"I didn't read it," said Mr. Skratdj.
"Well, you burnt it," said Mrs. Skratdj; "and, as I always say, there's nothing 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 a smile, "but I certainly never remember to have heard the observation from your lips, my love."
"Whose memory's in fault there?" asked Mrs. Skratdj, triumphantly; and as at this point the ladies rose, Mrs. Skratdj had the last word.
Indeed, as may be gathered from this conversation, Mrs. Skratdj was quite able to defend herself. When she was yet a bride, and young and timid, she used to collapse when Mr. Skratdj contradicted her statements, and set her stories straight in public. Then she hardly ever opened her lips without disappearing under the domestic extinguisher. But in the course of fifteen years she had learned that Mr. 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 she knew exactly what they were worth, and had by this time become fairly adept at snapping in return. In the days when she succumbed she was occasionally unhappy, but now she and her husband understood each other, and, having agreed to differ, they, unfortunately, agreed also to differ in public.
Indeed, it was the bystanders who had the worst of it on these occasions. To the worthy couple themselves the habit had become second nature, and in no way affected the friendly tenor of their domestic relations. 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 ceaseless sparks of bickering must blaze up into a flaming quarrel as soon as they were alone, they would bowl amicably home in a cab, criticizing the friends who were commenting upon them, and as little agreed about the events of the evening as about the details of any other events whatever.
Yes; the bystanders certainly had the worst of it. Those who were near wished themselves anywhere else, especially when appealed to. Those who were at a distance did not mind so much. A domestic squabble at a certain distance is interesting, like an engagement viewed from a point beyond the range of guns. In such a position one may some day be placed oneself! Moreover, it gives a touch of excitement to a dull evening to be able to say _sotto voce_ to one's neighbor, "Do listen!
The Skratdjs are at it again!" Their unmarried friends thought a terrible abyss of tyranny and aggravation must lie beneath it all, and blessed their stars that they were still single and able to tell a tale their own way. The married ones had more idea of how it really was, and wished in the name of common sense and good taste that Skratdj and his wife would not make fools of themselves.
So it went on, however; and so, I suppose, it goes on still, for not many bad habits are cured in middle age.
On certain questions of comparative speaking their views were never identical. Such as the temperature being hot or cold, things being light or dark, the apple-tarts being sweet or sour. So one day Mr.
Skratdj came into the room, rubbing his hands, and planting himself at the 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 a cold; I feel a fire quite oppressive myself."
"You were wishing you'd a sealskin jacket yesterday, when it wasn't half as cold as it is to-day," said Mr. Skratdj.
"My dear William! Why, the children were shivering the whole day, and the 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 Smith's--a gentlemanlike, agreeable man, about forty," said Mrs. Skratdj, in reference to some matter interesting to both ladies.
"Not a day over thirty-five," said Mr. Skratdj, from behind his newspaper.
"Why, my dear William, his hair's gray," said Mrs. Skratdj.
"Plenty of men are gray at thirty," said Mr. Skratdj. "I knew a man who was gray at twenty-five."
"Well, forty or thirty-five, it doesn't much matter," said Mrs.
Skratdj, about to resume her narration.
"Five years matters a good deal to most people at thirty-five," said Mr. Skratdj, as he walked towards the door. "They would make a remarkable difference 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 Spirit of Contradiction finds a place in most nurseries, though to a very varying degree in different ones. Children snap and snarl by nature, like young puppies; and most of us can remember taking part in some such spirited dialogues as the following:
"I'll tell mamma."
"I don't care if you do."
It is the part of wise parents to repress these squibs and crackers of juvenile contention, and to enforce that slowly learned lesson, that in this world one must often "pass over" and "put up with" things in other people, being oneself by no means perfect. Also that it is a kindness, and almost a duty, to let people think and say and do things in their own way occasionally.
But even if Mr. and Mrs. Skratdj had ever thought of teaching all this to their children, it must be confessed that the lesson would not have come with a good grace from either of them, since they snapped and snarled between themselves as much or more than their children in the nursery.
The two elders were the leaders in the nursery squabbles. Between these, a boy and a girl, a ceaseless war of words was waged from morning to night. And as neither of them lacked ready wit, and both were in constant practice, the art of snapping was cultivated by them to the highest pitch.
It began at breakfast, if not sooner.
"You've taken my chair."
"It's not your chair."
"You know it's the one I like, and it was in my place."
"How do you know it was in your place?"
"Never mind. I do know."
"No, you don't."
"Yes, I do."
"Suppose I say it was in my place."
"You can't, for it wasn't."
"I can, if I like."
"Well, was it?"
"I sha'n't tell you."