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shall be able to maintain the most certain and most rapid communication between Europe and Asia. It is not merely by the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea that henceforth the trade with the East is going to be carried on. The Eastern Continent of
Asia will be roused to a new commercial activity from other parts, and especially from the several ports of the Chinese Empire. Consequently, the empire of the world, in a commercial point of view, will henceforth belong to that one of the two powers, of England or America, which shall be the first to find means to establish a direct road across the continent of America, whereby to communicate more rapidly with the great East on the Pacific side, and with Europe on the Atlantic side. This will be the great highway by which the products of the old world will have to be carried to the Eastern world.
"Hence it is that the victory, which is to give the empire of the world, will be gained by the power which shall be the first to establish the line of railroad across regions and countries which are yet unknown and unexplored. The struggle for the attainment of this great victory is well worth the trouble and expense which it will entail; for the empire of the seas and the commercial dominion over the whole world are the great stakes which are being played for."
It has been shown that the best and easiest line of communication to the Pacific, across the North America Continent, is through British territory. Providence seems, indeed, as if it had left a strip stretching across from the Atlantic to the Pacific as a last chance for Great Britain. Hemmed in at one extremity by Oregon and Aliaska (incorrectly written Alaska), territories of the United States, to the south and to the north, its central portions held as hunting grounds by a Malthusian Company, and without means of access, except by the United States, the tenure of this strip of land becomes yearly more and more jeopardised.
The struggle for commercial superiority, which has long been predicted, has now become imminent, and the day is fast approaching when that envied trade with the East," the diversion of which has marked the decline of empires," is about to be wrested from England, unless she hastens to parry the blow. In the mean while, the high road over which this race is to come off between the two greatest commercial nations in the world, with Europe for spectator and Asia to hold the stakes, is still open to the competing parties. The vantage ground is even in favour of England; but while the latter has been in a state of somnolence, her active rival has been wide awake, and has left so much of the race behind her and got so far ahead, that nothing but the superiority of the two termini on the Atlantic and on the Pacific of the British line can oust her from her advantageous position.
THE reign of that illustrious monarch King Christmas had com menced again for the eighteen hundred and fifty-sixth time since its eventful opening, and the merry old king entered on his new career of the season with all the pomp that usually distinguishes his most excellent and gracious majesty-viz. wearing his royal mantle of snow and his regal diadem of frost, and the insignia of the noble order of the icicle depending conspicuously from his venerable and kingly neck. Truly was he a mighty monarch, and popular withal, as testified by the spirit of rejoicing pervading all classes of his subjects on his resuming the sceptre after an interregnum of a year. Not Henri IV. himself was ever more beloved or belauded by an adoring populace than this same antique, grey-bearded, grim-countenanced monarch was worshipped and glorified by his. Christmas! What sweet domestic visions fall like shadows from the magic lantern of memory on the tablets of the mind at the sound of the word! The heavy tramp of the boys home for the holidays, who seem like beings launched into a state of perpetual motion, a centrifugal force perpetually drawing them away from the domestic circle in the direction of certain kennels and stables, while another co-existing attraction in the form of sundry mince-pies, and plum-puddings encircled by "blue blazes," serves to cast a just balance, and produce an equality of revolution within a certain orbit; the girls, grouped round the great fire in the drawing-room in cosy chat, or turned out in the daintiest of petticoats and most fascinating of little fur-topped boots to sniff the keen wintry air, and there are odd shyings of snow-balls, and scampers after each other through the snow, or mayhap a delightful turn on the ice with the magic clogs strapped on to the soles, which diversion involves from the fair glisseuses a labyrinth of pretty attitudes and performances, and little screams and frights, and an absolute impossibility (in particular cases) of keeping up without a vast deal of support-you could not fancy how much, or rather you could very well if well if you had an acute imagination in such matters. Then comes the quickly closing winter evening, when the fire roars merrily up the dining-room chimney, as if in pure gleeful sympathy with these festive times, and the glittering festoons of mistletoe and glossyleaved holly wink in the flickering light that plays a game of
cache-cache through the bright leaves and brighter berries, and groups of young faces at the windows are "peering out into the darkness to see some form arise," the forms that are away on the moorland, and for whom the Christmas dinner is waiting. "Will they come soon? The pudding will be spoiled and the roast beef overdone if they don't." Lo, there is a shout and a rush, and a half-dozen stalwart individuals, with guns shouldered and powderflasks slouched, strut up to the hall door like so many white Polar bears, or small avalanches. The door is opened amidst a torrent of laughter and mirth, and very peremptorily closed again, for there is a cold rush of air from the outer world like a gentle remembrancer that all places are not equally blessed this Christmas night, and that there are wretched, shivering human beings for whom the word Christmas has no happy associations, no social, cheerful hopes, no love and kindness within its two short syllables. "Remember the poor!" Many a time has that dreary placard met my eye in bold characters on the doors of some charitable retreat for indigence, some receptacle for the waifs and strays of a great city. Ay, remember the poor! The pale one who stands at your door begging the crumbs that fall from your table wherewith to quell his hunger; the homeless orphan, with no shelter save the cold roof of the charity house; the aged and the tottering, whose sands of life are well-nigh numbered. It is the day sanctified by that most Godlike act of mercy that saved the fallen race of Adam, a grand self-sacrifice for a mighty end. Let mercy, then, establish her mild "thrice blessed" reign on this holiest of festivals, and "remember the poor."
By-and-by the wax lights are glinting in the big drawing-room, from which the carpets have been duly removed; the piano is wheeled out, and the last new waltz by Godfrey or a galop by Coote, flashes forth in clear sole-stirring tones, and the white gossamer vestures are flying, and the fair heads wreathed with the bright holly-berries are spinning round to the bewildering
For the eighteen hundred and fifty-sixth time did King Christmas resume his reign, did I say at the beginning of this paper, when with an airy movement that mischievous sprite called fancy seized my pen and whisked it off in her embraces. Let me humbly apologise for the unlicensed digression, et retournons à nos
It was Christmas Eve in the village of Ashton-Henley, a wild locality on the bare Northumberland moorlands, with the desolate hills on every side and the wide sea in front, an expanse of moorland and sea as far as the eye could reach. On the outskirts of the village, in the great square block of building known as Ashton House, the merry old king was being inaugurated with becoming
splendour, and there were heaps of holly and ivy and sprigs of mistletoe tumbled together in the centre of the large dining-room, waiting patiently their transition to the walls, where they were to be twisted and twined and transmogrified into tasteful devices and graceful festoons, with wax lights of every colour-pink, green, and blue-glittering through them like the stars of a Libyan sky. There was to be a ball at Ashton House this Christmas Eve, for no less an event than the young heir's attaining his majority was to be celebrated. Robert Ashton had reached his twenty-first year, amidst the general goodwill of all classes, gentle and simple, and though in the matter of elevation to certain rights and privileges which the mature age of twenty-one usually implies, this ceremony of coming of age was a mere form, the young man having been undisputed master of Ashton and all its belongings since his nineteenth year, when death had removed his father from the head of the establishment, still there was a certain importance attached to it from the fact that he became an acknowledged magnate of his native county from that date, and the legal representative of the house of Ashton. Great, as I have said before, were the preparations for the festival, and every hand contributed its mite towards the work of beautifying. The two elder Miss Ashtons, with their younger sisters and their governess Miss Hyde, were assembled in the large drawing-room, draping its walls with holly and ivy in every appropriate and fantastic fashion imaginable, arches and lover's-knots and mottoes, interspersed with wax candles, and in the adjoining library the tables were being prepared for the supper.
The old butler (a venerable domestic who had been in the family for upwards of forty years) was kept trotting up and down stairs like a hack horse.
"God help my old bones and the rheumatiz," he would say, as he hobbled off with a new commission. "And still I would rayther refuse any of the ladies than Miss Hyde; howsomever it is, I feel as if she was an Ashton. She's uncommon nice and gentle-uncommon so," was his mental rejoinder every time he quitted the presence of the little governess, and there were few people on whom Miss Hyde's spell had not fallen with similar force.
The old women in the village looked out for her coming as eagerly as if some perennial benefit were to be derived therefrom, whereas the little governess had no gift, save a kind and cheerful word, to bestow on any one; the very ragamuffins grew subdued at her approach, and would as soon have thought of pitching their balls and marbles headlong into the river, as making any exhibition in her presence of that peculiar quality appertaining to their condition, technically known as "brass." By her two little.
girl pupils was she especially beloved, and they clung to her like an elder sister, so that with these unusually favourable auspices to her weary life, the cold haughty deportment of the lady of Ashton House sat lightly on the soul of Lucy Hyde, and a year and a half of her life had passed contentedly enough on these wild moorlands, where the only diversification to the ordinary routine of life had been a heavy dinner-party, attended by sturdy, bovinelooking country gentlemen, whose conversation had a most prononcée tendency to the bucolic. Miss Hyde was now one of the most active participants in the decoration of the ball-room.
"I think I must have mistaken my vocation," she said, as she moved nimbly about the work. "I should have been a French milliner, inventing fancy little coiffures and dainty bits of bonnets. That's my taste to a T. I could tell at a glance what anything required in the way of a ribbon, a flower, or a bow, and I know
nature intended me for a milliner."
"How pleasant it would be to get one's bonnets from you!" cried the younger Miss Ashton, impulsively, for she was Miss Hyde's sworn friend. "I should be a frequent visitor of your's, Miss Hyde, I think-don't you? And what a dear little milliner you would make, to be sure. One would come for the pleasure of chatting to you, and looking at you, as much as for the turning over of the nice things. I'm sure there would be plenty of gentlemen to escort us to your warerooms."
Miss Hyde gave a pretty little laugh in acknowledgment of this complimentary speech, while the elder Miss Ashton looked up primly and reprovingly at her garrulous younger sister. She could not understand her gushing ways and freedom with the governess. She was never guilty of such forgetfulness of position, and could not make out at all how other people could be.
"We shall have a grand dance to-night, Miss Hyde," continued the incorrigible free-making girl, "and I'm engaged to eight partners-only fancy that! And won't I spin around to those sweet bewildering German waltzes-oh, won't I, dear, dear Miss Hyde! And I hope you'll dance too," she added, good-naturedly, for she didn't like to be selfish in her delight. 66 Do you know Captain Crowder admires you awfully, and Bob says you have the prettiest eyes he ever looked at."
A burning spot rose to Lucy Hyde's cheek at these words, and she bent closer over the ivy she had been twisting into a wreath. "Fanny, how can you talk such humbug," broke in the dignified Mary Ashton. "You know it was Lady Mary Leslie's eyes Robert remarked."
"Lady Mary Leslie's eyes!" cried Fanny, visual organs very wide with astonishment. calls her anything but 'Chips' and 'Sawbones.'
opening her own "Why he never Indeed, mamma