From sermon I have returned like the others, and it is my purpose to hold Christmas alone. I have no one with me at table, and my own thoughts must be my Christmas guests. Sitting here, it is pleasant to think how much kindly feeling exists this present night in England. By imagination I can taste of every table, pledge every toast, silently join in every roar of merriment. I become a sort of universal guest. With what propriety is this jovial season, placed amid dismal December rains and snows! How one pities the unhappy Australians, with whom everything is turned topsy-turvy, and who holds Christmas at midsummer! The face of Christmas glows all the brighter for the cold. The heart warms as the frost increases. Estrangements which have embittered the whole year, melt in to-night's hospitable smile. There are warmer handshakings on this night than during the by-past twelve months. Friend lives in the mind of friend. There is more charity at this time than at any other. You get up at midnight and toss your spare coppers to the half-benumbed musicians whiffling beneath your windows, although at any other time you would consider their performance a nuisance, and call angrily for the police. Poverty, and scanty clothing, and fireless grates, come home at this season to the bosoms of the rich, and they give of their abundance. The very red-breast of the woods enjoys his Christmas feast. Good feeling incarnates itself into plum-pudding. The Master's words, "The poor ye have always with you," wear at this time a deep significance. For at least one night on each year over all Christendom there is brotherhood. And good men, sitting amongst their families, or by a solitary fire like me, when they remember the light, that shone over the poor clowns huddling on the Bethlehem plains eighteen hundred years ago, the apparition of shining angels overhead, the song "Peace on earth and good-will toward men," which for the first hallowed the midnight air,—pray for that strain's fulfilment, that battle and strife may vex the nations no more, that not only on Christmas eve, but the whole year round, men shall be brethren owning one Father in heaven.
- - - - -
Once again, for the purpose of taking away all solitariness of feeling, and of connecting myself, albeit only in fancy, with the proper gladness of the time, let me think of the comfortable family dinners now being drawn to a close, of the good wishes uttered, and the presents made, quite valueless in themselves, yet felt to be invaluable from the feelings from which they spring; of the little children, by sweetmeats lapped in Elysium; and of the pantomime, pleasantest Christmas sight of all, with the pit a sea of grinning delight, the boxes a tier of beaming juvenility, the galleries, piled up to the far-receding roof, a mass of happy laughter which a clown's joke brings down in mighty avalanches. In the pit, sober people relax themselves, and suck oranges, and quaff ginger-pop; in the boxes, Miss, gazing through her curls, thinks the Fairy Prince the prettiest creature she ever beheld, and Master, that to be a clown must be the pinnacle of human happiness: while up in the galleries the hard literal world is for an hour sponged out and obliterated; the chimney-sweep forgets, in his delight when the policeman comes to grief, the harsh call of his master, and Cinderella, when the demons are foiled, and the long parted lovers meet and embrace in a paradise of light and pink gauze, the grates that must be scrubbed to-morrow. All bands and trappings of toil are for one hour loosened by the hands of imaginative sympathy. What happiness a single theatre can contain! And those of maturer years, or of more meditative temperament, sitting at the pantomime, can extract out of the shifting scenes meanings suitable to themselves; for the pantomime is a symbol or adumbration of human life. Have we not all known Harlequin, who rules the roast, and has the pretty Columbine to himself? Do we not all know that rogue of a clown with his peculating fingers, who brazens out of every scrape, and who conquers the world by good humour and ready wit? And have we not seen Pantaloons not a few, whose fate it is to get all the kicks and lose all the halfpence, to fall through all the trap doors, break their shins over all the barrows, and be forever captured by the policeman, while the true pilferer, the clown, makes his escape with the booty in his possession? Methinks I know the realities of which these things are but the shadows; have met with them in business, have sat with them at dinner. But to-night no such notions as these intrude; and when the torrent of fun, and transformation, and practical joking which rushed out of the beautiful fairy world gathered up again, the high-heaped happiness of the theatre will disperse itself, and the Christmas pantomime will be a pleasant memory the whole year through. Thousands on thousands of people are having their midriffs tickled at this moment; in fancy I see their lighted faces, in memory I see their mirth.
By this time I should think every Christmas dinner at Dreamthorp or elsewhere has come to an end. Even now in the great cities the theatres will be dispersing. The clown has wiped the paint off his face. Harlequin has laid aside his wand, and divested himself of his glittering raiment; Pantaloon, after refreshing himself with a pint of porter, is rubbing his aching joints; and Columbine, wrapped up in a shawl, and with sleepy eyelids, has gone home in a cab. Soon, in the great theatre, the lights will be put out, and the empty stage will be left to ghosts. Hark! midnight from the church tower vibrates through the frosty air. I look out on the brilliant heaven, and see a milky way of powdery splendour wandering through it, and clusters and knots of stars and planets shining serenely in the blue frosty spaces; and the armed apparition of Orion, his spear pointing away into immeasurable space, gleaming overhead; and the familiar constellation of the Plough dipping down into the west; and I think when I go in again that there is one Christmas the less between me and my grave.
* * * * *
The earth has grown old with its burden of care, But at Christmas it always is young, The heart of the jewel burns lustrous and fair, And its soul full of music bursts forth on the air, When the song of the angels is sung.
It is coming, Old Earth, it is coming to-night! On the snowflakes which cover thy sod The feet of the Christ-child fall gentle and white, And the voice of the Christ-child tells out with delight That mankind are the children of God.
On the sad and the lonely, the wretched and poor, The voice of the Christ-child shall fall; And to every blind wanderer open the door Of hope that he dared not to dream of before, With a sunshine of welcome for all.
The feet of the humblest may walk in the field Where the feet of the Holiest trod, This, then, is the marvel to mortals revealed When the silvery trumpets of Christmas have pealed, That mankind are the children of God.
* * * * *
THE END OF THE PLAY
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
The play is done—the curtain drops, Slow-falling to the prompter's bell: A moment yet the actor stops, And looks around, to say farewell. It is an irksome word and task; And, when he's laughed and said his say, He shows, as he removes his mask, A face that's anything but gay.
One word, ere yet the evening ends, Let's close it with a parting rhyme; And pledge a hand to all young friends, As fits the merry Christmas time. On life's wide scene you, too, have parts That fate erelong shall bid you play; Good-night!—with honest, gentle hearts A kindly greeting go alway!
Good-night!—I'd say the griefs, the joys, Just hinted in this mimic page, The triumphs and defeats of boys, Are but repeated in our age. I'd say your woes were not less keen, Your hopes more vain than those of men, Your pangs or pleasures of fifteen At forty-five played o'er again.
I'd say we suffer and we strive, Not less nor more as men than boys, With grizzled beards at forty-five As erst at twelve in corduroys; And if, in time of sacred youth, We learned at home to love and pray, Pray Heaven that early love and truth May never wholly pass away.
And in the world as in the school I'd say how fate may change and shift, The prize be sometimes to the fool, The race not always to the swift: The strong may yield, the good may fall, The great man be a vulgar clown, The knave be lifted over all, The kind cast pitilessly down.
Who knows the inscrutable design? Blessed be He who took and gave! Why should your mother, Charles, not mine, Be weeping at her darling's grave? We bow to Heaven that willed it so, That darkly rules the fate of all, That sends the respite or the blow, That's free to give or to recall.
This crowns his feast with wine and wit,— Who brought him to that mirth and state? His betters, see, below him sit, Or hunger hopeless at the gate! Who bade the mud from Dives's wheel To spurn the rags of Lazarus? Come, brother, in that dust we'll kneel, Confessing Heaven that ruled it thus.
So each shall mourn, in life's advance, Dear hopes, dear friends, untimely killed; Shall grieve for many a forfeit chance, And longing passion unfulfilled. Amen!—whatever fate be sent, Pray God the heart may kindly glow, Although the head with cares be bent, And whitened with the winter snow!
Come wealth or want, come good or ill, Let young and old accept their part, And bow before the awful will, And bear it with an honest heart. Who misses or who wins the prize, Go, lose or conquer, as you can; But if you fail, or if you rise, Be each, pray God, a gentleman!
A gentleman, or old or young! (Bear kindly with my humble lays;) The sacred chorus first was sung Upon the first of Christmas days; The shepherds heard it overhead,— The joyful angels raised it then: "Glory to Heaven on high," it said, "And peace on earth to gentle men!"
My song, save this, is little worth; I lay the weary pen aside, And wish you health and love and mirth, As fits the solemn Christmas-tide. As fits the holy Christmas birth, Be this, good friends, our carol still: Be peace on earth, be peace on earth To men of gentle will!
* * * * *
Awake, glad heart! get up and sing! It is the Birthday of thy King. Awake! awake! The sun doth shake Light from his locks, and, all the way Breathing perfumes, doth spice the day.
Awake! awake! hark how th' wood rings, Winds whisper, and the busy springs A concert make! Awake! awake! Man is their high-priest, and should rise To offer up the sacrifice.
I would I were some bird, or star, Fluttering in woods, or lifted far Above this inn, And road of sin! Then either star or bird should be Shining or singing still to thee.
I would I had in my best part Fit rooms for thee! or that my heart Where so clean as Thy manger was! But I am all filth, and obscene; Yet, if thou wilt, thou canst make clean.
Sweet Jesu! will then. Let no more This leper haunt and soil thy door! Cure him, ease him, O release him! And let once more, by mystic birth, The Lord of life be born in earth.
* * * * *
To-morrow is Merry Christmas; and when its night descends there will be mirth and music, and the light sounds of the merry-twinkling feet within these now so melancholy walls—and sleep now reigning over all the house save this one room, will be banished far over the sea—and morning will be reluctant to allow her light to break up the innocent orgies.
Were every Christmas of which we have been present at the celebration, painted according to nature—what a Gallery of Pictures! True that a sameness would pervade them all—but only that kind of sameness that pervades the nocturnal heavens. One clear night always is, to common eyes, just like another; for what hath any night to show but one moon and some stars—a blue vault, with here a few braided, and there a few castellated, clouds? yet no two nights ever bore more than a family resemblance to each other before the studious and instructed eye of him who has long communed with Nature, and is familiar with every smile and frown on her changeful, but not capricious, countenance. Even so with the Annual Festivals of the heart. Then our thoughts are the stars that illumine those skies—and on ourselves it depends whether they shall be black as Erebus, or brighter than Aurora.
"Thoughts! that like spirits trackless come and go"—is a fine line of Charles Lloyd's. But no bird skims, no arrow pierces the air, without producing some change in the Universe, which will last to the day of doom. No coming and going is absolutely trackless; nor irrecoverable by Nature's law is any consciousness, however ghostlike; though many a one, even the most blissful, never does return, but seems to be buried among the dead. But they are not dead—but only sleep; though to us who recall them not, they are as they had never been, and we, wretched ingrates, let them lie for ever in oblivion! How passing sweet when of their own accord they arise to greet us in our solitude!—as a friend who, having sailed away to a foreign land in our youth, has been thought to have died many long years ago, may suddenly stand before us, with face still familiar and name reviving in a moment, and all that he once was to us brought from utter forgetfulness close upon our heart.
My Father's House! How it is ringing like a grove in spring, with the din of creatures happier, a thousand times happier, than all the birds on earth. It is the Christmas Holidays—Christmas Day itself—Christmas Night—and Joy in every bosom intensifies Love. Never before were we brothers and sisters so dear to one another—never before had our hearts so yearned towards the authors of our being—our blissful being! There they sat—silent in all that outcry—composed in all that disarray—still in all that tumult; yet, as one or other flying imp sweeps round the chair, a father's hand will playfully strive to catch a prisoner—a mother's gentler touch on some sylph's disordered symar be felt almost as a reproof, and for a moment slacken the fairy flight. One old game treads on the heels of another—twenty within the hour—and many a new game never heard of before nor since, struck out by the collision of kindred spirits in their glee, the transitory fancies of genius inventive through very delight. Then, all at once, there is a hush, profound as ever falls on some little plat within a forest when the moon drops behind the mountain, and small green-robed People of Peace at once cease their pastime, and vanish. For she—the Silver-Tongued—is about to sing an old ballad, words and air alike hundreds of years old—and sing she doth, while tears begin to fall, with a voice too mournfully beautiful long to breathe below—and, ere another Christmas shall have come with the falling snows, doomed to be mute on earth—but to be hymning in Heaven.
Of that House—to our eyes the fairest of earthly dwellings—with its old ivyed turrets, and orchard-garden bright alike with fruit and with flowers, not one stone remains. The very brook that washed its foundations has vanished along with them—and a crowd of other buildings, wholly without character, has long stood where here a single tree, and there a grove, did once render so lovely that small demesne; which, how could we, who thought it the very heart of Paradise, even for one moment have believed was one day to be blotted out of being, and we ourselves—then so linked in love that the band which bound us altogether was, in its gentle pressure, felt not nor understood—to be scattered far and abroad, like so many leaves that after one wild parting rustle are separated by roaring wind-eddies, and brought together no more! The old Abbey—it still survives; and there, in that corner of the burial-ground, below that part of the wall which was last in ruins, and which we often climbed to reach the flowers and nests—there, in hopes of a joyful resurrection, lie the Loved and Venerated—for whom, even now that so many grief-deadening years have fled, we feel, in this holy hour, as if it were impiety so utterly to have ceased to weep—so seldom to have remembered!—And then, with a powerlessness of sympathy to keep pace with youth's frantic grief, the floods we all wept together—at no long interval—on those pale and placid faces as they lay, most beautiful and most dreadful to behold, in their coffins.
We believe that there is genius in all childhood. But the creative joy that makes it great in its simplicity dies a natural death or is killed, and genius dies with it. In favored spirits, neither few nor many, the joy and the might survive; for you must know that unless it be accompanied with imagination, memory is cold and lifeless. The forms it brings before us must be inspired with beauty—that is, with affection or passion. All minds, even the dullest, remember the days of their youth; but all cannot bring back the indescribable brightness of that blessed season. They who would know what they once were, must not merely recollect but they must imagine, the hills and valleys—if any such there were—in which their childhood played, the torrents, the waterfalls, the lakes, the heather, the rocks, the heaven's imperial dome, the raven floating only a little lower than the eagle in the sky. To imagine what he then heard and saw, he must imagine his own nature. He must collect from many vanished hours the power of his untamed heart, and he must, perhaps, transfuse also something of his maturer mind into these dreams of his former being, thus linking the past with the present by a continuous chain, which, though often invisible, is never broken. So is it too with the calmer affections that have grown within the shelter of a roof. We do not merely remember, we imagine our father's house, the fireside, all his features then most living, now dead and buried; the very manner of his smile, every tone of his voice. We must combine with all the passionate and plastic power of imagination the spirit of a thousand happy hours into one moment; and we must invest with all that we ever felt to be venerable such an image as alone can satisfy our filial hearts. It is thus that imagination, which first aided the growth of all our holiest and happiest affections, can preserve them to us unimpaired—
"For she can give us back the dead, Even in the loveliest looks they wore."
Then came a New Series of Christmases, celebrated, one year in this family, another year in that—none present but those whom Charles Lamb the Delightful calleth the "old familiar faces;" something in all features, and all tones of voice, and all manners, betokening origin from one root—relations all, happy, and with no reason either to be ashamed or proud of their neither high nor humble birth, their lot being cast within that pleasant realm, "the Golden Mean," where the dwellings are connecting links between the hut and the hall—fair edifices resembling manse or mansion-house, according as the atmosphere expands or contracts their dimensions—in which Competence is next-door neighbor to Wealth, and both of them within the daily walk of Contentment.
Merry Christmases they were indeed—one Lady always presiding, with a figure that once had been the stateliest among the stately, but then somewhat bent, without being bowed down, beneath an easy weight of most venerable years. Sweet was her tremulous voice to all her grandchildren's ears. Nor did these solemn eyes, bedimmed into a pathetic beauty, in any degree restrain the glee that sparkled in orbs that had as yet shed not many tears, but tears of joy or pity. Dearly she loved all those mortal creatures whom she was soon about to leave; but she sat in sunshine even within the shadow of death; and the "voice that called her home" had so long been whispering in her ear, that its accents had become dear to her, and consolatory every word that was heard in the silence, as from another world.
Whether we were indeed all so witty as we thought ourselves—uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, cousins, and "the rest," it might be presumptuous in us, who were considered by ourselves and a few others not the least amusing of the whole set, at this distance of time to decide—especially in the affirmative; but how the roof did ring with sally, pun, retort, and repartee! Ay, with pun—a species of impertinence for which we have therefore a kindness even to this day. Had incomparable Thomas Hood had the good fortune to have been born a cousin of ours, how with that fine fancy of his would he have shone at those Christmas festivals, eclipsing us all! Our family, through all its different branches, has ever been famous for bad voices, but good ears; and we think we hear ourselves—all those uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces, and cousins—singing now! Easy it is to "warble melody" as to breathe air. But we hope harmony is the most difficult of all things to people in general, for to us it was impossible; and what attempts ours used to be at Seconds! Yet the most woful failures were rapturously encored; and ere the night was done we spoke with most extraordinary voices indeed, every one hoarser than another, till at last, walking home with a fair cousin, there was nothing left it but a tender glance of the eye—a tender pressure of the hand—for cousins are not altogether sisters, and although partaking of that dearest character, possess, it may be, some peculiar and appropriate charms of their own; as didst thou, Emily the "Wild-cap!"—That soubriquet all forgotten now—for now thou art a matron, nay a Grandam, and troubled with an elf fair and frolicsome as thou thyself wert of yore, when the gravest and wisest withstood not the witchery of thy dancings, thy singings, and thy showering smiles.
On rolled Suns and Seasons—the old died—the elderly became old—and the young, one after another, were wafted joyously away on the wings of hope, like birds almost as soon as they can fly, ungratefully forsaking their nests and the groves in whose safe shadow they first essayed their pinions; or like pinnaces that, after having for a few days trimmed their snow-white sails in the land-locked bay, close to whose shores of silvery sand had grown the trees that furnished timber both for hull and mast, slip their tiny cables on some summer day, and gathering every breeze that blows, go dancing over the waves in sunshine, and melt far off into the main. Or, haply, some were like fair young trees, transplanted during no favorable season, and never to take root in another soil, but soon leaf and branch to wither beneath the tropic sun, and die almost unheeded by those who knew not how beautiful they had been beneath the dews and mists of their own native climate.
Vain images! and therefore chosen by fancy not too plainly to touch the heart. For some hearts grew cold and forbidding with selfish cares—some, warm as ever in their own generous glow, were touched by the chill of Fortune's frowns, ever worst to bear when suddenly succeeding her smiles—some, to rid themselves of painful regrets, took refuge in forgetfulness, and closed their eyes to the past—duty banished some abroad, and duty imprisoned others at home—estrangements there were, at first unconscious and unintended, yet erelong, though causeless, complete—changes were wrought insensibly, invisibly, even in the innermost nature of those who being friends knew no guile, yet came thereby at last to be friends no more—unrequited love broke some bonds—requited love relaxed others—the death of one altered the conditions of many—and so—year after year—the Christmas Meeting was interrupted—deferred—till finally it ceased with one accord, unrenewed and unrenewable. For when Some Things cease for a time—that time turns out to be forever.
Survivors of those happy circles! wherever ye be—should these imperfect remembrances of days of old chance, in some thoughtful pause of life's busy turmoil, for a moment to meet your eyes, let there be towards the inditer a few throbs of revived affection in your hearts—for his, though "absent long and distant far," has never been utterly forgetful of the loves and friendships that charmed his youth. To be parted in body is not to be estranged in spirit—and many a dream and many a vision, sacred to nature's best affections, may pass before the mind of one whose lips are silent. "Out of sight out of mind" is rather the expression of a doubt—of a fear—than a belief or a conviction. The soul surely has eyes that can see the objects it loves, through all intervening darkness—and of those more especially dear it keeps within itself almost undimmed images, on which, when they know it not, think it not, believe it not, it often loves to gaze, as on relics imperishable as they are hallowed.
All hail! rising beautiful and magnificent through the mists of morning—ye Woods, Groves, Towers, and Temples, overshadowing that famous Stream beloved by all the Muses! Through this midnight hush—methinks we hear faint and far-off sacred music—
"Where through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault, The pealing anthem swells the note of praise!"
How steeped now in the stillness of moonlight are all those pale, pillared Churches, Courts and Cloisters, Shrines and Altars, with here and there a Statue standing in the shade, or Monument sacred to the memory of the pious—the immortal dead. Some great clock is striking from one of many domes—from the majestic Tower of St. Mary Magdalen—and in the deepened hush that follows the solemn sound, the mingling waters of the Cherwell and the Isis soften the severe silence of the holy night.
Remote from kindred, and from all the friendships that were the native growth of the fair fields where our boyhood and our youth had roamed and meditated and dreamed, those were indeed years of high and lofty mood which held us in converse with the shades of great Poets and ages of old in Rhedicyna's hallowed groves, still, serene, and solemn, as that Attic Academe where divine Plato, with all Hybla on his lips, discoursed such excellent music that his life seemed to the imagination spiritualized—a dim reminiscence of some former state of being. How sank then the Christmas Service of that beautiful Liturgy into our hearts! Not faithless we to the simple worship that our forefathers had loved; but Conscience told us there was no apostasy in the feelings that rose within us when that deep organ began to blow, that choir of youthful voices so sweetly to join the diapason,—our eyes fixed all the while on that divine Picture over the Altar, of our Saviour
"Bearing his cross up rueful Calvary."
The City of Palaces disappears—and in the setting sunlight we behold mountains of soft crimson snow! The sun hath set, and even more beautiful are the bright-starred nights of winter, than summer in all its glories beneath the broad moons of June. Through the woods of Windermere, from cottage to cottage, by coppice-pathways winding up to dwellings among the hill-rocks where the birch-trees cease to grow—
"Nodding their heads, before us go, The merry minstrelsy."
They sing a salutation at every door, familiarly naming old and young by their Christian names; and the eyes that look upward from the vales to the hanging huts among the plats and cliffs, see the shadows of the dancers ever and anon crossing the light of the star-like window, and the merry music is heard like an echo dwelling in the sky. Across those humble thresholds often did we on Christmas-week nights of yore—wandering through our solitary silvan haunts, under the branches of trees within whose hollow trunks the squirrel slept—venture in, unasked perhaps, but not unwelcome, and, in the kindly spirit of the season, did our best to merrify the Festival by tale or song. And now that we behold them not, are all those woods, and cliffs, and rivers, and tarns, and lakes, as beautiful as when they softened and brightened beneath our living eyes, half-creating, as they gazed, the very world they worshipped! And are all those hearths as bright as of yore, without the shadow of our figure! And the roofs, do they ring as mirthfully, though our voice be forgotten. We hang over Westmoreland, an unobserved—but observant star. Mountains, hills, rocks, knolls, vales, woods, groves, single trees, dwelling—all asleep! O Lakes! but we are indeed, by far too beautiful! O fortunate Isles! too fair for human habitation, fit abode for the Blest! It will not hide itself—it will not sink into the earth—it will rise; and risen, it will stand steady with its shadow in the overpowering moonlight, that ONE TREE! that ONE HOUSE!—and well might the sight of ye two together—were it harder—break our heart. But hard at all it is not—therefore it is but crushed.
Can it be that there we are utterly forgotten! No star hanging higher than the Andes in heaven—but sole-sitting at midnight in a small chamber—a melancholy man are we—and there seems a smile of consolation, O Wordsworth! on thy sacred Bust.
Alas! how many heavenly days, "seeming immortal in their depth of rest," have died and been forgotten! Treacherous and ungrateful is our memory even of bliss that overflowed our being as light our habitation. Our spirit's deepest intercommunion with nature has no place in her records—blanks are there that ought to have been painted with imperishable imagery, and steeped in sentiment fresh as the morning on life's golden hills. Yet there is mercy in this dispensation—for who can bear to behold the light of bliss re-arising from the past on the ghastlier gloom of present misery? The phantoms that will not come when we call on them to comfort us, are too often at our side when in our anguish we could almost pray that they might be reburied in oblivion. Such hauntings as these are not as if they were visionary—they come and go like forms and shapes still imbued with life. Shall we vainly stretch out our arms to embrace and hold them fast, or as vainly seek to intrench ourselves by thought of this world against their visitation? The soul in its sickness knows not whether it be the duty of love to resign itself to indifference or to despair. Shall it enjoy life, they being dead? Shall we, the survivors, for yet a little while, walk in other companionship out into the day, and let the sunbeams settle on their heads as they used to do, or cover them with dust and ashes, and show to those in heaven that love for them is now best expressed by remorse and penitence?
Sometimes we have fears about our memory—that it is decaying; for, lately, many ordinary yet interesting occurrences and events, which we regarded at the time with pain or pleasure, have been slipping away almost into oblivion, and have often alarmed us of a sudden by their return, not to any act of recollection, but of themselves, sometimes wretchedly out of place and season, the mournful obtruding upon the merry, and worse, the merry upon the mournful—confusion, by no fault of ours, of piteous and gladsome faces—tears where smiles were a duty as well as a delight, and smiles where nature demanded, and religion hallowed, a sacrifice of tears.
For a good many years we have been tied to town in winter by fetters as fine as frost-work filigree, which we could not break without destroying a whole world of endearment. That seems an obscure image; but it means what the Germans would call in English—our winter environment. We are imprisoned in a net; yet we can see it when we choose—just as a bird can see, when he chooses, the wires of his cage, that are invisible in his happiness, as he keeps hopping and fluttering about all day long, or haply dreaming on his perch with his poll under his plumes—as free in confinement as if let loose into the boundless sky. That seems an obscure image too; but we mean, in truth, the prison unto which we doom ourselves no prison is; and we have improved on that idea, for we have built our own—and are prisoner, turnkey, and jailer all in one, and 'tis noiseless as the house of sleep. Or what if we declare that Christopher North is a king in his palace, with no subjects but his own thoughts—his rule peaceful over those lights and shadows—and undisputed to reign over them his right divine.
The opening year in a town, now answers in all things to our heart's desire. How beautiful the smoky air! The clouds have a homely look as they hang over the happy families of houses, and seem as if they loved their birthplace;—all unlike those heartless clouds that keep stravaiging over mountain-tops, and have no domicile in the sky! Poets speak of living rocks, but what is their life to that of houses? Who ever saw a rock with eyes—that is, with windows? Stone-blind all, and stone-deaf, and with hearts of stone; whereas who ever saw a house without eyes—that is, windows? Our own is an Argus; yet the good old Conservative grudges not the assessed taxes—his optics are as cheerful as the day that lends them light, and they love to salute the setting sun, as if a hundred beacons, level above level, were kindled along a mountain side. He might safely be pronounced a madman who preferred an avenue of trees to a street. Why, trees have no chimneys; and, were you to kindle a fire in the hollow of an oak, you would soon be as dead as a Druid. It won't do to talk to us of sap, and the circulation of sap. A grove in winter, hole and branch—leaves it has none—is as dry as a volume of sermons. But a street, or a square, is full of "vital sparks of heavenly flame" as a volume of poetry, and the heart's blood circulates through the system like rosy wine.
But a truce to comparisons; for we are beginning to feel contrition for our crime against the country, and, with humbled head and heart, we beseech you to pardon us—ye rocks of Pavey-Ark, the pillared palaces of the storms—ye clouds, now wreathing a diadem for the forehead of Helvellyn—ye trees, that hang the shadows of your undying beauty over the "one perfect chrysolite," of blessed Windermere!
Our meaning is transparent now as the hand of an apparition waving peace and good-will to all dwellers in the land of dreams. In plainer but not simpler words (for words are like flowers, often rich in their simplicity—witness the Lily, and Solomon's Song)—Christian people all, we wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New-Year, in town or in country—or in ships at sea.
* * * * *
Romans, xiv, 6: He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord,
HENRY VAN DYKE
[From "The Spirit of Christmas."]
It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.
But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is, keeping Christmas.
Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open—are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death—and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of the Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you keep it for a day, why not always?
But you can never keep it alone.
* * * * *
MARK WELL MY HEAVY DOLEFUL TALE
Mark well my heavy doleful tale, For Twelfth-day now is come, And now I must no longer sing, And say no words but mum; For I perforce must take my leave Of all my dainty cheer, Plum-porridge, roast beef, and minced pies, My strong ale and my beer.
Kind-hearted Christmas, now adieu, For I with thee must part, And for to take my leave of thee Doth grieve me at the heart; Thou wert an ancient housekeeper, And mirth with meat didst keep, But thou art going out of town, Which makes me for to weep.
God knoweth whether I again Thy merry face shall see, Which to good-fellows and the poor That was so frank and free. Thou lovedst pastime with thy heart, And eke good company; Pray hold me up for fear I swoon, For I am like to die.
Come, butler, fill a brimmer up To cheer my fainting heart, That to old Christmas I may drink Before he doth depart; And let each one that's in this room With me likewise condole, And for to cheer their spirits sad Let each one drink a bowl.
And when the same it hath gone round Then fall unto your cheer, For you do know that Christmas time It comes but once a year. But this good draught which I have drunk Hath comforted my heart, For I was very fearful that My stomach would depart.
Thanks to my master and my dame That doth such cheer afford; God bless them, that each Christmas they May furnish thus their board. My stomach having come to me, I mean to have a bout, Intending to eat most heartily; Good friends, I do not flout.
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
CHRISTINA G. ROSSETTI
In the bleak mid-winter Frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, Water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, Snow on snow, In the bleak mid-winter Long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold him Nor earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall flee away, When he comes to reign. In the bleak mid-winter A stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Angels and archangels May have gathered there; Cherubim and seraphim Thronged the air. But only His Mother, In her maiden bliss, Worshipped her Beloved With a kiss.
What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would do my part,— Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart.
* * * * *
THE GLORIOUS SONG OF OLD
EDMUND H. SEARS
It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold, "Peace on the earth, good-will to men, From heaven's all-gracious King"— The world in solemn stillness lay To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come With peaceful wings unfurled, And still their heavenly music floats O'er all the weary world; Above its sad and lowly plains They bend on hovering wing, And ever o'er its Babel-sounds The blessed angels sing.
But with the woes of sin and strife The world has suffered long; Beneath the angel-strain have rolled Two thousand years of wrong. And man at war with man hears not The love-song which they bring; Oh, hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing!
And ye beneath life's crushing load, Whose forms are bending low, Who toil along the climbing way With painful steps and slow, Look now! for glad and golden hours Come swiftly on the wing:— Oh, rest beside the weary road And hear the angels sing!
For lo! the days the hastening on By prophet-bards foretold, When with the ever-circling years Comes round the age of gold; When peace shall over all the earth Its ancient splendors fling, And the whole world give back the song Which now the angels sing.
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS CAROL FOR CHILDREN
Good news from heaven the angels bring, Glad tidings to the earth they sing: To us this day a child is given, To crown us with the joy of heaven.
This is the Christ, our God and Lord, Who in all need shall aid afford: He will Himself our Saviour be, From sin and sorrow set us free.
To us that blessedness He brings, Which from the Father's bounty springs: That in the heavenly realm we may With Him enjoy eternal day.
All hail, Thou noble Guest, this morn, Whose love did not the sinner scorn! In my distress Thou cam'st to me: What thanks shall I return to Thee?
Were earth a thousand times as fair, Beset with gold and jewels rare, She yet were far too poor to be A narrow cradle, Lord, for Thee.
Ah, dearest Jesus, Holy Child! Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled, Within my heart, that it may be A quiet chamber kept for Thee.
Praise God upon His heavenly throne, Who gave to us His only Son: For this His hosts, on joyful wing, A blest New Year of mercy sing.
* * * * *
ON SANTA CLAUS
GEORGE A. BAKER, JR.
Brave old times those were. In the first half of the seventeenth century, we mean; before there was any such place as New York and Manhattan Island was occupied mostly by woods, and had a funny little Dutch town, known as New Amsterdam, sprouting out of the southern end of it. Those were the days of solid comfort, of mighty pipes, and unctuous doughnuts. Winter had not yet been so much affected by artificiality as he is now-a-days, and was contented to be what he is, not trying to pass himself off for Spring; and Christmas—well, it was Christmas. Do you know why? Because in those times Santa Claus used to live in a great old house in the midst of an evergreen forest, just back of the Hudson, and about half-way between New Amsterdam and Albany. A house built out of funny little Dutch bricks, with gables whose sides looked like stair-cases, and a roof of red tiles with more weathercocks and chimneys sticking out of it than you could count. Phew, how cold it was there! The wind roared and shouted around the house, and the snow fell steadily half the year, so that the summers never melted it away till winter came again. And Santa Claus thought that was the greatest pleasure in life: for he loved to have enormous fires in the great fire-places, and the colder it was, the bigger fires he would have, and the louder the winds roared around his chimney. There he sat and worked away all the year round, making dolls, and soldiers, and Noah's arks, and witches, and every other sort of toy you can think of. When Christmas Eve came he'd harness up his reindeers, Dasher, and Prancer, and Vixen, and the rest of them, and wrap himself up in furs, and light his big pipe, and cram his sled full of the doll-babies and Noah's arks, and all the other toys he'd been making, and off he'd go with a great shout and tremendous ringing of sleigh-bells. Before morning he'd be up and down every chimney in New Amsterdam, filling the stout grey yarn stockings with toys, and apples, and ginger-bread, laughing and chuckling so all the while, that the laughs and chuckles didn't get out of the air for a week afterwards.
But the old house has gone to ruin, and Santa Claus doesn't live there any longer. You see he married about forty years ago; his wife was a Grundy, daughter of old Mrs. Grundy, of Fifth Avenue, of whom you've all heard. She married him for his money, and couldn't put up with his plain way of living and his careless jollity. He is such an easy-going, good natured old soul, that she manages him without any trouble. So the first thing she did was to make him change his name to St. Nicholas; then she made him give up his old house, and move into town; then she sent away the reindeers, for she didn't know what Ma would say to such an outlandish turn-out; then she threw away his pipe because it was vulgar, and the first Christmas Eve that he went off and stayed out all night she had hysterics, and declared she'd go home to her Ma, and get a divorce if he ever did such a thing again. She'd have put a stop to his giving away toys every year, too, only she thought it looked well, and as it was, she wouldn't let him make them himself any more, but compelled him to spend enormous sums in bringing them from Paris, and Vienna, and Nuremberg.
So now Santa Claus is St. Nicholas, and lives in a brown stone house on Fifth Avenue, a great deal handsomer than he can afford, and keeps a carriage, not because he wants it, but because Mrs. Shoddy, next door, keeps one; and loves, not to be jolly himself and to make everybody else so, but to please his wife's mother. He has to give an awful pull, what with his wife's extravagance, and the high prices of Parisian and Viennese toys, to make both ends meet, although he does speculate in stocks, and is very lucky. Instead of looking forward to Christmas with pleasure, and thinking what a good time he will have, he pulls out his ledger, and groans, and wonders how on earth he's going to make his presents this year, and thinks he would stop giving them entirely, only he's so mortally afraid of his mother-in-law, and he knows what she'd say if he did. So he borrows money wherever he can, and sends over to Paris for fans, and opera-glasses, and bon-bon boxes, and jewelry, and when they come he sits down in his parlor and lets his wife tell him just what to do with them. So she takes out her list and runs over the names; she has all the rich people down, for she is a religious woman, and the Bible says "unto him that hath, it shall be given." This is the way she talks: "The little Croesuses must have some very elegant things, of course; their mother's a horrid old cat, but Croesus could help you very much in business. And there are the Centlivres; we must pick out something magnificent for them; they give a party Christmas night: of course the presents will be on exhibition, and I shall sink with shame if any one else's are handsomer than ours." So she goes on, until all the rich people are disposed of. Then Santa Claus asks: "How about the Brinkers, my dear?" The Brinkers are great favorites of his. "Good gracious, dearest! How often have I told you, you mustn't manifest such an interest in those Brinkers? What would Ma say if she knew you associated with such common people!" "But, I'm Dutch myself, pet." "Of course you are, darling, but there's no need of letting every one know it!" St. Nicholas hardly dares to do it, but he finally suggests very meekly: "The poor children, my darling." "Bother the poor children, my dear!" They're a most affectionate couple, you know. Then St. Nicholas sighs and sighs, and sends for his messengers, and they all come in with long faces, and take off big packages to the Croesuses and the Centlivres, and the rest of them. The messengers do their work entirely as a matter of business, so there isn't a sign of a laugh, nor a symptom of a chuckle in the air next day. The little Croesuses first cry, because they haven't received more, and then fight over what they have; then they eat too much French candy, and get sick and cross, and the whole house is filled with their noise. So mamma has a headache; and papa longs for his office, and misses the tick-tick of the stock telegraph, and thinks what a confounded nuisance holidays are. That is what Christmas is like in good society.
But I must tell you a secret. Away up in the fourth-story of his grand house, where his wife never goes, St. Nicholas has a little workshop, and there he sits whenever he gets a chance, making the most wonderful dolls, and gorgeous soldiers, and miraculous jumping-jacks, and tin horns—such quantities of tin horns! Some one ought to speak to him about those tin horns. But after all they please the poor children, so we suppose it's all right. Now do you know what he does with these things? On Christmas Eve he gets his old sled down from the stable away up by the North Pole, and as soon as his wife is fast asleep, he puts on his old furs and gets out from under his shirts in his bureau drawer a Dutch pipe, three times as big as the one his wife threw away, and off he goes. He tumbles down all the poor people's chimneys, and fills up the stockings to overflowing, and plants gorgeous Christmas trees in all the Mission schools.
He has a glorious good time, and laughs and chuckles tremendously, except when, once in a while, he thinks of what would happen if his wife found him out.
So there's a little fun going on after all.
Do you know, if it were not for this performance of his, we should wish with all our heart that St. Nicholas were dead and buried. But we must say, we wish his wife would die, and that all the Grundy family would follow her good example, for between them they've spoiled a good many jolly people besides St. Nicholas.
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
JOSIAH GILBERT HOLLAND
There's a song in the air! There's a star in the sky! There's a mother's deep prayer And a baby's low cry! And the star rains its fire while the Beautiful sing, For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a king.
There's a tumult of joy O'er the wonderful birth, For the virgin's sweet boy Is the Lord of the earth, Ay! the star rains its fire and the Beautiful sing, For the manger of Bethlehem cradles a king.
In the light of that star Lie the ages impearled; And that song from afar Has swept over the world. Every hearth is aflame, and the Beautiful sing In the homes of the nations that Jesus is King.
We rejoice in the light, And we echo the song That comes down through the night From the heavenly throng. Ay! we shout to the lovely evangel they bring, And we greet in his cradle our Saviour and King!
* * * * *
MARY MAPES DODGE
Oh, the beauty of the Christ Child, The gentleness, the grace, The smiling, loving tenderness, The infantile embrace! All babyhood he holdeth, All motherhood enfoldeth— Yet who hath seen his face?
Oh, the nearness of the Christ Child, When, for a sacred space, He nestles in our very homes— Light of the human race! We know him and we love him, No man to us need prove him— Yet who hath seen his face?
* * * * *
LYDIA A.C. WARD
Why do bells for Christmas ring? Why do little children sing?
Once a lovely, shining star, Seen by shepherds from afar, Gently moved until its light Made a manger-cradle bright.
There a darling baby lay Pillowed soft upon the hay. And his mother sang and smiled, "This is Christ, the holy child."
So the bells for Christmas ring, So the little children sing.
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
The trees are hung with crystal lamps, the world lies still and white, And the myriad little twinkling stars are sharp with keener light; The moon sails up the frost-clear sky and silvers all the snow, As she did, perchance, that Christmas night, two thousand years ago! Good people, are you waking? Give us food and give us wine, For the sake of blessed Mary And her Infant Son Divine, Who was born the world's Redeemer— A Saviour—yours and mine!
Long ago angelic harpers sang the song we sing to-day, And the drowsy folk of Bethlehem may have listened as they lay! But eager shepherds left their flocks, and o'er the desert wild The kingly sages journeyed to adore the Holy Child! Has any man a quarrel? Has another used you ill? The friendly word you meant to say, Is that unspoken still?— Then, remember, 'twas the Angels Brought glad tidings of good will!
Of all the gifts of Christmas, are you fain to win the best? Lo! the Christ-child still is waiting Himself to be your guest; No lot so high or lowly but He will take His part, If you do but bid Him welcome to a clean and tender heart. Are you sleeping, are you waking? To the Manger haste away, And you shall see a wond'rous sight Amid the straw and hay.— 'Tis Love Himself Incarnate As on this Christmas Day!
* * * * *
A SIMPLE BILL OF FARE FOR A CHRISTMAS DINNER
All good recipe-books give bills of fare for different occasions, bills of fare for grand dinners, bills of fare for little dinners; dinners to cost so much per head; dinners "which can be easily prepared with one servant," and so on. They give bills of fare for one week; bills of fare for each day in a month, to avoid too great monotony in diet. There are bills of fare for dyspeptics; bills of fare for consumptives; bills of fare for fat people, and bills of fare for thin; and bills of fare for hospitals, asylums, and prisons, as well as for gentlemen's houses. But among them all, we never saw the one which we give below. It has never been printed in any book; but it has been used in families. We are not drawing on our imagination for its items. We have sat at such dinners; we have helped prepare such dinners; we believe in such dinners; they are within everybody's means. In fact, the most marvellous thing about this bill of fare is that the dinner does not cost a cent. Ho! all ye that are hungry and thirsty, and would like so cheap a Christmas dinner, listen to this:
BILL OF FARE FOR A CHRISTMAS DINNER
This must be served hot. No two housekeepers make it alike; no fixed rule can be given for it. It depends, like so many of the best things, chiefly on memory; but, strangely enough, it depends quite as much on proper forgetting as on proper remembering. Worries must be forgotten. Troubles must be forgotten. Yes, even sorrow itself must be denied and shut out. Perhaps this is not quite possible. Ah! we all have seen Christmas days on which sorrow would not leave our hearts nor our houses. But even sorrow can be compelled to look away from its sorrowing for a festival hour which is so solemnly joyous at Christ's Birthday. Memory can be filled full of other things to be remembered. No soul is entirely destitute of blessings, absolutely without comfort. Perhaps we have but one. Very well; we can think steadily of that one, if we try. But the probability is that we have more than we can count. No man has yet numbered the blessings, the mercies, the joys of God. We are all richer than we think; and if we once set ourselves to reckoning up the things of which we are glad, we shall be astonished at their number.
Gladness, then, is the first item, the first course on our bill of fare for a Christmas dinner.
Entrees.—Love garnished with Smiles.
GENTLENESS, with sweet-wine sauce of Laughter.
GRACIOUS SPEECH, cooked with any fine, savory herbs, such as Frollery, which is always in season, or Pleasant Reminiscence, which no one need be without, as it keeps for years, sealed or unsealed.
The precise form of this also depends on individual preferences. We are not undertaking here to give exact recipes, only a bill of fare.
In some houses Hospitality is brought on surrounded with Relatives. This is very well. In others, it is dished up with Dignitaries of all sorts; men and women of position and estate for whom the host has special likings or uses. This gives a fine effect to the eye, but cools quickly, and is not in the long-run satisfying.
In a third class, best of all, it is served in simple shapes, but with a great variety of Unfortunate Persons,—such as lonely people from lodging-houses, poor people of all grades, widows and childless in their affliction. This is the kind most preferred; in fact, never abandoned by those who have tried it.
For Dessert.—MIRTH, in glasses.
GRATITUDE and FAITH beaten together and piled up in snowy shapes. These will look light if run over night in the moulds of Solid Trust and Patience.
A dish of the bonbons Good Cheer and Kindliness with every-day mottoes; Knots and Reasons in shape of Puzzles and Answers; the whole ornamented with Apples of Gold in Pictures of Silver, of the kind mentioned in the Book of Proverbs.
This is a short and simple bill of fare. There is not a costly thing in it; not a thing which cannot be procured without difficulty.
If meat be desired, it can be added. That is another excellence about our bill of fare. It has nothing in it which makes it incongruous with the richest or the plainest tables. It is not overcrowded by the addition of roast goose and plum-pudding; it is not harmed by the addition of herring and potatoes. Nay, it can give flavor and richness to broken bits of stale bread served on a doorstep and eaten by beggars.
We might say much more about this bill of fare. We might, perhaps, confess that it has an element of the supernatural; that its origin is lost in obscurity; that, although, as we said, it has never been printed before, it has been known in all ages; that the martyrs feasted upon it; that generations of the poor, called blessed by Christ, have laid out banquets by it; that exiles and prisoners have lived on it; and the despised and forsaken and rejected in all countries have tasted it. It is also true that when any great king ate well and throve on his dinner, it was by the same magic food. The young and the free and the glad, and all rich men in costly houses, even they have not been well fed without it.
And though we have called it a Bill of Fare for a Christmas Dinner, that is only that men's eyes may be caught by its name, and that they, thinking it a specialty for festival, may learn and understand its secret, and henceforth, laying all their dinners according to its magic order, may "eat unto the Lord."
* * * * *
A BALLADE OF OLD LOVES
Who is it stands on the polished stair, A merry, laughing, winsome maid, From the Christmas rose in her golden hair To the high-heeled slippers of spangled suede A glance, half daring and half afraid, Gleams from her roguish eyes downcast; Already the vision begins to fade— 'Tis only a ghost of a Christmas Past.
Who is it sits in that high-backed chair, Quaintly in ruff and patch arrayed, With a mockery gay of a stately air As she rustles the folds of her old brocade,— Merriest heart at the masquerade? Ah, but the picture is passing fast Back to the darkness from which it strayed— 'Tis only a ghost of a Christmas Past.
Who is it whirls in a ball-room's glare, Her soft white hand on my shoulder laid, Like a radiant lily, tall and fair, While the violins in the corner played The wailing strains of the Serenade? Oh, lovely vision, too sweet to last— E'en now my fancy it will evade— 'Tis only a ghost of a Christmas Past.
Rosamond! look not so dismayed, All of my heart, dear love, thou hast Jealous, beloved? Of a shade?— 'Tis only a ghost of a Christmas Past.
* * * * *
BALLADE OF CHRISTMAS GHOSTS
Between the moonlight and the fire In winter twilights long ago, What ghosts we raised for your desire, To make your merry blood run slow! How old, how grave, how wise we grow! No Christmas ghost can make us chill, Save those that troop in mournful row, The ghosts we all can raise at will!
The beasts can talk in barn and byre On Christmas Eve, old legends know. As year by year the years retire, We men fall silent then I trow, Such sights hath memory to show, Such voices from the silence thrill, Such shapes return with Christmas snow,— The ghosts we all can raise at will.
Oh, children of the village choir, Your carols on the midnight throw, Oh, bright across the mist and mire, Ye ruddy hearths of Christmas glow! Beat back the dread, beat down the woe, Let's cheerily descend the hill; Be welcome all, to come or go, The ghosts we all can raise at will.
Friend, sursum corda, soon or slow We part, like guests who've joyed their fill; Forget them not, nor mourn them so, The ghosts we all can raise at will.
* * * * *
HANG UP THE BABY'S STOCKING
[Emily Huntington Miller]
Hang up the baby's stocking: Be sure you don't forget; The dear little dimpled darling! She ne'er saw Christmas yet; But I've told her all about it, And she opened her big blue eyes, And I'm sure she understood it— She looked so funny and wise.
Dear! what a tiny stocking! It doesn't take much to hold Such little pink toes as baby's Away from the frost and cold. But then for the baby's Christmas It will never do at all; Why, Santa wouldn't be looking For anything half so small.
I know what will do for the baby. I've thought of the very best plan: I'll borrow a stocking of grandma, The longest that ever I can; And you'll hang it by mine, dear mother, Right here in the corner, so! And write a letter to Santa, And fasten it on to the toe.
Write, "This is the baby's stocking That hangs in the corner here; You never have seen her, Santa, For she only came this year; But she's just the blessedest baby! And now, before you go, Just cram her stocking with goodies, From the top clean down to the toe."
* * * * *
THE NEWEST THING IN CHRISTMAS CAROLS
God rest you, merry gentlemen! May nothing you dismay; Not even the dyspeptic plats Through which you'll eat your way; Nor yet the heavy Christmas bills The season bids you pay; No, nor the ever tiresome need Of being to order gay;
Nor yet the shocking cold you'll catch If fog and slush hold sway; Nor yet the tumbles you must bear If frost should win the day; Nor sleepless nights—they're sure to come— When "waits" attune their lay; Nor pantomimes, whose dreariness Might turn macassar gray;
Nor boisterous children, home in heaps, And ravenous of play; Nor yet—in fact, the host of ills Which Christmases array. God rest you, merry gentlemen, May none of these dismay!
* * * * *
A CHRISTMAS LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA
'Tis Christmas, and the North wind blows; 'twas two years yesterday Since from the Lusitania's bows I looked o'er Table Bay, A tripper round the narrow world, a pilgrim of the main, Expecting when her sails unfurled to start for home again.
'Tis Christmas, and the North wind blows; to-day our hearts are one, Though you are 'mid the English snows and I in Austral sun; You, when you hear the Northern blast, pile high a mightier fire, Our ladies cower until it's past in lawn and lace attire.
I fancy I can picture you upon this Christmas night, Just sitting as you used to do, the laughter at its height; And then a sudden, silent pause intruding on your glee, And kind eyes glistening because you chanced to think of me.
This morning when I woke and knew 'twas Christmas come again, I almost fancied I could view white rime upon the pane, And hear the ringing of the wheels upon the frosty ground, And see the drip that downward steals in icy casket bound.
I daresay you'll be on the lake, or sliding on the snow, And breathing on your hands to make the circulation flow, Nestling your nose among the furs of which your boa's made,— The Fahrenheit here registers a hundred in the shade.
It is not quite a Christmas here with this unclouded sky, This pure transparent atmosphere, this sun mid-heaven-high; To see the rose upon the bush, young leaves upon the trees, And hear the forest's summer hush or the low hum of bees.
But cold winds bring not Christmastide, nor budding roses June, And when it's night upon your side we're basking in the noon. Kind hearts make Christmas—June can bring blue sky or clouds above; The only universal spring is that which comes of love.
And so it's Christmas in the South as on the North-sea coasts, Though we are staved with summer-drouth and you with winter frosts. And we shall have our roast beef here, and think of you the while, Though all the watery hemisphere cuts off the mother isle.
Feel sure that we shall think of you, we who have wandered forth, And many a million thoughts will go to-day from south to north; Old heads will muse on churches old, where bells will ring to-day— The very bells, perchance, which tolled their fathers to the clay.
And now, good-night! and I shall dream that I am with you all, Watching the ruddy embers gleam athwart the panelled hall; Nor care I if I dream or not, though severed by the foam, My heart is always in the spot which was my childhood's home.
* * * * *
ROSE TERRY COOKE
Here comes old Father Christmas, With sound of fife and drums; With mistletoe about his brows, So merrily he comes! His arms are full of all good cheer, His face with laughter glows, He shines like any household fire Amid the cruel snows. He is the old folks' Christmas; He warms their hearts like wine; He thaws their winter into spring, And makes their faces shine. Hurrah for Father Christmas! Ring all the merry bells! And bring the grandsires all around To hear the tale he tells.
Here comes the Christmas angel, So gentle and so calm; As softly as the falling flakes He comes with flute and psalm. All in a cloud of glory, As once upon the plain To shepherd-boys in Jewry, He brings good news again. He is the young folks' Christmas; He makes their eyes grow bright With words of hope and tender thought, And visions of delight. Hail to the Christmas angel! All peace on earth he brings; He gathers all the youths and maids Beneath his shining wings.
Here comes the little Christ-child, All innocence and joy, And bearing gifts in either hand For every girl and boy. He tells the tender story About the Holy Maid, And Jesus in the manger Before the oxen laid. Like any little winter bird He sings his sweetest song, Till all the cherubs in the sky To hear his carol throng. He is the children's Christmas; They come without a call, To gather round the gracious Child, Who bringeth joy to all.
But who shall bring their Christmas Who wrestle still with life? Not grandsires, youths, or little folks, But they who wage the strife— The fathers and the mothers Who fight for homes and bread, Who watch and ward the living, And bury all the dead? Ah! by their side at Christmas-tide The Lord of Christmas stands: He smooths the furrows from their brow With strong and tender hands. "I take my Christmas gift," He saith, "From thee, tired soul, and he Who giveth to My little ones Gives also unto Me."
* * * * *
THE FIR TREE
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
Out in the forest stood a pretty little Fir Tree. It had a good place; it could have sunlight, air there was in plenty, and all around grew many larger comrades—pines as well as firs. But the little Fir Tree wished ardently to become greater. It did not care for the warm sun and the fresh air; it took no notice of the peasant children, who went about talking together, when they had come out to look for strawberries and raspberries. Often they came with a whole pot-full, or had strung berries on a straw; then they would sit down by the little Fir Tree and say, "How pretty and small that one is!" and the Tree did not like to hear that at all.
Next year he had grown a great joint, and the following year he was longer still, for in fir trees one can always tell by the number of rings they have how many years they have been growing.
"Oh, if I were only as great a tree as the others!" sighed the little Fir, "then I would spread my branches far around, and look out from my crown into the wide world. The birds would then build nests in my boughs, and when the wind blew I could nod just as grandly as the others yonder."
He took no pleasure in the sunshine, in the birds, and in the red clouds that went sailing over him morning and evening.
When it was winter, and the snow lay all around, white and sparkling, a hare would often come jumping along, and spring right over the little Fir Tree. Oh! this made him so angry. But two winters went by, and when the third came the little Tree had grown so tall that the hare was obliged to run around it.
"Oh! to grow, to grow, and become old; that's the only fine thing in the world," thought the Tree.
In the autumn woodcutters always came and felled a few of the largest trees; that was done this year too, and the little Fir Tree, that was now quite well grown, shuddered with fear, for the great stately trees fell to the ground with a crash, and their branches were cut off, so that the trees looked quite naked, long, and slender—they could hardly be recognized. But then they were laid upon waggons, and horses dragged them away out of the wood. Where were they going? What destiny awaited them?
In the spring, when the swallows and the Stork came, the Tree asked them, "Do you know where they were taken? Did you not meet them?"
The swallows knew nothing about it, but the Stork looked thoughtful, nodded his head, and said,
"Yes, I think so. I met many new ships when I flew out of Egypt; on the ships were stately masts; I fancy that these were the trees. They smelt like fir. I can assure you they're stately—very stately."
"Oh that I were only big enough to go over the sea! What kind of thing is this sea, and how does it look?"
"It would take too long to explain all that," said the Stork, and he went away.
"Rejoice in thy youth," said the Sunbeams; "rejoice in thy fresh growth, and in the young life that is within thee."
And the wind kissed the Tree, and the dew wept tears upon it; but the Fir Tree did not understand that.
When Christmas-time approached, quite young trees were felled, sometimes trees which were neither so old nor so large as this Fir Tree, that never rested but always wanted to go away. These young trees, which were almost the most beautiful, kept all their branches; they were put upon wagons, and horses dragged them away out of the wood.
"Where are they all going?" asked the Fir Tree. "They are not greater than I—indeed, one of them was much smaller. Why do they keep all their branches? Whither are they taken?"
"We know that! We know that!" chirped the Sparrows. "Yonder in the town we looked in at the windows. We know where they go. Oh! they are dressed up in the greatest pomp and splendor that can be imagined. We have looked in at the windows, and have perceived that they are planted in the middle of the warm room, and adorned with the most beautiful things—gilt apples, honey-cakes, playthings, and many hundreds of candles."
"And then?" asked the Fir Tree, and trembled through all its branches. "And then? What happens then?"
"Why, we have not seen anything more. But it was incomparable."
"Perhaps I may be destined to tread this glorious path one day!" cried the Fir Tree rejoicingly. "That is even better than traveling across the sea. How painfully I long for it! If it were only Christmas now! Now I am great and grown up, like the rest who were led away last year. Oh, if I were only on the carriage! If I were only in the warm room, among all the pomp and splendor! And then? Yes, then something even better will come, something far more charming, or else why should they adorn me so? There must be something grander, something greater still to come; but what? Oh, I'm suffering, I'm longing! I don't know myself what is the matter with me!"
"Rejoice in us," said Air and Sunshine, "Rejoice in thy fresh youth here in the woodland."
But the Fir Tree did not rejoice at all, but it grew and grew; winter and summer it stood there, green, dark green. The people who saw it said, "That's a handsome tree!" and at Christmas-time it was felled before any one of the others. The axe cut deep into its marrow, and the tree fell to the ground with a sigh: it felt a pain, a sensation of faintness, and could not think at all of happiness, for it was sad at parting from its home, from the place where it had grown up: it knew that it should never again see the dear old companions, the little bushes and flowers all around—perhaps not even the birds. The parting was not at all agreeable.
The Tree only came to itself when it was unloaded in a yard, with other trees, and heard a man say,
"This one is famous; we only want this one!"
Now two servants came in gay liveries, and carried the Fir Tree into a large beautiful saloon. All around the walls hung pictures, and by the great stove stood large Chinese vases with lions on the covers; there were rocking-chairs, silken sofas, great tables covered with picture-books, and toys worth a hundred times a hundred dollars, at least the children said so. And the Fir Tree was put into a great tub filled with sand; but no one could see that it was a tub, for it was hung round with green cloth, and stood on a large many-colored carpet. Oh, how the Tree trembled! What was to happen now? The servants, and the young ladies also, decked it out. On one branch they hung little nets, cut out of colored paper; every net was filled with sweetmeats; golden apples and walnuts hung down as if they grew there, and more than a hundred little candles, red, white, and blue, were fastened to the different boughs. Dolls that looked exactly like real people—the Tree had never seen such before—swung among the foliage, and high on the summit of the Tree was fixed a tinsel star. It was splendid, particularly splendid.
"This evening," said all, "this evening it will shine."
"Oh," thought the Tree, "that it were evening already! Oh that the lights may be soon lit up! When may that be done? I wonder if trees will come out of the forest to look at me? Will the sparrows fly against the panes? Shall I grow fast here, and stand adorned in summer and winter?"
Yes, he did not guess badly. But he had a complete backache from mere longing, and the backache is just as bad for a Tree as the headache for a person.
At last the candles were lighted. What a brilliance, what splendor! The Tree trembled so in all its branches that one of the candles set fire to a green twig, and it was scorched.
"Heaven preserve us!" cried the young ladies; and they hastily put the fire out.
Now the Tree might not even tremble. Oh, that was terrible! It was so afraid of setting fire to some of its ornaments, and it was quite bewildered with all the brilliance. And now the folding doors were thrown open, and a number of children rushed in as if they would have overturned the whole Tree; the older people followed more deliberately. The little ones stood quite silent, but only for a minute; then they shouted till the room rang: they danced gleefully round the Tree, and one present after another was plucked from it.
"What are they about?" laughed the Tree. "What's going to be done?"
And the candles burned down to the twigs, and as they burned down they were extinguished, and then the children received permission to plunder the Tree. Oh! they rushed in upon it, so that every branch cracked again: if it had not been fastened by the top and by the golden star to the ceiling, it would have fallen down.
The children danced about with their pretty toys. No one looked at the Tree except one old man, who came up and peeped among the branches, but only to see if a fig or an apple had not been forgotten.
"A story! a story!" shouted the children: and they drew a little fat man towards the Tree; and he sat down just beneath it,—"for then we shall be in the green wood," said he, "and the tree may have the advantage of listening to my tale. But I can only tell one. Will you hear the story of Ivede-Avede, or of Klumpey-Dumpey, who fell down stairs, and still was raised up to honor and married the Princess?"
"Ivede-Avede!" cried some, "Klumpey-Dumpey!" cried others, and there was a great crying and shouting. Only the Fir Tree was quite silent, and thought, "Shall I not be in it? shall I have nothing to do in it?" But he had been in the evening's amusement, and had done what was required of him.
And the fat man told about Klumpey-Dumpey, who fell down stairs, and yet was raised to honor and married the Princess. And the children clapped their hands, and cried, "Tell another! tell another!" for they wanted to hear about Ivede-Avede; but they only got the story of Klumpey-Dumpey. The Fir Tree stood quite silent and thoughtful; never had the birds in the wood told such a story as that. Klumpey-Dumpey fell down stairs, and yet came to honor and married the Princess!
"Yes, so it happens in the world!" thought the Fir Tree, and believed it must be true, because that was such a nice man who told it. "Well, who can know? Perhaps I shall fall down stairs too, and marry a Princess!" And it looked forward with pleasure to being adorned again, the next evening, with candles and toys, gold and fruit. "To-morrow I shall not tremble," it thought. "I will rejoice in all my splendor. To-morrow I shall hear the story of Klumpey-Dumpey again, and, perhaps, that of Ivede-Avede too."
And the Tree stood all night quiet and thoughtful.
In the morning the servants and the chambermaid came in.
"Now my splendor will begin afresh," thought the Tree. But they dragged him out of the room, and up stairs to the garret, and here they put him in a dark corner where no daylight shone.
"What's the meaning of this?" thought the Tree. "What am I to do here? What is to happen?"
And he leaned against the wall, and thought, and thought. And he had time enough, for days and nights went by, and nobody came up; and when at length some one came, it was only to put some great boxes in a corner. Now the Tree stood quite hidden away, and the supposition was that it was quite forgotten.
"Now it's winter outside," thought the Tree. "The earth is hard and covered with snow, and people cannot plant me; therefore I suppose I'm to be sheltered here until spring comes. How considerate that is! How good people are! If it were only not so dark here, and so terribly solitary!—not even a little hare! That was pretty out there in the wood, when the snow lay thick and the hare sprang past; yes, even when he jumped over me; but then I did not like it. It is terribly lonely up here!"
"Piep! piep!" said a little Mouse, and crept forward, and then came another little one. They smelt at the Fir Tree, and then slipped among the branches.
"It's horribly cold," said the two little Mice, "or else it would be comfortable here. Don't you think so, you old Fir Tree?"
"I'm not old at all," said the Fir Tree. "There are many much older than I."
"Where do you come from?" asked the Mice. "And what do you know?" They were dreadfully inquisitive. "Tell us about the most beautiful spot on earth. Have you been there? Have you been in the store-room, where cheeses lie on the shelves, and hams hang from the ceiling, where one dances on tallow candles, and goes in thin and comes out fat?"
"I don't know that!" replied the Tree; "but I know the wood, where the sun shines, and where the birds sing."
And then it told all about its youth.
And the little Mice had never heard anything of the kind; and they listened and said,
"What a number of things you have seen! How happy you must have been!"
"I?" said the Fir Tree; and it thought about what it had told. "Yes, those were really quite happy times." But then he told of the Christmas-eve, when he had been hung with sweetmeats and candles.
"Oh!" said the little Mice, "how happy you have been, you old Fir Tree!"
"I'm not old at all," said the Tree. "I only came out of the wood this winter. I'm only rather backward in my growth."
"What splendid stories you can tell!" said the little Mice.
And next night they came with four other little Mice, to hear what the Tree had to relate; and the more it said, the more clearly did it remember everything, and thought, "Those were quite merry days! But they may come again. Klumpey-Dumpey fell down stairs, and yet he married the Princess. Perhaps I may marry a Princess too!" And then the Fir Tree thought of a pretty little birch tree that grew out in the forest: for the Fir Tree, that birch was a real Princess.
"Who's Klumpey-Dumpey?" asked the little Mice.
And then the Fir Tree told the whole story. It could remember every single word: and the little Mice were ready to leap to the very top of the tree with pleasure. Next night a great many more Mice came, and on Sunday two Rats even appeared; but these thought the story was not pretty, and the little Mice were sorry for that, for now they also did not like it so much as before.
"Do you only know one story?" asked the Rats.
"Only that one," replied the Tree. "I heard that on the happiest evening of my life; I did not think then how happy I was."
"That's a very miserable story. Don't you know any about bacon and tallow candles—a store-room story?"
"No," said the Tree.
"Then we'd rather not hear you," said the Rats.
And they went back to their own people. The little Mice at last stayed away also; and then the Tree sighed and said,
"It was very nice when they sat round me, the merry little Mice, and listened when I spoke to them. Now that's past too. But I shall remember to be pleased when they take me out."
But when did that happen? Why, it was one morning that people came and rummaged in the garret: the boxes were put away, and the Tree brought out; they certainly threw him rather roughly on the floor, but a servant dragged him away at once to the stairs, where the daylight shone.
"Now life is beginning again," thought the Tree.
It felt the fresh air and the first sunbeams, and now it was out in the courtyard. Everything passed so quickly that the Tree quite forgot to look at itself, there was so much to look at all round. The courtyard was close to a garden, and here everything was blooming; the roses hung fresh and fragrant over the little paling, the linden trees were in blossom, and the swallows cried, "Quinze-wit! quinze-wit! my husband's come!" But it was not the Fir Tree that they meant.
"Now I shall live!" said the Tree, rejoicingly, and spread its branches far out; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow; and it lay in the corner among nettles and weeds. The tinsel star was still upon it, and shone in the bright sunshine.
In the courtyard a couple of the merry children were playing, who had danced round the tree at Christmas-time, and had rejoiced over it. One of the youngest ran up and tore off the golden star.
"Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir tree," said the child, and he trod upon the branches till they cracked again under his boots.
And the Tree looked at all the blooming flowers and the splendor of the garden, and then looked at itself, and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret; it thought of its fresh youth in the wood, of the merry Christmas-eve, and of the little Mice which had listened so pleasantly to the story of Klumpey-Dumpey.
"Past! past!" said the old Tree. "Had I but rejoiced when I could have done so! Past! past!"
And the servant came and chopped the Tree into little pieces; a whole bundle lay there, it blazed brightly under the great brewing copper, and it sighed deeply, and each sigh was like a little shot: and the children who were at play there ran up and seated themselves at the fire, looked into it, and cried, "Puff! puff!" But at each explosion, which was a deep sigh, the Tree thought of a summer day in the woods, or of a winter night there, when the stars beamed; he thought of Christmas-eve and of Klumpey-Dumpey, the only story he had ever heard or knew how to tell; and then the Tree was burned.
The boys played in the garden, and the youngest had on his breast a golden star, which the Tree had worn on its happiest evening. Now that was past, and the Tree's life was past, and the story is past too: past! past!—and that's the way with all stories.
* * * * *
LITTLE ROGER'S NIGHT IN THE CHURCH
The boys and girls had fastened the last sprig of holly upon the walls, and then gone to their homes, leaving the old church silent and deserted. The sun had set in a sky clear and yellow as topaz. Christmas eve had fairly come, and now the moon was rising, a full moon, and all the world looked white in the silver light. Every bough of every tree sparkled with a delicate coating of frost, the pines and cedars were great shapes of dazzling snow, even the ivy on the gothic tower hung a glittering arabesque on the gray wall. Never was there a lovelier night.
That light that you see yonder comes from the window of old Andrew, the sexton, and inside sits his grandson, little Roger, eating his supper of porridge. The kitchen is in apple-pie order, chairs and tables have been scrubbed as white as snow, the tins on the dresser shine like silver, the hearth is swept clean, and Grandfather's chair is drawn into the warmest corner. Grandfather is not sitting in it though; he has gone to the church to put the fire in order for the night, lock up the doors, and make all safe.
Grandmother, in her clean stuff gown and apron, is mounted upon a chair to stick a twig of holly on the tall clock in the corner. And now, as she turns round, what a pleasant face she shows us, does she not? Old and wrinkled, to be sure, but so good-natured and gentle that she is prettier than many a young girl even now. Is it any wonder that little Roger there is so fond of her?
Now another bit of holly is wanted on the chimney-piece; and it is while putting this up that the dear old dame gives sign that something has gone wrong. "Ts, ts, ts,—deary me!"
"What's the matter, Granny?" said Roger.
"Why, Roger," replied Granny, carefully dismounting from her chair, "look here, Grandfather has gone off and forgot his keys. He took 'em from the door this morning, because last year some of the young folks let 'em drop in the snow, and had a sad time hunting for them. He knew they would be in and out all day, so he just opened the door and brought the keys home. Deary me! it's a cold night for old bones to be out of doors. Would'st be afeard, little 'un, to run up with them?"
"Not a bit," said Roger, stoutly, as he crammed the last spoonful of porridge in his mouth, and seized hat and mittens from the table. "I'll take 'em down in a minute. Granny, and then run home. Mother'll want me in the morning, likely."
For Roger's parents lived in a cottage near the old people, and the boy often said that he had two homes, and belonged half in one and half in the other, and the small press-bed in Granny's loft seemed as much his own as the cot in the corner of his mother's sleeping-room, and was occupied almost as often. So, after a good-night hug from Granny, off he ran. The church was near, and the moon light as day, so he never thought of being afraid, not even when, as he brushed by the dark tower, something stirred overhead, and a long, melancholy cry came shuddering from the ivy. Roger knew the owls in the belfry well, and now he called out to them cheerily: "To-whit-whit-whoo!"
"Whoo-whoo-whit!" answered the owls, startled by the cry. Roger could hear them fluttering in the nest.
The church-door stood ajar, and he peeped in. The glow from the open door of the stove showed Grandfather's figure, red and warm, stooping to cover the fire with ashes for the night. He was so busy he never knew the boy was there till he got close to him and jingled the keys in his ear; but after one start he laughed, well pleased.
"I but just missed them," he said. "Thou'rt a good boy to fetch them up. Art going home with me to-night?"
"No, I'm to sleep at my mother's," said Roger, "but I'll wait and walk with you, Grandfather." So he slipped into a pew, and sat down till the work should be finished, and they ready to go; and as he looked up he saw all at once how beautiful the old church was looking.
The moon outside was streaming in so brightly, that you hardly missed the sun, Roger could see distinctly way up to the carved beams of the roof, and trace the figures on the great arched windows over the altar, whose colors had so often dazzled him on Sundays. The colors were soft and dim now, but the figures were there. Roger could see them plainly,—the sitting figure of the Lord Christ, with St. Matthew and two other apostles, and the fisher-lad with his basket of fish. He had often asked Granny to read him the story.
That gleam at the further end of the nave came from the organ-loft, where the moonbeams had found out the great brass pipes, and were playing all manner of tricks with them. Almost the red of the holly-berries could be seen, and every pointed ivy-leaf and spike of evergreen in the wreathings of the windows stood out in bold relief against the shining panes. With this beautiful whiteness the red glow of the fire blended, and flooded the chancel with a lovely pink light, in which shone the gilded letters on the commandment-tables, and the brasses of the tablets on the walls. It was a wonderful thing to see.
To study the roof better, Roger thought he would lie flat on the cushion awhile, and look straight up. So he arranged himself comfortably, and somehow—it will happen, even when we are full of enjoyment and pleasure—his eyes shut, and the first thing he knew he was rubbing them open again, only a minute afterward, as it seemed; but Grandfather was gone. There was the stove closed for the night, and the great door at the end of the aisle was shut. He jumped up in a fright, as you can imagine, and ran to see, and shook it hard. No: it was locked, and poor Roger was fastened in for the night.
He understood it all in a moment. The tall pew had hidden him from sight. Grandfather had thought him gone home; his mother would ever doubt that he was safe at the other cottage; no one would miss him, and there was no chance of being let out before morning.
He was only six years old, so no wonder that at first he felt choked and frightened, and inclined to cry. But he was a brave lad, and that idea soon left him. He began to think that he was not badly off, after all,—the church was warm, the pew-cushion as soft as his bed. No one could get in to harm him. In fact, after the first moment, there was something so exciting and adventurous in the idea of spending the night in such a place, that he was almost glad the accident had happened. So he went back to the pew, and tried to go to sleep again.
That was not so easy. Did you ever get thoroughly waked up in the night by a sudden fright? Do you remember how your eyes wouldn't stay shut afterward, even when you closed them tight, but jerked open almost against your will, as if a string was fastened to them and some one was twitching it? Just so poor Roger felt. He lay still and kept himself quiet for a moment, and then some little noise would come, and his heart beat and his eyes be wide open in a minute. It was a coal dropping from the fire, or a slight crack on the frosty panes: once a little mouse crept out from the chancel, glaring shyly about with his bright eyes, nibbled a moment at a leaf on the carpet and then crept back again. No other living thing disturbed the quiet.
He had heard the clock strike eleven a long time since, and was lying with eyes half shut, gazing at the red fire-grate, and feeling at last a little drowsy, when all at once a strange rush and thrill seemed to come to him in the air, like a cool clear wind blowing through the church, and in one minute he was wide awake and sitting upright, with ears strained to catch some sound afar off. It was too distant and faint for ordinary sense, but a new and sharper power of hearing seemed given him. Little voices were speaking high in the air, outside the church,—very odd ones, like birds' notes, and yet the words were plain. He listened and listened, and made out at last that it was the owls in the tower talking together.