lördag 4 januari 2014

On the eleventh day of Christmas

I recommend "King Winter", by Anonymous

 The sky is dull and grey,
Piercing and chill the blast,
Each step resounds on the frosty ground,
Winter is come at last.

Mamma sits by the fire
Her little ones round her knees.
"How cosy we are, Mamma," they cry,
"Tell us something, if you please."

 "Tell us about King Winter,
And about Jack Frost, his man;
We'll not be noisy or naughty at all,
But as good as ever we can."

"Well then;" says mamma, "you, Jenny,
May knit and listen, my dear;
And Johnny may split up wood, to make
The fire burn bright and clear."

fredag 3 januari 2014

On the tenth day of Christmas

I recommend "Christmas Comes but Once A Year  Showing What Mr. Brown Did, Thought, and Intended to Do, during that Festive Season.  Author: Luke Limner  Illustrator: (Bros.) Dalziel
 VERY cold, very bleak; the thermometer and snow are falling fast; eggs and suet are rising faster; everything at this season is “prized,” and everybody apprizes everybody else of the good they wish them,—“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!” Even the shivering caroller, for “it is a poor heart that never rejoices,” is yelling forth the “tidings of comfort and joy.” The snow that descends, making park and common alike—topping palace and pigsty, now crowns the semi-detached villas, Victoria and Albert. They were erected from the 2designs of John Brown, Esq. and his architect (or builder), and are considered a fine specimen of compo-cockney-gothic, in which the constructor has made the most of his materials; for, to save digging, he sank the foundation in an evacuated pond, and, as an antidote to damp, used wood with the dry-rot—the little remaining moisture being pumped out daily by the domestics. The floors are3delightfully springy, having cracks to precipitate the dirt, and are sloped towards the doorways, so that the furniture is perpetually trying to walk out of the rooms; but those apertures are ingeniously planned to prevent the evil—the doors obstinately refusing to open at all, without force. That the whole may not appear too light, few windows are introduced. By casual observers the Victoria and Albert would be taken for one—so united are they; and had we not seen the parting division, we should have doubted also. Of the entrance lodges, we have noticed one of the chimneys smoking periodically; and, from the mollient white vapour issuing over the window at such times, presume Victoria is washing, whilst Albert is locked up and doing nothing.

torsdag 2 januari 2014

On the ninth day of Christmas

I recommend "Christmas Eve at Swamp's Endby Norman Duncan

 It was Christmas weather in the big woods: a Christmas temperature like frozen steel—thirty below in the clearing of Swamp's End—and a rollicking wind, careering over the pines, and the swirling dust of snow in the metallic air. A cold, crisp crackling world! A Christmas land, too: a vast expanse of Christmas colour, from the Canadian line to the Big River—great, grave, green pines, white earth and a blood-red sunset! The low log-cabins of the lumber camps were smothered in snow; they were fringed with pendant ice at the eaves, and banked high with drifts, and all window-frosted. The trails were thigh deep and drifting. The pines—their great fall imminent, now—flaunted long, black arms in the gale; they creaked, they swished, they droned, they crackled with frost. It was coming on dusk. The deeper reaches of the forest were already dark. Horses and teamsters, sawyers, road-monkeys, axemen, swampers, punk-hunters and all, floundered from the bush, white with dry snow, icicled and frosted like a Christmas cake, to the roaring bunk-house fires, to a voracious employment at the cooks' long tables, and to an expanding festival jollity. Town? Sure! Swamp's End for Christmas—the lights and companionship of the bedraggled shanty lumber-town in the clearing of Swamp's End! Swamp's End for Gingerbread Jenkins! Swamp's End for Billy the Beast! Swamp's End—and the roaring hilarity thereof—for man and boy, straw-boss and cookee, of the lumber-jacks! Presently the dim trails from the Cant-hook cutting, from the Bottle River camps, from Snook's landing and the Yellow Tail works, poured the boys into town—a lusty, hilarious crew, like loosed school-boys on a lark, giving over, now, to the only distractions, it seemed—and John Fairmeadow maintained it—which the great world provided in the forests.
Pattie Batch might have been aware of this—the log shack was on the edge of town—had not the window-panes been coated thick with Christmas frost. She might have heard rough laughter passing by—the Bottle River trail ran right past the door—had not the big Christmas wind snored in the stove, and fearsomely rattled the door, and shaken the cabin, and swept howling on. But she never in the world would have attended. Not in that emergency! She would not, for anything, have peeped out of the windows, in perfectly proper curiosity, to watch the Bottle River jacks flounder into town. Not she! Pattie Batch was busy. Pattie Batch was so desperately employed that her swift little fingers demanded all the attention that the most alert, the brightest, the very most bewitching gray eyes in the whole wide world could bestow upon anything whatsoever. Christmas Eve, you see: Day done. Something of soft fawn-skin engaged her, it seemed, with white patches matched and arranged with marvellous exactitude: something made for warmth in the wind—something of small fashion, but long and indubitably capacious—something with a hood. A little cloak, possibly: I don't know. But I am sure that it could envelop, that it could boil or roast, that it could fairly smother—a baby! It was lined with golden-brown, crackling silk, which Pattie Batch's mother had left in her trunk, upon her last departure, poor woman! from the sordid world of Swamp's End to regions which were now become in Pattie Batch's loving vision Places of Light. And it was upon this treasured cloth that Pattie Batch's flashing needle was working like mad in the lamplight. A Christmas sacrifice: it was labour of love and the gift of treasure.
Pattie Batch was lovely. Everybody knew it; and there's no denying it. Grief had not left her wan and apathetic. She had been "a little man." She had been so much of a little man that she was now much more of a little woman than ever she had been before. In respect to her bewitching endearments, there's no mincing matters, at all. It would shame a man to 'hem and haw and qualify. She was adorable. Beauty of youth and heart of tenderness: a quaint little womanly child of seventeen—gowned, now, in a black dress, long-skirted, to be sure! of her mother's old-fashioned wearing. Gray eyes, wide, dark-lashed, sun-sparkling and shadowy, and willful dark hair, a sweetly tilted little nose, a boyish, masterful way, coquettish twinkles, dimples in most perilous places, rosy cheeks, a tender little figure, an aristocratic toss to her head: why, indeed—the catalogue of her charms has no end to it! Courage to boot, too—as though youth and loveliness were not sufficient endowment—and uncompromising honesty with herself and all the world. She took in washing from the camps: there was nothing else to do, with Gray Billy Batch lost in Rattle Water, and now decently stowed away by the Reverend John Fairmeadow. It was lonely in Gray Billy Batch's cabin, now, of course; it was sometimes almost intolerably so—and ghostly, too, with echoes of long-past footsteps and memories of soft motherly words. Pattie Batch, however, a practical little person, knew in her own mind, you must be informed, exactly how to still the haunting echoes and transform the memories into blessed companions of her busy, gentle solitude; but she had not as yet managed the solution.
Pattie Batch wanted a baby. Companionship, of course, would be a mere by-product of a baby's presence in the cabin; the real wealth and advantage would be a glowing satisfaction in the baby. At any rate, Pattie Batch wanted one: she always had—and she simply couldn't help it. Babies, however, were not numerous at Swamp's End; in point of fact, there was only one—a perfectly adorable infant, it must be understood, a suitable child, and worthy, in every respect, of being heartily desired by any woman—which unhappily belonged to the bartender who lived with Pale Peter of the Red Elephant saloon. No use asking for that baby! Not outright. It could be borrowed, however. Pattie Batch hadborrowed it; she had borrowed it frequently, of late, and had mysteriously measured it with a calculating eye, and had estimated, and scowled in doubt, and scratched her head, and pursed her sweet red lips, and had secretly spanned the baby, from chin to toe and across the back, with an industriously inquiring thumb and little finger. But a borrowed baby, it seems, is of no use whatsoever; the satisfaction is said to be temporary—nothing more—and to leave a sense of vacant arms and a stinging aggravation of envy. So what Pattie Batch wanted was a baby to keep—a baby she could call her own and cherish against meddling—a baby that should be so rosy and fat and curly, so neat and white, so scrubbed and highly polished from crown to toe-nails, that every mother in the land, beholding, would promptly expire on the spot of amazement, incredulity and sheer jealousy.

onsdag 1 januari 2014

On the eighth day of Christmas

I recommend "The Angel Over the Right Shoulder" by Elizabeth Wooster Stuart Phelps

The Angel over the Right Shoulder

"There! a woman's work is never done," said Mrs. James; "I thought, for once, I was through; but just look at that lamp, now! it will not burn, and I must go and spend half an hour over it."
"Don't you wish you had never been married?" said Mr. James, with a good-natured laugh.
"Yes"—rose to her lips, but was checked by a glance at the group upon the floor, where her husband was stretched out, and two little urchins with sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks, were climbing and tumbling over him, as if they found in this play the very essence of fun.
She did say, "I should like the good, without the evil, if I could have it."
"You have no evils to endure," replied her husband.
"That is just all you gentlemen know about it. What would you think, if you could not get an uninterrupted half hour to yourself, from morning till night? I believe you would give up trying to do anything."
"There is no need of that; all you want, is system. If you arranged your work systematically, you would find that you could command your time."
"Well," was the reply, "all I wish is, that you could just follow me around for one day, and see what I have to do. If you could reduce it all to system, I think you would show yourself a genius."
When the lamp was trimmed, the conversation was resumed. Mr. James had employed the "half hour," in meditating on this subject.
"Wife," said he, as she came in, "I have a plan to propose to you, and I wish you to promise me beforehand, that you will accede to it. It is to be an experiment, I acknowledge, but I wish it to have a fair trial. Now to please me, will you promise?"
Mrs. James hesitated. She felt almost sure that his plan would be quite impracticable, for what does a man know of a woman's work? yet she promised.
"Now I wish you," said he, "to set apart two hours of every day for your own private use. Make a point of going to your room and locking yourself in; and also make up your mind to let the work which is not done, go undone, if it must. Spend this time on just those things which will be most profitable to yourself. I shall bind you to your promise for one month—then, if it has proved a total failure, we will devise something else."
"When shall I begin?"
The morrow came. Mrs. James had chosen the two hours before dinner as being, on the whole, the most convenient and the least liable to interruption. They dined at one o'clock. She wished to finish her morning work, get dressed for the day, and enter her room at eleven.
Hearty as were her efforts to accomplish this, the hour of eleven found her with her work but half done; yet, true to her promise, she left all, retired to her room and locked the door.
With some interest and hope, she immediately marked out a course of reading and study, for these two precious hours; then, arranging her table, her books, pen and paper, she commenced a schedule of her work with much enthusiasm. Scarcely had she dipped her pen in ink, when she heard the tramping of little feet along the hall, and then a pounding at her door.
"Mamma! mamma! I cannot find my mittens, and Hannah is going to slide without me."
"Go to Amy, my dear; mamma is busy."
"So Amy busy too; she say she can't leave baby."
The child began to cry, still standing close to the fastened door. Mrs. James knew the easiest, and indeed the only way of settling the trouble, was to go herself and hunt up the missing mittens. Then a parley must be held with Frank, to induce him to wait for his sister, and the child's tears must be dried, and little hearts must be all set right before the children went out to play; and so favorable an opportunity must not be suffered to slip, without impressing on young minds the importance of having a "place for everything and everything in its place;" this took time; and when Mrs. James returned to her study, her watch told her that half her portion had gone. Quietly resuming her work, she was endeavoring to mend her broken train of thought, when heavier steps were heard in the hall, and the fastened door was once more besieged. Now, Mr. James must be admitted.
"Mary," said he, "cannot you come and sew a string on for me? I do believe there is not a bosom in my drawer in order, and I am in a great hurry. I ought to have been down town an hour ago."
The schedule was thrown aside, the workbasket taken, and Mrs. James followed him. She soon sewed on the tape, but then a button needed fastening—and at last a rip in his glove, was to be mended. As Mrs. James stitched away on the glove, a smile lurked in the corners of her mouth, which her husband observed.
"What are you laughing at?" asked he.
"To think how famously your plan works."
"I declare!" said he, "is this your study hour? I am sorry, but what can a man do? He cannot go down town without a shirt bosom!"
"Certainly not," said his wife, quietly.
When her liege lord was fairly equipped and off, Mrs. James returned to her room. A half an hour yet remained to her, and of this she determined to make the most. But scarcely had she resumed her pen, when there was another disturbance in the entry. Amy had returned from walking out with the baby, and she entered the nursery with him, that she might get him to sleep. Now it happened that the only room in the house which Mrs. James could have to herself with a fire, was the one adjoining the nursery. She had become so accustomed to the ordinary noise of the children, that it did not disturb her; but the very extraordinary noise which master Charley sometimes felt called upon to make, when he was fairly on his back in the cradle, did disturb the unity of her thoughts. The words which she was reading rose and fell with the screams and lulls of the child, and she felt obliged to close her book, until the storm was over. When quiet was restored in the cradle, the children came in from sliding, crying with cold fingers—and just as she was going to them, the dinner-bell rang.