my creditors as far as I was able, and treat them as justly as I could. But, before I had time to reconsider the matter, they came down on me with such a number of civil bills, equalling a shower of Arabian arrows on their enemy, that I had not the least expectation of recovery, and was completely smashed.
Every means of sustenance I had in my possession was seized on and sold out, and, not even then satisfied, they dispossessed me of the house, turned me out on the roadside, and then penury and starvation stared me sternly in the face. I was then not only parentless and brother and sisterless, but I was houseless and pennyless, and had an arduous task to perform to set about earning a delicate livelihood for the first time in my life from my fellow man. I continued to work for some time for my daily wages, until I had contrived to save as much money as I thought would defray my expenses to London, and then set out for that well-known metropolis with a firm determination of improving myself circumstantially in the world. Being now in the midst of a densely populated city, where several people were making their livelihood by fraudulent means, swindlers, embezzlers, robbers, and fortune-tellers, etc., I began to consider how it would be possible for me to get on betwixt such an enormity of knaves, who pursued such various and dishonest capacities of life. However, by having avoided the company of these suspicious characters, I was fortunate enough in getting a position which I held during the three ensuing years. Having had a pretty liberal salary, I always managed to pay my landlady punctually, who, indeed, I must admit, appeared to be very generous towards me, and never pressed me to pay my week’s bill when inconvenient to myself. Through her good disposal towards me, I lived more comfortably than men who had double my salary. But still, I felt wretched whenever I cast my thoughts back to the bygone days when I was gay and free from care, living under the same roof with my benevolent parents; and I always felt more so, especially at the approach of Christmas, when every person appeared to wear a cheerful aspect. My employer having become bankrupt soon afterwards, I was again thrown open to mercy, without any friend save my landlady, and with a very limited pocket, too, to seek employment amongst unknown faces, and for which I made repeated applications ; but there was none to be had, except situations of trust and guarantee which I was incapable of discharging. Therefore, there being a lack of business, I had to contract debt with my landlady again ; and she, not having any means of sustenance, except by the devised economy of a lodging-house, could not afford to give me credit for any more than one month’s rent. This month having expired, and knowing that my term in the house had drawn to a close, my mind was in a pest, not having the least idea how to determine to baffle the nearest indigence. I walked out, and went through the town in such contemplation that I never thought of where I was, until I beheld a splendidlooking ship, called “The Briny Cutter,” lying in the West India Docks, rigged up, and nearly ready to sail for Port Chalmers, Otago, New Zealand. I stepped on board to have a view of her interior, and see whether there was any face there I might know, but there was none.
The ship being about to be put to sea, I thought it was time I should leave, when suddenly the skipper advanced towards me, and asked me, did I want a job, as if he knew in my countenance the pecuniary difficulties I had to contend with. I anxiously replied with an overjoyed “ Yes,” and there and then agreed to work my passage over. The various workings of sea life were rather oppressive to me, being a novice at the business. However, having soon become acquainted with all the nautical terms, and the work becoming practicable, I did not feel my position so distressing as at first, and made good pro gress in every respect. Being favored all through the voyage with a spanking breeze, we made the passage in seventy two days, harboring m Port Chalmers on the 10th ult. Having received my discharge in two days after, I proceeded on the 13th from thence to Ashburton, where I took up my abode, and still remain, and hold a position pretty suitable to my qualifications, and for which I receive a liberal salary. Yet, having this fair salary, I am still unhappy when I hear the young boys and girls crying out “ Christmas,” for it reminds me, and other people I dare say, too, of the various mishaps and disappointments of life which now shed a gloomy recollection of the past, shrouding the
joyous expectation which, some people imagine, would suffice to bury in oblivion all past misfortune and recordable deeds in the minds at this season of the year, and which has driven me to adopt the foregoing subject as the basis of my theme. Briton,
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Ashburton Guardian, Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 515, 22 December 1881
A TRAGEDY IN REAL LIFE. Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 515, 22 December 1881
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