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´╗┐Title: Snap-Dragons - Old Father Christmas
Author: Ewing, J.H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Snap-Dragons - Old Father Christmas" ***

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Snap-Dragons
Old Father Christmas
By J.H. Ewing
Illustrations by Gordon Browne
Published by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Snap-Dragons, by J.H. Ewing.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
SNAP-DRAGONS, BY J.H. EWING.

CHAPTER ONE.

MR AND MRS SKRATDJ.

Once upon a time there lived a certain family of the name of Skratdj.
(It has a Russian or Polish look, and yet they most certainly lived in
England.)  They were remarkable for the following peculiarity.  They
seldom seriously quarrelled, but they never agreed about anything.  It
is hard to say whether it were more painful for their friends to hear
them constantly contradicting each other, or gratifying to discover that
it "meant nothing," and was "only their way."

It began with the father and mother.  They were a worthy couple, and
really attached to each other.  But they had a habit of contradicting
each other's statements, and opposing each other's opinions, which,
though mutually understood and allowed for in private, was most trying
to the by-standers in public.  If one related an anecdote, the other
would break in with half-a-dozen corrections of trivial details of no
interest or importance to anyone, the speakers included.  For instance:
Suppose the two dining in a strange house, and Mrs Skratdj seated by
the host, and contributing to the small-talk of the dinner-table.
Thus:--

"Oh yes.  Very changeable weather indeed.  It looked quite promising
yesterday morning in the town, but it began to rain at noon."

"A quarter past eleven, my dear," Mr Skratdj's voice would be heard to
say from several chairs down, in the corrective tones of a husband and a
father; "and really, my dear, so far from being a promising morning, I
must say it looked about as threatening as it well could.  Your memory
is not always accurate in small matters, my love."  But Mrs Skratdj had
not been a wife and a mother for fifteen years, to be snuffed out at one
snap of the marital snuffers.  As Mr Skratdj leaned forward in his
chair, she leaned forward in hers, and defended herself across the
intervening couples.

"Why, my dear Mr Skratdj, you said yourself the weather had not been so
promising for a week."

"What I said, my dear, pardon me, was that the barometer was higher than
it had been for a week.  But, as you might have observed if these
details were in your line, my love, which they are not, the rise was
extraordinarily rapid, and there is no surer sign of unsettled
weather.--But Mrs Skratdj is apt to forget these unimportant trifles,"
he added, with a comprehensive smile round the dinner-table; "her
thoughts are very properly absorbed by the more important domestic
questions of the nursery."

"Now I think that's rather unfair on Mr Skratdj's part," Mrs Skratdj
would chirp, with a smile quite as affable and as general as her
husband's.  "I'm sure he's _quite_ as forgetful and inaccurate as _I_
am.  And I don't think _my_ memory is at _all_ a bad one."

"You forgot the dinner hour when we were going out to dine last week,
nevertheless," said Mr Skratdj.

"And you couldn't help me when I asked you," was the sprightly retort.
"And I'm sure it's not like you to forget anything about _dinner_, my
dear."

"The letter was addressed to you," said Mr Skratdj.

"I sent it to you by Jemima," said Mrs Skratdj.

"I didn't read it," said Mr Skratdj.

"Well, you burnt it," said Mrs Skratdj; "and, as I always say, there's
nothing more foolish than burning a letter of invitation before the day,
for one is certain to forget."

"I've no doubt you always do say it," Mr Skratdj remarked, with a
smile, "but I certainly never remember to have heard the observation
from your lips, my love."

"Whose memory's in fault there?" asked Mrs Skratdj triumphantly; and as
at this point the ladies rose, Mrs Skratdj had the last word.

Indeed, as may be gathered from this conversation, Mrs Skratdj was
quite able to defend herself.  When she was yet a bride, and young and
timid, she used to collapse when Mr Skratdj contradicted her
statements, and set her stories straight in public.  Then she hardly
ever opened her lips without disappearing under the domestic
extinguisher.  But in the course of fifteen years she had learned that
Mr Skratdj's bark was a great deal worse than his bite.  (If, indeed,
he had a bite at all.)  Thus snubs that made other people's ears tingle,
had no effect whatever on the lady to whom they were addressed, for she
knew exactly what they were worth, and had by this time become fairly
adept at snapping in return.  In the days when she succumbed she was
occasionally unhappy, but now she and her husband understood each other,
and having agreed to differ, they unfortunately agreed also to differ in
public.

Indeed, it was the by-standers who had the worst of it on these
occasions.  To the worthy couple themselves the habit had become second
nature, and in no way affected the friendly tenour of their domestic
relations.  They would interfere with each other's conversation,
contradicting assertions, and disputing conclusions for a whole evening;
and then, when all the world and his wife thought that these ceaseless
sparks of bickering must blaze up into a flaming quarrel as soon as they
were alone, they would bowl amicably home in a cab, criticising the
friends who were commenting upon them, and as little agreed about the
events of the evening as about the details of any other events whatever.

Yes.  The by-standers certainly had the worst of it.  Those who were
near wished themselves anywhere else, especially when appealed to.
Those who were at a distance did not mind so much.  A domestic squabble
at a certain distance is interesting, like an engagement viewed from a
point beyond the range of guns.  In such a position one may some day be
placed oneself!  Moreover, it gives a touch of excitement to a dull
evening to be able to say _sotto voce_ to one's neighbour, "Do listen!
The Skratdjs are at it again!"  Their unmarried friends thought a
terrible abyss of tyranny and aggravation must lie beneath it all, and
blessed their stars that they were still single, and able to tell a tale
their own way.  The married ones had more idea of how it really was, and
wished in the name of common sense and good taste that Skratdj and his
wife would not make fools of themselves.

So it went on, however; and so, I suppose, it goes on still, for not
many bad habits are cured in middle age.

On certain questions of comparative speaking their views were never
identical.  Such as the temperature being hot or cold, things being
light or dark, the apple-tarts being sweet or sour.  So one day Mr
Skratdj came into the room, rubbing his hands, and planting himself at
the fire with "Bitterly cold it is to-day, to be sure."

"Why, my dear William," said Mrs Skratdj, "I'm sure you must have got a
cold; I feel a fire quite oppressive myself."

"You were wishing you'd a seal-skin jacket yesterday, when it wasn't
half as cold as it is to-day," said Mr Skratdj.

"My dear William!  Why, the children were shivering the whole day, and
the wind was in the north."

"Due east, Mrs Skratdj."

"I know by the smoke," said Mrs Skratdj, softly but decidedly.

"I fancy I can tell an east wind when I feel it," said Mr Skratdj,
jocosely, to the company.

"I told Jemima to look at the weathercock," murmured Mrs Skratdj.

"I don't care a fig for Jemima," said her husband.

On another occasion Mrs Skratdj and a lady friend were conversing.

...  "We met him at the Smiths'--a gentlemanlike agreeable man, about
forty," said Mrs Skratdj, in reference to some matter interesting to
both ladies.

"Not a day over thirty-five," said Mr Skratdj, from behind his
newspaper.

"Why, my dear William, his hair's grey," said Mrs Skratdj.

"Plenty of men are grey at thirty," said Mr Skratdj.  "I knew a man who
was grey at twenty-five."

"Well, forty or thirty-five, it doesn't much matter," said Mrs Skratdj,
about to resume her narration.

"Five years matter a good deal to most people at thirty-five," said Mr
Skratdj, as he walked towards the door.  "They would make a remarkable
difference to me, I know;" and with a jocular air Mr Skratdj departed,
and Mrs Skratdj had the rest of the anecdote her own way.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE LITTLE SKRATDJS.

The Spirit of Contradiction finds a place in most nurseries, though to a
very varying degree in different ones.  Children snap and snarl by
nature, like young puppies; and most of us can remember taking part in
some such spirited dialogues as the following:--

"I will."  "You daren't."

"You can't."  "I dare."

"You shall."  "I'll tell Mamma."

"I won't."  "I don't care if you do."

It is the part of wise parents to repress these squibs and crackers of
juvenile contention, and to enforce that slowly-learned lesson, that in
this world one must often "pass over" and "put up with" things in other
people, being oneself by no means perfect.  Also that it is a kindness,
and almost a duty, to let people think and say and do things in their
own way occasionally.

But even if Mr and Mrs Skratdj had ever thought of teaching all this
to their children, it must be confessed that the lesson would not have
come with a good grace from either of them, since they snapped and
snarled between themselves as much or more than their children in the
nursery.

The two eldest were the leaders in the nursery squabbles.  Between
these, a boy and a girl, a ceaseless war of words was waged from morning
to night.  And as neither of them lacked ready wit, and both were in
constant practice, the art of snapping was cultivated by them to the
highest pitch.

It began at breakfast, if not sooner.

"You've taken my chair."

"It's not your chair."

"You know it's the one I like, and it was in my place."

"How do you know it was in your place?"

"Never mind.  I do know."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do."

"Suppose I say it was in my place."

"You can't, for it wasn't."

"I can, if I like."

"Well, was it?"

"I sha'n't tell you."

"Ah! that shews it wasn't."

"No, it doesn't."

"Yes, it does."

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The direction of their daily walks was a fruitful subject of difference
of opinion.

"Let's go on the Common to-day, Nurse."

"Oh, don't let's go there; we're always going on the Common."

"I'm sure we're not.  We've not been there for ever so long."

"Oh, what a story!  We were there on Wednesday.  Let's go down Gipsey
Lane.  We never go down Gipsey Lane."

"Why, we're always going down Gipsey Lane.  And there's nothing to see
there."

"I don't care.  I won't go on the Common, and I shall go and get Papa to
say we're to go down Gipsey Lane.  I can run faster than you."

"That's very sneaking; but I don't care."

"Papa!  Papa!  Polly's called me a sneak."

"No, I didn't, Papa."

"You did."

"No, I didn't.  I only said it was sneaking of you to say you'd run
faster than me, and get Papa to say we were to go down Gipsey Lane."

"Then you did call him sneaking," said Mr Skratdj.  "And you're a very
naughty ill-mannered little girl.  You're getting very troublesome,
Polly, and I shall have to send you to school, where you'll be kept in
order.  Go where your brother wishes at once."

For Polly and her brother had reached an age when it was convenient, if
possible, to throw the blame of all nursery differences on Polly.  In
families where domestic discipline is rather fractious than firm, there
comes a stage when the girls almost invariably go to the wall, because
they will stand snubbing, and the boys will not.  Domestic authority,
like some other powers, is apt to be magnified on the weaker class.

But Mr Skratdj would not always listen even to Harry.

"If you don't give it me back directly, I'll tell about your eating the
two magnum-bonums in the kitchen garden on Sunday," said Master Harry on
one occasion.

  "Tell-tale tit!
  Your tongue shall be slit,
  And every dog in the town shall have a little bit,"

quoted his sister.

"Ah!  You've called me a tell-tale.  Now I'll go and tell Papa.  You got
into a fine scrape for calling me names the other day."

"Go, then!  I don't care."

"You wouldn't like me to go, I know."

"You daren't.  That's what it is."

"I dare."

"Then why don't you?"

"Oh, I am going; but you'll see what will be the end of it."

Polly, however, had her own reasons for remaining stolid, and Harry
started.  But when he reached the landing he paused.  Mr Skratdj had
especially announced that morning that he did not wish to be disturbed,
and though he was a favourite, Harry had no desire to invade the
dining-room at this crisis.  So he returned to the nursery, and said
with a magnanimous air, "I don't want to get you into a scrape, Polly.
If you'll beg my pardon I won't go."

"I'm sure I sha'n't," said Polly, who was equally well informed as to
the position of affairs at head-quarters.  "Go, if you dare."

"I won't if you want me not," said Harry, discreetly waiving the
question of apologies.

"But I'd rather you went," said the obdurate Polly.  "You're always
telling tales.  Go and tell now, if you're not afraid."

So Harry went.  But at the bottom of the stairs he lingered again, and
was meditating how to return with most credit to his dignity, when
Polly's face appeared through the banisters, and Polly's sharp tongue
goaded him on.

"Ah!  I see you.  You're stopping.  You daren't go."

"I dare," said Harry; and at last he went.

As he turned the handle of the door, Mr Skratdj turned round.

"Please, Papa--" Harry began.

"Get away with you!" cried Mr Skratdj.  "Didn't I tell you I was not to
be disturbed this morning?  What an extraor--"

But Harry had shut the door, and withdrawn precipitately.

Once outside, he returned to the nursery with dignified steps, and an
air of apparent satisfaction, saying,--

"You're to give me the bricks, please."

"Who says so?"

"Why, who should say so?  Where have I been, pray?"

"I don't know, and I don't care."

"I've been to Papa.  There!"

"Did he say I was to give up the bricks?"

"I've told you."

"No, you've not."

"I sha'n't tell you any more."

"Then I'll go to Papa and ask."

"Go by all means."

"I won't if you'll tell me truly."

"I sha'n't tell you anything.  Go and ask, if you dare," said Harry,
only too glad to have the tables turned.

Polly's expedition met with the same fate, and she attempted to cover
her retreat in a similar manner.

"Ah! you didn't tell."

"I don't believe you asked Papa."

"Don't you?  Very well!"

"Well, did you?"

"Never mind."

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Meanwhile Mr Skratdj scolded Mrs Skratdj for not keeping the children
in better order.  And Mrs Skratdj said it was quite impossible to do
so, when Mr Skratdj spoilt Harry as he did, and weakened her (Mrs
Skratdj's) authority by constant interference.

Difference of sex gave point to many of these nursery squabbles, as it
so often does to domestic broils.

"Boys never will do what they're asked," Polly would complain.

"Girls ask such unreasonable things," was Harry's retort.

"Not half so unreasonable as the things you ask."

"Ah! that's a different thing!  Women have got to do what men tell them,
whether it's reasonable or not."

"No, they've not!" said Polly.  "At least, that's only husbands and
wives."

"All women are inferior animals," said Harry.

"Try ordering Mamma to do what you want, and see!" said Polly.

"Men have got to give orders, and women have to obey," said Harry,
falling back on the general principle, "And when I get a wife, I'll take
care I make her do what I tell her.  But you'll have to obey your
husband when you get one."

"I won't have a husband, and then I can do as I like."

"Oh, won't you?  You'll try to get one, I know.  Girls always want to be
married."

"I'm sure I don't know why," said Polly; "they must have had enough of
men if they have brothers."

And so they went on, _ad infinitum_, with ceaseless arguments that
proved nothing and convinced nobody, and a continual stream of
contradiction that just fell short of downright quarrelling.

Indeed, there was a kind of snapping even less near to a dispute than in
the cases just mentioned.  The little Skratdjs, like some other
children, were under the unfortunate delusion that it sounds clever to
hear little boys and girls snap each other up with smart sayings, and
old and rather vulgar play upon words, such as:

"I'll give you a Christmas box.  Which ear will you have it on?"

"I won't stand it."

"Pray take a chair."

"You shall have it to-morrow."

"To-morrow never comes."

And so if a visitor kindly began to talk to one of the children, another
was sure to draw near and "take up" all the first child's answers, with
smart comments, and catches that sounded as silly as they were tiresome
and impertinent.

And ill-mannered as this was, Mr and Mrs Skratdj never put a stop to
it.  Indeed, it was only a caricature of what they did themselves.  But
they often said, "We can't think how it is the children are always
squabbling!"

------------------------------------------------------------------------

THE SKRATDJ'S DOG AND THE HOT-TEMPERED GENTLEMAN.

It is wonderful how the state of mind of a whole household is influenced
by the heads of it.  Mr Skratdj was a very kind master, and Mrs
Skratdj was a very kind mistress, and yet their servants lived in a
perpetual fever of irritability that just fell short of discontent.
They jostled each other on the back stairs, said sharp things in the
pantry, and kept up a perennial warfare on the subject of the duty of
the sexes with the general man-servant.  They gave warning on the
slightest provocation.

The very dog was infected by the snapping mania.  He was not a brave
dog, he was not a vicious dog, and no high-breeding sanctioned his
pretensions to arrogance.  But like his owners, he had contracted a bad
habit, a trick, which made him the pest of all timid visitors, and
indeed of all visitors whatsoever.

The moment anyone approached the house, on certain occasions when he was
spoken to, and often in no traceable connection with any cause at all,
Snap the mongrel would rush out, and bark in his little sharp
voice--"Yap! yap! yap!"  If the visitor made a stand, he would bound
away sideways on his four little legs; but the moment the visitor went
on his way again, Snap was at his heels--"Yap! yap! yap!"  He barked at
the milkman, the butcher's boy, and the baker, though he saw them every
day.  He never got used to the washerwoman, and she never got used to
him.  She said he "put her in mind of that there black dog in the
Pilgrim's Progress."  He sat at the gate in summer, and yapped at every
vehicle and every pedestrian who ventured to pass on the high road.  He
never but once had the chance of barking at burglars; and then, though
he barked long and loud, nobody got up, for they said, "It's only Snap's
way."  The Skratdjs lost a silver teapot, a Stilton cheese, and two
electro christening mugs, on this occasion; and Mr and Mrs Skratdj
dispute who it was who discouraged reliance on Snap's warning to the
present day.

One Christmas-time, a certain hot-tempered gentleman came to visit the
Skratdjs.  A tall, sandy, energetic young man, who carried his own bag
from the railway.  The bag had been crammed rather than packed, after
the wont of bachelors; and you could see where the heel of a boot
distended the leather, and where the bottle of shaving-cream lay.

As he came up to the house, out came Snap as usual--"Yap! yap! yap!"
Now the gentleman was very fond of dogs, and had borne this greeting
some dozen of times from Snap, who for his part knew the visitor quite
as well as the washerwoman, and rather better than the butcher's boy.
The gentleman had good, sensible, well-behaved dogs of his own, and was
greatly disgusted with Snap's conduct.  Nevertheless he spoke friendly
to him; and Snap, who had had many a bit from his plate, could not help
stopping for a minute to lick his hand.  But no sooner did the gentleman
proceed on his way, than Snap flew at his heels in the usual fashion--

"Yap!  Yap!  Yap!"

On which the gentleman--being hot-tempered, and one of those people with
whom it is (as they say) a word and a blow, and the blow first--made a
dash at Snap, and Snap taking to his heels, the gentleman flung his
carpet-bag after him.  The bottle of shaving-cream hit upon a stone and
was smashed.  The heel of the boot caught Snap on the back, and sent him
squealing to the kitchen.  And he never barked at that gentleman again.

If the gentleman disapproved of Snap's conduct, he still less liked the
continual snapping of the Skratdj family themselves.  He was an old
friend of Mr and Mrs Skratdj, however, and knew that they were really
happy together, and that it was only a bad habit which made them
constantly contradict each other.  It was in allusion to their real
affection for each other, and their perpetual disputing, that he called
them the "Snapping Turtles."

When the war of words waxed hottest at the dinner-table between his host
and hostess, he would drive his hands through his shock of sandy hair,
and say, with a comical glance out of his umber eyes, "Don't flirt, my
friends.  It makes a bachelor feel awkward."

And neither Mr nor Mrs Skratdj could help laughing.

With the little Skratdjs his measures were more vigorous.  He was very
fond of children, and a good friend to them.  He grudged no time or
trouble to help them in their games and projects, but he would not
tolerate their snapping up each other's words in his presence.  He was
much more truly kind than many visitors, who think it polite to smile at
the sauciness and forwardness which ignorant vanity leads children so
often to "shew off" before strangers.  These civil acquaintances only
abuse both children and parents behind their backs, for the very bad
habits which they help to encourage.

The hot-tempered gentleman's treatment of his young friends was very
different.  One day he was talking to Polly, and making some kind
inquiries about her lessons, to which she was replying in a quiet and
sensible fashion, when up came Master Harry, and began to display his
wit by comments on the conversation, and by snapping at and
contradicting his sister's remarks, to which she retorted; and the usual
snap-dialogue went on as usual.

"Then you like music," said the hot-tempered gentleman.

"Yes, I like it very much," said Polly.

"Oh, do you?"  Harry broke in.  "Then what are you always crying over it
for?"

"I'm not always crying over it."

"Yes, you are."

"No, I'm not.  I only cry sometimes, when I stick fast."

"Your music must be very sticky, for you're always stuck fast."

"Hold your tongue!" said the hot-tempered gentleman.

With what he imagined to be a very waggish air, Harry put out his
tongue, and held it with his finger and thumb.  It was unfortunate that
he had not time to draw it in again before the hot-tempered gentleman
gave him a stinging box on the ear, which brought his teeth rather
sharply together on the tip of his tongue, which was bitten in
consequence.

"It's no use _speaking_," said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his
hands through his hair.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Children are like dogs, they are very good judges of their real friends.
Harry did not like the hot-tempered gentleman a bit the less because he
was obliged to respect and obey him; and all the children welcomed him
boisterously when he arrived that Christmas which we have spoken of in
connection with his attack on Snap.

It was on the morning of Christmas Eve that the china punch bowl was
broken.  Mr Skratdj had a warm dispute with Mrs Skratdj as to whether
it had been kept in a safe place; after which both had a brisk encounter
with the housemaid, who did not know how it happened; and she, flouncing
down the back passage, kicked Snap; who forthwith flew at the gardener
as he was bringing in the horse-radish for the beef; who stepping
backwards trode upon the cat; who spat and swore, and went up the pump
with her tail as big as a fox's brush.

To avoid this domestic scene, the hot-tempered gentleman withdrew to the
breakfast-room and took up a newspaper.  By-and-by, Harry and Polly came
in, and they were soon snapping comfortably over their own affairs in a
corner.

The hot-tempered gentleman's umber eyes had been looking over the top of
his newspaper at them for some time, before he called, "Harry, my boy!"

And Harry came up to him.

"Shew me your tongue, Harry," said he.

"What for?" said Harry; "you're not a doctor."

"Do as I tell you," said the hot-tempered gentleman; and as Harry saw
his hand moving, he put his tongue out with all possible haste.  The
hot-tempered gentleman sighed.  "Ah!" he said in depressed tones; "I
thought so!--Polly, come and let me look at yours."

Polly, who had crept up during this process, now put out hers.  But the
hot-tempered gentleman looked gloomier still, and shook his head.

"What is it?" cried both the children.  "What do you mean?"  And they
seized the tips of their tongues in their fingers, to feel for
themselves.

But the hot-tempered gentleman went slowly out of the room without
answering; passing his hands through his hair, and saying, "Ah!  Hum!"
and nodding with an air of grave foreboding.

Just as he crossed the threshold, he turned back, and put his head into
the room.  "Have you ever noticed that your tongues are growing
pointed?" he asked.

"No!" cried the children with alarm.  "Are they?"

"If ever you find them becoming forked," said the gentleman in solemn
tones, "let me know."

With which he departed, gravely shaking his head.

In the afternoon the children attacked him again.  "_Do_ tell us what's
the matter with our tongues."

"You were snapping and squabbling just as usual this morning," said the
hot-tempered gentleman.

"Well, we forgot," said Polly.  "We don't mean anything, you know.  But
never mind that now, please.  Tell us about our tongues.  What is going
to happen to them?"

"I'm very much afraid," said the hot-tempered gentleman, in solemn
measured tones, "that you are both of you--fast--going--to--the--"

"Dogs?" suggested Harry, who was learned in cant expressions.

"Dogs!" said the hot-tempered gentleman, driving his hands through his
hair.  "Bless your life, no!  Nothing half so pleasant!  (That is,
unless all dogs were like Snap, which mercifully they are not.)  No, my
sad fear is, that you are both of you--rapidly--going--_to the
Snap-Dragons_!"

And not another word would the hot-tempered gentleman say on the
subject.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

CHRISTMAS EVE.

In the course of a few hours Mr and Mrs Skratdj recovered their
equanimity.  The punch was brewed in a jug, and tasted quite as good as
usual.  The evening was very lively.  There were a Christmas-tree, Yule
cakes, log, and candles, furmety, and snap-dragon after supper.  When
the company was tired of the tree, and had gained an appetite by the
hard exercise of stretching to high branches, blowing out "dangerous"
tapers, and cutting ribbon and pack-thread in all directions, supper
came, with its welcome cakes and furmety and punch.  And when furmety
somewhat palled upon the taste (and it must be admitted to boast more
sentiment than flavour as a Christmas dish), the Yule candles were blown
out and both the spirits and the palates of the party were stimulated by
the mysterious and pungent pleasures of snap-dragon.

Then, as the hot-tempered gentleman warmed his coat-tails at the
Yule-log, a grim smile stole over his features as he listened to the
sounds in the room.  In the darkness the blue flames leaped and danced,
the raisins were snapped and snatched from hand to hand, scattering
fragments of flame hither and thither.  The children shouted as the
fiery sweetmeats burnt away the mawkish taste of the furmety.  Mr
Skratdj cried that they were spoiling the carpet; Mrs Skratdj
complained that he had spilled some brandy on her dress.  Mr Skratdj
retorted that she should not wear dresses so susceptible of damage in
the family circle.  Mrs Skratdj recalled an old speech of Mr Skratdj
on the subject of wearing one's nice things for the benefit of one's
family, and not reserving them for visitors.  Mr Skratdj remembered
that Mrs Skratdj's excuse for buying that particular dress when she did
not need it, was her intention of keeping it for the next year.  The
children disputed as to the credit for courage and the amount of raisins
due to each.  Snap barked furiously at the flames; and the maids hustled
each other for good places in the doorway, and would not have allowed
the man-servant to see at all, but he looked over their heads.

"St!  St!  At it!  At it!" chuckled the hot-tempered gentleman in
undertones.  And when he said this, it seemed as if the voices of Mr
and Mrs Skratdj rose higher in matrimonial repartee, and the children's
squabbles became louder, and the dog yelped as if he were mad, and the
maids' contest was sharper; whilst the snap-dragon flames leaped up and
up, and blue fire flew about the room like foam.

At last the raisins were finished, the flames were all but out, and the
company withdrew to the drawing-room.  Only Harry lingered.

"Come along, Harry," said the hot-tempered gentleman.

"Wait a minute," said Harry.

"You had better come," said the gentleman.

"Why?" said Harry.

"There's nothing to stop for.  The raisins are eaten, the brandy is
burnt out--"

"No, it's not," said Harry.

"Well, almost.  It would be better if it were quite out.  Now come.
It's dangerous for a boy like you to be alone with the Snap-Dragons
to-night."

"Fiddle-sticks!" said Harry.

"Go your own way, then!" said the hot-tempered gentleman; and he bounced
out of the room, and Harry was left alone.

He crept up to the table, where one little pale blue flame flickered in
the snap-dragon dish.

"What a pity it should go out!" said Harry.  At this moment the brandy
bottle on the side-board caught his eye.

"Just a little more," murmured Harry to himself; and he uncorked the
bottle, and poured a little brandy on to the flame.

Now of course, as soon as the brandy touched the fire, all the brandy in
the bottle blazed up at once, and the bottle split to pieces; and it was
very fortunate for Harry that he did not get seriously hurt.  A little
of the hot brandy did get into his eyes, and made them smart, so that he
had to shut them for a few seconds.

But when he opened them again, what a sight he saw!  All over the room
the blue flames leaped and danced as they had leaped and danced in the
soup-plate with the raisins.  And Harry saw that each successive flame
was the fold in the long body of a bright blue Dragon, which moved like
the body of a snake.  And the room was full of these Dragons.  In the
face they were like the dragons one sees made of very old blue and white
china; and they had forked tongues, like the tongues of serpents.  They
were most beautiful in colour, being sky-blue.  Lobsters who have just
changed their coats are very handsome, but the violet and indigo of a
lobster's coat is nothing to the brilliant sky-blue of a Snap-Dragon.

How they leaped about!  They were for ever leaping over each other, like
seals at play.  But if it was "play" at all with them, it was of a very
rough kind; for as they jumped, they snapped and barked at each other,
and their barking was like that of the barking Gnu in the Zoological
Gardens; and from time to time they tore the hair out of each other's
heads with their claws, and scattered it about the floor.  And as it
dropped it was like the flecks of flame people shake from their fingers
when they are eating snap-dragon raisins.

Harry stood aghast.

"What fun!" said a voice close by him; and he saw that one of the
Dragons was lying near, and not joining in the game.  He had lost one of
the forks of his tongue by accident, and could not bark for awhile.

"I'm glad you think it funny," said Harry, "I don't."

"That's right.  Snap away!" sneered the Dragon.  "You're a perfect
treasure.  They'll take you in with them the third round."

"Not those creatures?" cried Harry.

"Yes, those creatures.  And if I hadn't lost my bark, I'd be the first
to lead you off," said the Dragon.  "Oh, the game will exactly suit
you."

"What is it, please?"  Harry asked.

"You'd better not say `please' to the others," said the Dragon, "if you
don't want to have all your hair pulled out.  The game is this.  You
have always to be jumping over somebody else, and you must either talk
or bark.  If anybody speaks to you, you must snap in return.  I need not
explain what _snapping_ is.  _You know_.  If anyone by accident gives a
civil answer, a claw-full of hair is torn out of his head to stimulate
his brain.  Nothing can be funnier."

"I dare say it suits you capitally," said Harry; "but I'm sure we
shouldn't like it.  I mean men and women and children.  It wouldn't do
for us at all."

"Wouldn't it?" said the Dragon.  "You don't know how many human beings
dance with dragons on Christmas Eve.  If we are kept going in a house
till after midnight, we can pull people out of their beds, and take them
to dance in Vesuvius."

"Vesuvius!" cried Harry.

"Yes, Vesuvius.  We come from Italy originally, you know.  Our skins are
the colour of the Bay of Naples.  We live on dried grapes and ardent
spirits.  We have glorious fun in the mountain sometimes.  Oh! what
snapping, and scratching, and tearing!  Delicious!  There are times when
the squabbling becomes too great, and Mother Mountain won't stand it,
and spits us all out, and throws cinders after us.  But this is only at
times.  We had a charming meeting last year.  So many human beings, and
how they _can_ snap!  It was a choice party.  So very select.  We always
have plenty of saucy children, and servants.  Husbands and wives too,
and quite as many of the former as the latter, if not more.  But besides
these, we had two vestry-men, a country postmaster, who devoted his
talents to insulting the public instead of to learning the postal
regulations, three cabmen and two `fares,' two young shop-girls from a
Berlin wool shop in a town where there was no competition, four
commercial travellers, six landladies, six Old Bailey lawyers, several
widows from almshouses, seven single gentlemen and nine cats, who swore
at everything; a dozen sulphur-coloured screaming cockatoos; a lot of
street children from a town; a pack of mongrel curs from the colonies,
who snapped at the human beings' heels, and five elderly ladies in their
Sunday bonnets with Prayer-books, who had been fighting for good seats
in church."

"Dear me!" said Harry.

"If you can find nothing sharper to say than `Dear me,'" said the
Dragon, "you will fare badly, I can tell you.  Why, I thought you'd a
sharp tongue, but it's not forked yet, I see.  Here they are, however.
Off with you!  And if you value your curls--Snap!"

And before Harry could reply, the Snap-Dragons came on on their third
round, and as they passed they swept Harry with them.

He shuddered as he looked at his companions.  They were as transparent
as shrimps, but of this lovely cerulaean blue.  And as they leaped they
barked--"Howf!  Howf?"--like barking Gnus; and when they leaped Harry
had to leap with them.  Besides barking, they snapped and wrangled with
each other; and in this Harry must join also.

"Pleasant, isn't it?" said one of the blue Dragons.

"Not at all," snapped Harry.

"That's your bad taste," snapped the blue Dragon.

"No, it's not!" snapped Harry.

"Then it's pride and perverseness.  You want your hair combing."

"Oh, please don't!" shrieked Harry, forgetting himself.  On which the
Dragon clawed a handful of hair out of his head, and Harry screamed, and
the blue Dragons barked and danced.

"That made your hair curl, didn't it?" asked another Dragon, leaping
over Harry.

"That's no business of yours," Harry snapped, as well as he could for
crying.

"It's more my pleasure than business," retorted the Dragon.

"Keep it to yourself, then," snapped Harry.

"I mean to share it with you, when I get hold of your hair," snapped the
Dragon.

"Wait till you get the chance," Harry snapped, with desperate presence
of mind.

"Do you know whom you're talking to?" roared the Dragon; and he opened
his mouth from ear to ear, and shot out his forked tongue in Harry's
face; and the boy was so frightened that he forgot to snap, and cried
piteously,--

"Oh, I beg your pardon, please don't!"

On which the blue Dragon clawed another handful of hair out of his head,
and all the Dragons barked as before.

How long the dreadful game went on Harry never exactly knew.  Well
practised as he was in snapping in the nursery, he often failed to think
of a retort, and paid for his unreadiness by the loss of his hair.  Oh,
how foolish and wearisome all this rudeness and snapping now seemed to
him!  But on he had to go, wondering all the time how near it was to
twelve o'clock, and whether the Snap-Dragons would stay till midnight
and take him with them to Vesuvius.

At last, to his joy, it became evident that the brandy was coming to an
end.  The Dragons moved slower, they could not leap so high, and at last
one after another they began to go out.

"Oh, if they only all of them get away before twelve!" thought poor
Harry.

At last there was only one.  He and Harry jumped about and snapped and
barked, and Harry was thinking with joy that he was the last, when the
clock in the hall gave that whirring sound which some clocks do before
they strike, as if it were clearing its throat.

"Oh, _please_ go!" screamed Harry in despair.

The blue Dragon leaped up, and took such a claw-full of hair out of the
boy's head, that it seemed as if part of the skin went too.  But that
leap was his last.  He went out at once, vanishing before the first
stroke of twelve.  And Harry was left on his face on the floor in the
darkness.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

CONCLUSION.

When his friends found him there was blood on his forehead.  Harry
thought it was where the Dragon had clawed him, but they said it was a
cut from a fragment of the broken brandy bottle.  The Dragons had
disappeared as completely as the brandy.

Harry was cured of snapping.  He had had quite enough of it for a
lifetime, and the catch-contradictions of the household now made him
shudder.  Polly had not had the benefit of his experiences, and yet she
improved also.

In the first place, snapping, like other kinds of quarrelling, requires
two parties to it, and Harry would never be a party to snapping any
more.  And when he gave civil and kind answers to Polly's smart
speeches, she felt ashamed of herself, and did not repeat them.

In the second place, she heard about the Snap-Dragons.  Harry told all
about it to her and to the hot-tempered gentleman.

"Now do you think it's true?"  Polly asked the hot-tempered gentleman.

"Hum!  Ha!" said he, driving his hands through his hair.  "You know I
warned you, you were going to the Snap-Dragons."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

Harry and Polly snubbed "the little ones" when they snapped, and utterly
discountenanced snapping in the nursery.  The example and admonitions of
elder children are a powerful instrument of nursery discipline, and
before long there was not a "sharp tongue" amongst all the little
Skratdjs.

But I doubt if the parents ever were cured.  I don't know if they heard
the story.  Besides, bad habits are not easily cured when one is old.

I fear Mr and Mrs Skratdj have yet got to dance with the Dragons.

CHAPTER TWO.

OLD FATHER CHRISTMAS.

"Can you fancy, young people," said Godfather Garbel, winking with his
prominent eyes, and moving his feet backwards and forwards in his square
shoes, so that you could hear the squeak-leather half a room off--"can
you fancy my having been a very little boy, and having a godmother?  But
I had, and she sent me presents on my birthdays too.  And young people
did not get presents when I was a child as they get them now.  _Grumph_!
We had not half so many toys as you have, but we kept them twice as
long.  I think we were fonder of them too, though they were neither so
handsome, nor so expensive as these new-fangled affairs you are always
breaking about the house.  _Grumph_!

"You see, middle-class folk were more saving then.  My mother turned and
dyed her dresses, and when she had done with them, the servant was very
glad to have them; but, bless me! your mother's maids dress so much
finer than their mistress, I do not think they would say `thank you' for
her best Sunday silk.  The bustle's the wrong shape.  _Grumph_!

"What's that you are laughing at, little miss?  It's _pannier_, is it?
Well, well, bustle or pannier, call it what you like; but only donkeys
wore panniers in my young days, and many's the ride I've had in them.

"Now as I say, my relations and friends thought twice before they pulled
out five shillings in a toy-shop, but they didn't forget me, all the
same.

"On my eighth birthday my mother gave me a bright blue comforter of her
own knitting.

"My little sister gave me a ball.  My mother had cut out the divisions
from various bits in the rag bag, and my sister had done some of the
seaming.  It was stuffed with bran, and had a cork inside which had
broken from old age, and could no longer fit the pickle jar it belonged
to.  This made the ball bound when we played `prisoner's base.'

"My father gave me the broken driving-whip that had lost the lash, and
an old pair of his gloves, to play coachman with; these I had long
wished for, since next to sailing in a ship, in my ideas, came the
honour and glory of driving a coach.

"My whole soul, I must tell you, was set upon being a sailor.  In those
days I had rather put to sea once on Farmer Fodder's duck-pond than ride
twice atop of his hay-waggon; and between the smell of hay and the
softness of it, and the height you are up above other folk, and the
danger of tumbling off if you don't look out--for hay is elastic as well
as soft--you don't easily beat a ride on a hay-waggon for pleasure.  But
as I say, I'd rather put to sea on the duck-pond, though the best craft
I could borrow was the pigsty-door, and a pole to punt with, and the
village boys jeering when I got aground, which was most of the time--
besides the duck-pond never having a wave on it worth the name, punt as
you would, and so shallow you could not have got drowned in it to save
your life.

"You're laughing now, little master, are you?  But let me tell you that
drowning's the death for a sailor, whatever you may think.  So I've
always maintained, and have given every navigable sea in the known world
a chance, though here I am after all, laid up in arm-chairs and
feather-beds, to wait for bronchitis or some other slow poison.
_Grumph_!

"Well, we must all go as we're called, sailors or landsmen, and as I was
saying if I was never to sail a ship, I would have liked to drive a
coach.  A mail coach, serving His Majesty.  (Her Majesty now God bless
her!) carrying the Royal Arms, and bound to go, rough weather and fair.
Many's the time I've done it (in play you understand) with that whip and
those gloves.  Dear! dear!  The pains I took to teach my sister Patty to
be a highwayman, and jump out on me from the drying ground hedge in the
dusk with a `Stand and deliver!' which she couldn't get out of her
throat for fright, and wouldn't jump hard enough for fear of hurting me.

"The whip and the gloves gave me joy, I can tell you; but there was more
to come.

"Kitty the servant gave me a shell that she had had by her for years.
How I had coveted that shell!  It had this remarkable property: when you
put it to your ear you could hear the roaring of the sea.  I had never
seen the sea, but Kitty was born in a fisherman's cottage, and many an
hour have I sat by the kitchen fire whilst she told me strange stories
of the mighty ocean, and ever and anon she would snatch the shell from
the mantelpiece and clap it to my ear, crying, `There child, you
couldn't hear it plainer than that.  It's the very moral!'

"When Kitty gave me that shell for my very own I felt that life had
little more to offer.  I held it to every ear in the house, including
the cat's; and, seeing Dick the sexton's son go by with an armful of
straw to stuff Guy Fawkes, I ran out, and in my anxiety to make him
share the treat, and learn what the sea is like, I clapped the shell to
his ear so smartly and unexpectedly, that he, thinking me to have struck
him, knocked me down then and there with his bundle of straw.  When he
understood the rights of the case, he begged my pardon handsomely, and
gave me two whole treacle sticks and part of a third out of his
breeches' pocket, in return for which I forgave him freely, and promised
to let him hear the sea roar on every Saturday half-holiday till farther
notice.

"And, speaking of Dick and the straw reminds me that my birthday falls
on the fifth of November.  From this it came about that I always had to
bear a good many jokes about being burnt as a Guy Fawkes; but, on the
other hand, I was allowed to make a small bonfire of my own, and to have
eight potatoes to roast therein, and eight-pennyworth of crackers to let
off in the evening.  A potato and a pennyworth of crackers for every
year of my life.

"On this eighth birthday, having got all the above named gifts, I cried,
in the fulness of my heart, `There never was such a day!'  And yet there
was more to come, for the evening coach brought me a parcel, and the
parcel was my godmother's picture-book.

"My godmother was a gentlewoman of small means; but she was
accomplished.  She could make very spirited sketches, and knew how to
colour them after they were outlined and shaded in Indian ink.  She had
a pleasant talent for versifying.  She was very industrious.  I have it
from her own lips that she copied the figures in my picture-book from
prints in several different houses at which she visited.  They were
fancy portraits of characters, most of which were familiar to my mind.
There were Guy Fawkes, Punch, his then Majesty the King, Bogy, the Man
in the Moon, the Clerk of the Weather Office, a Dunce, and Old Father
Christmas.  Beneath each sketch was a stanza of my godmother's own
composing.

"My godmother was very ingenious.  She had been mainly guided in her
choice of these characters by the prints she happened to meet with, as
she did not trust herself to design a figure.  But if she could not get
exactly what she wanted, she had a clever knack of tracing an outline of
the attitude from some engraving, and altering the figure to suit her
purpose in the finished sketch.  She was the soul of truthfulness, and
the notes she added to the index of contents in my picture-book spoke at
once for her honesty in avowing obligations, and her ingenuity in
availing herself of opportunities.

"They ran thus:--

"Number 1.--Guy Fawkes.  Outlined from a figure of a warehouseman
rolling a sherry cask into Mr Rudd's wine vaults.  I added the hat,
cloak, and boots in the finished drawing.

"Number 2.--Punch.  I sketched him from the life.

"Number 3.--His Most Gracious Majesty the King.  On a quart jug bought
in Cheapside.

"Number 4.--Bogy, _with bad boys in the bag on his back_.  Outlined from
Christian bending under his burden, in my mother's old copy of the
`Pilgrim's Progress.'  The face from Giant Despair.

"Number 5 and Number 6.--The Man in the Moon, and The Clerk of the
Weather Office.  From a book of caricatures belonging to Dr James.

"Number 7.--A Dunce.  From a steel engraving framed in rosewood that
hangs in my Uncle Wilkinson's parlour.

"Number 8.--Old Father Christmas.  From a German book at Lady
Littleham's."

CHAPTER THREE.

"My sister Patty was six years old.  We loved each other dearly.  The
picture-book was almost as much hers as mine.  We sat so long together
on one big footstool by the fire, with our arms round each other, and
the book resting on our knees, that Kitty called down blessings on my
godmother's head for having sent a volume that kept us both so long out
of mischief.

"`If books was allus as useful as that, they'd do for me,' said she; and
though this speech did not mean much, it was a great deal for Kitty to
say; since, not being herself an educated person, she naturally thought
that `little enough good comes of larning.'

"Patty and I had our favourites amongst the pictures.  Bogy, now, was a
character one did not care to think about too near bed-time.  I was
tired of Guy Fawkes, and thought he looked more natural made of straw,
as Dick did him.  The Dunce was a little too personal; but Old Father
Christmas took our hearts by storm; we had never seen anything like him,
though now-a-days you may get a plaster figure of him in any toy-shop at
Christmas-time, with hair and beard like cotton-wool, and a
Christmas-tree in his hand.

"The custom of Christmas-trees came from Germany.  I can remember when
they were first introduced into England, and what wonderful things we
thought them.  Now, every village school has its tree, and the scholars
openly discuss whether the presents have been `good,' or `mean,' as
compared with other trees of former years.

"The first one that I ever saw I believed to have come from good Father
Christmas himself; but little boys have grown too wise now to be taken
in for their own amusement.  They are not excited by secret and
mysterious preparations in the back drawing-room; they hardly confess to
the thrill--which.  I feel to this day--when the folding-doors are
thrown open, and amid the blaze of tapers, Mamma, like a Fate, advances
with her scissors to give every one what falls to his lot.

"Well, young people, when I was eight years old I had not seen a
Christmas-tree, and the first picture of one I ever saw was the picture
of that held by Old Father Christmas in my godmother's picture-book.

"`What are those things on the tree?'  I asked.

"`Candles,' said my father.

"`No, father, not the candles; the other things?'

"`Those are toys, my son.'

"`Are they ever taken off?'

"`Yes, they are taken off, and given to the children who stand round the
tree.'

"Patty and I grasped each other by the hand, and with one voice
murmured, `How kind of Old Father Christmas!'

"By-and-by I asked, `How old is Father Christmas?'

"My father laughed, and said, `One thousand eight hundred and thirty
years, child,' which was then the year of our Lord, and thus one
thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the first great Christmas
Day.

"`He _looks_ very old,' whispered Patty.

"And I, who was, for my age, what Kitty called `Bible-learned,' said
thoughtfully, and with some puzzledness of mind, `Then he's older than
Methuselah.'

"But my father had left the room, and did not hear my difficulty.

"November and December went by, and still the picture-book kept all its
charm for Patty and me; and we pondered on and loved Old Father
Christmas as children can love and realise a fancy friend.  To those who
remember the fancies of their childhood I need say no more.

"Christmas week came, Christmas Eve came.  My father and mother were
mysteriously and unaccountably busy in the parlour (we had only one
parlour), and Patty and I were not allowed to go in.  We went into the
kitchen, but even here was no place of rest for us.  Kitty was `all over
the place,' as she phrased it, and cakes, mince-pies, and puddings were
with her.  As she justly observed, `There was no place there for
children and books to sit with their toes in the fire, when a body
wanted to be at the oven all along.  The cat was enough for _her_
temper,' she added.

"As to puss, who obstinately refused to take a hint which drove her out
into the Christmas frost, she returned again and again with soft steps,
and a stupidity that was, I think, affected, to the warm hearth, only to
fly at intervals, like a football, before Kitty's hasty slipper.

"We had more sense, or less courage.  We bowed to Kitty's behests, and
went to the back door.

"Patty and I were hardy children, and accustomed to `run out' in all
weathers, without much extra wrapping up.  We put Kitty's shawl over our
two heads, and went outside.  I rather hoped to see something of Dick,
for it was holiday time; but no Dick passed.  He was busy helping his
father to bore holes in the carved seats of the church, which were to
hold sprigs of holly for the morrow--that was the idea of church
decoration in my young days.  You have improved on your elders there,
young people, and I am candid enough to allow it.  Still, the sprigs of
red and green were better than nothing, and, like your lovely wreaths
and pious devices, they made one feel as if the old black wood were
bursting into life and leaf again for very Christmas joy!

"And, if one only knelt carefully, they did not scratch his nose," added
Godfather Garbel, chuckling and rubbing his own, which was large and
rather red.

"Well," he continued, "Dick was busy, and not to be seen.  We ran across
the little yard and looked over the wall at the end to see if we could
see anything or anybody.  From this point there was a pleasant meadow
field sloping prettily away to a little hill about three-quarters of a
mile distant; which, catching some fine breezes from the moors beyond,
was held to be a place of cure for whooping-cough, or `kinkcough,' as it
was vulgarly called.  Up to the top of this Kitty had dragged me, and
carried Patty, when we were recovering from the complaint, as I well
remember.  It was the only `change of air' we could afford, and I dare
say it did as well as if we had gone into badly-drained lodgings at the
seaside.

"This hill was now covered with snow, and stood off against the grey
sky.  The white fields looked vast and dreary in the dusk.  The only gay
things to be seen were the red berries on the holly hedge, in the little
lane--which, running by the end of our back-yard, led up to the Hall--
and a fat robin redbreast who was staring at me.  I was watching the
robin, when Patty, who had been peering out of her corner of Kitty's
shawl, gave a great jump that dragged the shawl from our heads, and
cried,--

"`Look!'"

CHAPTER FOUR.

"I looked.  An old man was coming along the lane.  His hair and beard
were as white as cotton-wool.  He had a face like the sort of apple that
keeps well in winter; his coat was old and brown.  There was snow about
him in patches, and he carried a small fir-tree.

"The same conviction seized upon us both.  With one breath we exclaimed,
`_It's Old Father Christmas_!'

"I know now that it was only an old man of the place, with whom we did
not happen to be acquainted, and that he was taking a little fir-tree up
to the Hall, to be made into a Christmas-tree.  He was a very
good-humoured old fellow, and rather deaf, for which he made up by
smiling and nodding his head a good deal, and saying, `Aye, aye, _to_ be
sure!' at likely intervals.

"As he passed us and met our earnest gaze, he smiled and nodded so
affably, that I was bold enough to cry, `Good-evening, Father
Christmas!'

"`Same to you!' said he, in a high-pitched voice.

"`Then you _are_ Father Christmas,' said Patty.

"`And a Happy New Year,' was Father Christmas's reply, which rather put
me out.  But he smiled in such a satisfactory manner, that Patty went
on, `You're very old, aren't you?'

"`So I be, miss, so I be,' said Father Christmas, nodding.

"`Father says you're eighteen hundred and thirty years old,' I muttered.

"`Ay, ay, to be sure,' said Father Christmas, `I'm a long age.'

"A _very_ long age, thought I, and I added, `You're nearly twice as old
as Methuselah, you know,' thinking that this might not have struck him.

"`Ay, ay,' said Father Christmas; but he did not seem to think anything
of it.  After a pause he held up the tree, and cried, `D'ye know what
this is, little miss?'

"`A Christmas-tree,' said Patty.

"And the old man smiled and nodded.

"I leant over the wall, and shouted, `But there are no candles.'

"`By-and-by,' said Father Christmas, nodding as before.  `When it's dark
they'll all be lighted up.  That'll be a fine sight!'

"`Toys too, there'll be, won't there?' screamed Patty.

"Father Christmas nodded his head.  `And sweeties,' he added,
expressively.

"I could feel Patty trembling, and my own heart beat fast.  The thought
which agitated us both, was this--`Was Father Christmas bringing the
tree to us?'  But very anxiety, and some modesty also, kept us from
asking outright.

"Only when the old man shouldered his tree, and prepared to move on, I
cried in despair, `Oh, are you going?'

"`I'm coming back by-and-by,' said he.

"`How soon?' cried Patty.

"`About four o'clock,' said the old man, smiling, `I'm only going up
yonder.'

"And, nodding and smiling as he went, he passed away down the lane.

"`Up yonder.'  This puzzled us.  Father Christmas had pointed, but so
indefinitely, that he might have been pointing to the sky, or the
fields, or the little wood at the end of the Squire's grounds.  I
thought the latter, and suggested to Patty that perhaps he had some
place underground, like Aladdin's cave, where he got the candles, and
all the pretty things for the tree.  This idea pleased us both, and we
amused ourselves by wondering what Old Father Christmas would choose for
us from his stores in that wonderful hole where he dressed his
Christmas-trees.

"`I wonder, Patty,' said I, `why there's no picture of Father
Christmas's dog in the book.'  For at the old man's heels in the lane
there crept a little brown and white spaniel, looking very dirty in the
snow.

"`Perhaps it's a new dog that he's got to take care of his cave,' said
Patty.

"When we went indoors we examined the picture afresh by the dim light
from the passage window, but there was no dog there.

"My father passed us at this moment, and patted my head.  `Father,' said
I, `I don't know, but I do think Old Father Christmas is going to bring
us a Christmas-tree to-night.'

"`Who's been telling you that?' said my father.  But he passed on before
I could explain that we had seen Father Christmas himself, and had had
his word for it that he would return at four o'clock, and that the
candles on his tree would be lighted as soon as it was dark.

"We hovered on the outskirts of the rooms till four o'clock came.  We
sat on the stairs and watched the big clock, which I was just learning
to read; and Patty made herself giddy with constantly looking up and
counting the four strokes, towards which the hour hand slowly moved.  We
put our noses into the kitchen now and then, to smell the cakes and get
warm, and anon we hung about the parlour door, and were most unjustly
accused of trying to peep.  What did we care what our mother was doing
in the parlour?--we who had seen Old Father Christmas himself, and were
expecting him back again every moment!

"At last the church clock struck.  The sounds boomed heavily through the
frost, and Patty thought there were four of them.  Then, after due
choking and whirring, our own clock struck, and we counted the strokes
quite clearly--one! two! three! four!  Then we got Kitty's shawl once
more, and stole out into the back-yard.  We ran to our old place, and
peeped, but could see nothing.

"`We'd better get up on to the wall,' I said; and with some difficulty
and distress from rubbing her bare knees against the cold stones, and
getting the snow up her sleeves, Patty got on the coping of the little
wall, I was just struggling after her, when something warm and something
cold coming suddenly against the bare calves of my legs, made me shriek
with fright.  I came down `with a run' and bruised my knees, my elbows,
and my chin; and the snow that hadn't gone up Patty's sleeves, went down
my neck.  Then I found that the cold thing was a dog's nose, and the
warm thing was his tongue; and Patty cried from her post of observation,
`It's Father Christmas's dog, and he's licking your legs.'

"It really was the dirty little brown and white spaniel; and he
persisted in licking me, and jumping on me, and making curious little
noises, that must have meant something if one had known his language.  I
was rather harassed at the moment.  My legs were sore, I was a little
afraid of the dog, and Patty was very much afraid of sitting on the wall
without me.

"`You won't fall,' I said to her.  `Get down, will you?'  I said to the
dog.

"`Humpty Dumpty fell off a wall,' said Patty.

"`Bow! wow!' said the dog.

"I pulled Patty down, and the dog tried to pull me down; but when my
little sister was on her feet, to my relief, he transferred his
attentions to her.  When he had jumped at her, and licked her several
times, he turned round and ran away.

"`He's gone,' said I; `I'm so glad.'

"But even as I spoke he was back again, crouching at Patty's feet, and
glaring at her with eyes the colour of his ears.

"Now Patty was very fond of animals, and when the dog looked at her she
looked at the dog, and then she said to me, `He wants us to go with
him.'

"On which (as if he understood our language, though we were ignorant of
his) the spaniel sprang away, and went off as hard as he could; and
Patty and I went after him, a dim hope crossing my mind--`Perhaps Father
Christmas has sent him for us.'

"This idea was rather favoured by the fact that the dog led us up the
lane.  Only a little way; then he stopped by something lying in the
ditch--and once more we cried in the same breath, `It's Old Father
Christmas!'"

CHAPTER FIVE.

"Returning from the Hall, the old man had slipped upon a bit of ice, and
lay stunned in the snow.

"Patty began to cry.  `I think he's dead,' she sobbed.

"`He is so very old, I don't wonder,' I murmured; `but perhaps he's not.
I'll fetch Father.'

"My father and Kitty were soon on the spot.  Kitty was as strong as a
man; and they carried Father Christmas between them into the kitchen.
There he quickly revived.

"I must do Kitty the justice to say that she did not utter a word of
complaint at this disturbance of her labours; and that she drew the old
man's chair close up to the oven with her own hand.  She was so much
affected by the behaviour of his dog, that she admitted him even to the
hearth; on which puss, being acute enough to see how matters stood, lay
down with her back so close to the spaniel's that Kitty could not expel
one without kicking both.

"For our parts, we felt sadly anxious about the tree; otherwise we could
have wished for no better treat than to sit at Kitty's round table
taking tea with Father Christmas.  Our usual fare of thick bread and
treacle was to-night exchanged for a delicious variety of cakes, which
were none the worse to us for being `tasters and wasters'--that is,
little bits of dough, or shortbread, put in to try the state of the
oven, and certain cakes that had got broken or burnt in the baking.

"Well, there we sat, helping Old Father Christmas to tea and cake, and
wondering in our hearts what could have become of the tree.  But you
see, young people, when I was a child, parents were stricter than they
are now.  Even before Kitty died (and she has been dead many a long
year) there was a change, and she said that `children got to think
anything became them.'  I think we were taught more honest shame about
certain things than I often see in little boys and girls now.  We were
ashamed of boasting, or being greedy, or selfish; we were ashamed of
asking for anything that was not offered to us, and of interrupting
grown-up people, or talking about ourselves.  Why, papas and mammas
now-a-days seem quite proud to let their friends see how bold and greedy
and talkative their children can be!  A lady said to me the other day,
`You wouldn't believe, Mr Garbel, how forward dear little Harry is for
his age.  He has his word in everything, and is not a bit shy! and his
papa never comes home from town but Harry runs to ask if he's brought
him a present.  Papa says he'll be the ruin of him!'

"`Madam,' said I, `even without your word for it, I am quite aware that
your child is forward.  He is forward and greedy and intrusive, as you
justly point out, and I wish you joy of him when those qualities are
fully developed.  I think his father's fears are well founded.'

"But, bless me! now-a-days, it's `Come and tell Mr Smith what a fine
boy you are, and how many houses you can build with your bricks,' or,
`The dear child wants everything he sees,' or `Little pet never lets
Mamma alone for a minute; does she, love?'  But in my young days it was,
`Self praise is no recommendation' (as Kitty used to tell me), or,
`You're knocking too hard at Number One' (as my father said when we
talked about ourselves), or, `Little boys should be seen but not heard'
(as a rule of conduct `in company'), or, `Don't ask for what you want,
but take what's given you and be thankful.'

"And so you see, young people, Patty and I felt a delicacy in asking Old
Father Christmas about the tree.  It was not till we had had tea three
times round, with tasters and wasters to match, that Patty said very
gently, `It's quite dark now.'  And then she heaved a deep sigh.

"Burning anxiety overcame me.  I leant towards Father Christmas, and
shouted--I had found out that it was needful to shout, `I suppose the
candles are on the tree now?'

"`Just about putting of 'em on,' said Father Christmas.

"`And the presents, too?' said Patty.

"`Ay, ay, _to_ be sure,' said Father Christmas, and he smiled
delightfully.

"I was thinking what farther questions I might venture upon, when he
pushed his cup towards Patty, saying, `Since you are so pressing, miss,
I'll take another dish.'

"And Kitty, swooping on us from the oven, cried, `Make yourself at home,
sir; there's more where these came from.  Make a long arm, Miss Patty,
and hand them cakes.'

"So we had to devote ourselves to the duties of the table; and Patty,
holding the lid with one hand and pouring with the other, supplied
Father Christmas's wants with a heavy heart.

"At last he was satisfied.  I said grace, during which he stood, and
indeed he stood for some time afterwards with his eyes shut--I fancy
under the impression that I was still speaking.  He had just said a
fervent `Amen,' and reseated himself, when my father put his head into
the kitchen, and made this remarkable statement,--

"`Old Father Christmas has sent a tree to the young people.'

"Patty and I uttered a cry of delight, and we forthwith danced round the
old man, saying, `Oh, how nice!  Oh, how kind of you!' which I think
must have bewildered him, but he only smiled and nodded.

"`Come along,' said my father.  `Come children.  Come Reuben.  Come
Kitty.'

"And he went into the parlour, and we all followed him.

"My godmother's picture of a Christmas-tree was very pretty; and the
flames of the candles were so naturally done in red and yellow, that I
always wondered that they did not shine at night.  But the picture was
nothing to the reality.  We had been sitting almost in the dark, for, as
Kitty said, `Firelight was quite enough to burn at meal-times.'  And
when the parlour door was thrown open, and the tree, with lighted tapers
on all the branches, burst upon our view, the blaze was dazzling, and
threw such a glory round the little gifts, and the bags of coloured
muslin with acid drops, and pink rose drops, and comfits inside, as I
shall never forget.  We all got something; and Patty and I, at any rate,
believed that the things came from the stores of Old Father Christmas.
We were not undeceived even by his gratefully accepting a bundle of old
clothes which had been hastily put together to form his present.

"We were all very happy; even Kitty, I think, though she kept her
sleeves rolled up, and seemed rather to grudge enjoying herself (a weak
point in some energetic characters).  She went back to her oven before
the lights were out, and the angel on the top of the tree taken down.
She locked up her present (a little work-box) at once.  She often showed
it off afterwards, but it was kept in the same bit of tissue paper till
she died.  Our presents certainly did not last so long!

"The old man died about a week afterwards, so we never made his
acquaintance as a common personage.  When he was buried, his little dog
came to us.  I suppose he remembered the hospitality he had received.
Patty adopted him, and he was very faithful.  Puss always looked on him
with favour.  I hoped during our rambles together in the following
summer that he would lead us at last to the cave where Christmas-trees
are dressed.  But he never did.

"Our parents often spoke of his late master as `old Reuben,' but
children are not easily disabused of a favourite fancy, and in Patty's
thoughts and in mine the old man was long gratefully remembered as Old
Father Christmas."

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The End.





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