BLTC Press Titles

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Darby O'Gill and the Little People

Hermenie Templeton Kavanagh

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

The Haunted Bookshop

Christopher Morely

Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Storied holidays

by Elbridge Streeter Brooks


TT was a very happy and an altogether jolly family that exchanged the New Year's greetings in the quaint old house by Thames-water in Chelsea scarce three miles west from London Bridge. There were Sir Thomas, the master, and Madame Alice, the mistress, and as for children there were Margery and Bess and Cicely and little Jack, to say nothing of sprightly young Maggie Giggs, their adopted sister, and all the boys and girls that belonged to the servants and tenantry on Sir Thomas More's estate.

I have called it a quaint old house, and so would you esteem it even in these bewildering days of all sorts of odd styles in houses; but in the days of young Mistress Margery it was quite a new house and quite a wonderful one too — for her father Sir Thomas, who was a great London lawyer, had built his big mansion, with its wide porches and its queer gables, its four broad bay windows, its many casements and its colony of rambling outbuildings, not too far from Temple Bar and yet far enough away from London town to have plenty of "elbow room" and a pleasant stretch of river for his daily ride in his four-oared barge over sparkling Thames-water, from Battersea Reach to the Tower Stairs. All that section is now a part of dense, busy, overgrown and bustling London, and the Thames is no longer the clear and sparkling river of three centuries and a half ago; but the children of wise Sir Thomas More thought but little as to the possible future of the big city so near their home; they wandered delightedly beneath the noble elms, pleased with their stables and their kennels, their rabbit hutches and their breezy "academy" or home schoolroom, and knew no greater delight than to watch at the river-wicket for the dip of the barge oars that heralded the return of their good father from his labors in London town.

And a good father he was. Of all the pictures of those.harsh and cruel times of power and of passion, and amid all the sights of the gay court-life and glittering pageants of bluff King Henry's time, there is no fairer picture or more inspiring sight than the glimpses we obtain— now from the letters of the wise Doctor Erasmus, and now from the records of the stately Mr. Roper — of the happy household of Sir Thomas More, the great London lawyer, in the early part of the sixteenth century.

So you may be sure it was a merry and a lively New Year's day, as welcome to the children of "Merrie England " in the year of grace 1518 as is the same bright holiday to the children of greater England in these more peaceful times. The big house in Chelsea rang with the cheery cries and counter cries of "A Happy New Year!" and "God be wi' ye — a Happy New Year to you!" while again and again the wintry air echoed the jolly chorus of the children:

Hag-a manay,
Give us your white bread and none of your gray!

All of which meant that the young folks of old England desired New Year's gifts and were in no wise bashful about calling for the very best. And indeed on that one day of the year—in hall, in cottage and in hovel — the demanding and receiving of gifts formed the chief part of the day's festivities.

Sir Thomas More was no laggard in this regard. Every dependant on his bounty — and there were many of these — had reason to remember with pleasure the good knight's well-freighted " Happy New Year." It was one of the few holidays that he determined to enjoy in the quiet, or the riot perhaps, of his big manor house on the Thames amid his romping girls and boys. Indeed it is on record that though he was high in favor as a councillor of the king — bluff, lavish, haughty, obstinate and tyrannical Harry Tudor whom all England bowed low before as King Henry vin. — Sir Thomas More did not find the favor of a king so delightful as did most courtiers, but complained again and again that he could scarce get leave to run away for a sight of his wife and children.

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