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Snap-Dragons – A Tale Of Christmas Eve
by [?]

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 in England.) They were remarkable for the following peculiarity. They seldom seriously quarrelled, but they never agreed about anything. It is hard to say whether it were more painful for their friends to hear them constantly contradicting each other, or gratifying to discover that it “meant nothing,” and was “only their way.”

It began with the father and mother. They were a worthy couple, and really attached to each other. They had a habit of contradicting each other’s statements, and opposing each other’s opinions, which, though mutually understood and allowed for in private, was most trying to the by-standers in public. If one related an anecdote, the other would break in with half-a-dozen corrections of trivial details of no interest or importance to anyone, the speakers included. For instance: Suppose the two dining in a strange house, and Mrs. Skratdj seated by the host, and contributing to the small-talk of the dinner-table. Thus:–

“Oh yes. Very changeable weather indeed. It looked quite promising yesterday morning in the town, but it began to rain at noon.”

“A quarter past eleven, my dear,” Mr. Skratdj’s voice would be heard to say from several chairs down, in the corrective tones of a husband and father; “and really, my dear, so far from being a promising morning, I must say it looked about as threatening as it well could. Your memory is not always accurate in small matters, my love.”

But Mrs. Skratdj had not been a wife and a mother for fifteen years, to be snuffed out at one snap of the marital snuffers. As Mr. Skratdj leaned forward in his chair, she leaned forward in hers, and defended herself across the intervening couples.

“Why, my dear Mr. Skratdj, you said yourself the weather had not been so promising for a week.”

“What I said, my dear, pardon me, was that the barometer was higher than it had been for a week. But, as you might have observed if these details were in your line, my love, which they are not, the rise was extraordinarily rapid, and there is no surer sign of unsettled weather.–But Mrs. Skratdj is apt to forget these unimportant trifles,” he added, with a comprehensive smile round the dinner-table; “her thoughts are very properly absorbed by the more important domestic questions of the nursery.”

“Now I think that’s rather unfair on Mr. Skratdj’s part,” Mrs. Skratdj would chirp, with a smile quite as affable and as general as her husband’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, my dear.”

“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’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.