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NEAR CHRISTMAS.

All the year long we have been travelling
towards Christmas; I, and my old wife, our
children, and our grandchildren; not all by
the same road, not all with the same expectations,
but all looking out alike for the first
glimpse of its smoke rising above the wintry
landscape of the year. Now we can see how
near it is by the grey towers of its minster,
towards which our faces have been set for days;
we almost fancy that we hear the chiming
of its famous bellsall Christmas towns are
famous for their bellsand we know that we
shall soon be at our inn. If life be a journey,
and each year a stage upon the road, I do
not know where else a sensible man would
stop for the recruiting of his strength than in
the fine old Christmas towns. There, if
anywhere, men are to be found living together
merrily; the inns are warm, the cheer is
good, the amusements are of the heartiest,
and the society is of the best. I have been
through many a Christmas townfor I have
travelled farand I have rested thoroughly
in each. I never found two of them alike; of
late they have been much greyer and quieter
than they used formerly to be; indeed, I
could tell wonderful things, if I dared, of
the great Christmas cities far away, that I
passed through when I was a boy. Nobody,
however, would believe how full they were of
lights and bells, how they were inhabited by
merry conjurors, had beautiful things hung out
of all the windows, and were carpeted with
snow that became sugar when eaten. I do not
think that I have been less happy in the quiet
towns at which I have of late years rested.
Let me confess so much. As for those about
me who declare them to be not quiet, by any
means, but perfectly uproarious with jollity,
I do not interfere with their opinions; children
so easily deceive themselves, it is enough
for me that I am old enough to see things as
they are. If my curly-headed grandson,
Master Wattie, could but have seen one
particular great city that I have passed through
in my timea city sixty stages distant from
us nowhe would not have thought last
year's Christmas town so wonderfully brilliant.
So I told him.

'Very likely, grandfather," he said, pointing
to the old minster before us; which, as I
could already perceive, was in a shockingly
neglected statecovered with ivy, a sure sign
that the inhabitants about it are a quiet race,
and I am glad of it, for I like quiet – " very
likely," he said; "that is the town for me.
I know what it will be, O don't I!"

"Nice and quiet, certainly."

"Quiet! Whoop!" and he stood up in
the carriage, tryingthe spoiled boyto
urge on the horses, though he knows that
they are steady roadsters, never varying their
pace for anybody. "Quiet! Why, I can
already hear the bells clashing as if they
were mad with funand so can grandmother."
He was safe in that appeal, because
my dear old woman, if she is not
younger than I am, will not consent to be as
old, and owns to no defect of sight or hearing.
"Grandmother hears them," cried
the boy, " and if she can't see the illumination,
I can."

"But it is bright noon, my boy."

"Noon and illumination too. The lamps
are as bright as if the sky were pitch dark,
and the sun blazes as if it had an ox to roast,
though it don't blaze any heat but only merriment.
I know what the town will be! I've
dreamt of it ten nights running. It will beat
the magic city that you've often told us of."
My old woman having faith in children's
dreams, asked for some information. " Well,"
he said, " do you see that stile under a holly
bush? – that where the path ends that leads
from Athéney Hall where brother Tom is at
school? And just as we get there he'll jump over
the stile with a great cricket bat in his hand
and go into the town with us; and when he
jumps over the stile he'll knock down the
top bar and bring it with him and we shall
eat it, he and I, for it is nothing but a gingerbread
affair. I tell you what, too, I shall eat
all the holly that I see, for it's pure sugar." –
" My dear boy," said his grandmother, " surely
it will give you a sore throat, if you eat all
the holly." – " O," he said, " I know all about
that. It's like snap-dragon, may hurt a bit,
but it's all eatable. There's great pond of
snap-dragon just outside that town on the
green where the turkeys are. But wait a bit,
we haven't got there yet. After Tom comes
we shall soon drive into a magnificent grove
of trees with bright green waxlights instead
of leaves, and bats and skates and balls and