This story appears in Christmas in Cornwall 60 Years Ago by Mrs. John Bonham. Unicorn Press, London: 1898.
“Well, I spoose, faather,” said Mrs. Olliver in a quiet persuasive tone, as she rose and put aside her knitting for the night, “we mus’ maake aw bit of a Christmas tay party, far ef our maidens do go out drinken’ tay we mus’ ’spec to ax aw few back agen. Es awnly wance a ’ear that wan ’ave got to maake aw bit of aw right out, an’ I doon’t think that es extravagont.”
“Es nawthen’ but vanity an’ vexaation of speret, as the prophet said,” replied her husband tartly.
“Well, faather, p’r’aps he never ’ad no cheldurn of es awn, ar else he wedn’t lev thom go nowheere ; but I doon’t b’lieve in shutten’ up cheldurn like ol’ nuns from ’ear’s end to ’ear’s end. Stidy cheldurn too like they are ; b’zides we can affoord et ; see what aw deery (dairy) we got, an’ what ’eap aw money we maade of the frewt laast ’ear.”
“Well iss,” answered the niggardly old man, “but see what aw heap of butter and creüm aw’ll taake to maake aw greüt jardon of caake far passell of ’ungry boys an maidens. I doon’t b’lieve in waasten’ or spendin’ nawthen’, but what we’re foorced to. I do b’lieve in saaven’ all we can gen aw rainy day.”
“Do I ever waaste anything ’on ?” asked his wife quickly. “Why, you wudn’t be well off like you are ef I hadn’t worked so. B’zides I doon’t go on to you about your bit of tawbacaw. I do buy ’om far ’a every Saturday—thirteen-pence-appn’y every week gone, f’r all I caan’t abide smawken misself, yet I do beer weth et, an’ you do knaw aw doon’t do a bit of good. Ef Jenifer wasn’t gone up bed, I’d make ’ar reck’n om up. I ain’t good scholar ’nough myself, but I knaw aw wed be aw braa farchen in aw few ’ears, iss fie !”
“Well,” he replied, looking somewhat crestfallen, “you caant say I’m extravagont weth my tawbaccaw, far you’re never willen’ far me to give way a bit to anybody else.”
“No, no,” she answered very decidedly, “es no good far ’a to think I’m goo’en’ to lev noberry else smawk in this ’ouse ; wan pipe do moost stuffle me.”
Mr. Olliver had smoked a little before his marriage, though he kept it a secret. When they became man and wife and the pipe came out, a compromise was made that in consideration of Mrs. Olliver taking submissively to this objectionable habit in her husband, he should never ask others to smoke in the home.
But let us have a little gossip over our friends. Farmer Olliver was known to be a man “with a braa deep bag” (purse), but he was also very “neary.” If any one outside his own little chapel, of which he was a member, asked for a trifle to help some unfortunate or bereaved family his subterfuge would always be, “Well, I doon’t see I can affoord et, ’cause we got our own little chapel to support.” It was very little indeed that the chapel got from him, though. Yet money was plentiful, and every year a good sum was put into the bank.
Farmer Olliver had married late in life, and was many years older than his wife. He had been brought up in an even, humdrum sort of way, keeping little company and rarely going further than Stoney, five miles away ; and after his marriage he had always clung to these early formed habits. Mrs. Olliver, on the contrary, was a sociable woman and enjoyed having a friend to see her, though there was usually a battle of words over it. She was a healthy, cheerful-looking woman, an excellent manager, economical but never niggardly, and her house was a picture of cleanliness.
Jenifer, the eldest daughter, was like her mother, very cheerful, and rather good-looking, with nice dark eyes and good teeth. She wore her hair in natural curls, that hung down her back, except when at her household work.
Caroline, the second girl, was a striking contrast—so retiring and quiet. Her thoughtful face was relieved from dulness by the pleasant look of her mouth. When she even smiled the whole features were transformed in a moment, and she really looked fascinating. A pair of blue eyes added to her other charms. She eagerly read every book she could get hold of, but that was not saying much, as few found their way to Squellers, and her very limited education had been obtained only at the village dame school ; so that the Bible was her chief study, and with that she was most familiar.
There were three other children, Henry, the eldest, being now eleven. His father already had his eye on him, and he would shortly be leaving school.
“Books an’ larnen’,” said the farmer, “es all very well for the gentry, but not for boys like mine ef they do mean to git on an’ put by somefen agen aw rainy day.”
We were saying that Mr. Olliver was a “member of society,” and so was his wife—their names were on Caleb Rowe’s class-book. Mrs. Olliver really made an effort to get to “class meeting,” and read her Bible on Sundays while watching the milk on the brandise ; but we fear her knowledge of the Scriptures historically was lamentably small, or she would have been only too glad to enlighten her husband as to who was the author of the quotation he had so glibly uttered ; and she would hardly have exposed her ignorance by being uncertain as to whether Solomon had any children or not.
Jenifer and Caroline were also “members,” having been “brought in” two years previously during a revival in the village.
Squellers, the farm on which the Ollivers lived, was a compact homestead, with about eighty acres of rich land, besides runs for young bullocks and sheep. The old farmhouse lay in a charming valley, and from the windows, both front and back, stretched away as fair a landscape as one could look upon. It was a low thatched building, with a roomy porch also thatched, and almost hidden by honeysuckle during the summer. Hardy ferns also flourished on its roof, and homely sparrows were accommodated with lodgings free of charge. Some of the latticed windows were partially hidden by rose-bushes, others by sweet-scented jessamine, The dear old farmhouse ! What a study for the painters who are beginning to throng the neighbourhood had it been standing now !
This was the first Christmas that Jenifer and Caroline had been invited to the round of the parties. They were now looked upon as young women, for one was nineteen, and the other nearly eighteen, and both were well grown for their ages. They had already been to eight parties, all at farm-houses, for there were no other homes to which one could be invited. The farmers and their workmen made up the only two classes in the parish, and the latter had not as yet taken to giving parties. At the time Mrs. Olliver and her daughters first consulted together about having a party, the mother thought there would be stout opposition from her husband. When once the die was cast, however, or, in other words, when once she had “out with it,” she would not let it trouble her much. She had informed him of what was coming off, and though he might he sulky, she must put up with that.
The morning following the little talk already mentioned, mother and daughters put their heads togcther as to which day would suit them, and whom they should ask. It was decided that Jenifer should ride round on horseback that afternoon, and give the invitations. So, early after dinner, she set out. There were six farms to call at, and she had to ride quickly from one to another, some being a mile or two apart. All went well, and every invitation was gladly accepted. The sisters in each case were to come in time for tea, their brothers were to follow later on.
The next day Mrs. Olliver began her preparations by making the white bread and saffron cakes. The party was on the following afternoon, and the other cakes and apple-pies would be baked then. Soon after dinner on that day, Jenifer, who longed to outshine all others in their spread, consulted with her mother about making some little cakes like those they had seen at the Vicarage tea.
“I’m moost ’fraid to venture,” said Mrs. Olliver, “ ’cause we aant got no ob’n (oven) to baake little knick-knacks like they. I doon knaw how mutch fire aw’ll taake far thom, saame my life.”
“Law, mother, you can baake thom fast enough ef you’ll try. I’ll be gone an’ maake thom, far the cook said to me how they was done.”
So the butter and flour were mixed, and the eggs, sugar, and cream added. The hot baking-iron was well wiped and greased, and bits of the rich mixture dropped on it. Then all was covered with the baker, and Mrs. Olliver began, not without misgivings, to “blast” the precious little cakes.
“I’m all of aw tremble,” she said, “far I no moore knaw how much fire aw’ll taake to baake thom than the dead in the grave.” Jenifer watched her mother eagerly. “Es that enough, I wonder ?” she asked, carefully placing another blazing bush of furze on the baker.
“Why no,” replied Jenifer, “that’ll never sawk (soak) thom ; put bit moore fire, mawther.”
Another bush was added. “Theere, theere,” said Mrs. Olliver quickly, “I’m ’fraid of my life to put any more, ar they may be burnt to rags.”
After about twenty minutes they thought it might be well just to have a peep at them. The hot ashes were brushed aside, and Jenifer was to look under while her mother partly lifted the baker. Suddenly the poor girl uttered a bitter yell. “O-o-oh ! my goodness guide me they are all so black as aw cawl (coal).”
Mrs. Olliver in her fright let the baker drop down suddenly. “Never, to be sure,” she cried in great distress.
“Iss they are,” replied Jenifer, ready to burst out crying. The baker was lifted off with trembling hands, when a round, black, charred mass met their eyes. So ended the little cakes, so rich and on which they had bestowed much thought and labour ; and thus was foiled a presumptuous attack on the supremacy of “the Vicarage Tea.”
Caroline was upstairs making that part of the house in perfect order for the visitors, and she was called to sympathise with the sorrowing ones. But there was no timne to be lost, for other matters claimed their attention. “Little cakes,” however, must not be thought of again. Mrs. Olliver, of course, inwardly bewailed the wasted butter and eggs and sugar and cream, but seeing how cut up her daughter was, wisely said nothing. Soon the apple pies were made, and baked to a “T.” by Mrs. Olliver, who could turn out anything to perfection in her own line of baking. As she said herself, when after some days the keenness of the disappointment bad rubbed off, “I doon knaw nawthen’ ’bout sush fiddle-faddles. We mus’ stick to the good ol’-fashen’ fare of saffern and heavy cake, and good applepie and creüm.”
The time wasted over the little cakes had interfered with the progress of the preparations. The strangers were expected before five o’clock, and it was now after three, and still the heavy cakes were not made. Caroline, good creature that she was, having finished her share of the preparations, now worked with real goodwill to help her sister forward, cutting bread-and-butter, assisting in laying the table, also urging her sister to “get changed,” that she might be ready to receive the visitors.
Mrs. Olliver brought out her rare old china that had belonged to her grandmother. The teapot was very large and almost square in shape, and the fiddle-pattern silver spoons shone brilliantly. The table looked well, and though Jenifer still mourned the absence of the little cakes that would have marked their spread as somnething extraordinary, yet consoled herself with the thought that everything was of the best quality. Milking the cows could not be thought of on such an occasion; so Martha Trezise, who often came to help for an hour or so, was to undertake that for them.
Jenifer in her own anxiety, this being the first young people’s party, had not yet seen the way clear to get upstairs to change. This thing worried her, then the other, so that the poor girl was in quite a state of nervous irritability. The three children now arrived from the village school much earlier than usual, for, having found out they were going to have a “tay” party, they set off for home at full speed, and came rushing in “like wild things,” and immediately planted themselves in the parlour door, lost in wonder at the table and the coal fire—a thing they rarely saw. Jenifer nearly upset a plate of bread-and-butter when they turned round quickly to see who was coming. This was the last straw to break the camel’s back. She forgot herself for once, and vented her pent-up feelings on the innocent children. “Get along weth ’a all this minute,” she cried spitefully, at the same time giving them a rough push, “or I’ll scat ’a maslin.—Mawther,” she called out, “the cheldurn shaan’t come in glazing ’bout the parlour, they nearly maade me arverset the things. They aarn’t goon’ t’ave tay weth we ; they must wait an’ ’ave et weth faather.”
Iss, iss, cheldurn, you mus’n’t ’ender the maidens,” called out Mrs. Olliver, with red face and blearing eyes from blasting the heavy cakes. So the three longing, curious children—banished to the kitchen—had to content themselves with a taste of cake till they had their tea with father, for none could induce him to join the strangers.
Jenifer made a hasty toilet, her heart beating violently for fear a knock should come before she was ready, and mother might answer the door in her déshabille. Caroline, too, was not fit to receive company as yet, as she was still busy in the dairy. Poor girls, both busily at work since early morning, what a day they had had !
Jenifer had barely reached the foot of the stairs, hot and flurried, when the first knock came, and Hester Ann and Mary Elizabeth Shepheard were admitted. Caroline now ran downstairs, having hastily changed, to allow her mother a chance of getting herself ready. The smoking hot heavy cakes were already baked, and were being kept warm for tea. Mrs. Olliver was soon down again, very becomingly dressed in a brown stuff gown and white net cap. Caroline stepped in to speak to the Shepheards, followed by Mrs. Olliver, who welcomed the young girls very cordially.
Knock after knock was now heard from the different arrivals, and presently the parlour was looking pretty well filled up. There were the Shepheards, Jane and Alice Bartlett, Susan Dale, Mary Ann Thomas, and her cousin Elizabeth Hendy, and the three Bawdens, making ten, which with the Ollivers would he thirteen. All having now arrived, except Eunice Oxley, Caroline and her mother disappeared, returning after a time with four plates of delicious heavy cake, which with the abundant supply of saffron cake, two apple-pies, two large basins of cream, and the plates of white bread-and-butter, gave a substantial look to the table. Mrs. Olliver returned for a moment to the kitchen, gave strict injunctions to the children not to meddle with anything, carried in the urn, and proceeded to pour out the tea.
Everyone seemed delighted. Few of them had visited the house before, and the Ollivers did all they could to make their friends feel that they were welcome. “Doon’t look far compliments said Mrs. Olliver, her face red and beaming. “You are saw welcome as the flowers of May; maake aw good tay, far theere’s plenty more caake an’ things in the deery. I’d alles like to see everybody maaken’ aw good tay.”
And everybody did.
These guests were not the delicate pining young ladies so often met with in our crowded cities, some suffering from indigestion, others from loss of appetite. No, these young girls were pictures of health, with rosy cheeks and perfect digestion. Their lives were spent in the pure country air, their food was wholesome, and their habits simple. Moreover, they rose and retired early. What a colour they had as they sat round the table ! Had their faces been truthfully transferred to canvas, some critic would, doubtless, have denounced the painting as being too highly coloured !
Tea finally came to an end, and mother and girls busied themselves in clearing the table. Then the former hastily set out tea in the kitchen for her husband, the children, the servant boys, and Martha, who had now finished milking.
Father was in a very decent humour, and made a good tea, thinking doubtless, now that the great “jardon” of cake was made, he might as well get his share. Mrs. Olliver and Martha washed up the china, leaving the girls free.
Not a young man had as yet put in an appearance. It was not the custom that they should arrive till seven or after. So the girls having no periodicals, piano, albums, or even interesting books to look at, fell back on the latest news in the parish, and on what So-and-So had new this winter, or on the way the “mantay-maker” had done their gowns. The Joselyns, too, were discussed, and as these young ladies had not long been living in Trethon, they were the subject of conversation for a considerable time. Everyone, of course, thought Nanny the better-looking of the two.
“I never seed noberry look so grand as she do,” said Alice Bartlett, “but they say ’tes ’ar pretty figger that do shaw off ’ar things so. Put thom on aw little undersize maid an’ she wud’n look much.”
“How es et I wonder,” asked Mary Ann Thomas, “that she es so toit weth all the boys ?”
“I heerd” replied another, “that she got aw mine to aw young man, but ’ar faather doon like un.”
“Who es ’aw’ on ?” asked Susan Dale.
“I no moore knaw than you. Mawther said she should like far thom to come down to-day, but she felt all backward like in asken’ thom, been’ strangers moost,” said Jenifer. “They do say f’rall that they’re fine nice maidens. The oldest wan es very sharp and quick, I’ve heerd,” she continued, “an’ theere brother do think hisself somebody, but he’s a good-looken’ young man, an’——”
A knock was heard.
“Theere,” said one of the young girls who had been intently listening for this signal, for she was not much interested in the talk, “tha’s wan of the boys come.”
Jenifer went into the passage, and opened the door. It was very dark.
“Good ebenen’,” came a voice out of the blackness.
“Who es et ’on ?” she asked, peering out.
“No greüt stranger,” replied the invisible one.
“Law, ’Enery, es et ’on ?” she exclaimed as a young man’s figure came into the light. “How are ’a ?”
“Middlen’ thenky, an’ how’s yerself ?” he asked, giving her a hearty hand-shake. After taking off and hanging up his hat he followed Jenifer to the parlour. Every sound was hushed among the eleven girls.
“Good ebenin’ all,” said the bashful young man, seating himself on the first chair, and spreading his two large red hands on his knees. Hands that he had scrubbed to such a degree with sand and soda water till they looked the colour of scarlet carnations. His face was of the same hue, for that had also undergone a vigorous rubbing up with a rough flannel, and a rinsing in strong soapsuds, till, after polishing with the towel, it shone like Mrs. Olliver’s copper warming-pan, in which she took so much pride. His hair had been well oiled—a custom they never neglected. This unenviable young farmer had no sister present who might address some words to him and set him somewhat at his ease. Susan Dale and he were on very good terms, but that young lady steadily kept her face averted, feeling that she blushed, and wishing to hide it. Jenifer had left the room and the others were too shy to talk among themselves with the young man listening, so there was an awkward silence, during which Henry’s face became peony colour, while his eyes were fixed earnestly on a sampler hanging on the opposite wall. Fortunately for him there was another knock, at which his heart leaped for joy. Jenifer soon entered, followed by two young farmers, with hands and faces of precisely the same hue as Henry’s.
“Good ebenen’ all,” they cried out together, nodding to the girls and the bashful youth.
“Well, ’Enry, my son, how are ’a ?” asked one of them, seating himself by that young man’s side, much to his delight. The other new arrival, not so self-possessed, sat on a chair behind the door where he could observe everyone. Henry and his friend were soon busily chatting in somewhat subdued tones. Groups of girls now also talked under their breath together, occasionally indulging in little peals of laughter.
“Find et muddy ded ’a ’on, Enry ?” asked George Bartlett, looking at the former young man’s boots.
“Iss, I was jest stagged gooen’ through the ol’ ploughed fiel ! Aw ! I am in a mess,” he continued, looking down confusedly at his boots.
Another knock. Mrs. Olliver, passing, admitted these visitors, who proved to be William Shepheard and Martin Thomas. Both on entering the parlour nodded to the others and sat down. Hester Shepheard darted a glance towards her brother to satisfy herself that he had put on his best coat. The other young men were feeling more comfortable now, especially as Mrs. Olliver began asking after their mothers and other matters.
“We expected Miss Oxley to tay,” said their hostess, “but she dedn’t come, an’ ’ar brother was to come down far ’ar, but you knaw she doont go ’bout mutch. ’E do taake moost all ’ar time, an’ ’ar brother’s too far to read theer books.”
Still another knocking: Jim Bawden had arrived, shy and nervous, and soon after Mr. Oxley himself, who entered the room with a quiet smile on his face.
A tall, somewhat careworn-looking young man was Mr. Oxley, with an intelligent face, eyes dark but mild, and an easy, pleasant manner in speaking. What a contrast to the former arrivals ! He was very far removed from them intellectually also. In fact, the Oxleys, their cleverness, and their books, were in every one’s mouth. Scarce and dear as they were in those days, books lay here and there all over the house. They bought a large number, and borrowed many more. The grown-up sister, too, was quite a student, but longed for a teacher, for she and her brother were almost self-educated. John Oxley, some said, would “soon go cracky, ef ow dedn’t give up larnen’ so mutch.” But given a chance, John Oxley would have been an honour to his country. He was pinioned down to the farm, when his thoughts were running in other channels ; and time for study during some seasons of the year was very limited.
After shaking hands with every one, He apologised for his sister’s absence by saying that his mother had not been downstairs for the day, and Eunice could not be spared ; but he thought it best to come down and explain. The quiet unaffected talk of John Oxley soon put every one at ease, and girls began to look across the room and smile at young men with whom they were on specially good terms.
“Come ! come !” said Mrs. Olliver, who liked to see young people enjoying themselves, “arn’t ’a gooen’ to ’ave aw bit of a gaame, ar bit aw singen’, ar somefen’ ’on ? You can sing, caan’t ’a, Maester Oxley ?” she asked, looking pleasantly at him.
“No, Mrs. Olliver, I don’t sing much now.”
“Say some verses ’on,” said she, persuasively.
“Would you like a bit of Shakespeare ?” he inquired, after a pause.
The simple woman had never heard the name before, and being at a loss to know what kind of a thing it meant, she adroitly turned it off by saying, “Well p’raps they’d raather ’ave few pons (pawns) first.”
“Iss, iss, so we will,” came from several.
“And afterwards,” said Caroline, who had an idea what “a bit of Shakespeare” meant, though she had never seen his works, “you’ll say something, Mr. Oxley, please.”
He nodded pleasantly at her. Caroline had heard him give a recitation at one of the parties, to her great delight. So now the old-time silly game of “forfeits” began—a favoourite with almost everyone. Caroline and John joined in mechanically, though neither of them took any interest in it. John would have enjoyed a quiet talk on some book with Caroline, for though he had only met her once or twice during the Christmas season, he, from a few remarks of hers, was fully aware of her thirst for knowledge, and there was a bond of sympathy already between the two.
The game, however, proceeded with all haste, and presently came the redeeming of the pawns, accompanied by screams, scuffles, rushing about, and even kissing ! How excited they became over it all ! Even the bashful young man tore round the room, and clutched at the girls, muddy boots and all but seeing that the floor was lime-ashed and sanded, he could not do any harm. Mrs. Olliver sat and shook with laughter, till great tears ran down her face. Mr. Olliver, on the kitchen chimney-bench taking a quiet whiff, wondered whatever possessed them down in the parlour, and shook his head solemnly.
The next game was blindman’s buff, more noisy even than pawns. A scream louder than ever reached Mr. Olliver’s ears. “Aw dear me,” he soliloquised, “ ’twas never sush things in my day. I caan’t think whatever mawther can see in looken’ ’pon aw passel aw boys an’ maidens teeren’ round after wan t’other like maaze things.”
The poor man was evidlently having a bad time of it. The next shout drew from him further mutterings, “Tes aw shaame far aw womon caallen’ ’arself aw professor to lev sush things go on—no relidjon in such uproors !” But the happy folks in the parlour were unconscious of these senseless remarks, and played on at the popular old game till all were exhausted.
“I’m burnen’ like fire,” cried a girl breathlessly.
“So my too,” gasped another. “I ben an tore my gownd. I ’itchn’d in the corner of the taable when I was teeren’ round.”
“Well, lev es stop now,” said Mrs. Olliver, “an’ rest aw bit to cool down. Can wan of ’a sing aw curl (carol) ?” she asked after a time, looking at the young men.
“I will if you will,” said George to Edward. “Alright, what shall es ’ave ?” asked Edward, who was in the choir.
“Lev es ’ave the great Comfart ye,” cried one of the girls. This grand selection from the “Messiah” had only recently been attempted in the church, and to distinguish it from a simpler rendering sometimes given of the same words, they named it the Great Comfort ye, while the other was styled the Little Comfort ye.
So Edward started off; but on the fourth note he stopped short.
“Why, I thought you was all gooen’ to ’elp me,” he exclaimed, looking round.
“Sing on by yerself, Edward,” said Mrs. Olliver. “I do dearly love to hear yer voice; then the others shall sing afterwards.”
The young man rather nervously started again, fixing his eyes on a china jug with a man’s face on it, an ornament on Mrs. Olliver’s mantelshelf. Whether the smiling face of the man in the jug encouraged Edward or not, it is impossible to say, but certainly he went through the famous recitative very creditably, and every one was loud in extolling the performance, though doubtless Handel himself would have been more sparing in his praises had he made one of the party.
Some one now started Angels from the Realms of Glory. This joyous old hymn, with its trills and runs, was given in their best style, all acquitting themselves admirably. What fine voices most of them possessed ! Their lungs were perfect. Hours of each day were spent in singing while at their work, and the fields rang with song while ploughing, sowing, or weeding went on. Father, during the singing, actually walked across the kitchen and listened at the door, but would not have been caught doing so on any account.
No sooner was the hymn finished than Caroline called out, “Now it is Mr. Oxley’s turn,” for she dreaded another game being proposed before he had a chance.
“Aw iss, Maester Oxley,” said her mother, “you mus’ do somefen’ now.”
“I shall be glad to give something if I thought you would like it.”
“Something from Shakespeare,” exclaimed Caroline earnestly.
He rose quietly, and choosing a selection from The Merchant of Venice, began—
“The quality of mercy is not strained.”
Mr. Oxley was a born reciter, and went through without a single slip or the least hesitancy. He avoided anything theatrical in his style, reserving parts requiring such treatment for private recitations in his bedroom. As he proceeded he became so wrapped up in his congenial task that he seemed unconscious of everything around him. His very face was lit up with something so attractive that every one gazed, and listened as if spellbound. Though it was little that some of these simple folks could take in of the sublime language, yet they were strangely moved at the intense earnestness of this intellectual young man, and when at last he finished amid breathless silence, every one was sorry it was over. Caroline had had a treat indeed, and was so lost to everything around her that while the others were expressing their delight in such words as, “Aw what putty verses,” or “However can ’a mind so much ?” or “I never heerd nawthen’ said to come up weth that,” she could not utter a word.
Mr. Oxley saw how Caroline had been affected, and managed to get a seat near her. Some now clamoured for a new game, which fortunately for two, at least, took a long time to get into starting order.
“Well, Caroline, did you like the piece I chose ?” asked John in a low voice.
“Oh, Mr. Oxley,” she answered, “I never heerd anything like it in my life ; I could ’ark to ’a all night. I wish you wud say another.”
“But” he answered, “perhaps all the others don’t feel like you.”
“I suppose,” said Caroline, in a dreamy sort of way, “you knaw a lot moore. How I shud like to be aable to say them like you do !”
“I have been learning parts of the book now for months,” he answered. “I keep repeating them while I’m ploughing, or doing anything in the fields, or in the stables. I b’lieve our servant boys think I’m going out of my mind when they come upon me unawares, and I am in the middle of one of my pieces, and reciting pretty loudly ; they stare like fitchers at me.”
They both laughed at this. “Is it a dear book to buy ?” asked Caroline somewhat timidly.
“You shall have mine for a few weeks,” he said, “and I can learn something else.”
“Caroline,” whispered Mrs. Olliver coming over to them, “es ever so laate, help es get the supper.” Their pleasant talk was over for that evening.
The table was pulled out by the young men, and the room restored to some order. Mrs. Olliver and the girls soon had the cloth on, and the plates of cake and apple-pie placed on it, and strange as it may seem to us in these days, bottles of spirits were brought forward as innocently as milk or coffee would be now. Finally the hot water and sugar appeared, and Mrs. Olliver asked the young men to mix for the girls. Some chose brandy—a “drop of smuggled” that Mr. Olliver had got on very easy terms, having “swopped” a few apples and a measure or two of wheat for it—others chose rum or shrub. Then the young men helped themselves. We must remind our readers that Total Abstinence had scarcely as yet been heard of in that or any other parish around.
The plates of cake and pie were passed, and most of the young men helped themselves freely, pressed good-naturedly by the generous hostess, who told them all to make a good supper, “far oll keep out the cawld.”
Soon everyone was on the move. They were early folks in those days, and ten or half-past was considered fairly late. Father, vexed with himself and everyone else, had retired long since. Mrs. Olliver, motherly woman that she was, saw all the young people off, straining her eyes at the same time to see who were “chiming” up to each other.
“Taake care of the maidens,” she called after the young men, “gooen’ arver they greüt ugly stiles,” and so with many “good-nights” they all left Squellers, and this first Christmas party of the Ollivers had at last come to an end.
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