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The Pickwick Papers 192







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out, for CHRISTMAS Stout, The hearty, the true, and the bold; A bumper I drain, and with might and main Give three cheers for this Christmas old! Well usher him in with a merry din That shall gladden his joyous heart, And well keep him up, while theres bite or sup, And in fellowship good, well part. In his fine honest pride, he scorns to hide One jot of his hard-weather scars; Theyre no disgrace, for theres much the same trace On the cheeks of our bravest tars. Then again I sing till the roof doth ring And it echoes from wall to wall-- To the stout old wight, fair welcome to-night, As the King of the Seasons all! This song was tumultuously applauded--for friends and dependents make a capital audience--and the poor relations, especially, were in perfect ecstasies of rapture. Again was the fire replenished, and again went the wassail round. How it snows! said one of the men, in a low tone. Snows, does it? said Wardle. Rough, cold night, Sir, replied the man; and theres a wind got up, that drifts it across the fields, in a thick white cloud. What does Jem say? inquired the old lady. There aint anything the matter, is there? No, no, mother, replied Wardle; he says theres a snowdrift, and a wind thats piercing cold. I should know that, by the way it rumbles in the chimney. Ah! said the old lady, there was just such a wind, and just such a fall of snow, a good many years back, I recollect--just five years before your poor father died. It was a Christmas Eve, too; and I remember that on that very night he told us the story about the goblins that carried away old Gabriel Grub. The story about what? said Mr. Pickwick. Oh, nothing, nothing, replied Wardle. About an old sexton, that the good people down here suppose to have been carried away by goblins. Suppose! ejaculated the old lady. Is there anybody hardy enough to disbelieve it? Suppose! Havent you heard ever since you were a child, that he WAS carried away by the goblins, and dont you know he was? Very well, mother, he was, if you like, said Wardle laughing. He WAS carried away by goblins, Pickwick; and theres an end of the matter. No, no, said Mr. Pickwick, not an end of it, I assure you; for I must hear how, and why, and all about it. Wardle smiled, as every head was bent forward to hear, and filling out the wassail with no stinted hand, nodded a health to Mr. Pickwick, and began as follows-- But bless our editorial heart, what a long chapter we have been betrayed into! We had quite forgotten all such petty restrictions as chapters, we solemnly declare. So here goes, to give the goblin a fair start in a new one. A clear stage and no favour for the goblins, ladies and gentlemen, if you please.

CHAPTER XXIX

THE STORY OF THE GOBLINS WHO STOLE A SEXTON

In an old abbey town, down in this part of the country, a long, long while ago--so long, that the story must be a true one, because our great-grandfathers implicitly believed it--there officiated as sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard, one Gabriel Grub. It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world; and I once had the honour of being on intimate terms with a mute, who in private life, and off duty, was as comical and jocose a little fellow as ever chirped out a devil-may-care song, without a hitch in his memory, or drained off a good stiff glass without stopping for breath. But notwithstanding these precedents to the contrary, Gabriel Grub was an ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow--a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself, and an old wicker bottle which fitted into his large deep waistcoat pocket--and who eyed each merry face, as it passed him by, with such a deep scowl of malice and ill-humour, as it was difficult to meet without feeling something the worse for. A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and betook himself towards the old churchyard; for he had got a grave to finish by next morning, and, feeling very low, he thought it might raise his spirits, perhaps, if he went on with

The Pickwick Papers page 191        The Pickwick Papers page 193