Snap-Dragons; Old Father ChristmasJuliana Horatia Gatty Ewing / Fantasy
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
Snap-DragonsOld Father ChristmasBy J.H. EwingIllustrations by Gordon BrownePublished by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
Snap-Dragons, by J.H. Ewing.
________________________________________________________________________SNAP-DRAGONS, BY J.H. EWING.
MR AND MRS SKRATDJ.
Once upon a time there lived a certain family of the name of Skratdj.(It has a Russian or Polish look, and yet they most certainly lived inEngland.) They were remarkable for the following peculiarity. Theyseldom seriously quarrelled, but they never agreed about anything. Itis hard to say whether it were more painful for their friends to hearthem constantly contradicting each other, or gratifying to discover thatit meant nothing, and was only their way.
It began with the father and mother. They were a worthy couple, andreally attached to each other. But they had a habit of contradictingeach other's statements, and opposing each other's opinions, which,though mutually understood and allowed for in private, was most tryingto the by-standers in public. If one related an anecdote, the otherwould break in with half-a-dozen corrections of trivial details of nointerest or importance to anyone, the speakers included. For instance:Suppose the two dining in a strange house, and Mrs Skratdj seated bythe host, and contributing to the small-talk of the dinner-table.Thus:--
Oh yes. Very changeable weather indeed. It looked quite promisingyesterday morning in the town, but it began to rain at noon.
A quarter past eleven, my dear, Mr Skratdj's voice would be heard tosay from several chairs down, in the corrective tones of a husband and afather; and really, my dear, so far from being a promising morning, Imust say it looked about as threatening as it well could. Your memoryis not always accurate in small matters, my love. But Mrs Skratdj hadnot been a wife and a mother for fifteen years, to be snuffed out at onesnap of the marital snuffers. As Mr Skratdj leaned forward in hischair, she leaned forward in hers, and defended herself across theintervening couples.
Why, my dear Mr Skratdj, you said yourself the weather had not been sopromising for a week.
What I said, my dear, pardon me, was that the barometer was higher thanit had been for a week. But, as you might have observed if thesedetails were in your line, my love, which they are not, the rise wasextraordinarily rapid, and there is no surer sign of unsettledweather.--But Mrs Skratdj is apt to forget these unimportant trifles,he added, with a comprehensive smile round the dinner-table; herthoughts are very properly absorbed by the more important domesticquestions of the nursery.
Now I think that's rather unfair on Mr Skratdj's part, Mrs Skratdjwould chirp, with a smile quite as affable and as general as herhusband's. I'm sure he's _quite_ as forgetful and inaccurate as _I_am. And I don't think _my_ memory is at _all_ a bad one.
You forgot the dinner hour when we were going out to dine last week,nevertheless, said Mr Skratdj.
And you couldn't help me when I asked you, was the sprightly retort.And I'm sure it's not like you to forget anything about _dinner_, mydear.
The letter was addressed to you, said Mr Skratdj.
I sent it to you by Jemima, said Mrs Skratdj.
I didn't read it, said Mr Skratdj.
Well, you burnt it, said Mrs Skratdj; and, as I always say, there'snothing more foolish than burning a letter of invitation before the day,for one is certain to forget.
I've no doubt you always do say it, Mr Skratdj remarked, with asmile, but I certainly never remember to have heard the observationfrom your lips, my love.
Whose memory's in fault there? asked Mrs Skratdj triumphantly; and asat this point the ladies rose, Mrs Skratdj had the last word.
Indeed, as may be gathered from this conversation, Mrs Skratdj wasquite able to defend herself. When she was yet a bride, and young andtimid, she used to collapse when Mr Skratdj contradicted herstatements, and set her stories straight in public. Then she hardlyever opened her lips without disappearing under the domesticextinguisher. But in the course of fifteen years she had learned thatMr Skratdj's bark was a great deal worse than his bite. (If, indeed,he had a bite at all.) Thus snubs that made other people's ears tingle,had no effect whatever on the lady to whom they were addressed, for sheknew exactly what they were worth, and had by this time become fairlyadept at snapping in return. In the days when she succumbed she wasoccasionally unhappy, but now she and her husband understood each other,and having agreed to differ, they unfortunately agreed also to differ inpublic.
Indeed, it was the by-standers who had the worst of it on theseoccasions. To the worthy couple themselves the habit had become secondnature, and in no way affected the friendly tenour of their domesticrelations. They would interfere with each other's conversation,contradicting assertions, and disputing conclusions for a whole evening;and then, when all the world and his wife thought that these ceaselesssparks of bickering must blaze up into a flaming quarrel as soon as theywere alone, they would bowl amicably home in a cab, criticising thefriends who were commenting upon them, and as little agreed about theevents of the evening as about the details of any other events whatever.
Yes. The by-standers certainly had the worst of it. Those who werenear wished themselves anywhere else, especially when appealed to.Those who were at a distance did not mind so much. A domestic squabbleat a certain distance is interesting, like an engagement viewed from apoint beyond the range of guns. In such a position one may some day beplaced oneself! Moreover, it gives a touch of excitement to a dullevening to be able to say _sotto voce_ to one's neighbour, Do listen!The Skratdjs are at it again! Their unmarried friends thought aterrible abyss of tyranny and aggravation must lie beneath it all, andblessed their stars that they were still single, and able to tell a taletheir own way. The married ones had more idea of how it really was, andwished in the name of common sense and good taste that Skratdj and hiswife would not make fools of themselves.
So it went on, however; and so, I suppose, it goes on still, for notmany bad habits are cured in middle age.
On certain questions of comparative speaking their views were neveridentical. Such as the temperature being hot or cold, things beinglight or dark, the apple-tarts being sweet or sour. So one day MrSkratdj came into the room, rubbing his hands, and planting himself atthe fire with Bitterly cold it is to-day, to be sure.
Why, my dear William, said Mrs Skratdj, I'm sure you must have got acold; I feel a fire quite oppressive myself.
You were wishing you'd a seal-skin jacket yesterday, when it wasn'thalf as cold as it is to-day, said Mr Skratdj.
My dear William! Why, the children were shivering the whole day, andthe wind was in the north.
Due east, Mrs Skratdj.
I know by the smoke, said Mrs Skratdj, softly but decidedly.
I fancy I can tell an east wind when I feel it, said Mr Skratdj,jocosely, to the company.
I told Jemima to look at the weathercock, murmured Mrs Skratdj.
I don't care a fig for Jemima, said her husband.
On another occasion Mrs Skratdj and a lady friend were conversing.
... We met him at the Smiths'--a gentlemanlike agreeable man, aboutforty, said Mrs Skratdj, in reference to some matter interesting toboth ladies.
Not a day over thirty-five, said Mr Skratdj, from behind hisnewspaper.
Why, my dear William, his hair's grey, said Mrs Skratdj.
Plenty of men are grey at thirty, said Mr Skratdj. I knew a man whowas grey at twenty-five.
Well, forty or thirty-five, it doesn't much matter, said Mrs Skratdj,about to resume her narration.
Five years matter a good deal to most people at thirty-five, said MrSkratdj, as he walked towards the door. They would make a remarkabledifference to me, I know; and with a jocular air Mr Skratdj departed,and Mrs Skratdj had the rest of the anecdote her own way.
THE LITTLE SKRATDJS.
The Spirit of Contradiction finds a place in most nurseries, though to avery varying degree in different ones. Children snap and snarl bynature, like young puppies; and most of us can remember taking part insome such spirited