White the snow upon the graves, white the frost upon the steeple,
Ruddy doorways flush the road, as the chatty neighbours leave,
Going home to bed at ten: very late for quiet people
Like the villagers of Combe, but remember—Christmas Eve!

Johnny Cope who keeps the Crown, takes his “nightcap” and his candle,
As his gossips whistle gay o'er the frozen meadows bright;
Polly, beauty of the bar, stoopeth, blushing, o'er her sandal—
Romping 'neath the mistletoe gives her eyes that roguish light.

When the windows all are dark, come the little carol-singers,
Wreathing sleepers' lips with smiles, for the music soft and thin
Summons angels to their dreams: in the vestry sit the ringers,
Clustered round a can of flip—they've to ring Old Christmas in.

Hark! a whirring breaks the hush, to the belfry now they hurry,
Slip their feet beneath the straps, seize the frosty bellropes frayed—
Slow the deep notes clang and die—hearts all thumping in a flurry,
For the final stroke of TWELVE list they silent in the shade.

Still it echoes from the walls when the bells leap out in gladness,
Silv'ry through the startled night send their greeting far and wide:
Heav'nliest of earthly sounds, though its sweets are linked with sadness,
For the Present wakes the Past—merry—mournful—Christmas Tide!

In a tiny cot at Combe dwell a widow and her daughter,—
Teacher in the market-town, home awhile at times like this;
Pretty, pensive Fanny Payne! Weary, waiting years have taught her
Men forget, whilst girls love on, pining o'er their blighted bliss.

Through her lattice looks the moon, not so pale as weeping Fanny
Heark'ning to the Christmas bells, murm'ring, as her fancies stray:
“Once—but that was long ago—Harry loved me. Oh, how can he
Break his word and leave me thus? What care I for Christmas Day?

“Soft he whispered, as we waltzèd at his father's on the hill,
This time five years, just before sailing for the Land of Gold:
‘Water cannot wash out love—our purse, pet, I go to fill,
Rich or poor, I'm back again ere two years have o'er us rolled!

  ― 115 ―
“Not one little loving line have I ever had from Harry,
Though Joe Jocelyn's letter brought tidings of his luck and health.
How I hate that New South Wales! It was him I longed to marry,
Handsome Harry, darling Hal—not a heap of dirty wealth!”

At the Grange upon the hill sleepless lies young Harry's mother,
Thinking of her laughing boy far away across the sea;
Of the many sons still left, gravely good, there's not another—
Naughty scapegrace though he was—close knit to her heart as he.

Therefore, last night came the note, bidding to a Christmas dinner
Mistress Payne and “dearest Fan,” from the Grange upon the hill;
Though but dull are now those feasts, lacking him, the witty sinner,
Who could make the sternest laugh, leaden brains with frolic fill!