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Distant Homes; or the Graham Family in New Zealand

Chapter XIV

page 95

Chapter XIV.

Christmas in New Zealand—Great Preparation—Making a Goose Pie—A Summer Christmas.

November was now drawing to a close; and the different seeds which had been sown in the garden, were looking green and healthy.

In New Zealand, it is summer at the time we have winter, and vice versa; so the end of December is just the beginning of summer. Christmas falls at the very hottest season of the year. In the older settlements, all the English common fruits, such as strawberries, currants, etc., grace the Christmas feasts. The climate is one of the mildest in the world; flowers blow twice in the year, and those that we put into the green-house in England, and watch over with infinite care, are left out in New Zealand, and grow in the wildest luxuriance. Fuchsias are found wild in the woods, and growing to the height of eighteen or twenty feet. They grow generally upon the banks of a river, and, mingling with the beautiful green, branches of the tree fern, droop over the bright little stream. Geraniums, too, grow to perfect shrubs, and, when cultivated, surpass anything you can imagine, their fragrant leaves scenting the air for miles in the forests. There are a great number of creeping plants and parasites; that is to say, plants which grow upon other plants, such as I page 96 mentioned before. Tom was very fond of bringing home branches of the supple Jack-creeper, and making baskets, or interlacing it into seats; and he very soon had every available corner filled with a seat or chair. This plant has beautiful red berries, and, as there was no holly, these were substitutes: so, for about three days before Christmas, Tom, Lucy, and Beatrice, were very busy making a great store of these berries, having laid a plot to deck the house with green and berries after their Papa and Mamma went to bed on Christmas Eve; so the branches were all piled in an out-of-the-way corner, and many mysterious hints and sly allusions went on between the children, much to their parents’ amusement, who knew perfectly well they were going to do something on Christmas Day, but took care not to find out what, so that they might not disappoint their children. In England, it had always been their custom to have a number of their friends to spend the evening with them on Christmas Day; but this neither of the children ever thought of expecting, as, although they had a few neighbours, they were nil at a great distance, much too far, it seemed, to ask them to come to a party. What, therefore, was their surprise, when, four days before Christmas, their Mamma said,—

“Will you be sorry to have a party as you had at home?”

Lucy thought her Mamma was trying to find out whether they were content with their bush life, so said, eagerly, “Oh no, dear Mamma, we are quite happy this way; we don't care for parties a bit—do we, Tom?”

Tom laughed. “I will tell the truth, Luce. I would page 97 not mind having a game at cricket, and a few fellows to join one in something of that kind.”

“And you, Beatrice,” asked Mrs. Graham, “what do you say?”

“I would like to see my old friends again, Mamma, but I do not care to make new ones.”

“Well, I suppose Papa and I may write, and put off the party we intended having.

“Oh, Mamma, a party!” exclaimed Lucy, springing up.

“Are there boys. Mamma?” asked Tom, with equal eagerness.

Beatrice said nothing.

Mrs. Graham pretended not to hear, and the questions were repeated, At last, they found out that all the families within reach were actually to assemble at the farm on Christmas Day.

You may believe the delight expressed and felt by the children, and how eagerly they entered into the preparations necessary. Bridget was, perhaps, the happiest of them all, although she had the greatest share of work, and smallest share of amusement. To judge by her busy, light-hearted way of doing everything, you would have thought the party was on purpose for her; it was marvellous the heaps of mince pies, cakes, and cream, she manufactured; and, above all, the gigantic plum pudding, its proportions astonishing every one, but exciting a wonder as to the probability of its being eaten during the merry-making; but Bridget's answer was enough,—

“Trust me for that, Mistress; there's a couple of gintlemen that I know of, who won't lave so much as a taste, and ye may believe me troth, Mistress darling,’ Mr.

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Wilson himself could finish one twice as big, and not feel a haporth the worse. He was so hard on the tay, that I had to make it in the big kittle, and thin it doesn't contint him at times. Shure, Master Tom, whin ye go to sae, you'll bring us a chist of tay from Chiny; it would be the welcomest present ye could put yer hand on.”

“Very well, Biddy, see if I don't bring you one the very first voyage to China.”

Bridget laughed, and plunged her arms into a great heap of paste, which she proceeded to thump, twist, and pull about, until her face got so red, that Tom, who was sitting on the dresser, watching her operations, begged her to rest, or let him do it. His request set Bridget off into a roar of laughter, and she threw herself, laughing and breathless, in a chair, brushing her hand, as she did so, across her face, thereby leaving a streak of white flour, marking in strong contrast on the red ground. After Tom and she had laughed until they were tired, he said,—

“But why are you pounding the unfortunate paste in that way, Biddy? What good can it do to the bread?”

“True fur ye, Master, av it was fur bread, which it is not. Did ye ever hear of a goose pie, Master Tom?”

“Hear of a goose pie? I should think so, and eaten one twenty times.”

“Thin ye began at a mighty tinder age, I'm thinking,” was Bridget's answer. “Well, this paste is fur the wall, av the same pie,’ an av it's not well bate, it won't stand up stiff, and kape in the gravy. Ye see that hape av mate. Master Tom—that's fur the inside av the pie.”

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“But you'll never get that all into the dish, Biddy.”

“Sure I'm going to make the crust into a dish, darlin’ Just rest a bit, or go off for half an hour, and when you come back, ye'll not believe yer two eyes.”

Tom laughed, got off the dresser, and whistling a merry tune, walked away to look for Lucy, and consult as to the appreaching festival.

Lucy and Beatrice were busy stringing the red berries of the supple jack to festoon round the rooms. Tom got a darning-needle, threaded with a piece of thick cotton, and began imitating his sisters’ movements; the first berry he tried to put on was very soft, and slipped over so nicely, that he thought it was very easy; the second was hard, and required a good push to send the needlepoint through; poor Tom ran it into his finger in the attempt, and thus ended his trial at threading; for he threw away needle, thread, and berries, saying they were only fit for girls; boys had no business with needles. Lucy laughed, in spite of Tom's angry looks.

“Why, Tom, don't say that; lots of gentlemen can sew. Don't you remember Uncle telling us, that when he was young, he could hem more neatly than any of his sisters, and that he got sixpence for beating them.”

“And Tom,” put in Beatrice, “I know a sailor, who works worsted-work. Don't you, too?”

“To be sure I do; but what difference does that make? I'm not a monkey because I walk on my hind-legs.”

Lucy and Beatrice laughed.

“Where are your fore-legs?” said Lucy.

“There, goose.”

“Those are arms, not legs.”

“Did you ever see a roast hare, Miss? Well, perhaps page 100 you acknowledge, that nobody says, Will you take a fore-leg? but, Will you take a wing? Now, a wing and an arm being the same thing, and a hare's wing or arm being certainly a fore-leg, it stands to reason that our arms are fore-legs or wings, whichever we choose to call them. That's logic, Miss Luce, and beyond you, I imagine.”

Lucy shook her head, while Beatrice said,—

“Then, according to you, Tom, I'm sewing with my fore-legs?”

Tom could bear teasing from Lucy, because he never minded teasing her again; but there was something about Beatrice so like his mother, that he never treated her in the rough merry way he did Lucy; and now, getting very red and uncomfortable, made no answer, but began whistling, to hide his confusion.

“Why, Tom, one would think you were an Irishman, you are so fond of Irish tunes; I'm sure Biddy teaches you.”

“Tom was born in Ireland,” said Beatrice; “so he is an Irishman.”

Tom sprang to his feet exclaiming, “I never saw anything like you girls for teasing a fellow! If I was born in a pig-sty, should I be a pig?”

And so saying, he left his sisters, and returned to watch the operations in the kitchen.

The pie had changed amazingly; a thick wall of paste, about a foot high, stood ready to be placed upon the bottom crust, which Bridget was just cutting out. He was just in the very nick of time, and saw her bend the wall round the oval bottom, bind it with a long piece of white calico, which she pinned carefully together; then, taking the meat that was to be put in, she arranged it in page 101 layers, pressing it all down into a compact mass, filling up all the holes and corners with forcemeat, until it presented the appearance of a piece of mosaic, or inlaid work; and Tom, who never liked to enjoy a thing by himself, and had forgiven his sisters’ teazing directly he was away, rushed off, to bring them to take a peep before it was covered in.

Bridget looked on, with secret pride, at the admiring faces bent over her handiwork, though she pretended to think very lightly of it, telling them they would think nothing of that when they saw the top, which was to be made that night.

Every one in the house seemed to be concocting some plot wherewith to surprise the others; and the children, having made up their mind that their Papa was going on in a most mysterious way, disappearing with the two workmen for the whole day, and coming back after dark, tired out, many were the conjectures as to what he could possibly be doing; but, much as they wished to know, they did nothing further than wonder, each one giving some reason they thought conclusive.

At last, the day before Christmas arrived, and nothing could be more unlike the seasons they had been accustomed to; a hot sun shining from a cloudless blue sky; the woods all bright with leaves, flowers, and fruit, and the mignonette waving luxuriantly in the gentle breeze. When the family assembled at the breakfast-table, and sat down with the window wide open, the table looking quite lively with radishes, mustard and cress, Lucy could not help looking reproachfully at the fire-place, wishing she saw the great red coals she had always associated with Christmas.