It was a pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick in the centre of thegroup, now pulled
this way, and then that, and first kissed onthe chin, and then on the nose, and
then on the spectacles, and tohear the peals of laughter which were raised on every
side; butit was a still more pleasant thing to see Mr. Pickwick, blindedshortly
afterwards with a silk handkerchief, falling up against thewall, and scrambling
into corners, and going through all themysteries of blind-man's buff, with the utmost
relish for thegame, until at last he caught one of the poor relations, and thenhad
to evade the blind-man himself, which he did with a nimblenessand agility that elicited
the admiration and applause of allbeholders. The poor relations caught the people
who theythought would like it, and, when the game flagged, got caughtthemselves.
When they all tired of blind-man's buff, there was agreat game at snap-dragon, and
when fingers enough wereburned with that, and all the raisins were gone, they sat
down bythe huge fire of blazing logs to a substantial supper, and a mightybowl of
wassail, something smaller than an ordinary wash-house copper, in which the hot
apples were hissing and bubblingwith a rich look, and a jolly sound, that were perfectly
'This,' said Mr. Pickwick, looking round him, 'this is,indeed, comfort.''Our
invariable custom,' replied Mr. Wardle. 'Everybody sitsdown with us on Christmas
Eve, as you see them now--servantsand all; and here we wait, until the clock strikes
twelve, to usherChristmas in, and beguile the time with forfeits and old stories.Trundle,
my boy, rake up the fire.'
Up flew the bright sparks in myriads as the logs were stirred.The deep red blaze
sent forth a rich glow, that penetrated intothe farthest corner of the room, and
cast its cheerful tint onevery face.
'Come,' said Wardle, 'a song--a Christmas song! I'll give youone, in default
of a better.'
'Bravo!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fill up,' cried Wardle. 'It will be two hours, good, before yousee the bottom
of the bowl through the deep rich colour of thewassail; fill up all round, and now
for the song.'
Thus saying, the merry old gentleman, in a good, round,sturdy voice, commenced
without more ado--
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
'I care not for Spring; on his fickle wingLet the blossoms and buds be borne;He
woos them amain with his treacherous rain,And he scatters them ere the morn.An inconstant
elf, he knows not himself,Nor his own changing mind an hour,He'll smile in your
face, and, with wry grimace,He'll wither your youngest flower.
'Let the Summer sun to his bright home run,He shall never be sought by me;When
he's dimmed by a cloud I can laugh aloudAnd care not how sulky he be!For his darling
child is the madness wildThat sports in fierce fever's train;And when love is too
strong, it don't last long,As many have found to their pain.
'A mild harvest night, by the tranquil lightOf the modest and gentle moon,Has
a far sweeter sheen for me, I ween,Than the broad and unblushing noon.But every
leaf awakens my grief,As it lieth beneath the tree;So let Autumn air be never so
fair,It by no means agrees with me.
'But my song I troll out, for CHRISTMAS Stout,The hearty, the true, and the bold;A
bumper I drain, and with might and mainGive three cheers for this Christmas old!We'll
usher him in with a merry dinThat shall gladden his joyous heart,And we'll keep
him up, while there's bite or sup,And in fellowship good, we'll part.'In his fine
honest pride, he scorns to hideOne jot of his hard-weather scars;They're no disgrace,
for there's much the same traceOn the cheeks of our bravest tars.Then again I sing
till the roof doth ringAnd it echoes from wall to wall--To the stout old wight,
fair welcome to-night,As the King of the Seasons all!'
This song was tumultuously applauded--for friends anddependents make a capital
audience--and the poor relations,especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture.
Again was the firereplenished, and again went the wassail round.
'How it snows!' said one of the men, in a low tone.
'Snows, does it?' said Wardle.
'Rough, cold night, Sir,' replied the man; 'and there's a windgot up, that drifts
it across the fields, in a thick white cloud.'
'What does Jem say?' inquired the old lady. 'There ain'tanything the matter,
'No, no, mother,' replied Wardle; 'he says there's a snowdrift,and a wind that's
piercing cold. I should know that, by the wayit rumbles in the chimney.'
'Ah!' said the old lady, 'there was just such a wind, and justsuch a fall of
snow, a good many years back, I recollect--just fiveyears before your poor father
died. It was a Christmas Eve,too; and I remember that on that very night he told
us the storyabout the goblins that carried away old Gabriel Grub.'
'The story about what?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Oh, nothing, nothing,' replied Wardle. 'About an old sexton,that the good people
down here suppose to have been carriedaway by goblins.'
'Suppose!' ejaculated the old lady. 'Is there anybody hardyenough to disbelieve
it? Suppose! Haven't you heard ever sinceyou were a child, that he WAS carried away
by the goblins, anddon't you know he was?'
'Very well, mother, he was, if you like,' said Wardle laughing.'He WAS carried
away by goblins, Pickwick; and there's an endof the matter.'
'No, no,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'not an end of it, I assure you; forI must hear
how, and why, and all about it.'
Wardle smiled, as every head was bent forward to hear, andfilling out the wassail
with no stinted hand, nodded a health toMr. Pickwick, and began as follows--
But bless our editorial heart, what a long chapter we have beenbetrayed into!
We had quite forgotten all such petty restrictionsas chapters, we solemnly declare.
So here goes, to give the goblina fair start in a new one. A clear stage and no
favour for thegoblins, ladies and gentlemen, if you please.
CHAPTER XXIXTHE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON
In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, longwhile ago--so
long, that the story must be a true one, because ourgreat-grandfathers implicitly
believed it--there officiated as sextonand grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel
Grub. It by nomeans follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantlysurrounded
by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be amorose and melancholy man;
your undertakers are the merriest fellowsin the world; and I once had the honour
of being on intimate termswith a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as
comical andjocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song,without
a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glasswithout stopping for breath.
But notwithstanding these precedentsto the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned,
cross-grained,surly fellow--a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobodybut
himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deepwaistcoat pocket--and
who eyed each merry face, as it passedhim by, with such a deep scowl of malice and
ill-humour,as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for.
'A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shoulderedhis spade, lighted
his lantern, and betook himself towards the oldchurchyard; for he had got a grave
to finish by next morning,and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits,perhaps,
if he went on with his work at once. As he went his way,up the ancient street, he
saw the cheerful light of the blazingfires gleam through the old casements, and
heard the loud laughand the cheerful shouts of those who were assembled aroundthem;
he marked the bustling preparations for next day's cheer,and smelled the numerous
savoury odours consequent thereupon,as they steamed up from the kitchen windows
in clouds. All thiswas gall and wormwood to the heart of Gabriel Grub; andwhen groups
of children bounded out of the houses, trippedacross the road, and were met, before
they could knock at theopposite door, by half a dozen curly-headed little rascals
whocrowded round them as they flocked upstairs to spend theevening in their Christmas
games, Gabriel smiled grimly, andclutched the handle of his spade with a firmer
grasp, as hethought of measles, scarlet fever, thrush, whooping-cough, anda good
many other sources of consolation besides.
'In this happy frame of mind, Gabriel strode along, returninga short, sullen
growl to the good-humoured greetings of such ofhis neighbours as now and then passed
him, until he turned intothe dark lane which led to the churchyard. Now, Gabriel
hadbeen looking forward to reaching the dark lane, because it was,generally speaking,
a nice, gloomy, mournful place, into whichthe townspeople did not much care to go,
except in broaddaylight, and when the sun was shining; consequently, he wasnot a
little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring outsome jolly song about a merry
Christmas, in this very sanctuarywhich had been called Coffin Lane ever since the
days of the oldabbey, and the time of the shaven-headed monks. As Gabrielwalked
on, and the voice drew nearer, he found it proceededfrom a small boy, who was hurrying
along, to join one of thelittle parties in the old street, and who, partly to keep
himselfcompany, and partly to prepare himself for the occasion, wasshouting out
the song at the highest pitch of his lungs. So Gabrielwaited until the boy came
up, and then dodged him into a corner,and rapped him over the head with his lantern
five or six times,just to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurriedaway
with his hand to his head, singing quite a different sort oftune, Gabriel Grub chuckled
very heartily to himself, andentered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.
'He took off his coat, set down his lantern, and getting into theunfinished grave,
worked at it for an hour or so with right good-will. But the earth was hardened
with the frost, and it was novery easy matter to break it up, and shovel it out;
and althoughthere was a moon, it was a very young one, and shed little lightupon
the grave, which was in the shadow of the church. At anyother time, these obstacles
would have made Gabriel Grub verymoody and miserable, but he was so well pleased
with havingstopped the small boy's singing, that he took little heed of thescanty
progress he had made, and looked down into the grave,when he had finished work for
the night, with grim satisfaction,murmuring as he gathered up his things--
Brave lodgings for one, brave lodgings for one,A few feet of cold earth, when
life is done;A stone at the head, a stone at the feet,A rich, juicy meal for the
worms to eat;Rank grass overhead, and damp clay around,Brave lodgings for one, these,
in holy ground!
'"Ho! ho!" laughed Gabriel Grub, as he sat himself down ona flat tombstone which
was a favourite resting-place of his, anddrew forth his wicker bottle. "A coffin
at Christmas! A Christmasbox! Ho! ho! ho!"
'"Ho! ho! ho!" repeated a voice which sounded close behind him.
'Gabriel paused, in some alarm, in the act of raising the wickerbottle to his
lips, and looked round. The bottom of the oldestgrave about him was not more still
and quiet than the churchyardin the pale moonlight. The cold hoar frost glistened
on thetombstones, and sparkled like rows of gems, among the stonecarvings of the
old church. The snow lay hard and crisp uponthe ground; and spread over the thickly-strewn
mounds of earth,so white and smooth a cover that it seemed as if corpses laythere,
hidden only by their winding sheets. Not the faintest rustlebroke the profound tranquillity
of the solemn scene. Sound itselfappeared to be frozen up, all was so cold and still.
'"It was the echoes," said Gabriel Grub, raising the bottle tohis lips again.
'"It was NOT," said a deep voice.
'Gabriel started up, and stood rooted to the spot withastonishment and terror;
for his eyes rested on a form that madehis blood run cold.
'Seated on an upright tombstone, close to him, was a strange,unearthly figure,
whom Gabriel felt at once, was no being of thisworld. His long, fantastic legs which
might have reached theground, were cocked up, and crossed after a quaint, fantasticfashion;
his sinewy arms were bare; and his hands rested on hisknees. On his short, round
body, he wore a close covering,ornamented with small slashes; a short cloak dangled
at hisback; the collar was cut into curious peaks, which served thegoblin in lieu
of ruff or neckerchief; and his shoes curled up athis toes into long points. On
his head, he wore a broad-brimmedsugar-loaf hat, garnished with a single feather.
The hat wascovered with the white frost; and the goblin looked as if he hadsat on
the same tombstone very comfortably, for two or threehundred years. He was sitting
perfectly still; his tongue was putout, as if in derision; and he was grinning at
Gabriel Grub withsuch a grin as only a goblin could call up.
'"It was NOT the echoes," said the goblin.
'Gabriel Grub was paralysed, and could make no reply.
'"What do you do here on Christmas Eve?" said the goblin sternly.'"I came to
dig a grave, Sir," stammered Gabriel Grub.
'"What man wanders among graves and churchyards on sucha night as this?" cried
'"Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!" screamed a wild chorus ofvoices that seemed to
fill the churchyard. Gabriel looked fearfullyround--nothing was to be seen.
'"What have you got in that bottle?" said the goblin.
'"Hollands, sir," replied the sexton, trembling more than ever;for he had bought
it of the smugglers, and he thought thatperhaps his questioner might be in the excise
department of the goblins.
'"Who drinks Hollands alone, and in a churchyard, on such anight as this?" said
'"Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!" exclaimed the wild voices again.
'The goblin leered maliciously at the terrified sexton, and thenraising his voice,