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Title: His Christmas Gift
Author:  Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1601301.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: Nov 2016
Date most recently updated: Dec 2016

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: His Christmas Gift
Author:  Fred M White





HIS CHRISTMAS GIFT


By


FRED M. WHITE


Author of "The Second Christmas," "A Christmas Fog," &c, &c..


Published in the Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1895 - 1954), Thursday 11
December 1930.



ROGER BEAUFOY came slowly down the wide, shallow staircase into the
great hall of The Chase, and made his way into the library, where,
according to custom, he usually spent the hour before dinner over
"The Times." After that he dined in solitary state with butler and
footman to wait on him as he had done any time the last twenty odd
years. A lonely man, a proud man, and the last of his race. So that
when he came to be gathered to his fathers The Chase would be sold,
with its priceless old furniture and the few historic pictures that
remained, and Cumberland would know the name of Beaufoy no more. Enough
there to pay off the mortgages and the ever-increasing debts, provided
that Roger Beaufoy did not live too long. And he was not old as men
go--65 and hale and hearty, though he took no exercise, and rarely
ventured beyond the limits of his estate. The last of his race, and
glad of it.

But was he really the sole surviving Beaufoy? That was one of the
questions he never asked himself, and none dared to put to him. For
there had been a younger Roger once, the heir left to him years before
by a young wife who died all too soon. Perhaps if Margaret Beaufoy had
lived things might have been different, for Beaufoy had loved his wife
with the passionate devotion of the reserved type of man, and her last
sacrifice in giving birth to a child had always been a mark against the
child.

So the child had flourished and grown up without anything in the way
of parental care and affection, going his own way until trouble and
disgrace had reared their ugly heads and a stern father had bidden his
offspring to go and be seen no more, since when the twain had never
met. That was 38 years ago, and from certain information received, the
erring Roger was believed to be dead. And Roger the elder smiled grimly
as he heard it.

But there were times when his conscience troubled him, when he sat
alone in solitary state and brooded over what might have been. If
he had been easier with the boy--if he had only shown him a little
more affection. A fine, handsome lad, headstrong, and wilful but the
Beaufoys had ever been that. Well, it didn't matter very much. In any
case there would have been precious little for the lad to inherit save
debts and difficulties.

It was about Christmas time that these twinges of conscience troubled
Beaufoy most, for his wife had died on Christmas Eve.

Beaufoy was haunted by these memories as he turned in the direction of
the library. For it was the festive season, and the eve of the birth
of the Christ child. Not quite the typical Christmas, with snow lying
thick, but cold and crisp, so that the great log fire in the hall lent
a cheerfulness that was not quite in tune with the mood of the master
of The Chase. Just at that moment Pentecost, the aged butler, with a
perplexed look on his ruddy cheeks, emerged from the shadows.

"Begging your pardon, sir," he murmured. "But there is a young lady in
the blue drawing-room who asks to see you, sir."

"A young lady," Beaufoy said, with raised eyebrows. "To see me? At this
time of night. On Christmas Eve! Who is she, and how did she get here,
Pentecost?"

"She came, sir," the butler explained, "in a taxi-cab, with a suit case
and dispatch box, and said as how she was to stay until called for. Her
very words, sir. Sent the cab away, sir, she did. I hope, sir, that I
am not to blame."

"Show her into the library," Beaufoy said curtly.

Into the library there came presently a girl. She was young and fair,
and dressed entirely in black, which set off her golden loveliness to
perfection. A pair of eyes the color of a summer night sky looked with
almost childish confidence into the dark, rather frowning ones of Roger
Beaufoy, very much as a dog might regard one that he recognises as a
lover of his kind. A lady, Beaufoy thought--he could recognise breed
and refinement in every line of her, from the clean-cut features and
the carriage of the little head to the slim contour of the ankles. For
the first time in his life, perhaps, Beaufoy felt embarrassed.

"If you will kindly explain," he began. "I am feeling at some
disadvantage. Your name, for instance----"

The lovely little stranger smiled. A smile so sweet and melting and,
withal, so intimate, that Beaufoy fairly started. It was as if some
ghost from the grave had risen to confront him. So strange and yet so
familiar.

"There is nothing to explain," the girl said in a fluty contralto
that struck Beaufoy like a blow over the heart, so oddly familiar it
sounded. "I was to come here and stay until I was called for. If that
is in anyway unpleasant to you, then I have somewhere else to go. But I
couldn't get there to-night."

"No, I suppose not," Beaufoy admitted. "Perhaps, if you will allow me
to ring for my housekeeper----"

The lovely stranger held up a commanding hand. A beautifully slim and
graceful hand, Beaufoy noticed.

"Wait," she ordered. "Perhaps you had better learn my name first. I am
Cynthia Beaufoy. Your grand-child."

The old man believed it. He knew now where he had seen that smile
before, where he had heard those low flute notes in the girlish voice,
though he had seen or heard neither any time the last eight and thirty
years. It was as if his dead wife was speaking to him across the waste
which the locusts had eaten.

"Sit down, child," he said in a tone that none who knew him had heard
for many a long day. "Sit down and let us thrash this matter out. That
you are telling me the truth I know. Your voice and your smile are
inherited from your grandmother. But your father? I believed him to be
dead long ago."

The beautiful face dimmed like a flower in a frost.

"Daddy died just six months ago," she said unsteadily. "He died of
heart trouble. And not very long before the end he told me all about
you and this lovely old house, and how the Beaufoys had been great
people for centuries. You see there was only daddy and myself because
mummy died when I was quite small. She was always delicate, like so
many of the old Virginian families are; and Chicago, where daddy's
business was, proved too cold for her. And so she died, you see."

"And my--your father sent you here to me?"

It had been Beaufoy's intention to ask the question in a hard, stern
way, but he spoke, despite himself, none too steadily.

"In a way, yes," Cynthia explained. "But not exactly as you expect.
Towards the last, when daddy learnt that there was no hope for him, he
began to think a lot about his early days. He told me lots of things I
had never known before. You were not very fair to daddy, I think. Now,
were you?"

This to the autocrat with the forbidding eyebrows, the man before whom
most people trembled! But she was looking at him with his dead wife's
eyes and speaking with her voice.

"Perhaps not," he murmured, as if he were looking down the dim past
with new vision, "perhaps not. Go on, child."

From her vanity bag Cynthia produced a letter. It was heavily sealed
and addressed to Beaufoy in his dead son's hand. He broke the seal and
read the enclosure that ran:--


My dear Father,

By the time this reaches you by the hand of my little girl, I shall be
no more. When you bade me to go and never see your face again I obeyed.
I took you at your word and left the home I had disgraced with little
more than the clothes I stood up in.

Perhaps had you been more of a father to me than you were, the trouble
would never have happened. But the fact of my being was the price of
my mother's life and that you never forgave me. Hence my neglected and
lonely boyhood. But enough of that.

For 20 years I struggled on here as best I could. All things by turn
and nothing long. Then the chance came and the tide turned and fortune
smiled on me. I married a lady who came from an old Virginian stock,
a Pendennis, in fact, and the child I am sending you as a Christmas
gift is the result. It is a fancy of mine that she should reach you
on Christmas Eve, and if you accept her in like spirit she will not
come empty-handed. I like to feel that a welcome awaits her in the
home where I was born, though I am informed that after your time comes
The Chase must be sold and pass into the possession of strangers. It
matters little how I have kept in touch with the old place, but I have.

If the stern point of view still remains, then Cynthia will find a home
with an old friend of my wife's who is now settled in Sussex. So it
matters very little how you decide, but I should like Cynthia to pass
one Christmas in the house that I loved and clung to more than you
ever knew. Sentiment, my dear father, but then sentiment is the rock
on which the British Empire is founded. And the child is very like her
grandmother.

Your son,

Roger.


To Beaufoy's intense surprise he was conscious of a smarting at the
back of his eyes and the knowledge that a certain chronic heaviness
was lifting from the region of his heart. A weight he had carried
for countless years. Much as Ebenezer Scrooge felt on that Christmas
morning when the last of the spirits had left him. He had not given
a thought to The Christmas Carol for close on half a century, but it
flashed oddly into his mind now.

"You want to stay here, child?" he asked in a voice so mild and
friendly that Cynthia smiled. "To remain here, in fact?"

Cynthia laughed aloud, laughed like a ripple of silver bells so that
the great solemn library rang with the music of it. Such a laugh The
Chase had not heard for many a day.

"I should love it," she cried. "I have pictured The Chase so often and
heard it spoken of by Daddy, especially before he died, that I seem to
know it blind-fold. So, if you will do as you suggested just now and
ring for the housekeeper----"

"Housekeeper!" Beaufoy cried with a heartiness he felt to his marrow.
"You little witch, you are laughing at me. Now listen. What sort of a
kit did you bring here?"

"If you please, sir," Cynthia said demurely, "only a dispatch box with
some papers and a suit case with an evening dress in case you asked me
to dine with you."

"Delighted," Beaufoy averred, and he meant it. "You have a full
half-hour to dress. We must call Pentecost into conference. If you will
oblige me by ringing that bell."

Pentecost came in response to the summons. His rosy face was working
strangely as he gazed respectfully at the lovely stranger.

"Do you know who this young lady is, old friend?" Beaufoy asked with a
chuckle. "Remind you of anybody, what?"

"My dear mistress, dead these thirty odd years, sir," the old man
breathed huskily. "And Mr. Roger, too, if I may take the liberty of
saying so. Don't say I'm wrong, sir."

"Wrong!" Beaufoy cried. "Of course you are not wrong. Go and tell Mrs.
Kimmins. Tell everybody that Mr. Roger's child is here for good and
all. It can't be for more than a year or two, as you know, Pentecost,
but, please God, while it lasts we will do our best to make amends for
the past and render my dead son's daughter as happy as possible before
some fortunate prince comes along and claims her for his own."

Christmas morning fine and clear after a keen night of frost and stars.
Lovely little Cynthia rising fresh as the lark after a sound night's
rest in a glorious carved oak four-poster, in which a king had once
passed the night. Then outside, taking in the noble lines of The Chase
with the stone-paved terrace and the dim vista of the park beyond. And
after that, an intimate breakfast in the famous cedar room with an
almost doting grandfather, who sat opposite, smiling as if he had never
known a frown on his face, or anger in his heart. Service in the little
church across the meadows and afterwards neighbors, who in some way had
learnt the great news, swarming round with congratulations and telling
each other presently that they didn't know what had come to Black
Beaufoy, upon their word they didn't, he had changed so for the better
since they last saw him. Everybody going to call--which none of them
had done time out of mind--and all in love with Cynthia and anxious to
give her a welcome to the county. Gilded youth of the male persuasion,
immaculate and self-conscious, standing round in silent admiration. And
Black Beaufoy standing in their midst with a grin on his face that took
ten years off his life.

"How kind and nice they were," Cynthia said, with a catch in her voice.
"Oh, how I shall love this place."

"Make the best of it, my dear," Beaufoy said. "It can't last very long.
My time, perhaps, but now there is your future to think about. It can't
be here, anyway. Inevitably, I am the last of the Beaufoys of The
Chase."

Cynthia slipped her hand lovingly under her escort's arm.

"Don't be sure of that," she smiled. "You have not seen all of Daddy's
Christmas gift yet. If you had not been so wonderfully good and kind to
me last night----"

"You little witch! Who wouldn't? You crept straight into this battered
old heart of mine, as I shrewdly suspected you meant to do from the
first. Now confess it."

"Well, perhaps," Cynthia admitted. "But when we get back home--my home,
Granddaddy, now--there is something more that I have to show you, the
second part of Daddy's Christmas gift."

Beaufoy smiled down into the smiling, exquisite face.

"Something more, is there?" he asked. "Something with a happy bearing
on your future, I hope. If I could only discern that, then I shall die
a happy man. The Chase saved. The long line of the Beaufoys secured.
You mistress of the old house with a husband worthy of you, who will
take the family name. But a fairy tale, my darling, a fairy tale."

In a fairy setting, Cynthia thought. This wonderful grandfather
transformed from a morose old man into a sort of Cheeryble Brother by
a touch of the Queen's wand, the grand old house, with its rose-tinted
front and quaint, twisted chimneys, all redolent of the past. A
veritable haunt of ancient peace, as Tennyson sang, with its immemorial
elms, a place to love and cherish, a place which had sunk deep in
Cynthia's heart already. And the fairy wand was locked up in the
dispatch box in her Queen Anne bedroom.

It was in the library after lunch that Cynthia came down to Beaufoy
with the dispatch box in her hand. Beaufoy watched her as she unlocked
the box and produced certain papers.

"I have something like a confession to make, Granddaddy," she said.
"Do you know that I have not come here to live on you, because I could
never have done that."

"So your father hinted in his letter, my child. But do you suppose that
would make any difference now?"

"Because--because we are going to be so happy together? Is that what
you mean?" Cynthia said none too steadily. "Yes, I can read it on your
face. But The Chase and the future, Grandaddy, I want you to look at
these figures."

"Securities," Beaufoy said at length. "All American. Over three million
dollars represented here. And all, apparently, in your name, Cynthia.
Do you mean to say----"

"Oh, yes, yes," Cynthia broke in joyfully. "It is the money that
Daddy left behind him for me. The certificates are with the Third
International Bank in New York, and I have the receipt here. All that
can be transferred to England whenever we want it. Daddy explained
everything to me before he died. He taught me quite a lot about
business. He made a will, too, and that he gave me to take care of.
It's here. Perhaps you would like to read for yourself what he says."

Beaufoy held out an unsteady hand. His glasses were rather misty, but
the words were plain enough.


"I give and bequeath to my daughter Cynthia everything both real and
personal of which I may die possessed. It is my wish that she repair
to England as soon as possible after my decease and place herself at
the disposal of her grandfather Roger Beaufoy, reaching his house
The Chase as soon as possible; reaching there, if convenient, about
Christmas Day or the day before. Should she meet with the reception I
hope and my father consents to receive her until she is of legal age
under his roof, I direct my said father to become her natural guardian
and proceed to make her a ward in Chancery until her twenty-fifth year,
he in the meantime to allow her one thousand pounds per annum for her
personal needs, the balance of the income from my securities during
my daughter's minority to go towards the upkeep of The Chase and the
redemption of the mortgages thereon. And, if my said father deems it
expedient under the conditions of guardianship aforesaid, then it is
in the discretion of Roger Beaufoy to raise sufficient funds from my
estate to free The Chase from all encumbrances provided always that
after my said father's death the whole of this landed property and
house pass in succession to my daughter Cynthia.

"Failing the above conditions, I hereby appoint as my executors the two
senior partner in the firm of Magness and Roscoe, of 650, Lincoln's Inn
Fields, to administer my estate on the same terms and conditions as
laid down beforehand with regard to my said father Roger Beaufoy."


There was a good deal more to the same effect, but Beaufoy had read all
that he needed. Before he had finished the last chip of ice had melted
from his heart and he made no effort to conceal his emotion. For the
prodigal had made good, the strain on the family honor had been wiped
out, and the line would remain unbroken. And, best of all, The Chase
stood where it did and the dark clouds had rolled away.

"I don't think we shall have to trouble the family solicitors, my
dear," Beaufoy said huskily. "It would have been all the same, as your
darling self is concerned had you come to me without a penny. What a
happy, happy Christmas you have brought me, and how very, very little I
have deserved it."


THE END.



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