166 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
" But supposing I hadn't ? But I won't tease you. I
know all about it. Can I do anything for you ?"
" No, sir. You can't move my father. It 's no use
talking to him. He never hears a word anybody says
He never hears a word you say o' Sundays, sir. He
won't even believe the Mark Lane Express about the
price of corn. It 's no use talking to him, sir."
" You wouldn't mind if I were to try?"
" No, sir. You can't make matters worse. No more
can you make them any better, sir."
" I don't say I shall talk to him ; but I may try it, if
I find a fitting opportunity."
" He 's always worse more obstinate, that is, when
he 's in a good temper. So you may choose your oppor-
tunity wrong. But it 's all the same. It can make no
" What are you going to do, then 1"
" I would let him do his worst. But Jane doesn't
like to go against her mother. I'm sure I can't think
how she should side with my father against both of
us. He never laid her under any such obligation, I 'in
" There may be more ways than one of accounting
for that. You must mind, however, and not be too hard
upon your father. You're quite right in holding fast to
the girl; but mind that vexation does not make you
" I wish my mother were alive. She was the only one
that ever could manage him. How she contrived to do
it nobody could think ; but manage him she did, some-
THE ORGANIST. 167
how or other. There 's not a husk oi use in talking to
" 1 daresay he prides himself on not being moved by
talk. But has he ever had a chance of knowing Jane
of seeing what kind of a girl she is V
" He 's seen her over and over."
" But seeing isn't always believing."
" It certainly isn't with him."
" If he could only know her ! But don't you be too
hard upon him. And don't do anything in a hurry.
Give him a little time, you know. Mrs Rogers won't
interfere between you and Jane, I am pretty sure. But
don't push matters till we see. Good-bye."
" Good-bye, and thank you kindly, sir. Ain't I to see
|ane in the meantime!"
" If I were you, I would make no difference. See
her as often as you used, which I suppose was as often
as you could. I don't think, I say, that her mother will
interfere. Her father is all on your side."
I called on Mr Brownrigg ; but, as his son had fore-
warned me, I could make nothing of him. He didn't
dee, when the mill was his property, and Dick was his
son, why he shouldn't have his way with them. And he
was going to have his way with them. His son might
marry any lady in the land ; and he wasn't going to
throw himself away that way.
I will not weary my readers with the conversation we
had together. All my missiles of argument were lost
as it were in a bank of mud, the weight and resistance
of which they only increased. My experience in the
168 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
attempt, however, did a little to reconcile me to his
going to sleep in church ; for I saw that it could make
little difference whether he was asleep or awake. He,
and not Mr Stoddart in his organ sentry-box, was the
only person whom it was absolutely impossible to preach
to. You might preach at him ; but to him 1 no.
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY.
jjS Christmas Day drew nearer and nearer, my
heart glowed with the more gladness ; and
the question came more and more pressingly
Could I not do something to make it more
really a holiday of the Church for my parishioners?
That most of them would have a little more enjoyment
on it than they had had all the year through, I had
ground to hope ; but I wanted to connect this gladness
in their minds, I mean, for who could dissever them
in tact? with its source, the love of Cod, that love
manifested unto men in the birth of the Human Babe,
the Son of Man. But I would not interfere with the
Christmas Day at home. I resolved to invite as many
of my parishioners as would come, to spend Christmas
Eve at the Vicarage.
I therefore had a notice to that purport affixed to the
church door ; and resolved to send out no personal in-
170 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
vitations whatever, so that I might not give offence by
accidental omission. The only person thrown into per-
plexity by this mode of proceeding was Mrs Pearson.
" How many am I to provide for, sir ? " she said, with
an injured air.
" For as many as you ever saw in church at one time,"
I said. " And if there should be too much, why so much
the better. It can go to make Christmas Day the mer-
rier at some of the poorer houses."
She looked discomposed, for she was not of an easy
temper. But she never acted from her temper ; she only
looked or spoke from it
" I shall want help," she said, at length.
" As much as you like, Mrs Pearson. I can trust you
Her face brightened ; and the end showed that I had
not trusted her amiss.
I was a little anxious about the result of the invitation
partly as indicating the amount of confidence my people
placed in me. But although no one said a word to me
about it beforehand except Old Rogers, as soon as the
hour arrived, the people began to come. And the first
I welcomed was Mr Brownrigg.
I had had all the rooms on the ground-floor prepared
for their reception. Tables of provision were set out in
every one of them. My visitors had tea or coffee, with
plenty of bread and butter, when they arrived ; and the
more solid supplies were reserved for a later part of the
evening. I soon found myself with enough to do. But
before long, I had a very efficient staff. For after having
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 171
had occasion, once or twice, to mention something of
my plans for the evening, I found my labours gradually
diminish, and yet everything seemed to go right ; the
fact being that good Mr Boulderstone, in one part, had
cast himself into the middle of the flood, and stood there
immovable both in face and person, turning its waters
into the right channel, namely, towards the bam, which
I had fitted up for their reception in a body ; while in
another quarter, namely, in the barn, Dr Duncan was
doing his best, and that was simply something first-rate,
to entertain the people till all should be ready. From a
kind of instinct these gentlemen had taken upon them
to be my staff, almost without knowing it, and very
grateful I was. I found, too, that they soon gathered
some of the young and more active spirits about them,
whom they employed in various ways for the good of
When I came in and saw the goodly assemblage, for I
had been busy receiving them in the house, I could not
help rejoicing that my predecessor had been so fond of
farming that he had rented land in the neighbourhood
of the vicarage, and built this large barn, of which I
could make a hall to entertain my friends. The night
was frosty the stars shining brilliantly overhead so
that, especially for country people, there was little
danger in the short passage to be made to it from the
house. But, if necessary, I resolved to have a covered-
way built before next time. For how can a man be the
person of a parish, if he never entertains his parishioners 1
And really, though it was lighted only with candles round
172 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
the walls, and I had not been able to do much for the
decoration of the place, I thought it looked very well,
and my heart was glad that Christmas Eve just as if
the Babe had been coming again to us that same night
And is He not always coming to us afresh in every
childlike feeling that awakes in the hearts of His people ?
I walked about amongst them, greeting them, and
greeted everywhere in turn with kind smiles and hearty
shakes of the hand. As often as I paused in my com-
munications for a moment, it was amusing to watch Mr
Boulderstone's honest, though awkward endeavours to
be at ease with his inferiors ; but Dr Duncan was just a
sight worth seeing. Very tall and very stately, he was
talking now to this old man, now to that young woman,
and every face glistened towards which he turned. There
was no condescension about him. He was as polite
and courteous to one as to another, and the smile that
every now and then lighted up his old face, was genuine
and sympathetic. No one could have known by his
behaviour that he was not at court. And I thought
Surely even the contact with such a man will do some-
thing to refine the taste of my people. I felt more cer-
tain than ever that a free mingling of all classes would
do more than anything else towards binding us all into
a wise patriotic nation ; would tend to keep down that
foolish emulation which makes one class ape another
from afar, like Ben Jonson's Fungoso, " still lighting
short a suit;" would refine the roughness of the rude,
and enable the polished to see with what safety his just
share in public matters might be committed into the
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 173
hands of the honest workman. If we could once leave
it to each other to give what honour is due ; knowing
that honour demanded is as worthless as insult unde-
served is hurtless ! What has one to do to honour him-
self? That is and can be no honour. When one has
learned to seek the honour that cometh from God only,
he will take the withholding of the honour that comes
from men very quietly indeed.
The only thing that disappointed me was, that there
was no one there to represent Oldcastle Hall. But how
could I have everything a success at once ! And
Catherine Weir was likewise absent.
After we had spent a while in pleasant talk, and when
I thought nearly all were with us, I got up on a chair at
the end of the barn, and said :
" Kind friends, I am very grateful to you for honour-
ing my invitation as you have done. Permit me to hope
that this meeting will be the first of many, and that from
it may grow the yearly custom in this parish of gathering
in love and friendship upon Christmas Eve. When God
comes to man, man looks round for his neighbour.
When man departed from God in the Garden of Eden,
the only man in the world ceased to be the friend of the
only woman in the world; and, instead of seeking tc
bear her burden, became her accuser to God, in whom
he saw only the Judge, unable to perceive that the
infinite love of the Father had come to punish him in
tenderness and grace. But when God in Jesus comes
back to men, brothers and sisters spread forth their arms
to embrace each other, and so to embrace Him. This
174 ANNALS OP A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
is, when He is born again in our souls. For, dear
friends, what we all need is just to become little chil-
dren like Him ; to cease to be careful about many
things, and trust in Him, seeking only that He should
rule, and that we should be made good like Him. What
else is meant by ' Seek ye first the kingdom of God
and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added
unto you?' Instead of doing so, we seek the things
God has promised to look after for us, and refuse to
seek the thing He wants us to seek a thing that can-
not be given us, except we seek it. We profess to
think Jesus the grandest and most glorious of men, and
yet hardly care to be like Him ; and so when we are
offered His Spirit, that is, His very nature within us,
for the asking, we will hardly take the trouble to ask for
it. But to-night, at least, let all unkind thoughts, all
hard judgments of one another, all selfish desires after
our own way, be put from us, that we may welcome the
Babe into our very bosoms ; that when He comes
amongst us for is He not like a child still, meek and
lowly of heart ? He may not be troubled to find that
we are quarrelsome, and selfish, and unjust."
I came down from the chair, and Mr Brownrigg being
the nearest of my guests, and wide awake, for he had
been standing, and had indeed been listening to every
word according to his ability, I shook hands with him.
And positively there was some meaning in the grasp
with which he returned mine.
I am not going to record all the proceedings of the
evening ; but I think it may be interesting to my readers
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 175
to know something of how we spent it. First of all, we
sang a hymn about the Nativity. And then I read an
extract from a book of travels, describing the interior of
an Eastern cottage, probably much resembling the inn
in which our Lord was born, the stable being scarcely
divided from the rest of the house. For I felt that to
open the inner eyes even of the brain, enabling people
to see in some measure the reality of the old lovely story,
to help them to have what the Scotch philosophers call
a true conception of the external conditions and circum-
stances of the events, might help to open the yet deeper
spiritual eyes which alone can see the meaning and truth
dwelling in and giving shape to the outward facts. And
the extract was listened to with all the attention I could
wish, except, at first, from some youngsters at the further
end of the barn, who became, however, perfectly still as
After this followed conversation, during which I talked
a good deal to Jane Rogers, paying her particular atten-
tion indeed, with the hope of a chance of bringing old
Mr Brownrigg and her together in some way.
" How is your mistress, Jane 1 ?" I said.
" Quite well, sir, thank you. I only wish she was here."
" I wish she were. But perhaps she will come next
" I think she will. I am almost sure she would have
liked to come to-night ; for I heard her say"
" I beg your pardon, Jane, for interrupting you ; but
I would rather not be told anything you may have
happened to overhear," I said, in a low voice.
176 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
"Oh, sir!" returned Jane, blushing a dark crimson;
" it wasn't anything particular."
" Still, if it was anything on which a wrong conjecture
might be built" I wanted to soften it to her " it is
better that one should not be told it. Thank you for
your kind intention, though. And now, Jane," I said,
" will you do me a favour?"
" That I will, sir, if I can."
" Sing that Christmas carol I heard you sing last night
to your mother."
" I didn't know any one was listening, sir."
" I know you did not I came to the door with your
father, and we stood and listened."
She looked very frightened. But I would not have
asked her had I not known that she could sing like a
" I am afraid I shall make a fool of myself," she said.
" We should all be willing to run that risk for the sake
of others," I answered.
" I will try then, sir."
So she sang, and her clear voice soon silenced the
speech all round.
" Babe Jesus lay on Mary's lap ;
The sun shone in His hair :
And so it was she saw, mayhap,
The crown already there.
" For she sang : ' Sleep on, my little King I
Bad Herod dares not come ;
Before Thee, sleeping, holy thing,
Wild winds would soon be dumb.
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 177
" ' I kiss Thy hands I kiss Thy feet,
My King, so long desired ;
Thy hands shall never be soil'd, my wect,
Thy feet shall never be tired.
" ' For Thou art the King of men, my son ;
Thy crown I see it plain ;
And men shall worship Thee, every one,
And cry, Glory! Amen.'
" Babe Jesus open'd His eyes so wide !
At Mary look'd her Lord.
And Mary stinted her song and sigh'd.
Babe Jesus said never a word."
When Jane had done singing, I asked her where she
had learned the carol ; and she answered,
" My mistress gave it me. There was a picture to it
of the Baby on his mother's knee."
" I never saw it," I said. " Where did you get the
" I thought it would go with a tune I knew; and I
tried it, and it did. But I was not fit to sing to you,
" You must have quite a gift of song, Jane i" I said.
" My father and mother can both sing."
Mr Brownrigg was seated on the other side of me,
and had apparently listened with some interest His
face was ten degrees less stupid than it usually was. T
fancied I saw even a glimmer of some satisfaction in it.
I turned to Old Rogers.
" Sing us a song, Old Rogers," I said.
" I 'm no canary at that, sir ; and besides, my singing
178 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
days be over. I advise you to ask Dr Duncan there.
He can sing."
I rose and said to the assembly :
" My friends, if I did not think God was pleased to
see us enjoying ourselves, I should have no heart for it
myself. I am going to ask our dear friend Dr Duncan
to give us a song. If you please, Dr Duncan."
" I am very nearly too old," said the doctor ; " but I
His voice was certainly a little feeble ; but the song
was not much the worse for it And a more suitable one
for all the company he could hardly have pitched upon.
" There is a plough that has no share,
But a coulter that parteth keen and fair.
But the furrows they rise
To a terrible size,
Or ever the plough hath touch'd them there.
'Gainst horses and plough in wrath they shake :
The horses are fierce ; but the plough will break.
" And the seed that is dropt in those furrows of fear,
Will lift to the sun neither blade nor eat.
Down it drops plumb,
Where no spring times come ;
And here there needeth no harrowing gear :
\Vheat nor poppy nor any leaf
Will cover this naked ground of grief.
44 But a harvest-day will come at last
When the watery winter all is past ;
The waves so gray
Will be shorn away
By the angels' sickles keen and fast ;
And the buried harvest of the sea
Stored in the barns of eternity."
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 179
Genuine applause followed the good doctor's song. 1
turned to Miss Boulderstone, from whom I had bor-
rowed a piano, and asked her to play a country dance
for us. But first I said not getting up on a chair this
" Some people think it is not proper for a clergyman
to dance. I mean to assert my freedom from any such
law. If our Lord chose to represent, in His parable of
the Prodigal Son, the joy in Heaven over a repentant
sinner by the figure of ' music and dancing,' I will
hearken to Him rather than to men, be they as good
as they may."
For I had long thought that the way to make indiffer-
ent things bad, was for good people not to do them.
And so saying, I stepped up to Jane Rogers, and
asked her to dance with me. She blushed so dreadfully
that, for a moment, I was almost sorry I had asked her.
Hut she put her hand in mine at once; and if she was a
little clumsy, she yet danced very naturally, and I had
the satisfaction of feeling that I had an honest girl near
me, who I knew was friendly to me in her heart.
But to see the faces of the people ! While I had been
talking, Old Rogers had been drinking in every word.
To him it was milk and strong meat in one. But now
his face shone with a father's gratification besides. And
Richard's face was glowing too. Even old Brownrigg
looked with a curious interest upon us, I thought
Meantime Dr Duncan was dancing with one of his
own patients, old Mrs Trotter, to whose wants he min-
istered far more from his table than his surgery. I have
l8o ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
known that man, hearing of a case of want from his
servant, send the fowl he was about to dine upon, un-
touched, to those whose necessity was greater than his.
And Mr Boulderstone had taken out old Mrs Rogers ,
and young Brownrigg had taken Mary Weir. Thomas
Weir did not dance at all, but looked on kindly.
" Why don't you dance, Old Rogers 1 " I said, as I
placed his daughter in a seat beside him.
" Did your honour ever see an elephant go up the
futtock-shrouds 1 "
" No. I never did."
" I thought you must, sir, to ask me why I don't dance.
You won't take my fun ill, sir? I 'm an old man-o'-war's
man, you know, sir."
" I should have thought, Rogers, that you would have
known better by this time, than make such an apology
" God bless you, sir. An old man's safe with you
or a young lass, either, sir," he added, turning with a
smile to his daughter.
I turned, and addressed Mr Boulderstone.
" I am greatly obliged to you, Mr Boulderstone, for
the help you have given me this evening. I 've seen
you talking to everybody, just as if you had to entertain
" I hope I haven't taken too much upon me. But the
fact is, somehow or other, I don't know how, I got into
the spirit of it."
" You got into the spirit of it because you wanted to
help me, and I thank you heartily."
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY.
11 Well, I thought it wasn't a time to mind one's peas
and cues exactly. And really it 's wonderful how one
gets on without them. I hate formality myself."
The dear fellow was the most formal man I had ever
" Why don't you dance, Mr Brownrigg?"
" Who 'd care to dance with me, sir ? I don't care to
dance with an old woman ; and a young woman won't
care to dance with me."
" I '11 find you a partner, if you will put yourself in
" I don't mind trusting myself to you, sir."
So I led him to Jane Rogers. She stood up in re-
spectful awe before the master of her destiny. There
were signs of calcitration in the churchwarden, when he
perceived whither I was leading him. But when he saw
the girl stand trembling before him, whether it was that
he was flattered by the signs of his own power, accept-
ing them as homage, or that his hard heart actually
softened a little, I cannot tell, but, after just a percept-
ible hesitation, he said :
" Come along, my lass, and let 's have a hop together."
She obeyed very sweetly.
" Don't be too shy," I whispered to her as she passed
And the churchwarden danced very heartily with the
I then asked him to take her into the house, and give
her something to eat in return for her song. He yielded
somewhat awkwardly, and what passed between them I
l82 ANNALS OF A QUIET NEIGHBOURHOOD.
do not know. But when they returned, she seemed less
frightened at him than when she heard me make the
proposal. And when the company was parting, I heard
him take leave of her with the words
" Give us a kiss, my girl, and let bygones be bygones."
Which kiss I heard with delight For had I not been
a peacemaker in this matter? And had I not then a
right to feel blessed ? But the understanding was brought
about simply by making the people meet compelling
them, as it were, to know something of each other really.
Hitherto this girl had been a mere name, or phantom
at best, to her lover's father ; and it was easy for him to
treat her as such, that is, as a mere fancy of his son's.
The idea of her had passed through his mind ; but with
what vividness any idea, notion, or conception could be
present to him, my readers must judge from my descrip-
tion of him. So that obstinacy was a ridiculously easy
accomplishment to him. For he never had any notion
of the matter to which he was opposed only of that
which he favoured. It is very easy indeed for such
people to stick to their point.
But I took care that we should have dancing in mode-
ration. It would not do for people either to get weary
with recreation, or excited with what was not worthy of
producing such an effect. Indeed we had only six coun-
try dances during the evening. That was all. And
between the dances I read two or three of Wordsworth's
ballads to them, and they listened even with more in-
terest than I had been able to hope for. The fact was,
that the happy and free hearted mood they were in
MY CHRISTMAS PARTY. 183
" enabled the judgment" I wish one knew always by
what musical spell to produce the right mood for receiv-
ing and reflecting a matter as it really is. Every true
poem carries this spell with it in its own music, which it
sends out before it as a harbinger, or properly a her-
bfrgcr, to prepare a harbour or lodging for it. But then
it needs a quiet mood first of all, to let this music be
For I thought with myself, if I could get them to like
poetry and beautiful things in words, it would not only
do them good, but help them to see what is in the Bible,
and therefore to love it more. For I never could believe
that a man who did not find God in other places as well
as in the Bible ever found Him there at all. And 1
always thought, that to find God in other books enabled
us to see clearly that he was more in the Bible than in
any other book, or all other books put together.
After supper we had a little more singing. And to
my satisfaction nothing came to my eyes or ears, during
the whole evening, that was undignified or ill-bred. Of
course, I knew that many of them must have two beha-
viours, and that now they were on their good behaviour.
But I thought the oftener such were put on their good
behaviour, giving them the opportunity of finding out