Chapter 4 - New Year Resolutions
If we did not have a white Christmas we had a white New Year. Midway between the two came a heavy snowfall. It was winter in our orchard of old delights then,--so truly winter that it was hard to believe summer had ever dwelt in it, or that spring would ever return to it. There were no birds to sing the music of the moon; and the path where the apple blossoms had fallen were heaped with less fragrant drifts. But it was a place of wonder on a moonlight night, when the snowy arcades shone like avenues of ivory and crystal, and the bare trees cast fairy-like traceries upon them. Over Uncle Stephen's Walk, where the snow had fallen smoothly, a spell of white magic had been woven. Taintless and wonderful it seemed, like a street of pearl in the new Jerusalem.
On New Year's Eve we were all together in Uncle Alec's kitchen, which was tacitly given over to our revels during the winter evenings. The Story Girl and Peter were there, of course, and Sara Ray's mother had allowed her to come up on condition that she should be home by eight sharp. Cecily was glad to see her, but the boys never hailed her arrival with over-much delight, because, since the dark began to come down early, Aunt Janet always made one of us walk down home with her. We hated this, because Sara Ray was always so maddeningly self-conscious of having an escort. We knew perfectly well that next day in school she would tell her chums as a "dead" secret that "So-and-So King saw her home" from the hill farm the night before. Now, seeing a young lady home from choice, and being sent home with her by your aunt or mother are two entirely different things, and we thought Sara Ray ought to have sense enough to know it.
Outside there was a vivid rose of sunset behind the cold hills of fir, and the long reaches of snowy fields glowed fairily pink in the western light. The drifts along the edges of the meadows and down the lane looked as if a series of breaking waves had, by the lifting of a magician's wand, been suddenly transformed into marble, even to their toppling curls of foam.
Slowly the splendour died, giving place to the mystic beauty of a winter twilight when the moon is rising. The hollow sky was a cup of blue. The stars came out over the white glens and the earth was covered with a kingly carpet for the feet of the young year to press.
"I'm so glad the snow came," said the Story Girl. "If it hadn't the New Year would have seemed just as dingy and worn out as the old. There's something very solemn about the idea of a New Year, isn't there? Just think of three hundred and sixty-five whole days, with not a thing happened in them yet."
"I don't suppose anything very wonderful will happen in them," said Felix pessimistically. To Felix, just then, life was flat, stale and unprofitable because it was his turn to go home with Sara Ray.
"It makes me a little frightened to think of all that may happen in them," said Cecily. "Miss Marwood says it is what we put into a year, not what we get out of it, that counts at last."
"I'm always glad to see a New Year," said the Story Girl. "I wish we could do as they do in Norway. The whole family sits up until midnight, and then, just as the clock is striking twelve, the father opens the door and welcomes the New Year in. Isn't it a pretty custom?"
"If ma would let us stay up till twelve we might do that too," said Dan, "but she never will. I call it mean."
"If I ever have children I'll let them stay up to watch the New Year in," said the Story Girl decidedly.
"So will I," said Peter, "but other nights they'll have to go to bed at seven."
"You ought to be ashamed, speaking of such things," said Felicity, with a scandalized face.
Peter shrank into the background abashed, no doubt believing that he had broken some Family Guide precept all to pieces.
"I didn't know it wasn't proper to mention children," he muttered apologetically.
"We ought to make some New Year resolutions," suggested the Story Girl. "New Year's Eve is the time to make them."
"I can't think of any resolutions I want to make," said Felicity, who was perfectly satisfied with herself.
"I could suggest a few to you," said Dan sarcastically.
"There are so many I would like to make," said Cecily, "that I'm afraid it wouldn't be any use trying to keep them all."
"Well, let's all make a few, just for the fun of it, and see if we can keep them," I said. "And let's get paper and ink and write them out. That will make them seem more solemn and binding."
"And then pin them up on our bedroom walls, where we'll see them every day," suggested the Story Girl, "and every time we break a resolution we must put a cross opposite it. That will show us what progress we are making, as well as make us ashamed if we have too many crosses."
"And let's have a Roll of Honour in Our Magazine," suggested Felix, "and every month we'll publish the names of those who keep their resolutions perfect."
"I think it's all nonsense," said Felicity. But she joined our circle around the table, though she sat for a long time with a blank sheet before her.
"Let's each make a resolution in turn," I said. "I'll lead off."
And, recalling with shame certain unpleasant differences of opinion I had lately had with Felicity, I wrote down in my best hand,
"I shall try to keep my temper always."
"You'd better," said Felicity tactfully.
It was Dan's turn next.
"I can't think of anything to start with," he said, gnawing his penholder fiercely.
"You might make a resolution not to eat poison berries," suggested Felicity.
"You'd better make one not to nag people everlastingly," retorted Dan.
"Oh, don't quarrel the last night of the old year," implored Cecily.
"You might resolve not to quarrel any time," suggested Sara Ray.
"No, sir," said Dan emphatically. "There's no use making a resolution you CAN'T keep. There are people in this family you've just GOT to quarrel with if you want to live. But I've thought of one--I won't do things to spite people."
Felicity--who really was in an unbearable mood that night--laughed disagreeably; but Cecily gave her a fierce nudge, which probably restrained her from speaking.
"I will not eat any apples," wrote Felix.
"What on earth do you want to give up eating apples for?" asked Peter in astonishment.
"Never mind," returned Felix.
"Apples make people fat, you know," said Felicity sweetly.
"It seems a funny kind of resolution," I said doubtfully. "I think our resolutions ought to be giving up wrong things or doing right ones."
"You make your resolutions to suit yourself and I'll make mine to suit myself," said Felix defiantly.
"I shall never get drunk," wrote Peter painstakingly.
"But you never do," said the Story Girl in astonishment.
"Well, it will be all the easier to keep the resolution," argued Peter.
"That isn't fair," complained Dan. "If we all resolved not to do the things we never do we'd all be on the Roll of Honour."
"You let Peter alone," said Felicity severely. "It's a very good resolution and one everybody ought to make."
"I shall not be jealous," wrote the Story Girl.
"But are you?" I asked, surprised.
The Story Girl coloured and nodded. "Of one thing," she confessed, "but I'm not going to tell what it is."
"I'm jealous sometimes, too," confessed Sara Ray, "and so my first resolution will be 'I shall try not to feel jealous when I hear the other girls in school describing all the sick spells they've had.'"
"Goodness, do you want to be sick?" demanded Felix in astonishment.
"It makes a person important," explained Sara Ray.
"I am going to try to improve my mind by reading good books and listening to older people," wrote Cecily.
"You got that out of the Sunday School paper," cried Felicity.
"It doesn't matter where I got it," said Cecily with dignity. "The main thing is to keep it."
"It's your turn, Felicity," I said.
Felicity tossed her beautiful golden head.
"I told you I wasn't going to make any resolutions. Go on yourself."
"I shall always study my grammar lesson," I wrote--I, who loathed grammar with a deadly loathing.
"I hate grammar too," sighed Sara Ray. "It seems so unimportant."
Sara was rather fond of a big word, but did not always get hold of the right one. I rather suspected that in the above instance she really meant uninteresting.
"I won't get mad at Felicity, if I can help it," wrote Dan.
"I'm sure I never do anything to make you mad," exclaimed Felicity.
"I don't think it's polite to make resolutions about your sisters," said Peter.
"He can't keep it anyway," scoffed Felicity. "He's got such an awful temper."
"It's a family failing," flashed Dan, breaking his resolution ere the ink on it was dry.
"There you go," taunted Felicity.
"I'll work all my arithmetic problems without any help," scribbled Felix.
"I wish I could resolve that, too," sighed Sara Ray, "but it wouldn't be any use. I'd never be able to do those compound multiplication sums the teacher gives us to do at home every night if I didn't get Judy Pineau to help me. Judy isn't a good reader and she can't spell AT ALL, but you can't stick her in arithmetic as far as she went herself. I feel sure," concluded poor Sara, in a hopeless tone, "that I'll NEVER be able to understand compound multiplication."
"'Multiplication is vexation, Division is as bad, The rule of three perplexes me, And fractions drive me mad,'"
"I haven't got as far as fractions yet," sighed Sara, "and I hope I'll be too big to go to school before I do. I hate arithmetic, but I am PASSIONATELY fond of geography."
"I will not play tit-tat-x on the fly leaves of my hymn book in church," wrote Peter.
"Mercy, did you ever do such a thing?" exclaimed Felicity in horror.
Peter nodded shamefacedly.
"Yes--that Sunday Mr. Bailey preached. He was so long-winded, I got awful tired, and, anyway, he was talking about things I couldn't understand, so I played tit-tat-x with one of the Markdale boys. It was the day I was sitting up in the gallery."
"Well, I hope if you ever do the like again you won't do it in OUR pew," said Felicity severely.
"I ain't going to do it at all," said Peter. "I felt sort of mean all the rest of the day."
"I shall try not to be vexed when people interrupt me when I'm telling stories," wrote the Story Girl. "but it will be hard," she added with a sigh.
"I never mind being interrupted," said Felicity.
"I shall try to be cheerful and smiling all the time," wrote Cecily.
"You are, anyway," said Sara Ray loyally.
"I don't believe we ought to be cheerful ALL the time," said the Story Girl. "The Bible says we ought to weep with those who weep."
"But maybe it means that we're to weep cheerfully," suggested Cecily.
"Sorter as if you were thinking, 'I'm very sorry for you but I'm mighty glad I'm not in the scrape too,'" said Dan.
"Dan, don't be irreverent," rebuked Felicity.
"I know a story about old Mr. and Mrs. Davidson of Markdale," said the Story Girl. "She was always smiling and it used to aggravate her husband, so one day he said very crossly, 'Old lady, what ARE you grinning at?' 'Oh, well, Abiram, everything's so bright and pleasant, I've just got to smile.'
"Not long after there came a time when everything went wrong--the crop failed and their best cow died, and Mrs. Davidson had rheumatism; and finally Mr. Davidson fell and broke his leg. But still Mrs. Davidson smiled. 'What in the dickens are you grinning about now, old lady?' he demanded. 'Oh, well, Abiram,' she said, 'everything is so dark and unpleasant I've just got to smile.' 'Well,' said the old man crossly, 'I think you might give your face a rest sometimes.'"
"I shall not talk gossip," wrote Sara Ray with a satisfied air.
"Oh, don't you think that's a little TOO strict?" asked Cecily anxiously. "Of course, it's not right to talk MEAN gossip, but the harmless kind doesn't hurt. If I say to you that Emmy MacPhail is going to get a new fur collar this winter, THAT is harmless gossip, but if I say I don't see how Emmy MacPhail can afford a new fur collar when her father can't pay my father for the oats he got from him, that would be MEAN gossip. If I were you, Sara, I'd put MEAN gossip."
Sara consented to this amendment.
"I will be polite to everybody," was my third resolution, which passed without comment.
"I'll try not to use slang since Cecily doesn't like it," wrote Dan.
"I think some slang is real cute," said Felicity.
"The Family Guide says it's very vulgar," grinned Dan. "Doesn't it, Sara Stanley?"
"Don't disturb me," said the Story Girl dreamily. "I'm just thinking a beautiful thought."
"I've thought of a resolution to make," cried Felicity. "Mr. Marwood said last Sunday we should always try to think beautiful thoughts and then our lives would be very beautiful. So I shall resolve to think a beautiful thought every morning before breakfast."
"Can you only manage one a day?" queried Dan.
"And why before breakfast?" I asked.
"Because it's easier to think on an empty stomach," said Peter, in all good faith. But Felicity shot a furious glance at him.
"I selected that time," she explained with dignity, "because when I'm brushing my hair before my glass in the morning I'll see my resolution and remember it."
"Mr. Marwood meant that ALL our thoughts ought to be beautiful," said the Story Girl. "If they were, people wouldn't be afraid to say what they think."
"They oughtn't to be afraid to, anyhow," said Felix stoutly. "I'm going to make a resolution to say just what I think always."
"And do you expect to get through the year alive if you do?" asked Dan.
"It might be easy enough to say what you think if you could always be sure just what you DO think," said the Story Girl. "So often I can't be sure."
"How would you like it if people always said just what they think to you?" asked Felicity.
"I'm not very particular what SOME people think of me," rejoined Felix.
"I notice you don't like to be told by anybody that you're fat," retorted Felicity.
"Oh, dear me, I do wish you wouldn't all say such sarcastic things to each other," said poor Cecily plaintively. "It sounds so horrid the last night of the old year. Dear knows where we'll all be this night next year. Peter, it's your turn."
"I will try," wrote Peter, "to say my prayers every night regular, and not twice one night because I don't expect to have time the next,--like I did the night before the party," he added.
"I s'pose you never said your prayers until we got you to go to church," said Felicity--who had had no hand in inducing Peter to go to church, but had stoutly opposed it, as recorded in the first volume of our family history.
"I did, too," said Peter. "Aunt Jane taught me to say my prayers. Ma hadn't time, being as father had run away; ma had to wash at night same as in day-time."
"I shall learn to cook," wrote the Story Girl, frowning.
"You'd better resolve not to make puddings of--" began Felicity, then stopped as suddenly as if she had bitten off the rest of her sentence and swallowed it. Cecily had nudged her, so she had probably remembered the Story Girl's threat that she would never tell another story if she was ever twitted with the pudding she had made from sawdust. But we all knew what Felicity had started to say and the Story Girl dealt her a most uncousinly glance.
"I will not cry because mother won't starch my aprons," wrote Sara Ray.
"Better resolve not to cry about anything," said Dan kindly.
Sara Ray shook her head forlornly.
"That would be too hard to keep. There are times when I HAVE to cry. It's a relief."
"Not to the folks who have to hear you," muttered Dan aside to Cecily.
"Oh, hush," whispered Cecily back. "Don't go and hurt her feelings the last night of the old year. Is it my turn again? Well, I'll resolve not to worry because my hair is not curly. But, oh, I'll never be able to help wishing it was."
"Why don't you curl it as you used to do, then?" asked Dan.
"You know very well that I've never put my hair up in curl papers since the time Peter was dying of the measles," said Cecily reproachfully. "I resolved then I wouldn't because I wasn't sure it was quite right."
"I will keep my finger-nails neat and clean," I wrote. "There, that's four resolutions. I'm not going to make any more. Four's enough."
"I shall always think twice before I speak," wrote Felix.
"That's an awful waste of time," commented Dan, "but I guess you'll need to if you're always going to say what you think."
"I'm going to stop with three," said Peter.
"I will have all the good times I can," wrote the Story Girl.
"THAT'S what I call sensible," said Dan.
"It's a very easy resolution to keep, anyhow," commented Felix.
"I shall try to like reading the Bible," wrote Sara Ray.
"You ought to like reading the Bible without trying to," exclaimed Felicity.
"If you had to read seven chapters of it every time you were naughty I don't believe you would like it either," retorted Sara Ray with a flash of spirit.
"I shall try to believe only half of what I hear," was Cecily's concluding resolution.
"But which half?" scoffed Dan.
"The best half," said sweet Cecily simply.
"I'll try to obey mother ALWAYS," wrote Sara Ray, with a tremendous sigh, as if she fully realized the difficulty of keeping such a resolution. "And that's all I'm going to make."
"Felicity has only made one," said the Story Girl.
"I think it better to make just one and keep it than make a lot and break them," said Felicity loftily.
She had the last word on the subject, for it was time for Sara Ray to go, and our circle broke up. Sara and Felix departed and we watched them down the lane in the moonlight--Sara walking demurely in one runner track, and Felix stalking grimly along in the other. I fear the romantic beauty of that silver shining night was entirely thrown away on my mischievous brother.
And it was, as I remember it, a most exquisite night--a white poem, a frosty, starry lyric of light. It was one of those nights on which one might fall asleep and dream happy dreams of gardens of mirth and song, feeling all the while through one's sleep the soft splendour and radiance of the white moon-world outside, as one hears soft, far-away music sounding through the thoughts and words that are born of it.
As a matter of fact, however, Cecily dreamed that night that she saw three full moons in the sky, and wakened up crying with the horror of it.