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Chapter 4

THE FOUNTAINS, FOUNTAIN'S SISTERS


Maggie: "It's Mr. Fountain's sisters just telephoned up."

Mrs. Fountain: "Have them come up at once, Maggie, of course." As Maggie goes out: "Another interruption! If it's going to keep on like this! Shouldn't you have thought they might have sent their presents?"

Fountain: "I thought something like it in Frank's case; but I didn't say it."

Mrs. Fountain: "And I don't know why I say it, now. It's because I'm so tired I don't know what I am saying. Do forgive me! It's this terrible Christmas spirit that gets into me. But now you'll see how nice I can be to them." At a tap on the door: "Come in! Come in! Don't mind our being in all this mess. So darling of you to come! You can help cheer Clarence up; you know his Christmas Eve dumps." She runs to them and clasps them in her arms with several half-open packages dangling from her hands and contrasting their disarray with the neatness of their silk-ribboned and tissue-papered parcels which their embrace makes meet at her back. "Minnie! Aggie! To lug here, when you ought to be at home in bed dying of fatigue! But it's just like you, both of you. Did you ever see anything like the stores to-day? Do sit down, or swoon on the floor, or anything. Let me have those wretched bundles which are simply killing you." She looks at the different packages. "'For Benny from Grandpa.' 'For a good girl, from Susy's grandmother.' 'Jim, from Aunt Minnie and Aunt Aggie.' 'Lucy, with love from Aggie and Minnie.' And Clarence! What hearts you have got! Well, I always say there never were such thoughtful girls, and you always show such taste and such originality. I long to get at the things." She keeps fingering the large bundle marked with her husband's name. "Not—not—a—"

Minnie: "Yes, a bath-robe. Unless you give him a cigar-case it's about the only thing you can give a man."

Aggie: "Minnie thought of it and I chose it. Blue, because it's his color. Try it on, Clarence, and if it's too long—"

Mrs. Fountain: "Yes, do, dear! Let's see you with it on." While the girls are fussily opening the robe, she manages to push her brother's gift behind the door. Then, without looking round at her husband. "It isn't a bit too long. Just the very—" Looking: "Well, it can easily be taken up at the hem. I can do it to-morrow." She abandons him to his awkward isolation while she chatters on with his sisters. "Sit down; I insist! Don't think of going. Did you see that frightful pack of people when the cab horse fell down in front of Shumaker's?"

Minnie: "See it?"

Aggie: "We were in the midst of it! I wonder we ever got out alive. It's enough to make you wish never to see another Christmas as long as you live."

Minnie: "A great many won't live. There will be more grippe, and more pneumonia, and more appendicitis from those jams of people in the stores!"

Aggie: "The germs must have been swarming."

Fountain: "Lucy was black with them when we got home."

Mrs. Fountain: "Don't pay the slightest attention to him, girls. He'll probably be the first to sneeze himself."

Minnie: "I don't know about sneezing. I shall only be too glad if I don't have nervous prostration from it."

Aggie: "I'm glad we got our motor-car just in time. Any one that goes in the trolleys now will take their life in their hand." The girls rise and move toward the door. "Well, we must go on now. We're making a regular round; you can't trust the delivery wagons at a time like this. Good-by. Merry Christmas to the children. They're fast asleep by this time, I suppose."

Minnie: "I only wish I was!"

Mrs. Fountain: "I believe you, Minnie. Good-by. Good night. Good night, Aggie. Clarence, go to the elevator with them! Or no, he can't in that ridiculous bath-gown!" Turning to Fountain as the door closes: "Now I've done it."

William Dean Howells

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