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Chapter 14

MRS. FOUNTAIN, FOUNTAIN


Mrs. Fountain: "Tiresome little wretches. Of course we can't expect them to keep up the self-deception."

Fountain: "They'll grow to another. When they're men and women they'll pretend that Christmas is delightful, and go round giving people the presents that they've worn their lives out in buying and getting together. And they'll work themselves up into the notion that they are really enjoying it, when they know at the bottom of their souls that they loathe the whole job."

Mrs. Fountain: "There you are with your pessimism again! And I had just begun to feel cheerful about it!"

Fountain: "Since when? Since I proposed sending this rubbish back to the givers with our curse?"

Mrs. Fountain: "No, I was thinking what fun it would be if we could get up a sort of Christmas game, and do it just among relations and intimate friends."

Fountain: "Ah, I wish you luck of it. Then the thing would begin to have some reality, and just as in proportion as people had the worst feelings in giving the presents, their best feeling would be hurt in getting them back."

Mrs. Fountain: "Then why did you ever think of it?"

Fountain: "To keep from going mad. Come, let's go on with this job of sorting the presents, and putting them in the stockings and hanging them up on the tree and laying them round the trunk of it. One thing: it's for the last time. As soon as Christmas week is over, I shall inaugurate an educational campaign against the whole Christmas superstition. It must be extirpated root and branch, and the extirpation must begin in the minds of the children; we old fools are hopeless; we must die in it; but the children can be saved. We must organize and make a house-to-house fight; and I'll begin in our own house. To-morrow, as soon as the children have made themselves thoroughly sick with candy and cake and midday dinner, I will appeal to their reason, and get them to agree to drop it; to sign the Anti-Christmas pledge; to—"

Mrs. Fountain: "Clarence! I have an idea."

Fountain: "Not a bright one?"

Mrs. Fountain: "Yes, a bright one, even if you didn't originate it. Have Christmas confined entirely to children—to the very youngest—to children that believe firmly in Santa Claus."

Fountain: "Oh, hello! Wouldn't that leave Jim and Susy out? I couldn't have them left out."

Mrs. Fountain: "That's true. I didn't think of that. Well, say, to children that either believe or pretend to believe in him. What's that?" She stops at a faint, soft sound on the door. "It's Maggie with her hands so full she's pushing with her elbow. Come in, Maggie, come in. Come in! Don't you hear me? Come in, I say! Oh, it isn't Maggie, of course! It's those worthless, worthless little wretches, again." She runs to the door calling out, "Naughty, naughty, naughty!" as she runs. Then, flinging the door wide, with a final cry of "Naughty, I say!" she discovers a small figure on the threshold, nightgowned to its feet, and looking up with a frightened, wistful face. "Why, Benny!" She stoops down and catches the child in her arms, and presses him tight to her neck, and bends over, covering his head with kisses. "What in the world are you doing here, you poor little lamb? Is mother's darling walking in his sleep? What did you want, my pet? Tell mudda, do! Whisper it in mudda's big ear! Can't you tell mudda? What? Whisper a little louder, love! We're not angry with you, sweetness. Now, try to speak louder. Is that Santa Claus? No, dearest, that's just dadda. Santa Claus hasn't come yet, but he will soon. What? Say it again. Is there any Santa Claus? Why, who else could have brought all these presents? Presents for Benny and Jim and Susy and mudda, and seven bath-gowns for dadda. Isn't that funny? Seven! And one for mudda. What? I can't quite hear you, pet. Are we going to send the presents back? Why, who ever heard of such a thing? Jim said so? And Susy? Well, I will settle with them, when I come to them. You don't want me to? Well, I won't, then, if Benny doesn't want mudda to. I'll just give them a kiss apiece, pop in their big ears. What? You've got something for Santa Claus to give them? What? Where? In your crib? And shall we go and get it? For mudda too? And dadda? Oh, my little angel!" She begins to cry over him, and to kiss him again. "You'll break my heart with your loveliness. He wants to kiss you too, dadda." She puts the boy into his father's arms; then catches him back and runs from the room with him. Fountain resumes the work of filling the long stocking he had begun with; then he takes up a very short sock. He has that in his hand when Mrs. Fountain comes back, wiping her eyes. "He'll go to sleep now, I guess; he was half dreaming when he came in here. I should think, when you saw how Benny believed in it, you'd be ashamed of saying a word against Christmas."

Fountain: "Who's said anything against it? I've just been arguing for it, and trying to convince you that for the sake of little children like Benny it ought to be perpetuated to the end of the world. It began with the childhood of the race, in the rejuvenescence of the spirit."

Mrs. Fountain: "Didn't you say that Christmas began with the pagans? How monstrously you prevaricate!"

Fountain: "That was merely a figure of speech. And besides, since you've been out with Benny, I've been thinking, and I take back everything I've said or thought against Christmas; I didn't really think it. I've been going back in my mind to that first Christmas we had together, and it's cheered me up wonderfully."

Mrs. Fountain, tenderly: "Have you, dearest? I always think of it. If you could have seen Benny, how I left him, just now?"

Fountain: "I shouldn't mind seeing him, and I shouldn't care if I gave a glance at poor old Jim and Susy. I'd like to reassure them about not sending back the presents." He puts his arm round her and presses her toward the door.

Mrs. Fountain: "How sweet you are! And how funny! And good!" She accentuates each sentiment with a kiss. "And don't you suppose I felt sorry for you, making you go round with me the whole afternoon, and then leaving you to take the brunt of arranging the presents? Now I'll tell you: next year, I will do my Christmas shopping in July. It's the only way."

Fountain: "No, there's a better way. As you were saying, they don't have the Christmas things out. The only way is to do our Christmas shopping the day after Christmas; everything will be round still, and dog-cheap. Come, we'll begin day after to-morrow."

Mrs. Fountain: "We will, we will!"

Fountain: "Do you think we will?"

Mrs. Fountain: "Well, we'll say we will." They laugh together, and then he kisses her.

Fountain: "Even if it goes on in the same old way, as long as we have each other—"

Mrs. Fountain: "And the children."

Fountain: "I forgot the children!"

Mrs. Fountain: "Oh, how delightful you are!"

THE END.

William Dean Howells

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