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December

December 7th.--I have been to England. I went for at least
a month and stayed a week in a fog and was blown home again in a gale.
Twice I fled before the fogs into the country to see friends
with gardens, but it was raining, and except the beautiful lawns
(not to be had in the Fatherland) and the infinite possibilities,
there was nothing to interest the intelligent and garden-loving foreigner,
for the good reason that you cannot be interested in gardens under
an umbrella. So I went back to the fogs, and after groping
about for a few days more began to long inordinately for Germany.
A terrific gale sprang up after I had started, and the journey both
by sea and land was full of horrors, the trains in Germany being
heated to such an extent that it is next to impossible to sit still,
great gusts of hot air coming up under the cushions, the cushions
themselves being very hot, and the wretched traveller still hotter.

But when I reached my home and got out of the train into the purest,
brightest snow-atmosphere, the air so still that the whole world seemed
to be listening, the sky cloudless, the crisp snow sparkling underfoot
and on the trees, and a happy row of three beaming babies awaiting me,
I was consoled for all my torments, only remembering them enough to wonder
why I had gone away at all.

The babies each had a kitten in one hand and an elegant
bouquet of pine needles and grass in the other, and what with
the due presentation of the bouquets and the struggles of
the kittens, the hugging and kissing was much interfered with.
Kittens, bouquets, and babies were all somehow squeezed into
the sleigh, and off we went with jingling bells and shrieks
of delight.
"Directly you comes home the fun begins," said the May baby,
sitting very close to me. "How the snow purrs!" cried the
April baby, as the horses scrunched it up with their feet.
The June baby sat loudly singing "The King of Love my Shepherd is,"
and swinging her kitten round by its tail to emphasise the rhythm.

The house, half-buried in the snow, looked the very abode
of peace, and I ran through all the rooms, eager to take possession
of them again, and feeling as though I had been away for ever.
When I got to the library I came to a standstill,--ah, the dear room,
what happy times I have spent in it rummaging amongst the books,
making plans for my garden, building castles in the air, writing,
dreaming, doing nothing! There was a big peat fire blazing half up
the chimney, and the old housekeeper had put pots of flowers about,
and on the writingtable was a great bunch of violets scenting the room.
"Oh, how good it is to be home again!" I sighed in my satisfaction.
The babies clung about my knees, looking up at me with eyes full of love.
Outside the dazzling snow and sunshine, inside the bright room
and happy faces--I thought of those yellow fogs and shivered.
The library is not used by the Man of Wrath ; it is
neutral ground where we meet in the evenings for an hour before
he disappears into his own rooms--a series of very smoky dens
in the southeast corner of the house. It looks, I am afraid,
rather too gay for an ideal library; and its colouring,
white and yellow, is so cheerful as to be almost frivolous.
There are white bookcases all round the walls, and there
is a great fireplace, and four windows, facing full south,
opening on to my most cherished bit of garden, the bit round
the sun-dial; so that with so much colour and such a big fire
and such floods of sunshine it has anything but a sober air,
in spite of the venerable volumes filling the shelves.
Indeed, I should never be surprised if they skipped down from
their places, and, picking up their leaves, began to dance.

With this room to live in, I can look forward with perfect equanimity
to being snowed up for any time Providence thinks proper; and to go into
the garden in its snowed-up state is like going into a bath of purity.
The first breath on opening the door is so ineffably pure that it makes
me gasp, and I feel a black and sinful object in the midst of all
the spotlessness.
Yesterday I sat out of doors near the sun-dial the whole afternoon,
with the thermometer so many degrees below freezing that it
will be weeks finding its way up again; but there was no wind,
and beautiful sunshine, and I was well wrapped up in furs.
I even had tea brought out there, to the astonishment of the menials,
and sat till long after the sun had set, enjoying the frosty air.
I had to drink the tea very quickly, for it showed a strong inclination
to begin to freeze. After the sun had gone down the rooks came home
to their nests in the garden with a great fuss and fluttering, and many
hesitations and squabbles before they settled on their respective trees.
They flew over my head in hundreds with a mighty swish of wings,
and when they had arranged themselves comfortably, an intense hush fell
upon the garden, and the house began to look like a Christmas card,
with its white roof against the clear, pale green of the western sky,
and lamplight shining in the windows.

I had been reading a Life of Luther, lent me by our parson,
in the intervals between looking round me and being happy.
He came one day with the book and begged me to read it,
having discovered that my interest in Luther was not as living
as it ought to be; so I took it out with me into the garden,
because the dullest book takes on a certain saving grace
if read out of doors, just as bread and butter, devoid of
charm in the drawing-room, is ambrosia eaten under a tree.
I read Luther all the afternoon with pauses for refreshing glances
at the garden and the sky, and much thankfulness in my heart.
His struggles with devils amazed me ; and I wondered whether
such a day as that, full of grace and the forgiveness of sins,
never struck him as something to make him relent even towards devils.
He apparently never allowed himself just to be happy.
He was a wonderful man, but I am glad I was not his wife.

Our parson is an interesting person, and untiring in his efforts
to improve himself. Both he and his wife study whenever they have
a spare moment, and there is a tradition that she stirs her puddings
with one hand and holds a Latin grammar in the other, the grammar,
of course, getting the greater share of her attention. To most German
Hausfraus the dinners and the puddings are of paramount importance,
and they pride themselves on keeping those parts of their houses
that are seen in a state of perpetual and spotless perfection,
and this is exceedingly praiseworthy; but, I would humbly inquire,
are there not other things even more important? And is not plain
living and high thinking better than the other way about?
And all too careful making of dinners and dusting of furniture takes
a terrible amount of precious time, and--and with shame I confess
that my sympathies are all with the pudding and the grammar.
It cannot be right to be the slave of one's household gods, and I protest
that if my furniture ever annoyed me by wanting to be dusted when I
wanted to be doing something else, and there was no one to do the dusting
for me, I would cast it all into the nearest bonfire and sit and warm
my toes at the flames with great contentment, triumphantly selling
my dusters to the very next pedlar who was weak enough to buy them.
Parsons' wives have to do the housework and cooking themselves,
and are thus not only cooks and housemaids, but if they have children--
and they always do have children--they are head and under nurse as well;
and besides these trifling duties have a good deal to do with their
fruit and vegetable garden, and everything to do with their poultry.
This being so, is it not pathetic to find a young woman bravely
struggling to learn languages and keep up with her husband?
If I were that husband, those puddings would taste sweetest to me
that were served with Latin sauce. They are both severely pious,
and are for ever engaged in desperate efforts to practise what
they preach; than which, as we all know, nothing is more difficult.
He works in his parish with the most noble self-devotion, and
never loses courage, although his efforts have been several times
rewarded by disgusting libels pasted up on the street-corners,
thrown under doors, and even fastened to his own garden wall.
The peasant hereabouts is past belief low and animal, and a sensitive,
intellectual parson among them is really a pearl before swine.
For years he has gone on unflinchingly, filled with the most living
faith and hope and charity, and I sometimes wonder whether they are
any better now in his parish than they were under his predecessor,
a man who smoked and drank beer from Monday morning to Saturday night,
never did a stroke of work, and often kept the scanty congregation
waiting on Sunday afternoons while he finished his postprandial nap.
It is discouraging enough to make most men give in, and leave
the parish to get to heaven or not as it pleases; but he never
seems discouraged, and goes on sacrificing the best part
of his life to these people when all his tastes are literary,
and all his inclinations towards the life of the student.
His convictions drag him out of his little home at all hours to
minister to the sick and exhort the wicked; they give him no rest,
and never let him feel he has done enough; and when he comes home weary,
after a day's wrestling with his parishioners' souls, he is confronted
on his doorstep by filthy abuse pasted up on his own front door.
He never speaks of these things, but how shall they be hid?
Everybody here knows everything that happens before the day is over,
and what we have for dinner is of far greater general interest
than the most astounding political earthquake. They have a pretty,
roomy cottage, and a good bit of ground adjoining the churchyard.
His predecessor used to hang out his washing on the tombstones to dry,
but then he was a person entirely lost to all sense of decency,
and had finally to be removed, preaching a farewell sermon
of a most vituperative description, and hurling invective at
the Man of Wrath, who sat up in his box drinking in every word
and enjoying himself thoroughly. The Man of Wrath likes novelty,
and such a sermon had never been heard before. It is spoken
of in the village to this day with bated breath and awful joy.


December 22nd.--Up to now we have had a beautiful winter.
Clear skies, frost, little wind, and, except for a sharp touch
now and then, very few really cold days. My windows are gay with
hyacinths and lilies of the valley; and though, as I have said,
I don't admire the smell of hyacinths in the spring when it seems
wanting in youth and chastity next to that of other flowers,
I am glad enough now to bury my nose in their heavy sweetness.
In December one cannot afford to be fastidious; besides, one is
actually less fastidious about everything in the winter.
The keen air braces soul as well as body into robustness,
and the food and the perfume disliked in the summer are
perfectly welcome then.

I am very busy preparing for Christmas, but have
often locked myself up in a room alone, shutting out my
unfinished duties, to study the flower catalogues and make
my lists of seeds and shrubs and trees for the spring.
It is a fascinating occupation, and acquires an additional
charm when you know you ought to be doing something else,
that Christmas is at the door, that children and servants
and farm hands depend on you for their pleasure, and that,
if you don't see to the decoration of the trees and house,
and the buying of the presents, nobody else will.
The hours fly by shut up with those catalogues and with Duty
snarling on the other side of the door. I don't like Duty--
everything in the least disagreeable is always sure to be one's duty.
Why cannot it be my duty to make lists and plans for the dear garden?
"And so it is," I insisted to the Man of Wrath, when he
protested against what he called wasting my time upstairs.
"No," he replied sagely; "your garden is not your duty,
because it is your Pleasure."

What a comfort it is to have such wells of wisdom constantly
at my disposal! Anybody can have a husband, but to few is it given
to have a sage, and the combination of both is as rare as it is useful.
Indeed, in its practical utility the only thing I ever saw to equal it
is a sofa my neighbour has bought as a Christmas surprise for her husband,
and which she showed me the last time I called there--a beautiful invention,
as she explained, combining a bedstead, a sofa, and a chest of drawers,
and into which you put your clothes, and on top of which you put yourself,
and if anybody calls in the middle of the night and you happen to be
using the drawing-room as a bedroom, you just pop the bedclothes inside,
and there you are discovered sitting on your sofa and looking for all
the world as though you had been expecting visitors for hours.

"Pray, does he wear pyjamas?" I inquired.

But she had never heard of pyjamas.

It takes a long time to make my spring lists.
I want to have a border all yellow, every shade of yellow
from fieriest orange to nearly white, and the amount
of work and studying of gardening books it costs me
will only be appreciated by beginners like myself.
I have been weeks planning it, and it is not nearly finished.
I want it to be a succession of glories from May till the frosts,
and the chief feature is to be the number of "ardent marigolds"--
flowers that I very tenderly love--and nasturtiums.
The nasturtiums are to be of every sort and shade,
and are to climb and creep and grow in bushes, and show
their lovely flowers and leaves to the best advantage.
Then there are to be eschscholtzias, dahlias, sunflowers,
zinnias, scabiosa, portulaca, yellow violas, yellow stocks,
yellow sweet-peas, yellow lupins--everything that is yellow
or that has a yellow variety. The place I have chosen for it
is a long, wide border in the sun, at the foot of a grassy
slope crowned with lilacs and pines, and facing southeast.
You go through a little pine wood, and, turning a corner,
are to come suddenly upon this bit of captured morning glory.
I want it to be blinding in its brightness after the dark,
cool path through the wood.

That is the idea. Depression seizes me when I reflect upon
the probable difference between the idea and its realisation.
I am ignorant, and the gardener is, I do believe, still more so;
for he was forcing some tulips, and they have all shrivelled up
and died, and he says he cannot imagine why. Besides, he is in love
with the cook, and is going to marry her after Christmas, and refuses
to enter into any of my plans with the enthusiasm they deserve,
but sits with vacant eye dreamily chopping wood from morning till
night to keep the beloved one's kitchen fire well supplied.
I cannot understand any one preferring cooks to marigolds;
those future marigolds, shadowy as they are, and whose seeds are
still sleeping at the seedsman's, have shone through my winter days
like golden lamps.

I wish with all my heart I were a man, for of course the first
thing I should do would be to buy a spade and go and garden, and then I
should have the delight of doing everything for my flowers with my own hands
and need not waste time explaining what I want done to somebody else.
It is dull work giving orders and trying to describe the bright
visions of one's brain to a person who has no visions and no brain,
and who thinks a yellow bed should be calceolarias edged with blue.

I have taken care in choosing my yellow plants to put down only
those humble ones that are easily pleased and grateful for little,
for my soil is by no means all that it might be, and to most
plants the climate is rather trying. I feel really grateful
to any flower that is sturdy and willing enough to flourish here.
Pansies seem to like the place and so do sweet-peas; pinks don't,
and after much coaxing gave hardly any flowers last summer.
Nearly all the roses were a success, in spite of the sandy soil,
except the tea-rose Adam, which was covered with buds ready
to open, when they suddenly turned brown and died, and three
standard Dr. Grills which stood in a row and simply sulked.
I had been very excited about Dr. Grill, his description
in the catalogues being specially fascinating,
and no doubt I deserved the snubbing I got. "Never be excited,
my dears, about anything," shall be the advice I will give
the three babies when the time comes to take them out to parties,
"or, if you are, don't show it. If by nature you are volcanoes,
at least be only smouldering ones. Don't look pleased,
don't look interested, don't, above all things, look eager.
Calm indifference should be written on every feature of your faces.
Never show that you like any one person, or any one thing.
Be cool, languid, and reserved. If you don't do as your
mother tells you and are just gushing, frisky, young idiots,
snubs will be your portion. If you do as she tells you,
you'll marry princes and live happily ever after."

Dr. Grill must be a German rose. In this part of
the world the more you are pleased to see a person the less
is he pleased to see you; whereas, if you are disagreeable,
he will grow pleasant visibly, his countenance expanding
into wider amiability the more your own is stiff and sour.
But I was not Prepared for that sort of thing in a rose,
and was disgusted with Dr. Grill. He had the best place in
the garden--warm, sunny, and sheltered; his holes were prepared
with the tenderest care; he was given the most dainty
mixture of compost, clay, and manure; he was watered assiduously
all through the drought when more willing flowers got nothing;
and he refused to do anything but look black and shrivel.
He did not die, but neither did he live--he just existed;
and at the end of the summer not one of him had a scrap
more shoot or leaf than when he was first put in in April.
It would have been better if he had died straight away, for then
I should have known what to do; as it is, there he is still
occupying the best place, wrapped up carefully for the winter,
excluding kinder roses, and probably intending to repeat
the same conduct next year. Well, trials are the portion
of mankind, and gardeners have their share, and in any case
it is better to be tried by plants than persons, seeing that
with plants you know that it is you who are in the wrong,
and with persons it is always the other way about--and who is
there among us who has not felt the pangs of injured innocence,
and known them to be grievous?

I have two visitors staying with me, though I have done nothing
to provoke such an infliction, and had been looking forward to a happy
little Christmas alone with the Man of Wrath and the babies.
Fate decreed otherwise. Quite regularly, if I look forward to anything,
Fate steps in and decrees otherwise; I don't know why it should, but it does.
I had not even invited these good ladies--like greatness on the modest,
they were thrust upon me. One is Irais, the sweet singer of the summer,
whom I love as she deserves, but of whom I certainly thought I had seen
the last for at least a year, when she wrote and asked if I would have her
over Christmas, as her husband was out of sorts, and she didn't like him
in that state. Neither do I like sick husbands, so, full of sympathy,
I begged her to come, and here she is. And the other is Minora.

Why I have to have Minora I don't know, for I
was not even aware of her existence a fortnight ago.
Then coming down cheerfully one morning to breakfast--
it was the very day after my return from England--
I found a letter from an English friend, who up till then
had been perfectly innocuous, asking me to befriend Minora.
I read the letter aloud for the benefit of the Man of Wrath,
who was eating Spickgans, a delicacy much sought after in
these parts.
"Do, my dear Elizabeth," wrote my friend, "take some
notice of the poor thing. She is studying art in Dresden,
and has nowhere literally to go for Christmas.
She is very ambitious and hardworking--"

"Then," interrupted the Man of Wrath," she is not pretty.
"Only ugly girls work hard."

"--and she is really very clever--"

"I do not like clever girls, they are so stupid,"
again interrupted the Man of Wrath.

"--and unless some kind creature like yourself takes pity
on her she will be very lonely."

"Then let her be lonely."

"Her mother is my oldest friend, and would be greatly distressed to think
that her daughter should be alone in a foreign town at such a season."

"I do not mind the distress of the mother."

"Oh, dear me," I exclaimed impatiently, "I shall have to ask
her to come!"

"If you should be inclined," the letter went on, "to play
the good Samaritan, dear Elizabeth, I am positive you would
find Minora a bright, intelligent companion--"

"Minora?" questioned the Man of Wrath.

The April baby, who has had a nursery governess of an altogether
alarmingly zealous type attached to her person for the last six weeks,
looked up from her bread and milk.

"It sounds like islands," she remarked pensively.

The governess coughed.

"Majora, Minora, Alderney, and Sark," explained her pupil.

I looked at her severely.

"If you are not careful, April," I said, "you'll be a genius
when you grow up and disgrace your parents."

Miss Jones looked as though she did not like Germans.
I am afraid she despises us because she thinks we are foreigners--
an attitude of mind quite British and wholly to her credit; but we,
on the other hand, regard her as a foreigner, which, of course,
makes things complicated.

"Shall I really have to have this strange girl?"
I asked, addressing nobody in particular and not expecting a reply.

"You need not have her," said the Man of Wrath composedly,
"but you will. You will write to-day and cordially invite her,
and when she has been here twenty-four hours you will quarrel with her.
I know you, my dear."

"Quarrel! I? With a little art-student?"
Miss Jones cast down her eyes. She is perpetually
scenting a scene, and is always ready to bring whole batteries
of discretion and tact and good taste to bear on us, and seems
to know we are disputing in an unseemly manner when we would
never dream it ourselves but for the warning of her downcast eyes.
I would take my courage in both hands and ask her to go,
for besides this superfluity of discreet behaviour she is,
although only nursery, much too zealous, and inclined to be always
teaching and never playing; but, unfortunately, the April baby
adores her and is sure there never was any one so beautiful before.
She comes every day with fresh accounts of the splendours of
her wardrobe, and feeling descriptions of her umbrellas and hats;
and Miss Jones looks offended and purses up her lips.
In common with most governesses, she has a little dark
down on her upper lip, and the April baby appeared one day
at dinner with her own decorated in faithful imitation,
having achieved it after much struggling, with the aid of a lead
pencil and unbounded love. Miss Jones put her in the corner
for impertinence. I wonder why governesses are so unpleasant.
The Man of Wrath says it is because they are not married.
Without venturing to differ entirely from the opinion
of experience, I would add that the strain of continually having
to set an example must surely be very great. It is much easier,
and often more pleasant, to be a warning than an example,
and governesses are but women, and women are sometimes foolish,
and when you want to be foolish it must be annoying to have
to be wise.

Minora and Irais arrived yesterday together; or rather,
when the carriage drove up, Irais got out of it alone, and informed
me that there was a strange girl on a bicycle a little way behind.
I sent back the carriage to pick her up, for it was dusk and
the roads are terrible.

"But why do you have strange girls here at all?" asked Irais
rather peevishly, taking off her hat in the library before the fire,
and otherwise making herself very much at home; "I don't like them.
I'm not sure that they're not worse than husbands who are out of order.
Who is she? She would bicycle from the station, and is, I am sure,
the first woman who has done it. The little boys threw stones at her."

"Oh, my dear, that only shows the ignorance of the little boys.
Never mind her. Let us have tea in peace before she comes."
"But we should be much happier without her," she grumbled.
"Weren't we happy enough in the summer, Elizabeth--just you and I? "

"Yes, indeed we were," I answered heartily, putting my
arms round her. The flame of my affection for Irais burns
very brightly on the day of her arrival; besides, this time I
have prudently provided against her sinning with the salt-cellars
by ordering them to be handed round like vegetable dishes.
We had finished tea and she had gone up to her room to dress
before Minora and her bicycle were got here. I hurried out
to meet her, feeling sorry for her, plunged into a circle
of strangers at such a very personal season as Christmas.
But she was not very shy; indeed, she was less shy than I was,
and lingered in the hall, giving the servants directions
to wipe the snow off the tyres of her machine before she lent
an attentive ear to my welcoming remarks.

"I couldn't make your man understand me at the station,"
she said at last, when her mind was at rest about her bicycle;
"I asked him how far it was, and what the roads were like,
and he only smiled. Is he German? But of course he is--
how odd that he didn't understand. You speak English very well,--
very well indeed, do you know."
By this time we were in the library, and she stood on the hearth-rug
warming her back while I poured her out some tea.

"What a quaint room," she remarked, looking round,
"and the hall is so curious too. Very old, isn't it?
There's a lot of copy here."

The Man of Wrath, who had been in the hall on her arrival
and had come in with us, began to look about on the carpet.
"Copy" he inquired, "Where's copy? "

"Oh--material, you know, for a book. I'm just jotting down what strikes
me in your country, and when I have time shall throw it into book form."
She spoke very loud, as English people always do to foreigners.

"My dear," I said breathlessly to Irais, when I had got into her room
and shut the door and Minora was safely in hers, "what do you think--
she writes books!"

"What--the bicycling girl?"

"Yes--Minora--imagine it!"

We stood and looked at each other with awestruck faces.

"How dreadful!" murmured Irais. "I never met a young girl
who did that before."

"She says this place is full of copy."
"Full of what? "

"That's what you make books with."

"Oh, my dear, this is worse than I expected! A strange girl is
always a bore among good friends, but one can generally manage her.
But a girl who writes books--why, it isn't respectable!
And you can't snub that sort of people; they're unsnubbable."

"Oh, but we'll try!" I cried, with such heartiness
that we both laughed.

The hall and the library struck Minora most; indeed, she
lingered so long after dinner in the hall, which is cold,
that the Man of Wrath put on his fur coat by way of a gentle hint.
His hints are always gentle.

She wanted to hear the whole story about the chapel and
the nuns and Gustavus Adolphus, and pulling out a fat note-book
began to take down what I said. I at once relapsed into silence.

"Well?" she said.

"That's all."

"Oh, but you've only just begun."

"It doesn't go any further. Won't you come into the library? "

In the library she again took up her stand before the fire
and warmed herself, and we sat in a row and were cold.
She has a wonderfully good profile, which is irritating.
The wind, however, is tempered to the shorn lamb by her eyes
being set too closely together.

Irais lit a cigarette, and leaning back in her chair,
contemplated her critically beneath her long eyelashes.
"You are writing a book?" she asked presently.

"Well--yes, I suppose I may say that I am. Just my impressions,
you know, of your country. Anything that strikes me as curious
or amusing--I jot it down, and when I have time shall work it up
into something, I daresay."

"Are you not studying painting? "

"Yes, but I can't study that for ever. We have an English proverb:
'Life is short and Art is long'--too long, I sometimes think--
and writing is a great relaxation when I am tired."

"What shall you call it?"

"Oh, I thought of calling it Journeyings in Germany.
It sounds well, and would be correct. Or Jottings from
German Journeyings,--I haven't quite decided yet which."

"By the author of Prowls in Pomerania, you might add," suggested Irais.

"And Drivel from Dresden," said I.

"And Bosh from Berlin," added Irais.

Minora stared. "I don't think those two last ones would do,"
she said, "because it is not to be a facetious book.
But your first one is rather a good title," she added,
looking at Irais and drawing out her note-book. "I think I'll
just jot that down."

"If you jot down all we say and then publish it, will it
still be your book?" asked Irais.

But Minora was so busy scribbling that she did not hear.

"And have you no suggestions to make, Sage?" asked Irais,
turning to the Man of Wrath, who was blowing out clouds
of smoke in silence.

"Oh, do you call him Sage?" cried Minora; "and always in English?"

Irais and I looked at each other. We knew what we did call him,
and were afraid Minora would in time ferret it out and enter it in her
note-book. The Man of Wrath looked none too well pleased to be alluded
to under his very nose by our new guest as "him."

"Husbands are always sages," said I gravely.

"Though sages are not always husbands," said Irais with equal gravity.
"Sages and husbands--sage and husbands--" she went on musingly, "what does
that remind you of, Miss Minora?"

"Oh, I know,--how stupid of me!" cried Minora eagerly, her pencil
in mid-air and her brain clutching at the elusive recollection, "sage and,--
why,--yes,--no,--yes, of course--oh," disappointedly, "but that's vulgar--
I can't put it in."

"What is vulgar?" I asked.

"She thinks sage and onions is vulgar," said Irais languidly;
"but it isn't, it is very good." She got up and walked to
the piano, and, sitting down, began, after a little wandering
over the keys, to sing.

"Do you play?" I asked Minora.

"Yes, but I am afraid I am rather out of practice."

I said no more. I know what that sort of playing is.

"When we were lighting our bedroom candles Minora
began suddenly to speak in an unknown tongue. We stared.
"What is the matter with her?" murmured Irais.

"I thought, perhaps," said Minora in English, you might prefer
to talk German, and as it is all the same to me what I talk--"
"Oh, pray don't trouble," said Irais. "We like airing our English--
don't we, Elizabeth?"

"I don't want my German to get rusty though," said Minora;
"I shouldn't like to forget it."

"Oh, but isn't there an English song," said Irais, twisting round
her neck as she preceded us upstairs, "''Tis folly to remember,
'tis wisdom to forget'?"

"You are not nervous sleeping alone, I hope," I said hastily.

"What room is she in?" asked Irais.

"No. 12."

"Oh!--do you believe in ghosts?"

Minora turned pale.

"What nonsense," said I; "we have no ghosts here.
Good-night. If you want anything, mind you ring."

"And if you see anything curious in that room,"
called Irais from her bedroom door, "mind you jot it down."


December 27th--It is the fashion, I believe,
to regard Christmas as a bore of rather a gross description,
and as a time when you are invited to over-eat yourself,
and pretend to be merry without just cause.
As a matter of fact, it is one of the prettiest and most poetic
institutions possible, if observed in the proper manner,
and after having been more or less unpleasant to everybody
for a whole year, it is a blessing to be forced on that one day
to be amiable, and it is certainly delightful to be able to give
presents without being haunted by the conviction that you
are spoiling the recipient, and will suffer for it afterward.
Servants are only big children, and are made just as happy
as children by little presents and nice things to eat, and,
for days beforehand, every time the three babies go into the garden
they expect to meet the Christ Child with His arms full of gifts.
They firmly believe that it is thus their presents are brought,
and it is such a charming idea that Christmas would be worth
celebrating for its sake alone.

As great secrecy is observed, the preparations devolve
entirely on me, and it is not very easy work, with so many people
in our own house and on each of the farms, and all the children,
big and little, expecting their share of happiness.
The library is uninhabitable for several days before and after,
as it is there that we have the trees and presents.
All down one side are the trees, and the other three sides
are lined with tables, a separate one for each person in the house.
When the trees are lighted, and stand in their radiance shining
down on the happy faces, I forget all the trouble it has been,
and the number of times I have had to run up and down stairs,
and the various aches in head and feet, and enjoy myself as much
as anybody. First the June baby is ushered in, then the others
and ourselves according to age, then the servants, then come
the head inspector and his family, the other inspectors from
the different farms, the mamsells, the bookkeepers and secretaries,
and then all the children, troops and troops of them--
the big ones leading the little ones by the hand and carrying
the babies in their arms, and the mothers peeping round the door.
As many as can get in stand in front of the trees, and sing
two or three carols; then they are given their presents,
and go off triumphantly, making room for the next batch.
My three babies sang lustily too, whether they happened
to know what was being sung or not. They had on white dresses
in honour of the occasion, and the June baby was even arrayed
in a low-necked and short-sleeved garment, after the manner
of Teutonic infants, whatever the state of the thermometer.
Her arms are like miniature prize-fighter's arms--I never saw
such things; they are the pride and joy of her little nurse,
who had tied them up with blue ribbons, and kept on kissing them.
I shall certainly not be able to take her to balls when she
grows up, if she goes on having arms like that.

When they came to say good-night, they were all very pale and subdued.
The April baby had an exhausted-looking Japanese doll with her,
which she said she was taking to bed, not because she liked him,
but because she was so sorry for him, he seemed so very tired.
They kissed me absently, and went away, only the April baby glancing
at the trees as she passed and making them a curtesy.

"Good-bye, trees," I heard her say; and then she made the Japanese
doll bow to them, which he did, in a very languid and blase fashion.
"You'll never see such trees again," she told him, giving him
a vindictive shake, "for you'll be brokened long before next time."

She went out, but came back as though she had forgotten something.

"Thank the Christkind so much, Mummy, won't you,
for all the lovely things He brought us. I suppose
you're writing to Him now, isn't you?"

I cannot see that there was anything gross about our Christmas,
and we were perfectly merry without any need to pretend, and for at least
two days it brought us a little nearer together, and made us kind.
Happiness is so wholesome; it invigorates and warms me into piety
far more effectually than any amount of trials and griefs, and an
unexpected pleasure is the surest means of bringing me to my knees.
In spite of the protestations of some peculiarly constructed
persons that they are the better for trials, I don't believe it.
Such things must sour us, just as happiness must sweeten us,
and make us kinder, and more gentle. And will anybody affirm that it
behoves us to be more thankful for trials than for blessings?
We were meant to be happy, and to accept all the happiness offered
with thankfulness--indeed, we are none of us ever thankful enough,
and yet we each get so much, so very much, more than we deserve.
I know a woman--she stayed with me last summer--who rejoices grimly
when those she loves suffer. She believes that it is our lot,
and that it braces us and does us good, and she would shield
no one from even unnecessary pain; she weeps with the sufferer,
but is convinced it is all for the best. Well, let her continue
in her dreary beliefs; she has no garden to teach her the beauty and
the happiness of holiness, nor does she in the least desire to possess one;
her convictions have the sad gray colouring of the dingy streets
and houses she lives amongst--the sad colour of humanity in masses.
Submission to what people call their "lot" is simply ignoble.
If your lot makes you cry and be wretched, get rid of it and take another;
strike out for yourself; don't listen to the shrieks of your relations,
to their gibes or their entreaties; don't let your own microscopic
set prescribe your goings-out and comings-in; don't be afraid
of public opinion in the shape of the neighbour in the next house,
when all the world is before you new and shining, and everything
is possible, if you will only be energetic and independent and seize
opportunity by the scruff of the neck.

"To hear you talk," said Irais, "no one would ever imagine
that you dream away your days in a garden with a book, and that you
never in your life seized anything by the scruff of its neck.
And what is scruff? I hope I have not got any on me."
And she craned her neck before the glass.

She and Minora were going to help me decorate the trees,
but very soon Irais wandered off to the piano, and Minora was tired
and took up a book; so I called in Miss Jones and the babies--
it was Miss Jones's last public appearance, as I shall relate--
and after working for the best part of two days they were finished,
and looked like lovely ladies in widespreading, sparkling petticoats,
holding up their skirts with glittering fingers.
Minora wrote a long description of them for a chapter of her
book which is headed Noel,--I saw that much, because she left
it open on the table while she went to talk to Miss Jones.
They were fast friends from the very first, and though it
is said to be natural to take to one's own countrymen,
I am unable altogether to sympathise with such a reason
for sudden affection.

"I wonder what they talk about?" I said to Irais yesterday,
when there was no getting Minora to come to tea, so deeply was she
engaged in conversation with Miss Jones.

"Oh, my dear, how can I tell? Lovers, I suppose,
or else they think they are clever, and then they talk rubbish."

"Well, of course, Minora thinks she is clever."

"I suppose she does. What does it matter what she thinks?
Why does your governess look so gloomy? When I see her at luncheon
I always imagine she must have just heard that somebody is dead.
But she can't hear that every day. What is the matter with her? "

"I don't think she feels quite as proper as she looks,"
I said doubtfully; I was for ever trying to account for
Miss Jones's expression.

"But that must be rather nice," said Irais. "It would
be awful for her if she felt exactly the same as she looks."

At that moment the door leading into the schoolroom opened softly,
and the April baby, tired of playing, came in and sat down at my feet,
leaving the door open; and this is what we heard Miss Jones saying--

"Parents are seldom wise, and the strain the conscientious place upon
themselves to appear so before their children and governess must be terrible.
Nor are clergymen more pious than other men, yet they have continually
to pose before their flock as such. As for governesses, Miss Minora,
I know what I am saying when I affirm that there is nothing more
intolerable than to have to be polite, and even humble, to persons whose
weaknesses and follies are glaringly apparent in every word they utter,
and to be forced by the presence of children and employers to a dignity
of manner in no way corresponding to one's feelings. The grave father
of a family, who was probably one of the least respectable of bachelors,
is an interesting study at his own table, where he is constrained to assume
airs of infallibility merely because his children are looking at him.
The fact of his being a parent does not endow him with any supreme and
sudden virtue; and I can assure you that among the eyes fixed upon him,
not the least critical and amused are those of the humble person who fills
the post of governess."

"Oh, Miss Jones, how lovely!" we heard Minora say
in accents of rapture, while we sat transfixed with horror at
these sentiments. "Do you mind if I put that down in my book?
You say it all so beautifully."

"Without a few hours of relaxation," continued Miss Jones,
"of private indemnification for the toilsome virtues displayed
in public, who could wade through days of correct behaviour?
There would be no reaction, no room for better impulses,
no place for repentance. Parents, priests, and governesses
would be in the situation of a stout lady who never has a quiet
moment in which she can take off her corsets."

"My dear, what a firebrand!" whispered Irais. I got up and went in.
They were sitting on the sofa, Minora with clasped hands, gazing admiringly
into Miss Jones's face, which wore a very different expression from the one
of sour and unwilling propriety I have been used to seeing.

"May I ask you to come to tea?" I said to Minora.
And I should like to have the children a little while."

She got up very reluctantly, but I waited with the door
open until she had gone in and the two babies had followed.
They had been playing at stuffing each other's ears with pieces
of newspaper while Miss Jones provided Minora with noble thoughts
for her work, and had to be tortured afterward with tweezers.
I said nothing to Minora, but kept her with us till dinner-time,
and this morning we went for a long sleigh-drive.
When we came in to lunch there was no Miss Jones.

"Is Miss Jones ill?" asked Minora.

"She is gone," I said.

"Gone? "

"Did you never hear of such things as sick mothers?" asked Irais blandly;
and we talked resolutely of something else.

All the afternoon Minora has moped. She had found a kindred spirit,
and it has been ruthlessly torn from her arms as kindred spirits
so often are. It is enough to make her mope, and it is not her fault,
poor thing, that she should have preferred the society of a Miss Jones
to that of Irais and myself.

At dinner Irais surveyed her with her head on one side.
"You look so pale," she said; "are you not well?"

Minora raised her eyes heavily, with the patient air of one
who likes to be thought a sufferer. "I have a slight headache,"
she replied gently.

"I hope you are not going to be ill," said Irais with great concern,
"because there is only a cow-doctor to be had here, and though he means well,
I believe he is rather rough."
Minora was plainly startled. "But what do you do if you
are ill?" she asked.

"Oh, we are never ill," said I; "the very knowledge that there
would be no one to cure us seems to keep us healthy."

"And if any one takes to her bed," said Irais, "Elizabeth always calls
in the cow-doctor."

Minora was silent. She feels, I am sure, that she has got into a part
of the world peopled solely by barbarians, and that the only civilised
creature besides herself has departed and left her at our mercy.
Whatever her reflections may be her symptoms are visibly abating.

Elizabeth von Arnim

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