Mr. Bluff's Experiences of Holidays
by Oliver Bell Bunce
"I hate holidays," said Bachelor Bluff to me, with some little irritation, on a Christmas a few years ago. Then he paused an instant, after which he resumed: "I
don't mean to say that I hate to see people enjoying themselves.
But I hate holidays, nevertheless, because to me they are always
the saddest and dreariest days of the year. I shudder at the
name of holiday. I dread the approach of one, and thank heaven
when it is over. I pass through, on a holiday, the most horrible
sensations, the bitterest feelings, the most oppressive melancholy;
in fact, I am not myself at holiday-times."
"Very strange," I ventured to interpose.
"A plague on it!" said he, almost with violence. "I'm
not inhuman. I don't wish anybody harm. I'm glad people can
enjoy themselves. But I hate holidays all the same. You see,
this is the reason: I am a bachelor; I am without kin; I am
in a place that did not know me at birth. And so, when holidays
come around, there is no place anywhere for me. I have friends,
of course; I don't think I've been a very sulky, shut-in, reticent
fellow; and there is many a board that has a place for me--but
not at Christmastime. At Christmas, the dinner is a family
gathering; and I've no family. There is such a gathering of
kindred on this occasion, such a reunion of family folk, that
there is no place for a friend, even if the friend be liked.
Christmas, with all its kindliness and charity and good-will,
is, after all, deuced selfish. Each little set gathers within
its own circle; and people like me, with no particular circle,
are left in the lurch. So you see, on the day of all the days
in the year that my heart pines for good cheer, I'm without
"Oh, it's because I pine for good cheer," said the bachelor, sharply, interrupting my attempt to speak, "that
I hate holidays. If I were an infernally selfish fellow, I
wouldn't hate holidays. I'd go off and have some fun all to
myself, somewhere or somehow. But, you see, I hate to be in
the dark when all the rest of the world is in light. I hate
holidays because I ought to be merry and happy on holidays
"Don't tell me," he cried, stopping the word that was on my lips; "I
tell you, I hate holidays. The shops look merry, do they, with
their bright toys and their green branches? The pantomime is
crowded with merry hearts, is it? The circus and the show are
brimful of fun and laughter, are they? Well, they all make
me miserable. I haven't any pretty-faced girls or bright-eyed
boys to take to the circus or the show, and all the nice girls
and fine boys of my acquaintance have their uncles or their
grand-dads or their cousins to take them to those places; so,
if I go, I must go alone. But I don't go. I can't bear the
chill of seeing everybody happy, and knowing myself so lonely
and desolate. Confound it, sir, I've too much heart to be happy
under such circumstances! I'm too humane, sir! And the result
is, I hate holidays. It's miserable to be out, and yet I can't
stay at home, for I get thinking of Christmases past. I can't
read--the shadow of my heart makes it impossible. I can't walk--for
I see nothing but pictures through the bright windows, and
happy groups of pleasure-seekers. The fact is, I've nothing
to do but to hate holidays. But will you not dine with me?"
Of course, I had to plead engagement
with my own family circle, and I couldn't quite invite Mr.
Bluff home that day, when Cousin Charles and his wife, and
Sister Susan and her daughter, and three of my wife's kin had
come in from the country, all to make a merry Christmas with
us. I felt sorry, but it was quite impossible, so I wished
Mr. Bluff a "Merry Christmas," and hurried homeward through
the cold and nipping air.
I did not meet Bachelor Bluff again until a week after Christmas of the next year, when I learned some strange particulars of what occurred to him after our parting on the occasion just described. I will let Bachelor Bluff tell his adventure for himself.
"I went to church," said he, "and was
as sad there as everywhere else. Of course, the evergreens
were pretty, and the music fine; but all around me were happy
groups of people, who could scarcely keep down merry Christmas
long enough to do reverence to sacred Christmas. And nobody
was alone but me. Every happy paterfamilias in his pew tantalized
me, and the whole atmosphere of the place seemed so much better
suited to every one else than me that I came away hating holidays
worse than ever. Then I went to the play, and sat down in a
box all alone by myself. Everybody seemed on the best of terms
with everybody else, and jokes and banter passed from one to
another with the most good-natured freedom. Everybody but me
was in a little group of friends. I was the only person in
the whole theatre that was alone. And then there was such clapping
of hands, and roars of laughter, and shouts of delight at all
the fun going on upon the stage, all of which was rendered
doubly enjoyable by everybody having somebody with whom to
share and interchange the pleasure, that my loneliness got
simply unbearable, and I hated holidays infinitely worse than
"By five o'clock the holiday became
so intolerable that I said I'd go and get a dinner. The best
dinner the town could provide. A sumptuous dinner for one.
A dinner with many courses, with wines of the finest brands,
with bright lights, with a cheerful fire, with every condition
of comfort--and I'd see if I couldn't for once extract a little
pleasure out of a holiday!
"The handsome dining-room at the club
looked bright, but it was empty. Who dines at this club on
Christmas but lonely bachelors? There was a flutter of surprise
when I ordered a dinner, and the few attendants were, no doubt,
glad of something to break the monotony of the hours.
"My dinner was well served. The spacious
room looked lonely; but the white, snowy cloths, the rich window
hangings, the warm tints of the walls, the sparkle of the fire
in the steel grate, gave the room an air of elegance and cheerfulness;
and then the table at which I dined was close to the window,
and through the partly drawn curtains were visible centres
of lonely, cold streets, with bright lights from many a window,
it is true, but there was a storm, and snow began whirling
through the street. I let my imagination paint the streets
as cold and dreary as it would, just to extract a little pleasure
by way of contrast from the brilliant room of which I was apparently
"I dined well, and recalled in fancy
old, youthful Christmases, and pledged mentally many an old
friend, and my melancholy was mellowing into a low, sad undertone,
when, just as I was raising a glass of wine to my lips, I was
startled by a picture at the windowpane. It was a pale, wild,
haggard face, in a great cloud of black hair, pressed against
the glass. As I looked it vanished. With a strange thrill at
my heart, which my lips mocked with a derisive sneer, I finished
the wine and set down the glass. It was, of course, only a
beggar-girl that had crept up to the window and stole a glance
at the bright scene within; but still the pale face troubled
me a little, and threw a fresh shadow on my heart. I filled
my glass once more with wine, and was again about to drink,
when the face reappeared at the window. It was so white, so
thin, with eyes so large, wild, and hungry-looking, and the
black, unkempt hair, into which the snow had drifted, formed
so strange and weird a frame to the picture, that I was fairly
startled. Replacing, untasted, the liquor on the table, I rose
and went close to the pane. The face had vanished, and I could
see no object within many feet of the window. The storm had
increased, and the snow was driving in wild gusts through the
streets, which were empty, save here and there a hurrying wayfarer.
The whole scene was cold, wild, and desolate, and I could not
repress a keen thrill of sympathy for the child, whoever it
was, whose only Christmas was to watch, in cold and storm,
the rich banquet ungratefully enjoyed by the lonely bachelor.
I resumed my place at the table; but the dinner was finished,
and the wine had no further relish. I was haunted by the vision
at the window, and began, with an unreasonable irritation at
the interruption, to repeat with fresh warmth my detestation
of holidays. One couldn't even dine alone on a holiday with
any sort of comfort, I declared. On holidays one was tormented
by too much pleasure on one side, and too much misery on the
other. And then, I said, hunting for justification of my dislike
of the day, 'How many other people are, like me, made miserable
by seeing the fullness of enjoyment others possess!'
"Oh, yes, I know," sarcastically replied the bachelor to a comment of mine; "of
course, all magnanimous, generous, and noble-souled people
delight in seeing other people made happy, and are quite content
to accept this vicarious felicity. But I, you see, and this
dear little girl--"
"Dear little girl?"
"Oh, I forgot," said Bachelor Bluff, blushing a little, in spite of a desperate effort not to do so. "I
didn't tell you. Well, it was so absurd! I kept thinking, thinking
of the pale, haggard, lonely little girl on the cold and desolate
side of the window-pane, and the over-fed, discontented, lonely
old bachelor on the splendid side of the window-pane, and I
didn't get much happier thinking about it, I can assure you.
I drank glass after glass of the wine--not that I enjoyed its
flavour any more, but mechanically, as it were, and with a
sort of hope thereby to drown unpleasant reminders. I tried
to attribute my annoyance in the matter to holidays, and so
denounced them more vehemently than ever. I rose once in a
while and went to the window, but could see no one to whom
the pale face could have belonged.
"At last, in no very amiable mood, I got up, put on my wrappers, and went out; and the first thing I did was to run against a small figure crouching in the doorway. A face looked up quickly at the rough encounter, and I saw the pale features of the window-pane. I was very irritated and angry, and spoke harshly; and then, all at once, I am sure I don't know how it happened, but it flashed upon me that I, of all men, had no right to utter a harsh word to one oppressed with so wretched a Christmas as this poor creature was. I couldn't say another word, but began feeling in my pocket for some money, and then I asked a question or two, and then I don't quite know how it came about--isn't it very warm here?" exclaimed
Bachelor Bluff, rising and walking about, and wiping the perspiration
from his brow.
"Well, you see," he resumed nervously, "it
was very absurd, but I did believe the girl's story--the old
story, you know, of privation and suffering, and just thought
I'd go home with the brat and see if what she said was all
true. And then I remembered that all the shops were closed,
and not a purchase could be made. I went back and persuaded
the steward to put up for me a hamper of provisions, which
the half-wild little youngster helped me carry through the
snow, dancing with delight all the way. And isn't this enough?"
"Not a bit, Mr. Bluff. I must have
the whole story."
"I declare," said Bachelor Bluff, "there's
no whole story to tell. A widow with children in great need,
that was what I found; and they had a feast that night, and
a little money to buy them a load of wood and a garment or
two the next day; and they were all so bright, and so merry,
and so thankful, and so good, that, when I got home that night,
I was mightily amazed that, instead of going to bed sour at
holidays, I was in a state of great contentment in regard to
holidays. In fact, I was really merry. I whistled. I sang.
I do believe I cut a caper. The poor wretches I had left had
been so merry over their unlooked-for Christmas banquet that
their spirits infected mine.
"And then I got thinking again. Of
course, holidays had been miserable to me, I said. What right
had a well-to-do, lonely old bachelor hovering wistfully in
the vicinity of happy circles, when all about there were so
many people as lonely as he, and yet oppressed with want? 'Good
gracious!' I exclaimed, 'to think of a man complaining of loneliness
with thousands of wretches yearning for his help and comfort,
with endless opportunities for work and company, with hundreds
of pleasant and delightful things to do. Just to think of it!
It put me in a great fury at myself to think of it. I tried
pretty hard to escape from myself and began inventing excuses
and all that sort of thing, but I rigidly forced myself to
look squarely at my own conduct. And then I reconciled my confidence
by declaring that, if ever after that day I hated a holiday
again, might my holidays end at once and forever!
"Did I go and see my proteges again?
What a question! Why--well, no matter. If the widow is comfortable
now, it is because she has found a way to earn without difficulty
enough for her few wants. That's no fault of mine. I would
have done more for her, but she wouldn't let me. But just let
me tell you about New Year's--the New-Year's day that followed
the Christmas I've been describing. It was lucky for me there
was another holiday only a week off. Bless you! I had so much
to do that day I was completely bewildered, and the hours weren't
half long enough. I did make a few social calls, but then I
hurried them over; and then hastened to my little girl, whose
face had already caught a touch of colour; and she, looking
quite handsome in her new frock and her ribbons, took me to
other poor folk, and,--well, that's about the whole story.
"Oh, as to the next Christmas. Well,
I didn't dine alone, as you may guess. It was up three stairs,
that's true, and there was none of that elegance that marked
the dinner of the year before; but it was merry, and happy,
and bright; it was a generous, honest, hearty Christmas dinner,
that it was, although I do wish the widow hadn't talked so
much about the mysterious way a turkey had been left at her
door the night before. And Molly--that's the little girl--and
I had a rousing appetite. We went to church early; then we
had been down to the Five Points to carry the poor outcasts
there something for their Christmas dinner; in fact, we had
done wonders of work, and Molly was in high spirits, and so
the Christmas dinner was a great success.
"Dear me, sir, no! Just as you say.
Holidays are not in the least wearisome any more. Plague on
it! When a man tells me now that he hates holidays, I find
myself getting very wroth. I pin him by the buttonhole at once,
and tell him my experience. The fact is, if I were at dinner
on a holiday, and anybody should ask me for a sentiment, I
should say, 'God bless all holidays!'"