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Title: Her Christmas Dawn
Author: Fred M. White
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eBook No.: 1303321h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  Jun 2013
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Her Christmas Dawn

by

Fred M. White

Cover Image

Published in The Chronicle, Adelaide, Australia, 19 Dec 1908



I.

KATE HAYGATE turned over the ten-pound note thoughtfully. It seemed so much, and at the same time so little. A year ago she would have thought nothing of spending that sum of money upon a passing pleasure. But that was before she had married Jack Haygate, and, in consequence, had been forced to turn her back upon Moat Park for ever. It was quite an old story in its way; the thing has happened before and doubtless will happen again. It was the old story of a hot-headed old gentleman, who laid his plans in one direction while Dan Cupid had other views for the leading actors in the little comedy. Jack Haygate had been entirely dependent upon his uncle, Mr. Foljambe. It had appeared a satisfactory arrangement enough up to a certain point, seeing that Mr. Foljambe was a rich bachelor and that Haygate was his next-of-kin. Therefore Haygate had been brought up to do nothing; he was an expert at various outdoor sports, he was clean-limbed and not bad looking, but entirely useless. If he had one bent it was in the direction of painting. One or two people in a position to judge declared that if Jack had been forced to earn his own living he would have done quite well in time. There was a little place of his own on the edge of the estate—a kind of cottage bungalow, which he had furnished as a studio and a weekend residence. Here, occasionally, he would shut himself up for a few days and devote himself entirely to his art. It was a whim of Jack's which Mr. Foljambe rather encouraged. But nobody really took this business seriously.

Then unexpectedly, the trouble had all come about. Kate Foljambe was a sort of remote relation to the master of Moat Park. He had brought her up and educated her, and during the last two years or so she had been up in Scotland nursing a half-sister of Mr. Foljambe's, who, if report spoke truly, was a very terrible old woman. During all this time Jack Haygate never saw Kate, and she came as a surprise to him when finally she returned to Moat Park, and the young people came together for the first time since Kate had been a child.

It was all over with Jack Haygate from the first moment. He had always avowed his intention of remaining a bachelor; a little later on he was going to eschew all sorts of frivolities and paint a picture which should cover the family name with glory. But the advent of Kate changed all this. It seemed to Jack that he wanted nothing else but a regular allowance from his uncle and permission to marry Kate without delay. It came as a considerable shock to that somewhat spoilt youth to find that his uncle was dead against the whole arrangement. He had other views, it appeared, for both his nephew and his niece. Possibly, if Jack had been a little less headstrong and Mr. Foljambe a little less gouty the business might have been arranged. But one word led to another, and two months later the young people found themselves living in a dingy London lodging, face to face with the fact that they were practically at the end of their resources, and had nothing to rely upon besides Jack's artistic abilities.

They were not particularly afraid of the future, they gave themselves no anxieties until the honeymoon was over, and then Jack set to work. It did not seem to him a difficult matter to earn enough to keep himself and his wife. But presently the dingy lodgings were exchanged for rooms still more shabby, and Jack's superfluous belongings began to disappear. He was coming to understand the bitter struggle for existence. It is one thing to paint pictures for amusement; it was quite another matter to get dealers to buy them, or even to induce publishers to commission black and white. There was nothing left now but the bungalow cottage, and this Jack had been unable to sell. He had hopes of disposing of it just as it stood, but there had been a delay in the business; now, within a few days of Christmas, Jack found himself practically penniless, and with the gloomiest outlook in the future. Just when things appeared to be at their worst he had had a slice of luck, which resulted in the ten-pound note lying on the table. The great thing was to know how to dispose of it to the best advantage.

"We'd better invest it in a competition," said Jack gloomily. "Let's try one of those philanthropists who spend large sums of money offering to make other people's fortunes."

Haygate was never serious for long. He had learnt what adversity was, but nearly twelve months of this grinding life had not been sufficient to break his spirit. And Kate always contrived to be cheerful. She regarded herself as being a great deal more to blame than Jack. She smiled at him reprovingly.

"Do be serious," she said. "Don't you think we should be far better off in some country place? It would be much less expensive to send your drawings up by post than take them round to the offices yourself. And the money goes so much further in the country. Oh, Jack, I am sick of this place! It is dirty and stuffy and smelly, and the people are so horrible. I never knew how much I loved the country till lately. Fancy being away at Moat Park this beautiful frosty weather! Let's go and take some lodgings in a quiet village, for a time at any rate. We should get them for half the price we pay for these dreadful rooms. And I am quite sure now I can make that ten pounds last for a couple of months. We can go away to-day, if you like. I know the landlady would be glad to get rid of us."

Despite his cheerfulness something very like a sigh escaped Haygate's lips. London was all very well in certain circumstances, but not such as these. It would be nice to be in the country again. It would cost nothing for a day's skating or a run on foot with the foxhounds, or a long walk across the fields in the clear, pure sunshine. It seemed to Haygate that he longed for it now as he had never done before.

"What do you suggest?" he asked.

A certain resolution flamed into Kate's blue eyes. "Why, there's only one place we can go to," she cried. "I can't conceive why we didn't think of it before. Of course, your uncle won't like it; he will think we are trying to get into his good graces again, and all that——"

"He needn't worry," Jack said, shortly. "I am not in the least likely to make any advances of that sort. Mind you, if I came unexpectedly into money I would go over and make it up to-morrow. The dear old man was always better than a father to me, and it was a great grief for me to have to quarrel with him. Still, that's past and done with. We shall probably never see the inside of Moat Park again and the Leicestershire Foljambes will get all the money."

"If it hadn't been for me," Kate whispered, "you would——"

"I'm not going to hear another word of that," Jack said. "I should do the same thing again to-morrow. It is I who am the selfish one, not you. But what have you got in your mind? Where would you like to go to?"

"Why, to our own cottage, of course. It is perfectly insane to go on paying rent here when we can live in the cottage. At any rate, we can stay there until you can sell it, and it contains all we want. I'll write a letter this morning to my old nurse, Mrs. Lewis, and ask her to let me have her daughter Jane to come and help in the cottage. We can get in everything we want this evening at Castleford and take them over with us. Don't say no, Jack. You don't know how I am longing to get into the country again. It will be so good to breathe some really pure fresh air."

But Jack Haygate raised no objection. He was just as sick and tired of this drab London life as his wife.

"There's nothing I should like better!" he exclaimed. "But I don't see how we can get away to-day. At any rate, I couldn't leave till the last train. I've got to call late this afternoon at Wilkinson's over those book illustrations. Tom Lawson is going with me, and he is pretty sure of getting me the job. It isn't very good pay, but at any rate it will be regular, and it will find us in bread and cheese for the next twelve months. I daresay it will take me till nearly eight o'clock and there isn't another train that stops at Moat station before ten. And this is Christmas Eve. Don't you think we had better put it off till the holiday season is over?"

Kate raised no objection, but there was a look of disappointment in her blue eyes that Jack did not fail to note. Now that she had once broached her subject she had set her heart upon a Christmas Day in the country. Outside, in the suburbs, the sun was shining brilliantly in a sky hard and blue as steel, the hoar-frost hung to the trees and hedgerows like glistening diamonds. With any luck there would be skating on the morrow. Kate pictured to herself the big lonely Moat pond under the fringe of trees, where Jack had taught her to skate years ago. It would be delicious to eat their simple Christmas dinner in their own cottage, where they could breathe freely far enough remote from this dingy squalor with a fretful landlady and her querulous dirty children. After all it was not more than a sentiment, but then sentiment rules the world and Jack immediately began to grope for some way out of the difficulty directly he met his wife's gaze.

"I don't see why it shouldn't be managed," he said. "Suppose you pay the landlady here off and get away by an afternoon train. Put that ten-pound note in your pocket—I've got enough silver to carry me through the day and take me down to Moat to-night. You will have plenty of time to break your journey at Castleford and get all you want there. By the time I arrive you ought to have the place in apple-pie order. You had better pack everything up and take all your belongings with you, so that if I am detained late I shall be able to go straight to Waterloo. Upon my word, Kate, I feel like a boy going out for a holiday. I did not realise till just now."

Jack said no more, his voice was just a little unsteady. He went off presently, leaving Kate to her own devices. Late in the afternoon she found herself standing on the familiar platform at Castleford, which was the market town only a station or two away from Moat. It was good to be there in the fresh air and sunshine, it was good to recognise so many familiar faces and to feel that she was amongst friends once more. Many people recognised her; but though they were curious they asked no awkward questions. It was quite a labor of love to get all her belongings together; but, all the same it took a considerable time, and it was after dark before Kate found herself at the station. The trains were very late, so late, indeed, that the church clock was striking the hour of ten when Kate alighted on Moat platform. The stationmaster greeted her with respectful cordiality.

"Yes, I am glad to get back again," she said. "We're coming down to the cottage for a week or two. I wonder if you could send these things up for me, Jordan?"

"Not to-night, miss," the stationmaster said. "We've got far more than we can manage to do already."


II.

KATE had expected something like this. But she could see her way out of the difficulty. It would be easy enough later on to get James Lewis, her old nurse's husband to come down and carry the parcels up to the cottage. But this, apparently, was not so easy as it had looked. Lewis was not expected back for another hour at least, and, unfortunately, the little handmaiden whom Kate had counted upon for assistance was in bed with a mild attack of influenza.

"I'm real sorry, miss, that I am," Mrs. Lewis said. "But you'd better stay here till Mr. Jack comes, and then he and James can get all your stores up to the cottage. But it'll be midnight before then. You see, James is working very late over at the squire's. They've got a big house-party there."

Kate had decided what to do. She would wait an hour, at any rate. But it was past eleven now; and there was no sign of James Lewis, or of Jack either, for that matter. Doubtless the last train was very late, and sooth to say, Kate was getting very hungry. Jack, too, would be ready for his supper when he came. How nice it would be to have a blazing fire and the cheerful light of lamps with a well-spread table awaiting him.

"I think I'll go on," Kate said. "I'm not in the least afraid. If you'll give me a bundle of firewood and a small tin of paraffin I'll walk over to the cottage and light the fires. There is sure to be some coal there. It'll be rather fun."

Mrs. Lewis protested feebly. She pointed out that it was a lonely walk and that the cottage was far remote from any other house. All this opposition was so much inspiration to Kate. She went lightheartedly along the well-remembered road carrying her burden cheerfully. She came at length to the cottage; she laid down her wood and oil in the little porch while she fumbled in her pocket for the key. Then it struck her as a strange thing that there should be a glimmer of light under the door. The red curtains were closely drawn, there was no suggestion of the cottage being inhabited showing itself through them, but the fact remained that somebody was inside. Just for the moment Kate hesitated. Without knowing why, she was feeling alarmed. Then a certain indignation possessed her. Who were these people, she wondered, and what were they doing there? Without further hesitation she turned the handle of the door.

She crept cautiously inside. There was no light in the little passage, but in the sitting-room a lamp had been lighted and its rays faintly illuminated the passage. In the big sitting-room studio two men were seated discussing some interesting problem over their tobacco. They were not prepossessing to look at, and Kate started back in fear. Surely these men could be up to nothing honest, she thought. The first words she heard confirmed this impression. Five minutes later Kate had nothing to learn.

The thing was simple enough. These men had come down here with the intention of making a raid upon Moat Park. Evidently they were acquainted with the neighborhood or they would never have had the audacity to make the cottage their headquarters in this fashion. They had counted upon the fact of their not being discovered; their scheme was a deal more ingenious and safe than if they had taken rooms in the village.

Kate was no longer frightened. She stood there eagerly taking in all the details. She knew exactly what was going to happen now. But all this took time and a distant clock was striking the hour of twelve before one of the men rose from his seat and knocked out his pipe.

"Come along," he muttered, "it's time to be off. Put the lamp out. Really, we ought to be obliged to these people. It's very good of them to put this cottage at our disposal like this. We shall have to send a card."

Kate darted back just in time. She flitted out noiselessly into the porch, closing the door behind her. She stood there concealed behind a bush, until the two men were lost in the darkness. She had no fear of them coming back again; she had heard all their plans discussed for the future, but that was not the thing that troubled her. She knew what a lot of valuables lay carelessly scattered about Moat Park; she knew how Mr. Foljambe had always laughed at the idea of burglars. It was impossible to stand there doing nothing. Would Jack never come? she wondered. Perhaps Lewis was home by this time. At any rate, she could go back and warn him of what was happening. Then Kate's heart gave a leap of gladness as Jack's well-known figure loomed through the darkness and stood by her side.

"Did you think I was never coming, little girl?" he asked. "Lewis is coming along with the traps. Oh, I see you have lighted the fires. By Jove! how inviting it looks this bitterly cold night. But what's the matter?"

Kate poured out her story incoherently. It was some time before Jack could grasp the true inwardness of it.

"So that's the game," he muttered. "Well, I shan't be too late, anyhow. Now you just wait here till Lewis comes. I know you're not afraid. As to me, I must get over to Moat Park as soon as possible. No, I won't take any risks. My dear girl, there'll be no occasion. You can send for the police if you like."

Jack darted away and Kate went slowly into the cottage. She was not in the least afraid, except for Jack. She had made up her mind to send Lewis on the same errand. Meanwhile, Haygate was making his way across the fields, every inch of which was known to him. He came at length to the familiar old house, now wrapped in darkness save for a flickering light in one of the library windows. Very cautiously Jack crept across the lawn to the window in question. As he had expected, he found that the catch was pushed back and the lower sash lifted high enough to admit of anybody getting through. It seemed to Jack, listening intently, that he could hear the murmur of voices inside. He saw the flickering light grow stronger until the library was all in one steady glow; then, without any heed of his own danger he crept through the window and pushed the blind aside. He stood just for a moment hidden by the heavy curtains, a curious spectator. By the side of the big library table stood Mr. Foljambe himself. He was partially undressed, minus his coat and vest, giving the suggestion of having been disturbed just as he was getting ready for bed. With his back to the door one of the burglars lolled, grinning mockingly, whilst the other stood in a threatening attitude before the master of the house. The big library table was covered with valuable works of art, silver cups and vases, and a pile of flashing jewellery which had been looted from the safe in the corner of the room. Evidently the burglars had lost no time, Jack thought grimly. It was obvious, too, what they meant to do, for the ruffian by the table commanded Mr. Foljambe none too politely to sit down, and be bound in his chair with a long rope which the intruder held in his hand.

"Never!" Mr. Foljambe cried. "I'll not submit to such an indignity. I've only to call out to my servants——"

The man by the door laughed jeeringly. Evidently the intruders knew that the servants were out of hearing. The other man was palpably impatient. He dealt the outraged Foljambe a blow that sent him staggering back into his chair. Then there followed an encounter fought pluckily on Mr. Foljambe's side against overpowering odds. So engrossed were they in the struggle that they did not notice Haygate as he softly stepped from his hiding-place. He was feeling murderous now; there was no pity in his heart for these intruders. He looked around eagerly for a weapon and his eye fell upon a short powerful jemmy by the side of the safe. He brought it down with crashing force on the head of the man nearest him and the burglar collapsed without a groan upon the floor. He was on the other man like a flash, he had him by the throat and bore him backwards. Then it was that Mr. Foljambe realised that a rescuer was at hand. It was no difficult matter now to hurl the second ruffian to the floor and bind him with the cords which had been intended for his involuntary host. There was nothing to fear either from him or the ruffian who lay on the floor snoring unconsciously and far beyond the reach of harm. Mr. Foljambe raised himself up and wiped his heated forehead with his shirt-sleeve.

"Upon my word, sir," he gasped, "I am greatly obliged to you. You have behaved with most remarkable pluck; but how on earth you managed to find out that I was in danger——"

"That's easy," Jack smiled. "Kate told me."

Mr. Foljambe fairly staggered back. There was a wild surprise in his eyes which was not altogether without a suggestion of gladness, not to say affection.

"My dear boy," Mr. Foljambe murmured, "my very dear boy, I was never more astonished in my life. But first let me get the servants up and telephone for the police at Castleford. We'll see to these ruffians in the morning."

Half an hour later and the two burglars were led sadly and disconsolately away, the curious and excited servants had been dismissed and Jack was alone in the library with his uncle.

"Don't you think we had better put all this in a place of safety?" he said. "Let us lock it all up in the big safe in your bedroom. It won't take long."

Mr. Foljambe seemed to be disposed to leave everything in the hands of his nephew. He appeared to be dazed and overcome; there was a suspicious moisture in his eye.

Jack's task was finished at length. He came back into the library and looked about him. A suspicion of a smile rose to his lips as he noted a photograph of himself and Kate on the mantelpiece.

"I am glad you didn't get rid of those," he said.

Mr. Foljambe seemed to find his voice at last. "Of course I didn't!" he exclaimed. "What do you take me for? Upon my word I feel so dazed and confused I don t seem to know what has happened. Oh, yes, you came down to the cottage for Christmas, didn't you? You got tired of stuffy lodgings in London. So you had a hard time of it? Well, I'm glad of it. I hope it will teach you more sense in the future. Fancy those ruffians breaking into your cottage and making use of it in this way! It was a precious good job for me that you couldn't make a do of it in London. And how pluckily that girl behaved! But that's what one would have expected of her. And I suppose she's waiting at the cottage for you now? I'll come with you."

"Kate will be delighted," Jack said.

"I don't know about that," Mr. Foljambe said thoughtfully. "I've behaved confoundedly badly to both of you. Why didn't you write? Why didn't you send and say you were sorry? You don't think I was going to make the first advance, confound you!"

"Kate, will be getting very anxious," Jack murmured. "And she was looking forward with such pleasure to her Christmas Day at the cottage——"

"Cottage be hanged!" Mr. Foljambe cried. "Don't let me hear another word of that. You are coming over here the first thing in the morning, and here you're going to stay for the future. And, By Jove! it's Christmas Day now. And here's a happy Christmas to you and your wife, with all my heart. For I've been very lonely without you and—and——Now let's go and see Kitty."


THE END

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