F.M. AND L.J.M.
This book is intended to be read in bed. Please do not attempt to read it anywhere else.
In order to obtain the best results for all concerned do not read a borrowed copy, but buy one. If the bed is a double bed, buy two.
Do not lend a copy under any circumstances, but refer your friends to the nearest bookshop, where they may expiate their curiosity.
Most of these sketches were first printed in the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger; others appeared in The Bookman, the Boston Evening Transcript, Life, and The Smart Set. To all these publications I am indebted for permission to reprint.
If one asks what excuse there can be for prolonging the existence of these trifles, my answer is that there is no excuse. But a copy on the bedside shelf may possibly pave the way to easy slumber. Only a mind "debauched by learning" (in Doctor Johnson's phrase) will scrutinize them too anxiously.
It seems to me, on reading the proofs, that the skit entitled "Trials of a President Travelling Abroad" is a faint and subconscious echo of a passage in a favorite of my early youth, Happy Thoughts, by the late F.C. Burnand. If this acknowledgment should move anyone to read that delicious classic of pleasantry, the innocent plunder may be pardonable.
And now a word of obeisance. I take this opportunity of thanking several gentle overseers and magistrates who have been too generously friendly to these eccentric gestures. These are Mr. Robert Cortes Holliday, editor of The Bookman and victim of the novelette herein entitled "Owd Bob"; Mr. Edwin F. Edgett, literary editor of The Boston Transcript, who has often permitted me to cut outrageous capers in his hospitable columns; and Mr. Thomas L. Masson, of Life, who allows me to reprint several of the shorter pieces. But most of all I thank Mr. David E. Smiley, editor of the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, for whom the majority of these sketches were written, and whose patience and kindness have been a frequent amazement to
PHILADELPHIA September, 1919
ON FILLING AN INK-WELL 17
OLD THOUGHTS FOR CHRISTMAS 24
CHRISTMAS CARDS 31
ON UNANSWERING LETTERS 35
A LETTER TO FATHER TIME 41
WHAT MEN LIVE BY 48
THE UNNATURAL NATURALIST 54
SITTING IN THE BARBER'S CHAIR 60
BROWN EYES AND EQUINOXES 64
163 INNOCENT OLD MEN 69
A TRAGIC SMELL IN MARATHON 75
BULLIED BY THE BIRDS 81
A MESSAGE FOR BOONVILLE 87
MAKING MARATHON SAFE FOR THE URCHIN 92
THE SMELL OF SMELLS 98
A JAPANESE BACHELOR 102
TWO DAYS WE CELEBRATE 117
THE URCHIN AT THE ZOO 132
FELLOW CRAFTSMEN 139
THE KEY RING 144
"OWD BOB" 150
THE APPLE THAT NO ONE ATE 167
AS TO RUMORS 174
OUR MOTHERS 181
GREETING TO AMERICAN ANGLERS 186
MRS. IZAAK WALTON WRITES A LETTER TO HER MOTHER 190
THE TRAGEDY OF WASHINGTON SQUARE 195
IF MR. WILSON WERE THE WEATHER MAN 202
SYNTAX FOR CYNICS 205
THE TRUTH AT LAST 209
FIXED IDEAS 211
TRIALS OF A PRESIDENT TRAVELLING ABROAD 215
DIARY OF A PUBLISHER'S OFFICE BOY 217
THE DOG'S COMMANDMENTS 219
THE VALUE OF CRITICISM 221
A MARRIAGE SERVICE FOR COMMUTERS 224
THE SUNNY SIDE OF GRUB STREET 226
BURIAL SERVICE FOR A NEWSPAPER JOKE 236
ADVICE TO THOSE VISITING A BABY 238
ABOU BEN WOODROW 240
MY MAGNIFICENT SYSTEM 242
LETTERS TO CYNTHIA
1 IN PRAISE OF BOOBS 245
2 SIMPLIFICATION 250
TO AN UNKNOWN DAMSEL 256
THOUGHTS ON SETTING AN ALARM CLOCK 258
SONGS IN A SHOWER BATH 259
ON DEDICATING A NEW TEAPOT 261
THE UNFORGIVABLE SYNTAX 263
VISITING POETS 264
A GOOD HOME IN THE SUBURBS 270
WALT WHITMAN MINIATURES 272
ON DOORS 292
ON FILLING AN INK-WELL
Those who buy their ink in little stone jugs may prefer to do so because the pottle reminds them of cruiskeen lawn or ginger beer (with its wire-bound cork), but they miss a noble delight. Ink should be bought in the tall, blue glass, quart bottle (with the ingenious non-drip spout), and once every three weeks or so, when you fill your ink-well, it is your privilege to elevate the flask against the brightness of a window, and meditate (with a breath of sadness) on the joys and problems that sacred fluid holds in solution.
How blue it shines toward the light! Blue as lupin or larkspur, or cornflower—aye, and even so blue art thou, my scriven, to think how far the written page falls short of the bright ecstasy of thy dream! In the bottle, what magnificence of unpenned stuff lies cool and liquid: what fluency of essay, what fonts of song. As the bottle glints, blue as a squill or a hyacinth, blue as the meadows of Elysium or the eyes of girls loved by young poets, meseems the racing pen might almost gain upon the thoughts that are turning the bend in the road. A jolly throng, those thoughts: I can see them talking and laughing together. But when pen reaches the road's turning, the thoughts are gone far ahead: their delicate figures are silhouettes against the sky.
It is a sacramental matter, this filling the ink-well. Is there a writer, however humble, who has not poured into his writing pot, with the ink, some wistful hopes or prayers for what may emerge from that dark source? Is there not some particular reverence due the ink-well, some form of propitiation to humbug the powers of evil and constraint that devil the journalist? Satan hovers near the ink-pot. Luther solved the matter by throwing the well itself at the apparition. That savors to me too much of homeopathy. If Satan ever puts his face over my desk, I shall hurl a volume of Harold Bell Wright at him.
But what becomes of the ink-pots of glory? The conduit from which Boswell drew, for Charles Dilly in The Poultry, the great river of his Johnson? The well (was it of blue china?) whence flowed Dream Children: a Revery? (It was written on folio ledger sheets from the East India House—I saw the manuscript only yesterday in a room at Daylesford, Pennsylvania, where much of the richest ink of the last two centuries is lovingly laid away.) The pot of chuckling fluid where Harry Fielding dipped his pen to tell the history of a certain foundling; the ink-wells of the Cafe de la Source on the Boul' Mich'—do they by any chance remember which it was that R.L.S. used? One of the happiest tremors of my life was when I went to that cafe and called for a bock and writing material, just because R.L.S. had once written letters there. And the ink-well Poe used at that boarding-house in Greenwich Street, New York (April, 1844), when he wrote to his dear Muddy (his mother-in-law) to describe how he and Virginia had reached a haven of square meals. That hopeful letter, so perfect now in pathos—
For breakfast we had excellent-flavored coffee, hot and strong—not very clear and no great deal of cream—veal cutlets, elegant ham and eggs and nice bread and butter. I never sat down to a more plentiful or a nicer breakfast. I wish you could have seen the eggs—and the great dishes of meat. Sis [his wife] is delighted, and we are both in excellent spirits. She has coughed hardly any and had no night sweat. She is now busy mending my pants, which I tore against a nail. I went out last night and bought a skein of silk, a skein of thread, two buttons, a pair of slippers, and a tin pan for the stove. The fire kept in all night. We have now got four dollars and a half left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three dollars, so that I may have a fortnight to go upon. I feel in excellent spirits, and haven't drank a drop—so that I hope soon to get out of trouble.
Yes, let us clear the typewriter off the table: an ink-well is a sacred thing.
Do you ever stop to think, when you see the grimy spattered desks of a public post-office, how many eager or puzzled human hearts have tried, in those dingy little ink-cups, to set themselves right with fortune? What blissful meetings have been appointed, what scribblings of pain and sorrow, out of those founts of common speech. And the ink-wells on hotel counters—does not the public dipping place of the Bellevue Hotel, Boston, win a new dignity in my memory when I know (as I learned lately) that Rupert Brooke registered there in the spring of 1914? I remember, too, a certain pleasant vibration when, signing my name one day in the Bellevue's book, I found Miss Agnes Repplier's autograph a little above on the same page.
Among our younger friends, Vachel Lindsay comes to mind as one who has done honor to the ink-well. His Apology for the Bottle Volcanic is in his best flow of secret smiling (save an unfortunate dilution of Riley):
Sometimes I dip my pen and find the bottle full of fire, The salamanders flying forth I cannot but admire.... O sad deceiving ink, as bad as liquor in its way— All demons of a bottle size have pranced from you to-day, And seized my pen for hobby-horse as witches ride a broom, And left a trail of brimstone words and blots and gobs of gloom. And yet when I am extra good ... [here I omit the transfusion of Riley] My bottle spreads a rainbow mist, and from the vapor fine Ten thousand troops from fairyland come riding in a line.
I suppose it is the mark of a trifling mind, yet I like to hear of the little particulars that surrounded those whose pens struck sparks. It is Boswell that leads us into that habit of thought. I like to know what the author wore, how he sat, what the furniture of his desk and chamber, who cooked his meals for him, and with what appetite he approached them. "The mind soars by an effort to the grand and lofty" (so dipped Hazlitt in some favored ink-bottle)—"it is at home in the groveling, the disagreeable, and the little."
I like to think, as I look along book shelves, that every one of these favorites was born out of an ink-well. I imagine the hopes and visions that thronged the author's mind as he filled his pot and sliced the quill. What various fruits have flowed from those ink-wells of the past: for some, comfort and honor, quiet homes and plenteousness; for others, bitterness and disappointment. I have seen a copy of Poe's poems, published in 1845 by Putnam, inscribed by the author. The volume had been bought for $2,500. Think what that would have meant to Poe himself.
Some such thoughts as these twinkled in my head as I held up the Pierian bottle against the light, admired the deep blue of it, and filled my ink-well. And then I took up my pen, which wrote:
A GRACE BEFORE WRITING
On Filling an Ink-well
This is a sacrament, I think! Holding the bottle toward the light, As blue as lupin gleams the ink: May Truth be with me as I write!
That small dark cistern may afford Reunion with some vanished friend,— And with this ink I have just poured May none but honest words be penned!
OLD THOUGHTS FOR CHRISTMAS
A new thought for Christmas? Who ever wanted a new thought for Christmas? That man should be shot who would try to brain one. It is an impertinence even to write about Christmas. Christmas is a matter that humanity has taken so deeply to heart that we will not have our festival meddled with by bungling hands. No efficiency expert would dare tell us that Christmas is inefficient; that the clockwork toys will soon be broken; that no one can eat a peppermint cane a yard long; that the curves on our chart of kindness should be ironed out so that the "peak load" of December would be evenly distributed through the year. No sourface dare tell us that we drive postmen and shopgirls into Bolshevism by overtaxing them with our frenzied purchasing or that it is absurd to send to a friend in a steam-heated apartment in a prohibition republic a bright little picture card of a gentleman in Georgian costume drinking ale by a roaring fire of logs. None in his senses, I say, would emit such sophistries, for Christmas is a law unto itself and is not conducted by card-index. Even the postmen and shopgirls, severe though their labors, would not have matters altered. There is none of us who does not enjoy hardship and bustle that contribute to the happiness of others.
There is an efficiency of the heart that transcends and contradicts that of the head. Things of the spirit differ from things material in that the more you give the more you have. The comedian has an immensely better time than the audience. To modernize the adage, to give is more fun than to receive. Especially if you have wit enough to give to those who don't expect it. Surprise is the most primitive joy of humanity. Surprise is the first reason for a baby's laughter. And at Christmas time, when we are all a little childish I hope, surprise is the flavor of our keenest joys. We all remember the thrill with which we once heard, behind some closed door, the rustle and crackle of paper parcels being tied up. We knew that we were going to be surprised—a delicious refinement and luxuriant seasoning of the emotion!
Christmas, then, conforms to this deeper efficiency of the heart. We are not methodical in kindness; we do not "fill orders" for consignments of affection. We let our kindness ramble and explore; old forgotten friendships pop up in our minds and we mail a card to Harry Hunt, of Minneapolis (from whom we have not heard for half a dozen years), "just to surprise him." A business man who shipped a carload of goods to a customer, just to surprise him, would soon perish of abuse. But no one ever refuses a shipment of kindness, because no one ever feels overstocked with it. It is coin of the realm, current everywhere. And we do not try to measure our kindnesses to the capacity of our friends. Friendship is not measurable in calories. How many times this year have you "turned" your stock of kindness?
It is the gradual approach to the Great Surprise that lends full savor to the experience. It has been thought by some that Christmas would gain in excitement if no one knew when it was to be; if (keeping the festival within the winter months) some public functionary (say, Mr. Burleson) were to announce some unexpected morning, "A week from to-day will be Christmas!" Then what a scurrying and joyful frenzy—what a festooning of shops and mad purchasing of presents! But it would not be half the fun of the slow approach of the familiar date. All through November and December we watch it drawing nearer; we see the shop windows begin to glow with red and green and lively colors; we note the altered demeanor of bellboys and janitors as the Date flows quietly toward us; we pass through the haggard perplexity of "Only Four Days More" when we suddenly realize it is too late to make our shopping the display of lucid affectionate reasoning we had contemplated, and clutch wildly at grotesque tokens—and then (sweetest of all) comes the quiet calmness of Christmas Eve. Then, while we decorate the tree or carry parcels of tissue paper and red ribbon to a carefully prepared list of aunts and godmothers, or reckon up a little pile of bright quarters on the dining-room table in preparation for to-morrow's largesse—then it is that the brief, poignant and precious sweetness of the experience claims us at the full. Then we can see that all our careful wisdom and shrewdness were folly and stupidity; and we can understand the meaning of that Great Surprise—that where we planned wealth we found ourselves poor; that where we thought to be impoverished we were enriched. The world is built upon a lovely plan if we take time to study the blue-prints of the heart.
Humanity must be forgiven much for having invented Christmas. What does it matter that a great poet and philosopher urges "the abandonment of the masculine pronoun in allusions to the First or Fundamental Energy"? Theology is not saddled upon pronouns; the best doctrine is but three words, God is Love. Love, or kindness, is fundamental energy enough to satisfy any brooder. And Christmas Day means the birth of a child; that is to say, the triumph of life and hope over suffering.
Just for a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the stupid, harsh mechanism of the world runs down and we permit ourselves to live according to untrammeled common sense, the unconquerable efficiency of good will. We grant ourselves the complete and selfish pleasure of loving others better than ourselves. How odd it seems, how unnaturally happy we are! We feel there must be some mistake, and rather yearn for the familiar frictions and distresses. Just for a few hours we "purge out of every heart the lurking grudge." We know then that hatred is a form of illness; that suspicion and pride are only fear; that the rascally acts of others are perhaps, in the queer webwork of human relations, due to some calousness of our own. Who knows? Some man may have robbed a bank in Nashville or fired a gun in Louvain because we looked so intolerably smug in Philadelphia!
So at Christmas we tap that vast reservoir of wisdom and strength—call it efficiency or the fundamental energy if you will—Kindness. And our kindness, thank heaven, is not the placid kindness of angels; it is veined with human blood; it is full of absurdities, irritations, frustrations. A man 100 per cent. kind would be intolerable. As a wise teacher said, the milk of human kindness easily curdles into cheese. We like our friends' affections because we know the tincture of mortal acid is in them. We remember the satirist who remarked that to love one's self is the beginning of a lifelong romance. We know this lifelong romance will resume its sway; we shall lose our tempers, be obstinate, peevish and crank. We shall fidget and fume while waiting our turn in the barber's chair; we shall argue and muddle and mope. And yet, for a few hours, what a happy vision that was! And we turn, on Christmas Eve, to pages which those who speak our tongue immortally associate with the season—the pages of Charles Dickens. Love of humanity endures as long as the thing it loves, and those pages are packed as full of it as a pound cake is full of fruit. A pound cake will keep moist three years; a sponge cake is dry in three days.
And now humanity has its most beautiful and most appropriate Christmas gift—Peace. The Magi of Versailles and Washington having unwound for us the tissue paper and red ribbon (or red tape) from this greatest of all gifts, let us in days to come measure up to what has been born through such anguish and horror. If war is illness and peace is health, let us remember also that health is not merely a blessing to be received intact once and for all. It is not a substance but a condition, to be maintained only by sound regime, self-discipline and simplicity. Let the Wise Men not be too wise; let them remember those other Wise Men who, after their long journey and their sage surmisings, found only a Child. On this evening it serves us nothing to pile up filing cases and rolltop desks toward the stars, for in our city square the Star itself has fallen, and shines upon the Tree.
By a stroke of good luck we found a little shop where a large overstock of Christmas cards was selling at two for five. The original 5's and 10's were still penciled on them, and while we were debating whether to rub them off a thought occurred to us. When will artists and printers design us some Christmas cards that will be honest and appropriate to the time we live in? Never was the Day of Peace and Good Will so full of meaning as this year; and never did the little cards, charming as they were, seem so formal, so merely pretty, so devoid of imagination, so inadequate to the festival.
This is an age of strange and stirring beauty, of extraordinary romance and adventure, of new joys and pains. And yet our Christmas artists have nothing more to offer us than the old formalism of Yuletide convention. After a considerable amount of searching in the bazaars we have found not one Christmas card that showed even a glimmering of the true romance, which is to see the beauty or wonder or peril that lies around us. Most of the cards hark back to the stage-coach up to its hubs in snow, or the blue bird, with which Maeterlinck penalized us (what has a blue bird got to do with Christmas?), or the open fireplace and jug of mulled claret. Now these things are merry enough in their way, or they were once upon a time; but we plead for an honest romanticism in Christmas cards that will express something of the entrancing color and circumstance that surround us to-day. Is not a commuter's train, stalled in a drift, far more lively to our hearts than the mythical stage-coach? Or an inter-urban trolley winging its way through the dusk like a casket of golden light? Or even a country flivver, loaded down with parcels and holly and the Yuletide keg of root beer? Root beer may be but meager flaggonage compared to mulled claret, but at any rate 'tis honest, 'tis actual, 'tis tangible and potable. And where, among all the Christmas cards, is the airplane, that most marvelous and heart-seizing of all our triumphs? Where is the stately apartment house, looming like Gibraltar against a sunset sky? Must we, even at Christmas time, fool ourselves with a picturesqueness that is gone, seeing nothing of what is around us?
It is said that man's material achievements have outrun his imagination; that poets and painters are too puny to grapple with the world as it is. Certainly a visitor from another sphere, looking on our fantastic and exciting civilization, would find little reflection of it in the Christmas card. He would find us clinging desperately to what we have been taught to believe was picturesque and jolly, and afraid to assert that the things of to-day are comely too. Even on the basis of discomfort (an acknowledged criterion of picturesqueness) surely a trolley car jammed with parcel-laden passengers is just as satisfying a spectacle as any stage coach? Surely the steam radiator, if not so lovely as a flame-gilded hearth, is more real to most of us? And instead of the customary picture of shivering subjects of George III held up by a highwayman on Hampstead Heath, why not a deftly delineated sketch of victims in a steam-heated lobby submitting to the plunder of the hat-check bandit? Come, let us be honest! The romance of to-day is as good as any!
Many must have felt this same uneasiness in trying to find Christmas cards that would really say something of what is in their hearts. The sentiment behind the card is as lovely and as true as ever, but the cards themselves are outmoded bottles for the new wine. It seems a cruel thing to say, but we are impatient with the mottoes and pictures we see in the shops because they are a conventional echo of a beauty that is past. What could be more absurd than to send to a friend in a city apartment a rhyme such as this:
As round the Christmas fire you sit And hear the bells with frosty chime, Think, friendship that long love has knit Grows sweeter still at Christmas time!
If that is sent to the janitor or the elevator boy we have no cavil, for these gentlemen do actually see a fire and hear bells ring; but the apartment tenant hears naught but the hissing of the steam in the radiator, and counts himself lucky to hear that. Why not be honest and say to him:
I hope the janitor has shipped You steam, to keep the cold away; And if the hallboys have been tipped, Then joy be thine on Christmas Day!
We had not meant to introduce this jocular note into our meditation, for we are honestly aggrieved that so many of the Christmas cards hark back to an old tradition that is gone, and never attempt to express any of the romance of to-day. You may protest that Christmas is the oldest thing in the world, which is true; yet it is also new every year, and never newer than now.
ON UNANSWERING LETTERS
There are a great many people who really believe in answering letters the day they are received, just as there are people who go to the movies at 9 o'clock in the morning; but these people are stunted and queer.
It is a great mistake. Such crass and breathless promptness takes away a great deal of the pleasure of correspondence.
The psychological didoes involved in receiving letters and making up one's mind to answer them are very complex. If the tangled process could be clearly analyzed and its component involutions isolated for inspection we might reach a clearer comprehension of that curious bag of tricks, the efficient Masculine Mind.
Take Bill F., for instance, a man so delightful that even to contemplate his existence puts us in good humor and makes us think well of a world that can exhibit an individual equally comely in mind, body and estate. Every now and then we get a letter from Bill, and immediately we pass into a kind of trance, in which our mind rapidly enunciates the ideas, thoughts, surmises and contradictions that we would like to write to him in reply. We think what fun it would be to sit right down and churn the ink-well, spreading speculation and cynicism over a number of sheets of foolscap to be wafted Billward.
Sternly we repress the impulse for we know that the shock to Bill of getting so immediate a retort would surely unhinge the well-fitted panels of his intellect.
We add his letter to the large delta of unanswered mail on our desk, taking occasion to turn the mass over once or twice and run through it in a brisk, smiling mood, thinking of all the jolly letters we shall write some day.
After Bill's letter has lain on the pile for a fortnight or so it has been gently silted over by about twenty other pleasantly postponed manuscripts. Coming upon it by chance, we reflect that any specific problems raised by Bill in that manifesto will by this time have settled themselves. And his random speculations upon household management and human destiny will probably have taken a new slant by now, so that to answer his letter in its own tune will not be congruent with his present fevers. We had better bide a wee until we really have something of circumstance to impart.
We wait a week.
By this time a certain sense of shame has begun to invade the privacy of our brain. We feel that to answer that letter now would be an indelicacy. Better to pretend that we never got it. By and by Bill will write again and then we will answer promptly. We put the letter back in the middle of the heap and think what a fine chap Bill is. But he knows we love him, so it doesn't really matter whether we write or not.
Another week passes by, and no further communication from Bill. We wonder whether he does love us as much as we thought. Still—we are too proud to write and ask.
A few days later a new thought strikes us. Perhaps Bill thinks we have died and he is annoyed because he wasn't invited to the funeral. Ought we to wire him? No, because after all we are not dead, and even if he thinks we are, his subsequent relief at hearing the good news of our survival will outweigh his bitterness during the interval. One of these days we will write him a letter that will really express our heart, filled with all the grindings and gear-work of our mind, rich in affection and fallacy. But we had better let it ripen and mellow for a while. Letters, like wines, accumulate bright fumes and bubblings if kept under cork.
Presently we turn over that pile of letters again. We find in the lees of the heap two or three that have gone for six months and can safely be destroyed. Bill is still on our mind, but in a pleasant, dreamy kind of way. He does not ache or twinge us as he did a month ago. It is fine to have old friends like that and keep in touch with them. We wonder how he is and whether he has two children or three. Splendid old Bill!
By this time we have written Bill several letters in imagination and enjoyed doing so, but the matter of sending him an actual letter has begun to pall. The thought no longer has the savor and vivid sparkle it had once. When one feels like that it is unwise to write. Letters should be spontaneous outpourings: they should never be undertaken merely from a sense of duty. We know that Bill wouldn't want to get a letter that was dictated by a feeling of obligation.
Another fortnight or so elapsing, it occurs to us that we have entirely forgotten what Bill said to us in that letter. We take it out and con it over. Delightful fellow! It is full of his own felicitous kinks of whim, though some of it sounds a little old-fashioned by now. It seems a bit stale, has lost some of its freshness and surprise. Better not answer it just yet, for Christmas will soon be here and we shall have to write then anyway. We wonder, can Bill hold out until Christmas without a letter?
We have been rereading some of those imaginary letters to Bill that have been dancing in our head. They are full of all sorts of fine stuff. If Bill ever gets them he will know how we love him. To use O. Henry's immortal joke, we have days of Damon and Knights of Pythias writing those uninked letters to Bill. A curious thought has come to us. Perhaps it would be better if we never saw Bill again. It is very difficult to talk to a man when you like him so much. It is much easier to write in the sweet fantastic strain. We are so inarticulate when face to face. If Bill comes to town we will leave word that we have gone away. Good old Bill! He will always be a precious memory.
A few days later a sudden frenzy sweeps over us, and though we have many pressing matters on hand, we mobilize pen and paper and literary shock troops and prepare to hurl several battalions at Bill. But, strangely enough, our utterance seems stilted and stiff. We have nothing to say. My dear Bill, we begin, it seems a long time since we heard from you. Why don't you write? We still love you, in spite of all your shortcomings.
That doesn't seem very cordial. We muse over the pen and nothing comes. Bursting with affection, we are unable to say a word.
Just then the phone rings. "Hello?" we say.
It is Bill, come to town unexpectedly.
"Good old fish!" we cry, ecstatic. "Meet you at the corner of Tenth and Chestnut in five minutes."
We tear up the unfinished letter. Bill will never know how much we love him. Perhaps it is just as well. It is very embarrassing to have your friends know how you feel about them. When we meet him we will be a little bit on our guard. It would not be well to be betrayed into any extravagance of cordiality.
And perhaps a not altogether false little story could be written about a man who never visited those most dear to him, because it panged him so to say good-bye when he had to leave.
A LETTER TO FATHER TIME
(NEW YEAR'S EVE)
Dear Father Time—This is your night of triumph, and it seems only fair to pay you a little tribute. Some people, in a noble mood of bravado, consider New Year's Eve an occasion of festivity. Long, long in advance they reserve a table at their favorite cafe; and becomingly habited in boiled shirts or gowns of the lowest visibility, and well armed with a commodity which is said to be synonymous with yourself—money—they seek to outwit you by crowding a month of merriment into half a dozen hours. Yet their victory is brief and fallacious, for if hours spin too fast by night they will move grindingly on the axle the next morning. None of us can beat you in the end. Even the hat-check boy grows old, becomes gray and dies at last babbling of greenbacks.
To my own taste, old Time, it is more agreeable to make this evening a season of gruesome brooding. Morosely I survey the faults and follies of my last year. I am grown too canny to pour the new wine of good resolution into the old bottles of my imperfect humors. But I get a certain grim satisfaction in thinking how we all—every human being of us—share alike in bondage to your oppression. There is the only true and complete democracy, the only absolute brotherhood of man. The great ones of the earth—Charley Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, General Pershing and Miss Amy Lowell—all these are in service to the same tyranny. Day after day slips or jolts past, joins the Great Majority; suddenly we wake with a start to find that the best of it is gone by. Surely it seems but a day ago that Stevenson set out to write a little book that was to be called "Life at Twenty-five"—before he got it written he was long past the delectable age—and now we rub our eyes and see he has been dead longer than the span of life he then so delightfully contemplated. If there is one meditation common to every adult on this globe it is this, so variously phrased, "Well, bo, Time sure does hustle."
Some of them have scurvily entreated you, old Time! The thief of youth, they have called you; a highwayman, a gipsy, a grim reaper. It seems a little unfair. For you have your kindly moods, too. Without your gentle passage where were Memory, the sweetest of lesser pleasures? You are the only medicine for many a woe, many a sore heart. And surely you have a right to reap where you alone have sown? Our strength, our wit, our comeliness, all those virtues and graces that you pilfer with such gentle hand, did you not give them to us in the first place? Give, do I say? Nay, we knew, even as we clutched them, they were but a loan. And the great immortality of the race endures, for every day that we see taken away from ourselves we see added to our children or our grandchildren. It was Shakespeare, who thought a great deal about you, who put it best:
Nativity, once in the main of light, Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned, Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight And Time that gave doth now his gift confound—
It is to be hoped, my dear Time, that you have read Shakespeare's sonnets, because they will teach you a deal about the dignity of your career, and also suggest to you the only way we have of keeping up with you. There is no way of outwitting Time, Shakespeare tells his young friend, "Save breed to brave him when he takes thee hence." Or, as a poor bungling parodist revamped it:
Pep is the stuff to put Old Time on skids— Pep in your copy, yes, and lots of kids.
It is true that Shakespeare hints another way of doing you in, which is to write sonnets as good as his. This way, needless to add, is open to few.
Well, my dear Time, you are not going to fool me into making myself ridiculous this New Year's Eve with a lot of bonny but impossible resolutions. I know that you are playing with me just as a cat plays with a mouse; yet even the most piteous mousekin sometimes causes his tormentor surprise or disappointment by getting under a bureau or behind the stove, where, for the moment, she cannot paw him. Every now and then, with a little luck, I shall pull off just such a scurry into temporary immortality. It may come by reading Dickens or by seeing a sunset, or by lunching with friends, or by forgetting to wind the alarm clock, or by contemplating the rosy little pate of my daughter, who is still only a nine days' wonder—so young that she doesn't even know what you are doing to her. But you are not going to have the laugh on me by luring me into resolutions. I know my weaknesses. I know that I shall probably continue to annoy newsdealers by reading the magazines on the stalls instead of buying them; that I shall put off having my hair cut; drop tobacco cinders on my waistcoat; feel bored at the idea of having to shave and get dressed; be nervous when the gas burner pops when turned off; buy more Liberty Bonds than I can afford and have to hock them at a grievous loss. I shall continue to be pleasant to insurance agents, from sheer lack of manhood; and to keep library books out over the date and so incur a fine. My only hope, you see, is resolutely to determine to persist in these failings. Then, by sheer perversity, I may grow out of them.
What avail, indeed, for any of us to make good resolutions when one contemplates the grand pageant of human frailty? Observe what I noticed the other day in the Lost and Found column of the New York Times:
LOST—Hotel Imperial lavatory, set of teeth. Call or communicate Flint, 134 East 43d street. Reward.
Surely, if Mr. Flint could not remember to keep his teeth in his mouth, or if any one else was so basely whimsical as to juggle them away from him, it may well teach us to be chary of extravagant hopes for the future. Even the League of Nations, when one contemplates the sad case of Mr. Flint, becomes a rather anemic safeguard. We had better keep Mr. Flint in mind through the New Year as a symbol of human error and disappointment. And the best of it is, my dear Time, that you, too, may be a little careless. Perhaps one of these days you may doze a little and we shall steal a few hours of timeless bliss. Shall we see a little ad in the papers:
LOST—Sixty valuable minutes, said to have been stolen by the unworthy human race. If found, please return to Father Time, and no questions asked.
Well, my dear Time, we approach the Zero Hour. I hope you will have a Happy New Year, and conduct yourself with becoming restraint. So live, my dear fellow, that we may say, "A good Time was enjoyed by all." As the hands of the clock go over the top and into the No Man's Land of the New Year, good luck to you!
Your obedient servant!
WHAT MEN LIVE BY
What a delicate and rare and gracious art is the art of conversation! With what a dexterity and skill the bubble of speech must be maneuvered if mind is to meet and mingle with mind.
There is no sadder disappointment than to realize that a conversation has been a complete failure. By which we mean that it has failed in blending or isolating for contrast the ideas, opinions and surmises of two eager minds. So often a conversation is shipwrecked by the very eagerness of one member to contribute. There must be give and take, parry and thrust, patience to hear and judgment to utter. How uneasy is the qualm as one looks back on an hour's talk and sees that the opportunity was wasted; the precious instant of intercourse gone forever: the secrets of the heart still incommunicate! Perhaps we were too anxious to hurry the moment, to enforce our own theory, to adduce instance from our own experience. Perhaps we were not patient enough to wait until our friend could express himself with ease and happiness. Perhaps we squandered the dialogue in tangent topics, in a multitude of irrelevances.
How few, how few are those gifted for real talk! There are fine merry fellows, full of mirth and shrewdly minted observation, who will not abide by one topic, who must always be lashing out upon some new byroad, snatching at every bush they pass. They are too excitable, too ungoverned for the joys of patient intercourse. Talk is so solemn a rite it should be approached with prayer and must be conducted with nicety and forbearance. What steadiness and sympathy are needed if the thread of thought is to be unwound without tangles or snapping! What forbearance, while each of the pair, after tentative gropings here and yonder, feels his way toward truth as he sees it. So often two in talk are like men standing back to back, each trying to describe to the other what he sees and disputing because their visions do not tally. It takes a little time for minds to turn face to face.
Very often conversations are better among three than between two, for the reason that then one of the trio is always, unconsciously, acting as umpire, interposing fair play, recalling wandering wits to the nub of the argument, seeing that the aggressiveness of one does no foul to the reticence of another. Talk in twos may, alas! fall into speaker and listener: talk in threes rarely does so.
It is little realized how slowly, how painfully, we approach the expression of truth. We are so variable, so anxious to be polite, and alternately swayed by caution or anger. Our mind oscillates like a pendulum: it takes some time for it to come to rest. And then, the proper allowance and correction has to be made for our individual vibrations that prevent accuracy. Even the compass needle doesn't point the true north, but only the magnetic north. Similarly our minds at best can but indicate magnetic truth, and are distorted by many things that act as iron filings do on the compass. The necessity of holding one's job: what an iron filing that is on the compass card of a man's brain!
We are all afraid of truth: we keep a battalion of our pet prejudices and precautions ready to throw into the argument as shock troops, rather than let our fortress of Truth be stormed. We have smoke bombs and decoy ships and all manner of cunning colorizations by which we conceal our innards from our friends, and even from ourselves. How we fume and fidget, how we bustle and dodge rather than commit ourselves.
In days of hurry and complication, in the incessant pressure of human problems that thrust our days behind us, does one never dream of a way of life in which talk would be honored and exalted to its proper place in the sun? What a zest there is in that intimate unreserved exchange of thought, in the pursuit of the magical blue bird of joy and human satisfaction that may be seen flitting distantly through the branches of life. It was a sad thing for the world when it grew so busy that men had no time to talk. There are such treasures of knowledge and compassion in the minds of our friends, could we only have time to talk them out of their shy quarries. If we had our way, we would set aside one day a week for talking. In fact, we would reorganize the week altogether. We would have one day for Worship (let each man devote it to worship of whatever he holds dearest); one day for Work; one day for Play (probably fishing); one day for Talking; one day for Reading, and one day for Smoking and Thinking. That would leave one day for Resting, and (incidentally) interviewing employers.
The best week of our life was one in which we did nothing but talk. We spent it with a delightful gentleman who has a little bungalow on the shore of a lake in Pike County. He had a great many books and cigars, both of which are conversational stimulants. We used to lie out on the edge of the lake, in our oldest trousers, and talk. We discussed ever so many subjects; in all of them he knew immensely more than we did. We built up a complete philosophy of indolence and good will, according to Food and Sleep and Swimming their proper share of homage. We rose at 10 in the morning and began talking; we talked all day and until 3 o'clock at night. Then we went to bed and regained strength and combativeness for the coming day. Never was a week better spent. We committed no crimes, planned no secret treaties, devised no annexations or indemnities. We envied no one. We examined the entire world and found it worth while. Meanwhile our wives, who were watching (perhaps with a little quiet indignation) from the veranda, kept on asking us, "What on earth do you talk about?"
Bless their hearts, men don't have to have anything to talk about. They just talk.
And there is only one rule for being a good talker: learn how to listen.
THE UNNATURAL NATURALIST
It gives us a great deal of pleasure to announce, officially, that spring has arrived.
Our statement is not based on any irrelevant data as to equinoxes or bluebirds or bock-beer signs, but is derived from the deepest authority we know anything about, our subconscious self. We remember that some philosopher, perhaps it was Professor James, suggested that individuals are simply peaks of self-consciousness rising out of the vast ocean of collective human Mind in which we all swim, and are, at bottom, one. Whenever we have to decide any important matter, such as when to get our hair cut and whether to pay a bill or not, and whether to call for the check or let the other fellow do so, we don't attempt to harass our conscious volition with these decisions. We rely on our subconscious and instinctive person, and for better or worse we have to trust to its righteousness and good sense. We just find ourself doing something and we carry on and hope it is for the best.
From this deep abyss of subconsciousness we learn that it is spring. The mottled goosebone of the Allentown prophet is no more meteorologically accurate than our subconscience. And this is how it works.
Once a year, about the approach of the vernal equinox or the seedsman's catalogue, we wake up at 6 o'clock in the morning. This is an immediate warning and apprisement that something is adrift. Three hundred and sixty-four days in the year we wake, placidly enough, at seven-ten, ten minutes after the alarm clock has jangled. But on this particular day, whether it be the end of February or the middle of March, we wake with the old recognizable nostalgia. It is the last polyp or vestige of our anthropomorphic and primal self, trailing its pathetic little wisp of glory for the one day of the whole calendar. All the rest of the year we are the plodding percheron of commerce, patiently tugging our wain; but on that morning there wambles back, for the nonce, the pang of Eden. We wake at 6 o'clock; it is a blue and golden morning and we feel it imperative to get outdoors as quickly as possible. Not for an instant do we feel the customary respectable and sanctioned desire to kiss the sheets yet an hour or so. The traipsing, trolloping humor of spring is in our veins; we feel that we must be about felling an aurochs or a narwhal for breakfast. We leap into our clothes and hurry downstairs and out of the front door and skirmish round the house to see and smell and feel.
It is spring. It is unmistakably spring, because the pewit bushes are budding and on yonder aspen we can hear a forsythia bursting into song. It is spring, when the feet of the floorwalker pain him and smoking-car windows have to be pried open with chisels. We skip lightheartedly round the house to see if those bobolink bulbs we planted are showing any signs yet, and discover the whisk brush that fell out of the window last November. And then the newsboy comes along the street and sees us prancing about and we feel sheepish and ashamed and hurry indoors again.
There may still be blizzards and frozen plumbings and tumbles on icy pavements, but when that morning of annunciation has come to us we know that winter is truly dead, even though his ghost may walk and gibber once or twice. The sweet urge of the new season has rippled up through the oceanic depths of our subconsciousness, and we are aware of the rising tide. Like Mr. Wordsworth we feel that we are wiser than we know. (Perhaps we have misquoted that, but let it stand.)
There are other troubles that spring brings us. We are pitifully ashamed of our ignorance Of nature, and though we try to hide it we keep getting tripped up. About this time of year inquisitive persons are always asking us: "Have you heard any song sparrows yet?" or "Are there any robins out your way?" or "When do the laburnums begin to nest out in Marathon?" Now we really can't tell these people our true feeling, which is that we do not believe in peeking in on the privacy of the laburnums or any other songsters. It seems to us really immodest to keep on spying on the birds in that way. And as for the bushes and trees, what we want to know is, How does one ever get to know them? How do you find out which is an alder and what is an elm? Or a narcissus and a hyacinth, does any one really know them apart? We think it's all a bluff. And jonquils. There was a nest of them on our porch, we are told, but we didn't think it any business of ours to bother them. Let nature alone and she'll let you alone.
But there is a pettifogging cult about that says you ought to know these things; moreover, children keep on asking one. We always answer at random and say it's a wagtail or a flowering shrike or a female magnolia. We were brought up in the country and learned that first principle of good manners, which is to let birds and flowers and animals go on about their own affairs without pestering them by asking them their names and addresses. Surely that's what Shakespeare meant by saying a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. We can enjoy a rose just as much as any one, even if we may think it's a hydrangea.
And then we are much too busy to worry about robins and bluebirds and other poultry of that sort. Of course, if we see one hanging about the lawn and it looks hungry we have decency enough to throw out a bone or something for it, but after all we have a lot of troubles of our own to bother about. We are short-sighted, too, and if we try to get near enough to see if it is a robin or only a bandanna some one has dropped, why either it flies away before we get there or it does turn out to be a bandanna or a clothespin. One of our friends kept on talking about a Baltimore oriole she had seen near our house, and described it as a beautiful yellowish fowl. We felt quite ashamed to be so ignorant, and when one day we thought we saw one near the front porch we left what we were doing, which was writing a check for the coal man, and went out to stalk it. After much maneuvering we got near, made a dash—and it was a banana peel! The oriole had gone back to Baltimore the day before.
We love to read about the birds and flowers and shrubs and insects in poetry, and it makes us very happy to know they are all round us, innocent little things like mice and centipedes and goldenrods (until hay fever time), but as for prying into their affairs we simply won't do it.
SITTING IN THE BARBER'S CHAIR
Once every ten weeks or so we get our hair cut.
We are not generally parsimonious of our employer's time, but somehow we do hate to squander that thirty-three minutes, which is the exact chronicide involved in despoiling our skull of a ten weeks' garner. If we were to have our hair cut at the end of eight weeks the shearing would take only thirty-one minutes; but we can never bring ourselves to rob our employer of that much time until we reckon he is really losing prestige by our unkempt appearance. Of course, we believe in having our hair cut during office hours. That is the only device we know to make the hateful operation tolerable.
To the times mentioned above should be added fifteen seconds, which is the slice of eternity needed to trim, prune and chasten our mustache, which is not a large group of foliage.
We knew a traveling man who never got his hair cut except when he was on the road, which permitted him to include the transaction in his expense account; but somehow it seems to us more ethical to steal time than to steal money.
We like to view this whole matter in a philosophical and ultra-pragmatic way. Some observers have hazarded that our postponement of haircuts is due to mere lethargy and inertia, but that is not so. Every time we get our locks shorn our wife tells us that we have got them too short. She says that our head has a very homely and bourgeois bullet shape, a sort of pithecanthropoid contour, which is revealed by a close trim. After five weeks' growth, however, we begin to look quite distinguished. The difficulty then is to ascertain just when the law of diminishing returns comes into play. When do we cease to look distinguished and begin to appear merely slovenly? Careful study has taught us that this begins to take place at the end of sixty-five days, in warm weather. Add five days or so for natural procrastination and devilment, and we have seventy days interval, which we have posited as the ideal orbit for our tonsorial ecstasies.
When at last we have hounded ourself into robbing our employer of those thirty-three minutes, plus fifteen seconds for you know what, we find ourself in the barber's chair. Despairingly we gaze about at the little blue flasks with flowers enameled on them; at the piles of clean towels; at the bottles of mandrake essence which we shall presently have to affirm or deny. Under any other circumstances we should deeply enjoy a half hour spent in a comfortable chair, with nothing to do but do nothing. Our barber is a delightful fellow; he looks benign and does not prattle; he respects the lobes of our ears and other vulnerabilia. But for some inscrutable reason we feel strangely ill at ease in his chair. We can't think of anything to think about. Blankly we brood in the hope of catching the hem of some intimation of immortality. But no, there is nothing to do but sit there, useless as an incubator with no eggs in it. The processes of wasting and decay are hurrying us rapidly to a pauperish grave, every instant brings us closer to a notice in the obit column, and yet we sit and sit without two worthy thoughts to rub against each other.
Oh, the poverty of mortal mind, the sad meagerness of the human soul! Here we are, a vital, breathing entity, transformed to a mere chemical carcass by the bleak magic of the barber's chair. In our anatomy of melancholy there are no such atrabiliar moments as those thirty-three (and a quarter) minutes once every ten weeks. Roughly speaking, we spend three hours of this living death every year.
And yet, perhaps it is worth it, for what a jocund and pantheistic merriment possesses us when we escape from the shop! Bay-rummed, powdered, shorn, brisk and perfumed, we fare down the street exhaling the syrups of Cathay. Once more we can take our rightful place among aggressive and well-groomed men; we can look in the face without blenching those human leviathans who are ever creased, razored, and white-margined as to vest. We are a man among men and our untethered mind jostles the stars. We have had our hair cut, and no matter what gross contours our cropped skull may display to wives or ethnologists, we are a free man for ten dear weeks.
BROWN EYES AND EQUINOXES
"What is an equinox?" said Titania.
I pretended not to hear her and prayed fervently that the inquiry would pass from her mind. Sometimes her questions, if ignored, are effaced by some other thought that possesses her active brain. I rattled my paper briskly and kept well behind it.
"Yes," I murmured husbandly, "delicious, delicious! My dear, you certainly plan the most delightful meals." Meanwhile I was glancing feverishly at the daily Quiz column to see if that noble cascade of popular information might give any help. It did not.
Clear brown eyes looked across the table gravely. I could feel them through the spring overcoat ads.
"What is an equinox?"
"I think I must have left my matches upstairs," I said, and went up to look for them. I stayed aloft ten minutes and hoped that by that time she would have passed on to some other topic. I did not waste my time, however; I looked everywhere for the "Children's Book of a Million Reasons," until I remembered it was under the dining-room table taking the place of a missing caster.
When I slunk into the living room again I hastily suggested a game of double Canfield, but Titania's brow was still perplexed. Looking across at me with that direct brown gaze that would compel even a milliner to relent, she asked:
"What is an equinox?"
I tried to pass it off flippantly.
"A kind of alarm clock," I said, "that lets the bulbs and bushes know it's time to get up."
"No; but honestly, Bob," she said, "I want to know. It's something about an equal day and an equal night, isn't it?"
"At the equinox," I said sternly, hoping to overawe her, "the day and the night are of equal duration. But only for one night. On the following day the sun, declining in perihelion, produces the customary inequality. The usual working day is much longer than the night of relaxation that follows it, as every toiler knows."
"Yes," she said thoughtfully, "but how does it work? It says something in this article about the days getting longer in the Northern Hemisphere, while they are getting shorter in the Southern."
"Of course," I agreed, "conditions are totally different south of Mason and Dixon's line. But as far as we are concerned here, the sun, revolving round the earth, casts a beneficent shadow, which is generally regarded as the time to quit work. This shadow—"
"I thought the earth revolved round the sun," she said. "Wasn't that what Galileo proved?"
"He was afterward discovered to be mistaken," I said. "That was what caused all the trouble."
"What trouble?" she asked, much interested.
"Why, he and Socrates had to take hemlock or they were drowned in a butt of malmsey, I really forget which."
"Well, after the equinox," said Titania, "do the days get longer?"
"They do," I said; "in order to permit the double-headers. And now that daylight saving is to go into effect, equinoxes won't be necessary any more. Very likely the pan-Russian Soviets, or President Wilson, or somebody, will abolish them."
"June 21 is the longest day in the year, isn't it?"
"The day before pay-day is always the longest day."
"And the night the cook goes out is always the longest night," she retorted, catching the spirit of the game.
"Some day," I threatened her, "the earth will stop rotating on its orbit, or its axis, or whatever it is, and then we will be like the moon, divided into two hostile hemispheres, one perpetual day and the other eternal night."
She did not seem alarmed. "Yes, and I bet I know which one you'll emigrate to," she said. "But how about the equinoctial gales? Why should there be gales just then?"
I had forgot about the equinoctial gales, and this caught me unawares.
"That was an old tradition of the Phoenician mariners," I said, "but the invention of latitude and longitude made them unnecessary. They have fallen into disrepute. Dead reckoning killed them."
"And the precession of the equinoxes?" she asked, turning back to her magazine.
This was a poser, but I rallied stoutly. "Well," I said, "you see, there are two equinoxes a year, the vernal and the autumnal. They are well known by coal dealers. The first one is when he delivers the coal and the second is when he gets paid. Two of them a year, you see, in the course of a million years or so, makes quite a majestic series. That is why they call it a procession."
Titania looked at me and gradually her face broke up into a charming aurora borealis of laughter.
"I don't believe you know any more about the old things than I do," she said.
And the worst of it is, I think she was right.
163 INNOCENT OLD MEN
I found Titania looking severely at her watch, which is a queer little gold disk about the size of a waistcoat button, swinging under her chin by a thin golden chain. Titania's methods of winding, setting and regulating that watch have always been a mystery to me. She frequently knows what the right time is, but how she deduces it from the data given by the hands of her timepiece I can't guess. It's something like this: She looks at the watch and notes what it says. Then she deducts ten minutes, because she remembers it is ten minutes fast. Then she performs some complicated calculation connected with when the baby had his bath, and how long ago she heard the church bells chime; to this result she adds five minutes to allow for leeway. Then she goes to the phone and asks Central the time.
"Hullo," I said; "what's wrong?"
"I'm wondering about this daylight-saving business," she said. "You know, I think it's all a piece of Bolshevik propaganda to get us confused and encourage anarchy. All the women in Marathon are talking about it and neglecting their knitting. Junior's bath was half an hour late today because Mrs. Benvenuto called me up to talk about daylight saving. She says her cook has threatened to leave if she has to get up an hour earlier in the morning. I was just wondering how to adjust my watch to the new conditions."
"It's perfectly simple," I said. "Put your watch ahead one hour, and then go through the same logarithms you always do."
"Put it ahead?" asked Titania. "Mrs. Borgia says we have to put the clock back an hour. She is fearfully worried about it. She says suppose she has something in the oven when the clock is put back, it will be an hour overdone and burned to a crisp when the kitchen clock catches up again."
"Mrs. Borgia is wrong," I said. "The clocks are to be put ahead one hour. At 2 o'clock on Easter morning they are to be turned on to 3 o'clock. Mrs. Borgia certainly won't have anything in the oven at that time of night. You see, we are to pretend that 2 o'clock is really 3 o'clock, and when we get up at 7 o'clock it will really be 6 o'clock. We are deliberately fooling ourselves in order to get an hour more of daylight."
"I have an idea," she said, "that you won't get up at 7 that morning."
"It is quite possible," I said, "because I intend to stay up until 2 a.m. that morning in order to be exactly correct in changing our timepieces. No one shall accuse me of being a time slacker."
Titania was wrinkling her brow. "But how about that lost hour?" she said. "What happens to it? I don't see how we can just throw an hour away like that. Time goes on just the same. How can we afford to shorten our lives so ruthlessly? It's murder, that's what it is! I told you it was a Bolshevik plot. Just think; there are a hundred million Americans. Moving on the clock that way brings each of us one hour nearer our graves. That is to say, we are throwing away 100,000,000 hours."
She seized a pencil and a sheet of paper and went through some calculations.
"There are 8,760 hours in a year," she said. "Reckoning seventy years a lifetime, there are 613,200 hours in each person's life. Now, will you please divide that into a hundred million for me? I'm not good at long division."
With docility I did so, and reported the result.
"About 163," I said.
"There you are!" she exclaimed triumphantly. "Throwing away all that perfectly good time amounts simply to murdering 163 harmless old men of seventy, or 326 able-bodied men of thirty-five, or 1,630 innocent little children of seven. If that isn't atrocity, what is? I think Mr. Hoover or Admiral Grayson, or somebody, ought to be prosecuted."
I was aghast at this awful result. Then an idea struck me, and I took the pencil and began to figure on my own account.
"Look here, Titania," I said. "Not so fast. Moving the clock ahead doesn't really bring those people any nearer their graves. What it does do is bring the ratification of the Peace Treaty sooner, which is a fine thing. By deleting a hundred million hours we shorten Senator Borah's speeches against the League by 11,410 years. That's very encouraging."
"According to that way of reckoning," she said with sarcasm, "Mr. Borah's term must have expired about 11,000 years ago."
"My dear Titania," I said, "the ways of the Government may seem inscrutable, but we have got to follow them with faith. If Mr. Wilson tells us to murder 163 fine old men in elastic-sided boots we must simply do it, that's all. Peace is a dreadful thing. We have got to meet the Germans on their own ground. They adopted this daylight-saving measure years ago. They call it Sonnenuntergangverderbenpraxis, I believe. After all, it is only a temporary measure, because in the fall, when the daylight hours get shorter, we shall have to turn the clocks back a couple of hours in order to compensate the gas and electric light companies for all the money they will have lost. That will bring those 163 old gentlemen to life again and double their remaining term of years to make up for their temporary effacement. They are patriotic hostages to Time for the summer only. You must remember that time is only a philosophical abstraction, with no real or tangible existence, and we have a right to do whatever we want with it."
"I will remind you of that," she said, "at getting-up time on Sunday morning. I still think that if we are going to monkey with the clocks at all it would be better to turn them backward instead of forward. Certainly that would bring you home from the club a little earlier."
"My dear," I said, "we are in the Government's hands. A little later we may be put on time rations, just as we are on food rations. We may have time cards to encourage thrift in saving time. Every time we save an hour we will get a little stamp to show for it. When we fill out a whole card we will be entitled to call ourselves a month younger than we are. Tell that to Mrs. Borgia; it will reconcile her."
A lusty uproar made itself heard upstairs and Titania gave a little scream. "Heavens!" she cried. "Here I am talking with you and Junior's bottle is half an hour late. I don't care what Mr. Wilson does to the clocks; he won't be able to fool Junior. He knows when it's, time for meals. Won't you call up Central and find out the exact time?"
A TRAGIC SMELL IN MARATHON
Marathon, Pa., April 2.
This is a very embarrassing time of year for us. Every morning when we get on the 8:13 train at Marathon Bill Stites or Fred Myers or Hank Harris or some other groundsel philosopher on the Cinder and Bloodshot begins to chivvy us about our garden. "Have you planted anything yet?" they say. "Have you put litmus paper in the soil to test it for lime, potash and phosphorus? Have you got a harrow?"
That sort of thing bothers us, because our ideas of cultivation are very primitive. We did go to the newsstand at the Reading Terminal and try to buy a Litmus paper, but the agent didn't have any. He says he doesn't carry the Jersey papers. So we buried some old copies of the Philistine in the garden, thinking that would strengthen up the soil a bit. This business of nourishing the soil seems grotesque. It's hard enough to feed the family, let alone throwing away good money on feeding the land. Our idea about soil is that it ought to feed itself.
Our garden ought to be lusty enough to raise the few beans and beets and blisters we aspire to. We have been out looking at the soil. It looks fairly potent and certainly it goes a long way down. There are quite a lot of broken magnesia bottles and old shinbones scattered through it, and they ought to help along. The topsoil and the humus may be a little mixed, but we are not going to sort them out by hand.
Our method is to go out at twilight the first Sunday in April, about the time the cutworms go to roost, and take a sharp-pointed stick. We draw lines in the ground with this stick, preferably in a pleasant geometrical pattern that will confuse the birds and other observers. It is important not to do this until twilight, so that no robins or insects can watch you. Then we go back in the house and put on our old trousers, the pair that has holes in each pocket. We fill the pockets with the seed, we want to plant and loiter slowly along the grooves we have made in the earth. The seed sifts down the trousers legs and spreads itself in the furrow far better than any mechanical drill could do it. The secret of gardening is to stick to nature's old appointed ways. Then we read a chapter of Bernard Shaw aloud, by candle light or lantern light. As soon as they hear the voice of Shaw all the vegetables dig themselves in. This saves going all along the rows with a shingle to pat down the topsoil or the humus or the magnesia bottles or whatever else is uppermost.
Fred says that certain vegetables—kohl-rabi and colanders, we think—extract nitrogen from the air and give it back to the soil. It may be so, but what has that to do with us? If our soil can't keep itself supplied with nitrogen, that's its lookout. We don't need the nitrogen in the air. The baby isn't old enough to have warts yet.
Hank says it's no use watering the garden from above. He says that watering from above lures the roots toward the surface and next day the hot sun kills them. The answer to that is that the rain comes from above, doesn't it? Roots have learned certain habits in the past million years and we haven't time to teach them to duck when it rains. Hank has some irrigation plan which involves sinking tomato cans in the ground and filling them with water.
Bill says it's dangerous to put arsenic on the plants, because it may kill the cook. He says nicotine or tobacco dust is far better. The answer to that is that we never put fertilizers on our garden, anyway. If we want to kill the cook there is a more direct method, and we reserve the tobacco for ourself. No cutworm shall get a blighty one from our cherished baccy pouch.
Fred says we ought to have a wheel-barrow; Hank swears by a mulching iron; Bill is all for cold frames. All three say that hellebore is the best thing for sucking insects. We echo the expletive, with a different application.
You see, we have no instinct for gardening. Some fellows, like Bill Stites, have a divinely implanted zest for the propagation of chard and rhubarb and self-blanching celery and kohl-rabi; they are kohl-rabid, we might say. They know, just what to do when they see a weed; they can assassinate a weevil by just looking at it. But weevils and cabbage worms are unterrified by us. We can't tell a weed from a young onion. We never mulched anything in our life; we wouldn't know how to begin.
But the deuce of it is, public opinion says that we must raise a garden. It is no use to hire a man to do it for us. However badly we may do it, patriotism demands that we monkey around with a garden of our own. We may get bitten by a snapping bean or routed by a rutabaga or infected by a parsnip. But with Bill and those fellows at our heels we have just got to face it. Hellebore!
What we want to know is, How do you ever find out all these things about vegetables? We bought an ounce of tomato seeds in desperation, and now Fred says "one ounce of tomato seeds will produce 3,000 plants. You should have bought two dozen plants instead of the seed." How does he know those things? Hank says beans are very delicate and must not be handled while they are wet or they may get rusty. Again we ask, how does he know? Where do they learn these matters? Bill says that stones draw out the moisture from the soil and every stone in the garden should be removed by hand before we plant. We offered him twenty cents an hour to do it.
The most tragic odor in the world hangs over Marathon these days; the smell of freshly spaded earth. It is extolled by the poets and all those happy sons of the pavement who know nothing about it. But here are we, who hardly know a loam from a lentil, breaking our back over seed catalogues. Public opinion may compel us to raise vegetables, but we are going to go about it our own way. If the stones are going to act like werewolves and suck the moisture from our soil, let them do so. We don't believe in thwarting nature. Maybe it will be a very wet summer and we shall have the laugh on Bill, who has carted away all his stones.
And we should just like to see Bill Stites write a poem. We bet it wouldn't look as much like a poem as our beans look like beans. And as for Hank and Fred, they wouldn't even know how to begin to plant a poem!
BULLIED BY THE BIRDS
Marathon, Pa., May 2.
I insist that the place for birds is in the air or on the bushy tops of trees or on smooth-shaven lawns. Let them twitter and strut on the greens of golf courses and intimidate the tired business men. Let them peck cinders along the railroad track and keep the trains waiting. But really they have no right to take possession of a man's house as they have mine.
The nesting season is a time of tyranny and oppression for those who live in Marathon. The birds are upon us like Hindenburg in Belgium. We go about on tiptoe, speaking in whispers, for fear of annoying them. It is all the fault of the Marathon Bird Club, which has offered all sorts of inducements to the fowls of the air to come and live in our suburb, quite forgetting that humble commuters have to live there, too. Birds have moved all the way from Wynnewood and Ambler and Chestnut Hill to enjoy the congenial air of Marathon and the informing little pamphlets of our club, telling them just what to eat and which houses offer the best hospitality. All our dwellings are girt about with little villas made of condensed milk boxes, but the feathered tyrants have grown too pernickety to inhabit these. They come closer still, and make our homes their own. They take the grossest liberties.
I am fond of birds, but I think the line must be drawn somewhere. The clothes-line, for instance. The other day Titania sent me out to put up a new clothesline; I found that a shrike or a barn swallow or some other veery had built a nest in the clothespin basket. That means we won't be able to hang out our laundry in the fresh Monday air and equally fresh Monday sunshine until the nesting season is over.
Then there is a gross, fat, indiscreet robin that has taken a home in an evergreen or mimosa or banyan tree just under our veranda railing. It is an absurdly exposed, almost indecently exposed position, for the confidential family business she intends to carry on. The iceman and the butcher and the boy who brings up the Sunday ice cream from the apothecary can't help seeing those three big blue eggs she has laid. But, because she has nested there for the last three springs, while the house was unoccupied, she thinks she has a perpetual lease on that bush. She hotly resents the iceman and the butcher and the apothecary's boy, to say nothing of me. So these worthy merchants have to trail round a circuitous route, violating the neutral ground of a neighbor, in order to reach the house from behind and deliver their wares through the cellar. We none of us dare use the veranda at all for fear of frightening her, and I have given up having the morning paper delivered at the house because she made such shrill protest.
Frightening her, do I say? Nay, it is we who are frightened. I go round to the side of the house to prune my benzine bushes or to plant a mess of spinach and a profane starling or woodpecker bustles off her nest with shrewish outcry and lingers nearby to rail at me. Abashed, I stealthily scuffle back to get a spade out of the tool bin and again that shrill scream of anger and outraged motherhood. A throstle or a whippoorwill is raising a family in the gutter spout over the back kitchen. I go into the bathroom to shave and Titania whispers sharply, "You mustn't shave in there. There's a tomtit nesting in the shutter hinge and the light from your shaving mirror will make the poor little birds crosseyed when they're hatched." I try to shave in the dining-room and I find a sparrow's nest on the window sill. Finally I do my toilet in the coal bin, even though there is a young squeaking bat down there. A bat is half mouse anyway, so Titania has less compassion for its feelings. Even if that bat grows up bow-legged on account of premature excitement, I have to shave somewhere.
We can't play croquet at this time of year, because the lawn must be kept clear for the robins to quarry out worms. The sound of mallet and ball frightens the worms and sends them underground, and then it's harder for the robins to find them. I suppose we really ought to keep a stringed orchestra playing in the garden to entice the worms to the surface. We have given up frying onions because the mother robins don't like the odor while they're raising a family. I love my toast crusts, but Titania takes them away from me for the blackbirds. "Now," she says, "they're raising a family. You must be generous."
If my garden doesn't amount to anything this year the birds will be my alibi. Titania makes me do my gardening in rubber-soled shoes so as not to disturb the birds when they are going to bed. (They begin yelping at 4 a.m. right outside the window and never think of my slumbers.) The other evening I put on my planting trousers and was about to sow a specially fine pea I had brought home from town when Titania made signs from the window. "You simply mustn't wear those trousers around the house in nesting season. Don't you know the birds are very sensitive just now?" And we have been paying board for our cat on Long Island for a whole year because the birds wouldn't like his society and plebeian ways.
Marathon has come to a pretty pass, indeed, when the commuters are to be dispossessed in this way by a lot of birds, orioles and tomtits and yellow-bellied nuthatches. Some of these days a wren will take it into its head to build a nest on the railroad track and we'll all have to walk to town. Or a chicken hawk will settle in our icebox and we'll starve to death.
As I have said before, I believe in keeping nature in its proper place. Birds belong in trees. I don't go twittering and fluffing about in oaks and chestnuts, perching on the birds' nest steps and getting in their way. And why should some swarthy robin, be she never so matronly, swear at me if I set foot on my own front porch?
A MESSAGE FOR BOONVILLE
When corncob pipes went up from a nickel to six cents, smoking traditions tottered. That was a year or more ago, but one can still recall the indignation written on the faces of nicotine-soaked gaffers who had been buying cobs at a jitney ever since Washington used one to keep warm at Valley Forge. It was the supreme test of our determination to win the war: the price of Missouri meerschaums went up 20 per cent and there was no insurrection.
Yesterday we went out to buy our annual corncob, and were agreeably surprised to learn that the price is still six cents; but our friend the tobacconist said that it may go up again soon. We took the treasure, gleaming yellow with fresh varnish, back to our kennel, and we are smoking it as we set down these words. A corncob is sadly hot and raw until it is well sooted, but the ultimate flavor is worth persecution.
The corncob pipes we always buy come from Boonville, Mo., and we don't see why we shouldn't blow a little whiff of affection and gratitude toward that excellent town. Moreover, Boonville celebrated its centennial recently: it was founded in 1818. If the map is to be believed, it is on the southern bank of the Missouri River, which is there spanned by a very fine bridge; it is reached by two railroads (Missouri Pacific and M., K. and T.) and stands on a bluff 100 feet above the water. According to the two works of reference nearest to our desk, its population is either 4252 or 4377. Perhaps the former census omits the 125 men of the town who are so benighted as to smoke briars or clays.
Delightful town of Boonville, seat of Cooper County, you are well named. How great a boon you have conferred upon a troubled world! Long after more ambitious towns have faded in the memory of man your quiet and soothing gift to humanity will make your name blessed. I like to imagine your shady streets, drowsing in the summer sun, and the rural philosophers sitting on the verandas of your hotels or on the benches of Harley Park ("comprising fifteen acres"—New International Encyclopedia), looking out across the brown river and puffing clouds of sweet gray reek. Down by the livery stable on Main street (there must be a livery stable on Main street) I can see the old creaky, cane-bottomed chairs (with seats punctured by too much philosophy) tilted against the sycamore trees, ready for the afternoon gossip and shag tobacco. I can imagine the small boys of Boonville fishing for catfish from the piers of the bridge or bathing down by the steamboat dock (if there is one), and yearning for the day when they, too, will be grown up and old enough to smoke corncobs.
What is the subtle magic of a corncob pipe? It is never as sweet or as mellow as a well-seasoned briar, and yet it has a fascination all its own. It is equally dear to those who work hard and those who loaf with intensity. When you put your nose to the blackened mouth of the hot cob its odor is quite different from that fragrance of the crusted wooden bowl. There is a faint bitterness in it, a sour, plaintive aroma. It is a pipe that seems to call aloud for the accompaniment of beer and earnest argument on factional political matters. It is also the pipe for solitary vigils of hard and concentrated work. It is the pipe that a man keeps in the drawer of his desk for savage hours of extra toil after the stenographer has powdered her nose and gone home.
A corncob pipe is a humble badge of philosophy, an evidence of tolerance and even humor. It requires patience and good cheer, for it is slow to "break in." Those who meditate bestial and brutal designs against the weak and innocent do not smoke it. Probably Hindenburg never saw one. Missouri's reputation for incredulity may be due to the corncob habit. One who is accustomed to consider an argument over a burning nest of tobacco, with the smoke fuming upward in a placid haze, will not accept any dogma too immediately.
There is a singular affinity among those who smoke corncobs. A Missouri meerschaum whose bowl is browned and whose fiber stem is frayed and stringy with biting betrays a meditative and reasonable owner. He will have pondered all aspects of life and be equally ready to denounce any of them, but without bitterness. If you see a man on a street corner smoking a cob it will be safe to ask him to watch the baby a minute while you slip around the corner. You would even be safe in asking him to lend you a five. He will be safe, too, because he won't have it.
Think, therefore, of the charm of a town where corncob pipes are the chief industry. Think of them stacked up in bright yellow piles in the warehouse. Think of the warm sun and the wholesome sweetness of broad acres that have grown into the pith of the cob. Think of the bright-eyed Missouri maidens who have turned and scooped and varnished and packed them. Think of the airy streets and wide pavements of Boonville, and the corner drug stores with their shining soda fountains and grape-juice bottles. Think of sitting out on that bluff on a warm evening, watching the broad shimmer of the river slipping down from the sunset, and smoking a serene pipe while the local flappers walk in the coolness wearing crisp, swaying gingham dresses. That's the kind of town we like to think about.
MAKING MARATHON SAFE FOR THE URCHIN
The Urchin and I have been strolling about Marathon on Sunday mornings for more than a year, but not until the gasolineless Sabbaths supervened were we really able to examine the village and see what it is like. Previously we had been kept busy either dodging motors or admiring them as they sped by. Their rich dazzle of burnished enamel, the purring hum of their great tires, evokes applause from the Urchin. He is learning, as he watches those flashing chariots, that life truly is almost as vivid as the advertisements in the Ladies' Home Journal, where the shimmer of earthly pageant first was presented to him.
Marathon is a village so genteel and comely that the Urchin and I would like to have some pictures of it for future generations, particularly as we see it on an autumn morning when, as I say, the motors are kenneled and the landscape has ceased to vibrate. In the douce benignance of equinoctial sunshine we gaze about us with eyes of inventory. Where my observation errs by too much sentiment the Urchin checks me by his cooler power of ratiocination.
Marathon is a suburban Xanadu gently caressed by the train service of the Cinder and Bloodshot. It may be recognized as an aristocratic and patrician stronghold by the fact that while luxuries are readily obtainable (for instance, banana splits, or the latest novel by Enoch A. Bennett), necessaries are had only by prayer and advowson. The drug store will deliver ice cream to your very refrigerator, but it is impossible to get your garbage collected. The cook goes off for her Thursday evening in a taxi, but you will have to mend the roof, stanch the plumbing and curry the furnace with your own hands. There are ten trains to take you to town of an evening, but only two to bring you home. Yet going to town is a luxury, coming home is a necessity. The supply of grape juice seems almost unlimited, yet coal is to be had catch-as-catch-can.
Another proof that Marathon is patrician at heart is that nothing is known by its right name! The drug store is a "pharmacy," Sunday is "the Sabbath," a house is a "residence," a debt is a "balance due on bill rendered." A girls' school is a "young ladies' seminary," A Marathon man is not drafted, he is "inducted into selective service." And the railway station has a porte cochere (with the correct accent) instead of a carriage entrance. A furnace is (how erroneously!) called a "heater." Marathon people do not die—they "pass away." Even the cobbler, good fellow, has caught the trick; he calls his shop the "Italo-American Shoe Hospital."
This is an innocent masquerade! If Marathon prefers not to call a flivver a flivver, I shall not expostulate. And yet this quaint subterfuge should not be carried quite so far. Stone walls are made for sunny lounging; yet stone walls in Marathon are built with uneven vertical projections to discourage the sedentary. Nothing is more delightful than a dog; but there are no dogs in Marathon. They are all airedales or spaniels or mastiffs. If an ordinary dog should wag his tail up our street the airedales would cut him dead. Bless me, Nature herself has taken to the same insincerity. The landscape round Marathon is lovely, but it has itself well in hand. The hills all pretend to be gentle declivities. There is a beautiful little sheet of water, reflecting the trailery of willows, a green salute to the eye. In a robuster community it would be a swimming hole—but with us, an ornamental lake. Only in one spot has Nature forgotten herself and been so brusque and rough as to jut up a very sizable cliff. This is the loveliest thing in Marathon: sunlight and shadow break and angle in cubist magnificence among the oddly veined knobs and prisms of brown stone. Yet this cliff or quarry is by common consent taboo among us. It is our indelicacy, our indecency. Such "residences" as are near modestly turn their kitchens toward it. Only the blacksmith and the gas tanks are hardy enough to face this nakedness of Mother Earth—they, and excellent Pat Lemon, Marathon's humblest and blackest citizen, who contemplates that rugged and honest beauty as he tills his garden on the land abandoned by squeamish burghers. That is our Aceldama, our Potter's Field, only approached by the athletic, who keep their eyes from Nature's indiscretion by vigorous sets of tennis in the purple shadow of the cliff.
Life is queerly inverted in Marathon. Nature has been so bullied and repressed that she fawns about us timidly. No well-conducted suburban shrubbery would think of assuming autumn tints before the ladies have got into their fall fashions. Indeed none of our chaste trees will even shed their leaves while any one is watching; and they crouch modestly in the shade of our massive garages. They have been taught their place. In Marathon it is a worse sin to have your lawn uncut than to have your books or your hair uncut. I have been aware of indignant eyes because I let my back garden run wild. And yet I flatter myself it was not mere sloth. No! I want the Urchin to see what this savage, tempestuous world is like. What preparation for life is a village where Nature comes to heel like a spaniel? When a thunderstorm disorganizes our electric lights for an hour or so we feel it a personal affront. Let my rearward plot be a deep-tangled wild-wood where the happy Urchin may imagine something more ferocious lurking than a posse of radishes. Indeed, I hardly know whether Marathon is a safe place to bring up a child. How can he learn the horrors of drink in a village where there is no saloon? Or the sadness of the seven deadly sins where there is no movie? Or deference to his betters where the chauffeurs, in their withered leather legs, drive limousines to the drug store to buy expensive cigars, while their employers walk to the station puffing briar pipes?
I had been hoping that the war would knock some of this topsy-turvy nonsense out of us. Maybe it has. Sometimes I see on the faces of our commuters the unaccustomed agitation of thought. At least we still have the grace to call ourselves a suburb, and not (what we fancy ourselves) a superurb. But I don't like the pretense that runs like a jarring note through the music of our life. Why is it that those who are doing the work must pretend they are not doing it; and those not doing the work pretend that they are? I see that the motor messenger girls who drive high-powered cars wear Sam Browne belts and heavy-soled boots, whereas the stalwart colored wenches who labor along the tracks of the Cinder and Bloodshot console themselves with flimsy waists and light slippers. (A fact!) By and by the Urchin will notice these things. And I don't want him to grow up the kind of chap who, instead of running to catch a train, loiters gracefully to the station and waits to be caught.
THE SMELL OF SMELLS
I Smelt it this morning—I wonder if you know the smell I mean?
It had rained hard during the night, and trees and bushes twinkled in the sharp early sunshine like ballroom chandeliers. As soon as I stepped out of doors I caught that faint but unmistakable musk in the air; that dim, warm sweetness. It was the smell of summer, so wholly different from the crisp tang of spring.
It is a drowsy, magical waft of warmth and fragrance. It comes only when the leaves and vegetation have grown to a certain fullness and juice, and when the sun bends in his orbit near enough to draw out all the subtle vapors of field and woodland. It is a smell that rarely if ever can be discerned in the city. It needs the wider air of the unhampered earth for its circulation and play.
I don't know just why, but I associate that peculiar aroma of summer with woodpiles and barnyards. Perhaps because in the area of a farmyard the sunlight is caught and focused and glows with its fullest heat and radiance. And it is in the grasp of the relentless sun that growing things yield up their innermost vitality and emanate their fragrant essence. I have seen fields of tobacco under a hot sun that smelt as blithe as a room thick with blue Havana smoke. I remember a pile of birch logs, heaped up behind a barn in Pike County, where that mellow richness of summer flowed and quivered like a visible exhalation in the air. It is the goodly soul of earth, rendering her health and sweetness to her master, the sun.
Every one, I suppose, who is a fancier of smells, knows this blithe perfume of the summer air that is so pleasant to the nostril almost any fine forenoon from mid-June until August. It steals pungently through the blue sparkle of the morning, fading away toward noon when the moistness is dried out. But when one first issues from the house at breakfast time it is at its highest savor. Irresistibly it suggests worms and a tin can with the lid jaggedly bent back and a pitchfork turning up the earth behind the cow stable. Fishing was first invented when Adam smelt that odor in the air.
The first fishing morning—can't you imagine it! Has no one ever celebrated it in verse or oils? The world all young and full of unmitigated sweetness; the Garden of Eden bespangled with the early dew; Adam scrabbling up a fistful of worm's and hooking them on a bent thorn and a line of twisted pampas grass; hurrying down to the branch or the creek or the bayou or whatever it may have been; sitting down on a brand-new stump that the devil had put there to tempt him; throwing out his line; sitting there in the sun dreaming and brooding....
And then a tug, a twitch, a flurry in the clear water of Eden, a pull, a splash, and the First Fish lay on the grass at Adam's foot. Can you imagine his sensations? How he yelled to Eve to come—look—see, and, how annoyed he was because she called out she was busy....
Probably it was in that moment that all the bickerings and back-talk of husbands and wives originated; when Adam called to Eve to come and look at his First Fish while it was still silver and vivid in its living colors; and Eve answered she was busy. In that moment were born the men's clubs and the women's clubs and the pinochle parties and being detained at the office and Kelly pool and all the other devices and stratagems that keep men and women from taking their amusements together.
Well, I didn't mean to go back to the Garden of Eden; I just wanted to say that summer is here again, even though the almanac doesn't vouch for it until the 21st. Those of you who are fond of smells, spread your nostrils about breakfast time tomorrow morning and see if you detect it.
A JAPANESE BACHELOR
The first obligation of one who lives by writing is to write what editors will buy. In so doing, how often one laments that one cannot write exactly what happens. Suppose I were to try it—for once!
I have been lying on the bed—where the landlady has put a dark blue spread, instead of the white one, because I drop my tobacco ashes—smoking, and thinking about a new friend I met today. His name is Kenko, a Japanese bachelor of the fourteenth century, who wrote a little book of musings which has been translated under the title "The Miscellany of a Japanese Priest." His candid reflections are those of a shrewd, learned, humane and somewhat misogynist mind. I have been lying on the bed because his book, like all books that make one ponder deeply on human destiny, causes that feeling of mind-sickness, that swimming pain of the mental faculties—or is it caused by too much strong tobacco?
My acquaintance with Kenko began only last night, when I sat in bed reading Mr. Raymond Weaver's very pleasant article about him in a recent Bookman. My last act before turning out the light was to lay the magazine on the table, open at Mr. Weaver's essay, to remind me to get a copy of Kenko the first thing this morning. Happily to-day was Saturday. I don't know what I should have done if it had been Sunday. I felt that I could not wait another day without owning that book. I suspected it was a good deal in the mood of another bachelor, an Anglo-American Caleb of to-day—Mr. Logan Pearsall Smith, whose whimsical "Trivia" belongs on the same shelf.