The Family Party.
“Harry, my boy; another slice of beef?” said Major Shafto, addressing his fine young sailor-son, a passed midshipman, lately come home from sea.
“No, thank you, since I could not, if I took it, pay due respect to the mince-pies and plum-pudding; but Willy here can manage another slice, I daresay. He has a notion, that he will have to feed for the future on ‘salt junk’ and ‘hard tack.’”
Willy Dicey was going to sea, and had just been appointed to Harry Shafto’s ship, the “Ranger.”
Among the large party of family friends collected at Major Shafto’s house on that Christmas Day not many years ago, was Lieutenant Dicey, a friend and neighbour of the Major’s, who had served with him in the same regiment for many years. The Lieutenant had lost a leg, and, unable to purchase his company, had retired from the army. His eldest son, Charles, and two of his daughters, Emily and May, had arranged to go out and settle in New Zealand; and they expected shortly to sail. The Lieutenant would gladly have gone with them, but he had a delicate wife and several other children, and thought it wiser, therefore, to remain at home. The party was a happy and cheerful one. The fire burned brightly, showing that there was a hard frost outside. The lamp shed a brilliant light over the well-covered table, and the Major did his best to entertain his guests. The first course was removed, and then came a wonderful plum-pudding, and such dishes of mince-pies! And then the brandy was brought and poured over them, and set on fire; and Harry Shafto and Willy Dicey tried if they could not eat them while still blazing, and, of course, burned their mouths, eliciting shouts of laughter; and the whole party soon thought no more of the future, and were happy in the present. How Mrs Clagget’s tongue did wag! She was a tall, old lady, going out to a nephew in New Zealand; and, as she was to be the companion of the young Diceys on the voyage, she had been asked to join the Christmas party.
Dinner was just over when voices were heard in the hall singing a Christmas carol, and all the guests went out to listen to the words which told of the glorious event which had, upwards of eighteen hundred years before, occurred in the distant East, and yet was of as much importance to all the human race, and will be to the end of time, as then. Ringers came next, and lastly mummers played their parts, according to an ancient custom, which some might consider “more honoured in the breach than in the observance.” After this there was blind-man’s buff, in which all the maid-servants as well as the children joined, and Mrs Clagget’s own maid and the Diceys’ Susan, who had come with the children. Well was that Christmas Day remembered by most of the party.
Soon after this the Diceys began to make active preparations for their intended voyage. Charles went up to London and engaged a passage for himself and sisters, and for Mrs Clagget, on board the “Crusader.” He came back, describing her as a very fine vessel, and he seemed well pleased with her commander, Captain Westerway....