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Old Father Christmas
by [?]



“Can you fancy, young people,” said Godfather Garbel, winking with his prominent eyes, and moving his feet backwards and forwards in his square shoes, so that you could hear the squeak-leather half a room off–“can you fancy my having been a very little boy, and having a godmother? But I had, and she sent me presents on my birthdays too. And young people did not get presents when I was a child as they get them now. Grumph! We had not half so many toys as you have, but we kept them twice as long. I think we were fonder of them too, though they were neither so handsome nor so expensive as these new-fangled affairs you are always breaking about the house. Grumph!

“You see, middle-class folk were more saving then. My mother turned and dyed her dresses, and when she had done with them, the servant was very glad to have them; but, bless me! your mother’s maids dress so much finer than their mistress, I do not think they would say ‘thank you’ for her best Sunday silk. The bustle’s the wrong shape. Grumph!

“What’s that you are laughing at, little miss? It’s pannier, is it? Well, well, bustle or pannier, call it what you like; but only donkeys wore panniers in my young days, and many’s the ride I’ve had in them.

“Now, as I say, my relations and friends thought twice before they pulled out five shillings in a toy-shop, but they didn’t forget me, all the same.

“On my eighth birthday my mother gave me a bright blue comforter of her own knitting.

“My little sister gave me a ball. My mother had cut out the divisions from various bits in the rag-bag, and my sister had done some of the seaming. It was stuffed with bran, and had a cork inside which had broken from old age, and would no longer fit the pickle-jar it belonged to. This made the ball bound when we played ‘prisoner’s base.’

“My father gave me the broken driving-whip that had lost the lash, and an old pair of his gloves, to play coachman with; these I had long wished for, since next to sailing in a ship, in my ideas, came the honour and glory of driving a coach.

“My whole soul, I must tell you, was set upon being a sailor. In those days I had rather put to sea once on Farmer Fodder’s duck-pond than ride twice atop of his hay-waggon; and between the smell of hay and the softness of it, and the height you are up above other folk, and the danger of tumbling off if you don’t look out–for hay is elastic as well as soft–you don’t easily beat a ride on a hay-waggon for pleasure. But as I say, I’d rather put to sea on the duck-pond, though the best craft I could borrow was the pigstye-door, and a pole to punt with, and the village boys jeering when I got aground, which was most of the time–besides the duck-pond never having a wave on it worth the name, punt as you would, and so shallow you could not have got drowned in it to save your life.

“You’re laughing now, little master, are you? But let me tell you that drowning’s the death for a sailor, whatever you may think. So I’ve always maintained, and have given every navigable sea in the known world a chance, though here I am after all, laid up in arm-chairs and feather-beds, to wait for bronchitis or some other slow poison. Grumph!

“Well, we must all go as we’re called, sailors or landsmen, and as I was saying, if I was never to sail a ship, I would have liked to drive a coach. A mail coach, serving His Majesty (Her Majesty now, GOD bless her!), carrying the Royal Arms, and bound to go, rough weather and fair. Many’s the time I’ve done it (in play you understand) with that whip and those gloves. Dear! dear! The pains I took to teach my sister Patty to be a highwayman, and jump out on me from the drying-ground hedge in the dusk with a ‘Stand and deliver!’ which she couldn’t get out of her throat for fright, and wouldn’t jump hard enough for fear of hurting me.