Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Christmas 1855

It is unwillingly that I leave the record of my earlier years : I mean my life before entering my teens ; so certain I feel that I must have left out many of the little incidents that gave it its own calm and happy colouring ; for indeed my childhood was a bright, unruffled river, and I would not lose any of its memories. Our Christ¬mases ! How they shone out at the end of each year with an indescribable joy of their own ; made up of the " bright leaves and red berries " with which the old house was lit up, the joyous home-gathering, the circle of our dear home-faces without one missing from arriving. Then the wonderful excitement of the whole number of us going in the early morning to sing " Hark the herald," at all the doors, beginning with Papa and Mamma, scrambling on to their bed for the kisses and " Merry Christmases." Oh, what a delight it was !—ending with the nurseries, where we all as¬sembled to drink coffee and eat tea-cake, surrounded by the admiring maids, with the holly all round the room shining in the firelight. And all going to the church down to the youngest but one, to hear the dear old hymns and Uncle Billy's beautiful Christmas sermons. The ecstasy of dining late, the mince-pies, the snapdragon, the holiday, the listening to evening carols ; and perhaps the dawning of true joy because Christ was born in Bethlehem, and it was to His tender love that we owed all our happiness. Strong and loving, and shining with ever-increasing brightness, is my memory of the Christmases of my childhood. The return of the holidays, seeing the dear boys' faces again, and rejoicing over the prizes, their begging a holiday for us, and the wild scampers over the place with them. The gathering of aunts and cousins from time to time, when the old house echoed with children, and it was our especial aunt's (Papa's maiden sister, Aunt Coque) delight to range our goodly and unbroken numbers in files according to age. The astonishing excitement of packing and journey days, when even sober Meriel could hardly sleep from delight, and when my imagination woke into song !

Packing-day ! Sweet packing-day !
The subject of my lay.
Come, come ! Thy pleasures bring,
Thou sweet dear darling thing.

Packing is my delight.
I'll pack from morn till night ;
Next day is journey-day !
Hurrah ! Hurrah ! Hurrah !

Even when nothing was going on the dear home-life was as happy as anything in its way ; the schoolroom, where day after day we went through the well-known routine, the time there enlivened by Papa's visits to Mamma and hers to him ; our room being the passage between them. We were never interrupted by this, for one got so thoroughly accustomed to it, and it was seldom that either took any notice of us, beyond a smile from Mamma and " You little pigs," or " Absurd monkies," from Papa. But it always gave me a happy feeling when I heard Mamma's little cough outside the door, or saw her tall and graceful figure passing through the room, and it was nice to feel that they were so close to us. The glorious summers ! After lessons there was the walking out into the beautiful country ; the hills, park with its stately trees, the bright village and green lanes ; or a ride, or a drive with Mamma in the pony-carriage ; both great delights ; sitting under the trees with the song of birds and hum of bees all round one, or on the lawn, mossy and velvety with age, from whence we looked over the grassy hills rising gently one over the other, crowned with the beautiful trees, and where we loved to bring our reading or have tea on summer holidays. Then in the evenings, coming to dessert in the high cool dining-room, and sitting on the perron out of doors till the first stars came out, while everything slept in still beauty, and Malvern and Aberleigh rose deeply blue against the sky.

The winters, when the house felt so snug with its wide grates and roaring fires, and snow and frost were the greatest pleasures of life ; when we slid with the boys, enjoying it full as much as they, or played at " Earth, Air, Fire, and Water," round the fire in the library. And as I grew older and understood more and more what our happiness was, thought of our unclouded home, of the exceeding blessing to us of such parents as ours, of all the dear brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, of the little pleasures with which God filled our cup, and the many deep and lasting joys with which He crowned our life—I trust I grew year by year more grateful, while at times there would mingle with the happiness, a feeling ever increasing that it could not last for ever, and how should we prize it and turn it to good account ! So might God grant that those bright years should lead us to him from Whom all good things do come. . . .

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