'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is, indeed, comfort.' 'Our invariable custom,' replied Mr. Wardle. 'Everybody sits down with us on Christmas Eve, as you see them now--servants and all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes twelve, to usher Christmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories. Trundle, my boy, rake up the fire.'
Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred. The deep red blaze sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated into the farthest corner of the room, and cast its cheerful tint on every face.
'Come,' said Wardle, 'a song--a Christmas song! I'll give you one, in default of a better.'
'Bravo!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fill up,' cried Wardle. 'It will be two hours, good, before you see the bottom of the bowl through the deep rich colour of the wassail; fill up all round, and now for the song.'
Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round, sturdy voice, commenced without more ado--
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
'I care not for Spring; on his fickle wing Let the blossoms and buds be borne; He woos them amain with his treacherous rain, And he scatters them ere the morn. An inconstant elf, he knows not himself, Nor his own changing mind an hour, He'll smile in your face, and, with wry grimace, He'll wither your youngest flower.
'Let the Summer sun to his bright home run, He shall never be sought by me; When he's dimmed by a cloud I can laugh aloud And care not how sulky he be! For his darling child is the madness wild That sports in fierce fever's train; And when love is too strong, it don't last long, As many have found to their pain.
'A mild harvest night, by the tranquil light Of the modest and gentle moon, Has a far sweeter sheen for me, I ween, Than the broad and unblushing noon. But every leaf awakens my grief, As it lieth beneath the tree; So let Autumn air be never so fair, It by no means agrees with me.
'But my song I troll out, for CHRISTMAS Stout, The hearty, the true, and the bold; A bumper I drain, and with might and main Give three cheers for this Christmas old! We'll usher him in with a merry din That shall gladden his joyous heart, And we'll keep him up, while there's bite or sup, And in fellowship good, we'll part. 'In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hide One jot of his hard-weather scars; They're no disgrace, for there's much the same trace On the cheeks of our bravest tars. Then again I sing till the roof doth ring And it echoes from wall to wall-- To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night, As the King of the Seasons all!'
This song was tumultuously applauded--for friends and dependents make a capital audience--and the poor relations, especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture. Again was the fire replenished, and again went the wassail round.
'How it snows!' said one of the men, in a low tone.
'Snows, does it?' said Wardle.
'Rough, cold night, Sir,' replied the man; 'and there's a wind got up, that drifts it across the fields, in a thick white cloud.'
'What does Jem say?' inquired the old lady. 'There ain't anything the matter, is there?'
'No, no, mother,' replied Wardle; 'he says there's a snowdrift, and a wind that's piercing cold. I should know that, by the way it rumbles in the chimney.'
'Ah!' said the old lady, 'there was just such a wind, and just such a fall of snow, a good many years back, I recollect--just five years before your poor father died. It was a Christmas Eve, too; and I remember that on that very night he told us the story about the goblins that carried away old Gabriel Grub.'
'The story about what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Oh, nothing, nothing,' replied Wardle. 'About an old sexton, that the good people down here suppose to have been carried away by goblins.'
'Suppose!' ejaculated the old lady. 'Is there anybody hardy enough to disbelieve it? Suppose! Haven't you heard ever since you were a child, that he WAS carried away by the goblins, and don't you know he was?'
'Very well, mother, he was, if you like,' said Wardle laughing. 'He WAS carried away by goblins, Pickwick; and there's an end of the matter.'
'No, no,' said Mr.