The Joyous Guests
Once when the berries were red on the holly-trees, and the Christmas geese were fattening in the pen, a certain Squire of the North Country bent his mind to hospitable plans.
"The Christmas pie," quoth he, "will taste the better if its plums are shared with guests. A full house, a heaping board, and a roaring fire at Christmas-tide, say I; and a long life to Father Christmas!"
"So he bade his Lady write by post ("and let the post be quick," said he) to summon friends from far and near to keep high holiday with him and his.
Thus it befell that when the Christmas time had come a goodly company of Joyous Guests gathered around the Squire's hearth, to wit:
A neighboring Justice and his wife.
Their troop of rosy children who, with the Squire's Little Son, kept the house filled with merriment, and were the plague and delight of Nurse, the all-important dame whose charge they were.
An Eton schoolboy, nephew of the Squire, a lad of parts but mischief's very self.
My Lady's Bachelor Cousin who had all the family history by heart.
A Vicar who was godly but not over-grave.
Two youthful Sisters and their Aunt who had come long miles to keep a promise made the Squire once when they were Joyous Travelers on the London road. And never warmer welcome than the Squire's waited at journey's end,—nor better cheer.
The Aunt brought with her a Scotch Maid who shared the welcome and the cheer. Aye, every one in the Squire's house, from the most honored guest to the small lad who served the cook, had part and place in all the Christmas jollity.
And for twelve merry nights with songs and tales and games the Christmas festival was kept.