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AN ORIGINAL STORY., Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 532, 12 January 1882
AN ORIGINAL STORY.
By Lefroy, the Murderer of Mr Gold. [Thanks to an Australian contemporary, we are enabled to reprint an original story by Lefroy in this issue. The production is not without merit in a literary sense, although the first (and best) portion is a palpable imitation of Dickens’ style. The story was written some time prior to the commission of the crime for which the author suffered the extreme penalty of the law.—Ed. Guareian.] THREE TERRIBLE NIGHTS. Christmas time! There was no doubt about it. Everything and everybody savored of it. The light of Christmas fires shone through and gleamed behind closely-curtained windows, with merry leaps, sending showers of golden sparks up dark chimneys, to emerge more bright and dazzling than ever in the clear frosty air, like fleeting souls hastening through the gloom and cares of life to shine in higher
regions. “ Christmas !” cried the bells, as they pealed softly through the still night air Christmas ! merry Christmas !” so merrily and cheerfully that he must have been a man of stony heart who did not echo it, too, from sheer sympathy. “ Christmas 1” murmured the dark river, as it lapped against the buttresses of the old stone bridge, and then sped away with many a secret in its gloomy bosom to the sea, where, in company with many others of its race, it murmured still of Christmas; and “ Christmas lime!” pleaded inebriated gentlemen when questioned by stern police--men as to why they were sitting in frozen gutters at midnight. For that one day a sort of universal truce seemed to be established. Creditors forgot their debtors, debtors forgot their creditors ; wives forgot to scold, husbands to abuse, and young husbands forgot their mothers-in-law, which was, perhaps, hardest of all. Conservatives and Liberals, Churchmen and Dissenters, “ old boy’d ” and “ old follow’d ” each other to their hearts content, and , the plea fpr all was—Christmas ! But when the world got up next day what a change was to be seen ! Closed blinds, no church bells, shops shutjust as if everyone was ashamed of his or her last night’s festivity. There wasn’t much going on indoors
to-day, for it was Boxing Day—that day sacred to Christmas-boxes, bills, and last, but by no means least, pantomimes. And to go to one of these last the children were mad with hope long deferred. Papa and mamma affected not to like or care for such trivial amusements at all, but the children—sly dogs, those children ! —knew that when once within the cosy recesses of that “ lovely private box” no one would cry “ bravo ” more loudly or clap his hands more vehemently than papa. And what a lot of pantomimes there • were too! Just look at the various hoardings : “ Robinson Crusoe,” “Jack the Giant Killer,” “Aladdin,” and many, other well known stories had been made ? to contribute to the common good. But first and foremost among the brightly-colored bills was one that informed the reader “that on Boxing .Night would be produced at the Rotunda Theatre” the grand Christmas pantomime, “ Jack and the Beanstalk.” Then followed a list of characters, scenery, etc., and, at the end, in large letters, Clown—Jolly Joe Jeffs. The Rotunda must have been a. / well-known theatre for pantomime, for .. that night it was crammed from floor to ceiling. Everything had gone off without a hitch! The music was pretty, scenery magnificent, and the grand ballet had been pronounced by the crutch-and-toothpick genus in the stalls .'W to be “ splendid,” and by an old lady in ■ the pit to be “ beastly.” And now, out of breath with honest.
laughter, warm, thirsty, and packed like sardines in a box, the great audience sat anxiously waiting for the “grandest, transformation scene ever attempted at > the Rotunda,” vide bills. If there was excitement in front, so there was behind. Everyone busy, excited, and nervous, the manager and stage manager not being by any means in that happy condition described by the immortal Mrs Jarley as “cool, calm, and classical."
Inside one of the principal dressingrooms was a man, clad in a clown’s dress, pacing moodily up and down, and listening with feverish impatience for a footstep which never came. It was Joe Jeffs, and the person he was waiting for was his wife. And she was a wife worth waiting for, too. Young, pretty, and loving, Nellie Raynor, then only—and, indeed, up to within a week of the present time—a ballet-girl at a West end theatre, had brought some new joy and life to honest hard-working Joe Jeffs, who, though nearly fifteen years
her senior, loved her with a passionate love, and would cheerfully have laid
down his life, if it had been necessary, to save her from harm. And this winter, when Nellie, through her husband’s influence, got engaged at the Rotunda as columbine, Joe Jeffs thought that his cup of happiness was full to the brim.
A knock at the door. “ Come in,” cried the clown. Mr Flies, the stagemanager, entered. Flies was a little short man, with a round red face, with very short black hair—so short that it always stood on end as if each hair was desirous of looking over its neighbor’s head.
“ I’m very sorry, Mr Flies,” said the clown, humbly, “ very sorry; but Nellie told me to-night she wasn’t well, and would lie down for a bit, and would come later on. I sent a boy to our place some time ago, and she must be here in a minute.” “ Minute !” roared Mr Flies, “ what’s the good of a minute. I—who the devil’s that ?” as a hand was laid on his arm.
It was the harlequin, in the bills Roberto Taylori ; out of them, Bob Taylor, an old friend of the clown’s. “ I’ve got an idea,” said the harlequinj" giving a kindly, unseen nod to his friend. “ Say a few words to the public, and let my girl Bella go on for the part to-night;. she’s about Mrs Jeffs’ size, and I’ve taught her the trip long ago.” Miss Bella Taylori was in the front row of the ballet, consequently could dance well and look pretty; but, beat
of all, was there on the spot, so to speak. The stage-manager didn’t take long to make up his mind. “ Bob,” he said to the harlequin, “ you’re a brick. The very thing. Get the girl dressed at once, and I’ll get the guv’hor to speak to them.” Them being the audience, who were now in a state of noisy impatience. Mr Flies hurried off. “Tell your missus it’s all right, old man,” said the friendly harlequin, as he hurried away. The clown was about to reply, when a light footstep was heard approaching. A happy smile lighted up his face. “At last,” he said,l with a sigh of relief, as the footsteps neared the door. Quickly he turned the handle and threw ■it wide open, but only to start back with a cry of disappointment, for the new comer was not his wife, but the boy he had sent an hour previously. “Well,” cried the clown, “what did she say ?” The boy shook his head stolidly. “ I didn’t see her, sir,” he said, “ only the landlady, and she guv me this.” The clown held out his hand, and into it the boy put a tiny note, on which was written, in a woman’s hand, “To be given to my husband.” “ You can go,” said Joe Teffs, in a voice which was so hoarse and strange that for a moment it startled the lad. When the door was again closed, the clown looked at the tiny missive. Was she frightened that he would be angry with her for remaining so long behind the time, and so did not care to come at all, but wrote instead ? That mnst be it. With trembling hands he hastily tore it open, and read : “ Husband, good-bye; I shall never see you any more. lam going away with someone that loves me very much. You were always too good for me. May God forgive your poor lost Nellie.” Nothing more. Only an old, old story, with a vulg.tr clown and his wife as hero and heroine.
Joe Jeffs raised his head. Was it .paint alone that gave that awful deathly look to his face and fixed glassy eyes? Was it clowning that caused the strong man’s hand to shake as if he were suffering from the palsy ? And, above all, was it. art or nature which made that bitter cry of agony arise from the ‘ nttenncst depths of a broken heart ? At that moment, the call-boy’s shrill voice was heard, “Mr Jeffs, the stage waits !” Mechanically the clown reeled to the door, and opened it—down the narrow, dark passage—and staggered through the wing on to the brilliantlylighted stage; and then, in a voice more resembling the croak of a raven than the utterance of a human being, ' gave vent to the time-honored utterance, “ Here we are again ! ” How the house roared at the strange voice and the staggering gait! Such quiet humor ! So dry, very dry ! And then, after such a capital commencement, the great audience sat down with keen anticipation for the fun that was to come And come it did. With what zest did Jolly Joe Jeffs trip up the policeman—steal the sausages—and go through the hundred and one odd tricks that go to make up the sum total of a harlequinade ! The “ gods ” were in one continual roar; even the stalls and circle were mildly excited; while as for the pit, the opinion of that black seething mass of humanity may be briefly summed up in the words of an excited old gentleman, who, carried away by his enthusiasm, flung his .neighbor’s hat into the air, crying. Splendid, sir, splendid ! Grimaldi was a fool to Jolly Joe ! ” And tumbling, grimacing, tripping up, now dancing on a spade, a minute later cracking sly jokes, the clown went through it. the clown, though, for God’s beautiful creation, man, was gone. When his poor aching head swam for a moment, and he fell heavily to the ground, what a shout went up. Droll fellow, that Jeffs —very droll! And their laughter reached its culminating point when, during a hornpipe by the pretty columbine, two large tears fell down the clown’s painted face while he, in burlesque fashion attempted to imitate it. “He’s a crying with laughter”roared the excited gallery, and they cheered him to the echo for entering so heartily into the spirit of the thing. At last the end came. One last wild trick, clouds of smoke from the colored fires, one last mad “ rally,” and amidst tremendous applause, the the pantomime was over. As the band commenced to play the National Anthem, Jolly Joe Jeffs staggered off the stage as he had staggered on. Ere he could reach his dressing room two men stopped him. One was Mr Flies, the other Mortimer, the manager. “My boy,” said the latter, taking him bjr both hands and shaking them warmly, “you have surpassed yourself. If only your wife could have seen you !” That was enough. For a minute Jolly Joe stood erect, and then, with a wild gasping cry, fell heavily to the ground. The clown was gone, but the man was there.
Ten years rolled by. Ten long weary years they had been to Joe Jeffs, who‘iad never given up the search for bis lest darling. A few weeks after his great loss a relative bad died, leaving hini a small annuity. On this he had lived, or rather existed, wandering aimlessly about the country in the hope of one day finding his wife, whom, in spite of all he loved as fondly as ever. And this Boxing Night, he was walking down the little High street of Milford, weary, hopeless, and sick at heart, , to all appearance a bent, care-worn old man, a mere wreck of the merry fellow who, ten years before, had made a great theatre resound with peals of laughter at his drollery. Quickly the clown walked on, for the night was cold, and the biting east winds seemed to pierce his bones to the very marrow. ; When within a few yards of the little ! inn at which he was staying, his arm was touched. ‘‘Buy a box of lights, sir; do buy a box, phase?” He turned. A woman wretchedly clad, and with death stamped in every .ffjatore,, stood at his elbow. '‘“ No,” answered the clown roughly, jf don’t want any,” and he walked on. , )f But the beggar was not so easily shaken off. She detained him again, as the wind lulled for a minute, 'ftbisr voilce rang in his ear—V!js*Btny a box, sir ; just one box.” |jt[iO sound Joe Jeffs turned. me,see your face,” he cried, ' tjien,aSfthepale light of the '*■ it— w Nellie, dearie,
dont you know me?—Joe, your husband ? ” But there was no reply, for his longlost wife lay insensible in his arms. She was dying, the doctors said—dying of cold and want. So they told her husband, sitting by her bedside in a little inn. “ Can nothing save her ?” asked the clown. “ Nothing on earth, my poor fellow —nothing on earth.” And the old doctor looked out of the window and blew, his nose violently, for a kind hearted old man was the doctor, and knew something of poor Joe’s story, and felt for him. “Joe.” “ Yes, darling.” “ Are you sure you quite forgive me?” A loving kiss was the only answer. “ Nellie, I won’t be long,” cried the clown. “ Listen !” And by a great effort the dying woman raised herself up —then suddenly,— “Joe, dear, what day is it?” “Christmas Day, Nell.” “Ah ! so it is. More light, for God’s sake, more light!”
The doctor made a movement of his hand, and the attendant drew back the curtain from the little window which looked upon the sea, on which lay a broad patch of gold, formed of the last rays of the setting sun upon the water. “ How bright it all is, Joe,” cried the dying woman, as she sank back upon her pillow. “At last, at last ! Joe, darling husband ! good-bye !” And with a sweet and happy smile upon her face, Nellie went down with the sun.
Joe Jeffs still lives at Milford, but he is wonderfully changed, though. People say he is mad, and so he is, in a sad, harmless way. For as sure as Boxing Night comes round, he paints his face and dresses just as clowns do, and there in the little tap-room of the “ Bed Lion,” he sings “ Hot Codlins ” in a little, thin, cracked voice, and tumbles in a mild and feeble way, and plays a few clownish tricks. How the villagers laugh ! They know he is mad, but that doesn’t take away their enjoyment; and one of old Joe’s funniest tricks is to address them all as “ ladies and gentlemen,” and apologise for the non-ap-pearance of the columbine. But when all the merriment is over, old Joe, with his clown’s dress still upon him, creeps down, whatever the weather may be, to the churchyard, where with his poor old grey head pillowed on a little marble slab inscribed “ Nellie,” he pours out a bitter prayer that heaven may take him soon to her he loved so well, and ere he leaves the tomb, with great tears upon his painted face, he softly prays for Nellie too. But the end must soon come.
Each Boxing Night old Joe goes through the same performance, and the people laugh as vociferously as before. But every year he gets more feeble. He can’t tumble as he used to, and his sight and memory seem failing fast, and the absent look in his face seems to denote that his thoughts are far away. And now when people meet old Joe Jeffs, they shake their heads sadly, for they know that soon, very soon, the curtain must fall. Arthur Lefroy,
41 Cathcart road, Wallington, Surrey.
AN ORIGINAL STORY., Ashburton Guardian, Volume III, Issue 532, 12 January 1882
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