Snap dragons; old father.., p.7
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       Snap-Dragons; Old Father Christmas, p.7

          
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busy helping hisfather to bore holes in the carved seats of the church, which were tohold sprigs of holly for the morrow--that was the idea of churchdecoration in my young days. You have improved on your elders there,young people, and I am candid enough to allow it. Still, the sprigs ofred and green were better than nothing, and, like your lovely wreathsand pious devices, they made one feel as if the old black wood werebursting into life and leaf again for very Christmas joy!

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

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

  "This hill was now covered with snow, and stood off against the greysky. The white fields looked vast and dreary in the dusk. The only gaythings to be seen were the red berries on the holly hedge, in the littlelane--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 therobin, when Patty, who had been peering out of her corner of Kitty'sshawl, gave a great jump that dragged the shawl from our heads, andcried,--

  "`Look!'"

  CHAPTER FOUR.

  "I looked. An old man was coming along the lane. His hair and beardwere as white as cotton-wool. He had a face like the sort of apple thatkeeps well in winter; his coat was old and brown. There was snow abouthim 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 didnot happen to be acquainted, and that he was taking a little fir-tree upto the Hall, to be made into a Christmas-tree. He was a verygood-humoured old fellow, and rather deaf, for which he made up bysmiling and nodding his head a good deal, and saying, `Aye, aye, _to_ besure!' at likely intervals.

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

  "`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 putme out. But he smiled in such a satisfactory manner, that Patty wenton, `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 oldas Methuselah, you know,' thinking that this might not have struck him.

  "`Ay, ay,' said Father Christmas; but he did not seem to think anythingof it. After a pause he held up the tree, and cried, `D'ye know whatthis 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 darkthey'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 thoughtwhich agitated us both, was this--`Was Father Christmas bringing thetree to us?' But very anxiety, and some modesty also, kept us fromasking outright.

  "Only when the old man shouldered his tree, and prepared to move on, Icried 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 upyonder.'

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

  "`Up yonder.' This puzzled us. Father Christmas had pointed, but soindefinitely, that he might have been pointing to the sky, or thefields, or the little wood at the end of the Squire's grounds. Ithought the latter, and suggested to Patty that perhaps he had someplace underground, like Aladdin's cave, where he got the candles, andall the pretty things for the tree. This idea pleased us both, and weamused ourselves by wondering what Old Father Christmas would choose forus from his stores in that wonderful hole where he dressed hisChristmas-trees.

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

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

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

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

  "`Who's been telling you that?' said my father. But he passed on beforeI could explain that we had seen Father Christmas himself, and had hadhis word for it that he would return at four o'clock, and that thecandles 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. Wesat on the stairs and watched the big clock, which I was just learningto read; and Patty made herself giddy with constantly looking up andcounting the four strokes, towards which the hour hand slowly moved. Weput our noses into the kitchen now and then, to smell the cakes and getwarm, and anon we hung about the parlour door, and were most unjustlyaccused of trying to peep. What did we care what our mother was doingin the parlour?--we who had seen Old Father Christmas himself, and wereexpecting him back again every moment!

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

  "`We'd better get up on to the wall,' I said; and with some difficultyand distress from rubbing her bare knees against the cold stones, andgetting the snow up her sleeves, Patty got on the coping of the littlewall, I was just struggling after her, when something warm and somethingcold coming suddenly against the bare calves of my legs, made me shriekwith 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 downmy neck. Then I found that the cold thing was a dog's nose, and thewarm 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 hepersisted in licking me, and jumping on me, and making curious littlenoises, that must have meant something if one had known his language. Iwas rather harassed at the moment. My legs were sore, I was a littleafraid of the dog, and Patty was very much afraid of sitting on the wallwithout me.

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

  "`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 mylittle sister was on her feet, to my relief, he transferred hisattentions to her. When he had jumped at her, and licked her severaltimes, 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, andglaring at her with eyes the colour of his ears.

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

  "On which (as if he understood our language, though we were ignorant ofhis) the spaniel sprang away, and went off as hard as he could; andPatty and I
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