Brightly gleams the little Church. Faces, ruddy as the holly
Round them glowing, fills the pews, whilst the dear old Rector roads;
Harry's father, Farmer Fiske, jolliest of all the jolly,
In churchwarden majesty, anthem and responses leads.

Grandly, too, he leaves the church, all his clan around him crowded,—
Nephews, nieces, daughters, sons, come to spend their Christmas Day;
Proud he greets them, but his brow with a passing shade is clouded,
As he counts, and misses one, thinks of him that's far away.

Grace is said by Rector's lips. Pullets, ducks, with sav'ry dressing,
Alderman in sausage chains, baron brave of stall-fed beef,
Custard, pudding brandy-sauced, pies of mince, deserve a blessing;
And the carving Farmer finds solace for the Father's grief.

Much he marvels that poor Fan, chosen for his right-hand neighbour,
Cannot find in dainty food refuge from depressing fate;
Even “Pope's-nose” brings no peace—vain is all his honest labour
Heavy-laden heart to soothe with a heavy-laden plate.

Fruit and fresh wine now are brought; healths are drunk, and toasts are given,
“Queen,” “Prince Albert,” “Church and State,” “Army,” “Navy,” “Rise in Corn,”
Second Derby Cabinet”—long good Farmer Fiske has striven,
To defer, for Fanny's sake, one toast heavy to be borne.note

  ― 116 ―
But its turn has come at last—to omit it would be treason
At a Christmas gathering: cries he, “I have one toast more,
One for brimming glass and eyes, sadly drunk in festive season:
Charge!—I give you “Absent Friends!”—open flies the oaken door!

Bearded like a patriarch—glossy-brown as any berry,
Rushes to his mother's arms—HARRY, as in days of old!
Bearlike was the way he hugged, fiercely loving, filial—very,
But the kiss he gives his Fan makes his other kiss seem cold!

Ere his tongue has told his tale, truant Hal receives his pardon,
For she reads unswerving truth flashing from his sunny eyes;
Angry that such darling duck she should ever have been hard on,
Marmaladish, bitter sweet finds she in the glad surprise.

When he tells how long his toil, fruitless, hopeless, made him doleful,
How he didn't like to write, thinking news like that no good;
How, as Joey Jocelyn said, suddenly he found a holeful,
How bushrangers bailed him up, hast'ning townwards through a wood;

How a fever laid him low, how for months he lay a-dying,
Thinking sadly of his home, of his precious little Fan;
How at length he made a pile, swag and self in clipper flying,
Shipped, and hurried o'er the sea, fully purposed, if he can,—

Christmas Day at Combe to spend (Diggings' Christmases are dreary);
How from Plymouth he came post, how he filled John Cope with fear,
Leaping out like Harlequin, how the postboy thought him beery,—
Laughing, crying, Fanny sobs: “Could I doubt of such a dear?”

Then he turns to Mistress Payne (winking slyly at the Rector),
Bids her straightway let her house, for he means to take a farm;
Circling, meanwhile, Fanny's waist; sisters' needle-eyes detect her
Squeezing Harry's freckled hand, nestling in his brawny arm.

Wasn't that a jolly dance, when they cleared away the tables?
Wasn't that a sweet walk home? Wasn't that a clinging kiss?—
When again the midnight moon silvered the low cottage gables,
Fanny Payne, methinks, no more murmured of her “blighted bliss.”