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[All Rights Reserved.] IN A CHRISTMAS FOG

[By Evextn Evkejjtt Gkeek.]

" Say, stranger, where on earth are yon going to?" "I beg ten thousand pardons—and I wish to goodnessT knew!" "Oh, that's all right. No great harm done. Qnly J'ni mighty anxious not ty get spun round. I believo iTsnow where 1 am at the present moment." " You're lucky, then. I wish I did." " Well, just you keep a grip of my arm, and I'll pilot you along a spell. 1 guess I'm not more'n fifty yards from my own door ' Once I make sure of that we'll see what we can do for you." "That's no end good of you, sir. Fact is, I was supposed to be dining out tonight, but my taxicab ran into so many lamp-posts that at the last I took to my feet. And now I'm lost in the fog, as once I was lost in the bush; and really I don't know which is the bigger puzzle. I And you leally think you know whero you are?" I " I think I do. I'll be clearer as to that in a few more minutes. Anyhow, we'll stick together to seo the thing through. Ah-ha! what did I touch with my trusty staff? A gato post? Yes, and, unless I greatly err, my own gate post at that. Como in, sir; come light in out of this choking peasoup. My what a Christmas Eve'. You'll not get to your destination for dinner, I take it. You just come along in and take pot luck with the missus and me and our little girl. We want a fourth pair of legs under our table, our lad being off and away after the big game." , " This 'is extremely kind of you, sir " " Why, don't , mention it. Christmas Eve. The more' the merrier. Hi, there I Is that you, Maria? Havo you got the door open?" "Oh, Silas, I'm real thankful to hear your voice. I didn't see how ever you would get home. It's the most awful night. Come along in before the house fills with fog. Bkss me! You'ro not alone, then?" "Got a stranger in tow, old lady—one of them angels you entertain unawares. Ah, that's good," as a heavy door shut behind them, and the two men, coated with the rime of the fog and the frost, found themselves in a comfortable square hall, lighted by electric burners and a glowing fire, and decorated with a glossy green and scarlet and whito of holly and mistletoe. Sir Guy Damerell had had almost no idea as to the standing of the man with the American voice who had offered to play friend in nesd. Now he realised that he must bo a personage of substantial means, for this was a very fine house, very richly furnished, although its mistress had" come forth herself to look anxiously out into the foggy night for her spouse. Whilst husband and wife spoke affectionately together, their mpromptu guest was aware of music in tho hous<3— a verv fine piano, played by a master hand.' And even as he listened a voice of indescribable sweetness broke into little snatches of lilting song. Guy felt his henri leap up and throb violently. He had a suspicion that he was blushing like a boy. That voice a«ainl The verv sound of it awoke memories and sucscsted virions, all of them so vivid that "for tho moment this holly decked hall seemed to fade quite away, and he was under the stars on the deck of a pleasure steamer, and a girl in _ white was sitting not far away, a guitar in her hands, and her voice—'SSav, stranger, won't you take off your fur coat You're all in tip-top torn for dinner. So I'll turn you over to the missus and the little girl, while I do my bit of croomin'. It ain't no manner of use , your grizzlin' after those other baked meats the foe's cheated jou out of——' "Indeed, sir, I am not likely to fall foul of the fog. And I thank you heartily for vour most open-handed and kindly hos- , pitality to'-mght." , ■ j, , 1 Then he felt- his hand very kindly taken in that of his hostess, whilst her pleasant, comfortable speech flowed easily on. "There, come alonsc into the drawing Toom till Silas is ready. He won't be long. I'm real pleased to have a puest to-night, and a young man guest at that. Our boy's awav a few thousand of miles, after lions or elephants, or any dangerous big beast he can get a shot at. And at Christmas time one feels the vacant place a bit. But come alonsr in. My niece will help to make things bright for us. Delia, dear, here's father brought us a dinner ciicst out of tho fog. so wo shan't be quite to ourselves after all. And, bless mo! I can't do tlw introducing properly, for I've- never asked you your name. But my man and I are Mr and Mrs Morwell, from the States; and this is my niece, Delia Fitzalwyn " All the time that Mrs Morwell was speaking, as she led her guest into the brilliantly-lighted, flower-soented, luxuri-ously-appointed room, the tall, slender girl who had risen from the piano stool remained as though rooted to the spot, her eyes full on Guy Damerell's face. She was a. girl of immense attraction, gracefull and Teed-like in figure, with a lovely, dreamv face, and eyes like pools of liquid light. " Now sho stepped lightly forward with a grace of motion that was an embodied poem. " You need not introduce us, auntie. We have met each other before. l«t me be the one to introduce your guest tt> you Sir Guy Damerell. He was one of our party last year upon the Ariadne." IT. I " Silas, the very strangest thing you i could have thought of!" " Sav, Maria, -n-haf© happened now, old lady?" Come right in, and tell me whilst I slip into my dinner togs! Anythinjr about that good-lokinog chap I hauled in out of tho fog?" "Oh, Silas, it's everything about him, indeed' Do you kr.ow" who he is?" " Not the least in tho world. Forgot to ask. Do you?" " Silas, he's Sir Guy Damerell 1" She paused a moment, as though to let that piece of information sink down and do its work; but seeing that her words made no impression upon her husband, she added : "Silas, surely you remember that trip Delia took on" the Ariadne, and how, after she came Kick, she was different. And I must have told you the story that Miranda and the rest told to me." " Well, tell it again, old lady, so that I mav catch 011. Delia went off rather suddenly on that little jaunt with Joseph's young folks, and had a bully time, as we thought. And yet, somehow, when she got back, she seemed changed. And it wasn'? long afterwards that our Bob came and told me that Delia had told him straight that she couldn't marry him, as we'd" always planned. And that sent the boy off to Smith Africa, where he still is. | How's that for my memory?" "That's all right, as far as it goes. | Silas. And did you never put two and j two together? And I'm sure I must have told you what Joseph's girls told me. They' meant it for the best, and when they told me the tale I thought ae they'd doiie the best thing. But it doesn't seem to haye turned out for tho best in the end." "Take your rime, old lady, take your time; but let's have the insido of the egg now you've done tapping on the shell." "Silaa, it was just this. Miranda and her sisters saw it from the first. Sir Guy was the kind of man all the girls on beard would naturally take notice of. There were plenty of others, no doubt. But he had an air that pot hold of them. But he never looked at anybody save Delia; and after a bit it seemed to her cousins as thouph fumething ought to be done about it. Thsy all knew that Bob wai m*d after D«lia, and that we had always meant, them for one another. And Miranda was the eldest, in charge ef our sisters and of our girl, and sho wasn't happy a bit. So not having ; -ybody older herself to take counsel with/she just ected off her own bat." "What did she do?" "Why t just got hold of Sir Guy, quietlike, one evening, and told him straight out that Delia was engaged to' our Bp>4

and was to have a big fortune by marrying him, which she would lose if sho married anybody else. That's how Mwan'da put. it " "Did she, thought Well, well, well, •tisn't quite like that, either. I mevei meant to put pressure on the lassie. I thought she and Bob were surei to take to each other. And she won't ever laak for a little fortune, though, naturally, it would have been a fine settlement if she'd married our own bey/ But I was never the man to try to force square pegs into round holes. Go on, Maria; what happened after that?" " Sir Guy left tho ship at the. next port, scarcely even saying good-byo. And Delia never spoke his name afterwards. And yet Miranda said she was never quite tho same since." Silas Morwell was rapidly dressing himself j turning these thoughts over in his mind. Then his hearty laugh rang out. " Well, well, well! The world's a small place, as we've always known. And it's Christmas Eve, and'here's Dame Fortune pi.shed the lovers into each other's anus again. Say, old lady, he's a fine young chap. And we've get over that little sorqness about our boy. First cousins and all —perhaps it's no* such great harm done. And I Hko tho sound of Lady Damarell for our little Delia!" "Ah! but, Silas, 'tisn't going to be as simple as all that. Delia was- terribly hurt at the way he left that ship. She didn't know any cause, and you know what young things are. Likely she thought he had gono to get cut of her way. There were some vulgar young people on board, Miranda said, dea'd jealous of our Delia, since ncne of them could hold a candle to her. And one nover knows when a cruel hint may be dropped, and a cutting sneer hit liko a whip-laah. I'm 6UTO it' 3 been something like that with Delia. You should havo seen her eyes as she came forward, just now—-and heard the tone of her voice! Not silly spito or vulgar anger, but a spr*, of holding horself aloof, out of a different sort of woild. I can't do it—but Delia, ah ays could." • Mr Morrell was laughing heartily. "Good little Delia! I like a girl with spunk. Well, Maria, it's Christmas Eve, and such a fog as we don't see twice, in a decade. I reckon we'll havo that joker on our hands all night. Have a room, ready for him, and enough of Bob's clothes to make him comfortable. Tliey'ro not so mighty differently built. And wo'U see amongst us—holly and mistletoe and all—whether things "can't Jie put fair and square for 'em both before the Christmas bolls have done ringing." , " Oh, Silas! I'm so glad you tako it like that ! What a good idea! I'll go and see about a room this very moment, and some of Bob's things for to-night and to-morrow morning. And go you down to the drawing room quickly, a"nd see what is happening there. For Delia is riding her highest horse; and he, poor younx man, no doubt thinks 6he'e going to be the bride of another in double-quick time. Dear mo, dear me! ' What a kettle of fish for Christmas Eve!" m - * . . The young people were on opposite sides of the glowing Christmas fire. _ Delia's young dark head, with its clustering curls so charmingly picturesque, was held high. Her large eye© were brilliant, her delicate, vivid face held all manner of meanings, but no smallest hint of self-surrender or maiden softness or appeal.' The man was looking at her with worship in his eyes—there was no mistaking the feeling which energised him —and she was speaking with great vivacity and animation, as though resolved that'no pause should fall between them, that no opportunity should he given to him to select the subjects for discussion between them. The tension of the atmosphere relaxed somewhat upon Mr "Morwell's entrance. It still further relaxed when his kindly wife bustled into the room,' bringing with her floods of reminiscences of former Christmas festivals and Christmas fogs; and drawing out their guest to talk to them about himself, and how he had been wont to pass his Christmas Days. ■ The good cheer upon the hospitable board, the sparkling wine, excellent in quality, the general festivity of the domestic entourage, all served to allay formality, and in their guest they had a highly intelligent and well-informed man, able to talk in an arresting fashion, and whose experiences had been often of a quite thrilling character, though ho laughed when told this, and begged his listeners not to believe too much of any "travellers' tales." Mrs Morwell, obsessed by a kindly curiosity, drew from him a few personal facts. He had no parents or near relations living. He was somewhat of a waif and a stray. The family property had been let on lease during his minority, and at his majority he had granted the tenant a further term of seven years. This was now almost expired, and shortly he must take up his own abode on his property and manage it himself. Mrs Morwell beamed. " How interesting!! He admitted that this ought to be so; but it was a lonely sort of prospect. Then, as though drawn by some magnet, his eyes met Delia's across the table. Her rich, delicate color flamed. In his eyes the heart-hunger was plainly to bo seen. The motherly heart of the hostess' was deeply stirred. Why, of course, here was the right match for her beautiful sister's beautiful child! She had married into an old Irish family. Delia was thoroughbred from top to toe. It had been foolish to think that she would ever have made a fit mate for their' Bob. But as Lady Damerell, of Damerell Court, how sho would shine 1 Her beauty to-night was dazzling; but there was a hauteur in her manner not to be mistaken by the old people who loved her, and who knew her every mood. Plainly she had taken offence at something in the manner of Sir Guy's abrupt departure from the Ariadne, and sho had not forgotten or forgiven. But these; loved her so truly and understood her so well that they were not deceived. She cared still for this handsome stranger. She would not else havo clad herself in this shining, protective armor. And when the two men were alone to- ? ether, Mr Morwell very simply and verv rankly told to his guest that story which an hour or so ago his wife had told to him. Guy Damerell became excited. He rose and pac-Cd up and down tho long room. " Do you mean to tell me that Miss Fitzalwyn is not engaged to be married to your son?" " 1 do. I will not deny thati my wife and I desired the marriage for many years. Bob would have liked to fin his pretty cousin, and for a time all seemed going welj. But after that trip well, Delia came back to us different. We all found i<i out. Poor Bob got his conge, and went off to console himself; and my missus has always told mo that tho girl lost her heart on board that pleasure boat —and has never found it again." Guy's bronzed face was suffused with color. " Wait a 'bit. I know just what you're going to say. The lady does not appear to favor you. That's so. But my wife and I guess that there was some spiteful sort of tittle-tattle talked on board after you disappeared, and that our little girl got her feathers up somehow. Oh, don't ask me the kind of thing that happens when, girls gossip together! Heaven knows what mares' nests they may concoct among 'em—bless 'em! But 1 guess our little girl got hold of a notion that you thought sho was pursuing you- " " How could she—how could she? It was I all the while till =-" "Just so. But that's how it would appeal to her, young and proud as that kind is. So now listen, young man. We want to see the little one made happy, and we 'believe you're the man to do this. You can't get away from here to-night. Fog gets thicker and thicker, and there's a room and some of our boy's clothes for night and morrow all ready for you. But 'Delia isn't going to know anything about that. You go back to the ladies, and make yourself very charming. Pl»y up t« 1 Delia all y«u kn»w; get dew* k«r £¥«r«U ' if you can; any way, yeu'll bring th# old 1 feelinc baok a lot. Then she g«es t* l»c«l. 1 Sho supposes you will take yourself off in due* course. And if she has been a bit 'shirty' to you, she'll lie awake half ■ the night eating .out her heart, and won- ; dering whether you will ever come again. She'll wish aho'd done everything different. Oh, I know the pretty dears, and how they worrit round and round-—same aa ; the lads, for the matter of that, and I . '.

was, a lad once myself. She'll up Christmas morning with an aphe *m her heart, and 'come downstairs wondering—dreaming. And there's a big hunch of mistletoe hanging in the hall, and if there isn't a handsome young fellow watching his chance to take her in his arms and kiss away all the silly fog in her then, that young fellow is a bigger fool than I took him for, and imy name's not Silas Jlorwell!" When Guy re-entered the drawing room a little later it was to find Delia at the piano. There was a new and vivid light in his eyes as he went straight towards her. She had beep playing Chopin, a little stprmily, hu> now her bands lay mute upon the keys. Ho looked down at her and said: "Do you remember bur concerts on tho Ariadne? Shall we sing again pur <inet—the one which always took the house by storm ? No doubt Mr and Mrs Morwell will liko to hear us in our crack part. Wo used to think our voices went rather weir together." . s°* a moment she - had the look of a bird fluttering away from a snare. Then, with a dainty gesture of the head and a slightly haughty tilt of the chin, she gave him his way. Her fingers struck the preliminary chords, and soon the gay, musical dialogue was being taken up first by one clear, tuneful voice, than by the other, and at intervals blending together m delightful harmony. The old people besido the hearth watched and laughed, beat time, and exchanged glances; and the hands of the dock stole slowly round and round the dial, whilst the young TO an and maiden Imgered together over the piano, though it appeared as though no other subject than music was suffered between them. " I am tired," said Delia, suddenly, racing from the music stool and crossing towards the hearth.' "One has such a lot to think of and do just before Christmas. I want a long night to get rested. And I hope that the fog will be" over and that tho sun will shine. Goodnight, Sir Guy. Curious to have met again liko this.' I think it is rather your way to appear and disappear—rather like a Cheshire cat." "I shall very soon disappear in this fog ona> I get out in it again," ho said. But I must not quarrel with my fogfriend to-night, since it has brought me such a charming Christmas Eve." Delia's face was a ~ little pale as she quietly swept from the room. Her aunt was perfectly aware that she had been putting pressure on herself, and was half afraid of some breakdown of her defences. They nil looked after her till she disappeared, and then Mrs Morwell openly wiped her eyes. , " "we shall miss her sorely w hen she leaves the nest. But you will be good to her, Sir Guy, I know." That husband ard wife were heart and soul in this little plot was Guy's chiefest hope. To him Delia seemed so aloof, so distant; and although he had dexterously woven into his talk that evening certain things which might conceivably modify her opinions on ce'rtain points, he had not regained the old ground that once they had fearlessly trodden together. And yet, and yet, those who knew her beet gavo him most confidence and hope. "Doa't you be afraid, Sir Guy," Mrs Morwe-U told him, squeezing his hands as she saw him to his comfortable room. " Faint heart never won fair lady. You've got your hold on hers. Just you grip it. rako her in your arms, and never mind if ehe does struggle for a bit. Hold her faster and tighter; don't let her go. That's the way her kind is won. And Heaven bless you both, and a happy Christmas to you." For the clocks were striking and the hells were pealing forth, and all around him throbbed a great and glorious pulsating joy. If Guy Damerell did not sleep much that night, he felt no weariness as he rose next morning to sunshine and the glitter oi frost. He found- himself overlooking the river, in some big house in Chelsea; and the well-cut olothes he donned fitted him sufficiently well for comfort and appearance. Down into the wcll-%varmed hall he etepped. Ho saw the big bunch of mistletoe hanging overhead, and quietly be omiled to himself. He sat in an angle beneath the greenery, where the glow of the fire touched him, and he kept his face averted from the staircase. A door had opened above, and in a moment or two he heard a light footfall and the sound of silken rustlings. Suddenly 'there was a pause, and a little startled exclamation, the hurrying downwards of flying feet. "Bob, dear old Bob! Have you come back for Christmas after all?" Articulate speech was_ lost next moment in a startled exclamation. Strong arms had folded themselves about Delia, and a face looked down at her as sho struggled to free herself. "Under the mistletoe, Delia—my life, my queen! Under tho mistletoe—fairly caught!" And Guy Damerell held to his heart the woman whom he loved, and kissed her oncu, twioe, thrice. "Let me go, sir! Let me How dare you?" "Kiss me, Delia—kiss me first." " Let me go, I tell you!" "When you have kissed me, darling." " Guy, let me go!" "When I have had my mistletoe kiss." " Oh, Guy, you are so 6trong!" " Ah, Delia, you are so sweet 1" "But, but— - Oh, somebody will come!" "Kiss me, then, and kiss me quick! Delia, my darling, my darling, I have had a very bad time, and been a good many kinds of a fool. But it is Christmas morning, and I want to be happy. Only you can make me so." Then she kissed him under the mistletoe, and hands in the gallery above sounded a loud applause. [The End.]

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[All Rights Reserved.] IN A CHRISTMAS FOG, Issue 15683, 23 December 1914

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3,961

[All Rights Reserved.] IN A CHRISTMAS FOG Issue 15683, 23 December 1914

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