Freddie, Edmund and Benjamin had been reluctant to perform in front of their families for Christmas Day, but Clara Nicol was a strict teacher to the three boys and insisted that they learned their lines by heart.
Now eight years old it had been a case of muttering the words to themselves over and over, a line at a time, until they could say it all at once. At least it was a bit more interesting than the bible passages that Mrs Nicol usually gave them to learn. It didn’t matter that the words made little sense to them, it was just a case of learning by rote.
Freddie thought it was unfair that the girls, all of whom were younger, just had to do a dance while his mother played the old wooden piano which had been bought second-hand from a furniture dealer in Oamaru. His mother played beautifully, well at least Freddie thought so. He loved to listen to the music she played, especially if she sang along. Lately she had been playing their favourite Christmas carols in order to practice for the church service on Christmas morning. Why was it so much easier to remember the words to those carols than it was for some poem?
But he had better concentrate now. Standing upright in his Sunday best, with Ben and Ed either side of him, all full to the brim with a dinner of roast lamb and potatoes and a huge piece of steamed plum pudding, they would much have preferred to lie down and sleep. Especially as the sun streamed through the window into the parlour where everyone had gathered after their huge feast.
The three boys, growing so tall and strong, brown as berries, began together, almost in unison :-
‘Lo, now is come the joyful’st feast!
Let every man be jolly,
Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Now all our neighbour’s chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak’t meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lie,
And if, for cold, it hap to die,
We’ll bury it in a Christmas pye,
And evermore be merry.’
Their mothers listened in enrapt silence, Sophia wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. How proud she was of her son, and how much was he beginning to look like his father, George, these days?
Nancy, bouncing Adey Rose on her knee in time to the rhythm of the words, broke into a cheer at the end of the poem.
James, Edmund and Samuel raised their ale-filled mugs in a toast to their families and a thank-you to Job and Clara Nicol who had joined them once their church duties were done.
The boys, reluctant to stand still more than was absolutely necessary, reached the last word of the last line and broke free, loosening their collars as they ran outside. The girls followed giggling to each other. And the grown ups were left to take another mug of ale and cut the madeira cake.
What a lovely Christmas celebration in the Mackenzie! I can just imagine the families enjoying a brief respite from the hard work of their stations. Happy Christmas to everyone.