Book Two: The Fountain Overflows

The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West

I could choose any page from this book, open it at random, and write it here and that anything would be one of the best things I have ever seen written. However, this is my most favorite passage in the whole book. When I first read it, I went back and read it five or six more times, just to relive the moment, and I've gone back to it several times since then.

We never had a better Christmas, up till four o'clock. We woke up quite late, of course, because we had been so long in going to sleep, and found the stockings at the ends of our beds. But before we could see what Papa and Mamma had put in them, Richard Quin staggered in, holding in front of him the big stocking Mamma had lent him because his socks were too small to hold anything. He could not bear to look into it for fear of his own delight. He asked hoarsely, "Would there be soldiers, do you think?" He always wanted tin soldiers, for Christmas and birthdays, and whenever anybody gave him any money to spend. We told him there certainly would. But he could not bear to deal with the stocking, he was all to pieces at the prospect of exquisite pleasure piling on exquisite pleasure, all day long. We urged him to be a man and start taking out his presents, but he sat down on Mary's bed and rocked himself and gasped, his eyes glazed. "And there are better presents downstairs, aren't there?"

We told him that there would be in the sitting, room, where the Christmas tree was, the same as there had been last year in Edinburgh.

"Then why," he panted, "don't we go downstairs and get those in case anything happens to them and then hurry back to these?"

"Why should we do that?" asked Mary, cuddling him to her. "There's all the time in the world." It was a phrase that my mother often used when we hurried a bar.

His face grew piteous and he cried, "There's not, there's not."

Mary hugged him close and they rocked together, tic-toc, tic-toc, while she sang, "There's all the time in the world," and he sang back, "There's not, there's not, there's not," his downy face easing into unmalicious mischief, his grey eyes sending coquettish glances under his black lashes at his three sisters.

Cordelia and I went and knelt before him, and she kissed his left foot and I kissed the right, while Mary went on singing, "There's all the time in the world," and he sang back, "There's not, there's not," bubbles of laughter forming on his lips, which were a pale but very bright pink. We all wished the moment could last forever.

I had never heard of this book before, though I'm aware it's well known. It was another NYRB Classic that I found on the shelves of the bookstore, and couldn't resist the review on the back cover that called it "a real Dickensian Christmas pudding of a book." Of course, it's not all Christmas, though we do get a few of those as we follow the Aubrey family through several years of their childhood. There are four Aubrey children: Rose, the narrator, is one of two daughters in the family who seem to have inherited their mother's talent for playing piano; the other daughter Cordelia appears to have no talent, though she insists on pursuing a career as a professional violinist; and the fourth, a son named Richard Quin is loved for his unique ability to make things right with everyone. Yes, there are ghosts and murders and debt and an abundance of music, tea, cakes and food, but this is really just a book about family and childhood and friends and love.


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