Except from 'True to the last or Aunt Milly's Christmas Box' Chapter 2
A very early fairy tale based around the Blowhole at Kiama by F. S. Wilson (Frederick Sydney Wilson, 1830-1901) who was a journalist and poet who contributed pieces to various colonial publications until the mid-1870s when he joined the Anglican ministry later becoming Archdeacon of Bourke, New South Wales.
"To thee the love of women hath gone down.
Dark roll thy tides o'er manhood's noble head,
O'er youth's bright locks, and beauty's flowery crown;
Yet must thou hear a voice-Restore the dead !
Earth shall reclaim her precious things from thee;
Restore, restore the dead, thou Sea!" HEMANS
The sunlight glinted right joyously over the undulating line of western hills rilling in the background as you glanced from seaward over the quiet little town of Kiama. Here, the dusty red band of road leading inland, stretched abruptly from the foot of the town to the ridge of Pike's Hill, and then fell away quite as suddenly to the green mountain belted slopes and flats of Jamberoo. At different heights on the hill overlooking Kiama, cottages peeped archly from snug coverts of orange trees, and sent up curling lines of smoke to tremble and melt in the breezy air. Over some of the paddocks, shuffling herds of cattle were lazily jogging home to be milked ; while a few bullock teams were leaving the steamer's wharf, on the route to Jamberoo or Gerringong, trotting along to the rough music of the jangling dray-bells, the shouting of the drivers, and the lusty barking of the cattle dogs.
The harbour slumbered in the snowy arms of the sand-beaches, heaving softly up and down, as if just breathing in its sleep; and a little line of glittering waves fondled the rocks, and lifted the sea-weed clinging to them, as tenderly as a lover would pass his fingers beneath a shower of sunny curls. Leaving these, the eye could travel along the coast, catching glimpses of white and patches of brilliant green, dashed out, here and there by abrupt masses of sombre rock, round which - the sea waves began to curl in an angrier mood, till the vision was bounded by the faint line of reef trending away far to the north, where the steamer bound for Sydney had already disappeared.
Leaving the group of idlers on the wharf, and passing through the crowd clustering about the horse-yards and verandah of the Steam Packet Inn, we rise on the Flagstaff Hill until the fresh sea-wind scatters the curls from our faces, and the smell of brine and the sound of tumbling waters washing among caverned rocks, and the deep music of wives dripping and gurgling among the hidden nooks, falls pleasantly on the senses. Towards the extreme eastern point is situated that remarkable natural curiosity, commonly known to residents in the district as the Thunder Cave, or Blow Hole, a spot well calculated to inspire the beholder with feelings of awe, and fill him with pleasurable wonderment.
The action of the rollers heaving in from the Pacific for successive ages has caused huge blocks of rock to fall from their places, and fragment after fragment has yielded to wind and wave, until the sea, forcing its way along a subterranean tunnel, has burst through the end, where the land now slopes in an irregular basin-like hollow towards the rude aperture. Even in the calmest weather lies fathoms deep along the fractured floor of the cavern, looking sombre and gloomy enough when viewed from above; but when the heavy roll of the Pacific sets in, the huge billows filling the passage from floor to floor, rush through the intense darkness, tearing bunches of leathery kelp from the slippery sides, and, dashing through the Blow Hole, cast up a glittering tower of spray, thirty to fifty feet in height, sending its thunder for miles along shore, while the sparkling mist comes sifting landwards.
Down by this fantastic piece of Nature's handiwork sat Milly Grafford on the evening in which my story opens, thinking of Christmas days long since passed, and faces long since seen, but fresh in memory. Her face was one of those on which the searcher for beauty, after gazing for some time, might pass his opinion, that "there was nothing in it;" but it possessed a look of indefinable sweet-ness that attracted you without your scarcely knowing why, and filled you with ambition to get a merrier curl on those quiet lips, and a merrier twinkle from those full hazel eyes, down-drop and tender.
A straw hat hung from her arm by its broad ribbon-strings, and the gusts of salt wind didn't at all seem to like her dark hair smoothed in such matronly folds; so, furtively shaking out one or two glossy locks, it whistled and chuckled right mischievously, as if it had never been brought up to any thing sober, staid, and serious! Very pleasant it was, though, for all that, and so was the charming touch of sunshine that shimmered like a saintly halo around her head!
Everything and everybody it seems loved gentle Aunt Milly, and the blustering breeze and glorious sunbeam formed no exception to the general rule. Full and deep was the sorrow that had tested her heart, and settled that calm cloud of melancholy over her face; and as she gazed out to seaward where the blue line of horizon already seemed fading into purple shadow, she could only compare with it the closing shadows of her own weariful existence. The vessel carrying the rich freight of her heart's holiest and deepest affections had faded far out beyond that dim outline of tossing waters; and after it her memory wandered in ceaseless search, returning oft and again to her tireless heart, having found no rest for the sole of its foot.
How bright and happy Nature looked without-how sad and lonely she felt within yet, as the wind floated about the cliffs, she fancied she could almost hear it singing the words, 'Wait for the morrow-wait for the morrow," and the waves tumbling over each other got up a tremendous song, full of hope and heart cheer, singing of how they went and ever returned, constant as true love, and every tiny ripple joined its tinkling voice, and chorussed, "So he will return so he will come back." Their friendly faces began to peer from rocky crannies, whispering comfort to Aunt Milly, of fadeless love and bright Christmas days to come.
The drifting spray from the Blow Hole, rapidly increasing in volume under the auspices of a rising southerly gale, bore on its misty particles an arch of glowing prismatic splendour; and as Aunt Milly looked at it, leaning back in a convenient rocky hollow, she began to read the cheering words, 'Hope on, hope ever!" in every glorious band of its dazzling colours.
Suddenly the chime of dashing waters resolved themselves into delicious music-a deep, solemn strain of harmony, like the grand swelling notes of a cathedral organ-a thunder of sweet low sounds ; then came the burst of mighty sea-bells, mingled with the chimes of smaller ones, whose tinkling melody sung, "Welcome to the merry Christmastime!" At it they went, clashing and clanging, and chinkling and rumbling, loudly and lustily, nearer and nearer, until they seemed to be approaching the storm-worn aperture of the cavern! Then came trooping forth crowds of sea fairies with golden hair flecked with ocean spray, and robes curiously wrought of the sunny sea-serge; some had their tresses looped up with twigs of blood-red or snowy coral and sparkling sea blossoms, while others were girdled with feathery garlands of sea ferns, gold and green; and all bore shells of every imaginable shape, size, and colour, from which they rang out the most enchanting melody in a right glad welcome song to merry, merry Christmas !
In the midst of this cloud of airy beings, one ascended who seemed to command the reverence and obedience of the remainder: for while two or three placed a light mother-o'-pearl throne on the cavern's edge, the rest drew round it, glancing curiously at Aunt Milly, and awaiting their leader's pleasure. This personage was a fairy fragile-looking girl, whose limbs were most exquisitely proportioned, and whoso features bore the impress of queenly beauty. The gold washed from the creeks of Australia was not brighter than the ringlets of this fair being; and they played about her snowy arms and shoulders until they fondled a waist zoned by a blue girdle, on the centre of which shone five dazzling stars-the Southern Cross of this sunny land!
Her robe was formed of a gauzy texture, woven from the rainbow-bubbles of the ocean-surf; and the play of her polished limbs could be discerned under its half-transparent folds. Bunches of coral and delicately-tinted sea-flowers gemmed with spray-drops were looped about it at intervals, aud a wreath of pearls, twined among her golden curls, rested lightly on her forehead. In her hand she carried a tapering wand, formed of glittering gems, and surmounted with a diamond, which shot forth flashes of brilliant light, and seemed to possess the power of calling every feature upon which it rested into good humour and kindliness.
All this time the attendants of this ocean-nymph had been untiringly chiming out their Christmas music; but when she lightly waved her wand, the melody ceased, and all turned their gaze to Aunt Milly. Inexpressible love and gentleness beamed in the eyes, and twinkled about the mouth, of the fairy queen, as she looked on that pale, patient face, and addressed Aunt Milly in a voice soft as the wind passing through a shell: "Mortal! what dost thou here? and why wear so sad a countenance in a season consecrated to joy and happiness ?" This demand so completely surprised the person to whom it was addressed, that she could not reply; but her questioner, scarcely pausing, continued in a still gentler tone: "Never mind! I know your troubles and your sorrows, and can fully sympathise with you. Nay, more-I may have it in my power to flush that pale cheek with startling tidings, and bring back, sensible to sight and feeling, that which can only how be regarded as a sorrowful remembrance !"
At these words Aunt Milly so far mastered her amazement as to inquire the nature of the strange being who stood before her. "Who am I ?" repeated the fairy being - breaking into a silvery laugh, at which all her attendants rang a merry peal upon their bells" I am Christmas !"-the Australian Christmas queen of the brightest land the sunshine ever gladdened! This is my palace home - but once a-year, at this hallowed season, I girdle the mighty coasts, and send this darting light into the hearts of old and young, sad and gay. See! mark its brilliance!" she continued, twirling her starry wand, "it's light is love. Waved over the saddest spirit it heals it for the time, and infuses a merrier feeling into the hearts of the merriest! But my task for the next four-and-twenty hours is one which will . not admit of loitering: before to-morrow night falls thousands will have felt the influence I bear about with me-thousands who have suffered three hundred and sixty-four days of wretchedness will And in their dark lives a gleam of joy tomorrow!-thousands who have cherished dark, revengeful, and forgiving thoughts through the past year will find them sunned away to-morrow! Thousands who have waited and watched through years of almost hopeless love will find their clouds dispersed tomorrow ! Among the last there is yourself patiently, with fond and trustful love, you have watched and waited through the night of many years: but Christmas brings a balm for you, as well as for others. No heart ever loved on, in firm undying faith, that did not receive its reward at last; and I know you, Milly Grafford, that through many, many months of sickening hope-destroying doubt you have been true to the last!"
At these words the whole troop of Australian Christmas spirits caught up the refrain "True to the last! true to the last!" ringing it out musically from the bells ; and one tiny imp gave vent to such exuberant mirth that he lost his balance, and tunbled into the cavern's yawning mouth, from whence he was speedily ejected by a mighty billow, covered with spray!
"Time hastens," pursued Christmas, "and so must we. It will not allow of a long story in words but watch these pictures as they pass and fade -they will tell their own tale." Standing on the verge of the chasm she waved her wand until the sheet of filmy spray thickened into a dazzling screen, illumined with a pale golden light. As she struck her wand over the screen, as a painter would work before his canvas, shadows began to flit across it ; and these quickly resolved themselves into light and color, till a picture intensely real hovered upon it. There was an old school-house, a long red-brick-ed building, with little diamond panes in the casement, so long and narrow as if they were trying to squeeze through slits in the wall, to get away from the pleasant warmth glisten-ing within, to where the cold dark glossy leaves of the ivy were clustering without. It seemed to be Christmas long, long ago in a far-off distant land; for though the sound of merry bells came floating through the air, the snow spread its white sheet over the land, and rested in heavy clots on the leafless trees and fences. Two children stood by the door of the schoolhouse, with tears resting on their ruddy cheeks, and childish hearts big with, sorrow. The girl was leaving for home, and her companion, the lonely boy of the school, was to remain to drag out the wearisome holidays, so full of fun and happiness to other people.
Kisses-warm, pure kisses, such as only childhood knows were given on trembling lips; then the girl was lifted into a chaize, the wheels whirled rapidly through the snow, and the boy stood by the gate-alone! Quickly the picture grew dim and hazy, and where the semblance of the schoolhouse had been, a long blue line of sea spread out; with stately ships and fishing crafts lifting on the waves, and boats drawn up on the shingly beach. A girl, whose features, though shadowed by sickness, wore the counterpart (of the child's face seen in the former picture, reclined in an invalid's chair, and glanced out at the sea so full of life and motion, and so strangely different to the pulseless languour she herself experienced. A man servant, who drew the vehicle, was humouring the watery propensities of an unruly Newfoundland dog, who persisted in bringing out everything that was thrown in the tide, and ever and anon shook the water virgorously from his shaggy coat. The figure of a youth, strangely like the lonely boy at the school, passed the beach, and, after questioning the servant, advanced to the sick girl, clasping her hand with wild energy; a few fervent words were interchanged, and the light of love was suffusing their faces as the scene changed and showed a vessel crowded with sail, winging her flight to Australia, and leaving the white shores of England in the distance.
These gradually melted in the gathering mist, and the ship seemed to traverse many hundred miles of her outward voyage, when suddenly a streak of smoke curled up quietly from the hatch, accompanied by an alarmed crowd of passengers, and these again were followed by tongues of glittering flame, which twisted themselves like flying fiery serpents about the tarry cordage, and leaped from shroud to shroud ! Hoarse voices shouted commands, to obey which was utterly impossible; and these, mingled with the screams of women and children, surging wildly up in the dark, smoke-laden air.
Men sang away cheerily enough, and drew water to cast it on the deck, while others cleared away the boats, hitrriedly storing them, and lowering into them a timid freight of women and children. Still nothing stayed the fire-patches of burning canvas whirled off into the night-masts and spars toppled and fell, till at last the flames seemed licking up the very ocean! Then there was a dull roaring explosion, and only fragments of charred timbers, together with three heavily-laden boats, dotted the dull waste of waters.
Again the sunlight seemed to breathe over the picture, brightening it into daylight, and disclosing the boats drifting heavily along. This seemed to be their situation for many weary days, until exposure and famine had thinned the boats of their sickliest passengers then a white speck, bike a sea-gull's wing, rose on the horizon, gradually shaping into a brig, until attracted by their signal she bore down upon them, and took on board the survivors of the ill-fated 'Agenoria'.
"These are phantoms of a few incidents occurring in your own life, and in the life of one far dearer than self to you ! said the Spirit of Christmas. But patience and unswerving affection shall be rewarded. A mighty power has held the golden cords that bound your loving hearts together; and now the twining ends, for many years so far apart, are beginning to enfold and draw towards each other. Ah! if all hearts were as faithful as your own, dear Milly, many sorrows that now shadow the world would melt into brightness !
"But time speeds; I must away to other business, none of I which will be more pleasurable than that I am now transacting. Here, Milly, is something to hold in trust, as an earnest of something better to come. It is an Australian Christmas-box, and with it accept the blessings of one who, although a spirit, loves those mortals who are true to the last!"
As she spoke, Christmas placed a packet at Aunt Milly's feet, and then retreating into the cloud of misty spray, she floated softly into the cavern followed by her attendants, who each and all saluted wondering Aunt Milly with a parting smile and a. merry peal on their sea-bells, as they sank from sight.
When they had entirely vanished, Milly Grafford rubbed her eyes to satisfy herself that she had not been dreaming. The sunshine shot over the rocks in a perfect flood of glory, and the sparkling spray rose from the Blow Hole like a snowy tower surmounted, spanned by a rainbow of dazzling beauty. All this was real and right enough, just as it had been when she sat herself first beside the cave. Nothing was wanting but Christmas and her train of fairy followers !
Aunt Milly sighed involuntarily, to think how fancy had cheated her senses; then feeling cramped at having reclined so-long in one position on a rough couch of rock, she rose to wend her way home again before the sim sank behind the ridge of western hills. As she turned to depart her eyes encountered an object lying at her feet, that drove the life-blood back from its veins, and almost chilled it at its fountain!
Apparently it was something cast up by the waves, and rested wet and dripping on the verge of the Blow Hole. On examination, it proved to be a bottle clustered with seaweeds and barnacles, as if it had drifted for months to and fro on the waves, at the mercy of' changing currents ; still through its slime covered sides. Aunt Milly could perceive that it contained papers and snatching it up, she fled homewards with a wild tremor fluttering her heart, confident that she was on the verge of some important discovery.
And an important discovery was made when the cork was extracted from the ocean waif, and sundry
papers were released from their glassy prison, papers penned, or rather pencilled, by the very fingers of the missing Fred Langholme! They gave a rough, guess at the vessel's position on the chart-no observation having been taken and were brief announcements of peril and suffering: "Ship Agenoria, Wilfington, commander; sailed from London August 23, 18-; now burnt to water's edge. Passengers and crew all safe at present, stowed in three boats, but dreadfully crowded. Provisions scanty. Only chance of safety, being picked up by a passing vessel. God send help soon ! FRED LANGHOLME. "
"Thank Heaven there is a chance of his still being alive!" cried Milly, bursting into tears, and clasping this roughly written, mean-looking scrap of paper as if it constituted her prize ticket in the lottery of Hope and Love. Mr. Grafford gave it as his opinion that there was a very strong possibility of young Langholme having escaped; and Mr. Phelim O'Grady, who happened to be in the room, asserted that there was no "chance about it at all at all, but all sure sartinty : 'cause why? thim fairies had pledged their word to bring all fair an' square ; and who-ever heard of the fairy folk bein' guilty of falsehood ? Not he, no, nor any one who ever had any dalings wid thim !"
As for the possibility of Aunt Milly having dreamed all about the Christmas spirits, Mr. Phelim indignantly repudiated any such idea. "Sure an' they cudn't be no dhramin' about it ! There was what they had said and showed about the vessel bein' burnt at say ! an' there was the bottle of papers to the fore to prove it a dumb witness spakin' as if to the truth of all that the good people had said!"
In fact, when some of the other servants in the kitchen ventured to hint that Miss Milly had fallen asleep, Phelim wrathfully quitted the company of such unbelievers, and went to the lucky spot (as he termed the Blow Hole), to try whether he himself couldn't dream some piece of good fortune relative to the exact latitude and longtitude of the pot of gold he had once dreamed of before.
But, after all, he only dreamt that he had fallen out of bed, and found his dream verified and himself lying several feet below where he had perched himself, with a thundering blimp on the back of his head, never before idefined by phrenologists.
And as to the bright sunny Christmas morning, when it came, who do you think came with it ? Well, there's no use in making story longer than necessary, and I, for one, dislike keeping people in suspense, so I may as well tell you at once, that when the 'Kiama ' ran alongside the buoy and took up her moorings, a sun burnt-looking sailor-fellow came ashore with the other passengers, and made enquiries for Mr. Grafford's house.
Yes ! just as you have guessed dear reader, it was none other - than Fred Langholme! I did not intend to tell you, until he had met Aunt Milly, and she had fainted in his arms, and then laughed, and cried herself into composure again; but such scenes when the one long-loved and mourned for comes back, as it were from the dead, are too holy and sacred for other eyes to gaze upon.
Mr. Phelim O'Grady was one of the first to get wind of the new arrival, and he cried "Hooray for Miss Milly! and hooray for the lost shape, Mister Fred! and hooray for everybody especially hooray for the good people of the sea - the Australian Christmas Spirits!" and, finally, Mr. Phelim was discovered by his master on the landing, kissing Mary, and certainly never foretold by the fairies, although Mr O'Grady wisely laid all the blame on "them, the crathurs !"
If my province extended so far, I could go on to tell you how Milly Grafford and Fred Langholme were married, but I am afraid such an interesting event would claim a whole chapter to itself. One thing I am bound to add, that when the ceremony was performed the health of the newly wedded pair was drunk in wine poured from the bottle that had conveyed Fred's despatches. Moreover, one and all joined in this toast "When adversity, time, or distance would widen the gulf between two loving hearts, may each one prove true to the last!"