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(Cm*) I THAT TERRIBLE i CHRISTMAS EVE. i BY LUCY HARDY, ¡ I futbor of â My Adventure," a ChristmU I Twlligbta." Ac. "Tell yon a story, my doars ? Why, you know all' nun* by heart already." Thus spoke our old nune, or rather our mother's old nune, for ahe had long been set Mide from active work, and lived In a snug little room in one of the towers of our rambling old country house, like the old fairy in the "Sleeping Beauty." There she did mysterious pieces of needle- work and mending, and here came all the croll, and the delicate, and the dull children of the house a* to a city of refuge. Nurse Preston had cure* for every childish malady and trouble, and it was our highest delight to listen to her stories, or turn over her "treasures," as she called a store of odds and ends, useful and ornamental, which she had accumu- lated round her. Therefore on this special da., when the rain kept us all indoors and amusement* flagged, we, myself and two sisters, naturally set off for Nurse Pnoton". chamber. "I don't know what to say," proceeded the kind old soul, laying down her work with a puzzled expression, for a wet Christmas, following an attack of the measles, had made us very frequent visitors to Nurse Preston of late, and her stock of stories had been nearly exhausted. "Tell us something about yourself, Nurele said little Mabel, climbing on her kuee. "How did you first come to know mamma ? You've told us so much about ktr, but you never told III how you tint knew her." t "Oh." said Mrs. Preston, stroking the child's golden hair, "as I rome to think of it, my knowing your dear mamma, or leastways her parents, for she. sweet lamb, was not born then, grew out of one of the most terrible frights I ever had in my life," "Tell us, tell us," we cried in chorus, for the history of a "terrible fright sounded most inviting, and after coughing and settling herself comfortably In her chair nurse began her tale. 1" 1 Well, young ladies, you must know that I was horn a long way from here, right away in Devon- ahire. Father was bailiff to Sir George Hardy, your grandfather, and he (father I mean) and I and my grandmother all lived in a snug cottage together. I had lost my mother, as you have, my dean, but at the time I am talking of I was a tall lass of twenty or to, and quite able to keep father's house. We were fairly well-to-do; people worked harder and spent less in those days, I think, and oun was a very happy home. Father had been bailiff for a great number of years, longer than Sir George bad been muter at the Hall, and was greatly trusted and looked up to. It was the day before Christmas, and as I was at work in our neat kitchen preparing for the Christmas dinner, father came in and took a canvas bag out of his breast pocket. "See here, liss," he said, "I muat And a safe place to lay this away, for 'tis more money than I are to ride across the moor with to-night." "Money of yours, father! I exclaimed In surprise. "Nay, nay; where should I get a bag of gold ,from ? 'Tis money of Sir George's that I am to lay out for him at the New Year fair. A pretty penny there is in that big. I was loth to take it, but Sir George is mad to buy a horse that is said to be worth I dm't know what, and thinks I shall make a better bargain for it than he will. So as I was at the Hall to-day he gave me the money before he left for London, and I am to bid the ready penny for the beast. But I don't care to ride about with a bag of gold to-night, so find a place to put it away, my girl." Poor Sir Ge irge, your grandfather, was alwaY8 80 careless of his mmoy, my dears, although in this case it was safe enough in father's hands. I looked at the bag with curiosity, a little mixed with awe; I had never seen so much money in my life before, yhen I glanced about for a safe place to put the treasure. We had nothing valuable to take care of and therefore had no places of special security. "This will di," said father, opening mother's empty workbox, which was kept as a sacred relio cit the drpS8r. 44 you can p»lt tbs box In the ON chest yonder with your Sunday finery; after all, the money's safe enough anywhere in this bouse, for nobody knows I have it. Only I'm bound to ride over to Taunton to-night, and don't care to be well worth robbing." "Must you go, father pOI I asked, looking rather anxiously at the client, where the workbox and its precious contents hal just been deposited. "Of course I must, foolish lass. Doesn't you* sister expect me certain sure. And if I fail. won't she be scared fit to kill herself ? My only sister had married about a year before, and was living in Taunton. She had been ailing of late, and father had promised to spend Christmas Eve with her, returning home early next day. He was to have rid en over on this afternoon, but Sir George's summons to the Hall had detained him. Still, rather than disappoint Piicebehe would start now,late as it was. Thero was nothing unusual in my being left thus alone with grandmother. Father was often d -talned late at fairs and obliged to sleep away from home. Yet somehow the thought of brine left in charge, as it were, of this moneyâsuch a large sum as it appeared to ine- vaad,, me uncomfortable. "Bless the girl," said father, laughing, as I told him of my mistfiviugs, "do ye think I told all the village that I had the bag of gold P Nobody but our two solves and Sir George knows anything about it, so give me my coat, lass, and let's hear no more of the8 maggots." As I turned to reach d)wn his think riding coat I started. Surely there was a face, a man's face, looking in at the wndow. The evening was grow- ing dark, and the lijfht of the fire made the inside of our room distinct from outside. Anyone stand- ing there could have seen father throw the bag into my lap and open it to shew me, its golden contents. "Father, there's a strange man looking in," I eried with sudden alun. Father strode to the door and opened it suddenly. Yes, sure enough, a stranger stood on the threshold. "What's your business with us asked father, rather sharply. The man-lie was a dark, undersized fellow, shabbily dressed, with a furtivs look and a countenance I did not like-raised his cap as he answered submissively, "Please, your honour, I'm a poor pedlar aud strange to these parts, and I should be glad to hear of a place where I ceuld get a night's lodging. "This isn't an inn; if you keep along the road another mile you'll colne to one, the Black Boar," Mid father, preparing to close the door. "Another mile," repeated tha oedlar, "and I be terrible footsore already. Your honour couldn't let me just have a place to lie down for the night bare-clean straw would do, or a couple of chairs in the kitchen. I'd pay for my lodging, or. if that -would give offence, the young lady there might please herself out of my pack and welcome." "I tell you you can't stay here," said father. â "I'm oblige! to ride to Taunton, to-night, and t can't leave my girl alone with a stranger in the house. I am sure father repented those words before they were well out of his mouth, but he was a quick- speaking man, and I think he was a little put about at the idea of the atrange man looking in at the window, perhaps having seen the money. So, without thinking, he let out what he had certainly better have kept to himself. Then was no need to tell the man that granny and I were to be all alone that night. It may have been only fancy, but I oertainly thought I saw the man's faee brighten at father's speech, and perhaps father thought it too, for he said rather sharply, "Well, friend, you've had your answer, and you may as well be off, and good even' to you." "Stay a bit," said the pedlar, In a hesitating wice, as if he were doubtful what to say, "if you won't take me in for the night, may be you'd let me leave my paak here. It's mortal heavy to carry anoomendle, and, besides, I might not and safe quarters for it at a little inn. I'm a poor man, your konour, "4 couldu't afford to lose my pack. to let me leave it here hr Mo mlo% mM I I" as good a stock of ri Say pedlar In the country, and the young lady shall have her eboloe la permit." "My daughter 18 so y^uag lady, and we don't Waat t» lie paid for 4Wsg a soul) civility," said fither; he was a kindly maa, and hated to seem fcotisfet **r that atattor I'm mmr we cant take 00 a. However, we can manage your pack, a o be that you like trusting it in the hands of trangen; hand It along." 1 I laid it down just under the bWp while I cum to knock at the door," said the man, shuffling off quickly, while father turned to me and said, "I don't quite like his looks, but. anyway, there can be no harm in taking care of his pazk." The man must have left his pack some way off, to judge by the time he was gone to fetch it. At last he returned, halt carrying, half dragging, what looked like a large sack. "Why, however could you carry a pack that size t" exclaimed father, as the man stopped inside and deposited his burthen in the darkest corner of the kitchen. "It ain't so heavy as It looks," replied the man, who was nevertheless out of breath with his exertions, "but I've been looking for some things in it, and did it up untidy like. However, I'll get it ship-shape to-morrow. Good-night to your honour and many thanks to you," -and he went away. "Do you think he saw the money ?" I asked anxiously. "That money runs in your head, lass. Ifo, I don't suppose he did, but, anyway, it don't matter. Tou've good locks and bolts and stout shutten between you and him. Besides, if he was a thief, he wouldn't be trusting us with his pack. Fasten up well to-night, and don't get fancies in your head." At the time I am epeaking of, my dears, over fifty years ago, yeomen's daughters like I was, left nerves and fancies to fine ladies, as we had no time for such nonsense. So I saw father off, and bolted up, well closing the strong shutten over the window, and got granny to bed, and it was only when I sat down to my knitting again that my thoughts began to dwoll on the ill-looking stranger. We were thrifty people then, and I never thought of wasting candles when I could work by the fire-light, so I sat knitting in the chimney corner, and the flames flickered and danced, miking the middle of j- the room bright, but leaving the rest in darkness, j I don't know how it was, but my eyes kept wander- log to that large bundle lying indistinct in the corner. It was such an oddly shaped pack for a pedlar to carry; what could be hava in it f Linen goods, perhapi; they would be heavy and look bulky like that, but how very unusual to carry them In a sack,for such the outer owering certainly was. it was no concern of mine, but I felt such a strange, unaccountable curiosity about that package. At last I fairly laid down my work and went up to the dark comer to look at it closely. Yes, it was certainly a sack, tied up carefully with rope, but as I looked at it-was it only the flicker of the fire- light ?âI fancied it moved. I stood staring with all my might, and keeping as still as a mouse, and presently there was no doubt about it-somethinr inside stirred, ever so gently, but yet umnistak- ably. Ihe content. of that sack were alive! My heart beat so that I could hard'y stand, but I crept noiselessly to the sack and laid my ear near it. Yes, I could distinctly hear a cautious, smothered breathing! I don't know how'I mar.aged to stifle the scream that rose t? my lips, but, luckily for me, I did stifle it, though I turned sick with terror. There were granny and I locked in with some desperate ruffian, whoso accomplice, the pretended padlar, had thus gained him admission to the house. Doubtless the man who looked in at the window had seen the bag of gold, and laid this scheme to obtain possession of it The man in the sack was only waiting till he supposed we were upstain to get. free of his covering, and make off with the money. In one instant I thought of bolting myself upstairs with granny, and letting the robber do this, but the next moment I remembered that this would be very unfaithful to Sir George. That fatal money was in my keeping, and I was bound to take charge of it. To carry it upstairs would be useless, the man would only pursue me in search of it, and the fright would kill granny. I have heard that people say that desperation makes cowards brave. My terror put an idea into my head. Over the chimney piece hung an old blunderbuss. It was not loaded-I felt thankful it was not, or I should have baen afraid ef touching It-and I believe it was quite out of repair. However, it would serve my purpose. I reached it down, and began talking as if to myself, though I wonder I could got the words out. "Dear me," I said, as distinctly as I could speak, 10 that the man could hear every word. "It's a good thing father has left this loaded gun in case of anyone coming to the house. I wonder if I could fire it: I should just like to try "-and I clicked the lock as if I were cocking the piece. It was a tad falsehood to say that the gun was loaded, but what could I do ? I walked up to the sack gun in hand. "I'll try it, here," I said; "don't believe there's anything to hurt in the pack. Anyways I'll risk It, 'tis such a large mark to aim at;" but the words were hardly out of my mouth before the sack nearly jumped on end, and a stifled voice cried, "Hold hard-do you want to commit a murder?" So I was not mistaken I How I trembled, but there was no time for that, for I saw just the point of a knife gleam through the canvas, and I know the man was trying to cut his way out. If he did that, it was all over with us. "I've a loaded gun here," I said (repeating the falsehood, I am sorry to say) "and if you move hand or foot I'll fire. Lie down and keep still, or you're a dead man." The sack fell down again suddenly, and a rather frightened voice began to swear and protest that be would go away quite quietly "without hurting a lioir of our heads" if I would only let him get out of the sack; but this, you may believe, I was not fool enough to listen to. There was a large, deep, old-fashioned cupboard along one side of the room with a diamond-shaped hole in the upper panel. Into one end of this big closet I thrust my prisoner, sack and all, dragging him along as best I could, and threatening to shoot him if he resisted. Being tied up in the dark be was quite in my power. I would have put him out of doors, for I could have trusted to the strength of our bolts and shutters to keep him out when he was once there, but I dreaded lest the other man misht be lurking near, and might ruih in as I opened the door. I locked the cupboard door, dragged all the furniture I could mova against i4 and then sat down, and, for the only time in my life, fainted away. I re- covered to find myself lying on the floor feeling very dizzy and confused, but I soon recollected myself. Well, I bad the man safe under lock and key, but I still felt uneasy. Supposing he managed to break out ? I have often hoard father say that you might tell a lie so often that you beieved it your- self at last, and I really think I had talked so much about the gun being loaded that I bad come to look upon it as a great protection, although it was about as much good as a stick of firewood. I eat with it in my hand hour after hour, watching that cupboard, and every now and then calling through the keyhole of the door that I was sitting ready to fire if the robber tried to break out. I believe, poor wrotch, he was as frightened as I, for he kept quite still, although I fancied I heard all sorts of noises, movements in the cupboard, steps outside the window-all just fancy and nothing else. But it was not wonderful that I fancied any- thing, sitting there alone with the thief in the cup- board. Granny was asleep upstairs, and I did not want to disturb her, so I waited alone. Time passed by; it must have been about twelve or one o'clock when I actually did hear a step outside the door. I was in such a worked-up state that I screamed aloud. Then came a loud knocking at the door, and a cry, in a well-known and oh, how welcome a voice, "Polly, Polly, 'tis only Joe. Let me in-is anything the matter ? Joe, my dears, was a young farmer who had beea very civil to me for a long time. I liked him very well, but I held him off, rather, for I was not going to fall into any man's mouth like a ripe plum. But now I was too glad to hear his voice to stand on anything, and after cautiously unbarring the door a little way to make sure it was really Joe, I fairly threw it open wide, and-well I do believe I ran straight into his arms. It was such a comfort to see him standing then, so strong and handsome, and looking at to protect me against anything. Joe soon understood everything, and after he had quieted me a little- for now the danger was ovor I was sobbing as if my heart would break-he bade me wrap up. and be would take me to his mother's in the village, and then come back with help to secure the thief. But I could not leave granny, and It was impossible to take her out in the cold night air, to it ended in Joe's running at the top of his speed for the con- stables, while I sat before the cupboard door. Our cottage stood nearly a mile from the village, but Joe was back in a wonderfully short time, and then he aud the constables opened the door and took oat my prisoner. He had out his way out of the sack,and lav huddle un in the corner, half stuaefied thrvu-a want of air, -and looking miserable enough. Although he went away very quietly with the men, I felt indeed thankful that I had detected him in time to secure him, for a villlanous-looking fellow he was, with a lug" knife in hit berd--sh, I can IN him now. "But why did your friend Joe come to the bousq 10 late at night ? asked Adela, who was of an inquiring turn of mind. "Well, my dear, Joe was looking after me, II I Mid, and had happened to meet father riding to Taunton, and father had been speaking of the strange man who had asked for a lodging, and how frightened I seemed at it. Joe kept thinking about this all the evening, and somehow got restless. He did not like to thluk of my being troubled about anything. So he was fool enough to walk down late at night when he ought to have been abed, just to see that all wasriglib at our house. Then he heard me scream, and knocked at the door. T "And what became of the thief ? "Oh, he and his friend were both taken; they were part of a gang to burglars who had come down to rob some of the large houses about our neigh- bourhood. As I thought, one of them bad seen father open the bag of gold as he looked in through the window, and when he could not get into the house himself he just tied up his mate 10 a sack, and pretended that this was his pedlar's pack. A great escape we had had, for these very men had murdered an old woman at one bouse they had robbed some months before, and warrants were out against them." What became of them at last ?" & One was hanged, poor wretch;. the oth,r, who had saved his neck by giving evidence (the pre- tended pedlar) was sent across the seasâI hope he repented, and did better in another country. oh, my dears, the fuss everybody made about me alterwards, I'm sure I don't know why. Father said 1 had, saved granny's life and Sir George's money by my courage, and that be was proud of his daughter. And Sir George, though he was such a haughty gentleman, came down himself, when he returned home after Christmas, to thank me, while Joe was more foolish about me than ever. And when Joe and 1 were married, some months later, Sir George gave our wedding-dinner at the Hall, and a noble one it was. Half the tenants were there. Sir George himself came down and made a speech, and spoke of what he called my "great courage and fidelity," and thn he gave me a purse with juit fifty golden guineas, half what the bag had held, begging I would accept this mark of his esteem all a wedding gift. I felt quite confused and ashamed at so much fuss being made about me, for although Joe said that most women in my place would have just made themselves safe upstairs, and let the thief carry off the money, I do not think anyone would have been so unfaithful to things in their care. For my part I was^always rather ashamed to think of the lie. I told about the gun being loaded, but I was so terribly frightened, and thought my only chance was to make the man believe I couid shoot Lim. "But you haven't told us how you came to be mamma's nurse," said little Mabel. "Ah, my doar," said nurse, a shade falling on her kind, cheerful old face, "I only had my Joe for five short years. Five years I was a happy wife, and then I lost the best, the kindest husband that ever breathed. There was fever in our village, and my Jce caught it, and I buried him and my little girl, our only child, in one wfolt. Then I went back to live with father, but Phcebe and her husband had come to him after I married, so he didn't really need me. Then Sir George's young wife, who had been so good to me in my trouble, came and asked me if I would like to be nurse to the baby that was expected at the Hall. She knew how I loved children, and that I understood a good deal about the care of them, and she thought, dear kind lady, that it would turn my sad heart from dwelling always on my own losses if I had another little one to love. So I went to the Hall after your mamma was born, and it was a real home to me, and I only left it when my dear young lady married, and brought me here with her." "You are to live here always now, papa says," said Adela. "I hope I may, my dears. I saw your dear main-iia the day she was born, I dressed her for her wedding, and I helped to lay her in her coffin. I love you all as if you were my own children, and 1 should be sad indeed to leave you now. I am too old a woman, my dears, to expect to live to see you all grown up, but I hope when you do, you will all be as sweet, and as good, and as gentle as my dear lady your mamma was. Miss Alabol has hor golden hair, and Mias Adela her eoft voice, and I think you, Miss Lucy, are most like her in face, but I hope you all have her sweet temper and her loving heart. Ob, my dears, good comes out of evil. But for that dreadful night's terror 1 might never have been Joe's wife, or known my sweet young mistress or her children.





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