When all the family is gathered, when the fire burns quick and clear, and the church-bells ring out grave and sweet, neither will they be left out. But, on the other hand, to one who has paid his bills, and in whose family Death’s cannon have as yet made no breaches, I do not see why it may not be a season of moderate, placid content.
Festivity! jollity! never! I have paid my bills, and there are no gaps among my people. Sometimes I tremble when I think how many we are; one of us must go soon. But, as yet, when I count us over, none lacks. Father, mother, Algy, Bobby, the Brat, Tou Tou. Slightly as I have spoken of them to myself, and conscientiously as I have promised myself to derive no pleasure from their society, and even to treat them with distant coolness, if they are, any of them, and Bobby especially—it is he that I most mistrust—more joyfully disposed than I think fitting, yet my heart has been growing ever warmer and warmer at the thought of them, as Christmas-time draws nigh; and now, as I kiss their firm, cold, healthy cheeks—(I declare that Bobby’s cheeks are as hard as marbles), I know how I have lied to myself.
Father is not in quite so good a humor as I could have wished, his man having lost his hat-box en route, and consequently his nose is rather more aquiline than I think desirable.
“Do not be alarmed!” says Bobby, in a patronizing aside, introducing me, as if I were a stranger, to father’s peculiarities; “a little infirmity of temper, but the heart is in the right place.”
“Bobby,” say I, anxiously, in a whisper, “has he—has he brought the bag?”
Bobby shakes his head.
“I knew he would not,” cry I, rather crestfallen. Then, with sudden exasperation: “I wish I had not given it to him; he always hated it. I wish I had given it to Roger instead.”
“Never you mind!” cries Bobby, while his round eyes twinkle mischievously; “I dare say he has got one by now, a nice one, all beads and wampums, that the old Begum has made him.”
I laugh, but I also sigh. What a long time it seems since I was jealous of Bobby’s Begum! We are a little behind father, whispering with our heads together, while he, in his raspingest voice, is giving his delinquent a month’s warning. That tone! it still makes me feel sneaky.
“Bobby,” say I, putting my arm through his substantial one, and speaking in a low tone of misgiving, “how is he? how has he been?”
“We have been a little fractious,” replies Bobby, leniently—“a little disposed to quarrel With our bread-and-butter; but, as you may remember, my dear, from your experience of our humble roof, Christmas never was our happiest time.”
“No, never,” reply I, pensively.
The storm is rising: at least father’s voice is. It appears that the valet is not only to go, but to go without a character.