Page:010 Once a week Volume X Dec 1863 to Jun 64.pdf/66

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[Jan. 9, 1864.
ONCE A WEEK.

again, to spread sunshine on the threshold, and to wake the sleeper, Joy, who has so long lain dead in the dark chambers, waiting his voice to arise and fill the place with light. And when our glad errand is done, we will visit the valley churchyard."

So the day passes, and it is evening. Rough and I have been to see a grave. It is a lorn place, and the wind has grown shrill, and we come home feeling rather desolate. Clouds are gathering for a wild night. The old dog has curled in by the fender, and I have brought my arm-chair to his side, and dragged forth an old desk, and turned over its contents—packages of old letters, and loose leaves of an irregular journal.

Rough, we have set ourselves a hard task. To reach, with feeble voice, the ears of our city friends across the sea, and to make them turn on their busy road, and gaze over their shoulder down some slant sun-path to the steeps and tangles of our Glenariffe. To make them see, with their distant eyes, dimmed with gold and dust, our bay, as now, for instance, moonlit: with its stretch of pale sands, like a white projecting arm, curved round the margin of the dark water, with its lullaby music murmuring patiently from the Bar, its lapping waves flinging diamond circlets perpetually at the feet of the rocks, and with its uncertain glimpses into the soft gloom of silent glens, sheltered for many a mile under the strong arms of the mountains.

There! draw the curtain. Go back to your rug, old dog. What do you know about it? The sea is nothing to you but a broad shining fascination, towards which your lazy speculating eyes turn and return. You know nothing of spirits crossing, of the fatal hollows between waves, of the white curl of a squall spreading, like a plague-spot, on the breast of a fair ocean. Neither do you know anything of the unsounded depths of the human heart, of the shoals and wrecks in that sea, of the treacherous rocks and dizzy maelstroms, which, at every breath we draw, beat out, and suck in, mortal and alas! immortal life. And so, though you sit there, looking through me, with the almost human sympathy of your eyes, you are only a dog, old friend, and the old man must patch his story, and say his say alone.

Margaret Avon and I were old man and old woman together, and yet when she was the wedded mistress of Bracken Hollow, I was but a young lad going to school, and used in vacation times to ride my pony over the hills and hollows of Glenariffe for a cup of sweet tea at Mistress Avon's round tea-table, and a generous share of the cakes and marmalade with which that hospitable board was wont to be spread for my delectation. But at least half my errand there was to get a glimpse of tiny Mary Avon's sleeping face, so fair and plump, under the blue canopy of her cot. For baby Mary Avon was then to me the mystery of mysteries, as she was in years afterwards the pearl, the very sunbeam, the blush-rose of womanhood.

I will tread lightly, and but a few steps of this solitary by-path of my story. Let the roses moulder there where they fell, snapt from their stems so many years ago, and the passion-flowers shrivel into dust, and the dead leaves lie in shifting mounds, stirred only by the whisper of melancholy winds, undisturbed by the fall of even the holiest foot. Mary Avon fled from her home to be the wife of one who broke her heart and deserted her child. There are days upon which many of the aged can look back, when words and scenes which are burned into memory were first branded there. Such old scars still sting, when these dulled eyes glance again to the hour when, a strong and bearded man, I almost knelt to Margaret Avon in that old red drawing-room at Bracken Hollow, and sued for Mary's memory and Mary's child. But the crags of Lurgaedon are not to be toppled into the valley by pecking birds, nor was the wedge of stern resolve to be wrenched from Margaret Avon's soul by prayers. Mary was gone, and, as though she had never been, the existence of her child was to remain unrecognised. I took the little orphan home, and if Hugh was wronged, I at least was a gainer by his loss.

Up to this date I had known Margaret Avon as a large, comely matron, with prosperity lying smooth on her broad forehead, and a helpful magic lurking in the palm of her strong, white hand; with all her actions, impulses of charity, of pride, or of anger; but that blow struck to the root of her life. The tree did not fall, nor totter; it stood on, but the sap was gone. Years went by, and brought death twice again to the threshold of the old house, making her a widow, and bereft of her only son. Then the strong lines had hardened, the soft curves tightened, the good-humoured eyes grown cold, and the firm mouth hard. She became a gaunt woman, with a bent masculine figure, and a harsh countenance. As such I knew her, still as friend, and often as patient, about the time when, a middle-aged bachelor, I found myself settled down under this roof, with the physician's practice of the glens and village for my work, and with Mary's child for something to love, something to keep my heart green. For Margaret Avon, sitting sternly in that red drawing-room at Bracken Hollow, with her face from the world, and