They had not been long in hiding when a gay chattering of ladies and gentlemen was audible on the terrace without. Hubert felt that it would not do to be caught prowling about the house, unless he wished to be taken for a robber himself; and he slipped softly back to the hall, out the door, and stood in a dark corner of the porch, where he could see everything without being himself seen. In a moment or two a whole troop of personages came gliding past him into the house. There were an elderly gentleman and lady, eight or nine young ladies, as many young men, besides half-a-dozen menservants and maids. The mansion had apparently been quite emptied of its occupants.
“Now, children and young people, we will resume our meal,” said the old gentleman. “What the noise could have been I cannot understand. I never felt so certain in my life that there was a person being murdered outside my door.”
Then the ladies began saying how frightened they had been, and how they had expected an adventure, and how it had ended in nothing at all.
“Wait a while,” said Hubert to himself. “You’ll have adventure enough by-and-by, ladies.”
It appeared that the young men and women were married sons and daughters of the old couple, who had come that day to spend Christmas with their parents.
The door was then closed, Hubert being left outside in the porch. He thought this a proper moment for asking their assistance; and, since he was unable to knock with his hands, began boldly to kick the door.
“Hullo! What disturbance are you making here?” said a footman who opened it; and, seizing Hubert by the shoulder, he pulled him into the dining-hall. “Here’s a strange boy I have found making a noise in the porch, Sir Simon.”
“Bring him forward,” said Sir Simon, the old gentleman before mentioned. “What were you doing there, my boy?”
“Why, his arms are tied! ” said one of the ladies.
“Poor fellow! ” said another.
Hubert at once began to explain that he had been waylaid on his journey home, robbed of his horse, and mercilessly left in this condition by the thieves.
“Only to think of it!” exclaimed Sir Simon.
“That’s a likely story,” said one of the gentlemen-guests, incredulously.
“Doubtful, hey?” asked Sir Simon.
“Perhaps he’s a robber himself,” suggested a lady.
“There is a curiously wild, wicked look about him, certainly, now that I examine him closely,” said the old mother.
Hubert blushed with shame; and, instead of continuing his story, and relating that robbers were concealed in the house, he doggedly held his tongue, and half resolved to let them find out their danger for themselves.
“Well, untie him,” said Sir Simon. “Come, since it is Christmas Eve, we’ll treat him well. Here, my lad; sit down in that empty seat at the bottom of the table, and make as good a meal as you can. When you have had your fill we will listen to more particulars of your story. “
The feast then proceeded; and Hubert, now at liberty, was not at all sorry to join in. The more they ate and drank the merrier did the company become; the wine flowed freely, the logs flared up the chimney, the ladies laughed at the gentlemen’s stories; in short, all went as noisily and as happily as a Christmas gathering in old times possibly could do.
Hubert, in spite of his hurt feelings at their doubts of his honesty, could not help being warmed both in mind and in body by the good cheer, the scene, and the example of hilarity set by his neighbors. At last he laughed as heartily at their stories and repartees as the old Baronet, Sir Simon, himself. When the meal was almost over one of the sons, who had drunk a little too much wine, after the manner of men in that century, said to Hubert, “Well, my boy, how are you? Can you take a pinch of snuff?” He held out one of the snuff-boxes which were then becoming common among young and old throughout the country.
“Thank you,” said Hubert, accepting a pinch.
“Tell the ladies who you are, what you are made of, and what you can do,” the young man continued, slapping Hubert upon the shoulder.
“Certainly,” said our hero, drawing himself up, and thinking it best to put a bold face on the matter. “I am a traveling magician. “
“What shall we hear next?”
“Can you call up spirits from the vasty deep, young wizard?”
“I can conjure up a tempest in a cupboard,” Hubert replied.
“Ha-ha!” said the old Baronet, pleasantly rubbing his hands. “We must see this performance. Girls, don’t go away: here’s something to be seen.”