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A Chance Meeting

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John Challoner was feeiing utterly miserable. He was a brown-bearded, Btnrdy-looking man, with every outward appearance of health and prosperity; but as he sat thi're in the corner of the railway carriage, with his hnnds tbrost deeply into the capacious pockets of his fur-linedcoat, and with his tra veling cap pulled Iow over his eyes, I doubt it there were so wretched a man in the whole of that London êxpress. Thero was a terrible storm on, for it was the Christmas Eve of '78, and destined to be a memorable nitht in the annals of tho wenther almanacs; but as he Bat there watchingthesnow beinghurled in compact masses aaainst thewindows, John Challoner feit a certain grim satisfaction that nature should be in accordance with his own tem. pestuous thoughts. He was not very sure of their present whereabouts, but as far as he could judge, the train was already some hours late, and was progressing at a very slowrate indeed. Well, what did it matter after all, whether or not he were home in time for the Christmas Day? The big dreary house, that agirl's younapresenre had seemad to flood with sunshine, would appear even bigger and dreariir, now that that girl had left it forever. There would be Sarah, of course, the silent eldersister, who had watched over John's motherless boyhood, and who loved him with sojealous h devotion; but then - Sarah was not Madge, and it was Madgehe wanted. Not that he would haveadmitted as much lor a moment, that would have bi'en too ridiculous. when it was only last niuht-, after a somewhatprolonged virit to thn Scottish metropolis, that he had been talking to a lawyer in Edinbunih, and giving him inBtructions ahout the drawing up of the pnper which was to separate the husband and wife. John was to go his way, and Madge was to go hers. And this was the end of tho=o four years of married life which had opened so briuhtly and well; this was the end of tliat first tiny quarrel, when Chalioner had foreot.en the proinise to take his girl-wife to an especial dance, and had spent the evfinins; among the books which had been the soie companions of his hitherto sol'tary Ufe. Whose actual fault was it that things had come to this pass? In what had the trouble consisted, that there had been such jarnng in the home that they had ultimately decided to live their lives apart? The train went slower and slower; the fres-hly fallen snow lay in hinh bunks on either side; but John Challoner's thoughts never wandered from thu old sore subject. One by one he reealled the various landinarks of those four }'ears. How bitterly Sarah had resented the advent of the youne bride; how impossible he had found it to live a society life with Made iind vet eet through the neceseary I iterar y work which meant his Iivelihood; how eagerlyhis young cousin, Charlie Thorne, had volunteered to take her to dances and so on in his stead. Then he recalled their little daughter's birth, and the glad hopes that had gprung into life as he took his tiny Christmas rose in his stalwart arms and tried to trace the mother-look in the baby features. But the baby had only lived to see her second birthday, and with her death "the rift within the lute" had elowly widened, and the faint miuic which had echoën in their daily lives was turned into jangling discord. "Madge was fonder ot youngThorne than of John himself," Sarah had ,&verred; and the poor fellow had been forceil to acquiesce, when barely had the dead child heen laid to rest before her mother had taken up the old whirl of dissipation, with Charlie Thorne in constant attendatice. There was nothing, I think, which John Challoner feit so bitterly as this sanie apparent hard-heartedness. It is not often that men care for very young cliildren, but this cnrly-headed little danghter had been simply worshipped by her father. The fact that this man was a poet both by nature and profession may perhaps have helped him in his love andcomprhension of what Theodore VVattssobeautifully calis "the music of human speech- the beloved babble of children;" but certain it is that he had set hih hopes upon this little onr. The highest of all was that she would bind his beautiful wife closer to him; but th baby had died aad was under the snow. and the dead hopes were buried in the scrap of lawyers' parehment which another week would see signed and attested. How bitterly cold it was, to be sure! the hot-water cans had been iiseless long ago, and the windowR were coted with frozen snow; but yet he never reeretted having taken the journey. Albeit they wereEnglishfolks, Madge's home and belongings were in Edinbureh, and Challoner had preferred leaving the question of settlements wilh those who would be caref uil for Madge's interests. rather than in less friendly hands. Of course there had been no actual obligation to go north in person; but Challoner, jealous forhis wife'sreputation, had dreaded the matter being discussed by unnecessary tongues. The separation was purely a personal añair, and was being settled by the family solicitors without any further appeal to ihe law. 'Jherewas only two other passeneers in his compartinent, and to rouse himself from his eloomy abstraction he began ÜHtcing to their conversation. The; were both young, rather sportinz looking men, and one had evidtntly bi'en describing to the other the per8oni'. appearance of some unknown lad 'She's a thorouzh little beauty, I teil you, and I flatter myself I'm a good jnde," was bis enthusiastic conclusión. "Shouldn't mind travellng up to town wittiher utyself." "Why don't you then," carne in answer. The first speaker laughed. "Idaren't my boy. She has a norgon of a maid with her, who is even more freezing than this beastly weather. Teil you what, tho 'gh, at the next station X 11 try to et her some tea or BOmethlnz, and that'll pave the way to a chat." Challoner fiowned involuntarily. Such talk was peculiarly distasteful to him; and for the iirat timeit struck him that for the future his Madge would beopen to any and every chance insult which men such as his fellow-travelers niight choose to put upon her. The very thought of it made his blood boil. Madge wisso pretty, so young, and in many ways so thoughtless, that, even more than another, sh might be madeto feel her unprotecte state; and whatever might happen, he himself would be powerless to shield her. He became so absorbed in this new thought that he hardly noticed when the rreeping train cama to a standstill; and it was only when a sudden blast of cold air made it apparent that his companions had thrown down the window and were leaning ouc that he roused himself to inquire the cause. He was putting his head out of his own window to look about him when the guard carne along the footboard, fpeling his way laboriously in the building snoiv and shouting at the top of his voice that all passeimers were to rtescend. Instantly all was in confusión. Cries of why? What'8 the matter? Are we in danger? and euard! guard! resounded on all sides. Immediately the younger of hiscotnpanions unfastened the door and ejaculal ing, "Now for that pretty girl!" jumped out; while the otlier more slowly collected his wraps and observed that he "supposed the snow had been too niuch ior the engine." This indeed proved to be the case; and.aftersome pardonable urumbling, I Challoner got out of the train and 1 lowed in tho track of these who were picking their way towani a roadside station at sonie forty yards' distanee. As he did so he caught the rongb, persuasive tones ot his late companion; "Really now, you had botter take my arm; we shall get on first-rate." The door of a first-class carriage was swinging open, and standing before it - so directly in his path that Challoner almost feil over him - was the young gentleman who had vaunted his appieciation of ieminine beauty. Naturally Challoner's glance followed his, and although he could not distinguish the lady's features he was becoming dimly conscious that the brown vel vet coat was strangely familiar, when she spoke a few words in a tone which sent the blood rapidly coarsing through his veins: ''Thank you; I wil] not trouble you; my niaid is with me." Madge'a voice! Challoner dropped his riiijs, scrambled up on to the foott)oard, and held out his arms. "Come down at once!'" he ciied authoritatively. "It may not be safe for you to stay there. Jump, and I'll catch you. May I trouble you to get out of my way, Sir? This lady is my wife." Madije dun? herself instantly into the outstreich?d arms, and burst into hysterical sobbing. "Oh John, John! I have been so cold and so frightened. And the liaht in our carriage went out, and I thought something might happen to the train and hurt you." "Why, Madge?" Never before had Challoner seen his wife so thorouyhly unhinged and frightened, and his heart gave a great leap aa he eohoed her last words: "Hurt me? Ofcoursenot. But how came you to be traveling to town? Why didn't j'ou stay in Edinbursh? Do you think you have taken cold?" He aski d the questionsall in abreath; but when she began explaining that she wanted to spend Christmaa in town with her auiit, he haslily cut her short. "There is no time to talk; we must get on to the station. Parker (this to the maid,) follow me closely, and try to alk in my footsteps. I shall carry your mistress; the snow is too deep for her." While speakinghetook the tremhling girl in his arms, and began slowly plodding along in the direction the guard had indicated. Ot courseitwas only a chance meeting, and Challoner was too free from superstition tolook on it as anything else, but even while he was reminding himself that it was a terrible pity they had met - that their tempera were wholly incompatible- and that it would be misery to live asain through the last few months, he was st til holding the iiirl very ly and tenderly, and wishing in spite of himself that the distance could be doubled. When they reached the little country station they found it to be better provided with shelter than is usually the case, and though there was only one man in chante, he was a sensible, good-natured Individual, who did his best ior the poor travelers thus throivn upon his hands. Either the sight of Madge's white r.hild-like face, or the pleasant assurance that the gentleman would make it woith his while, induced him to open a little box of a room which appeared to be his especial property and to motion to Challoner to enter. "Your lady will be more comfortable there, Sir, than in the big room alonit o' the third class passengers and all," he suggested; and as neither husband nor wife could think of a üulïieient excuse for preferring the company of their fellow-travelers, they were obliged to follow the man's lead. "I will not intrudeupon your privacy," said Challoner stifly as eoon as the station keeper had leftthem alone. "You and Parker will be quite comfortable here, and you'll toon get warm by the fire." Madge watched his broad form disappear through the doorway with a sinking heart. "He hates to be with me even tor these few minutes," ran her thonghts; "and yet," with a piteous little quiver of her lips, "Oh! how delicious it was to beheld in his arms! If he had held me lika that oftener, we shouldn't be hating eachotherto day! If he had but kissed me in the snow!" The dismal train oí thouaht was suddenly broken by thediscovery that one of her trinkets was missing, and Mrs. Challoner was instantly on her knees. "Come and help me look for it. Parker," she cried. "I have lost my locket. Oh, what shall I do? I have lost my locket." The excitement bothof mistress and maid seemed considerably more than the occasion required; but only Madgfi herself and the faithful woinan who nuroed her as a chiid knew of the serious trouble such a loss would entail. "Could you have dropped it outside, Ma'ani?" "Not possihle. The Chain couldn't catch on anythina when I had my cloak fastened. No; it must be on the floor. Do look for it. Parker." And look for it they did, bul without BUCcesR, and when the Ion.;, fruitless search was over the expression on the girl's face was very woubegone indeed. "The mistress has lost her cold locket," whispered Parker vrhen John Challoner came again to the door. "Jt's my belief, Sir, that she dropped it on the floor of the carnaje. Cau't you send someHody after it, Sir?" "What locket?" "The little gold one she always wears round her neck," explained the maid, regardless of the urgent "Parker! You are not to trouble Mr. Challoner," which came from behind her. "She is fonder of it than anything else, Sir; it seems a pity it should bu lost." "Parker!" aain broke in the pretty girlish voice. "I desire that you will not trouble Mr. Challoner." The man's lips twitched involuntarily. It seemed to him that higyoung wife was only playing at dignity when she preferred addressin;; her remarks to hun through the medium ol a servan t. "Don't be so foolish," he said peremptorily. "Of course l'il go after your locket. I only came back totell yon that I am afraid you will have to spend several hours here. The snow has broken down the telegraph wires, so the men can't send on a message to the next place for assistance. They must wait until this storm is over, and then get help from the villaje to dig out the train and clear the lines. But of course it will be the work of a good many hours." "Thank you," said Madj.,e, meekly. "What is the time?" "Nearly ten." He was turning away when something in his wife's voice stru ck him, and liere-entered the room. "You are still coM? Wear this," he I said, shortly, rapidly unbut toning hÍ3 Í fur-lined coat; and in spite of her rnonstrances, he wrapped it around her, and then went oastily out iuto the bitter night air. Ieft alone. Madge leaned back in her corner and gat lor a Ion:; time crying soitly to herself. Bein.: thoroughly unstrung by terror and laticue, she was in just tlio impressionable mood which made her husband's little act of kindnesa very prccious in her eyes, and she nestled into the thick warm fnr as thougli cheating herselt into the belief that it was John himself who was holding hei. She reniembered a time - it was during the happy weeks which followed the wedding day- when she and John seemed to be all iii all to each other; bnt when they were finally settled in the staid London house, over which Miss Sarah's cliilly influencehuDg likeapall, it had all been alterad then. John had gone hnck to hisbeloved books. in appaient forgetfulness of the solitary little wife in the big drawinu-rootn up utairs; mul if she proposedinvadinghisprecincts, it was only to be niet with Miss Sarah's reproachful stare and the words: "My brother never a'.lows even me to disturb him." And then baby's birth and- baby's dsath! In nervous terror of her own great grief the poor young mother had flung herself into every kind of dissipation, for the dead ohild hardly steemed further froitl her than the eilent man who was buried in hip books, and to face her sorrow alone was more than she could do. Oh, (ear! the life that henceforward would be lived apart inight have been so happy! - and the tears flowed on. Meanwhile Challoner started for the railway carriage. The blinding snow, the flickering lantern, and the dilliculty of picking his way made the short journey a long one; but wondennents made the time pass quickly. Por the first time in his life John Challoner was feeling curious. What made his wife so fond of that particular locket? What did it contain? He was still pondering on the mystery when he reached the carriage. Parker had been right - the little engraved locket lay open on the floor; but beside it lay somethina, at the oight ot which the man's heart gavo a great throb. A little curly head, a pair of sweet blue eyes, a soft, uncertain voice tryina to stammer the word "Ma-ma!" They all rose vividly before him as he stood there with the tiny ring of silky brown hair lying on hii open palm. And it was Madge who had cherished the curl which his own lips had seemed to press so much oftener than had hersl Madge, who had thought to keep the token that he had forgotten and since had regrettedso vainly. Well, befo re they had parted, he must ask her to halve her treasure with him. There were very tender memories Btirring within him as he plodded his way back to the station, and when he at last reached the little room his face was very gentle. albeit very grave. "Yes, I have it, Parker. Thank you. If you jiO into the larger room I will sit with your mistress," he said, in regard to themaid's anxious greeting; and when he and Madge were alone he pulled his chair closer to hers and began gravely: "Here is your locket." "Thank you," she said. epldly. "I hope it waa not a very difficult matter to get to the carriage." Challoner bit his lip. "Do you think I minded the difficulty?"' he retortud, passionately. "Don't you know I'd have risked my life for the sake of rescuing this?" He had laid the locket on the table, but as he spoke he opened his clenched hand. and the soft curl glistenedbriuhtly in the firelight. Madge started violently. "You opened it?" 'No; it had opened itself by falling on the floor." He leaned forward and looked at her curiously. "And you cared to keep it, Madge?" "Did I-care?" Only three words, but the tone went straight to her husband's heart. So she had cared after all, and yet - "You went out again so eoon," he said doubtftilly. "And could I help that?" Tlie eirl clasped her hands and looked steadily at him with great sorrowfal eyes. "You were always with your books; and could I bear to live alone in these rooms, whero every chair that her hands had touched, every picture that her eyes had seen, spoke to me of my lost darling? No; I would go to dances, theatres, anywhere where she had never been, and therefore could not haunt me." "You miuht have come to me?" "To you?" The dreary little laugh with which s'.ie echoed his words was not good to hear. "You had your work. You had never asked me to go to the library; you had always left me alone." Challoner's face had grown very white. "Madge," he said solemnly, "God is my witness that if I have wronged you, it was through a mistaken love, and not through carelessness. When we - married [the loving stress he laid upon the word was not lost npon the girl, although her face was tunied from him,] Sarah impressed upon me that if I pursued a plan I had already euggested to her, and asked vou to act as my secretary, I should be dealini unfair'y in letting you expend your youth and spirits on me and on my work, instead of on the amusements and society life which was natural to your age." His very anxiety was making him speak in a stiff, unusual fashion, but the little clasped hands moved restlessly at his words. "I ehould have loved the work." The murmur was too soft for the other to catch, and he went on slowly: "Rightly or wronsly Ibelievedher. 1 naid to myseif: 'Yon are a poor man and must work hard; but however great the strain may be it must never touch your wife. Ifyoucannot take her out yourself let your cousin do so in your stead. Let-' " "Don't talk like that- don't talk like that!" Madge had risen to her feet and the words came with an irrepressiblo sob. She waited a full minute and then added: "It makes oue wish things had been different - almost." When Challoner spoke again it was after a lonz pause. "When did yoa cut this curl?" "On yonr birthday," said Madge with an effort to speak easily. "I brought her into your room, and she was aressed all in white - " "I bhonght it was blue." "No. John; all in white, with coral beads." "Ah! yes, to be sure, I remember. The younc rogue broke the stnng, and you were so proud of her strenzth that you would not have it mended," and Challoner actunlly laughed at the remembrance ot the scène. "You took her in your arms," went ou Madse bravely, and kissed this very curl, and then you gave her back to me, and said - " She broke off suddenly; but though Challoner's face was flaminsj as hotly as her own he went on steadily; "I said: 'God bless my wife and child, and spare them to meformany, many years." "But baby died in the Autumn, and-" In the intense stillness of the little room John finished her sentence-. "And you are leaving m?," ho said hoarsely. "Ah, Madge! for baby's sake, give mfi half ot that curl." Hergloves wereofl, andasshesilently leaned forward to loosen the silk that held the ptetty hair their hands touched. She druw back for a ment, lookin? at him piteously. and the next, with a long sobbing cry, olie feil forwuxd into big outstretched arma. It was a long trying niht for many peopl at that little snow-bound station. The men worked hard to clear the lines, but it was only wben the first gray glimmer of light wns stealinji over the darkpned skies that they wereabletopronounco proaress possible. The passengers in the waiting room - with tho exception of a litt'e chorister who was due at the Abbey for the Christmas service, and who vowed the delay to be "capital fun"- had kept np a perpetual chorus of grumblings und abuse; and when the boy sugaested they nhould wish each other, "A Merry Christmas," there were but few who were in suüiciently good spirits to respond to bis reque8t. Bnt in the little room where the station keeper had placed bis two most favored gueste there was nothing but deep thankfulnesa for the enforced wait. During the long niaht hour8, with on'y a tender memory to share their viííil, husband and wife had grown very close toeach other. The long strips of jars and misunderbtandinga whiili had grownup from their two several niislakes - f rom Cballoner's erroneous beliet, that they could folio w two distinctandseparatt! courses and yet rmain united, and from Madge'e half-wounded, half-deBaut pride, which (orbade lur to take the initiative m drawing nearer to each other - one and all they had been discussed- discussed gravelyand penitently as became two souls in whom tresh bopes were springing, ar,d whobut foranapparently chance meeting would have brokenwith each other forever. But when the sad reviewin; of their past failures wae at an end, and with full hearts they dared to &peak of a brighter and more trustful future, the tears that rose to their eyea were tears of happiness. "It shall be the talisman of our love," Cha'loner bad said as he divided the tiny rin? of hair; and the kis that followed was fraugbt with all the aolemnity of a renewal of marriage vows. When they wnt out into the clear frosty air they half shrunk in their present mood from the pay busile and langhter which was accoinpanying the cetting up of steam, and the husband and wife walkeil together to (he far end of the platform. As they etood there in sileucea faint rosy ilush hghted the far east and as Challoner bared bas head at bis wife's whisper. "'Tis Christmaa Dny, ;iml our darling's birthday," the little chorister's sweet shrill voice rose suddenly on the morning air. "Pence en t-arth, nnd morry mild: God nnd Hinnerri reconcili'il." pan the pure childish treble. And watching with heartfelt thankfulness the rapt expression on hisyoung wife's face, John Chnlloner joined reverently in the swellins chorus: "Hnrk the herakl anji-ls nnz. Glory to the ncw boni King." It is needless to add that the services of the Edinburgh lawyer were not required. - Chambers' Journal.


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