TWELVE BY THE MAIL 751
' Hurrah ! hurrah !' sang the people in the houses of the town, for the New Year was being welcomed, and they had just risen with the filled glass in their hand, to drink success to the new year.
' Happy New Year ! ' was the cry. ' A pretty wife, plenty of money, and no sorrow or care ! '
This wish was passed round, and then glasses were clashed together till they rang again, and in front of the town gate the post-carriage stopped with the strange guests, the twelve travellers.
And who were these strangers ? Each of them had his passport and his luggage with him ; they even brought presents for me and for you and for all the people of the little town. Who are they ? What did they want ? and what did they bring with them ?
' Good morning ! ' they cried to the sentry at the town gate.
' Good morning !' replied the sentry, for the clock struck twelve.
' Your name and profession ?' the sentry inquired of the one who alighted first from the carriage.
* See yourself, in the passport,' replied the man. ' I am myself ! ' And a capital fellow he looked, arrayed in a bear-skin and fur boots. ' I am the man on whom many persons fix their hopes. Come to me to-morrow, and I'll give you a New Year's present. I throw pence and dollars among the people, I even give balls, thirty-one balls ; but I cannot devote more than thirty-one nights to this. My ships are frozen in, but in my office it is warm and comfortable. I'm a merchant. My name is January, and I only carry accounts with me.'
Now the second alighted. He was a merry companion; he was a theatre director, manager of the masque balls, and all the amusements one can imagine. His luggage consisted of a great tub.
' We'll knock more than the cat out of the tub at the Shrovetide sports,' said he. 'I'll prepare a merry tune for you and for myself too. I have the shortest lifetime of my whole family, for I only become twenty-eight. Sometimes they pop me in an extra day, but I trouble myself very little about that. Hurrah ! '