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Melchior’s Dream
by [?]

“Well, father, I don’t believe the Browns are a bit better off than we are; and yet, when I spent the day with young Brown, we cooked all sorts of messes in the afternoon; and he wasted twice as much rum and brandy and lemons in his trash as I should want to make good punch of. He was quite surprised, too, when I told him that our mince-pies were kept shut up in the larder, and only brought out at meal-times, and then just one apiece; he said they had mince-pies always going, and he got one whenever he liked. Old Brown never blows up about that sort of thing; he likes Adolphus to enjoy himself in the holidays, particularly at Christmas.”

The speaker was a boy–if I may be allowed to use the word in speaking of an individual whose jackets had for some time past been resigned to a younger member of his family, and who daily, in the privacy of his own apartment, examined his soft cheeks by the aid of his sisters’ “back-hair glass.” He was a handsome boy, too; tall, and like David–“ruddy, and of a fair countenance;” and his face, though clouded then, bore the expression of general amiability. He was the eldest son in a large young family, and was being educated at one of the best public schools. He did not, it must be confessed, think either small beer or small beans of himself; and as to the beer and beans that his family thought of him, I think it was pale ale and kidney-beans at least.

When the lords of the creation of all ages can find nothing else to do, they generally take to eating and drinking; and so it came to pass that our hero had set his mind upon brewing a jorum of punch, and sipping it with an accompaniment of mince-pies; and Paterfamilias had not been quietly settled to his writing for half an hour, when he was disturbed by an application for the necessary ingredients. These he had refused, quietly explaining that he could not afford to waste his French brandy, etc., in school-boy cookery, and ending with, “You see the reason, my dear boy?”

To which the dear boy replied as above, and concluded with the disrespectful (not to say ungrateful) hint, “Old Brown never blows up about that sort of thing; he likes Adolphus to enjoy himself in the holidays.”

Whereupon Paterfamilias made answer, in the mildly deprecating tone in which the elder sometimes do answer the younger in these topsy-turvy days:–

“That’s quite a different case. Don’t you see, my boy, that Adolphus Brown is an only son, and you have nine brothers and sisters? If you have punch and mince-meat to play with, there is no reason why Tom should not have it, and James, and Edward, and William, and Benjamin, and Jack. And then there are your sisters. Twice the amount of the Browns’ mince-meat would not serve you. The Christmas bills, too, are very heavy, and I have a great many calls on my purse; and you must be reasonable. Don’t you see?”

“Well, father—-” began the boy; but his father interrupted him. He knew the unvarying beginning of a long grumble, and dreading the argument, cut it short.

“I have decided. You must amuse yourself some other way. And just remember that young Brown’s is quite another case. He is an only son.”

Whereupon Paterfamilias went off to his study and his sermon; and his son, like the Princess in Andersen’s story of the swineherd, was left outside to sing,–

“O dearest Augustine,
All’s clean gone away!”

Not that he did say that–that was the princess’s song–what he said was,–

“I wish I were an only son!”

This was rather a vain wish, for round the dining-room fire (where he soon joined them) were gathered his nine brothers and sisters, who, to say the truth, were not looking much more lively and cheerful than he. And yet (of all days in the year on which to be doleful and dissatisfied!) this was Christmas Eve.