Posted on Sunday, 16 December 2001, at 7:54 p.m.
'Twas the night before Christmas at Northanger Abbey,
Where General Tilney was feeling quite crabby.
The season for him held no reason or rhyme,
So "Bah, humbug!" he thought (well ahead of his time).
Through his head danced not one sugarplum vision,
And for those who were merry he felt only derision.
If his halls were undecked, well, he cared not a jot -
Besides, holly and ivy made him break out in spots.
From his front steps he'd banished any carolers singing,
And he was too far from town to hear Christmas bells ringing.
"Now at last for some shut-eye!" is what he did say.
"For tomorrow is just another ordinary day."
But the General was fated not to sleep this eve -
And what happened next you will never believe.
For just as he was tucked up all warm in his bed,
There was a loud noise from the roof overhead!
Now did the General prove that he was no fool.
Did he panic? No, his head was level and cool.
Quick as a wink, he dashed down to the lawn,
Determined to find out what was going on.
He peered around fast to locate the intruder.
Was it Corsican brigands, or someone much ruder?
He saw nothing at first, but then he heard a jingle -
Looking roofward, he saw a shadow high on the shingles!
"Come down here at once!" the General roared,
"Be you robber or footpad, you'd better depart before..."
With that threat unfinished, the figure up on the roof
Lost his balance, slid down, and disappeared with a poof!
The General raced 'round to the back of the house
In hopes of catching the despicable louse
Who had disturbed his rest - but 'twas all for naught,
For the fellow hadn't lingered about to be caught.
But though the shadow was gone, was there stuff yet to find?
Going so quickly, he might have left some clues behind.
From the roof came yet that jingling sound,
And the General stumbled over something dropped on the ground.
He picked it up slowly, he eyed it with care -
Why, it was some kind of a robe that you'd wear!
All red with fur trim, of a length down to one's foot,
And strangely covered in places with soot.
Now since it was a cold night to run hither and yon,
And he'd come out in his nightshirt, the General put the robe on.
(With the shadow-man gone, the garment was now his -
That shows how pragmatic the General is!)
Next how to get up to the roof - through the attic?
He'd have to use quite his stealthiest tactics.
The source of the noise he must swiftly find out,
And any more burglars he surely would rout.
So the General thought, but then he let out a cry!
For while he'd been thinking, he had started to fly,
Floating up from the earth like a giant red bird!
(Now I ask you, isn't this getting absurd?)
He landed with a bump up there on the rooftop,
And what he saw next brought him to a dead stop.
He rubbed his eyes hard, but the sight didn't disappear:
A miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer!
(I know, for the purists, there ought to be nine,
But if Rudolph's not here, the fault isn't mine!
Since I'm spoofing the original just to be sure,
Blame the lack of the red nose on Clement Clark Moore!)
But back to the General, who was feeling quite strange.
His feelings in a new way were being rearranged.
He who scoffed at Christmas, in spite of himself
Was starting to feel like a jolly old elf!
Still other changes continued to appear:
Soon his head boasted white hair and a beard!
And then at last, I'm sure you all want to know,
He opened his mouth and he laughed, "Ho, ho, ho!"
He laughed a bit more, enjoying this trick -
For tonight, at least, the General would be playing St. Nick!
If he had spoken, then he would have said
How his un-Christmas crabbiness was all quite fled!
What fun this would be, to deliver all the gifts
And give people's sprits a Christmas Eve lift!
Even more fun, to travel Santa's way,
Flying across the sky in that sleigh!
But who was nice? Who was naughty? On the answer depended
What presents he'd leave when down chimneys he descended.
The General's brows furrowed, and he let his eyes close -
But how simple! These things Santa just knows.
"The first naughty one is that flirt Isabella,
Who has teased who knows how many capital fellas!
Miss Thorpe is definitely too big for her britches,
So all she will get is a bundle of switches!
Then there's her brother, that vain rattle John
Who cares for naught but what curricle he's on!
He won't get a reward for the stories he's told,
So his stocking will have only some great lumps of coal!
My older son Fred is on the naughty list, too?
For a present for him, I know just what I'll do!
Pine long for Isabella? That surely he will not
When I give him a mirror borrowed from Walter Elliot!
It pains me to know how easily I was fooled,
And let myself be by my greediness ruled!
Now that I know just how badly I've acted,
I hope my poor choices can be soon retracted!
My other kids weren't duped, that much I can see -
Smarter than their old man they turned out to be.
I've learned my lesson, so now I'll look quick
To see what presents they'll get from St. Nick!"
The bag of gifts sat on the end of the sleigh,
So the General directed his efforts that way.
A present for Eleanor was on top of the pile,
And when he saw it the General did smile.
Hyacinths for her garden he knew she'd enjoy,
Since she was too old now for poppets and toys.
His care for his daughter quite high did mount,
And he'd not be surprised if she wed a viscount.
For Henry, a greatcoat with many capes,
In which he'd look handsome, the sly jackanapes!
And then a package, quite as big as a log,
Of bones as a gift for his Newfoundland dog.
But the bag wasn't empty, it still had some heft -
After the gifts for his children, what else could be left?
The last box took up most of the rest of the bag
And had "For Catherine" writ large on its tag.
The General turned back the wrapping to give it some glances:
It was a library's worth of Gothic romances!
Well, books were entertaining if she ever got bored,
But there General knew something she would like even more.
"It was too unfair of me to turn her out of the house;
I acted quite badly - yes, I was a louse!
I'll have to make it up to both her and Harry -
By giving them my immediate consent to marry."
So the General took up the reins and got into the sleigh,
And in no time at all he was up and away.
The reindeer would take him to Fullerton quick,
His first stop on this night of being St. Nick.
So you see that the General did find a true reason
To be happy and merry this holiday season.
One important thing he learned to believe:
As much joy as you give, that is what you receive.
Before we say farewell, let us take one last pause,
To hear the General quote that famous Santa clause;
And we'll hear him exclaim as he drives out of sight,
"Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"