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From curfew time
It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely 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 now a-days 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 deterinined in his own mind, that there was no condition more truly honourable 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 favourite 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 ear
in JR 20JUN'34
lier, 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 humour without molestation. Being representative of the oldest family in the neighbourhood, and a great part of the peasantry being his tenants, he is inuch 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 fainily since time immemorial. I think it best to give you these hints about my worthy old father, to prepare you for any little 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 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 supported 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 state , with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and her silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She came courtseying 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 on. Our road