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pies home-brewed ale, as soft milk, as clear as amber-mulled claret and so forth? The travellers had evidently never relished any thing more, to the infinite delight of old Mrs Aubrey; who observing, soon afterwards, irrepressible symptoms of fatigue and drowsiness, ordered them all off to bed-Kate sleeping in the same chamber in which she sate when the reader was permitted to catch a moonlight glimpse of her, as already more than once referred to.
They did not make their appearance the next morning till after nine o'clock, Mrs Aubrey having read prayers before the assembled servants, as usual, nearly an hour before-a duty her son always performed when at the Hall— but on this occasion he had overslept himself. He found his mother in the breakfast-room, where she was soon joined by her daughter and daughterin-law, all of them being in high health and spirits. Just as they were finishing breakfast, little Aubrey burst into the room in a perfect ecstasy-for old Jones had taken him round to the stables, and shown him the little pony which had been bought for him only a few months before. He had heard it neigh-had seen its long tail-had patted its neck—had seen it eat—and now his vehement prayer was, that his papa, and mamma, and Kate, would immediately go and see it, and take his little sister also. Breakfast over, they separated. Old Mrs Aubrey went to her own room to be attended by her housekeeper; the other two ladies retired to their rooms-Kate principally engaged in arranging her presents for her little scholars: and Mr Aubrey repaired to his library—as delightful an old snuggery as the most studious recluse could desire-where he was presently attended by his bailiff. He found that every thing was going on as he could have wished. With one or two exceptions, his rents were paid most punctually; the farms and lands kept in capital condition. To be sure an incorrigible old poacher had been giving his people a little trouble, as usual, and was committed for trial at the Spring Assizes; a few trivial trespasses had been committed in search of firewood, and other small matters; which, after having been detailed with great minuteness by his zealous and vigilant bailiff, were dispatched by Mr Aubrey with a "pooh, pooh!"-then
there was Gregory, who held the smallest farm on the estate, at its southern extremity he was three quarters' rent in arrear-but he had a sick wife and seven children-so he was at once forgiven all that was due, and also what would become due on the ensuing quarter-day,—“ In fact,” said Mr Aubrey, " don't ask him for any more rent. I'm sure the poor fellow will pay when he's able."
Some rents were to be raised; others lowered; and some half dozen of the poorer cottages were to be forth. with put into good repair, at Mr Aubrey's expense. The two oxen had
been sent, on the preceding afternoon, from the home farm to the butcher's, to be distributed among the poorer villagers, according to orders brought down from town, by Sam, the day before. Thus was Mr Aubrey engaged for an hour or two, till luncheon time, when good Dr Tatham made his welcome appearance, having been engaged most of the morning in touching up an old Christmas sermon.
He had been viear of Yatton for nearly thirty years, having been presented to it by the late Mr Aubrey, with whom he had been intimate at college. He was a delightful speci men of a country parson. Cheerful, unaffected, and good-natured, there was a dash of quaintness, or roughness about his manners, that reminded you of the crust in very fine old port. He had been a widower, and childless, for fifteen years. His parish had been ever since his family, whom he still watched over with an affectionate vigilance. He was respected and beloved by all. Almost every man, woman, and child that had died in Yatton, during nearly thirty years, had departed with the sound of his kind and solemn voice in their ears. He claimed a sort of personal acquaintance with almost all the gravestones in his little churchyard; and when he looked at them, he felt that he had done his duty by the dust that slept underneath. He was at the bed. side of a sick person almost as soon, and as often, as the doctor-no matter what sort of weather, or at what hour of the day or night. Methinks I see him now, bustling about the village, with healthy ruddy cheek, a clear, cheerful eye, hair white as snow. with a small, stout figure, clothed in a suit of rusty black,
(knee-breeches and gaiters all round the year,) and with a small shovel-hat. No one lives in the vicarage with him but an elderly woman, his housekeeper, and her husband, whose chief business is to look after the little garden; in which I have often seen him and his master, with his coat off, digging for hours together. He rises at five in the winter, and four in the summer, being occupied till breakfast with his studies; for he was an excellent scholar, and has not forgotten, in the zealous discharge of his sacred duties, the pursuits of literature and philosophy, in which he gained no inconsiderable distinction in his youth. He derives a very moderate income from his living; but it is even more than sufficient for his necessities. Ever since Mr Aubrey's devotion to politics has carried him away from Yatton for a considerable portion of each year, Dr Tatham has been the right-hand counsellor of old Mrs Aubrey, in all her pious and charitable plans and purposes. Every new-years'day, there comes from the hall to the vicarage six dozen of fine old port wine a present from Mrs Aubrey; but the little doctor (though he never tells her so) scarce drinks six bottles of them in a year. Two dozen of them go, within a few days' time, to a poor brother parson in an adjoining parish, who, with his wife and three children-all in feeble health-can hardly keep body and soul together, and who, but for this generous brother, would not probably taste a glass of wine throughout the year, except on certain occasions when the very humblest may moisten their poor lips with wine-I mean the SACRAMENTthe sublime and solemn festival given by One who doth not forget the poor and destitute, however in their misery they may sometimes think to the contrary. The remainder of his little present Dr Tatham distributes in small quantities amongst such of his parishioners as may require it, and may not happen to have come under the immediate notice of Mrs Aubrey. Dr Tatham has known Mr Aubrey ever since he was about five years old. 'Twas the doctor that first taught him Greek and Latin; and, up to his going to college, gave him the frequent advantage of his learned experience. But surely I have gone into a very long digression,
While Miss Aubrey, accompanied by her sister-in-law, and followed by a servant carrying a great bag, filled with articles brought from London the day before, went to the school which I have before mentioned, in order to distribute her prizes and presents, Mr Aubrey and Dr Tatham set off on a walk through the village.
"I must do something for that old steeple of yours, doctor," said Aubrey, as arm in arm they approached the church; "it looks crumbling away in many parts."
If you'd only send a couple of masons to repair the porch, and make it weather-tight, it would satisfy me for some years to come," said the doctor.
"Well-we'll look at it,” replied Aubrey; and turning aside, they entered the little churchyard.
"How I love this old yew-tree! he exclaimed, as they passed under it; "it casts a kind of tender gloom around that always makes me pensive, not to say melancholy." A sigh escaped him, as his eye glanced at the family vault, which was almost in the centre of the shade, where lay his father, three brothers, and a sister, and where, in the course of nature, a few short years would see the precious remains of his mother deposited. But the doctor, who had hastened forward alone for a moment, finding the church-door open, called out to Mr Aubrey, who soon stood within the porch. It certainly required a little repairing, which Mr Aubrey said should be looked to im mediately. "See-we're all preparing for to-morrow," said Dr Tatham, leading the way into the little church, where the grizzle-headed clerk was busy decorating the pulpit, readingdesk, and altar-piece, with the cheerful emblems of the season.
"I never see these," said the doctor, taking up one of the sprigs of mistletoe lying on a form beside them, "but I think of your own Christmas verses, Mr Aubrey, when you were younger and fresher than you now are don't you recollect them?" "Oh-pooh!"
"But I remember them ;" and he began,
"Hail! silvery, modest mistletoe,
“Please you, sir, I've got so much I don't know where to put it-so, in course, I put it here."
"Then," said the Doctor, with a smile, looking round the church, "let John get up and put some of it in those old hatchments; and," looking up at the clerk, busy at work in the pulpit, "don't put quite so much up there in my candlesticks."
With this the parson and the squire took their departure. As they passed slowly up the village, which already wore a sort of holiday aspect, they met on all hands with a cordial and respectful greeting. The quiet little public-house turned out some four or five stout fellows-all tenants of his with their pipes in their hands, and who took off their hats, and bowed very low. Mr Aubrey went up and entered into conversation with them for some minutes-their families and
farms, he found, were well and thriving. There was quite a little crowd of women about the shop of Nick Steele, the butcher, who, with an extra hand to help him, was giving out the second ox which had been sent from the hall, to the persons whose names had been given in to him from Mrs Aubrey. Further on, some were cleaning their little windows, others sweeping their floors, and sprinkling sand over them; most were sticking holly and mistletoe in their windows, and over their mantel-pieces. Every where, in short, was to be seen that air of quiet preparation for the cheerful morrow, which fills a thoughtful observer with feelings of pensive but exquisite satisfaction.
Mr Aubrey returned home towards dusk, cheered and enlivened by his
NO. CCXCIII, VOL. XLVII,
walk. His sudden plunge into the simplicity and comparative solitude of country life-and that country Yatton -had quite refreshed his feelings, and given a tone to his spirits. Of course, Dr Tatham was to dine at the hall on the morrow; if he did not, indeed, it would have been for the first time during the last five-and-twenty years.
Christmas eve passed pleasantly and quietly enough at the hall. After dinner the merry little ones were introduced, and their prattle and romps occupied an hour right joyously. As soon as, smothered with kisses, they had been dismissed to bed, old Mrs Aubrey composed herself in her great chair to her usual after-dinner's nap; while her son, his wife, and sister, sitting fronting the fire-a decanter or two, and a few wine-glasses, and dessert remaining on the table behind themsat conversing in a subdued tone, now listening to the wind roaring in the chimney-a sound which not a little enhanced their sense of comfort- then criticising the disposition of the evergreens with which the room was plenteously decorated, and laying out their movements during the ensuing fortnight. Mrs Aubrey and Kate were, with af fectionate earnestness, contrasting to Aubrey the peaceful pleasures of a country life with the restless excitement and endless anxieties of a London political life, to which they saw him more and more addicting himself; he all the while playfully parrying their attacks, but secretly acknowledging the truth and force of what they said, when-hark!-a novel sound from without which roused the old lady from her nap. What do you think, dear reader, it was? The voices of little girls singing what seemed to be a Christmas hymn: yes, they caught the words
"Hark! the herald-angels sing, Glory to the new-born king; Peace on earth, and mercy mild' "It must be your little school-girls,' said old Mrs Aubrey, looking at her daughter, and listening.
"I do believe it is," quoth Kate, her eyes suddenly filling with tears, as she sat eagerly inclining her ear towards the window.
gave forth, with the slightest breath of accident or circumstance,
"The still, sad music of humanity." In a few moments he was almost in tears the sounds were so unlike the fierce and turbulent cries of political warfare to which his ears had been latterly accustomed! The more the poor children sung, the more was he affected. Kate's tears fell fast, for she had been in an excited mood before this little incident occurred. "Do you hear, mamma," said she, "the voice of the poor little thing that was last taken into the school? The little darling!" Kate tried to smile away her emotion; but 'twas in vain. Mr Aubrey gently drew aside the curtain, and pulled up the central blind--and there, headed by their matron, stood the little singers exposed to view, some eighteen in number, ranged in a row on the grass, their white dresses glistening in the moonlight. The oldest seemed not more than ten or twelve years old, while the younger ones could not be more than five or six. They seemed all singing from their very hearts. Aubrey stood looking at them with very deep interest.
As soon as they had finished their hymn, they were conducted into the housekeeper's room, according to orders sent for that purpose from Mrs Aubrey, and each of them received a little present of money, besides a full glass of Mrs Jackson's choicest raisin wine, and a currant bun; Kate slipping half-a-guinea into the hand of their mistress, to whose wish to afford gratification to the inmates of the hall, was entirely owing the little incident which had so pleased and surprised them.
"A happy Christmas to you, dear papa and mamma!" said little Aubrey, about eight o'clock the next morning, pushing aside the curtains, and clambering up on the high bed where Mr and Mrs Aubrey were still asleep soon, however, they were awoke by the welcome sound. The morning promised a beautiful day. The air, though cold, was clear; and the branches of the trees visible from their windows, were all covered with hoarfrost, which seemed to line them as if with silver fringe. The little bells of Yatton church were ringing a merry peal; but, how different in tone and strength from the clangour of the London church-bells! Christmas was indeed at last arrived-and cheerful
were the greetings of those who soon after met at the bountiful breakfast table. Old Mrs Aubrey was going to church with them-in fact, not even a domestic was to be left at home that could possibly be spared. By the time that the carriage, with the fat and lazy-looking grey horses, was at the hall door, the sun had burst out in beauty from an almost cloudless sky. The three ladies rode alone; Aubrey preferring to walk, accompanied by his little son, as the ground was dry and hard, and the distance very short. A troop of some twelve or fourteen servants, male and female, presently followed; and then came Mr Aubrey, leading along the heir of Yatton-à boy of whom he might well be proud, as the future possessor of his name, his fortune, and his honours. When he had reached the church, the carriage was returning home. Almost the whole congregation stood collected before the church door, to see the Squire's family enter; and reverent were the curtsies and bows with which old Mrs Aubrey and her lovely companions were received. Very soon after they had taken their places, Mr Aubrey and his son made their appearance; objects they were of the deepest interest, as they passed along to their pew. A few minutes after, little Dr Tatham entered the church in his surplice, (which he almost always put on at home,) with a face, serious to be sure, but yet overspread with an expression even more bland and benignant than usual. He knew there was not a soul among the little crowd around him that did not really love him, and that did not know how heartily he returned their love. All eyes were of course on the Squire's pew. Mrs Aubrey was looking well-her daughter and daughter-in-law were thought by all to be by far the most beautiful women in the world—what must people think of them in London? Mr Aubrey looked, they thought, pleased and happy, but rather paler, and even a little thinner; and as for the little Squire, with his bright eyes, his rosy cheeks, his arch smile, his curling auburn hair-he was the pride of Yatton!
Dr Tatham read prayers, as he always did, with great distinctness and deliberation, so that every body in the church, young and old, could catch every syllable; and he preached, considerately enough, a very short sermon
pithy, homely, and affectionate. He reminded them that he was then preaching his thirty-first Christmas-day sermon from that pulpit. The service over, none of the congregation moved from their places till the occupants of the Squire's pew had quitted it; but as soon as they had got outside of the door, the good people poured out after them, and almost lined the way from the church door to the gate at which the carriage stood, receiving and answering a hundred kind enquiries cons cerning themselves, their families, and their circumstances.
Mr Aubrey stayed behind, desirous of taking another little ramble with Dr Tatham through the village, for the day was indeed bright and beautiful, and the occasion inspiriting. There was not a villager within four or five miles of the hall who did not sit down that day to a comfortable little relish ing dinner, at least one-third of them being indebted for it directly to the bounty of the Aubreys. As soon as Dr Tatham had taken off his gown, he accompanied Mr Aubrey in cheerful mood, in the briskest spirits. 'Twas delightful to see the smoke come curling out of every chimney, scarce any one visible, suggesting to you that they were all housed, and preparing for, or partaking of their roast-beef and plumpudding. Now and then the bustling wife would show her heated red face at the door, and hastily curtsy as they passed, then returning to dish up her little dinner.
"Ah, ha! Mr Aubrey !-isn't such a day as this worth a whole year in town?" exclaimed Dr Tatham.
"Both have their peculiar influences, Doctor; the pleasure of the contrast would be lost if".
Believe me, in the
"Contrast? language of Virgil ".
"Ah! how goes on old blind Bess, Doctor?" interrupted Aubrey, as they approached the smallest cottage in the village-in fact, the very last.
"She's just the same as she has been these last twenty years. Shall we look in on the old creature?"
"With all my heart. I hope, poor soul! that she has not been overlooked on this festive occasion."
"Trust Mrs Aubrey for that! I'll answer for it, we shall find old Bess as happy, in her way, as she can be.”
This was a stone-blind old woman, who had been -bedridden for the last twenty years. She had certainly pass
ed her hundredth year-some said two or three years before-and had lived in her present little cottage for nearly half a century, having grown out of the recollection of almost all the inhabitants of the village. She had long been a pensioner of Mrs Aubrey's, by whom alone, indeed, she was supported. Her great age, her singular appearance, and a certain rambling way of talking that she had, earned her the reputation in the village of being able to say strange things; and one or two of the old gossips knew of things coming to pass according to what-poor old soul-she had predicted!
Dr Tatham gently pushed open the door. The cottage consisted, in fact, of but one room, and that a very small and lit by only one little window. The floor was clean, and evidently just fresh sanded. On a wooden stool, opposite a fireplace, on which a small saucepan pot was placed, sat a girl about twelve years old, (a daughter of the woman who lived nearest,) crumbling some bread into a basin, with some broth in it. On a narrow bed against the wall, opposite the window, was to be seen the somewhat remarkable figure of the solitary old tenant of the cottage. She was sitting up, resting against the pillow, which was placed on end against the wall. She was evidently a very tall woman; and her long, brown, wrinkled, shrivelled face, with prominent cheekbones and bushy white eyebrows, betokened the possession, in earlier days, of a most masculine expression of features. Her hair, white as snow, was gathered back from her forehead, under a spreading plain white cap; and her sightless eyes, wide open, stared forward with a startling and somewhat sinister expression. She was wrapped round in a clean white bedgown; and her long thin arms lay straight before her on the outside of the bed-clothes. lips were moving, as if she were talking to herself.