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our mother sighed as she spoke of the storms and perils that the poor sailors might have encountered on the way.
Poor Cousin Sam! I know that long afterwards, when his ventures failed, he was sternly blamed, how far justly I cannot tell; for people are ready enough to cry out when they lose their money though they make no objection while it leads to a scale of profits too high for safety. But this I do know, that in the days of his own prosperity he had a kind, remembering heart, and thought of many besides us his poor relations (not very near relations either), whose Christmas might have been gaunt and chill enough but for him. Nor was he compassionate only at Christmas time at all seasons he had a large charity for the needy and those on whose life the shadow of trouble lay-into which he was to fall at last.
Beati qui intelligunt super egenum et pauperem said a clearer Voice than any of ours, and I think that He Who understands all things must have had a pity for him who was so tender-hearted in his wealth for poverty out of sight-which is so commonly out of mind too.
Before we went to sleep that night we heard
the carol-singers outside in the garden, and their voices in the frosty air sounded to me just an echo, not a mere human music, but a breaking out again of the never really silenced Hymn the Angels had begun in the winter fields by Bethlehem. No doubt they had gone on singing it in Heaven ever since, and now they had come down to let us hear.
To that music we fell asleep; and through our dreams there smiled the Child who had been so much poorer than ourselves. But long before light we woke again to finger the parcels under our bolsters, that Father Christmas had put there at some mysterious moment; and if, even then, I half suspected that our mother had been with him, and shown him where we lay, I did not love him the less for that. At last we were allowed candles, and could see as well as feel. Oh! such fat tin soldiers, with regular figures, some on foot with guns in their hands, some mounted on plump horses with sticky-out tails; all on little shiny tin bases to make them stand up. (These were from Cousin Sam). Also ducks and geese of most varied plumage, still fatter than the military, able to float in a washing basin, and with a magnet to make them swim about. And a Noah's Ark, with a
plum-coloured roof and a dove painted on it holding an olive-sprig (like green tea) in his beak, and sashed windows with the most lifelike green curtains, and, inside, such birds and beasts the very finest canaries, half as big as elephants: the black-birds (you knew them from the crows by their yellow legs and beaks) as large as the lions; and camels with two humps apiece, rather like our neighbouring hills; and dromedaries with one and the Noetic family in cardinals' hats and cassocks. As our mother pleaded guilty to Cousin Sam as the sender of the soldiers, but finely ascribed the swimming ducks and the ark to Father Christmas, I hugged her for them, Father Christmas not being handy, and felt that she did quite as well.
There was no snow that I remember that Christmas, but a hard frost with a clear sky, and bright sun at noon and our mother took us to see the fairy palaces by the river. At one place it narrowed to a deep pass, hardly thirty feet broad, and, on the side away from us, there rose a bank of rock, with clefts and tiny caverns the water oozing down from the hills all frozen, and the wee caves were frosted with slanting windows of thin, clear ice, like glass. Those were the fairies' palaces,
and it seemed to me that there must be millions of fairies to live in them all. No doubt they lived entirely on Christmas-cake and mincepies. There were queer tiny crackly noises as the sun caught the ice, and they, I understood, were caused by the wee creatures singing and laughing inside their palaces as they called on each to wish a Merry Christmas. If you blame our mother for all this fairy-talk I shall think you very stupid-it all made part of the wonderful unearthliness and beauty of the exquisite season. Nothing could be common and ordinary then the withered ferns drooping over the river, their tips frozen into it, were silver ferns, and the lines of jewelled cobweb from point to point of the little rocks had not been made by spiders, but were diamond bridges the fairies had drawn from palace to palace for the convenience of Christmas visiting it was all a homage to the Child whose birthday Christmas was all nature, and whatever breath there is, unheard by dull ears, in nature, tuned into an unearthly symphony of delight and worship. What were the fairies who lived in the marvellous crystal palaces? Myriads of forgotten sweet thoughts and words and tiny deeds of unnoticed tenderness and pity, not
quite supernatural (but better than common things of utility's mean currency), hovering about clean places of earth, to raise in baby minds ideas of beauty that no material eye can see, and set stirring in baby ears melodies to which no ear filled with selfish mutterings can attune itself. Older knowledge can teach us better lessons yet, but there is an older ignorance, as well, that drowns such innocent fancies which are not far from truth after all.