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A handsome hostess, merry host,
pot of ale now and a toast,
Are things this season doth require.* I had not been long at the inn when a postchaise drove up to the door. A young gentleman stept out, and by the light of the lamps I caught a glimpse of a countenance which I thought I knew. I moved forward to get a nearer view, when his eye caught mine. I was not mistaken ; it was Frank Bracebridge, a sprightly, good - humored young fellow, with whom I had once travelled on the continent. Our meeting was extremely cordial, for the countenance of an old fellow-traveller always brings up the recollection of a thousand pleasant scenes, odd adventures, and excellent jokes. To discuss all these in a transient interview at an inn was impossible; and finding that I was not pressed for time, and was merely making a tour of observation, he insisted that I should give him a day or two at his father's country-seat, to which he was going to pass the holidays, and which lay at a few miles' distance. “ It is better than eating a solitary Christmas dinner at an inn,” said he; “ and I can assure you of a hearty welcome in something of the old-fashioned style.” His reasoning was cogent, and I must confess the preparation I had seen for universal festivity and social enjoyment had made me feel a little impatient of my loneliness. I closed, therefore, at once, with his invitation ; the chaise drove up to the door, and in a few moments I was on my way to the family mansion of the Bracebridges.
* Poor Robin's Almanac, 1684.
Saint Francis and Saint Benedight
From curfew time
T was a brilliant moonlight night, but ex
tremely cold; our chaise whirled rapidly
over the frozen ground; the post-boy smacked his whip incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were on a gallop. “ He knows where he is going," said my companion, laughing, " and is eager to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good cheer of the servants' hall. My father, you must know, is a bigoted devotee of the old school, and prides himself upon keeping up something of old English hospitality. He is a tolerable specimen of what you will rarely meet with nowadays in its purity, the old English country gentleman ; for our men of fortune spend so much of their time in town, and fashion is carried so much into the country, that the strong rich peculiarities of ancient rural life are almost polished away.
My father, however, from early years, took honest Peacham * for his text-book, instead of Chesterfield; he determined in his own mind that there was no condition more truly honorable and enviable than that of a country gentleman on his paternal lands, and therefore passes the whole of his time on his estate. He is a strenuous advocate for the revival of the old rural games and holiday observances, and is deeply read in the writers, ancient and modern, who have treated on the subject. Indeed his favorite range of reading is among the authors who flourished at least two centuries since; who, he insists, wrote and thought more like true Englishmen than any of their successors. He even regrets sometimes that he had not been born a few centuries earlier, when England was itself, and had its peculiar manners and customs. As he lives at some distance from the main road, in rather a lonely part of the country, without any rival gentry near him, he has that most enviable of all blessings to an Englishman, an opportunity of indulging the bent of his own humor without molestation. Being representative of the oldest family in the neighborhood, and a great part of the peasantry being his tenants, he is much looked up to, and, in general, is known simply by the appellation of “The Squire’; a title which has been accorded to the head of the family since time immemorial. I think it best to give you these hints about my worthy old father, to prepare you
any eccentricities that might otherwise appear
absurd.” We had passed for some time along the wall of a park, and at length the chaise stopped at the
* Peacham’s Complete Gentleman, 1622.
gate. It was in a heavy magnificent old style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and flowers. The huge square columns that sup· ported the gate were surmounted by the family crest. Close adjoining was the porter's lodge, sheltered under dark fir-trees, and almost buried in shrubbery.
The post-boy rang a large porter's bell, which resounded through the still frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of dogs, with which the mansion - house seemed garrisoned. An old woman immediately appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly upon her, I had a full view of a little primitive dame, dressed very much in the antique taste, with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and her silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She came courtesying forth, with many expressions of simple joy at seeing her young master. Her husband, it seemed, was up at the house keeping Christmas eve in the servants' hall; they could not do without him, as he was the best hand at a song and story in the household.
My friend proposed that we should alight and walk through the park to the hall, which was at no great distance, while the chaise should follow
Our road wound through a noble avenue of trees, among the naked branches of which the moon glittered, as she rolled through the deep vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was sheeted with a slight covering of snow, which here and there sparkled as the moonbeams caught a frosty crystal ; and at a distance might be seen
a thin transparent vapor, stealing up from the low grounds, and threatening gradually to shroud the landscape.
My companion looked around him with transport : “ How often,” said he, “ have I scampered up this avenue, on returning home on school vacations ! How often have I played under these trees when a boy! I feel a degree of filial revcrence for them, as we look up to those who have cherished us in childhood. My father was always scrupulous in exacting our holidays, and having us around him on family festivals. He used to direct and superintend our games with the strictness that some parents do the studies of their children. He was very particular that we should play the old English games according to their original form; and consulted old books for precedent and authority for every merrie disport’; yet I assure you there never was pedantry so delightful. It was the policy of the good old gentleman to make his children feel that home was the happiest place in the world; and I value this delicious home-feeling as one of the choicest gifts a parent could bestow.”
We were interrupted by the clamor of a troop of dogs of all sorts and sizes, “ mongrel, puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low degree,” that, disturbed by the ring of the porter's bell and the rattling of the chaise, came bounding, openmouthed, across the lawn.
The little dogs and all, Tray, Blanch, and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me!" cried Bracebridge, laughing. At the sound of his