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" Well, we may as well be getting ready for a start." So
they got up, put on their coats, shouldered their knapsacks,
and, having astonished Jonas's wife by a present of five shil-
lings to buy fuel with, stepped out, accompanied by Jonas.

The last flakes of the snow-storm were falling, and the
moon shone out keen and white, and the air felt deliciously
keen and fresh after Jonas's little close hole of a kitchen.

" How splendid ! " said Herbert, as they paused before the
cottage door. " Hark ! don't I hear bells ? "

" Zartin zhure. Thaay be Avenly Christmas bells, zur, a
ringin' for Squire Kendrick's Ashen Fagot. Thaay '11 be
lightin' he up zmartish, I '11 war'nd."

" We can go straight across to Avenly, I suppose."

" Ees, zur, straight as you plaazes. Zo you be gwine to

<< Yes, I hope so."


" Did 'ce ever heer o' th' Squire's zon as runnecl a~w aay
vrom whoam out in thaay forrin parts, zur ? "

" I never met any one who went by that name. So the
Squire's son ran away from home ? "

" Ees a did, mwoar' nor a year ago."

How was that ? "

" Well, I d' wont kneow th' rights on 't, zur. I Ve heerd
as a wur zo nat'rally grounded wi' pride and obs'tncy a
would n't tek a word vrom 's own vather. Then a' spent a
zite o' money, I heerd, at college. Hows'mever, won daay,
th' Squire spoke zharper n' usual to 'n, and a went aff then
and ther. A wa' n't a bad haart neither ; that I 'ool zaay
var 'n. I 've a zeed un about wi' Tummus scoors o' times ;
TummuSmbe the Squire's zhepherd, and wur main vond
ov 'n. But a 'd got a zart o' prodigalish Avaay wi' un as
did n't bode no good."

" Well, shepherd, I hope he '11 come to his senses and get
back home soon."

" I wishes a med, zur. For th' Squire hev never rightly
held up s' yead sence he bin gone ; nor madam neither. And
there a'n't a better maester nor missus in th' whole country
zide. I kneows I wishes I 'd been barn on he's lands."

" Well, good by, shepherd. I hope we may meet again
before long."

" I dwon't care how zoon, zur. But shall I gwo 'lang with
'ee a bit, to show 'ee th' waay ? "

" No, thanks, we shall do famously ; good night."

So they shook the horny hand of their host, and went olF
across the glittering snow in the still moonlight towards
Avenly dip, with the Christmas chime coming up from the
little hamlet, and speaking to open hearts, of the child that
was born, and the shepherds that kept their flocks, in a far
land, near twenty centuries ago.



" LET tV adze 'bide, Maester Dick ; let th' adze 'bide, I
tell 'ee. Dal'd if I dwon't gev thee the stick, ef thee gwoes
an spwilin' the tools, aal as I can zaay."

Dick Kendrick, to whom this objurgation was addressed
in the outhouse next the stable of Avenly Manor-House,
which was used for a carpenter's shop, dropped the forbidden
adze for the moment. Moses Ockle, the carpenter, his in-
terlocutor, went on with his work for some time with one
eye on the adze, but presently relaxed his vigilance, and
Dick had hold of the adze again, and was chipping away at
a tough log of timber, " before a body could wink a'mwoast,"
as his victim described it. The second or third chink of the
adze, however, recalled Moses to the state of affairs, and,
dropping the saw he was using, he caught up the nearest
switch he could lay hands on, and made at Dick, who bolted
behind the big bench which stood in the middle of the shop,
meaning to parley. This afforded him protection for the
moment, but, seeing that Moses was in earnest, and would
infallibly reach him over the bench, he broke cover, and
made for the open door, upsetting, on his way, the cross-
trees at which the pursuer had been working, and just escap-
ing a swingeing blow, which the enraged carpenter, his shins
smarting from contact with the over-set cross-trees, aimed at
him, and which fell on the door-post.

" Od, drattle th' young carcass," growled Moses, as he
gathered up his work and went on with it ; " thee bist he
very moral o' thy brother. He wur transpAvorted, or zum-
mat equal to 't, and thou 'It cum to the gallus, zhure as my
neam 's Moses."

" Well, Moses," said William Kendrick, entering a few
minutes afterwards, " you 're making the Ashen Fagot for
to- night, arn't you ? "


Ees, Maester Willum."

" "Will you please make a smaller one, too ? You '11 be
glad, I know, to hear that we have had news of my brother.
So papa and mamma say the children may have a fagot
before the supper begins."

" That I 'ool, Maester Willum. And how many hoops '11
'ee hev to un ? "

" 0, four or five, Moses."

" Zaay arf a dozen, zur. But I be mazin' glad to heai
about th' young squire. And wher be un, then, Maester
Willum, make zo bowld, and wut be un doin' ov ? "

" He is in Australia, right on the other side of the world,
Moses. And he is very well, and doing capitally. He is a
sort of head man to a great sheep farmer there."

" Th' young squire a zhepperdin ! Maester William ? "

" Yes, Moses, and w^- not ? The sheep farmers are the
great people. I shouiu. like nothing better than to go out
myself, and make my own way there. But can't you let me
help you ? I should so like to help make the Ashen Fagots
for to-night."

Moses was nothing loath. Willie was a very different style
of boy from Dick, and so the two worked on together, Moses
cutting ash-poles for the two fagots, and Willie under his
direction preparing the hazel-rods for the hoops.

" Why don't you make the hoops of ash, too, Moses ? "

" 'Cause hazel burns slawer, and zo howlds th' vagot to-
gether langer."

By the time it was dusk they had finished binding the two
fagots ; one a monster, some six feet long, with about a
dozen hazel hoops round him, the other a miniature one
of half the size. Willie marched off in triumph with the
smaller, leaving the carpenter to follow with the other when
lie had tidied up the place a bit, which he did, muttering to
himself: "And zo th' young squire be zhepperdin, be un?
Ef a' had 's desarvins, a 'd be kepin' pegs, like he in Scrip-


tur, and a fillin' ov 's belly wi' th* husks as th' zwine did

Willie and the carpenter deposited their burdens in a huge
lofty room at one end of the house, away from the sitting-
rooms. It was called the kitchen, but seldom used for that
purpose, a smaller and more central room having succeeded
it. It had now become more a servants' hall, but its special
vocation, and one for which it was eminently qualified, was
that of receiving the periodical gatherings at harvest homes,
Ashen Fagot nights, and such occasions, when the Ken-
dricks made entertainment for their vassals.

The chief feature in the room was the fireplace, which
cannot be better described than in the homely words of a
rhymer of the country :

" My veather's vires wur mead o' logs
0' cleft 'ood down upon the dogs,
In our girt vire-pleace, zo wide
As you med draw a cart inzide,
An big an little med zet down
On boath zides, an avore, an all rown;
An up in corner thaay did hitch
The zaalt box on the bacon vlitch;
An, when I wur a zettin, I
Could zee aal up into the sky
An watch the zmoke gwo vrom the vire
Aal up an out at un, an higher;
An ther' wur beacon upon rack,
An plates to yet it upon tack ;
An rown the walls were yarbs, stowd
In peapern brigs, an blathers bio wed;
An jest above the clavey boord
Were vather's gun, an zpurs, an zoord ;
An ther' were ther' our gertest pride,
The zettle by the vire zide."

This room was now, under the hands of two maids, being
prepared for the evening's festivities, while the children ran
in and out, helping, as they delighted to think. A bright fire
crackled already on the dogs, which were in due time to
receive the Ashen Fagots ; all the furniture was moved


except the great table which ran along one side. There
was plenty of Christmas, in the shape of holly and ivy, over
the fireplace and on the walls, and a bunch of mistletoe hang-
ing from a rack in the middle of the ceiling. The Ashen
Fagots were duly deposited in a corner of the great fire-
place, and by five o'clock, when the maids and children went
off to tea, all was ready. The kitchen was left, winking
away in the cosey firelight, for the fairies, if they pleased, to
come in and take their pastime on the clean sanded floor.
Meantime, the sole occupants were two robins, who seemed
to be thoroughly satisfied with the asylum which they had
hit upon for their Christmas Eve, and chirped to one an-
other, as they flitted about, and peered with their small bright
eyes into % every corner, discoursing, no doubt, of how un-
pleasant the snow was becoming outside, and what fools their
neighbors, the wrens and sparrows, were, not to avail them-
selves of such comfortable quarters, before they went up to
perch for the night on the bacon rack.

The robins, no doubt, soon began to see reasons for recon-
sidering their opinions, when, at about six o'clock, the door
which led from the house opened, and Clara, Bobby, and
Maggie, and the party of children they had been allowed to
ask to tea, rushed into the room, followed by Mabel and her
friend the clergyman's daughter, who brought her little
nephews, and Miss Smith.

After the first rush round the great room, all so nicely
cleared for a good romp, had been duly executed by the
children, and candles had been lighted, there was a call at
once for the Ashen Fagot. In fact, Bobby and the vicar's
eldest grandson had seized on it, and were in the act of
putting it on the dogs, when* Mabel suggested that it would
be burnt out too soon if they lighted it at once.

" O yes, let us have a play first," said Clara ; " and then
we will sit down and make forfeits, or Mabel will tell us a
story, and then we can have the fagot"


" And Aunt Nellie will sing us a song, won't you ? one
we can all join in ? " said the vicar's grandson.

"O yes, Walter, presently, when you are all tired of
play." And so to play they went vigorously. Blind-man's-
buff, hunt-the-slipper, and the post-office, in which latter
game Clara distinguished herself, succeeded one another
rapidly ; and the circle was constantly increased by the
arrival of one after another of the servants, dairy-maid,
laundry-maid, house-maid, nurse-maid, &c. The Ashen Fag-
ot was put on in triumph, and blazed and crackled to the
complete satisfaction of the young ones. Then a great dish
came in for snap-dragon, and Bobby and his friend were
soon distinguishing themselves by dashing their hands
bravely into the burning brandy, and bringing out the
raisins for their favorites amongst the group of girls.
When all the raisins had been extracted and eaten, and
the salt had been duly thrown into the burning spirit, and
everybody had looked sufficiently green and cadaverous, a
cry for forfeits arose. So the party sat down round Mabel
on benches brought out from under the table, and Mabel

" The first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge and a

The second day of Christmas my true love sent to me two turtle-doves,
a partridge, and a peai*-tree;

The third day of Christmas my true love sent to me three fat hens, two
turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree ;

The fourth day of Christinas my true love sent to me four ducks quack-
ing, three fat hens, two turtle-doves, a partridge, and a pear-tree;

The fifth day of Christinas my true love sent to me five hares running,
four ducks quacking, three fat hens, two turtle-doves, a par-
tridge, and a pear-tree."

And so on. Each day was taken up and repeated all round ;
and for every breakdown (except by little Maggie, who
struggled with desperately earnest round eyes to follow the
rest correctly, but with very comical results), the player
who made the slip was duly noted down by Mabel for a


In tlie middle of the game, the door which opened to the
garden flew open, and Willie and Dick arrived on the scene
of action, with

" Now then, make room, here are the mummers ! "
" O, the mummers, the mummers ! hurrah ! " chorused
the infantiy, as they withdrew, under Mabel and Nelly's
wing, to the side and end of the kitchen. St. George and
his adversary were then called by the two boys, who stood
by the door, as masters of the ceremonies. They came in,
shaking the snow from their queer attempts at costume,
consisting of helmets, in shape very like fool's-caps, of dif-
ferent-colored paper, and scraps of ribbon and colored cloth
or cotton sewn on to their smock-frocks. They marched
round after one another, repeating their introductory verses
in a queer nasal singsong, and then fell to single combat
witli their wooden swords, which soon resulted in the dis-
comfiture of St. George. His adversary, being of a noble
temper, now calls for the doctor.

" Doctor, doctor, plaay thy part ;
St. Gaarge be wounded to the heart :
Doctor, doctor, come and see ;
St. Gaarge be wounded in the knee."

The ridiculous figure called the doctor answers the ap-
peal, entering with

" Here euros I, a ten pound doctor;

Ten pound is my fee ;
But, sence thee bist a vriend o' mine,
I '11 tek but vive vrom thee."

And so it goes on, with much more ridiculous doggerel, but
of absorbing interest to little Maggie, and all the younger
portion of the audience.

' Well, what were you playing at when we came in ? "
said Willie, as the mummers went off, after getting the ac-
customed gratuity.

" Forfeits," said Mabel. " Will you play ? Our fagot is
nearly out, so you won't have much of it."


" Hullo ? look, here 's a robin ; what fun ! " said Dick
shying his cap at one of the robins, who, from his perch on
the rack, was contemplating the doings of mankind, with his
head on one side, and thinking probably what fools they
must be, to be carrying on their unmeaning games, instead
of sleeping and letting him sleep.

Dick had three or four shots with his cap at the birds,
before Mabel, backed by Willie, to whom she appealed,
could make him leave them alone. Then they took to for-
feits again ; and Dick, who was absolute lord of misrule in
the place, soon made it too uproarious. Whenever it came
to his turn to declare a forfeit (and he constantly managed
that it should do so, by making horrible faces, and otherwise
interrupting the one whose turn it was to repeat), he played
some half-malicious prank. At last, having caught up the
dairy-maid, he declared her forfeit " clenching hands."
This operation is performed by the caller and payer of the
forfeit standing up, and joining their hands with the fingers
laced, when the gentleman, by extending his arms, brings
the lady's face close up to his own, and kisses her. In the
present case, the dairy-maid, being full as strong as Master
Dick, kept him nearly at arms' length; but the attempt
annoyed Mabel, who put a stop to the game. Whereupon
Dick took himself off till supper-time, declaring them slow.

They were getting rather tired, and the embers of the
fagot were all red-hot and nearly consumed ; so they made
a circle round, and the maids brought some logs and put
them on.

" Now, Aunt Nelly, you must sing us a song."

" O yes, the one about the sisters, and the cherry with-
out a stone, please," said Bobby.

" Very well. Mabel, you will take the questions. And,
mind, you must all sing the chorus."

** I had four sisters lived over the sea,
Parra marra dictum domine;


They each sent a Christmas present to me,
Partum qnartum paradise templum,

Parra marra dictum doraine.
The first sent a cherry without a stone,

Parra marra dictum domine;
The second sent a bird without a bone,

Partum quartum paradise templum, &c.
The third sent a blanket without a thread,

Parra marra dictum domine:
The fourth sent a book no man could read,
Partum quartum paradise templum, &c.
How could it be a cherry without a stone?

Parra marra dictum domine;
How could it be a bird without a bone?

Partum quartum paradise templum, &c.
How could it be a blanket without a thread?

Parra marra dictum domine ;
How could it be a book no man could read ?

Partum quartum paradise templum, &c.
When the cherry 's in the bud it has no stone,

Parra marra dictum domiue ;
When the bird 's in the egg it has no bone,
Partum quartum paradise templum, &c.
When the blanket 's in the fleece it has no thread,

Parra marra dictum domine ;
When the book 's in the press no man can read,
Partum quartum paradise templum,
Parra marra dictum domine."

The song and chorus delighted the children; and then
Mabel was called on for her story, which would, no doubt,
fascinate readers as much as it did her audience round the
remains of the ashen fagot, were there space to give it.
And now it was getting near eight o'clock, the chimes were
ringing out, and it was time to prepare the kitchen for the
supper of the grown-up folk. Nelly and her charge with-
drew through the house, and the other children dispersed.
Mabel remained to give an eye to the supper arrangements.
Presently Bobby and Maggie, who had not yet been carried
off, ran up and pulled her gown.

" O Mabel, come and look, do come and look ! "

What is it, Bobby ? "


" O, two great hairy faces, like the giants in our picture
book ! "

Where ? What do you mean, Bobby ? "

" Here, at the window. They frightened Maggie so."

" O yes, that they did," said Maggie, holding on to her
sister's gown. " You ain't afraid, Mabel ?"

" No, dear ; come along." So s,he went to the window,
which looked out on the garden, and which she had opened
a few minutes before to freshen the room.

" Why, Bobby, you must have fancied it all."

" No, no ; did n't we see two great hairy faces, such big
ones, looking in ? "

"O yes, Mabel."

Mabel looked out carefully amongst the shrubs. The
moon and snow made it almost as light as day, except just
in the shadow of the house ; but she could see nothing.

"Well, Bobby, you see they've run away. They
could n't get through these bars at any rate ; so we 're quite
safe. Hark ! there are the school-children, singing a carol
at papa's window. Come along ; you can go and hear them,
and say good-night to papa." And so Mabel and the chil-
dren left the kitchen.


"Nearly caught, eh, Johnny?" whispered the elder of
our travellers, as the two drew themselves up in the shadow
of the house, behind a laurel. " Who was the pretty little
bright-eyed girl?"

"My little sister, Maggie."

" And the boy ? "

" My youngest brother, Bob."

" And the tall girl they ran up to ? "

"My eldest sister, Mabel."

" You 're a lucky dog. Hark ! what 's that ? "

" The school-children, singing a carol before the house."

They listened while the young voices sang the grand old


" While shepherds kept their flocks by night."

Neither spoke for some seconds after the voices ceased.

* What are you going to do, Johnny," Herbert said, gen-
tly, at last.

" O, I don't quite know yet; I am so confused still. Ton
don't mind waiting a little ? "

" Not a bit. As long as you please, so that we get
housed by bedtime."

" Here come the people to * Ashen Fagot,' stand back."

" Now, papa. They have done supper, and Dick and I
have put the Ashen Fagot on, and it 's just blazing up.
You '11 come in and wish them a merry Christmas, won't
you?" *

Mr. Kendrick rose from his chair in the parlor, where
he was sitting with his wife and Mabel, and prepared to go
with Willie.

" But the vicar is n't come," he said ; " he would like to
go in with me and say a few words to them."

" O John, I '11 wait for the vicar and Nelly, and bring
them in for a few minutes when they come."

So Mr. Kendrick and Mabel went with "Willie back to
the kitchen, where the Ashen Fagot was already crackling
and roaring away merrily on the dogs. The women, who
had supped with their husbands and brothers, were seated
in the chimney-corner, and round one side of the fire on
benches, leaving the space clear between the fire and the
long table. At the upper end of the table, the bailiff, the
carpenter, the parish clerk, and the wheelwright were
seated, and the farm-laborers, men and boys, below. Ma-
bel joined the women, while her father took the top of the
table; the men all rising till he had taken his seat, with
Willie by his side. Dick was seated at his ease next to .ho
bailiff, on the opposite side from Moses, the carpenter.

There were several large copper jugs on the table, out of
one of which Mr. Kendrick filled a horn of beer.


" Here 's a merry Christmas to you all," he said, drinking,
" and I hope you 've enjoyed yourselves to-night ? "

" Ees, ees, that us hev'," chorused the men, and, at a sign
from the bailiff, Moses, the carpenter, cleared his throat and

" Here 's a health unto our maester,
Th' vounder ov this veasfc;
I haups to God wi 1 aal my heart,
His sowl in heav'n may rest,
And ael his works med prawsper,
Wutever he teks in hand,
Vor we are ael his zarvents,
And ael at his command.

" Then drenk, bwoys, drenk,
And mind you do not spill ;
Vor, ef you do, you must drenk two,
Vor 't is our maester's will."

" Your health, zur, and missus's, and ael th' fam'ly, and a
merry Christmas to ee ael, and many ov 'em ! " followed
this poetical greeting, which was sung vociferously, the
words being those of an old harvest-home song, well known
for generations to all the inhabitants of Avenly.

" Now you can light your pipes, and make the most of
your time ; the Ashen Fagot waits for nobody."

The lighting up of pipes soon followed this permission ;
and Mr. Kendrick, after chatting for a minute or two to the
men nearest him, was just getting up to speak, when the
lowest of the hazel bonds of the Ashen Fagot burst.

" A bond ! a bond ! drenk to th' bond ! " said several voices.
The bailiff looked at his master, who seated himself at once.

" No, no, I can wait," he said ; " keep to your custom. A
sip and a song for every bond."

This saying was received with enthusiasm, and a call on
Muster Hockle followed. The carpenter seemed the favor-
ite performer. " Gie 's th' howl's disaster, Maester Hockle,"
suggested the bailiff.


" I 've often heard my gram 'mer tell

Of a peart young owl, as ael the day
In a nook ov the paason's barn did dwell,
In hidlock blinkin' the time away.

" But, zo zoon as ever the zun were zet,
A poachin' away like mad went he,
And once his desarvings he did get,
As aal o' you shall presently zee.

" A vlod vor miles auver hill and dale,

And a caddled the mice in many a vield;
For ael o' you as heers this tale

Do know as the weakest must allus yield.

" At last a hunted zo vur away

That the zun cum peeping auver the hills,
And the birds waked up and did un espy,
^V.nd wur ael in a churm az um whetted then* bills.

" ' Gwo at un, my bwoys,' the missel-dresh cries;

' A vrightened my mate, and her eggs be ael addled' j

And the yuckle did scraam, ' Let us peck out his eyes;

Zich a girt mouchin' wosbird deserves to be caddled.'

" Thany dreshed un long, and thaay dreshed un zore ;

Thaay dreshed un and tar ael the dowl vrom his yead,
And thaay vollured un whoam unto the barn dwoor,
And ther' thaay left un purty nigh dead.


" Now, ael you young men as loves ramblin' o' night,
Be plazed from this story to take timely warnin',
Vor ther' med be them as ud not thenk it right
If you chances to get auvertuk by the marnin'."

Any one who had thought of looking at the garden win-
dow during Moses's song would have been able to confirm
the story of little Maggie on all points, except as to the
size of the two faces which peered through the window-
bars. They might easily have fancied that the fleshy em-
bodiments of some two < antagonist Christmas principles
were watching the Ashen Fagot supper from without ; 30
marked was the contrast between the merry, curious look of


the lighter, and the painful tension of muscles and hunger*
ing anxiety of the darker face.

" Lawk ! do 'ee look, Miss Mabel. Zhure as vate I zeed
zummat at th' winder,** whispered Goody Ockle, the car-
penter's wife, to Miss Kendrick.

Mabel glanced at the window a little nervously, and
thought she detected figures disappearing ; but her father
had now risen to speak to his men, and she turned to listen.

"You all know," he said, with his homely Wiltshire
manner, which gave him such a hold over the people who
lived round him, " you know well, after all these years

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 24 of 66)