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Chapter 10


Fountain: "Well?" He looks up at her from where he has dropped into a chair beside the table strewn with opened and unopened gifts at the foot of the Christmas tree.

Mrs. Fountain: "What are you mooning about?"

Fountain: "What if it was all a fake? Those thousands and hundreds of thousands of churches that pierce the clouds with their spires; those millions of ministers and missionaries; those billions of worshipers, sitting and standing and kneeling, and singing and praying; those nuns and monks, and brotherhoods and sisterhoods, with their ideals of self-denial, and their duties to the sick and poor; those martyrs that died for the one true faith, and those other martyrs of the other true faiths whom the one true faith tortured and killed; those masses and sermons and ceremonies, what if they were all a delusion, a mistake, a misunderstanding? What if it were all as unlike the real thing, if there is any real thing, as this pagan Christmas of ours is as unlike a Christian Christmas?"

Mrs. Fountain, springing up: "I knew it! I knew that it was this Christmas giving that was making you morbid again. Can't you shake it off and be cheerful—like me? I'm sure I have to bear twice as much of it as you have. I've been shopping the whole week, and you've been just this one afternoon." She begins to catch her breath, and fails in searching for her handkerchief in the folds of her dress under the bath-robe.

Fountain, offering his handkerchief: "Take mine."

Mrs. Fountain, catching it from him, and hiding her face in it on the table: "You ought to help me bear up, and instead of that you fling yourself on my sympathies and break me down." Lifting her face: "And if it was all a fake, as you say, and an illusion, what would you do, what would you give people in place of it?"

Fountain: "I don't know."

Mrs. Fountain: "What would you have in place of Christmas itself?"

Fountain: "I don't know."

Mrs. Fountain: "Well, then, I wouldn't set myself up to preach down everything—in a blue bath-gown. You've no idea how ridiculous you are."

Fountain: "Oh, yes, I have. I can see you. You look like one of those blue nuns in Rome. But I don't remember any lace on them."

Mrs. Fountain: "Well, you don't look like a blue monk, you needn't flatter yourself, for there are none. You look like— What are you thinking about?"

Fountain: "Oh, nothing. What do you suppose is in all these packages here? Useful things, that we need, that we must have? You know without looking that it's the superfluity of naughtiness in one form or other. And the givers of these gifts, they had to give them, just as we've had to give dozens of gifts ourselves. We ought to have put on our cards, 'With the season's bitterest grudges,' 'In hopes of a return,' 'With a hopeless sense of the folly,' 'To pay a hateful debt,' 'With impotent rage and despair.'"

Mrs. Fountain: "I don't deny it, Clarence. You're perfectly right; I almost wish we had put it. How it would have made them hop! But they'd have known it was just the way they felt themselves."

Fountain, going on thoughtfully: "It's the cap-sheaf of the social barbarism we live in, the hideous hypocrisy. It's no use to put it on religion. The Jews keep Christmas, too, and we know what they think of Christianity as a belief. No, we've got to go further back, to the Pagan Saturnalia— Well, I renounce the whole affair, here and now. I'm going to spend the rest of the night bundling these things up, and to-morrow I'm going to spend the day in a taxi, going round and giving them back to the fools that sent them."

Mrs. Fountain: "And I'm going with you. I hate it as much as you do— Come in, Maggie!"

William Dean Howells

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