‘Christmas at Thompson Hall’ by Anthony Trollope

A classic story of mix-ups and confusions shot through with gentle humour. Having grown accustomed to spending their winters in the South of France, Mr and Mrs Brown are travelling back to England for a family gathering at Thompson Hall. Mrs Brown’s younger sister is to be married, and this will be the couple’s first opportunity to meet the girl’s fiancé in person. With her fondness for the traditions of the season, Mrs Brown is eager to get to the Hall in time for Christmas Eve. Her husband, however, seems reluctant to make the trip for fear of aggravating his weak chest and throat, a condition which causes the couple to break their journey to spend the night in Paris. When his wife asks him if there is anything she can do to relieve his suffering, Mr Brown identifies just the thing – the application of a mustard compress to the throat is sure to be of great help. (As it turns out, Mr B is something of a hypochondriac.) What follows is a hilarious sequence of white lies, misunderstandings and coincidences, culminating in a most embarrassing predicament for Mrs Brown. To say any more might spoil the fun.

First published in The Graphic. Collected in Why Frau Frohmann Raised Her Prices and Other Stories, 1882. Also collected in Christmas at Thompson Hall and Other Christmas Stories, Penguin Books 2014