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A Still Christmas
by [?]

It was Christmas eve in the year of our Lord 1653. The snow, which had fallen fitfully throughout the day, shrouded in white the sloping roofs and narrow London streets, and lay in little, sparkling heaps on every jutting cornice or narrow window-ledge where it could find a resting-place. But in the west the setting sun shone clearly, firing the steeples into sudden glory and gilding every tiny pane of glass that faced its dying splendor. The thoroughfares were strangely silent and deserted. The roving groups that had been wont at this season to fill them with boisterous merriment, the noise, the bustle, the good cheer of Christmas–all were lacking. No maskers roamed from street to street, jingling their bells, beating their mighty drums, and bidding the delighted crowd to make way for the Lord of Misrule. No shouts of “Noel! Noel!” rang through the frosty air. No children gathered round their neighbors’ doors, singing quaint carols and forgotten glees, and bearing off rich guerdon in the shape of apples, nuts, and substantial Christmas buns. In place of the old-time gayety a dreary silence reigned through the deserted highways, and down the narrow footwalk, with even step and half-shut eyes, tramped the Puritan herald, ringing his bell and proclaiming ever and anon in measured tones, “No Christmas! No Christmas!”

In sober and sad-hued garments was the herald arrayed, with leathern boots that defied the snow and a copious mantle enveloping his sturdy frame. Now and then he stopped to warn a couple of belated idlers that they would do well to separate and go quietly to their homes. Now and then a little child peeped at him timorously from a doorway, and, overawed by his sombre aspect and heavy frown, retreated rapidly to hide its fears in the safe shelter of its mother’s gown. Men shook their heads as he went by, and muttered something that was not always complimentary to his presence; and women shrugged their shoulders and sighed, and thought, perchance, of other Christmases in the past, with Yule-logs burning on the hearth and stray kisses snatched beneath the mistletoe. From a latticed window a girl’s face peered at him with such a light of laughing malice in the brown eyes that the Puritan, catching sight of their wicked gleam, paused a moment, as though to reprove the maiden for her forwardness, or to inquire what mischief was afoot under this humble roof. But the night was growing chill, and he had still far to go. It might not be worth while to waste words of counsel on one so evidently godless; and, with a heavier scowl than usual, he tramped on, swinging his bell with lusty force. “No Christmas! No Christmas!” echoed through the darkening streets, and, as he passed, the girl contracted her features into a grimace that would have done credit to the wide-mouthed gargoyle of a Gothic cathedral.

“Cicely, Cicely!” cried a voice, at this juncture, from within, “close the shutters, do, and come and help me.”

Cicely, who had been inclined to stare out a little longer, shot the heavy oaken bolt into its socket, and, opening a door leading to the inner room, disclosed a scene whose ruddy cheerfulness shone all the brighter in contrast to the dreary streets outside. A mighty bunch of fagots blazed and crackled on the hearth, and above the carved chimney-place hung branches of holly, their scarlet, berries glowing deeply in the firelight. In one corner, half-veiled by a tapestry curtain, a waxen Bambino nestled in its little manger, while before it burned a small copper lamp. Wreaths of holly and ivy bedecked the doors, and, standing tip-toed on a tall wooden chair, a young girl was even now striving to fasten these securely with the aid of a very old and wrinkled woman, who seemed more competent to admire than to assist the undertaking.