Category Archives: Christmas Musings

Presents of Christmas Past

Today is Epiphany, the day on which we remember the visit of the Magi, and the traditional date for present giving. People have been giving and receiving presents at Christmas for centuries, but it was during the revival of the celebrations at the beginning of the nineteenth century that people came up with a novel idea – make something just intended to be a Christmas present.

The ones that are easily identifiable are books, such as this;

clearly labelled as ‘A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1826’. It contains stories and poems,


Including, of course, ghost stories.


My next, from six year later, is a collection of comic stories and poems.

Illustrated with punning illustrations and some rather good jokes about the Great Reform Act.


Before my final Christmas Book, here is a Victorian Christmas card from the collection I mentioned in my previous blog.

Showing someone delivering Christmas presents. Also from the collection are examples of another minor Victorian Christmas invention, gift tags!


Now for the last book, a beautifully illustrated volume ‘Christmas with the Poets’ which was given as a present as it has the inscription ‘From Miss Millicent Brady to Miss Ada Stephens Christmas 1849′.

And now for the sting in the tale.

The book had been on my shelves for some time when I noticed how bright the cover was compared with other books of the same period. I knew what the Victorians had used to make high quality green dye, so I had the book tested. The cover contains enough arsenic to kill a man!

 

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A View of (Father) Christmas Past

As Father Christmas is preparing for his annual task I thought I would look at a couple of Victorian illustrations of the great man, taken from my own collection, both of which show Father Christmas, but not the Father Christmas we are used to.

 

 

The first is a Christmas Card, printed on a flat sheet, like most Victorian cards, and shows an elderly gentleman in a white, fur trimmed robe, with a satchel full of presents and a small Christmas tree.

The second is much more unusual, it is a complete Christmas Decoration (which was sent as a card ‘from Fergie’).

It is free standing as the ‘fence’ at the front folds out. Here Father Christmas is shown as another old gentleman in a fur trimmed white robe, but this time with two little girls, the older has a music book open, so perhaps they are carol singers. The girls are wearing warm winter clothes of the late nineteenth century, this would have been sensible at this time as the end of the century was a period of very cold winters.

On the fence in front of the are a number of birds, again very apt for the period of these cards. The cold winters were very hard for wild birds and so people (especially the members of the newly formed
Society for the Protection of Birds) started putting out food for them.

The card is still speckled with glitter, a typically unsafe Victorian embellishment, probably made of powdered glass and lead ore.

 

As for where these cards came from.

Earlier this year, after I had given a talk to a local historical association, an elderly lady asked if I would be interested in a Victorian Scrapbook. I naturally said yes, and the following day I was given an incredibly tatty scrapbook, full of a families collection of Christmas Cards. From the dates on some of the cards the collection was made between about 1885 and 1902, and contains over a hundred cards. The paper was so fragile that I had to carefully remove the cards, the collection is so diverse that they will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.

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A Christmas Tail

All animals celebrate Christmas. Bees sing the ‘Old Hundredth’ on Christmas Eve as the animals in the stables and cattle sheds kneel, remembering, in their own way, how they knelt at Bethlehem so long ago. Only occasionally, however, do the human and animal Christmases interact, but when they do the results can be amazing.

December 22nd 1818

“Run!”
The older mice forced a way through the wet vegetation, the young mice and mothers and children followed as the floodwaters rose.
Up and up they climbed, across short cropped grass that gave no cover, they were thankful that the rain kept the hawks away. Then they saw it, a tall building, unlike the barns the humans built for them, but it felt safe.
They crept in, under the door and discovered a perfect mouse home, a perfect mouse sanctuary.

It was a miracle, just before Christmas they had their home. There were plenty of places to nest, mothers settled their babies, children played, running up and down the ropes that had been placed there specially for them to climb, whilst the older mice looked around for food.

And they found it, wonderful food, thick tasty tallow on top of chewy leather.
“Something you can really get your teeth into.” Said one old mouse, as they feasted well into the night.

December 23rd 1818

What are you planning for tomorrow?” The priest asked.

“I have it here.” The young organist patted the folder of music under his arm. 
“I want to run through a couple of pieces before the choir come in, can you pump?”
“Of course.” Replied the priest. He stepped behind the organ and raised the handle, as he brought it down there was a terrible whistling noise. He stopped and the two men bent and examined the organ’s bellows.
“Mice!”

All around the church noses poked out of holes, black eyes watched from behind curtains.

“Can it be repaired?”
“Yes, but not by me, or anyone in the village, and not in time for Christmas Eve.” The organist paused.
“The choir can sing some hymns unaccompanied, but there will be no music. For the first time in more than two hundred years there will be no music in the church at Christmas!”

The mice looked at each other in horror, they had heard what the humans said, had they really ruined the humans Christmas?

The men looked at each other in silence, in silence they stood, then the priest said.
“Perhaps there is a way, you play the guitar.”
“But it can’t accompany any of these.”
“No, but there is that poem I wrote, the Christmas one, you said you could set it to music.”
“In less than a day!”
“You had better start straight away then.”

The mice were subdued, and watched as the humans left the church in a hurry.

Christmas Eve 1818

There was a sense of anticipation in the air, something was happening, the mice could feel it. From the oldest mice, who could remember three or even four Christmases, to the youngsters. That afternoon the old tale was told, of the first mouse Christmas, and never had mice listened in greater reverence and wonder. They told of the mice, who played on the rafters in the stable, and brought the gift of laughter to the child in the manger.

Later the humans came, few at first to light the candles, then more and more, filling the pews. There was expectation amongst them too, as if the humans also knew that something very special was about to happen.

And then, the choir gathered at the front of the church, the organist sat and took his guitar. The mice and humans watched as he plucked a few notes. Then all, animal and human, listened for the first time to;

Stille Nacht

 

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They don’t write them like they used to – Christmas Crackers

On top of a cupboard, in my father-in-law’s house, my wife found a box containing a mix of old crackers. We had used them as Christmas decorations then, at New Year, we decided to pull them. Three were unremarkable but the one I pulled, had a rather unusual joke in it.

Cracker joke

The cracker had been unremarkable, made of red and green crepe paper, but when on earth did it date from? It certainly isn’t modern, a joke like that would have amused Bertie Wooster. 

 

All that can be said is – They don’t write them like that today.

 

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The Christmas Spinner – A True Tale for Christmas

Christmas 1821

“Where’s my husband?” She asked, “Dinner has been ready for ages.”

“Sorry Mam,” the maid replied, “I think he is in the workshop.”

Sarah shook her head, their first Christmas together and he was working. He had seemed distracted all though the service that morning and had left her as soon as they returned home.

She walked down the narrow stairs to his workshop. He was seated on a tall stool by his workbench, watching something. Curious she approached, there was a strange buzzing, like a trapped fly. Then she saw what he was looking at, in front of him a wire was spinning round rapidly.

“Michael,” he didn’t seem to hear her, “Michael Faraday.” She said much louder and tapped him on his shoulder, he seemed to wake out of a trance.

“Oh, Sarah, I’ve done it.” For a moment he smiled at her, then turned again to the spinning wire.

“What have you done?”

“You see, the current flows through this wire and creates a magnetic field which works against the field in this magnet ….”

“And makes the wire move.” She completed.

“Yes.” He was watching his invention dreamily again.

“Will it keep moving if you leave it for an hour or so?”

“Yes, the motive force will last as long as there is power in the battery.”

“Then come and have dinner, it is Christmas after all.”

She took his hand and led him, reluctantly, from the room, behind them the first electric motor, another Christmas baby with an amazing future, kept on spinning.

Faraday_Cochran_Pickersgill

Michael Faraday, when he invented the motor

And that, more or less, is the tale I was told many years ago.

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Christmas Musings – Ending with Cake

Chris Eastaugh, an old school friend, recently posted a picture of cake he had made on Facebook and posed the question, ‘An article about Victorian sweetmeats, Gordon Le Pard?’ I may well look at other historic cakes in the future but now I would like to bring my Christmas Musings to an end at Twelfth Night, considering Twelfth cake.

Today we regard Twelfth Night as the occasion for putting the Christmas decorations away, however at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this was when the main Christmas celebrations took place. At the centre of the celebrations was Twelfth Cake. This was an impressively decorated cake, usually supplied by a professional pastry cook, their windows were one of the sights of the period.

In London, with every pastrycook in the city, and at the west end of the town, it is “high change” on Twelfth-day. From the taking down of the shutters in the morning, he, and his men, with additional assistants, male and female, are fully occupied by attending to the dressing out of the window, executing orders of the day before, receiving fresh ones, or supplying the wants of chance customers. Before dusk the important arrangement of the window is completed. Then the gas is turned on, with supernumerary argand-lamps and manifold wax-lights, to illuminate countless cakes of all prices and dimensions, that stand in rows and piles on the counters and sideboards, and in the windows. The richest in flavour and heaviest in weight and price are placed on large and massy salvers; one, enormously superior to the rest in size, is the chief object of curiosity; and all are decorated with all imaginable images of things animate and inanimate. Stars, castles, kings, cottages, dragons, trees, fish, palaces, cats, dogs, churches, lions, milkmaids, knights, serpents, and innumerable other forms in snow-white confectionary, painted with variegated colours, glitter by” excess of light” from mirrors against the walls festooned with artificial “wonders of Flora.” Horne Table Book 1841

These crowds attracted naughty children, who delighted in a particular form of disobedience.

On Twelfth night in London, boys assemble round the inviting shops of the pastrycooks, and dexterously nail the coat-tails of spectators, who venture near enough, to the bottoms of the window frames; or pin them together strongly by their clothes. Sometimes eight or ten persons find themselves thus connected. The dexterity and force of the nail driving is so quick and sure, that a single blow seldom fails of doing the business effectually. Withdrawal of the nail without a proper instrument is out of the question; and, consequently, the person nailed must either leave part of his coat, as a cognizance of his attachment, or quit the spot with a hole in it. At every nailing and pinning shouts of laughter arise from the perpetrators and the spectators. Yet it often happens to one who turns and smiles at the duress of another, that he also finds himself nailed. Efforts at extrication increase mirth, nor is the presence of a constable, who is usually employed to attend and preserve free “ingress, egress, and regress,” sufficiently awful to deter the offenders.

However the more acceptable entertainment took place at home.

First, buy your cake. Then, before your visitors arrive, buy your characters, each of which should have a pleasant verse beneath. Next look at your invitation list, and count the number of ladies you expect; and afterwards the number of gentlemen. Then, take as many female characters as you have invited ladies; fold them up, exactly of the same size, and number each on the back; taking care to make the king No.1, and the queen No.2. Then prepare and number the gentlemen’s characters. Cause tea and coffee to be handed to your visitors as they drop in. When all are assembled and tea over, put as many ladies characters in a reticule as there are ladies present; next put the gentlemen’s characters in a hat. Then call on a gentleman to carry the reticule to the ladies as they sit, from which each lady is to draw one ticket, ,and to preserve it unopened. Select a lady to bear the hat to the gentlemen for the same purpose. There will be one ticket left in the reticule, and another in the hat, which the lady and gentleman who carried each is to interchange, as having fallen to each. Next, arrange your visitors according to their numbers; the king No.1, the queen No.2, and so on. The king is then to recite the verse on his ticket; then the queen the verse on hers; and so the characters are to proceed in numerical order. This done, let the cake and refreshments go round, and hey! for merriment!

 

Then a very strange thing happened, as Christmas celebrations developed into the modern form, Twelfth cake and the parties associated with them vanished, and vanished very quickly. Only twenty years after the above accounts were written, the Twelfth Cake was simply a memory.

The celebration of Twelfth-Day with the costly and elegant Twelfth-cake has much declined. Formerly, in London, the confectioners’ shops on this day were entirely filled with Twelfth-cakes, ranging in price from several guineas to a few shillings; the shops were tastefully illuminated, and decorated with artistic models, transparencies, &c. We remember to have seen a huge Twelfth-cake in the form of a fortress, with sentinels and flags; the cake being so large as to fill two ovens in baking.

One of the most celebrated and attractive displays was that of Birch, the confectioner. Mr Samuel Birch, born in 1757; he was many years a member of the Common Council, and was elected alderman of the ward of Candlewick, and served as Lord Mayor in 1815, the year of the battle of Waterloo. The alderman used annually to send, as a present, a Twelfth-cake to the Mansion House.

The upper portion of the house in Cornhill has been rebuilt, but the ground-floor remains intact, a curious specimen of the decorated shop-front of the last century. Chambers Book of Days 1864

So tonight, eat a little bit of remaining Christmas Cake (if you have some), and think of one of our lost Christmas traditions.

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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 5

Monday December 26th 1814

The morning was crisp and bright, the Squire and the Rector were watching as the tree was removed from the pond. The estate woodsmen had cut the stump clear and now three teams of horses had been chained to the tree and were in the process of dragging it clear of the water. Ice cracked as the horses strained, slowly it began to move.

The gentlemen were distracted as a post chaise stopped on the road behind them. A tall gentleman in a long brown coat stepped out, he walked over to see them.

“Excuse me gentlemen, can you direct me to two ladies of the name of Beddoes.”

Sir Thomas looked the brown man up and down and asked.

“Is this to do with Mr David Beddoes?”

The man looked surprised, “What do you know of Mr Beddoes?”

“Only what I have read in the newspapers, and that he is Miss Beddoes cousin.” He paused, then continued. “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Sir Thomas Scott and this is the Reverend Edward Grainger, we are the local magistrates and well acquainted with the Miss Beddoes.”

“Excellent, I am John Shallard, an officer from Bow Street, and I have come to enquire if the Miss Beddoes have any knowledge of their cousin, we believe he came here at the end of November.”

“I believe he did too.” Replied the Rector, “But do not stand out here in the cold, come into the Rectory and we will tell you all we know, then we can visit the Miss Beddoes in their cottage.”

They had just turned away from the pond when there was a shout, they turned to see a man running towards them.

“Rector,” he panted, “in the pond, I fear ‘tis a body.”

“I feared as much,” he replied, then turning to the Runner, “Come with us sir, I am afraid what we find may be of use to you in your enquiries.”

Down by the pond there was a mass of clothing bobbing in the water.

“Go and get the thatch hook from the church, that should reach. I don’t want any of you going in this water.” ordered the Rector. Shortly afterwards two men came running back carrying the long wooden pole with a hook at one end, used for pulling burning thatch from a building. It took three tries before the hook caught on the bundle and it was dragged to shore.

“It’s not one body, it’s two!” shouted one of the men.

The Rector murmured a quiet prayer as Mr Shallard bent and looked at the bodies. They seemed to be wrapped together, he stood up.

“Gentlemen, this is the strangest thing I have ever seen. These bodies are tightly wrapped together, as though one was holding onto the other. However that cannot be as one body has been dead for some time, the other but a little while.”

The Rector and Sir Thomas looked down, at the same time they said, “Michael Scott!”

“Michael Scott,” said the Bow Street Runner, “I know him as Mr Frank Gifford, he had rooms in the same building as Beddoes and Smyth. Do you know who the other man is?”

The face was horribly distorted, both the gentlemen shook their heads, then Dr Gardiner said.

“The buttons on his coat, they are missing.”

“Does that mean something?” Asked the Runner, he eased the coat open and pulled out a watch. Sir Thomas held his hand out, and looked at it closely. He showed it to the Rector, then said.

“This watch bears the monogram of David Beddoes. I suspect the body is his.”

“But why should the body of David Beddoes, who has been dead for at least a month, be grasping the body of Frank Gifford or Michael Scott, who is only recently dead?”

Summer 1815

Sir Thomas and Dr Grainger sat on a bench in his garden, looking across the village green. A flock of geese and three goats grazed peacefully.

“Where has Lady Scott taken my wife?” Asked the Rector , “She seemed so agitated, as though there was no time to lose.”

“She and Charlotte have taken your wife to Stanton House, apparently there is some problem with the colour of the cloth for the curtains in the great parlour. They are meeting the linen draper there.”

“Poor man, I pity him.” Dr Grainger paused, “The house will be ready well before the wedding.”

“I never thought it would be James that wanted to postpone the wedding, though I admire him for it. Wanting to be ordained and the Rector of Stanton before they marry.”

They looked across towards the pond again, it was covered with little white flowers.

“As though it was covered in snow,” said Sir Thomas, he paused, “do you ever wonder what happened that night?”

The Rector was silent for a moment, then he leant forward and spoke quietly, “When the door opened, I was the only one who could see clearly. For a moment I saw Michael Scott, I will never forget the terror in his eyes, then he was pulled backwards, and the door slammed.”

“Pulled, who by?” said his friend quietly.

“All I could see were arms round his body – they seemed to be made of snow.”

It suddenly seemed very cold.

 

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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 4

Sunday December 25th 1814

The Rev Edward Grainger scraped the ice off the parlour window to see that snowflakes were already falling from a leaden sky, the snowman was back where it had been. As on all communion Sundays he walked over to the church well before the rest of his family, though this time he was accompanied by James. As they placed the vessels on the end of the communion table James said.

“It does seem a pity not to use them more often.”

“True, but the rubric says that communion should be offered four times a year.”

“But could it not be offered more often?”

“That I do not know, perhaps at Oxford they could tell you, but now pass me the wine.”

They completed the preparations, as the villagers began to gather outside the church. Seeing them waiting for the squire the Rector walked to the door.

“Come in, Come in. Sir Thomas will not want you to freeze outside.”

The villagers looked uncertain, then the carriage from the manor arrived, as Sir Thomas got out he shook his head.

“For goodness sake, why didn’t you wait in the church, it is much too cold out here.” He took his wife’s arm as she stepped down from the carriage. As Charlotte stepped down, James stepped forward and offered his arm. The villagers cheered, Caleb led Sir Thomas and his family to their pew, as he took his place in the lower desk of the pulpit he said.

“It is good to have a proper service on Christmas day, it is a long time since it last happened.”

“I hope you see many more.” Replied the Rector sitting down at the middle desk. Then he opened his prayer book and the service commenced.

As serving communion to the village, and this time it seemed that everybody was there, took a long time, his sermon was very short, little more than half an hour. Despite this it was well after noon that they left the church. The wind had risen and it was blowing a blizzard, Caleb was organising the men to make sure everybody, especially the women and children, got home safely. Sir Thomas’s coachman came up.

“I am sorry sir, but a branch has come down at the entrance to the park, it will be some time before we can get it clear.”

“Then come across to the Rectory, you can shelter there.”

They struggled across the green, as they passed the snowman Frances stopped for a moment.

“I think he is watching, like a cat.”

“I don’t like him, come away.” Said Mary, pulling on her sister’s arm.

“Oh, he’s not dangerous, at least not to us.” She replied, following her sister into the warmth of the Rectory.

The entire party were settled in the parlour, drinking mulled wine, when the housekeeper came in.

“Pardon sir, but it is time to carve the beef.”

“Oh, I had forgotten, the dinner for the poor men and women, they will be waiting for me in the kitchen.” He made to rise, when his wife stopped him.

“Why not let James do it this year.” She said with a smile, her husband nodded. James rose and followed the housekeeper. As the door shut Lady Scott looked to her daughter.

“Why don’t you go and help him.” Smiling Charlotte sprang to her feet and ran after James, as she reached the door Lady Scott called after her, “Parson’s wife in training.” Everybody laughed, Charlotte turned and curtsied to her mother, her face full of humour.

In the kitchen the twelve old people ate heartily, as Charlotte served one old gentlemen with plum pudding he asked.

“Pardon me miss, but is it true that you are betrothed to Master James?”

Charlotte blushed and nodded, the man raised his tankard and said.

“Good luck to you both, when I was a boy I saw your grandfather marry, when I was a man I danced at your father’s wedding, and now, if I am spared, I will see your wedding.”

“I pray that I can serve you with bride cake on our wedding day.” Said Charlotte with a gentle smile.

Back in the parlour, Sir Thomas watched his daughter leave and turned to Dr Grainger.

“Have you realised that over the past few days we seemed to have been following two stories?”

His friend nodded, “the love affair between our children,” He looked out of the window, though it was just after two it was already quiet dark. “And the other matter.”

“Yes.” Replied the squire, “I can see where one will end, a wedding and a new family in Stanton Lacy. But the other one, of David Beddoes and Michael Scott, I cannot see where that will end.”

“Not happily I think, and there is also the matter of the snowman.” Finally he told Sir Thomas of what he had seen, his friend was silent. The reverie was ended by a distant, muffled bell, Dr Grainger rose.

“Caleb is ringing for evening prayers, you need not come, on a night like this I cannot expect it of anyone.”

Surprisingly it was Frances who said.

“I will come, I think it would be best if we all went, I am not sure what will be about tonight and I think I would prefer to be in the church.”

Lady Scott rose, “Then we shall all go.” Charlotte and James came up from the kitchen, and shortly after the entire party were struggling across the green. Halfway across Charlotte suddenly gasped.

“Where is the snowman?”

They looked around, it had gone. Remembering what the Rector had said, Sir Thomas refused to stop, but hurried his party towards the church. They had almost got there when there was a screaming neigh and a horse galloped out of the driving snow, almost knocking James and Charlotte to the ground. Frances screamed and fell, she was picked up by her father and hurried into the church.

“Who was that?” gasped Lady Scott and Mrs Grainger together, “I think it was Mr Scott,” replied Charlotte.”

Lady Scott took Frances from her husband and stroked the girl’s hair, her bonnet had fallen off in the rush.

“It’s all right, he can’t hurt you here.” She said soothingly. Frances looked at her with wide, dark eyes.

“Oh, it wasn’t him, it was what was after him.”

“What was it?” her mother asked concerned, but Frances wouldn’t answer.

The church was full, in spite of the terrible weather most of the village seemed to have felt as Frances had, that it was best, or perhaps safest, to be in church. The service began, following its traditional course. The Rector had climbed into the high pulpit, the clearer to be heard over the storm outside. Below him old Caleb led the responses with a shout, the congregation did their best to follow him as they cowered in the high pews, lit by the guttering candles on their iron frames.

“Lord, have mercy upon us.” intoned the Rector.

“Christ, have mercy upon us.” Said the clerk, and waited for the congregation to follow him.

At that moment the west door burst open and for a second a figure could be seen standing there.

“Christ, have mercy upon ME!” it screamed, then most of the candles were blown out and the door slammed shut.

“Lord, have mercy upon him.” Said the Rector quietly.

There were screams and shouts in the church, and it was several minutes before there was calm. The churchwardens walked down the aisle lighting the candles. No one touched the door, no one wanted to go outside to see what had happened to the man who had screamed. With the church lit again the service resumed, the storm continued to beat on at the windows, the congregation sat in nervous silence until Caleb announced

“The Third Collect, for Aid against all Perils.”

“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord” said the Rector , and paused as, outside, the clouds parted and bright moonlight poured into the church. Shaken he continued, “by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” And the wind dropped outside and there was silence.

The service came to its conclusion, the congregation rose politely as the Rector and his family, and Sir Thomas and his, walked down the aisle. There were smiling nods and winks as Charlotte held tight to James’s arm. Outside Sir Thomas stopped and gasped, the tree beside the pond had fallen, the top branches had smashed thorough the ice into the water. Beside it there was no trace of the snowman. As they walked back to the Rectory, the squires younger daughters laughed, almost skipped, as they slid on the frozen ground, the tension that had gripped the village for the past few days, seemed to have faded. The coachman was waiting for them.

“The drive is open now sir,” he said.

“Then we will go,” Turning back to the Rector he said, “I will return tomorrow, I feel there might be something to see at the pond. And tomorrow afternoon I would like you all to come and dine with us, we have something to celebrate.”

He looked to his daughter, then turned away with a smile, as she was being gently kissed by James.

 

To be continued

 

 

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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 3

Saturday December 24th 1814

Sir Thomas was as good as his word and arrived at the Rectory early the next morning. He was shown into the Rector’s study where he found Dr Grainger and his son polishing the church plate.

“So was any of it damaged?”

“The chalice was bent sir, but I have been able to straighten it out enough to use tomorrow, though it will need to be sent to a silversmith. The worse damage was to the flagon, the lid has come off.”

Sir Thomas patted his future son-in-law on the shoulder.

“My great grandmother gave the plate to the church nearly a hundred years ago, and I will happily pay for the repairs, after all the damage was caused in a very good cause.” He patted James again, “in fact the best of causes.” He then sat down in one of the chairs by the fire and turned to the Rector.

“Is there any news of that blaggard Scott?”

“No, Sir Thomas, I had the constable carry out a search in the village but nothing was found, thought in this weather there are several barns and outbuildings it was difficult to get to last night, they will search again today.”

“Well he made no attempt to return to the Manor to fetch his things, and I have got the groundsmen searching the park. Do you think he is still here?”

“He hasn’t left on the turnpike either, neither of the toll keepers saw a single rider yesterday.” He picked up a newspaper, “This was the paper you gave me the other day. There is an item in it which may be significant, a robbery in London, did you notice it?”

“Only vaguely, what is it?”

The Rector put on his glasses and began to read.

‘Mysterious Robbery. A most strange occurrence has been reported at the house of Beddoes and Smyth, East India Merchants, Henrietta Street. Mr John Smyth, junior partner, returned to the house on the 15th inst having been the previous month in Paris, visiting several merchant houses in that city which is now open following the much longed for peace. He was much surprised to find his partner, Mr David Beddoes absent, and his clerk unaware of his current location. According to the clerk Mr Beddoes had left the office at the end of November, intending to visit relations in the country, and had not returned, not having the address of these relations he had been unable to contact him. Mr Smyth now entered their joint office, which was locked and to which he and Mr Beddoes had the only keys. All seemed in order, but on opening the strongbox, banknotes to the value of £110 were found to be missing. Whilst Mr Beddoes could have taken them, Mr Smyth was concerned and, on communicating with his bank, discovered that one of the notes had been cashed in Bristol at the beginning of this month. As the firm has no business in that city, Mr Smyth communicated the facts as he knew them to the Magistrates at Bow Street. A search is now under way for Mr David Beddoes.’

“Beddoes, do you think it is anything to do with our Miss Beddoes?”

“Well they did say their cousin was called David. Why don’t we ask them?”

“Good idea.” Sir Thomas paused and then said, “Where did you say the banknote was passed?” Dr Grainger, picked up the paper, “Bristol”, he said.

“That’s strange.” Replied Sir Thomas, “I am sure I saw something from Bristol in Mr Scott’s bags when he arrived.” He thought for a moment, then said.

“James, will you ride to the Manor and bring back Mr Scott’s bags, whilst your father and I go and see Miss Beddoes and her sister.”

James had just set off, Sir Thomas smiling to see him go.

“I think he will be looking for excuses to ride to the Manor all the time now.”

Dr Grainger bent to pick up the newspaper then said suddenly “DB”

“DB?” said Sir Thomas puzzled.

“Yes the buttons, the buttons that appeared on the snowman, they had a monogram on them. I cleaned one, it’s here somewhere.”

He turned over various papers on his table, eventually pulling out one.

“I cannot see it now, but here is a tracing I did of the button. Look at the pattern doesn’t it look like an interlaced D & B.”

“I see, we had better bring that too, see if the Miss Beddoes can identify it.”

Wrapped up in their coats they walked across the green, they stopped by the snowman.

“Those are the buttons I was talking about.” Dr Grainger pointed, then gasped.

“What is it?” asked Sir Thomas.

“The buttons, there were eight and I removed one. There are eight now, where did the other one come from.”

Sir Thomas bent and looked at the buttons, then he gasped.

“Look at the bottom one, it is clean. It is as though the one you took and cleaned has come back.”

“Magic, just like Miss Fanny said.” The Rector paused, then said, “Good Lord. Michael Scott, I wonder.”

“What is it?”

“Your daughter said she had read the name Michael Scott in a story by Sir Walter Scott, I wonder if your guest had read the same book.”

“You mean it was an alias?”

“Perhaps, but no more now.”

They had arrived at the cottage where the Miss Beddoes lived, they were welcomed effusively and shown into the tiny, warm parlour. They had to wait until the maid had brought tea before they were able to ask them about their cousin. When they read the article they were shocked.

“What can have happened to cousin David? He is always so careful”

“Have you ever met his partner, Mr Smyth?” asked Sir Thomas.

“Yes, David brought him here last summer. They had been going somewhere on business. Mr Smyth is a delightful young man, he is Scotch and he read Marmion so beautifully. He said we should hear it in a Scottish accent as that is how Sir Walter had written it.”

Miss Henrietta handed the Rector a second cup of tea, he looked at the cup and said.

“This is very fine china.”

“Oh yes,” Miss Henrietta replied. “Cousin David gave it to us.”

“He had it specially made. He sent all the way to China.” Added her sister.

“And two years later the set arrived.”

“It has a special mark, made of his initials.”

Both Sir Thomas and the Rector recognised the design, it was the one on the buttons, now decorating the snowman. It was as they walked back across the green that Sir Thomas suddenly said.

“The hat! You said that Mr Scott was very upset about the hat?”

“Yes, he seemed to think that Miss Frances had done something devious.”

“Well do you remember what Miss Beddoes said at the party, when she said she had thought she had seen her cousin with Mr Scott. She said he was wearing an old hat trimmed with white lace.”

He pointed at the snowman’s head, crowned with the old tricorn.

“An old hat trimmed with white lace.” Said the Rector, he turned to look at the pond.

“I think it ought to be dragged when it thaws.” Said Sir Thomas quietly.

“Until then I don’t think we should say anything of our suspicions.”

Sir Thomas nodded.

As they returned to the Rectory, James was at the Manor house. Charlotte met him with a broad smile.

“James, mama has just told me the most amazing thing. It is about Stanton Lacy.”

“Yes my love, will you like living in the Rectory there.”

“I would live anywhere with you, but it is not the Rectory where I think we will be living but at Stanton House.”

“Stanton House?”

“Yes, Stanton House, you see it is mine, all of Stanton Lacy is mine, or will be when we marry.”

James sat down on a hall chair shocked.

“You see it belonged to my grandmother, she left it to me, to come to me, on my marriage.”

James suddenly smiled.

“You realise that our parents have been planning everything, the living for me, the manor for you.”

It was some time before they went to find Lady Scott.

Michael Scott’s bags were already packed, but the sky was getting dark as James prepared to return to his father. Before he did so the head gamekeeper arrived with news that someone had been seen in the far coverts.

“Do you think it is that villain?” Lady Scott asked.

“Well it is certainly not poachers,” he grinned, “The best poachers in the village are helping us search.”

Charlotte suddenly clutched James’s arm.

“Will you be safe getting back to the village, and will father be safe coming back here?”

“Well, he certainly will have a grudge against the young master.” The gamekeeper smiled approvingly at James. “Can I suggest that Bob Smith rides with him when he returns.”

“Bob Smith?” said Charlotte.

“Head groom, also used to be Corporal in the Militia and went ten rounds with Black William.”

“An old soldier and a prizefighter, a perfect companion in the circumstances.” Said Lady Scott.

The sun was getting low in the sky as they rode into the village, all was peaceful, they had seen no sign of Michael Scott. When Sir Thomas and the Rector looked through his belongings there was no further clue, though a bill clearly indicated that he, or someone called Frank Gifford, had been in Bristol in early December.

“I don’t think there is anything more we can do.” Said the Rector, “We will keep a watch out for Michael Scott, and on Monday write to Bow Street.”

Sir Thomas rode home, accompanied by Bob Smith, and the Rectory family settled down for the evening. Later the singers came round, and they stood in the window to listen to them, after they finished ‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’ the Rector sent them round to the kitchen where they were well filled with spiced ale before heading home.

They were still singing the same carol as they left the Rectory, the Rector watched as they walked along the road and around the green, clearly the villagers also feared the snowman. He suddenly realised they were repeating the same verse.

Fear not, then said the Angel,

Let nothing you affright,

This day is born a Saviour,

Of virtue, power, and might,

So frequently to vanquish all

The friends of Satan quite.

 

At that point the moon came out from behind the cloud, it was nearly full and very bright. The snowman had gone, looking around he saw it, on the far end of the green, standing at the end of the drive that led to the manor. That night he checked the locks on the doors twice.

 

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THE SNOWMAN – A Ghost Story for Christmas Part 2

Friday December 23rd 1814

The Rev Edward Grainger was eating a boiled egg and sipping tea, the Squire’s copy of the Morning Chronicle was open on the table.

“How curious,” he said, lifting his head he realised that all his family had finished breakfast and left the table. He rapidly finished his tea, discovering that it was now ice cold. He knew his wife, would probably be involved in planning the dinner for Sunday, he followed the old traditions of the village and gave dinner to six poor men and six poor women at Christmas.

He guessed his children had already left the house so he put on his coat and walked towards the green, as he left his gate he saw that there were several people standing around the snowman. As he approached Charles, his younger son ran across to him.

“Come and look father, the snowman, it must be magic.”

He walked up, the snowman stood there as it had done yesterday. He saw his elder son with the girls from the manor, all sensibly wrapped up in thick cloaks with fur muffs, accompanied by Miss Grey their governess.

“James, what is this about a magic snowman then?”

“It’s not magic, it is just very strange. Yesterday the head was facing towards the Rectory, now it is looking across the green towards the park.”

“Perhaps the men knocked it when they moved the tree branches,” The Rector looked around at the disturbed snow, showing traces of where the branches had been moved and cut up the day before.

“But the branches had all been removed by the time we had finished.”

“And what about the buttons?” added Charles. The Rector looked closer at the snowman, down the front were a row of large brass buttons. “They were pebbles yesterday.”

“And they won’t come out.” Added Frances, the youngest of the three girls, “I think it is our cousin, perhaps he really is a wizard.”

The Rector touched the buttons, they were covered with a layer of ice. Only the bottom one could be prised loose, he looked at it, it was very muddy and discoloured but he thought he could make out a monogram.

“I am afraid there is no magic here my dear.” He smiled at Miss Grey. “They are covered in ice and frozen onto the snowman. Also look how dirty they are, I think they must have been on an old coat or something similar that had been lost in the pond. They were probably dragged out yesterday by the branches, someone found them last night and thought they would look good on the snowman. They have got initials on them, I will take this and get it cleaned, my wife may well recognise it.” He paused and looked at Frances. “But what was that about Mr Scott.”

The girl blushed bright red and buried her face in her muff, her elder sister replied for her.

“Fanny thinks Mr Scott is a wizard because there is a wizard called Michael Scot in one of Sir Walter Scott’s stories.”

“I don’t think so my dear.” Said the Rector kindly, “there may have been wizards in Scotland hundreds of years ago, but not in Berkshire today.”

“But he is still a horrid man.” Said Frances defiantly. Eager to change the subject the Rector turned to Charlotte.

“You young ladies must be feeling very cold, why don’t you go to the Rectory and get warm.”

“But isn’t mama getting ready for the dinner on Sunday, the one for the poor people?” Said Charles.

“Then we can help.” Said Charlotte, turning towards the Rectory.

“Parson’s wife in training.” Said Mary to Frances, as they followed their sister. Dr Grainger could see that both Charlotte and James were blushing. As the young men turned to follow the girls he said.

“James, will you come with me to the church, I want you to help me see that everything is ready for Sunday.”

An early nineteenth century decorated church

Slightly reluctantly he followed his father across the frozen green. The church door was open and inside Caleb Smith was standing by a ladder, holding up a branch of holly to his son, who was putting the greenery along the ledge that ran along the bottom of the gallery.

“Still putting up the greenery then.” Said the Rector with a smile.

“T’is the old way sir. I know you don’t care for it but I hope you won’t be stopping it.”

“Oh no, Caleb, I have no wish to stop it. You can keep putting up the decorations as long as you are sexton.” Then, as he turned to walk up towards the communion table, he said quietly to his son, “Though, when he is gone, I doubt there will be anybody who will wish to continue with the tradition. In a few years there will be no more Christmas decorations in the parish.”

“I don’t know.” Replied his son, “I rather like it, and I know Charlotte – Miss Scott likes it as well.”

“Then when you have your own parish, you can decorate your own church.” Said his father with a smile.

“But that will be many years in the future, I know how hard it is to get a living, to get to the point where I can support myself.” He followed his father into the small vestry, where they took the communion plate from a strongbox.

“This will need polishing before tomorrow, we will take it back to the Rectory.” James said, stepping back towards the door. His father stopped him.

“You will be ordained next year, and as soon as you feel that you are capable of taking over a parish then the living of Stanton Lacy is yours.”

“But isn’t that one of your livings, father.”

“No, I am nominally the Rector, but have been holding it for you for the past seven years. The living is in the gift of Sir Thomas and this has been done with his full consent. Both he and I want you to be the Rector of Stanton Lacy.”

“But,” James sat on the tiny wooden chair, his father smiled down at him. He looked stunned, before he could recover himself his father launched another broadside.

“And of course there is Miss Scott.”

“Charlotte, what do you mean?”

“Well, you will shock the entire parish if you tell me you don’t love and want to marry her.”

“The entire parish thinks I want to marry her, everybody, her parents?”

“Of course, especially her parents.”

James was now so pale his father thought he might faint.

“Well, do you love her, do you want to marry her?”

“Of course I do, but I never thought I could, she is a baronet’s daughter. What will her father say if I asked for her?”

“He will probably say yes, but ask you not to get married for a few years, not until you are settled.”

“Oh,” James paused, “What should I do then?”

“Go and talk to Miss Scott now, tell her all I have told you, then I suggest you return to the Manor House with her and talk to her father. I am sure you will find it easier than you think.”

They left the church by the side door and had reached the churchyard gate when they heard a scream. Across the green they saw several people around the snowman, their bright red cloaks showing that some of the girls from the Manor were there, as was a man on horseback. James ran fast across the frozen ground, his father following as fast as he could.

As he approached James could see that the man on horseback was Michael Scott, he was threatening Mary and Frances with his crop, there was no sign of Charlotte. Charles was standing in front of the girls, trying to protect them.

“I will ask again, where did you get the damn hat?” he pointed at the snowman, the Rector saw that it now boasted a battered tricorn hat, the colour had probably once been blue, with light coloured lace along the top edges.

“I just found it by the pond,” sobbed Frances, “And Charles put it on the snowman.”

“Don’t lie, you knew what you are doing, he gave it to you, didn’t he? Tell the truth?” Scott lashed down at the two girls.

“Stop that.” Shouted James, and swung at him with the bag he was carrying. The heavy communion plate hit his arm and he swung sideways, dropping his riding crop. His horse stepped a few paces to one side, Charles bent down and picked up his fallen crop and struck the side of his horse. It neighed and cantered a few paces away from the group. As Mr Scott regained control he turned the horse back to see Dr Grainger and James standing in front of the children.

“Leave here and never return.” The Rector shouted, then he turned his back on the rider and looked at the two girls.

“Are either of you hurt?”

“No sir.” Replied Mary, who was still holding her sister. “He struck at us and missed, then Fanny screamed and James came running.” She smiled at him. He was looking at the bag, aghast.

“Father, I think I have dented the cup. I am afraid I have damaged the communion plate.”

“Don’t worry, everyone even the archbishop would praise you for what you did. But now, let’s get into the Rectory. The girls mustn’t stand outside any longer.”

As they walked up the path the door opened and Mrs Grainger and Charlotte ran out, Miss Grey a few paces behind them. Charlotte wrapped her arms round her sisters and Mrs Grainger wrapped hers round her sons. From the look Charlotte gave James, it was clear that she would have much preferred wrapping her arms round him.

A few minutes later, sitting in the warm parlour, the girls sipping hot drinks Dr Grainger looked at his sons and said.

“The girls cannot walk back across the park now, it is not only getting dark but they are too shocked to do so. James, will you ride to the manor and let Sir Thomas know what has happened and ask him to send the carriage.”

The boys went to harness the horse and, a few minutes later James was riding as fast as he dare on the frozen ground. It wasn’t long before he strode through the front door of the Manor House, only to be greeted by a frightened Lady Scott.

“What has happened? My girls, are they all right?”

“Everybody is all right, they are all at the Rectory.”

At that point Sir Thomas entered, asking exactly the same questions. Now James was able to tell his story, only to be interrupted twice, first by Sir Thomas shouting an order to his servants to bar the house to Michael Scott, then to order the carriage. After James had finished his story he was embraced by Lady Scott whilst Sir Thomas shook him firmly by the hand.

There was no possibility of the carriage going to collect the girls without Lady Scott so Sir Thomas and James waited in the hall whilst she got her cloak and bonnet. Sir Thomas smiled at James.

“I must thank you again for protecting my daughters.”

“I was happy I was able to do so.” He paused, took a deep breath and added. “I would like to continue to protect them, particularly Charlotte.”

Sir Thomas tried to look stern, and failed. “I suppose I should ask you what your prospects are, but I suppose I know that better than you.”

“You mean Stanton Lacy?”

“Yes, when did you learn about it? I know your father hadn’t told you yesterday.”

“He told me this afternoon, just before he told me that everybody knew that Charlotte and I were in love, and suggested that I should talk to you”

“What did you say to that?”

“Nothing, because that was when we heard Fanny scream so I left my father and ran to protect them.”

“Now how can I refuse my consent to the man who left his own father in those circumstances to help my daughters.” He smiled, “I would prefer if you had a long engagement, as Charlotte is very young, but with three women involved I don’t think you and I will have any choice in the matter.”

James looked dazed, he hadn’t expected it to be so easy.

“Three women?”

“Your mother and my wife, they have been planning Charlotte’s and your wedding for years, and I am sure that Charlotte will want to have her say as well. All you should do is sit back and say, ‘Yes Dear’, I have found that is always the best idea.”

“What’s a good idea?” Asked his wife who had just returned to the hall. Sir Thomas handed his wife into the carriage before replying.

“Oh, James had just asked permission to marry Charlotte.”

James, sitting opposite, was amazed at her reaction, she sprang to her feet, just as the carriage bumped on a frozen rut, and fell half across her husband. He burst out laughing.

“There’s no need to react so violently. It’s all right, I refused of course.”

“Refused, how could you,” she burst out, “when that is what Elizabeth and I have been planning for years.” Then she saw her husband’s laughing face and sat back, smiling at James.

As soon as they arrived Lady Scott ran into the Rectory and went straight into the parlour. Mary, Frances and Charles were seated at a table by the fire, playing spillikins. Miss Grey was quietly reading.

“Where is Charlotte?” she demanded.

“She is with Mrs Grainger, they are looking at the clothing that will be going to the Alms House for Christmas.”

“Parson’s wife in training.” Said Mary, her mother smiled and said, “Quite right.”

Mary looked stunned as Charlotte entered to be embraced by her mother, then everybody entered and there were explanations, congratulations, mulled wine and happiness, in the midst of all this everybody seemed to have forgotten the reason that the carriage had been sent to pick up the girls.

Sir Thomas remembered as all his womenfolk were climbing into the carriage. He bent down to the Rector and said.

“I want to talk about this, I will come tomorrow, will that be all right?”

“Of course,” his friend replied.

As the carriage drove away he looked across the green. He was certain now, the snowman had moved, it was half way across the green. He felt very cold, and it was not from the hard frost.

 

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