The Mill on the Floss HTML version

II.2. The Christmas Holidays
Fine old Christmas, with the snowy hair and ruddy face, had done his duty that
year in the noblest fashion, and had set off his rich gifts of warmth and color with
all the heightening contrast of frost and snow.
Snow lay on the croft and river-bank in undulations softer than the limbs of
infancy; it lay with the neatliest finished border on every sloping roof, making the
dark-red gables stand out with a new depth of color; it weighed heavily on the
laurels and fir-trees, till it fell from them with a shuddering sound; it clothed the
rough turnip-field with whiteness, and made the sheep look like dark blotches;
the gates were all blocked up with the sloping drifts, and here and there a
disregarded four-footed beast stood as if petrified "in unrecumbent sadness";
there was no gleam, no shadow, for the heavens, too, were one still, pale cloud;
no sound or motion in anything but the dark river that flowed and moaned like an
unresting sorrow. But old Christmas smiled as he laid this cruel-seeming spell on
the outdoor world, for he meant to light up home with new brightness, to deepen
all the richness of indoor color, and give a keener edge of delight to the warm
fragrance of food; he meant to prepare a sweet imprisonment that would
strengthen the primitive fellowship of kindred, and make the sunshine of familiar
human faces as welcome as the hidden day-star. His kindness fell but hardly on
the homeless,--fell but hardly on the homes where the hearth was not very warm,
and where the food had little fragrance; where the human faces had had no
sunshine in them, but rather the leaden, blank-eyed gaze of unexpectant want.
But the fine old season meant well; and if he has not learned the secret how to
bless men impartially, it is because his father Time, with ever-unrelenting
unrelenting purpose, still hides that secret in his own mighty, slow-beating heart.
And yet this Christmas day, in spite of Tom's fresh delight in home, was not, he
thought, somehow or other, quite so happy as it had always been before. The red
berries were just as abundant on the holly, and he and Maggie had dressed all
the windows and mantlepieces and picture-frames on Christmas eve with as
much taste as ever, wedding the thick-set scarlet clusters with branches of the
black-berried ivy. There had been singing under the windows after midnight,--
supernatural singing, Maggie always felt, in spite of Tom's contemptuous
insistence that the singers were old Patch, the parish clerk, and the rest of the
church choir; she trembled with awe when their carolling broke in upon her
dreams, and the image of men in fustian clothes was always thrust away by the
vision of angels resting on the parted cloud. The midnight chant had helped as
usual to lift the morning above the level of common days; and then there were
the smell of hot toast and ale from the kitchen, at the breakfast hour; the favorite
anthem, the green boughs, and the short sermon gave the appropriate festal
character to the church-going; and aunt and uncle Moss, with all their seven
children, were looking like so many reflectors of the bright parlor-fire, when the
church-goers came back, stamping the snow from their feet. The plum-pudding
was of the same handsome roundness as ever, and came in with the symbolic
blue flames around it, as if it had been heroically snatched from the nether fires,