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vapid, and to himself they had appeared childish. He was quite conscious of his own weakness. More than once during that period of the snap-dragon did he say to himself that he would descend into the lists and break a lance in that tourney; but still he did not descend, and his lance remained inglorious in its rest.
At the other end of the long table the ghost also had two attendant knights, and neither of them refrained from the battle. Augustus Staveley, if he thought it worth his while to keep the lists at all, would not be allowed to ride through them unopposed from any backwardness on the part of his rival. Lucius Mason was not likely to become a timid, silent, longing lover. To him it was not possible that he should fear the girl whom he loved. He could not worship that which he wished to obtain for himself. It may be doubted whether he had much faculty of worshiping any thing in the truest meaning of that word. One worships that which one feels, through the inner and unexpressed conviction of the mind, to be greater, better, higher than one's self; but it was not probable that Lucius Mason should so think of any woman that he might meet.
Nor, to give him his due, was it probable thai ho should be in any way afraid of any man that he might encounter. He would fear neither the talent, nor the rank, nor the money influence, nor the dexterity of any such rival. In any attempt that he might make on a woman's heart he would regard his own chance as good against that of any other possible he. Augustus Staveley was master here at Noningsby, and was a clever, dashing, handsome, fashionable young fellow; but Lucius Mason never dreamed of retreating before such forces as those. He had words with which to speak as fair as those of any man, and flattered himself that he as well knew how to use them.
It was pretty to see with what admirable tact and judicious management of her smiles Sophia received the homage of the two young men, answering the compliments of both with ease, and so conducting herself that neither could fairly accuse her of undue favor to the other. But unfairly, in his own mind, Augustus did so accuse her. And why should he have been so venomous, seeing that ho entertained no regard for the lady himself? His object was still plain enough—that, namely, of making a match between his needy friend and the heiress.
His needy friend in the mean time played on through the long evening in thoughtless happiness; and Peregrine Orme, looking at the game from a distance, saw that rap given to the favored knuckles with a bitterness of heart and an inner groaning of the spirit that will not bo incomprehensible to many.
"I do so love that Mr. Felix!" said Marian, as her Aunt Madeline kissed her in her little bed on wishing her good-night. "Don't you, Aunt Mad.—?"
And so it was that Christmas-day was passed at Noningsby.
CHRISTMAS AT OBOBY PARK.
CnRlSTMAS-DAY was always a time of very great trial to Mrs. Mason of Groby Park. It behooved her, as the wife of an old English country gentleman, to spread her board plenteously at that season, and in some sort to make an open house of it. But she could not bring herself to spread any board with plenty, and the idea of an open house would almost break her heart. Unlimited eating! There was something in the very sounds of such words which was appalling to the inner woman.
And on this Christmas-day she was doomed to go through an ordeal of very peculiar severity. It so happened that the cure of souls in the parish of Groby had been intrusted, for the last two or three years, to a young, energetic, but not very opulent curate. Why the rector of Groby should be altogether absent, leaving the work in the hands of a curate, whom he paid by the lease of a cottage and garden and fifty-five pounds a year—thereby behaving as he imagined with extensive liberality—it is unnecessary here to inquire. Such was the case, and the Rev. Adolphus Green, with Mrs. A. Green and the four children, managed to live with some difficulty on the produce of the garden and the allotted stipend; but could not probably have lived at all in that position had not Mrs. Adolphus Green been blessed with some small fortune.
It had so happened that Mrs. Adolphus Green had been instrumental in imparting some knowledge of singing to two of the Miss Masons, and had continued her instructions over the last three years. This had not been done in any preconcerted way, but the lessons had grown by chance. Mrs. Mason the while had looked on with a satisfied eye at an arrangement that was so much to her taste.
"There are no regular lessons, you know," she had said to her husband, when he suggested that some reward for so much work would be expedient. "Mrs. Green finds it convenient to have the use of my drawing-room, and would never see an instrument from year's end to year's end if she were not allowed to come up here. Depend upon it she gets a great deal more than she gives."
But after two years of tuition Mr. Mason had spoken a second time. "My dear," he said, "I can not allow the girls to accept so great a favor from Mrs. Green without making her some compensation."
"I don't see that it is at all necessary," Mrs. Mason had answered; "but if you think so, we could send her down a hamper of apples—that is, a basketful." Now it happened that apples were very plentiful that year, and that the curate and his wife were blessed with as many as they could judiciously consume.
"Apples! nonsense!" said Mr. Mason.
"If you mean money, my dear, I couldn't do it. I wouldn't so offend a lady for all the world."
"You could buy them something handsome, in the way of furniture. That little room of theirs that they call the drawing-room has nothing in it at all. Get Jones from Leeds to send them some things that will do for them." And hence, after many inner misgivings, had arisen that purehase of a drawing-room set from Mr. Kantwise—that set of metallic " Louey Catorse furniture," containing three tables, eight chairs, etc. etc., as to which it may be remembered that Mrs. Mason made such an undoubted bargain, getting them for less than cost price. That they had been "strained," as Mr. Kantwise himself admitted in discoursing on the subject to Mr. Dockwrath, was not matter of much moment. They would do extremely well for a curate's wife.
And now on this Christmas-day the present was to be made over to the happy lady. Mr. and Mrs. Green were to dine at Groby Park— leaving their more fortunate children to the fuller festivities of the cottage; and the intention was that before dinner the whole drawing-room set should be made over. It was with grievous pangs of heart that Mrs. Mason looked forward to such an operation. Her own house was plen- j teously furnished from the kitchens to the atties, but still she would have loved to keep that metallic set of painted trumpery. She knew that the table would not screw on; she knew that the pivot of the musie-stool was bent; she knew that there was no place in the house in which they could stand; she must have known that in no possible way could they be of use to her or hers—and yet she could not part with them without an agony. Her husband was infatuated in this matter of compensation for the use of Mrs. Green's idle hours; no compensation could be necessary—and then she paid another visit to the metallic furniture. She knew in her heart of hearts that they could never be of use to any body, and yet she made up her mind to keep back two out of the eight chairs. Six chairs would be quite enough for Mrs. Green's small room.
As there was to be feasting at five, real roast beef, plum-pudding and mince-pies—"Mincepies and plum-pudding together are vulgar, my dear," Mrs. Mason had said to her husband; but in spite of the vulgarity he had insisted— the breakfast was of course scanty. Mr. Mason liked a slice of cold meat in the morning, or the leg of a fowl, or a couple of fresh eggs as well as any man; but the matter was not worth a continual fight. '' As we are to dine an hour earlier to-day I did not think you would eat meat," his wife said to him. "Then there would be less expense in putting it on the table," he had answered; and after that there was nothing more said about it. He always put off till some future day that great contest which he intended to wage and to win, and by which he hoped to bring it about that plenty should henceforward be the law of the land at Groby Park. And then they all went to chureh. Mrs. Mason would not on any account have missed
church on Christmas-day or a Sunday. It was a cheap duty, and therefore rigidly performed. As she walked from her carriage up to the church door she encountered Mrs. Green, and smiled sweetly as she wished that lady all the compliments of the season.
"We shall see you immediately after church," said Mrs. Mason.
"Oh yes, certainly," said Mrs. Green.
"And Mr. Green with you?"
"He intends to do himself the pleasure," said the curate's wife.
"Mind he comes, because we have a little ceremony to go through before we sit down to dinner;" and Mrs. Mason smiled again ever so graciously. Did she think, or did she not think, that she was going to do a kindness to her neighbor? Most women would have sunk into their shoes as the hour grew nigh at which they were to show themselves guilty of so much meanness.
She staid for the sacrament, and it may here be remarked that on that afternoon she rated both the footman and housemaid because they omitted to do so. She thought, we must presume, that she was doing her duty, and must imagine her to have been ignorant that she was cheating her husband and cheating her friend. She took the sacrament with admirable propriety of demeanor, and then on her return home withdrew another chair from the set. There would still be six, including the rocking chair, and six would be quite enough for that little hole of a room.
There was a large chamber up stairs at Groby Park which had been used for the children's lessons, but which now was generally deserted. There was in it an old worn-out pianoforte— and though Mrs. Mason had talked somewhat grandly of the use of her drawing-room, it was here that the singing had been taught. Into this room the metallic furniture had been brought, and up to that Christmas morning it had remained here packed in its original boxes. Hither immediately after breakfast Mrs. Mason had taken herself, and had spent an hour in her efforts to set the things forth to view. Two of the chairs she then put aside into a cupboard, and a third she added to her private store on her return to her work after church.
But, alas, alas! let her do what she would, she could not get the top on to the table. "It's all smashed, ma'am," said the girl whom she at last summoned to her aid. "Nonsense, you simpleton; how can it be smashed when it's new 1" said the mistress. And then she tried again and again, declaring, as she did so, that she would have the law of the rogue who had sold her a damaged article. Nevertheless she had known that it was damaged, and had bought it cheap on that account, insisting in very urgent language that the table was in fact worth nothing because of its injuries.
At about four Mr. and Mrs. Green walked up to the house and were shown into the drawingroom. Here was Mrs. Mason supported by Penelope and Creusa. As Diana was not musical, and therefore under no compliment to Mrs. Green, she kept out of the way. Mr. Mason also was absent. He knew that something very mean was about to be done, and would not show his face till it was over. He ought to have taken the matter in hand himself, and would have done so had not his mind been full of other things. He himself was a man terrihly wronged and wickedly injured, and could not therefore in these present months interfere much in the active doing of kindnesses. His hours were spent in thinking how he might best obtain justice—how he might secure his pound of flesh. He only wanted his own, but that he would have—his own, with due punishment on those who had for so many years robbed him of it. He therefore did not attend at the presentation of the furniture.
"And now we'll go up stairs, if you please," said Mrs. Mason, with that gracious smile for which she was so famous. "Mr. Green, you must come too. Dear Mrs. Green has been so very kind to my two girls; and now I have got a few articles—they are of the very newest fashion—and I do hope that Mrs. Green will like them." And so they all went up into the schoolroom.
"There's a new fashion come up lately," said Mrs. Mason, as she walked along the corridor, "quite new—of metallic furniture. I don't know whether you have seen any." Mrs. Green said she had not seen any as yet.
"The Patent Steel Furniture Company makes it, and it has got very greatly into vogue for small rooms. I thought that perhaps you would allow me to present you with a set for your drawing-room."
"I'm sure it is very kind of you to think of it," said Mrs. Green.
"Uncommonly so," said Mr. Green. But both Mr. Green and Mrs. Green knew the lady, and their hopes did not run high.
And then the door was opened, and there stood the furniture to view. There stood the furniture, except the three subtracted chairs and the loo table. The claw and leg of the table indeed were standing there, but the top was folded up and lying on the floor beside it. "I hope you'll like the pattern," began Mrs. Mason. "I'm told that it is the prettiest that has yet been brought out. There has been some little accident about the screw of the table, but the smith in the village will put that to rights in five minutes. He lives so close to you that I didn't think it worth while to have him up here."
"It's very nice," said Mrs. Green, looking round her almost in dismay.
''Very nice indeed," said Mr. Green, wondering in his mind for what purpose such utter trash could have been manufactured, and endeavoring to make up his mind as to what they might possibly do with it. Mr. Green knew what chairs and tables should be, and was well aware that the things before him were absolutely useless for any of the ordinary purposes of furniture.
"And they are the most convenient things in the world," said Mrs. Mason; "for when you are going to change house you pack them all up again in these boxes. Wooden furniture takes up so much room, and is so lumbersome.""Yes, it is," said Mrs. Green. "I'll have them all put up again and sent down in the cart to-morrow."
"Thank you; that will be very kind," said Mr. Green, and then the ceremony of presentation was over. On the following day the boxes were sent down, and Mrs. Mason might have abstracted even another chair without detection, for the cases lay unheeded from month to month in the curate's still unfurnished room. "The fact is they can not afford a carpet," Mrs. Mason afterward said to one of her daughters, "and with such things as those they are quite right to keep them up till they can be used with advantage. I always gave Mrs. Green credit for a good deal of prudence."
And then, when the show was over, they descended again into the drawing-room—Mr. Green and Mrs. Mason went first, and Creusa followed. Penelope was thus so far behind as to be able to speak to her friend without being heard by the others.
"You know mamma," she said, with a shrug of her shoulders and a look of scorn in her eye. "The things are very nice." "No, they are not, and you know they are not. They are worthless; perfectly worthless." "But we don't want any thing.""No; and if there had been no pretense of a gift it would all have been very well. What will Mr. Green think?"
"I rather think he likes iron chairs," and then they were in the drawing-room.
Mr. Mason did not appear till dinner-time, and came in only just in time to give his arm to Mrs. Green. He had had letters to write—a letter to Messrs. Round and Crook, very determined in its tone; and a letter also to Mr. Dockwrath, for the little attorney had so crept on in the affair that he was now corresponding with the principal. "I'll teach those fellows in Bedford Row to know who I am," he had said to himself more than once, sitting on his high stool at Hamworth.
And then came the Groby Park Christmas dinner. To speak the truth Mr. Mason had himself gone to the neighboring butcher, and ordered the sirloin of beef, knowing that it would be useless to trust to orders conveyed through his wife. He had seen the piece of meat put on one side for him, and had afterward traced it on to the kitchen dresser. But nevertheless when it appeared at table it had been sadly mutilated. A stake had been cut off the full breadth of it— a monstrous cantle from out its fair proportions. The lady had seen the jovial, thick, ample size of the goodly joint, and her heart had been unable to spare it. She had made an effort and turned away, saying to herself that the responsibility was all with him. But it was of no use. There was that within her which could not do it. "Your master will never be able to carve such a mountain of meat as that," she had said, turning back to the cook. "'Deed, an' it's he that will, ma'am," said the Irish mistress of the spit; for Irish cooks are cheaper than those bred and born in England. But nevertheless the thing was done, and it was by her own fair hands that the envious knife was used. "I couldn't do it, ma'am," the cook had said; "I couldn't railly."
Mr. Mason's face became very black when he saw the raid that had been effected, and when he looked up across the table his wife's eye was on him. She knew what she had to expect, and she knew also that it would not come now. Her eye stealthily looked at his, quivering with fear; for Mr. Mason could be savage enough in his anger. And what had she gained? One may as well ask what does the miser gain who hides away his gold in an old pot, or what does that other madman gain who is locked up for long, long years because he fancies himself the grandmother of the Queen of England?
But there was still enough beef on the table for all of them to eat, and as Mrs. Mason was not intrusted with the carving of it, their plates were filled. As far as a sufficiency of beef can make a good dinner Mr. and Mrs. Green did have a good dinner on that Christmas-day. Beyond that their comfort was limited, for no one was in a humor for happy conversation.
And over and beyond the beef there was a plumpudding and three mince-pies. Four mincepies had originally graced the dish, but before dinner one had been conveyed away to some upstairs receptacle for such spoils. The pudding also was small, nor was it black and rich, and laden with good things as a Christmas pudding should be laden. Let us hope that what the guests so lost was made up to them on the following day, by an absence of those ill effects which sometimes attend upon the consumption of rich viands.
"And now, my dear, we'll have a bit of bread and cheese and a glass of beer," Mr. Green said when he arrived at his own cottage. And so it was that Christmas-day was passed at Groby Park.
CUEISTMAS IN GREAT ST. HELENS.
We will now look in for a moment at the Christmas doings of our fat friend Mr. Moulder. Mr. Moulder was a married man living in lodgings over a wine-merchant's vaults in Great St. Helens. He was blessed—or troubled—with no children, and prided himself greatly on the material comfort with which his humble home was surrounded. "His wife," he often boasted, "never wanted for plenty of the best of eating;" and for linen and silks and such like, she could show her drawers and her wardrobes with many a great lady from Russell Square, and not be ashamed neither! And then, as for drink—
"tipple," as Mr. Moulder sportively was accustomed to name it among his friends, he opined that he was not altogether behind the mark in that respect. "He had got some brandy—he didn't care what any body might say about Cognac and eau de vie; but the brandy which he had got from Betts's private establishment seventeen years ago, for richness of flavor and fullness of strength, would beat any French articlo that any body in the city could show. That at least was his idea. If any body didn't like it, they needn't take it. There was whisky that would make your hair stand on end." So said Mr. Moulder, and I can believe him; for it has made my hair stand on end merely to sec other people drinking it.
And if comforts of apparel, comforts of eating and drinking, and comforts of the feather-bed and easy-chair kind can make a woman happy, Mrs. Moulder was no doubt a happy woman. She had quite fallen in to the mode of life laid out for her. She had a little bit of hot kidney
^ for breakfast at about ten; she dined at three, having seen herself to the accurate cooking of her roast fowl, or her bit of sweet-bread, and always had her pint of Scotch ale. She turned over all her clothes almost every day. In the evening she read Reynolds's Miscellany, had her tea and buttered muffins, took a thimbleful of brandy-and-water at nine, and then went to bed. The work of her lifo cousisted in sewing buttons on to Moulder's shirts, and seeing that his things
| were properly got up when he was at home. No doubt she would have done better as to the duties of the world had the world's duties come: to her. As it was, very few such had come in her direction. Her husband was away from home three-fourths of the year, and she had no children that required attention. As for society, some four or five times a year she would drink tea with Mrs. Hubbies at Clapham. Mrs. Hubbies was the wife of the senior partner in the firm, and on such occasions Mrs. Moulder dressed herself in her best, and having traveled to Clapham in an omnibus, spent the evening in dull propriety on one corner of Mrs. Hubbles's sofa. When I have added to this that Moulder evory year took her to Broadstairs for a fortnight, I think that I have described with sufficient accuracy the course of Mrs. Moulder's life.
On the occasion of this present Christmasday Mr. Moulder entertained a small party. And he delighted in such occasional entertainments, taking extraordinary pains that the eatables should be of the very best; and he would maintain an hospitable good humor to the last —unless any thing went wrong in the cookery, in which case he could make himself extremely uupleasant to Mrs. M. Indeed, proper cooking for Mr. M. and the proper starching of the band'of his shirts were almost the only trials that Mrs. Moulder was doomed to suffer. "What the d— are you for?" he would say, almost throwing the displeasing viands at her head across the table, or tearing the rough linen from off his throat. "It ain't much I ask of you in return for youi keep;" and then he would scowl at her with bloodshot eyes till she shook in her shoes. But this did not happen often, as experiences had made her careful.
But on this present Christmas festival all went swimmingly to the end. "Now, bear a hand, old girl," was the harshest word he said to her; and he enjoyed himself like Duncan, shut up in measureless content. He had three guests with him on this auspicious day. There was his old friend Snengkeld, who had dined with him on every Christmas since his marriage; there was his wife's brother, of whom we will say a word or two just now; and there was our old friend Mr. Kantwise. Mr. Kantwise was not exactly the man whom Moulder would have chosen as his guest, for they were opposed to each other in all their modes of thought and action; but he had come across the traveling agent of the Patent Metallic Steel Furniture Company on the previous day, and finding that he was to be alone in London on this general holiday, he had asked him out of sheer good-nature. Moulder could, be very good-natured, and full of pity when the sorrow to be pitied arose from some such souree as the want of a Christmas dinner. So Mr. Kantwise had been asked, and precisely at four o'clock he made his appearance at Great St. Heleus.
But now as to this brother-in-law. He was no other than that John Kenneby whom Miriam Usbech did not marry—whom Miriam Usbech might, perhaps, have done well to marry. John Kenneby, after one or two attempts in other spheres of life, had at last got into the house of Hubbies and Grease, and had risen to be their book-keeper. He had once been tried by them as a traveler, but in that line he had failed. He did not possess that rough, ready, self-confident tone of mind which is almost necessary for a man who is destined to move about quickly from one circle of persons to another. After a six months' trial he had given that up, but during the time, Mr. Moulder, the senior traveler of the house, had married his sister. John Kenneby was a good, honest, painstaking fellow, and was believed by his friends to have put a few pounds together in spite of the timidity of his character.
When Snengkeld and Kenneby were shown up into the room, they found nobody there but Kantwise. That Mrs. Moulder should be down stairs looking after the roast turkey was no more than natural; but why should not Moulder himself be there to receive his guests? He soon appeared, however, coming up without his coat.
"Well, Snengkeld, how are you, old fellow; many happy returns, and all that; the same to you, John. I'll tell you what, my lads; it's a prime 'un. I never saw such a bird in all my days."
"What, the turkey?" said Snengkeld.
''You didn't think it'd be a ostrich, did you?"
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Snengkeld. "No, I didn't expect nothing but a turkey here on Christmas-dav."
"And nothing but a turkey you'll have, my boys. Can you eat turkey, Kantwise?"
Mr. Kantwise declared that his only passion in the way of eating was for a turkey.
"As for John, I'm sure of him. I've seen him at the work before." Whereupon John grinned but said nothing.
"I never see such a bird in my life, certainly."
"From Norfolk, I suppose," said Snengkeld, with a great appearance of interest.
"Oh, yon may swear to that. It weighed twenty-four pounds, for I put it into the scales myself, and old Gibbetts let me have it for a guinea. The price marked on it was five-andtwenty, for I saw it. He's had it hanging for a fortnight, and I've been to see it wiped down with vinegar regular every morning. And now, my boys, it's done to a turn. I've been in the kitchen most of the time myself, and either I or Mrs. M. has never left it for a single moment."
"How did you manage about divine service?" said Kantwise; and then, when he had spoken, closed his eyes and sucked his lips.
Mr. Moulder looked at him for a minute, and then said, "Gammon."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Snengkeld. And then Mrs. Moulder appeared, bringing the turkey with her; for she would trust it to no hands less careful than her own.
"By George, it is a bird," said Snengkeld, standing over it and eying it minutely.
"Uncommon nice it looks," said Kantwise.
"All the same, I wouldn't eat none, if Iwere you," said Moulder, "seeing what sinners have been a basting it." And then they all sat down to dinner, Moulder having first resumed his coat.
For the next three or four minutes Moulder did not speak a word. The turkey was on his mind, with the stuffing, the gravy, the liver, the breast, the wings, and the legs. He stood up to carve it, and while he was at the work he looked at it as though his two eyes were hardly sufficient. He did not help first one person and then another, so ending by himself; but he cut up artistically as much as might probably be consumed, and located the fragments in small heaps or shares in the hot gravy; and then, having made a partition of the spoils, he served it out with unerring impartiality. To have robbed any one of his or her fair slice of the breast would, in his mind, have been gross dishonesty. In his heart he did not love Kantwise, but he dealt by him with the utmost justice in the great affair of the turkey's breast. When he had done all this, and his own plate was laden, he gave a long sigh. "I shall never cut up such another bird as that the longest day that I have to live," he said; and then he took out his large red silk handkerehief and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
"Deary me, M.; don't think of that now," said the wife.
"What's the use?" said Snengkeld. "Care killed a cat."
"And perhaps you may," said John Kenneby, trying to comfort him; "who knows?"