Christmas 1861 – an excerpt from “Shepherd’s Delight” :-
The throng of guests mingled and mixed in the entrance hall of Hither House, although the room was somewhat restricted by the huge fir tree taking up a large piece of the space next to the grand staircase. Samuel had joined Noah and Dorcas Paget in adding ribbons and baubles to it the previous evening. The Christmas tree was a new idea to Samuel, and one that he determined to take back to Applecross. Back in England they would add candles, lit to shine into the dark evenings, but it seemed pointless to do so here with daylight lasting until it was time for bed.
The decorated tree was certainly admired by everyone. Under it there were parcels to be given out after luncheon. Most of the visitors carried their own parcels, which were added to the growing pile. The visitors had been asked to bring a gift for a child, marked male or female, to be distributed to the poor on the following day. James had found a wooden toy soldier for a boy, and Samuel, with little time to find a gift, had sacrificed a small brooch that he had bought for Betsy Franks. He hoped a small girl would like to wear it, although he wondered if she would perhaps prefer something to eat. He had some other small gifts in his bag, which he was sure Betsy Franks would like instead.
The servants were passing amongst the guests with silver trays of cool drinks while the children gathered on the stair, and under the direction of William Barber, broke into ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’. Samuel noticed Noah Paget put a hand on his wife’s shoulder as she wiped away a tear with a tiny white handkerchief. He had wondered whether they had children to fill this big house, but something told him that there was a sad story to be told there.
As the last verse came to a halt, the guests broke into a round of applause and Noah joined the singers on the stairs. “Welcome all to our house. And a Merry Christmas to you all,” he shouted loudly over the clapping. “Now, come, eat, and celebrate with us,” he added, with a wave of his arms in the direction of the dining hall.