a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: HOW TO BE A HERMIT or, A BATCHELOR KEEPS HOUSE Author: WILL CUPPY * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0607881h.html Language: English Date first posted: October 2006 Date most recently updated: October 2006 This eBook was produced by: Malcolm Farmer Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
GO TO Project Gutenberg of Australia HOME PAGE
The author wishes to thank the new york herald tribune, mc call's magazine and morrow's almanack for permission to reprint the articles in this book. They are nor responsible for the second thoughts—some of them highly inflammable—strewn recklessly through the original pieces, nor for the several added starters.
I DISCOVER MY ISLAND
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE
LIVING FROM CAN TO MOUTH
MY KITCHEN BEAUTIFUL
CONFESSIONS OF A SARDINE FIEND
THE HOME IN BUM TASTE
DIOGENES, OR THE FUTURE OF HOUSEKEEPING
THE SECRET OF FREDERICK BARBAROSSA
THE HERMIT'S EMERGENCY SHELF
THE DUKE'S DILEMMA
A FEW HINTS ON ETIQUETTE
SPINACH AND THE GOOD LIFE
LITERATURE AND OTHER SPINACH
WATCH YOUR BUDGET
BEDROOMS ARE WHAT YOU MAKE THEM
CONSIDER THE LETTUCE
A PLEA FOR BETTER BATTER
PERILS OF THE HOME
DOWN WITH BRILLAT-SAVARIN!
HOW TO ENTERTAIN
SO WHY BE PRESIDENT?
WHAT CABBAGE HAS MEANT TO ME
NEXT TO GODLINESS
IF CHRISTMAS COMES
THE FEAST OF THE BEAN
IF YOU HAVE TEARS
All was excitement that June morning among the clams of Jones's Island (pronounced, by your leave, in two good healthy syllables, thus: Jone'-zez). Softies by the bushel dug themselves deeper into the shoreward mud, and whimpering little quahogs out in their watery beds clung closer to their mothers as they heard the dread news relayed by their kinsfolk of Seaman's Neck, Black Banks Channel, Johnson's Flats and High Hill Crick. To say that uneasiness pervaded the community would be putting it far too mildly. Those clams were scared plumb out of a week's growth; which, as the clam flies, is a lot of growth. In a word, panic reigned, if not pandemonium.
And well it might, for the scouts along the meadows, the deep water observers and the liaison officers on the sandbars had forwarded marine intelligence of no mean importance. As one clam they reported the swift approach by rowboat across Great South Bay of a sinister stranger, by every sign a very devil for chowder, raging and roaring in the throes of starvation and flying the strange device, "Jones's Island or Bust!" Yes, downright terror gripped even the hardest of the clams. "He ought to be here at any moment!" shuddered a visiting cherry-stone.
And see! Even now the hellish bark rounds Hawkins's Point, splashes its desperate way through the shallows and crashes into Savage's Dock with a sickening thud, hurling the oarsman from his position amidships to a point which may be defined as galley-west. Dizzily the skipper regains his feet, and as he rises to the general view his singular and touching appearance sends thrills of relief up and down the calcareous shells of the bivalves still on watch. Dame Rumor is wrong again! Here is no demon with murder in his heart. Here is no devil incarnate. For there in the full sunshine, the cynosure of every clam, he weeps, the stranger weeps. Anon, he sneezes, and again his eyes drip blinding tears. 'Tis plain some nobler grief than the want of a square meal is bothering this chap. All told, it was pretty pathetic.
The sorrowful newcomer seemed, truly, a man distrait, as he stood there sniffling and snorting into his red bandanna, uttering violent and wicked words, shaking his free fist at nothing in particular and behaving generally as one bereft of all earthly solace and the greater part of the cerebellum. (But don't get too much worked up about this, dear reader; it turns out in a minute that it was only me, arriving at Jones's Island with my rose cold.) Ever and again he moved as though to cast himself and his afflictions into a low tide puddle, always he drew back in time. Then, extracting a small compass from his pocket, he made a few rapid calculations and, tossing a stray lock from a thoughtful brow, began running due South. And as he ran, he wept; and weeping, sneezed.
Some furlongs on his way, about where he would catch sight of something blue and wonderful between the beach hills, he was heard to shout, "Thalassa! Thalassa!" which is as much as to say in plain English, "The sea!" and repeat. "Eureka!" he cried next—"Excelsior!"—"Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres!" So, naturally, the clams, after thinking it over, decided that he was perfectly harmless. Each happy shellfish, according to his individual lights, sank back into a sort of nervous lethargy or went about his own or his neighbor's business, forgetting as best he could the horrid threat of a clambake. "I told you there was not the slightest danger," squizzed the visiting cherry-stone. "He's only another goof come to look at the ocean—probably a typical New Yorker," he added, tapping his forehead significantly. Whereupon he and the other clams, like the solitary horseman in novels, only rather more clammily, disappeared from the picture. I'm afraid I had ruined their day.
It was thus, or near enough, that I began my long and extremely pleasant relations with the Atlantic, an association which neither of us, I trust, has had cause to regret. You must forgive me for yelling "Thalassa!" and "E Pluribus Unum!"—especially "Thalassa!" since I have no Greek, and just got it out of a book. But I was all excited. I had waited so long! My early yearning for the sea had never been completely satisfied during my boyhood in the Middle West. Later I found Lake Michigan marvelous, but fresh; and seeing my ocean at long last, it struck me all of a heap, like. I hope my readers will permit me to skip what I saw that morning as I stood on the southern shore of Jones's and peered horizonward. I'm not so good in purely descriptive passages, and I believe the Atlantic has quite a number of sterling qualities which we need not argue about. Suffice it that stout Cortez hadn't a thing on me when with eagle eye he got into the wrong poem—it was really a couple of other explorers.
I, too, was silent and just stared. Strangely silent, it occurred to me, after letting my Viking spirit run wild for an hour or two. Mark you well—for here the plot thickens—I had not sneezed once in all that time, nor sniffed, nor sniveled, nor wished that I had ne'er been born, nor any of the things one does when one is subject to rose cold. I had arrived at Jones's Island a human wreck, if that; just one more poor, underpaid book reviewer harried and hunted by hay fever's hideous little cousin. And here I stood, my vision clear, my smeller busy with salt fragrance, whole in mind and nose, thinking in terms of high romance, all of a glorious June day; convinced for the mad moment, I confess it, that Pippa was not a half-wit at all. For a nickel I'd have burst into song. Some subtle seaside virus was coursing through my system, sweeping out dusty clouds of landlubberly notions and raising merry hell with my logical faculties—I always hated them. "It would be sheer foolishness ever to leave this sneezeless island with its own private ocean," I told myself. "And it is our bounden duty as reasonable creatures to shun and turn from folly, at least once in a while, especially when the avoidance is so pleasant as this." So I philosophized. Already I was half a hermit.
That afternoon I wandered back of the beach hills, seeking among the swamps and meadows of the interior some aspect of animate or inanimate Nature that might bring on a return of my tragedy, for as yet I could not believe that this Fortunate Isle contained no germs of rose cold. Though rose cold is mostly caused by the machinations of evil spirits, flowers are part of it, too, and the victim must watch them like so many wild animals. Flowers are very pretty, yes; and don't they know it? But the best of them are full of pollen, a substance used by Mother Nature to produce rose cold and hay fever when she might be in better business. In a world where Ambrosia artemistæfolia turns out to be common ragweed, you can't be too careful.
Proceeding, then, upon my usual assumption that every leaf and bud that blows is my deadly enemy until it can prove that it isn't, I adventured boldly into the unknown hinterland. Each humble, nameless sprout of green I firmly challenged and encountered, sniffing to windward and leeward, reconnoitering stealthily from ambush, doubling in my tracks and charging suddenly to prevent trickery. I found no actual flowers, if memory serves; but one homely creeper, apparently some low and depraved form of sweet pea, showed a dangerous tendency to bloom. I walked straight up to it, looked it in the eye and gave it glare for glare. Nothing happened. I passed on, spasmless. Well, well!
Here, obviously, were none of my vegetable enemies, and a man might be at peace. A body might live here without an utterly ruinous supply of red bandannas. Later there might be goldenrod, but let it come. I am not affected by goldenrod, a fact which accounts for my cocky leers whenever I meet a mess of that flaunting, cruel plant; the joke is on the goldenrod, and so far as I'm concerned it may flaunt its head off. At that I am not one of those happy, carefree picnickers who carry heaping armfuls of goldenrod into railway trains and subways on the off chance of finding some poor hay fever addict and ending a perfect day with a good laugh. It might do these excursionists a great deal of good if they sat down in a clump of poison ivy some time. Speaking of hot Sitz baths, I had my troubles that first day with the Jones's Island beach grass, a species of improved hatpin, but that thrill was as nothing compared to my epic discovery of the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station.
That's where I met Portygee Pete and Comanche and Pokamoke Benny and Buttercup and Uncle John and, in the ways of seven or eight years, some dozens of others who became my friends and privy counselors, financial advisers, pump fixers, putters-on of typewriter ribbons and bulwarks against melancholia. 'Twas there I first sampled the most excellent cuisine of Hot Biscuit Slim, the second of that honored name. Slim plied us all with stew, and afterwards stayed us with pancakes, his own special brew, compounded of main strength, a fertile imagination and a ladle of soda. Boy, that was food, and not merely something to titillate a jaded palate. If your palate is jaded at Jones's, you better move.
It was doubtless fate that drew me there; we cannot, the wisest among us, prove the contrary. And fate, as a great writer has put it, kept right on working. For towards evening, having dined at five, I came by a crooked little path to a crooked little house about three hundred yards from the station. I saw that it was my house, and had been mine from the dim beginnings. Somewhere it was written. In a kind of joyful amazement I opened my mouth and spoke, saying, "I have been here before"; and I care not if the alienists have a long, insulting name for that particular feeling. I added, for the benefit of the small black kitten following close at my heels, "This is my ancient home, from which I strayed long since. But now I am back from my faring, and here I shall live and abide."
"Well, I'm glad you have come to your senses at last," said the kitten. "I picked you for a hermit all the time."
"Come on inside," said I to the kitten, who leaped ahead into the crooked little kitchen and settled politely on the stove.
"Do you like it?" demanded my inky familiar.
"I love it, all four rooms, furniture and all," I shouted from the parlor. "But just what do you mean," I inquired, returning from my hasty inspection, "you picked me for a hermit?"
"You'll have to take my word for things," smiled my companion. "You were born in Auburn, Indiana, on August 23, 1894, making you a Virgo character, with strong leanings towards Leo. Right?"
"The year's not quite right," said I; "but I can see you're a mighty smart kitten. What's your name, anyway?"
"Well, Mr. Finnegan—"
"Just Finnegan to you," said the kitten.
"But it is Mister, I suppose?"
"Yes, if you must know," said Finnegan. "Well, Mr.—"
"Call me Bill," said I.
"Well, Bill," resumed Finnegan, "I only meant that you are obviously the island type, not the ordinary, crude oaf one meets ashore in this darned old Riveting Age."
"You got out of that pretty nicely, you flatterer," said I. "What else?"
"You hate noise? I thought so. You have a slight touch of auditory hyperæsthesia, which might easily develop into schizophrenia. In the quiet of Jones's Island you would probably write much better book reviews. Don't you want to?"
"Yes," I admitted. "I have a passionate, flamelike, all-consuming desire to do that very thing, so as to have my wages raised."
"You'll get over that," said Finnegan, "once you're a hermit."
"I'm not sure that I can be one," said I. "There's civilization to consider."
"I doubt it," said Finnegan. "Anyway, if you will pardon an epigram, a hermit is simply a person to whom civilization has failed to adjust itself."
"Did you think that up all by yourself?" I demanded, with mounting admiration.
"I may have seen it in the National Geographic," said Finnegan. "The Coast Guards saved a millionaire and his yacht from drowning here lately, and he sent us a few back numbers as a reward—wonderful reading, so broadening. As I was saying, let somebody else worry about civilization."
"But I hate to be called a misfit!" said I. "Even now science is hard at work on the cause and cure of hermits, and what with psycho-analysis and all, the poor hermits soon won't have a pillar to stand on."
"Nonsense!" laughed Finnegan. "Of course there are some hermits who haven't all their buttons, but we are speaking of the other kind. There have been some grand ones. It is, I assure you, in no idle vein that I mention such names as Theodosius of Cappadocia, James of Mesopotamia, Epiphanius of Salamis, Hospitius of Villafranca and Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis, not forgetting Robinson Crusoe. There was also the Abbot Paphnutius—"
"The friend of Thaïs?" I interrupted.
"I didn't mean to mention him," said Finnegan. "It just slipped out. Too bad about him—a mere matter of glands, and no good doctors."
"Do you mean he had too many glands, or not enough, or what?" I inquired.
"We needn't go into that," said Finnegan.
"Well," said I, "I'm not so sure about the place of asceticism in modern life. Morality, you know, is essentially social. Life—"
"A lot you know about life," said Finnegan. "Life is within and no man hath seen it. I guess I read that somewhere, too. Anyway, you're not going to be so damned ascetic!"
"Right," I agreed. "I really don't want to be a cenobite or an eremite just at present. I want to be good, in moderation, but you'll have to let me go to literary teas in New York every few weeks. I suppose I must live in a cave?"
"Cave, nothing!" said Finnegan with some show of emotion. "You'll live right here in this house. That's exactly where so many hermits make their big mistake—living in caves. Caves are damp, dark and full of bats; it costs a small fortune to fix one of them so it's at all habitable. All thinking hermits to-day deplore the cave habit. Besides, I always say what is home without a house? It doesn't have to be steam-het, either."
"Steam-het," said Finnegan. "It doesn't have to be. You'll be perfectly comfortable with this kitchen range, and you can write your book reviews on that table, and if any visitors come to disturb you, I'll bite them. I know the man who owns this shack, and I'll arrange the business end of it; just leave it all to me. You'll find after a few weeks that your auditory hyperæsthesia will clear up and you'll lose that pale onshore look; in no time we'll have you a mem sana in corpore sano, or near enough to it for all practical purposes."
"Maybe all I need," I replied, "is a good eye, ear, nose, throat and brain specialist."
"What is to be will be," said Finnegan. "And if you want any more cats, I have thirty-nine brothers and sisters—"
"The die is cast!" I exclaimed, and groped my way to the tattered blanket in the bedroom.
Soon we fell into a dreamless sleep, from which Finnegan was to wake a speechless but no less sapient cat. At dawn I struck for the mainland, returning at sunset with all that was mine or that my friends would spare. And the evening of that day was the morning of my hermiting. By and large, that was about how the fit took me. Some think it passing strange that I should change my way of life so completely because of a silly rose cold, a mere ocean, more or less, the twilight look of a little crooked house in the sand and the ravings of a temporarily enchanted cat. They say it doesn't stand to reason. I reply, what does? But how can you argue with people who have never loved at sight?
Sure, it's only Jones's where I live; just good old homely Jones's. It isn't the Balearics, though it has often occurred to me that there is something decidedly Balearic about the place—there are ways of looking at islands. We have no slingers, and maybe that's just as well; book reviewers have enough on their minds without Balearic slingers and Gaditanian dancers and such. Life can't be all slinging and dancing.
Time was when I planned to cast anchor not nearly so close to the mainland. I started for some unsuspected isle in far-oflf seas; the Cyclades, perhaps, if not the Hyades, and why not even Atlantis, if I had to fish it up myself? Then the wind shifted, as the wind will, and I'd have compromised on the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Anyway, I got to Jones's, and that's something. Hermits cannot be choosers, as Singapore Sam, just up from Hatteras, brought home to me as I was writing this very piece.
"Have you ever been to Coney Island, Bill?" he inquired—he's saving up for the trip.
"Yes," I told him, truthfully; "but only once, and that was years ago."
"Well," said he, "I suppose that's more for the upper classes."
Let's leave it at that.
There has been much loose talk about my hermiting shack. I can't see where it's so awful. Various persons from New York who have dared the waves and the weather for a view (through no fault of my own, I may say) have compared it, seldom to its advantage, with the Parthenon, the mansion of Krazy Kat and the original home of the Jukes family. I like it.
What seems to worry these people is art. Conventional painters, including the house-and-barn type, generally greet my shack with frank smiles of incredulity, followed by partial coma. And the architects! I hear there's a movement among them to use my bungalow as a textbook example of what's wrong with their business. The sooner the better—that will give the dome of St. Paul's a rest. One expert tells me that my home, in the small space of 20 by 20 feet and up a ways, exhibits in a hitherto unknown mixture all but three of the worst features of the Early Greek, Byzantine, Gothic, Egyptian and Chester A. Arthur schools of thought, at the same time lacking every essential mentioned in Ruskin's "The Seven Lamps of Architecture." I still like it.
Well, fun is fun, and my villa seems to do its share in that way. One amateur wit, somehow asked for the week-end, dropped his suitcase and rolled on the sand in strong hysterics when I proudly announced, "There it is!" He pretended he had just seen an extremely comical cow in a nearby pasture, but I saw through that—we have no cows. Later, he described his visit in the madcap line, "I came, I saw, I went"; but I noticed he stayed his time out, ate like a horse and tried to come again. He also invented that crack about the Jukeses. Jukeses, indeed! I have met some very nice Jukeses, by and large, with better manners, too.
As for art, my house represents the practical rather than the abstract side of that subject. It may be said to serve, however faultily, the eternal principle of utility; it is, or comes near being, in some respects, adequate to the purpose for which it was erected—to shelter an insolvent mortal from the blast. Let us admit that somehow the lines, spaces and masses failed to jell. It was built for comfort; if something went wrong, we can't have everything. If it does not figure forth the vaulting spiritual aspirations of the carpenter, it keeps most of the rain out, anyway. If it does not evoke the cathedral mood, at least it's a place to flop. A snippy author is fond of remarking that its architecture shows a quality of brute force rather than an association of many intellects. Yes, and I have more than a suspicion that if the intelligentsia had designed my residence it wouldn't be here to tell the tale.
Who did build it? Scoff if you will, but I have felt, ever since I first came to Jones's, that maybe Inigo was guilty. Or is it only a strange coincidence? If I am right in my little daydream, it is probable that my shack betokens Inigo's earlier phase, before he had got the knack of constructing human habitations, or perhaps some later period when he was suffering from a nervous breakdown. Still, why hang it on Inigo, when many another Jones, alive and able to defend himself, is fully capable of the deed? Besides, Inigo would hardly have survived this youthful error, and he became a famous man. Maybe one of the Chippendales did it, Heaven knows it's wabbly enough. Whoever he was, I am sure that my unknown architect was a genius. No disaster less complete and irremediable will account for the symptoms. Looking upon his handiwork, the thoughtful observer can but realize that even genius can be badly bent by a few decades of constant exposure to Mother Nature at her worst. At least, it can here on Jones's Island.
Perched none too securely upon a slight eminence, a good yard and a half above sea level, as far as possible from the boardwalk of a small and transient summer colony and within hailing distance of the Coast Guards (without about nine of which as near neighbors a hermit would be in a pretty pickle), the site of my shack combines the advantages of frequent assistance with comparative safety from flood tides and company. Shielded from the distant view by the government station and the bayberry bushes, my Castle in Spain bursts suddenly upon the sight of occasional explorers with results already indicated. Oh, these hilarious trippers! They seem to think that hermits are deaf, or have no feelings, or both.
Doubtless my chimney causes some of the wisecracks. True, it leans four ways at once and rather dominates the substructure and the landscape; but the jokers simply show their ignorance of hermiting and of air currents, especially during blizzards. How else would it look, composed as it is of two lengths of tile, two pieces of stovepipe and an extra bit of bonnet, all fighting desperately for their very lives in all kinds of weather, and the devil take the hindmost? How would these people themselves look in similar case? To me that chimney's anything but funny. The mere hanging together of its component parts, half-seas over as the effect may be, strikes me as a noble and heartening instance of esprit de corps, moral uplift and civic betterment.
And here I beg leave to deny a report circulated by some enemy, presumably on the evidence of the spectacular wire network which prevents my chimney from blowing, as the saying goes, to hell and gone. The charge is that I have a radio. I need not assure my close friends, who know how I adore the perfectly silent arts, that that is a plain, unvarnished lie. When hermits take to radios we shall, indeed, have reached a fine state of affairs.
I should have the whole house described by this time, of course, but there's little to describe. Moreover, in all stories dealing with horror—and that's the way the world chooses to look at my house—one avoids the crassly concrete. Too, I'm sensitive. About all I care to admit is that my bungalow is growing old, and none too gracefully, that it has known adversity in many forms, that it has repeatedly arisen from the blows of destiny with badly wrenched timbers and with a head unbowed, that it leaks, sways in the passing breeze, sometimes seems about to rise on its hind legs and end it all in the ocean or the bay and that I'm very fond of it. It's not what it was. Its marked departures from the vertical and the horizontal speak all to poignantly of a youth that is fled, of an autumn lurking round the corner. At that, it's a long way yet from senile decay.
I find it possible to cope with these few weaknesses. When it rains I keep reasonably dry by moving myself and manuscripts hastily from spot to spot according to the whims of the dear old roof. In a wintry hullabaloo I fool the icy drafts that whiz through the floor by wrapping my feet in my overcoat and hot bricks. Some day I plan to repair the roof, the walls, the four sides and the underpinning, not from love of unbridled luxury, but in answer to insistent warnings of my instinct to survive. My shack is a house, all right, but you could just as well call it the great outdoors.
Speaking of weather, I must explain that my hermitage occupies a strategic point. My little hill seems to be the meeting place of the winds mentioned in Gayley's "Classic Myths," and that includes everything from a moderate breeze (fishing smacks carry all canvas with good list), through a fresh gale (all smacks make for harbor) to a storm, what I mean storm (just hope for the best and keep your kindling dry).
If, gentle reader, you have ever noticed a goofier than usual paragraph in one of my book reviews, ten to one it was due to the sudden collapse of a portion of my home, with resulting fierce effects upon the critical frenzy. Too often in the midst of literary labors I have to rush out into the night to hold down the parlor, to anchor the bedroom more securely to the clothes pole, to see whether that fearful racket is a herd of mad bull elephants trying to break into the kitchen, or only the mizzen-mast at it again. How can I keep my mind on a book when the loud tempests rave in such a place? How follow the rajah's ruby with my starboard braces twisting, the deck at an angle of fifty degrees, the buckets awash, lee scuppers drowned, shipping water with every lurch, expecting each moment to be on our beam ends, me and mine sunk without a trace in thirty fathoms of sand? Why, rounding the Horn is child's play! And it certainly raises Cain with one's onomatopœia. No, I have no quatrefoils, rosettes, gussets, gargoyles or Mexican drawnwork on my house, not even a caryatid. And a good thing, too, for some young, inexperienced caryatid—she'd last about two minutes.
Small wonder, I suppose, that city folk shudder at and in my house. I suggest that all those who cannot cope with a few rough, untutored elements remain snug at home in the inglenook with their loved ones and their aspirin. That would save them telling me stories about the Aged Recluse Found Frozen in Hut. I wonder if they haven't an eye out for that million dollars hidden inside my mattress, the bags of gold under the flooring and the bank books showing deposits in seventeen banks! Well, they won't get a penny of mine unless they change their ways. What hurts is that my shack does rather resemble the hut where the Aged Recluse was found, if not the spot where the cyclone reached its maximum violence. I thought paint would fix that, but the trouble is, people never give hermits enough paint of one kind—always remnants. So now I have blue sides, a yellow roof, an apple green rear and a bright red piazza. And all it got me was another headline about an Aged Color-Blind Recluse.
Sure, I own it; why wouldn't I? I bought it. Not outright, you understand. By fits and starts. Nor do I regret the long, lean years spent in the paying. Starting with dollar book reviews, my affairs prospered, just as Finnegan had predicted, until to-day, with a ten or a fifteen dollar check arriving every couple of weeks, I can afford to laugh at those early struggles. Came the day when the last of that two hundred dollar debt was canceled and the property was in my possession. Now it is mine, all mine, and will so remain until somebody comes along and kicks me off. Titles to land being what they are out here, and the rage for turning God's pleasant places into picnicking dumps for people with Fords being what it is, it begins to look as though that might be almost any day now.
For the moment I'm sitting pretty on my own domain, consisting, I should say, complete with grounds and outbuilding, of several square rods; of course, the ocean goes with it. There are times, naturally, when one feels land poor. Only last year, during a spell of black famine, I came near burdening the estate for the purpose of buying vitamins. The urgent need for something to put in my pantry drove me to approach a wealthy summer colonist about a mortgage. He thought it was only one of my jokes and laughed fit to kill, so there I was. And that very evening, as luck would have it, I got a birthday cake from shore. The crisis was safely past.
One word more, patient reader, about the æsthetic aspects of hermiting. If art is what you seek at Jones's, take a look at my brick outbuilding, out back of my bunkhouse. Not so bad. I built it to shelter my rejected and unfinished manuscripts from fire, flood, moths, rust and infantile traumas in general; 'twill serve. It's a home for my brain-tots, bless their hearts, all three dozen! Ocean may bear me away in the night on a perigy tide, meadow blazes scorch me to cinders, and welcome, but if anything happens to those brain-tots, I'm sunk. Myself, I live rather sketchily, but the children of my fancy are something else again. As long as I can wield a brick and a hod they shall have the best of everything, if I have to do without chocolate almond bars. I'm going to give them what I missed.
I swore I'd house those kiddies comfortably, and I did. I began to build, not unambitiously, with the Temple of Karnak in mind, but switched to the Petit Trianon for reasons having to do with a limited foundation—5 by 6 feet, to be exact. I wanted it to look something like a Norman keep, too, but who knows what that looks like? Then the bag of cement gave out when the walls had risen no more than a yard and a half, and it developed that Portygee Pete, my assistant, had been using the Coast Guard potato cellar as a model, anyway. Mere fragment of a dream that it is, the great curved roof, with its round arch composed of galvanized iron, old tin, tar-paper, pebbles and putty, strikes me as nothing short of swell. They call it Cuppy's Folly, but on moonlit nights it reminds me a lot of the Taj Mahal. Sometime, when the dust and strife are o'er, when I've reviewed my last detective tale, when I've said good-by to the clams—who knows? We can't all wind up in Grant's Tomb.
Meanwhile the brain-tots rest in peace, awaiting the millennial dawn of a new kind of magazine, one devoted fearlessly and sacrificially, if need be, to the small joys and sorrows of Jones's Island. Sunshiny days I open the door of the coop, brush off the mildew, administer tonics to the ailing tots and soundly drub the worst examples of arrested development. Then we go for a walk on the beach, proud father bowing to right and left and informing the curious that we are the complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson—the children must have their little joke! Regular little hermits, all of them! So I suppose our home is a happy home, as such things go. And not so darned humble, at that.
Supposing you lived, so to speak, on such a sandbar as mine, far from the beaten track of travel, chain stores and one-arm lunches, in order to ponder in peace some of the easier riddles of our curious planet—supposing all this and more, how, where and what would you eat? You may reply that in such a fix, God forbid, your keeper would probably feed you; but I mean alone. Starting the lesson all over again, I repeat: If you lived where I said, what, if anything, would you eat? And, if so, why?
Well, I seem to make out. Indeed, people ashore are always asking me how I manage to look so fit (meaning fat), implying that any one who would move to Jones's in the first place couldn't possibly have enough sense to think of proper food. Apparently these persons have never heard of the Sea Dyaks of Sarawak, the Winamwanga of Northern Rhodesia, the Whazzits of the Torres Straits and the M'Benga of the Gaboon. Besides, I am only seven pounds overweight, just as I have been these many years, yet the cruel rumor persists that I breakfast, dine and sup entirely upon dried apples and water. Some, noting my crimson countenance among the landlubbers, give out that I batten upon blubber, raw polar bear, codliver oil and maybe Mellin's Food, when it's all due to actinic rays or ultra-violet or something. Of course, that leads to worse and more of it: I that have always longed to look pale, thin, hurt and a little wistful—in a word, poetical!—I am pointed out when ashore as one of the chief modern examples of the sanguine temperament, as opposed to the phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. As for retiring to Jones's to stuff myself, why, I eat like a bird—naturally, one of the larger birds.
How do I do it? It is true that I live where food must be lugged an hour's journey oceanward from the southern Long Island shore, but no one need starve, even so. To-day, for instance, my dinner went something like this:
Chicken Soup with Croutons
Boiled Leg of Veal with Caper Sauce
Fresh Lima Beans Potatoes à la Gregory
Lettuce and Tomato Salad with Mayonnaise
Orange Layer Cake Floating Island
Not so bad for an isolated hermit, eh? I treated myself to this delightful repast at Mrs. Gregory's, who lives away up the beach at the summer colony. At other times Mrs. Gregory has roast chicken, strawberry shortcake, doughnuts, caramels, corn on the cob, macaroni and Camels. If not, Mrs. Prodgers has fried eels, bran muffins, chocolate cake, ham sandwiches, cookies, beefsteak and second helpings of everything. So have the Tappens.
You see which way the wind blows during the summer months, glorious but all too brief. My experience tends to show that any Jones's Island hermit who is willing to devote a ridiculously small amount of time each day to learning the dinner hours of the various families up the beach, keeping track of the boats for new arrivals and departures, listening in at the grocery store and finding out about parties need never suffer from the diseases of undernourishment. He can and does obtain with a minimum of effort choice cuts of this and that, clam chowder and what not, including home-made fudge, all of which may be consumed on the spot, wrapped up for future reference, or both. It is really astonishing how summer resorters acquire such marvelous things to eat, considering the many difficulties of refrigeration, transportation, checkbooks and miscellaneous items that are all Greek to hermits.
There are, of course, minor problems in a career of this sort, none of which need stump the book reviewer who goes after them with a will. He must not overdo things at first. He must consider the constant danger of social ostracism, yet must balance against this the horrors of a bachelor diet of beans, bayberries and beach grass; for Mother Nature seems to have made no provision at Jones's for the edible lichens, Arctic moss, breadfruit and other blessings showered so generously upon critics of other climes. Those South Sea intelligentsia have it pretty soft.
Moreover, if the hermit is gifted with persistency and an ordinary amount of plain human cunning he will fall heir to ten bottles of ketchup, five cans of beans, the remains of two pot roasts, a Mason jar of piccalilli and nine oranges in good condition when the summer people leave for home after Labor Day. When I waved good-by to my summer chums last year I kept back the tears by blinking rapidly and forcing my thoughts to dwell upon their contributions to the large cardboard grocery box which I had previously placed in a conspicuous position on the dock in such a manner as practically to block the only passage to the boat. It got me, if memory serves, the usual ketchup, half a jar of German mustard, one-third parcel of baking soda, seven of free-running salt, one-half pie com-plete with pie-tin, one bottle of household ammonia, one-third bottle of non-alcoholic French vermouth, two lemons, three boxes of soap flakes, nine cakes of soap, three pairs of shoestrings, one damaged portrait of a Cunard liner, one carton of birdseed, one package of stove and furnace cement, eleven clothespins, a copy of "800 Proved Pecan Recipes" and a pint of rhubarb and soda mixture.
Now it is clear that half a pie, two lemons and a small supply of birdseed will not last forever, and some kind friend may wonder what I do from Labor Day until the middle of the following June. Well, when dependent upon my own cuisine, I'm afraid I am, scientifically speaking, one of the byproducts of the Machine Age. My one culinary talent lies in thinking up new, novel and palatable ways of opening tin cans. When I glance out my window at the appalling pile of the same which I seem to have thrown out, I am moved to forswear the crude reality and utterly deny to myself and others that I ever had anything to do with them, let alone ate what they once contained. It's the only decent thing to do. I explain my empty cans in the same way that I explain my red felt lambrequin with the green bird outlined in tinsel and my green felt lambrequin with the red bird outlined in ditto—they were there when I bought the house. I'm getting so I believe it myself.
Yet I must be responsible, in some measure, for that hideous metal mountain in my backyard, unless my neighbors at the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station sneaked it over some dark night. About that Pelion of tin cans I am more sorry than I can possibly say. It gives a totally wrong impression. I'm not like that at all. I'm all against this awful Machine Age with its materialistic, soul destroying inventions, yet here I am, one of the main reasons why the annual consumption of canned beans in the United States must be measured in light years. Alas, the successful hermit of to-day, existing spiritually though he may be in times less crass than our own, must compromise. Almost without exception, such hermits eventually become eaters of canned beans. I like to think that my tin cans are but a temporary expedient until I can have my own garden, start a campaign for another kind of civilization altogether and—oh, a lot of things! 'Tis but for the moment that I find myself, as some joker had the nerve to say, living from can to mouth.
The psychology of the tin can, its folklore and its sex life are subjects that would well reward further study, although there is already a considerable literature in this field. I have stopped reading about the coal-tar dyes and fatal preservatives that one buys along with the most innocent-appearing string bean; I never believed a word of it, but it does give one the creeps. I think there is some gossip, too, about the salts of tin that come with iron rations, and why not? I may not be getting all my minerals, but if any dietitian asks me, "Have you had your tin to-day?" I can look her straight in the face and answer, "You said it."
I've been in rather a panic lately about some of my canned goods just because I started reading an article on the household page. Said the professor, "A good can should have slightly concave ends and should give forth only a dull sound when struck on the top or bottom," while convexity and a hollow drumlike response mean the worst. Since then neither I nor the cans, some of which I've had for years, have known much joy of life. Sometimes the cans look perfectly concave and then again there are moments when nothing could well appear more poisonously convex; they do and they don't. Occasionally the tapping of the whole Coast Guard crew upon the rows of tomatoes, corn, peas, beans and sundry results in dullness unrelieved; other days we get the most terrifying medley of sepulchral moans, groans and death rattles. The brave Coast Guards love this sport, but it has left me in a condition bordering upon acute neurasthenia, certainly with marked hallucinatory symptoms, both aural and ocular.
One probably should not judge these cans too hastily. Personally, I feel that it is no outsider's business what goes on in a can of succotash from season to season, so long as it harms no one else, but of course that's the whole point. I hate to visit destructive criticism upon bacillus botulinus for what it probably cannot help—did it ask to be born?—but there is a limit. Some nights while reading detective stories I get slightly desperate, what with the toxicology and all. Follow regular Edgar Wallace dreams, full of nothing but germs. Then morning comes, the jocund day, and sense. What is to be will be, especially at Jones's.
As for my Ossa of tin, it may be all for the best. Nowadays some very useful things are being made out of—guess what? Just little old used tin cans! They are said to make wonderful cooky-cutters, candlesticks, geranium sprinklers, ash trays, mousetraps, watch fobs, ear muffs, bedroom slippers and modern furniture; I see no reason why the house itself may not be built of the same material. Persons with that kind of mind who come out to Jones's—and I'll be right there waiting—will find me ready and tickled to help them realize their artistic ideals; part cash and the rest in Wall Street. Still, I may buy a goat.
We have clams, of course. Without clams the salt water or seashore hermit of our North Temperate Zone (classified in technical usage as the Greater American sand, marsh or beach hermit) would not be what he is to-day. Inevitably, I might almost say ineluctably, if I were that sort, he knows his bivalves. To deny the very close relationship existing between the two species would ill become one who has earned a certain limited celebrity around High Hill Crick as The Little Brother of the Clams. Clams are a subject very close to my stomach and some day I shall strive to celebrate them in suitable prose. Another time, good friends! To-night as I listen to the chowder bubbling on the hob—not really the hob, just the stove—my thoughts turn pensively to fish. Oh, you fish!
Fish, you know, are good for the brain, unless I am thinking of lettuce. This has been denied by some of our leading college professors who have lived on a fish diet for years without tangible results owing to the fact—well, why rub it in? Why try to be funny by opining that those fish had nothing to work on? In this connection I may explain that while any resident of Jones's Island may be said to be entirely surrounded by fish, try and get them. Fish also contain iodine, which is grand for goiter. My tragedy is that though I live between Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, within a hop, step and jump of either, my craving for fish iodine is all too seldom satisfied. When I feel it coming on the easiest way is to signal a passing ship, sail for New York City and order filet de fluke.
One has, of course, one's moments. Many a flounder, presented by visiting baymen, has entered my kitchen to depart no more; full many a September snapper, caught by obliging trippers, has gone the way of all fish. October and November, however, are my fishiest months, for then the frostfish come up out of the ocean on nipping nights, lie down in any convenient spot and wait for hermits to bag them. Good eating, too! Maybe you'd rather have a broiled bluefish, an aristocratic smelt or one of those Lucullan carp steeped in water of roses; but they suit me down to the ground. At a party I once gave in my shack the guests simply loved them, though several fainted when I told them that I found the fish. It seems that in New York to find one's pièce de resistance is considered extremely gauche.
Just why they come up on the beach nobody knows; that is to say the Coast Guards know, but I can't get it straight. Rattlesnake Ned tells me it has something to do with the offshore or the onshore wind, or with going North or South in the late fall, or vice versa; perhaps also with the temperature, the tides and the mean average humidity. I gather that for frostfish navigation is risky as well as broadening; travel is their undoing, since for them it means just one hermit after another. At any rate they come up, the hermit arrives, they struggle for a little space, they engage in futile attempts to foil they know not what, they try to carry on, they give up, gasp, expire—and who doesn't? And maybe they're better off.
After not a little research I have succeeded in identifying the Jones's Island frostfish as nothing more nor less than the Tomcod (Microgadus tomcodus), take the word of that best of thrillers, the New English Dictionary; it need not surprise you that several other undeserving fish are also called Tomcod, such as young codfish, adult male codfish and, of all things, the Jackfish of California. Collating the N.E.D. with a standard work on nutrition I next discovered that the frostfish boasts 81.5 per cent of water, 17.1 per cent of protein, 0.4 per cent of fat, 1.0 per cent of ash and a fuel value of 328 calories per pound—a more than respectable showing, as respectability goes. True, the alewife, an American fish closely allied to the herring and suspected of some sort of sinister affiliation with the shad, has a fuel value of 552 calories to the pound. But where would I get an alewife?
I do not regard the Tomcod as just something more to eat; there's the spiritual side, too. The sight of a beachful of frostfish shimmering opalescently under the full moon of a November midnight, if there is such a thing, makes me think of parables, of pictures in the Metropolitan, of poems yet unborn and of how I'd like to have a dollar for each fish. Not everybody, it seems, is affected in this manner. What shall we say of the lady at Long Beach who is alleged to have bammed another lady over the head with a two-pound tomcodus when she—the second lady, or fishee—tried to take it away from her? I never heard the sequel, but I am far from recommending the frostfish as a weapon. It is too slippery, it laughs at form and it leaves clues. Moreover, it merely stuns; the victim is likely to revive and come back with a horseshoe crab or an octopus, and then where are you? Don't be greedy and quarrelsome. As you journey through life share your fish with others, if they will butt in. Far better to gather only a bushel or two, sit down in the sand with your dreams and wait for Portygee Pete to come by on patrol and carry them home. He doesn't know his own strength.
People sometimes ask me how I manage to keep my kitchen so immaculate, so spick and span, so all that they seem to think a kitchen ought to be. They gaze in positive unbelief at my row of shining dippers, my spotless sink, my perfect pump with the pink ribbon on the handle. They come to scoff, like as not, and they remain to applaud. Some of them get quite flattering.
How do I do it? Well, I don't, very often; only on those fairly rare occasions when friends inclined to slumming make the arduous trip from shore, or when the summer folk wade through the meadows and the mosquitoes to take a look. If my dazzling kitchen bowls them over they have only themselves to blame, as ten to one I didn't invite them.
Careless of the great world's judgment as I try to be, I am not yet above putting up a good front when I practically have to do so. Some dormant respect for public opinion, some remnant of unhermitical pride stirs within me when I hear that company is coming. And, since guests mostly enter my abode by the kitchen door, that is why I clean the place up when I find they are actually on the way and cannot be stopped by malicious animal magnetism or any other legal means that I have discovered. They come in by the kitchen, and first impressions mean so much. Once they have looked upon my aluminum they go about thenceforth squelching the rumor—Lord knows how it started—that I live in a state of disorder bordering on frenzy.
Now for the secret of my resplendent kitchen, my scintillant skillets, my dazzling dippers—it was bound to come out some time, and it might as well be while I'm here to explain it all. As soon as I learn through accredited channels that my guests are approaching I race to the Coast Guard Station and commandeer such of the boys as are not reading the Blue Book or trying in other ways to increase the efficiency of our federal government. Returning to my shack at top speed, we completely dismantle the kitchen, placing the contents in an old blanket in the adjoining bedroom. An observer might well be astonished at the swiftness with which we accomplish this bit of routine; sober second thought will assure the reader that when three or four Coast Guards and an able-bodied hermit loose their destructive tendencies in an enclosed space measuring six by eight feet, something is bound to give. We work rhythmically, to the swing of a Coast Guard chanty consisting of obsolete and deleted words which we need not go into at present.
We now have a completely bare kitchen to deal with. Open flies the door under the sink, and up on the walls go the aforementioned splendiferous utensils, kept for the occasion and as innocent of soot and the scars of this world as when they first came from Macy's basement. The more stunning of these objects are three graduated aluminum dippers, three ditto frying pans and three assorted tin vessels with lids to match. Draped effectively about in attitudes of studied carelessness are the aluminum tea-egg and the coffee strainer. There's one especially gorgeous item which may possibly be a combination slaw-cutter, button hook and picture frame, and then again it may be a spaghetti-stretcher or the young of a gyroscope. Nobody ever asks what it is. Nobody dares. But it is obvious at a glance that no home is complete without one and that the home with one is not, and never can be, quite like other homes. As a producer of awe and humility in the onlooker this gadget is really marvelous.
That is the way we produce our grand transformation scene, and I dare say that Belasco in his palmiest days never thought up a better one. The effect upon the company seldom, if ever, varies. One and all, you could knock them over with the tea-egg. A popular society leader of East Orange who is noted for her housekeeping, her husband and her eyes exclaimed, "Why, they look like new!" "Uh-huh!" I returned, noncommittally. "How do you keep all that aluminum so clean?" she inquired (the italics are hers), shifting her lorgnette momentarily from the dippers to me. I hope no one will be too much shocked to learn that I murmured, "Brillo!" I didn't shout it. I merely murmured it, without any verbs or gestures, and I still can't see the harm. Anybody is likely to murmur a word sometimes without meaning anything much, and, besides, Brillo would do it if I gave it the chance.
The question may arise of some larger, more inclusive hypocrisy in the whole procedure. I do not regard my emergency kitchen as in the least hypocritical. Certainly it is no worse than many of the other things one does in order to appear a little brighter and more shining than one really is. In arranging my kitchen for company inspection I am merely putting my best pan forward, against my own æsthetic tastes, simply to please others. Nobody maunders about hypocrisy when you decorate the ballroom with rubber plants and carnations. Is it a crime to decorate the kitchen with aluminum? Morally, I can face the thing with a clear conscience. I show my guests what they want to see, and I believe that is as firmly grounded in true kindness and sacrificial selflessness as is my practice of telling them what they want to hear. It's only polite.
Assuming that the tourists leave after a few moments—and they do—the scene is immediately struck. The Coast Guards having returned to their scientific studies, I dismantle the dream kitchen, put back into their hiding place the glittering shams that have served their little day, restore the battered tin and cracked agate ware to their familiar haunts, and begin the long, laborious sorting of the débris in my bedroom for traces of my articles, book reviews, memoranda, pencils and miscellaneous household effects. With luck, I can finish this job in one week. You may ask, "What if the guests remain for supper?" They don't.
Restored to its normal state, my kitchen, for reasons which it would be useless to elaborate, even if I knew them, is not as other kitchens. It is where I live, because it is where the stove and table are. My other rooms are only for the overflow, such as wood and coal, food, clothing, books, silver, cut glass and linen, so to speak. The kitchen is where I read, write, wash, iron, eat, worry about my insurance premiums and generally have my being, such as it is. It is a place for beautiful thoughts, not for pots and pans. It is, in brief, my workroom. As soon as I get to making more money I hope to call it my sanctum sanctorum. If the money goes to my head I may call it my den, or even my studio. Just now it's only the kitchen.
And I feel that it's not at its loveliest when all puffed up with vain aluminum and pink ribbons. True beauty in a kitchen inheres not in a vulgar bedizenment which can at best but titillate the grosser senses; rather, in a temperate and practical adaptation of means to end. And the end I seek is to get through life with as little fuss and feathers as I can, to shun extravagant and ostentatious neatness so far as in me lies, to be able to move about from pump to table to stove without falling over all three, to avoid black starvation and—though it is too much to ask, life being what it is—to get a little work finished, or, at least, fairly started. You may not be able to eat off the floor of my kitchen, but who wants to?
Let me add a word of advice to hermits who are planning kitchens. If you hope to get anywhere in hermiting, the first thing to avoid is superfluity. Experience has taught me that among the things absolutely inessential and never required in a bachelor kitchen are the following: One set jelly cake tins, one skimmer, one wooden butter ladle, one dozen patty pans, one dozen tartlet pans, one ramekin and one coarse gravy strainer. In my kitchen you would be lucky to get any gravy at all, coarse or refined.
Glancing about me, I see that articles much more likely to prove useful include: One large iron frying pan, one large dipper, one wash basin, one pair rubber boots, one oilskin outfit, one gallon kerosene, one large box Gold Dust, one package Uneeda Biscuits, one alleged shaving mirror, one table for literary works, one pack Bull Durham and one can-opener. Small wooden boxes, such as the ones thrown overboard by passing ships, may be attached to the walls to hold hammers, nails, hacksaws, gimlets, hinges, fishhooks, paint brushes, buttons, needles and thread, mousetraps, egg beaters and old Ford parts. If you have a patty pan through no fault of your own, forget it.
If we learn our most valuable lessons here below from horrible examples, as some thinkers hold, I suppose I deserve a medal. I've done a lot of good that way, yet people don't seem to get that aspect of my housekeeping, and I'm not sure I do myself. Well, I hope they will feel differently when on some lonely, windswept dune or 'neath a clump of bayberries in the swamp they come across my epitaph in suppliant capitals: "EXCUSIT PLEASE"—or I may just use the simple English motto, "I'm Sorry." I really am, too, but it wasn't my fault. I couldn't help it. I meant it all for the best. Or did I?
Take sardines, now. In the ways of several seasons at Jones's I am become little better than a sardine addict, all because Rattlesnake Ned, a neighboring hermit, rowed over from Goose Crick that fateful Friday the Thirteenth to borrow my clam rake and a batch of sanitary flour. Pulling three or four cans of his favorite fish from the pockets of his pea-coat without so much as predicting the weather, he whisked off the covers with his patent dujingus, called for a couple of chairs, some man-size onions and a hunk of bread, and the party was on. In what followed I need hardly state that my all too suggestible nature led me to take a prominent part.
Very probably it was never Rattlesnake Ned's intention to disarrange my whole notion of feeding so violently and so thoroughly as he did on that occasion; but he did. Hitherto I had looked upon the sardine as mere hors-d'œuvres, a nuance, a tantalizing hint of joys to come rather than a full six-course dinner. I had not thought of it as something to take the place of beans and pancakes in my life, nor dreamed that it was fraught, as the saying goes, with such potentialities for weal or woe, a finny demon that might seize upon the imagination of a hermit in his cell and do with him what it would. You never know!
I'm not blaming good old Ned, as fine a hermit as ever dug a clam; he'd give you his last cent if only he had it himself. I had reached an age when the law held me responsible for my acts. I had no more illusions than most of my kind. What I did that day was for the thrill I expected to get out of it—and, more's the pity, did. True, Ned encouraged me in my madness. There were sardine and onion orgies on the deserted shore of Great South Bay, and ichthyophagous rites up the beach, far from the prying eyes and nostrils of respectable citizens, where I proved an all too apt pupil. Shortly I reached the point where I would as soon gulp down two cans of the little devils as look at them, and succeeding years have meant to me, more than I could wish to confess, just one sardine after another. They've got me, so why not say so? Aware as I am of the fascinations of the insidious sardine, I hesitate to start my readers upon a road that may have no turning back. So fatally easy, once you fall, is the jump to the stack of sardines in the pantry—and here I am practically urging you to take the leap! Unless you are very sure of yourselves, pray regard this article as pure mathematics rather than as household hints, or you may get thrown out of your bridge club. With an ordinary amount of caution, self-control and luck on your part, my recipe for the sardine and onion sandwich of Jones's Island may help you over more than one hungry moment in the kitchen; or, at least, keep you out of such mischief as frying bananas or putting sugar in the tomatoes. In broadcasting my recipe I shall try to avoid, so far as possible, the use of technical terms and the dead languages, the more certainly to bring my message home to the great masses of our American house-keepers. Go forth, little sandwich! There's plenty more where you came from.
First, obtain in some honorable manner a loaf of bread, preferably of the white persuasion—forget your mineral salts for a minute, will you?—and dissect out two sizable slices. Butter with butter or its equivalent and let stand for a moment. Next overpower, peel, draw, quarter and hamstring one large, ferocious onion, and use it as a thick veneer over one of the slices of bread the instant it (the onion) has reached a state of comparative coma; and don't bother to peel the onion under water, as the cook book advises, unless you live in the Hippodrome; leave that sort of thing to Annette Kellerman. Keep your head, salt, and as you were. So far we have the humble onion sandwich of commerce and Second Avenue, to be used here as a mere substructure for some modern engineering.
Enter Clupea pilchardus, or Clupea harengus, as they call them up in Maine, but don't let that scare you; after all, sardines belong to the herrings, Latin or no Latin. Drape them in any manner your fancy may suggest upon their luscious couch of onion, as close together as you may wish. Me, I feel that they have been so cribbed and cabined up to now that they should repose in comfort, say about twelve to a slice. Then lay on a heavy cement of Teutonic mustard, add slices of pickle, put on the roof and repeat ad lib.
That is my regulation model, but I am willing to go further. In reckless mood I often add bits of bacon, a cold pork chop, what came out of the stew and half a tomato to the confection, though there is seldom room for all these if I have already included cauliflower in mustard—that prince of pickles!—instead of the conventional dill. Unless you go in for disorderly conduct, beginners will do well to stick to the standard model, leaving the skyscraper type to veteran connoisseurs and boa constrictors. Try it, folks! You will find that the surface simplicity of this sandwich is out of all proportion to its total displacement, mean average horsepower and far-reaching after effects. It stays by you, I'll say that much. Devil-may-care callers who have tackled one or more of them on what they supposed was an equal footing have departed, if able, with a new respect for the machinery inside of allegedly decrepit hermits. The one who threatened to notify the Health Department—well, dead men tell no tales.
Yes, it has come to this; and the awful part is, I like it. I shall not go so far as to say that I have swapped modern civilization for a mess of sardines and onions, yet, in a way, my sandwich has more than a little symbolic value in my life. It is the fragrant flag of my freedom. As I was saying to Ned, if I could afford a coat-of-arms, or whatever they are, I should probably choose a sardine rampant with sinister onions on a field of cauliflower; and Ned said make it the same for him, but throw in some fried eels, a steak, a dime's worth of good, strong Java and a cartoon of smokes.
The onion part of this discourse may pain some gentle souls whom I wouldn't distress for worlds. There seem to be people who hold with onions and people who do not, and we of the true faith can do nothing about the abstainers but watch and wait, hoping that they will see the light. Some pretty hard things have been said about onions, although they belong to the lily family and their name derives from the Latin word meaning pearl of great price. According to Diodorus, Pliny and Strabo, they were highly popular among the Ancient Egyptians. They're grand for insomnia, too, but the catch is that they're likely to keep the other lodgers awake; how the Egyptians got around that I don't know, unless they both ate them. I do know that persons who refuse onions are often up to no good.
Just what certain portions of the American public have against sardines is more of a problem; maybe it was the onions that riled them. Anyway, when I recently mentioned my sandwich in a book review without explaining how delicious it really is, I was showered, not with thanks, not with rich gifts and wreaths of flowers, but with contempt and obloquy. I received a boatload of letters full of defamatory epithets, veiled insults, threats of bodily injury, miscellaneous vilification and cheap humor, all of which material is now in the hands of my lawyer. I shan't have any of these people arrested, but I intend to scare them, and serve them right. I had hoped to awaken a wholesome and healthful interest in something very close to my stomach, by no means to cause a national uprising resembling in some respects the worst days of the French Revolution. I had supposed that in this great country, for which our forefathers fought and fell, there was still room for a calm, dispassionate salute to the sardine. I wonder!
My secretaries and I have succeeded in dividing my detractors into three characteristic groups, always active at the birth of great inventions and iconoclastic ideas. The first, consisting largely of people who know what they like, charges that the sardine and onion sandwich of Jones's Island is a tissue of barefaced lies from start to finish, wholly without precedent and inimical to the best interests of the home. The most unreasonable member of this group says there is too much sex in sardines, when we all know there isn't nearly enough. Such ravings as these are too ridiculous to answer. I shrug and pass on.
Next come some disgruntled and embittered highbrows who say there is nothing new in it at all. One housewife signing herself "Beware" states that my sandwich was a staple article of diet in Ur of the Chaldees, was a well known food among the lower classes of the lost continent of Atlantis and figures to-day at every state banquet of the Ipi-Ipi tribe in Central Africa. "Furious" writes that the fossil remains of a sardine and onion sandwich, even to the cauliflower pickle, were discovered in Java beside the jaw-bone of Pithecanthropus erectus, the famous ape-man, and now rest in a glass case at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A visit to the institution failed to corroborate this report.
More difficult to cope with are those, mostly cranks and fanatics, inventors of perpetual motion machines, squarers of the circle and so on, who admit that my sandwich might go far if it were completely changed according to enclosed plans and specifications. "Pro Bono" strongly advises the substitution of apple jelly for the onions and a fried egg for the sardines. "Brown Eyes" suggests that I stuff my sardines with raisins, spinach, chestnuts, truffles and prunes, and other recipes were just as bad. What is the history, what will be the fate, of a mind capable of conceiving sardine dumplings? What of such a person's family, friends and neighbors? I am almost tempted to tell "Mrs. X.Y.Z.," who recommends a cocktail composed of equal parts of gin, vermouth and sardine juice, with a dash of bitters, that our penitentiaries and homes for the feeble-minded are full of housekeepers who have let their thoughts run upon things not half so monstrous. To reflect upon such recipes as these is to gaze into the abyss and darned near to fall in. No good can come of these obvious distortions of fact, these triflings with fundamental logic, this utter lack of respect for what is fitting and proper. (Don't let me lose track of you, "Brown Eyes.")
Moreover, the lady who wrote that my sandwich is already in the cook book is wrong. There are plenty of recipes for sardine sandwiches, but they all begin, "Skin the animal, pound the remainder to an unrecognizable pulp, add lemon juice and call it something else." That's not my sandwich. Nothing distresses me like seeing sardines gas-piped, tortured, mutilated and put through meat-choppers as though they were but senseless gobbets of cat-meat. I know of chefs who have wasted the best years of their lives trying to make a sardine look and taste like a candied violet. All one can say of them is that their idiosyncrasy may have kept them from maltreating some other poor fish. I see no immediate danger in this psychosis and would not seek to stop it unless the patient becomes unmanageable. Nor do I wish to interfere with the pleasure of those housewives who glorify our hero with all the trappings of romance, such as bouquets, pink icing, ostrich plumes and electric lights. It may be different in the city, but out here the sardines themselves don't expect it. To me such goings-on indicate a total misunderstanding of the nature of the infant herring.
For they are but infants, if not in actual age, as the herring flies, at least in comparison with great, hulking us. My heart goes out with something akin to pity as I behold a flock of them in their tin kimono, poised, it might almost be, for a sportive gambol in their native element. You get the same effect when they are gently placed upon their slices of cool and iridescent onion. There they lie, bless their hearts, shining like so many brilliant butterflies, ensorceled untimely into frozen immobility, a picture by a master hand. Where are the eyes of our painters that they can rush from such a sight in search of the nearest stray sheep or cow? Why must every still-life consist of a pitcher, a banana and a deceased quail? Why not sardines for a change?
I shall be fully repaid for an afternoon of creative agony if I shall have contributed in however small a degree to the revival of the sardine. Too often it is looked down upon by fish who haven't a fraction of its charm and brains. Imagine a Long Island fluke—the dumb thing!—high-hatting a can of Clupea pilchardus. People are prone to pass it by with the thoughtless remark, "Oh, it's only a sardine!" To-day it is but a modest, hard-working, unassuming little creature, the butt of unfeeling jokes and the plaything of destiny. To-morrow—who can say? Personally, I consider the sardine the fish of the future. Already there are signs and portents. I see by my almanac for 1912 that there were in that year fifty-five sardine factories operating along the coast of Maine alone, the total annual output being between 125,000,000 and 200,000,000 cans. That's the spirit! Let the good work go on, until there are plenty for every growing girl and boy in this land!
In closing, I would disabuse my readers of any lingering suspicion that the sardine is a lowborn, illiterate or otherwise socially undesirable fish. You may be surprised to learn that it is named after Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea measuring 164 by 61 miles and containing a population of 9,308 when my reference book last heard. In the original Greek a sardine sounds exactly like a quotation from Homer. The peripatetic philosophers of antiquity—perhaps Aristotle himself—held it in much esteem as an aid to high-pressure cerebration, while legend attributes much of the oratorical skill of the great Demosthenes to his habit of holding a couple of sardines in his mouth while practicing.
Yet it is not for its glorious past, not for the glamour of the noble line from which it sprang, that I sing the sardine. I am no snobbish climber of that sort. Pomp and circumstance have nothing to do with my friendships. I take a fish as I find it, and I've never been fooled yet. Well, hardly ever!
I may have mentioned that my cooking is not so hot. A great deal of my intake is raw or already prepared for the human pantry by the manufacturer, so that I have found it unnecessary to do much stove-work. My usual course is simply to buy or borrow the food, and eat it; warming it up or not depends largely upon the weather, the amount of time I have to spare, my idea of what is important in life at the moment and previous condition of servitude. I find that most things can be managed without all this stewing, boiling and frying that goes on in so many homes—hard, unyielding substances can be soaked to advantage before chewing.
I suppose what I do is plain cooking. I really have no culinary secrets to pass on, not what you would call culinary (pertaining to the culinary art), unless it's the little first aid rule I happened to discover by chance and couldn't do without: When you smell it burning, it's done. That is why I offer herewith none of my own kitchen inventions, but some recipes kindly provided, after much coaxing, by the crew of the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station, visiting clammers and miscellaneous inhabitants of Great South Bay and the open spaces thereabouts and appertaining. These recipes may explain why Coast Guards can tie a half-hitch or merely why there is always good eating and plenty of it at government stations and such; and the boys better not get sore about it, either, for they agreed for the good of the service.
Fire Island Hoorah!—This virile dish, as described by a constant user, may account for not a few of the brilliant feats of seamanship out where the liners run aground every so often. Slice your salt pork, cut fine in small giblets, fry it out. Slice your potatoes, either fine or in eight pieces. Slice your onions. Cook your potatoes ten minutes. Add your onions and cook twenty minutes. Then if you want pastry, or what we call slippery slats, in it, add your slippery slats and cook ten minutes more. These slippery slats are biscuit dough. Forty minutes all told. Add corned beef if you want it. Ye scribe, who always becomes flustered and all mixed up at the first word of a recipe, begged for further details, but Portygee Pete insisted that any one who wouldn't understand the thing as it stood would never understand it if he explained all day.
Skimmer Chowder.—First catch your skimmers. These are large sea clams that come up on the surf in coolish weather. They must be gathered in the early morning before the gulls get up or at night while the gulls are out somewhere. Use the heart and the eyes (any passing beachite will explain this). Grind in chopper. Warm your kettle and put in finely chopped salt pork until fried out. Add chopped onions, get them brown, and if you want a gallon of chowder add about five potatoes or so and cook until these are done. Add your skimmers (forty or fifty) and boil fifteen or twenty minutes. Add large can of tomatoes and cook as long as you want to, as it gets better and better. Then knock off work and call it a day. The fact that skimmer chowder appears to involve moving to the seashore and staying up all night to obtain the major premise need not deter the chowder addict. It's worth it.
Condensed Milk Sandwiches.—You almost have to be a hermit or a Coast Guard to have these, unless you can go to a wreck in a blizzard, miss a couple of meals and find the ingredients in the partially submerged galley of the sinking ship. Just slice the bread, open the can of condensed milk with a rusty nail, combine and thank your lucky stars. Toasted, five cents extra. Whoever sneers at this delicious concoction has never frozen three toes while engaged in a thrilling rescue at sea, as Pete did and was, and I got pretty cold watching it all. I may add that in the Argentine they do much the same thing in their sober senses, only they take two days to it and call it dulce de leche—and it isn't half as good. Thirty million sandwiches are consumed daily in this country, and I see no reason why they must all contain apple sauce, nasturtiums, goose livers, prunes and shredded pineapple. Pete thought condensed milk sandwiches too humble to mention, but I say credit where credit is due. Still, there's nothing like a ham on rye.
Poor Man's Duff.—Take six cups flour, four teaspoons baking powder, pinch of salt, and sift all together. Mix one cup molasses and one cup hot water and pour into the sifted flour, stir to a thick paste, add enough cold water to thin the paste a little. Grease pan with butter and pour in the batter. Bake forty minutes—you ought to put a dash of butter into the batter, too. You can steam this in a duff pan if you can get one—two or three hours; if so, better add some suet and raisins and maybe some ground nutmeg. Swell. This is fine for keeping hermits good-natured, if it isn't all gone by that time. When you come on Comanche wangling one of these pones you may well guess that he has the last West patrol and that the tide is raising all Hades and all the flashlight batteries have been dead for two weeks. It sort of makes life worth living.
Lima Bean Treat.—Throw one pound of lima beans into a kettle of water, add about a quarter of a pound of salt pork, salt to taste, and cook about three hours. Then put them into a pan or baking dish, add about two tablespoons of molasses and plenty of water, place strips of bacon over the beans and bake another hour. If some higher critic says they're not done yet, grin—there's always a suspicion in government mess-rooms that somebody forgot to put on the beans until just before dinner. Lima bean treat provides a welcome variant of the most persistent motif in beach cookery. It gives you something out of the ordinary, without encouraging a dangerous tendency towards rare and exotic foods. It's a novelty, yet at the same time it's not beefsteak smothered in mushrooms. Don't we know it?
Able Seaman Custard.—Take eight eggs. Beat up. Put in your milk and water. Stir it up. Put in pan. If you make it out of condensed milk, you put in only one tablespoon sugar; if not, use more. Take it out as soon as it gets thick. If you don't take it out then, it goes to water. You can put flavoring in, too, but if you do, it's liable to go to water. This makes about half a gallon. This verbatim recipe by one who has actually done it for years is not to be sneezed at. All that about going to water if you flavor it sounds extremely odd, but who knows? Why have it at all if it isn't flavored? I get the feeling that in this custard perfection of form has been achieved at the expense of soul. What I say is, let it go to water; at least you have the vanilla. If you're willing to eat unflavored custard for fear of a little water, why not just forget it and eat something else altogether, such as pickled pigs' feet or tomato soup? The catch in this recipe is that I have eaten it and it was grand.
Cape Hatteras Pie.—The custard problem at Jones's Island was recently thrown into the wildest confusion by a pie, if such it may be called, baked by Shanghai, a normal youth of twenty-one with no pathological history and only one deck court against his record—for an error in conduct having nothing whatever to do with pies. The main point wherein this custard pie differed from all other custard pies ever observed on this stretch of the Atlantic seaboard by the most experienced pie-observers, was that the crust, which Shanghai swears he last saw in the conventional place in the bottom of the pan, finished on top and half an inch thick at that; and what with the custard going to water, it had to be handled, if at all, as a spoon food. It is probably not worth while trying to solve the mystery whether Exhibit A resulted from improper manipulation of the ingredients at birth, a faulty conception of oven temperatures, or both, with complications. Shanghai is hazy about the details, as he was taking care of the horse at the time, and couldn't give the pie his full attention. Anyway, he was never meant for a chef, and only tried it because he had tired for the nonce of climbing the flagpole, jumping off the barn, putting the fifty-pound weight and walking on his hands. He's I not the pie-making type. The worst of it is, Shang says he got this creepy item out of my own cook book. He never! I have no pie recipes calling for gunpowder, cylinder oil, blue paint and a traveling crust.
Zachs Inlet Bread Pudding.—First you get about eight or nine slices of bread, see? Just regular white bread, maybe stale, and you break that up into small pieces, put in a baking dish and pour about two cups of milk over it. Then you get another dish and break up five eggs and put in a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of vanilla and beat it all up together. Then you put eight cups of milk in with that and stir it all up together and pour it all over the bread and milk in the baking dish, see? Sprinkle a little cinnamon over it and put in the oven with a hot fire for about thirty minutes. Then you let it cool, and it's done. This will do for a crew of about eight men. The skipper likes it, and he ought to know. This could probably be eaten hot, but the boys seem to want it cold, as it was cold the first time. See? Sure, you could pour on some kind of dip when you eat it, but what's the use? This is a very popular dessert at Jones's Island, and all the Anti-Bread Pudding Leagues on earth can't stop us.
Hog Island Potatoes.—Under this somewhat outré title lurks nothing more astonishing than half a peck of fried potatoes. But what fried potatoes! The outstanding feature of this recipe is that you needn't worry about the temperature of the grease—there's a deal of superstition in all this scientific talk of having the grease smoking or not smoking, whichever it is, before you hop off. Just fill the bottom of a gigantic skillet with large lumps of shortening, wait until this is partly melted and add your heap of sliced boiled or raw spuds. Prod from time to time; don't stir too violently, or you'll be recovering most of your meal from the stove and the floor. Pretty soon they're done. If you never ate these, you don't know you're living. Giving the grease and the tubers an even start seems to add a certain staying power to the dish, and I am convinced that the extra nourishment obtained in this way is of economic importance, so much of the Crisco soaks in. Anyway, Hog Island potatoes are guaranteed to warm your gizzard as it will never be warmed by a portion of effete French fried, especially if you garnish with ketchup. We cook plenty, our ideal being a slight superfluity rather than the elegant insufficiency you mostly get ashore. If some of my readers prefer to think that the charm of Hog Island fried is due to certain inborn characteristics of the potato rather than to the sheer culinary skill of the Zachs Inlet boys, well and good. It's pretty hard to ruin a potato, I must admit—it has so darned much sense. By the way, what's become of potato soup?
Codfish Chincoteague.—All writers on piscatology are expected to mention the fact that the great Vatel, maître d'hôtel to the Prince de Condé, committed suicide because the fish did not arrive in time to serve it to Louis XIV. Consider it mentioned. We don't have that kind of fish here, and if Louis XIV ever came to Jones's expecting more I than his share, he'd probably hear some home truths that would do him no harm. I might even go so far as to repeat the old saw, "The Bourbons have learned nothing and forgotten everything." My directions for codfish Chincoteague are rather vague, as Pete was in a hurry, but read between the lines. If you find a big codfish on the beach, and its gills are red, it's a good one. Lug it home, cook some potatoes until nearly done, boil the fish in another pot until ditto and unite the two, adding onions, carrots and rutabagas. The net result is a pretty kettle of fish, one I wouldn't trade for two of those tunny omelettes that Brillat-Savarin made such a fuss about. Codfish Chincoteague is really a dish fit for a king, at least one of the smaller kings; anyway, it goes great with bos'n's mates, and even with warrant officers.
Roast Duck.—Rattlesnake Ned says you clean your black duck and put him in a pot of water with pepper and salt and parboil him until he begins to get tender—about an hour. Then take him out and put him in a pan with a little water, pepper and salt, stuffed or unstuffed, stick him in the oven for two hours, adding a little water from time to time to keep him from scorching. You can stuff him with oysters, onions and potatoes if you want to. But Ned says the best way to cook a duck is to stew him. The first thing you do is cut him up in small pieces and put him in a pot half full of water with potatoes and turnips and let him cook until you have a thick gravy, and if you're smart enough you add biscuit dough for dumplings. The stew is fine, but somehow I run to roast ducks, which I eat at the station in season. I love ducks, but by the time I prepare one for roasting, the first wild desire to eat the bird has passed forever. It takes the romance all out of the duck. Besides, ducks have too many feathers. Chickens have enough, but ducks! Figure two roast ducks to a man.
These few recipes ought to start the beginner on the right road. I only wish I could remember how Buttercup fixed Minnie the Muskrat the time that Uncle John ate her, thinking she was stewed rabbit. I should like to publish Harvey's biscuit directions, but he's left the service and is probably making some woman a grand cook. More fragrant memories arise of the superb slumgullion created by Rockaway Red out of the less said the better, and God knows where he is now. I have not tested these recipes in any germ-proof laboratory, nor counted their calories and vertebræ by the latest standards, but I can testify that I have weathered many a storm, many a cruel blow of fate, by consuming them in carloads in their native haunts. The men who have eaten them for years in quantities which by every rule of cubic contents should prove fatal, are alive and well. I can assure you that instead of going to hospitals and morgues in perfect droves, they keep right on rowing out to wrecks and taking sick dietitians ashore to the doctor. It may be the sea air.
What I say is, take a chance. Try some of these on your friends and enemies. Real for-sure cooking calls for nerve, the kind of nerve that drove our hardy forefathers across a continent in search of gold, that freed us from the tyrant's yoke, that buoyed up Christopher Columbus and Genghis Khan and Maria Theresa and Carrie Nation and all that sort of thing. I only hope I have not balled up the contents too much. It is surprising what a difference leaving out two or three essential ingredients will make in something to eat; it's even worse than putting in four or five wrong ones. Here's hoping!
I am constantly reminded by articles in the old newspapers and magazines left at Jones's by duck hunters and such that the Inartistic Home is one of the crying evils of the times. Now what, exactly, do these writers mean by this concerted attack upon so venerable an institution? Reluctantly and with a heavy heart I am forced to conclude that they mean me. In fact, a good ninetenths of the contemporary movements for state, federal, mental, moral and unclassified reform seem to be aimed directly at your humble hermit. How about it? I was going to write a rather refined essay on the Bungalow Beautiful before I realized, at the last moment, that I myself was probably one of the main obstacles to the progress of the home in this country. I blush to admit that I then thought of deceiving the public. I was all ready to describe the interior of my shack as though it were the real, original corner stone of the American Renaissance, simply bursting with Old Masters, expensive chenille hangings, bibelots and all that—if I have any incunabula, it's not intentional and they must have been brought by some visitor (Memo: Look up incunabula; they may not be what I think). I was about to begin, "The outside of my shack is not so good, but once you step inside, ah!"
Well, all that is out. After wrestling with the demon of temptation all one morning and consulting several standard authorities in the afternoon I had to confess that my qualifications and possessions entitled me to write nothing more stuck-up than a piece on the House Horrible or words to that effect. It is my firm intention to do better from now on. Meanwhile, in what follows, I beg the patient customer to read between the lines a sincere sorrow for my past, apologies for the present and glowing prophecies of the dawn of a new day for interior decorating on Jones's Island. It will take time to change the whole nature of a bungalow that has grown up without the faintest notion that it was breaking the heart of Professor Santayana and other experts on æsthetic theory, but I believe it can be done—though it may not come in our day. I am cheered onward by the words of a famous consultant who once declared, "There never was a house so frightful that it could not be made over by the exercise of time, money, brains, patience and luck into something considerably less hideous." That's the spirit!
Not that I was in complete ignorance of the vast and splendid literature of the subject. The trouble seems to be that the books on home furnishing never apply very well to the place where I happen to be living at the time, if I may except that useful work, "Hints and Don'ts for Decorators." What would be right and fitting for the Hotel Rambouillet or Madame de Pompadour's boudoir at Versailles might appear affected, bizarre or actually effete at Jones's Island. People would talk. They might act. Lately I've been trying to straighten up the place, but I wonder how the net results would strike, say, Elsie de Wolfe, whose excellent volume is on my shelves. Just between you and me, I doubt if she would be greatly shocked. She'd be sure to find me a good excuse under suitability, adaptation to environment, habeas corpus or some such thing. The blow seems to fall hardest upon those who were brought up in a barn. There, I hope that will stop a few of the sarcastic remarks!
I never said that my house looked like Tiffany's window, but I do maintain that it is homey. When I gaze upon the scene in my living room I feel most poignantly the full force of the old saying that there is no place like home. You can tell it has been lived in, and it takes a heap o' livin' to make a house look the way mine does. An alleged humorist once countered this favorite observation of mine with the crack, "Yes, it looks as though it had been lived in by the Wild Man of Borneo." I had to laugh at that myself, but the fellow didn't get far if he was trying to draw me out about my early days. I simply took him by the ear and led him to a newspaper clipping showing that Silvester Hendershot, the original Wild Man of Borneo, recently passed away in his home town, Plattesville, Wisconsin, at the age of eighty-two, proving that I could not possibly be the same person. Some confusion exists on this point because Silvester lived in a shack, seldom shaved, had been quite a dude in his youth, took a drink now and then, once helped a man to sell fish and died in the poorhouse. Why, I never even met Al Ringling.
Perhaps a few words on my living room, modest as it is, will be welcomed by those who are planning to spend the summer at the seashore. My dear old living room! It is here the family would gather on chilly evenings (in case they had nowhere else to go) beside the great open fireplace, if I had a family and believed in open fires in bungalows. As one who has fought several beach conflagrations just because some sentimental souls love to conjure pretty pictures in the flames and watch the varicolored sparks from the driftwood set things afire, I confine my sparks to the kitchen range, where they belong, and advise others to do likewise. I do my plain and fancy conjuring with the assistance of a cast-iron stove, and have had no complaints. I believe the fires I mentioned started outdoors, but the principle remains. Furthermore, I wish to make public announcement, in response to practically continuous inquiries, that the reason I have no great open fireplace in my living room is that I do not want one. Is that plain enough?
Entering this main room, then, directly from the kitchen, my guests seldom fail to register strong emotion. I much prefer hearty, ringing laughter to the hollow groans a few of the critics feel called upon to emit. The extremely low wooden ceiling gives a few of these sensitive souls a painful premonition of impending doom, somewhat as if they had been struck on the dome with a heavy, blunt instrument, and doubtless the impression of being picked on from above is intensified if something heavy falls on them from the shelves which peep coyly out atop the lintel. Perhaps I ought to ask somebody what kind of paint would give the effect of height to this room, but I'm afraid it wouldn't work. When a ceiling practically hits you on the head it seems a feeble joke to strive for an illusion of height with mere color. Supposing I painted it a light cerulean hue, as has been suggested, you would only feel that the sky had fallen on you. Personally, I admire the natural wooden walls and ceiling. They remind me of the old Georgian paneled libraries in J. S. Fletcher's detective stories, but others get the feeling that they are hopelessly imprisoned in a large drygoods box. I had quite a bit of trouble with the first few claustrophobes who entered this enclosed space; it took hours of psycho-analysis and the threat of no supper to bring them around.
You will note that I have avoided the term "drawing room," but the apartment may be so designated on state occasions, as when an editor or a rich relation hits the beach. It may serve as well as a parlor, plain salon, or even saloon. Observed in its hours of ease, it is best thought of as a combination gymnasium, prize ring, tannery for musk-rats and minks, fish market, delicatessen and jumble sale. If you prefer to call it just a place to throw things into, see if I care.
I advise hermits and other beachites to struggle desperately against overcrowding in their living rooms. Mine is a trifle too full for a place that was much too small to begin with. Such permanent features as the large ship's table that floated in one stormy night, the kerosene cooker that I got from Perc Arnold, the huge Elizabethan sea-chest that Harvey made me to keep my sheet in (Memo: Get another sheet, in case—it's simply ridiculous to have only one sheet), the tool chest, spare stove, china closet, wood pile, clothesline, book shelves, wash tubs and chairs, not to mention the smaller loose furniture, take up more mileage than can be spared, and rather huddle the foreground from any point of view. I've had to give up all thought of adding a day bed, chaise-longue, sofa and hatrack.
Mental torture and physical injury are bound to result from such a clutter. My ideal is so different, too. Where simple dignity and Old World spaciousness are the desiderata, I am forced to navigate among my treasures with an electric torch and a cane even in broad daylight. Yes, the problem that confronts the hermit of to-day is how to achieve a classically serene interior, keep the kindling in out of the rain and give shelter to the tons of impedimenta needed for the four seasons. The clothing alone essential to the first-class, up and coming hermit, exclusive of town wear, is roughly the equivalent of that required for five trips to Europe. Naturally, the general effect of my living room is more Gothic than Greek and more Hester Street than either. On a busy day it looks more than I could wish like the young of a couple of pushcarts.
I don't worry much about the dogma that too much furniture swamps the owner, all I ask is to get around without breaking my neck. I can't see that it matters whether it's the furniture that swamps you, or something else. Nor do I care whether or not certain pieces of furniture tend unduly to dominate the personality of the owner; what I say is, if the furniture has the more striking individuality, let it go ahead and dominate—that's life.
I have possessed but one really important piece of furniture, and now that, too, has vanished. I was awfully fond of my piano, but it had to go during the blizzards of '26, when I had run out of fuel. In that grim hour I was forced to choose between art and immediate freezing, and I left art flat. I decided to live on and try to help others, if I ever found any one worse off than myself. For the piano it was a noble end. It had seen everything, contributing in fullest measure to the joy and gloom of existence, first as an eager, romping aspirant in vaudeville, then in a worthy Long Island family, later as a main attraction at Savage's Dance Casino and finally in that sinister port of missing pianos, a hermit's lowly cot. Anyway, most of its strings had snapped in the sea air, all of the keys stuck but three and it had never been the same since the field mice moved into it. But I'm all out of practice. I will not say, like Paderewski or somebody, that missing a single day's practice fatally flaws my technique, but three or four years does certainly cramp one's style. I believe my touch is not entirely ruined. My chromatic scale is still a marvel of its kind, on a straightaway I am as loud as ever, but my arpeggios are not what they were. And my grace notes!
So now I can put my two chairs where the piano was. When I have more than one guest the house is sold out. The chairs represent no particular period, as I am no slave to that sort of thing, my invariable rule being to take whatever is offered and no questions asked. In that way I have worked up in the summer colony quite a nice little opposition to the Salvation Army; going in for periods would complicate things a lot. That's why my house seems a little weak on Sheratons, Duncan Phyfes, and Louis Quatorze, whatever they are, and long on Early Jones's, Tenth Avenue and Mid-Flatbush. Some day I shall have a roomy, upholstered Queen Wilhelmina chair and other evidences of altered fortunes: a Chippendale here, a Hepplewhite there, with perhaps a few priceless bits of Cinque Cento, William and Mary, Will and Isabel, and so on. Just at present I comfort myself with the reflection that somewhere, sometime, there may have been a period that looked like my house. There must have been. If there wasn't, there is now.
Anyway, no one can say that in furnishing my shack I have been motivated by the vulgar desire to impress people with my wealth and social prominence. Such things as I have I just scatter about in a manner that strikes me as sort of Baroque without being Rococo; that Smart Aleck said it reminded him of the fashion in Rome just before it fell. As for antiques, I am a skeptic. I might get an old Spanish triptych, just for the fun of it, but would I know where to stop? When I read in a recent novel of a Gothic side-chair with voluted ears, cabriole legs, carved knees and ball-and-claw feet, I could only ask myself: Whither are we drifting? I can understand living with voluted ears, and carved knees are all right in their place. One might, or might not, get used to ball-and-claw feet. But there has never been a cabriole leg in my house, and, God willing, there never will be.
In my own home and in those of the friends whom I sometimes advise on art, I am inclined to a kind of informal conventionality in my management of background, balance, abstract design, boule work, calcimine, Chinoiserie, egg-and-darts, dadoes, gros pointe, galloons, light, shade, movement, portieres, ruffles and love-seats. I can be daring in these matters, but I prefer the cautious, pseudo-accidental approach—it gets you more in the long run. Or maybe I just let nature take its course. Harking back to periods, my six biscuit boxes with their glass covers and their red and green paper jackets represent modern progress, as does my emergency shelf of gayly caparisoned tin cans; over against these sensational accents the decrepit, rusty gas-heater speaks in no uncertain terms of the rich heritage of the past. I don't go in much for mirrors, having only the one over the kitchen sink for shaving purposes—a single, chaste expanse of waves-of-ocean glass, and I can't stand that much longer, as I've told everybody these last five years and more. I suppose I could wangle some grand spots of color if I joined the Make Your Own Lampshades movement, but somehow I don't. Or I could see about some more paint. The trouble is, when you're using remnants of gift paint on things that other people have thrown out for a very good reason, you get kind of discouraged about art.
Throughout my home I have been very sparing in my use of chintzes; indeed, of all drapes, throws, spreads, doilies, antimacassars and lace and other curtains. My only exhibits of that kind are my two beloved felt lambrequins with the tinsel birds, my pair of pillow shams embroidered in a Medusa-like pattern of writhing serpents and the remains of a luncheon set neatly stamped with a frieze of poison ivy. I mean to do something with the piece of rare old chintz or percale I found in the attic, but I always lose my nerve. It is a very artistic chintz in red and brown tones, apparently illustrating a plague of scorpions in the mating season. Another quaint greenish scrap seems to be the seven-year locusts alighting on a field of spinach or the defeat of the Armada. I guess I'll save them till Christmas.
Doubtless I should add a word on my objets d'art. I am quite devoted to the knickknacks I have picked up along the ocean front, such as bottles, boxes, baskets, toys and miscellaneous whittled items. I like to think that they have floated through the Seven Seas straight to my little shack, and I always take it amiss when people tell me that these prized souvenirs have obviously come off the municipal garbage scows. My walls are too full of old overcoats to permit of anything like a representative collection of Rembrandts. I have hung a few quietly garish Christmas cards, a framed photograph of the Aquitania, and a vigorous still-life of some of Mr. Burpee's sweet peas. That's about all; and don't let any one tell you that I have a stuffed fish.
Some of the faithful may be moved to ask whether, after all, my house has meaning. Who knows? I have never sought to pry into its secret. If it has one, I consider it none of my business. Does my living room, as one curious theorist inquired, express me? I sincerely hope not, but I'll think it over some day when I'm feeling much, much stronger and more optimistic. Some say that a man is judged by his lambrequins, but I'm not so sure. It all depends whether we are what we are—and there are some very glib arguments in favor of that position—or what we want to be. Well, I certainly want to rid up the shack. And, so help me, I'll do it yet. Still, it does seem as though we are what we are! I wish I hadn't mentioned that.
As the chief object of my house and its contents is to help me write book reviews and sundry away from the maddening superfluities and confusion of modern city conditions, you may wonder where I perform my typewriting prodigies in the midst of the phantasmagorical mess that is my dwelling. The answer is, wherever I can temporarily clear off a square foot of space among the millions of things I have lugged out here from New York to simplify my life with. Mostly on the kitchen table, between the soup, the clams, yesterday's dishes, a bucket of laundry and nervous prostration.
Five million housewives—or is it ten?—are asking every morning, as regular as clockwork, "What shall we have for breakfast?" Of course, I don't really believe it any more than you do, but that's what I saw in an ad. All history goes to prove that many of these ladies would be asking other things at the time: do they look like slaves? is this Russia? what did they ever see in you, anyway? and why don't you get up and get your own breakfast, you great big lazy loafer? Some would not be speaking to the family at all, and others wouldn't be home yet.
The fact remains that if only four and five-tenths housewives (God bless 'em!) are wondering what to have for breakfast, steps should be taken. You can't expect them all to eat Dusto; and if they did, their matutinal riddle would remain unsolved. Dusto is all right in its way, it's a welcome change from Gritto, but it hasn't brought the millennium.
It seems a little strange to a certain bachelor that the husbands of all these housewives, with their (the husbands') more impressive cranial measurements, have not done something to answer or otherwise silence this eternal query. If I were married to a housewife who asked me each dewy morn, as I was trying to get a wink of sleep, "What shall we have for breakfast?" I would simply reply "What have you got?" or "Anything you want, dear!" If she kept it up I should add, "Look in the pantry, darling, and act accordingly, and you may be sure that whatever you bring me on my tray will be perfectly okay with me, and would you mind slipping me the morning paper, Angel-face?" A technique for stubborn cases may easily be improvised from what we know of the Cro-Magnons and Henry VIII.
Poor single creature that I am, with no domestic catechism to rouse me from my sodden slumbers, no silvery children's voices happily and loudly demanding their fodder at peep of dawn, not even a hound dog to inform me with playful barks, howls, yowls, yelps and yips that I ought to be up and eating, and hence with no great store of wisdom about the family breakfast problem in its more unfortunate aspects, how can I hope to bring a little sunshine into the lives of these five million bewildered housewives, some of them very pretty, too? Well, at least I can tell what the years have taught me about breakfast for one, trusting that in some mysterious way the seed will fall upon—will fall—I mean—Oh, you know what I mean!
Myself, just to make it harder, I happen to be a breakfast hater. Arising promptly on the stroke of noon, unless the mosquitoes, green flies, birds, cats and nightmares desire otherwise, I drag myself by force of habit a couple of yards to the breakfast room, alias solarium or kitchen, seat myself at the table, relax, and worry about things in general for ten or fifteen minutes, unless it's too cold to worry sitting down. In freezing weather I carry on the same line of thought while splitting some kindling to build a fire to melt the tea-kettle to thaw out the pump to get a drink of water—a routine which seldom fails to confirm me in my morning outlook upon life and love. I just seem to be like that. After reading fifteen success books and subscribing to a go-getter magazine I am still unable to face returning consciousness with anything approaching the gladsome grin recommended by the authors. I only know that all is lost, and that nothing can help me unless I inherit money, strike oil or go to work.
It was not ever thus. My memory is not what it was, but surely I recall a lad who used to greet each newborn day with pagan pæans and miscellaneous minstrelsy as he leapt like a young lamb or a gazelle or something for the nearest cereal, and the devil take the hindmost. He would gobble up scruts by the quart, he'd as soon ruin half a peck of oats as look at them. Let us waste no tears upon him. He was a foolish youth enough, and he knew not half as much as I know. Or was I thataway? No, now that I think it over, I never was. These people who rise so happy and gay get worse as time goes on. You can't cure a thing like that.
May no uncharitable reader judge me too harshly for hating breakfast. I have my lovable moments. Grant me forgiveness for those ten awful ones while I am trying to cope with things as they are and wondering what, if anything, can be done. Some mornings it is not so bad, as when somebody has written to me and told me that if I keep on reviewing detective stories for fifteen or twenty years more everything will be all right. But as a rule I'm terrible. You would swear that nothing but a miracle could make me human, and you would hit the nail precisely on the head. I keep a supply of miracles on the shelf right over the kitchen sink.
Coffee! With the first nip of the godlike brew I decide not to jump off the roof until things get worse—I'll give them another week or so. With the second I think I see a way of meeting my monthly insurance premium, and I simultaneously forgive the person I heard saying that I was not half as funny as I thought I was. From then on I get foolisher and foolisher, or wiser and wiser, according to the point of view. As I drain the last fragrant drop I am conquering the world single-handed by the invincible force of my own wits, building a palatial yacht to sail the Seven Seas with a large party of my dearest friends and leaving at home the ones who never appreciated me when I was poor and practically starving to death. Honest, I'm not nearly so unbearable when I am in my cups.
Even more marked effects are likely to appear as I imbibe my second beaker and light my seventh Lucky from the ashes of my sixth. Perhaps I might be seen to smile or heard to chuckle softly at some invisible good thing in the circumambient air. I think of a philosophical gambit which, with a little tinkering, will do to impart to some one worthy of the gift, dash nimbly to the portable and write it to a long-suffering friend, colleague, severe critic and favorite novelist whose name may be indicated by the cabalistic letters Is-b-l P-t-rs-n. I should be reviewing a book or chopping wood, but what do I care? Why reck of to-morrow when to-day is here with all its infinite promise and I am full of coffee? I've really much to be thankful for. It might be worse. I'm perking on all four.
That's about all there is to my breakfast, and those who care to classify me as a coffee lover rather than a breakfast hater are within their rights. I prefer the gentler epithet as more suited to my generally fair and mildish disposition afternoons and evenings. The intense pleasure I derive from my favorite beverage—you can keep your old gin!—will probably strike some readers as a mark of luxury and decadence akin to the worst excesses of Vitellius, the lusts of Claudius and Commodus, the nameless debauches of the Regency and the unbridled orgies of Park and Tilford. I don't mean it that way. I get a lot of fun out of my two cups of breakfast coffee, but at the same time I try to restrain myself. I can't see the harm so long as I confine the parties to my own kitchen.
There are numerous ways of making coffee (magic berry, aromatic draught, amber beverage, fragrant libation, ambrosial potion, etc., etc.—If I had the nerve I could burst into an ode beginning, "O more than Heliconian fount! O super-bean!"—but it wouldn't do). Many the methods, and each and every one of them goes with me. Whatever answers to the name of coffee and can deliver the kick that proves its royal birth is always sure of a welcome in my interior. I drink it as the good Lord meant us to drink it, without any such atrocities as milk, cream or sugar. I take it hot and strong, but I shan't shatter your illusions with any other portion of my recipe; it might turn out that I use a powdered brand, in order to avoid grounds, extra dishwashing and other agony. Add boiling water and gulp.
People exist, of course, who must have the right old pedigreed Java or Mocha. They roast it in their own homes, and for all I know they go to Asia and pick it themselves, to see that there's no nonsense. Most of their days are spent in strange grindings, distillations, filterings, white of egg and other mental quirks. For them several hundred kinds of coffee-pots have been invented, patented, tried and thrown away, showing what the perpetual motion boys do in their spare time. Perhaps the best of these devices contains a condenser in the lid to catch the aroma, a stabilizer to prevent lateral tipping, a triple magneto to carry off the volatile oils, shock absorbers to modify the coal-tar by-products and a talkie attachment to save more steps for mother. Is this sort of thing to go on, fellow citizens? All I say is, Voltaire had no such coffee-pot, nor Balzac; no, not Napoleon himself, a coffee-bibber in the true heroic mold.
In the good old days, when dietetics was in its infancy, coffee was much esteemed as a digester, and it seldom failed to do the work. Lately a famous authority has found that it somewhat retards the process of peptic transmogrification, though only slightly in the case of ham and eggs, the inhibitory effects being due entirely to the tannic acid and the favorable ones to the caffeine. My grandfather found just the opposite. The most striking pronouncement I have seen on the subject says that "1,000 grains of the wood, leaves and twigs of the coffee tree yield 33 grains of ashes, or 3.3 per cent"—a rather minor triumph of research, but one to be kept carefully in mind. The fact is that coffee is not so good for gout, but I never have gout. Tea-tasters are said to get quite jumpy at times as the result of too much tannic acid (about the same amount as in coffee), but in the natural course of events they would probably get jumpy, anyway.
Supposing that coffee is bad for very sick folks, the main thing is to keep well enough to handle your six cups a day. If that is too much, what's medicine for? It is my firm conviction, founded upon many years of practical observation, fairly wide reading and partial baldness, that everything we poor mortals do, eat, drink, smoke or chase, especially the nicest things, bring us just that much nearer the dread, inevitable end at about a mile a minute, so why not take our choice as we go along? It seems unreasonable of the doctors to expect us to totter to our graves in a perfectly healthy condition. Anyway, in my opinion these perfectly healthy people are full of prunes.
The caffeine is what I'm after. Delightful alkaloid! It would ill become me to dilate upon its virtues as a brain stimulant, a sure softener of every angularity and asperity of character, a charming begetter of geniality, generosity, good looks and high moral standards. Its effect upon the cerebral cortex is especially notable, and I believe that as soon as the human brain has improved a bit some worthwhile results are bound to follow. Its influence upon literature has been tremendous. Under the strong nervous excitement caused by coffee, some of the worst drivel extant has been conceived and written; but there have been many exceptions. Use more caffeine, my friends. And if nothing happens, don't blame the coffee.
"If you want to improve your understanding," wrote Sydney Smith, "drink coffee." A seventeenth century author states, "Surely it must needs be salutiferous, because so many of the wittiest sort of nations use it so much." And a contemporary essayist, Mr. P. Morton Shand, taking issue with De Quincey, a tea-addict, tells us that "coffee has always been considered the drink of intellectuals." What is much more important and deeply fraught with social significance, another authority, writing in 1872, brings news that coffee "has suppressed to a great extent that excessive indulgence in inebriating draughts that so frequently dishonored the banquets and prodigal hospitalities of former times." And as luck will have it, Professor Binz finds that dogs which have been rendered comatose by alcohol may be aroused by the administration of coffee. Doesn't that just show how all things work together for good?
I wonder who started it all. It seems that on its native heath the coffee bean, consisting of two halves placed face to face and enclosed in a toughish husk, is found inside the fruit of the Caffæa arabica, and how any one ever had sense enough to take it out, husk it, dry it, roast, grind, boil and drink it is beyond me. What if he had given up, lost his hunch, picked some other fruit, stepped on a bee's nest? How do people find out these things? Some say it was goats; that a poor Dervish of Arabia Felix, noticing a singular hilarity in his goats upon their return to camp each evening, followed them and found them chewing the berries in a high state of illumination, so he tried it and passed it on. So much for the goats.
Another legend ascribes the discovery to Hadji Omer, who stewed some of the berries while hiding from the police near Mocha in 1285. He was acquitted, presented with a purse of gold and turned into a saint. Others say coffee came from Abyssinia. However, according to the account of Schehabeddin Ben, an Arabian scribe of the ninth century of the Hegira (and a merry old robber he was, too), the true discoverer of our berry was none other than Gemal Eddin, a Mufti of Aden, who ran across it in the Persian pharmacopœia. Three rousing cheers for all of them, for Schehabeddin Ben and Gemal Eddin and Hadji Omer and Abyssinia and the goats! And we mustn't forget Soliman Aga, the Turkish Ambassador who introduced coffee at the court of Louis XIV. One of my favorite pictures shows Soliman in his nifty palace at Constantinople, reclining not unvoluptuously upon a sinfully upholstered sofa with his whiskers, his chibouk and his memories, about to receive a cup of his special brew from a damsel who may be a Nubian slave, but who looks suspiciously like a houri. Pretty soft!
Coffee, I may say, is the one bond between me and that none too moral monarch, Louis XV, who, when he entertained that mischievous baggage, Du Barry, always treated her to a potful. Said he on a rather too frequently mentioned occasion, as he downed his brimming bowl, "What would life be without coffee?" Then, casting a roguish glance at the lady, he added, "What is it with coffee?" Rather neat as a bon mot, of course. The ideology is sound, the wit and humor are grand; but I think the king might have reserved his wise-crack for a more appropriate audience. Goodness knows Du Barry was doing her best, as usual, at considerable risk to her reputation, too, and he might at least have thought up something more chivalrous, such as "A cup of coffee underneath the bough, another cup and thou." Still, that's not so elegant, either. The whole incident must be regarded as decidedly distressing.
As I am about to close I get the uneasy impression that these breakfast suggestions may not prove so helpful to the five million housewives as I had intended. Coffee seems to be all I want, but sometimes, when faced by unexpected guests, I bring out the pancakes. My constant craving for cinnamon buns can be gratified only on trips to New York, but I see no reason why others should not breakfast upon them. Furthermore, my reference works show that people of all times and places have managed to get through the first meal of the day on such items as baked apples, prunes, raspberry jam, dehydrated peaches, synthetic apricots, oatmeal, hominy, fried mush, warmed-over potatoes, kidneys, kedgeree, codfish balls, crumpets, veal hash, pickled pigs' feet, ham, Sally Lunn and fritters regardless. And I believe somebody has suggested eggs. My notes also reveal the use of canned spinach by an eccentric citizen who was shot the same day. It may have been just a coincidence.
You may not believe it, but there are people in this world who want more and better housekeeping. They are all about us. They have their secret codes, their private meeting places and an organization as utterly ruthless as it is efficient. They will stop at nothing. Their propaganda, spreading hither and yon through a vast network of underground channels, begins to permeate the practically impermeable populace. Are we, brother and sister housekeepers of America, going to let them put it over? We probably are.
Still, that needn't prevent us from taking a firm stand. I—drat that old first person singular pronoun, anyway! Ugh! I could almost say Ugh-h-h!—I have a plan. I have some housekeeping secrets of my own, and it's just dumb luck that I didn't carry them with me to the grave. I've held out against the publicity of it for years, but as some one has put it so splendidly: What are we here for, if not to help others? So I've decided to hand on the torch. It may not do much good, but I hope it worries some of these pure and spotless domestic scientists.
The trouble is, my system of home administration is so unusual, not to say daring and sensational, that I can hardly look for anything but muttered curses and vindictive backchat from the hidebound pedants who dominate this branch of learning. Taboos and conventions are so omnipresent and powerful in this field that my end will doubtless be that of every idol breaker of the past. To that consummation, however, I have long been reconciled. For the final reckoning I am content to await some distant epoch when civilization, as we know it to-day, shall have changed quite a bit; when, as some of us fondly trust, it shall have disappeared altogether.
What I call, if I may do so without overstepping the bounds of modesty, the Cuppy Plan of Motionless Housekeeping, has one grand central purpose in view: the salvaging of many hours each day for the poor drudges who find themselves caught in the domestic treadmill for one reason or another (but chiefly the latter) which it is now too late to laugh off. The hours thus saved may be spent in going to movies, playing bridge, listening to the radio, attending auctions, jawing the family, annoying the neighbors, explaining the symbolism of Ibsen's dramas or in any other delightful and educational sport. Myself, I employ the minutes snatched from the maw of time in composing filler for the newspapers, replying diplomatically to my creditors, wondering what everybody has against me, anyway, and in plain, fancy and miscellaneous hermiting. Pretty slick, eh?
Visitors to our island are always wondering how I get my housework done. "He's always taking a sun bath on the sand, or wading in the bay, or chasing the birds with a club or talking to himself as he splashes in the surf," they will tell you. "Or else he's shut up in his shack writing all day and all night until four o'clock in the morning. He positively never does a single lick of work." Little do they suspect that the hermit of Jones's sails through life with the magic assistance of Motionless Housekeeping, or Swaraj, based upon a policy of complete noncooperation with external objects. No wonder my career is one long holiday, without a care in the world. It's my system.
Like all big scoops in the sphere of ideas, my scheme is simple, almost to a fault. It verges upon the simplicity often observed in certain innocent villagers, but I like to think that it escapes the pathological by the hair's breadth that makes all the difference. To come to the point, the Cuppy Plan stresses the elimination of useless motions, a technique not wholly unknown to the elders, but never hitherto developed beyond the rudimentary stages; thus, while looking fearlessly towards the future, it is based upon that foundation of petrified precedent without which nothing, however snappy, can hope for ultimate success. Its intrinsic novelty inheres in the fact that I carry the theory and practice much farther than other authorities; indeed, to its logical conclusion. Where the pioneers sought merely to reduce the number of motions involved in the traditional household tasks, I cut out the tasks themselves. I issue the bold and sweeping challenge: Why make any motions at all?
I became interested in Swaraj some years ago while reading a book on how to systematize the loading of pig iron. As pig iron is not indigenous to Jones's Island, and as I was at that time perfectly unacquainted with any pig iron loaders, the volume, though inspiring, left me about where I was in regard to ways and means. Then, one eventful day, I chanced upon a monograph which applied the same line of reasoning to the boiling of eggs. Some fortunate iconoclast, by one of those mysterious associations rightly known as genius, had bridged the gap between pig iron and eggs. Gosh, how it all comes back to me!
There it was in black and white, proof positive that any able-bodied adult could cook three eggs with only fifteen movements instead of the customary twenty-seven, merely by employing a fireless coddler and scrapping the old-fashioned stove and dipper. Since I owned only two eggs and no fireless coddler (and I am far from sure that I approve of such a queer, to say the least, contraption), I passed an active morning testing this great invention in a saucepan. Laboratory conditions weren't just right, of course, but the experiment taught me that once you start counting your movements you might as well abandon all pretense to spiritual freedom. We aren't adding machines, now, are we?
Well, I got so balled up trying to omit motions that cannot possibly be omitted, and so nervous trying to remember which was my right hand and not to look at the clock and not to repeat the eleventh motion that I fell over the broom handle, broke the eggs and went hungry. The next time I boiled eggs I dragged in a lot of new useless motions just for spite. Nevertheless, the adventure left its mark; I began to realize that one must save a part of one's energy for fun and not use it all up boiling eggs. I fry them now, and any domestic scientist who doesn't like it can lump it. Coddling, indeed!
Once I had conquered the habit of boiling eggs I found it easy to give up more and more of the inside jobs which have done so much to make the home what it is. For instance, I applied Motionless Housekeeping to the making of beds. I understand that in most families one day of the week is set aside for the making of beds. I gain this whole precious day by omitting the festival and all its works. At one blow I annihilate the two million motions which the average housekeeper expends yearly upon this drab and tiresome proceeding. While others are making beds I am making money by reviewing books. Some day, when they are in Bellevue from tucking in sheets and fluffing one pillow too many, I shall be in Wall Street. What on earth is the use? Make your bed, if you will, lavish upon it all the skill of all the bed makers since time began, then go virtuously to sleep in it, and next morning where are you? Right back where you started.
More priceless moments are gained by forgetting to sweep. Why disturb the rhythm of a glorious day with this hideous, dusty and frightfully uninteresting rite? Sweeping may be left for occasional fits of neatness which overtake even hermits at odd intervals. The alleged dirt on my floor which several society leaders have been tactless enough to point out is perfectly clean dirt, such as old newspapers, magazines, detective stories, pencil ends, orange peels, lettuce leaves, eggshells, small lumps of coal, kindling, shavings, sawdust and sand. What's so disgraceful in that? There isn't a germ in the whole heap, or you may be sure I'd fire it right outdoors and let it shift for itself.
Those who adopt the Cuppy Plan will do well to operate at first on a regular day-by-day schedule, until the little grooves get established in the brain. Divide the week into seven equal parts called Monday, Tuesday and so on, toss overboard all that you were taught during your formative years and act accordingly. Well, then. Monday washing is optional. If we Motionless Housekeepers prefer not to do Monday's wash, we don't wet a hand; and that disposes definitely of Tuesday's ironing. On Wednesday, do not mend. There's half the week gone already in good, constructive achievement.
We agreed, I think, about Thursday's sweeping, and I need not warn my disciples against starting anything whatever on a luckless Friday. Bachelor housekeepers mostly devote Saturday to much needed rest and recreation; the ladies, certainly those who want to stand well with W.C., will get up bright and early, dash to the kitchen and bake at least one gigantic strawberry shortcake, or I won't guarantee any kind of housekeeping—and there's no law against sending it to some deserving hermit.
It may prove helpful, and the moral harm practically nil, to spend a part of each Sunday in searching for household necessities that have been lost in the shuffle. That's the one little weakness of the Cuppy Plan, you never know where the can-opener is. Short of attaching it to one's person with a piece of stout cord and dragging the rest of the essentials about on a leash, there is no way of getting around that sort of thing—you just have to put up with it. Why not make capital of this small fault? You need never subscribe to a memory strengthening course if you try to remember that the nail that pries open the pantry door is probably under the newspapers in the corner behind the stove, that the salt water soap doubtless got mixed up in the winter woolens and extra bedding on the tool chest (where it's as good as in a safe-deposit vault), that the review of J. S. Fletcher's latest must have blown out the window and that the Coast Guards borrowed the camphorated oil summer before last that time Comanche had the lumbago. I couldn't swear to where much of anything is in my house, but it's not as if I had spectacles to lose. I haven't the faintest where my dustrag is, and I care less. I haven't seen it in the last six months, and good riddance.
My official list of things not to do in the kitchen alone would fill volumes. Censored activities include making your own mayonnaise, chopping raisins, putting things through food-grinders, dropping a pinch of flour into the hot fat to keep it from sputtering (Good land, let it sputter!), scalding milk, dropping the white of an egg into the soup to clarify same, wrapping a damp cloth around the cheese to keep it moist, adding melted butter to the pancakes so that you won't have to grease the griddle—you will, anyway—and sifting the flour. There are a few natural born flour sifters who simply cannot be stopped, unless you hide the sieve on them. They sift anywhere from six up to ten and twelve times. Let them have their fun in their own way. They can't help it.
Then there is the menace of beaten biscuits. "Beat thirty minutes," "Beat two hours," "Beat three days," the experts will tell you. Do no such thing, if you have to eat cake. I know it is considered very elegant to cram your guests with beaten biscuits, but the strain is really too great, as many an ambitious climber has discovered. Many a fine old Southern family has dwindled, drooped and finally disappeared from history's page just on account of this widespread evil. Many a Kentucky and Virginia belle in the prime of life has gone the biscuit route. Beautiful, charming and talented as they were, where are they now? They're one with Ozymandias, that's what. Just fragrant, fleeting memories, martyred before their time to the beaten biscuit tradition. And how could it be otherwise, having to leap out of bed in the middle of the night to lash the eternal batter for breakfast? It is not too much to say that all the labor of those millions of Egyptian slaves who built the Great Pyramid of Gizeh was as nothing to the vital energy expended on beating biscuits every day in this broad land of ours. Won't you help?
I may also mention the ungodly amount of parsley scattering that goes on in our homes. Picking parsley apart and strewing it regardless here, there and everywhere over the table has done its share in retarding the progress of evolution. The place for this plant is in a bouquet or a wreath, as the Early Greeks were aware. Crowned with a dime's worth of parsley and maybe a few violets, about the last thing an Early Greek hero thought of was Vitamin B. Warming the plates for the rest of the family is another thankless task—who do they think they are? Rolling fish in bread crumbs before frying is also on the index, as is rinsing the dishes in boiling, soapless water. Of these two futile jobs, rinsing is perhaps the more pernicious. When I meditate upon what everybody might have been accomplishing all these centuries instead of rinsing the dishes—well, old worrier that I am, I get to brooding. I forgot to say that worrying, in moderation, is part of the Cuppy Plan. Worry a little every day, folks, I mean it. If you find it difficult, take a good, square look at some of the people who never, never worry, not even about split infinitives. That's exactly what ails them.
Glancing back over this article, I fear that the heat of passion has led me to exaggerate in spots. The truth is that the Cuppy Plan of Motionless Housekeeping is as yet rather a glowing ideal to be held ever before the mind's eye than an accomplished fact in all its details and ramifications. I have gone only a part of the way, but I retire each night with the pleasing consciousness that I have balled up the domestic science program as thoroughly as lies within my powers. At present all I have to do in the morning before sitting down to write is to find some wood, call a Coast Guard to fix the pump, wash a cup for the coffee, clear off the supper table, mend the window, hang out the wash, empty the ashes, tack a new leg on the chair, look for the pencil and paper and feed the cat. I can always find time between paragraphs to fill the lamp, gather more driftwood, clean up what I spill, soak the beans, do a little baking, run over to Crow Island on an errand, put out a few meadow fires and swat the mosquitoes. Later, I hope for complete success. I may move into a nice, new tent.
If had it to do over, knowing what I know now—well, naturally, I'd do the same thing all over again, only more so. One boon, however, I should beg of fate. Instead of reviewing books, I should ask to be appointed owner of a ham and egg store, so that a constant supply of my favorite food might be always at my beck and call. And every time I went bankrupt I'd hide a part of the stock for future reference.
Not just for solitary gorging, either, though solitary gorging has its place in any harmonious and well rounded existence. It would be my aim to harness this peerless provender to the remnants of the play instinct which have come down to us from the laughing childhood of the race in spite of all the laws of those Medes and Persians. I should amuse myself every few evenings by giving banquets of ham and eggs to all comers, the noise whereof would rise and drown out the stuck-up protests of the fancy feeders of to-day, and the trimmings of which would do much to make my guests and neighbors forget the disappearance of the corner saloon.
I dare say that with a little shopping at the chain stores and a couple of varlets presiding at the kitchen range while I acted as maître d'hôtel, my banquets might have surpassed, at least in quantity, those of the celebrated gourmands of antiquity. Had things been different, who knows but that the name of a certain hermit might have gone down to future ages somewhat as that of Lucullus with his sacred mullets and that of Heliogabalus with his spiders in aspic; it would be synonymous with ham, as, in our own day, Edward W. Bok immediately suggests asparagus with nutmeg and as the mere mention of Roy L. MCCardell evokes visions of eggs mushroomette.
Predestination, however, seems to have spoken in no uncertain terms. A wholesale ham and egger I can never be, but must remain an eternally frustrated hawker of these gorgeous groceries. Whenever I see a happy proprietor in his store I must be content to murmur, "There, but for my unkind stars, go I!" I must live out this thwarted portion of my life on paper, and though I am not one to pour out raw emotions to the public view, I care not if you say I wear my ham on my sleeve.
I shouldn't have thought, until lately, that ham and eggs required a champion. I had been going along as usual, lulled into a false sense of security by my own inherent optimism, supposing that ham and eggs were getting on fine and could take care of themselves. How little we know of the troubles of others! In fact, as Portygee Pete was saying to me only yesterday, "If knowledge was power, Bill, you'd be helpless!" Imprimis, it has come to my attention that a famous expert recently launched a savage and totally unprovoked attack upon them, describing them as the last drivelings of the mind of a low grade moron and using other language which I do not care to repeat.
Let us turn to the statistics, which prove that since this ill-advised ultimatum the intake of ham and eggs among the middle and fairly upper classes of America has fallen to an alarming extent. Thousands of our ambitious countrymen have quit the stuff, evidently believing that total abstention will magically make them high grade morons and qualify them for social success. Have there been any tangible results? There have not, excepting that throughout this broad and fertile land there are mobs of uneasy and bewildered stomachs that should have known better than to turn against an old friend on the say-so of a perfect stranger. And the pity of it is they didn't get into the Four Hundred after all.
I do not intend to lose my temper at the moment, trusting that the need for violent words—and deeds!—will not become acute once the better nature of my opponents has had time to assert itself. I have faith that the sturdy, protein-fed backbone of the nation will not buckle without a fight before the voluptuaries who are seeking to substitute mousse jambon à la Tuileries en casserole, œufs à la Espagnol and other foreign folderol for you know what. Ordered exposition, the mechanical marshaling of vital statistics, the latest findings of our research scientists, the evidence of Grimm's Law—what are all these beside the living senses of all sane citizens? It will be a sorry day for civilization when the majority of folks think otherwise.
Let us put our trust in intuition rather than in a mass of cold-blooded statistics that wouldn't lend you a nickel for carfare. Let us come out boldly and admit that ham and eggs are responsible for very much of the so-called progress of our species. I would almost go so far as to say that the race has experienced two supreme moments. When the first man stood upright upon two legs and cast his quadrupedal heritage to the four winds of heaven, there, my friends, was front page news. Was it not a far, far better thing than he had ever done when his wife conceived the idea of cooking some ham and some eggs on the same hot stone, inquiring the while in paleolithic poetry, "How'll you have 'em, straight up?" I pause for a reply. As for facts, if they do not string along with us, so much the worse for facts. If the whole scientific fraternity should come out here to Jones's Island, beat on the front door of my shack and demand my proofs that ham and eggs are one of the prime causes of high thinking and beautiful living, I should step quietly to my front porch, raise my hand for silence, and quote the memorable words of a hermit of old, "Credo quia impossible est!" I guess that would hold them.
Who has not loved them? I believe that if all the secret memories of our great geniuses could be brought to light, if we could look, as the gods do, into the inmost hearts of our poets, if we even owned an encyclopædia or an anthology, we should find more than one splendid tribute to the dish we celebrate. I recall few, if any, indisputable references to ham and eggs, as such, among the early Greeks, though they knew their ham. So little of Sappho's work remains that we cannot speak of her views; we only know that she jumped off the cliff, and even that isn't so. The Stagirite preserves silence upon this single point, a circumstance not without deep significance to students of psychology. Of certain obscure and doubtful remarks by Simonides of Ceos, Meleager of Syria and Philippus of Thessalonica I say nothing, permitting the intelligent reader to draw his own conclusions. If the weight of all this accumulated testimony does not convince the skeptic, what has he to say in answer to Æsop's superb fable, "The Pig and the Hen"?
When I think how the authors of our own day neglect this subject I am moved to wonder what we are coming to, if, indeed, we have not already arrived. A world wide questionnaire of some time back revealed but one writer courageous, far-sighted and æsthetically sound enough to come out for ham and eggs as his favorite tipple. That was Mr. Will Irwin. Would that he and his trenchant pen might take up the good fight where I leave off; I feel that a book by him on this matter would express much better than any word of mine the true Spirit of the Frying Pan. Herewith I reproduce his recipe, preserved for all time in the pages of "The Stag Cookbook"—may it go sizzling down the ages as it so well deserves. Lookit:
"Take a frying pan and some ham. Cook the ham in its own fat in the frying pan; cook until the ham is well dappled with golden brown, or until it is cooked enough. Then break some eggs. Take out the ham and put it on a hot platter, then put in the eggs. Baste them a bit with the hot ham fat. Put a cover on the pan and let the eggs cook in the hot pan with no fire. A minute or two will do—then serve the eggs with the ham and—oh, boy! For the very best results use the best ham you can get and plenty of day old eggs."
Other famous Wills are notoriously fond of the same. Bill Williams of Fire Island, Will Midget of Amagansett and Willie Watson of the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station practically live on it. Dr. Will Durant has not been interviewed, but he is too much of a philosopher to spurn a dish that was once described—was it by Nietzsche?—as the very corner stone of the new ethics. You can't tell me that Will Shakespeare overlooked this bet; the sonnets alone prove the contrary. Among other users I need but mention Christopher Columbus, Daniel Boone, Alta May Coleman, Ninon de Lenclos, Copernicus, Rutherford B. Hayes, Lois Blaker, Josephine Bell Horton, Mr. and Mrs. Eugene R. Tappen, Henri Désiré Landru and Dr. and Mrs. August J. Raggi. Perhaps I have made it clear that the fans are almost always persons possessed not only of distinguished ability in the arts, sciences and miscellaneous, but of decided personal beauty and charm. A safe rule is that nine out of ten persons who like ham and eggs have It.
This brings us by a process of elimination, or non sequitur, or something, to Frederick Barbarossa, history's most outstanding example of ham and egg addiction. That is, the old chroniclers say he was passionately fond of ham, and it is my theory that they forgot the eggs. Only upon the supposition that Frederick Barbarossa called loudly for ham and eggs at certain strategic points in his career do the moot problems about the Holy Roman Empire become childishly simple. Only so does Frederick become a human being instead of a mere abstraction with the title of Holy Roman Emperor, a red beard and some frightfully hard dates.
If it can be shown that eggs as well as ham were obtainable in Frederick's early environment, I think my contention may safely be accepted as a working hypothesis, such as the well known hypothesis that the planets revolve about a central sun in orbits, or elliptical black lines; it need hardly be pointed out that so intelligent a person as Frederick Barbarossa was quite capable, even in childhood, of putting two and two together. Well, his father was the Duke of Swabia, a place fairly reeking with eggs; the young Frederick probably spent many a happy summer vacation on the farm of his grandfather, Henry the Black, in Bavaria, another hotbed of poultry products. What's more, the boy's mother (the daughter of Henry the Black) was a Welf, while the other side of the family was thoroughbred Waiblingen; truly a weird heritage, accounting for some of the inhibitions, warring factions and morbid strains in Frederick's personality. Fortunately ham and eggs was the one thing the Welfs and the Waiblingens were not continually fighting about, so our hero was spared that, at least. But if, as I strongly suspect, the Welfs and the Waiblingens were the same as the Guelphs and the Ghibellines, the poor child had enough troubles trying to figure out which was which—in our day a completely lost art. Through it all he grew up, waxed strong and flourished mightily. He knew what he liked.
Frederick's subjugation of Italy fits right in with my thesis. The Lombards put up a game struggle, but he fixed them in the end; what would the Lombards win on, anyway—broccoli? It was only when Frederick's supplies gave out that he encountered his few defeats. His crusade against Saladin was not so much, but you can't take ham and eggs on a crusade! On the whole Frederick Barbarossa made a wonderful showing, and I repeat that it was ham and eggs that turned the trick among all those powers and principalities, potentates, podestàs and palatinates, schisms, suzerainties, Hanseatic Leagues and other infidels. He may be one of the Seven Sleepers, but in his day very little got by him. Where shall we find his like for stirring precepts, noble deeds and real, honest to goodness horse sense?
He was a great one for making laws, Frederick was, and I wish he'd made one about the sale of ham and eggs in restaurants. Step into an attractive food palace in New York, my friends, place your order, if you can elbow your way to the front, and what happens? "Ham and country!" sings out the neat clerk behind the glass counter, as you pick out an easy chair, get your glass of water from the cooler, corral a paper napkin and sit back in a fool's paradise to await what is to be, gazing blankly betimes at the pyramid of green bananas over there by the pie. "Ham and country!" finally yodels the clerk again with even more promising inflections in his Judas-like voice. Rushing to the scene one discovers that the ham is boiled! Not the smoked and then fried article on which our pioneering ancestors grew fat and frisky, but boiled and fried, with results that would not nourish even a Lombard. Country, my word!
This tragedy occurs thousands of times each day, even in the better class of one-arms, where strong men go to get strong men's nourishment to help them fight the battles of life. They ask for he-food; they get an emaciated shaving of disenchanted and savorless pork on which Jack Dempsey himself couldn't lick a flea. Here at Jones's all that's different. We cook it right, eat it right and call for another round. Portygee Pete maintains that though he has had to doctor for it several times he has never had his full want. Same here. Pete and I have never counted the pieces nor had enough eggs to squander, so we really don't know our capacity. Rattlesnake Ned's official record is said to be an hour and a half, elapsed time, using the Goose Crick overhand—but he's southpaw.
Let me add a word to the young housewife who is just starting out to get her hands ruined. Keep a good big supply of h. and e. in the pantry. You'll find it something to cling to in the midst of impermanence and all but chaos, something to lean up against while you consider what is next to be done. Otherwise the day will surely come when you'll sit down in the middle of the kitchen floor and scream and yell at the ghastly, damnable futility of it all. It will, anyway, but why rush to meet it? And here's a household hint, in case your better half ever tells you that his dinner is fit for a king. Remember what I told you about Frederick Barbarossa, and if he springs that one on you, you just up and say, "Fit for a king, hell! It's fit for a Holy Roman Emperor!"
Since this piece concerns what to do when company comes, let's zip right into the plot without bothering about fancy grammar. The subject calls for action rather than mere rhetoric. Company, as you may be aware, is a thing that might happen to any of us any minute, and probably will. How are you going to meet the situation, brother hermits of America?
Whoever replies "I'm going to run!" or "I'm going to jump under the bedclothes and hide!" lays himself open to the suspicion of flippancy, and utterly fails to reach the seat of the evil. Company is no laughing matter. What to do, then, when a gay bevy of one's dear friends invade the home with glad welcoming cries provided by themselves? For one's friends, if you will forgive my putting the matter in aphoristic form—one's friends are those persons who always feel perfectly welcome in one's home.
Not that all guests are hungry (a conservative estimate figures the practically starving ones at 99.7 per cent), but I'm thinking of the kind of whom a wise man of antiquity remarked that they appear to exist for no other purpose than to eat honest, God-fearing folk out of house and home. The optimistic hermit is likely to interpret the eager look in their eyes to extreme interest in how his rheumatism is getting along. The disillusioned veteran, noting their furtive glances about the shack, their sniffs to windward and their significant prowlings hither and yon, knows only too well that they are trying to find out where he keeps his emergency shelf.
There you are! The emergency shelf is the answer to the whole problem, as you should have known all the time. Not that the shelf alone does the trick. You might go on having an emergency shelf until you are blue in the face, it will get you nothing without a system and a little spare change. I hope I may hurt nobody's feelings when I confess that I have been in many homes where they had the shelf, all right, but couldn't seem to make up their minds what to do with it. I feel more sympathetic towards my ravenous callers when I think of what has occasionally happened to me. Don't be that way, dear readers. You never know what gnawing sorrows your visitor may be harboring under his belt.
It is really discouraging how few housekeepers ashore make adequate arrangements for serving the unbidden guest with meals at all hours. The imagination of many otherwise charming ladies who own lovely emergency shelves soars boldly and beautifully to tea biscuits, falters in mid-air, clutches wildly at more tea biscuits and plunges to earth with a dull thud. Naturally, all you get in such places is tea biscuits. That is no way to act in a world that is jammed and crammed with good things to eat, such as—well, anyway, what about peanut butter and—and—oh, oceans of things (I'm no A and P bargain list!). If worst comes to worst, they can always feed hermits what they have in the icebox, but when hermits have company, it's not so easy. Hermits have no iceboxes.
If I speak briefly of my own emergency shelf, it is in the hope that other hermits on other sandbars may draw from the account some sterling lesson, which is more than I can do. A year or so ago, with the assistance of Ned and Pete, I constructed a rather elegant one, loaded it with a caviar canapé, a canned snail and a truffle for the use of a certain critic and novelist not a thousand miles from Hell's Kitchen, New York City, and proceeded to town to fetch the lady. The impish creature refused to budge. She had long declined to come, but I chose not to believe her. She proved it to me. She never did show up—and oh, how I had been yearning for some of those long, uninterrupted moonlit talks about Dostoievsky.
By that time, naturally, the canape was a pretty sight, and the truffle but the shell of its former self. If I may intrude my private affairs, the capricious authoress may visit me as soon as I can arrange to have the ocean done over. She requires a special seashore with a velvet Arcadian greensward richly pied with Elizabethan posies and lambkins, a giant plane tree against God's own sunlight, fountains running dandelion wine, a palatial yacht riding at anchor hard by, and, if possible, a couple of mountains in the distance. I'm working on all that now, but when and if my fair tormentor ever comes out here, she'll have to take her chances on that snail.
Since then the poor old shelf has suffered a gradual retrogression, not to say dégringolade. From truffles it declined to mere spuds, and of late I am afraid—I will not actually say in so many words that I have done this, but I am afraid that I have furnished it with the canned goods that I am none too sure about, prunes that look awfully funny and cereals that have outlived their allotted time. These things may be perfectly all right, but then again, who knows? Certainly I should never think of offering them to my guests unless I were forced to it by the urgent demands of true hospitality. My emergency shelf is more or less of an indoor junk heap at present, but you know how you hate to throw things out that you have had for years and years.
Most of the canned goods is that half-case of spinach that Hilary of the Coast Guards purchased ashore several seasons ago, presumably during a spell of mind wandering, since Coast Guards are sworn enemies of spinach, lettuce, celery and suchlike horse foods rich in mineral salts and vitamins. As it was Hilary's turn in the kitchen that week, he served a can of it at the regular eleven o'clock dinner, with results that amounted roughly to mutiny in the mess-room; granted that there is something revolting in the thought of canned spinach at eleven o'clock in the morning, still, that was the official dining hour, and if soup, why not spinach? There followed an informal deck court for Hilary and a hurried trip to the grocery lady at the summer colony, who flaunted the stuff on her shelves all season without so much as a nibble. It passed eventually into my possession, partly because I felt kind of sorry for the poor spinach, and partly because hermits cannot say no. The rustier those cans get, the wider berth I give them. If it be my destiny to dig my grave with my can-opener, I'll be darned if spinach is going to have the last word.
Fortunately—please watch this part of the narrative closely—those who brave Great South Bay to visit me have learned by trial and error to lug along a few bulging hampers. The problem of what to do thus resolves itself into the question whether I shall dive at once into the goodies or restrain myself until some enterprising guest has set the table. Before I had my system working on its present basis there were a few pretty sad parties at my shack. Now it is well understood by all concerned that when company comes to Jones's I am the emergency. Get the idea?
I try to be reasonable about what people bring to my shack, but awkward incidents are bound to occur. Take the chum who arrived with two dozen sacred eggs laid by a hen that had taken a prize at a dog show. We did for twelve. When he left he attempted to take the other dozen with him, and yet he wonders why I talk about him. Another departed with contusions about the face and head, but really, three meals of alligator pears hand running is a little too much. If I must eat these foods that are eaten for the sole purpose of astonishing the middle classes, an artichoke is about as far as I'll go. And I only do that for the companionship. I've long ceased worrying about the people who bring their own knives, forks, spoons, plates, napkins, sheets and pillow slips; I just relax and wonder, without caring much either way, why they came at all if they thought I had bubonic plague. Anyway, it saves my napkin.
I believe I have demonstrated that it is possible to train company, if you bring enough patience, zeal and courage to the task. I have worked hard to perfect my system, but every lick has paid. I can lean back now and feel fairly certain that if company comes I'll get fed up for a while. And life being what it is, that's something. Had I let things drift I shouldn't be sitting here now munching a hunk of fruit cake with frosting—and candy on the frosting. If this true story enables some other poor bachelor to get a piece of fruit cake even half as good, my efforts shall not have been in vain.
So much the world already knows or has guessed about my hospitality, and I suppose some of you hermits, on the watch for constructive advice, thought it a fairly open secret to be making such a fuss about—now didn't you? Well, I haven't sprung the real central plot yet, and the truth is I was trying to get out of it. There is, indeed, another side to the picture—a sinister side, you may say, but one which a starkly realistic autobiographer may not blink. The answer is that the emergency shelf in my shack is only a dummy, a sympathy catcher furnished with malice aforethought for the furtherance of my system, and by that I might mean anything. The real one, containing a considerable array of much more edible food-stuffs, is outdoors in the cellar, its existence not so much as imagined by my friends from the mainland. It and its contents are strictly for myself and other islanders, hermits and dwellers in the waste and solitary places who, for one reason or another, I could do with a snack; not for trippers who live right next to delicatessens and yet go gallivanting about the globe in search of quaint places to eat in.
Before you condemn me unheard for this piece of manifest chicanery—and I know how indefensible it must seem at first blush to every decent reader—before you call me a disgrace to my Southern ancestry, I ask you calmly to consider a few vital statistics. In the first place, it would be quite impossible for me to survive upon the provisions brought and left (Ha! Ha!) by incoming guests. The report that I spend most of my time scanning the horizon for richly laden argosies of company is a mistake. No, my friends, horizon-scanning is not all it is cracked up to be, and any opinion to the contrary involves a fatal misconception of the whole art and science of hermit housekeeping. Even during the few summer months I derive less than one per cent of my total nourishment from such a source, and but twenty-three per cent from the summer colonists of Jones's Island. I would be in a fine fix if I depended upon company for calories when Great South Bay is frozen over for the winter and people with money in the bank and anything remotely approaching ordinary horse sense stay safe at home on shore where you don't have to thaw out your ears every so often. These are the hard, cold facts which I have come to realize more and more as life goes on, and which my well-to-do acquaintances—I say it in no reproachful spirit—must reconcile with their own consciences.
All of which indicates plainly that the bachelor hermit who lives on a sandbar, surrounded in the ways of the ever-changing seasons—and I often wonder which is the worst—either by impassable icebergs or unendurable mosquitoes, must have more gumption than he commonly gets credit for. What would happen if he failed to lay up a box of fodder for the long Arctic night? What if he gave it all to visitors, and couldn't get ashore again until too late? What if he told everything he knew about his emergency shelf? Well, what would happen? He might or he might not be discovered next season in one of the tertiary tin can strata of his backyard by some optimist mining for Scotch. There would be a brief paragraph in the press advancing a new theory about Neanderthal Man that wouldn't have a leg to stand on. After a pathetically short interval business would go on as usual.
So it comes that I have something packed away in that old Haig and Haig case in the cellar. Sometimes I take out my electric flash and examine the cache with all the frenzy a rather unenthusiastic miser must feel over his gold. To tell the truth, the kick is not what it should be this year. Evaporated milk labels cease to thrill after a while, and there seems to be an ungodly amount of canned corn for the size of the box. Why it is that there is always so much canned corn in my supplies, loathing the stuff as I do, must be looked into sometime. I suppose it's just one of those things. Also, whence came those serried ranks of shredded codfish, when, as all Jones's Island knows, if there is one fish more than another—no, I won't say it. The corned beef is all right, if it comes to that, but the future would be black indeed if I didn't know that down in the bottom of the box, under the succotash, is a big, beautiful can of—tuna fish! But don't get me started on that.
Still, to clean up as we go along, I'm very fond of tuna, and there's really no comeback to that, is there? Yet people persist in clouding the issue with all sorts of specious arguments. A lady told me not long since that she regarded tuna fish as a very inferior imitation of chicken, to which I replied, "Oh, you do?" I wish I had read that lady a lecture on the inadvisability of mixing up the animal kingdom in that way; the tuna never pretended for one moment to be a bird. She might better have called it a very superior substitute for cat-salmon, and even that fails to express my admiration. If I ever give up hermiting, I shall probably come to terms with some one who knows 1,000 ways to feed me tuna fish, no questions asked.
For bachelor housekeepers the one drawback to this food is that a large can of it is likely to become, temporarily, one's whole existence. You have to use it all up, and you string it out long, long after the first sharp ecstasy has fled. Tuna salad for lunch and dinner is fine, so is the tuna sandwich at bedtime, but by the second day the routine begins to pall and come to-morrow you don't care if you never see the fish again. How well I know the raptures, the lucid intervals, the inevitable awakenings! But give me a day or two to recuperate, and if I hear of a tuna fish in the vicinity, there I am, waiting in line like a great big brainless ninny, for too much of a good thing. I don't even attempt to cure myself any more. I just admit that I like it. I must.
I hope no jealous codfish fan will take my words amiss. I hate to wound any of God's creatures, a category in which we are taught to place not only shredded codfish but those who feed upon them, not to say batten. In fact, I had some myself only yesterday, and I'm up and around again. We ought to bear in mind that the poor fish was not always desiccated. It got that way through no fault of its own, and there is no use holding a grudge.
I'm sorry I spoke that way about canned corn, too. Many a poor starving heathen would be glad to eat it, and so shall I be, too, some day when a bout of wood-splitting has roused the brute within me and weakened my will to resist. I think I shall resolve this year to be kinder to all foodstuffs, whatever their station in life. It should be a lesson to me, out here on Jones's Island, that once in the folly of youth I felt put upon because a dear old great-aunt of mine used to bake me apple pies (with cinnamon on them!) somewhat too often for my jaded taste. Idiot that I was, I thought that apple pies, even with cinnamon, were not quite high-toned enough for me. To stir my interest took peach at the very least, and to win a smile my great-aunt had to take a day off and throw a lemon meringue.
Ah, well! We live and learn, or, anyway, we live. I mean to say, right now I wouldn't speak ill of a prune. Did it ask to be stewed?
"He had been Duke of Savoy, and after a very glorious reign, took on him the habit of a hermit, and retired into this solitary spot." You'll find that quotation (from Addison) right in Webster's Dictionary, under the word "hermit"; and somehow it strikes me as important. It thrills me like discovering a new family of clams down by the Coast Guard dock or an epidemic of tar blocks for my kitchen range. I often read it to myself when I get to brooding over civilization in my shack—I don't mean that the civilization is in my shack.
Not that Dukes, as such, impress me greatly, though, goodness knows, I have nothing against them—it takes all kinds. But I can't help thinking that there was a certain something about this particular one. To have earned so fine a compliment from Mr. Addison more than hints of sterling qualities, and getting into the dictionary must also be accounted no mean feat, as feats go; it is neither here nor there that the ornithorynchus, or duck-billed platypus of Australia, got in, too. The Duke of Savoy had real stuff, and his turning hermit surely clinches the argument.
They tell me I'm a bit hipped on the Duke of Savoy, just because I sometimes work him into the conversation when ashore. Perhaps I am, but it is not true that I ever posed as his full cousin; how could that be when he probably lived away back in the Middle Ages? If people choose to regard me as royalty because I'm always saying "the Duke this" or "the Duke that," it's their own lookout. Nor have I, as the rumor goes, been pestering the authorities for permission to call myself the Duke of Jones's Island. That's all gossip. It's not true, either, that I have got the Duke and myself so mixed up that I can't tell us apart. In writing this brief sketch of my hero's life I must confess that since I have never looked him up, either in Mr. Addison or the Encyclopædia Britannica, for fear that I might find the shadow of a fault (for such is the malice of history), the learned reader may notice a few technical inaccuracies; none, I trust, that matter. Worse, I must risk the suspicion of vanity in dealing at all with one whose career, in some of its humbler aspects, so strangely resembled my own. Some will say that this article is but a second version of my own hermiting—a thinly veiled autobiography. Let them say.
Begin we on that fateful day when the great and puissant, though not really fat Duke of Savoy, sitting on his bejeweled throne, surrounded by a seething mob of jongleurs, performing apes, bedesmen, almoners, hereditary fiefs and Got wots, suddenly felt again in his inmost soul that he was fed up with being the Duke of Savoy, and as suddenly knew—he didn't just suppose it; he knew it—that as quickly as possible he must become a hermit or bust. He was aware that one more conference with the ducal seneschals, pantlers and quhairs would be the death of him. As luck would have it, at that very moment the court jester, a dwarf of uncanny wisdom, who alone knew the secret that was slowly but surely undermining his master's health and spirits, edged up behind the throne and whispered that whereas and notwithstanding there were only twenty-four hours a day in Savoy, there were forty-eight in a certain enchanted sandbar yclept Smith's Island, according to signs and portents just revealed to the ducal astrologer, who had been working on the problem for months.
"The die is cast!" whispered the Duke in return, smiling the famous smile which, only a few years before, ere the fatal secret had embittered him, had caused not a few hearts about the court to beat a little faster. "I hereby appoint the astrologer Count of Gex," he added, "with all the rights, privileges and perquisites appertaining thereunto; and you may regard yourself as chief official underskinner to my successor, whoever he is."
Then he arose with dignity, sauntered slowly through the crowd of sycophants and snoods, so as not to disturb their simple pleasures, turned a sharp corner and streaked it hellbent for the ducal apartments. At the very portals he hesitated at sight of a marvelously beautiful damsel who was weaving a tapestry celebrating his own martial adventures. Pausing only to assure himself that the details were correct and ignoring the subtle advances of the lovely maid, he spun on his heel and rushed into the antechamber, lustily clapping his hands.
"What ho, varlet!" he cried. "Bring me the habit of a hermit, and bestir thyself!" And to the astonished varlet who, in a trice, had arrayed him neatly in the Middle Age equivalent of a pea-coat, army breeches, hip boots and white hat, he merely said: "Gramercy, varlet. I suppose you think I'm getting up another of those damfool charades, but I'm not. I'm going to Smith's Island to be a hermit, so fare thee well and alackaday."
Shortly thereafter a figure of distinguished mien, albeit quaintly accoutered, might have been seen departing by the postern gate. In his left hand the Duke (for it was he) carried a little basket containing cold cuts, a few lentils, an oaten loaf and a small quantity of salt and hyssop. Under his right arm, firmly clutched as though it held his soul's salvation, as, in a manner of speaking, it truly did, there rested a mysterious black box that might once have contained something no more romantic than a pair of shoon—but now! Essaying one last backward glance at his old, futile environment, he saw the beauteous damsel of the tapestry riding apace towards him upon a snow-white palfrey, and ever she wept and made great dole. "It is now or never," said the Duke to himself, as he closed the gate against her, and locked it. For him there could be no turning back. Onward he strode, pressing still more closely to his side the enigmatic black parcel, the box of mystery.
The scene now shifts to the wild and desolate sands of Smith's Island, where our hero finally arrived, what by water and what by land, with the assistance of a small shallop, trireme, felucca or something manned by a gang of rollicking neatherds who were going that way; it had never occurred to him before that neatherds might rollick, but these did. The neatherds, who dwelt on a neighboring islet and were later to prove the exile's boon companions and advisers, refused to leave him until they had seen him safely inside a half-portion furnished bungalow providentially provided, it would seem, for the purpose. And there in his little crooked house the Duke abode in comparative peace and content, considering the thing he had come to do. The view was delightful, and his rose cold, strangely enough, had entirely left him. On clear days he could just make out the sea-coast of Bohemia; in the evenings, when he was not engaged at his consecrated task, he might count the stars or watch the flashing of the great beacon light reared upon yonder rocks. He seldom even thought of Savoy as he sat eating his favorite sardine sandwiches, raw cabbage and clams.
For in the Duke's new life clams of all sorts and sizes served as the helpful animals so necessary to every hermit. He liked them steamed, chowdered or alive and kicking. He also adored fried clams, a dish which Lucullus or maybe Apicius has compared unfavorably with fricassee of rubber galoshes. Clams really are a great convenience to the marine, island or otherwise amphibious hermit. When all else fails, when life seems dull and savorless, when one more bean would make the difference between right reason and the padded cell, one can always go out and catch a clam. In recognition of this self-evident truth the Duke one day chuckled, "Clams are more than coronets!" He meant it, too.
Sometimes, of course, he had to visit the dentist; and gosh, how he dreaded those trips to Savoy. A person of charming manners himself, he was always surprised and embarrassed when chance-met courtiers demanded to know why on earth he had become a hermit. "'T is passing strange," he would muse, "that people who would not dream of inquiring 'Why are you a bee-inspector?' 'Why do your ears stick out like that?' or 'Why does your aunt have fits?' feel no hesitation in asking 'Why are you a hermit?'" It got to be rather a sore point with the Duke.
Natheless he stood his ground. He would not, come what might, disclose his darling secret to these curious oafs. Not though the whole of Savoy went nutty over the riddle would he reveal until the proper moment—and would that moment ever come?—the contents of the ducal shoe-box. He used to enrage his acquaintances by remarking, "I am a hermit because I like being one," a statement which all agreed would not hold water for an instant. And once, when his toothache was pretty bad, he so far forgot himself as to roar at the venerable Bishop of Piedmont, "Gadzooks, it's none of your deleted business!" In merrier mood he might explain, "It was a gal an' the red-eye," or report that he was squaring the circle, when everybody knew that he hadn't enough mathematical talent to mend his own pump. To a few whom he really cared for he said, quite simply, "It is written," or, if they persisted, "The stars have spoken." They gave him up. Small wonder, the great world being what it is, that men tapped their foreheads and said the devil had entered into His Grace, the Duke of Savoy.
He let it go at that. And ever, as soon as he finished with the dentist, he would hasten down a side street to the waterfront, avoiding as well as he could the too ripe pomegranates and prickly pears hurled after him by the ignorant little Savoyards, and sometimes by the ignorant big Savoyards. A strange, unearthly gleam in his ice-blue eyes, he would leap into his frail craft, seize the oars and pull like one possessed for the open sea. Maybe he wasn't glad, on these occasions, to be going back to his shack, what by water and what by land, back to the sun and the stars and the sand and the silence, back to the infinitely understanding clams, who never asked him why he was a hermit, but just took it for granted. Back, above all, to that cryptic repository, the mysterious shoe-box. That very evening, by the light of his torch of dolphin oil, he planned to lift it reverently from its hiding place under the kitchen sink, remove the cover and take out—the rajah's ruby? I should say not! "And the world well lost!" he would shout in the face of wind and wave, laughing the while with mighty, oceanic laughter. Mad he seemed, truly; and mad, perhaps, he was.
Wonderful, passionate nights! He often felt they were worth all of his ten thousand nights ashore, with the possible exception of about two hundred which he had written up in his diary and often read over with considerable emotion. The kindly neatherds, seeing his torch still flaring in the dawn, knew well that the man of mystery was having another spell with his devil-box, for they had often crept up and watched him taking scraps of paper out of it, tearing up some of them, writing upon others with his pen of purple samite, sorting and unsorting, laughing, weeping and chattering to himself as the endless task went on; at such times they stole silently away again, leaving a fresh quarter of neat beside the shack and maybe a couple of fish for a change. They wasted very little time on the profound psychological puzzle that was the Duke, believing, as their descendants do to this day, that the proper study of mankind is neats—and who knows? Still, they kept their eye on him, and sometimes returned in the evening to fix the pump.
Those long, intense nocturnal sessions filled with delicious agonies and joys, intoxicating séances that might have broken a less rugged constitution, seemed to agree with the Duke. Next day he would rise in the early afternoon, have brunch, neglect his housework and proceed to do whatever he darn pleased. The mere fact that he had no corner stones to lay used to amuse him no end. "By my halidome," he once observed, "life in Savoy consists almost entirely in killing time before it is time to go somewhere one would rather be shot than go." Again he reflected, "Of course, the trouble with Smith's Island is that one is sometimes lonely; but the trouble with Savoy is that one is never lonely." Making middling epigrams of that sort was the good Duke's weakness, if he had one. In Savoy there had been a lot of people who hated his epigrams. "Oh, well," he had said to one such, "there are only two kinds of people: those who hate epigrams and those who can make them." As for loneliness, he liked it. He was quite an introvert; and loneliness meant more nights with the devil-box, and more.
Now surely that's enough suspense for one biography. The fact is, the Duke was writing a play, as you probably guessed all along; secretly, because nine-tenths of the other inhabitants of the dukedom were also writing plays, all of which were bound to be very bad—and his was different. The thing had become a public scandal; he had often been compelled to incarcerate his own Prime Ministers and Lord High Almoners for composing the most frightful dramatic atrocities—the best of them mere box-office successes catering to a low interest in sex and having no permanent effect whatever upon the Commedia dell' Arte. He just couldn't bear to put himself on their level by telling what he was up to, so he kept pegging along in the privacy of his bedchamber, such as it was—and you know how it is with Dukes. What with the eternal banquets, joustings, pageants, processions and parties for visiting rulers, he seldom found a moment for adding a scene, a line or even an unfinished wise-crack to the mass of cluttered scraps in the black shoe-box concealed under his Byzantine couch, let alone a whole night in which to consider such vital problems as metonymy, synecdoche, architectonics, osmosis, dénouement and fainting in coils. The beautiful damsel of the snow-white palfrey might have cheered him on, but she was writing a novel and didn't sympathize with his theatrical ambitions—and you see what that got her.
So there's the whole plot in a nutshell of the Duke's sensational elopement from his court, the sinister shoe-box, the hermit's mysterious nights of feverish pain and still more feverish bliss at Smith's Island. My crystal does not show the ultimate fate of our hero's drama. I see nothing resembling even a completed draft of Act I, the scenario of which originally called for a metaphysical debate between two atoms in the void, later switched to some characters called He and She and then again included a few musical numbers, a rope-walking artist and fireworks. I only know that he kept the shoe-box under the sink, and every time he thought of something good he tossed it in among the rest of the index cards, old cuffs and crumpled bits of papyrus. His faith remained unshaken that some day, when the characters and the action and the dialogue had got a little clearer in his mind, it would all fit in.
And maybe it did. The Duke was slow but sure, and not nearly so dumb as he looked. At least he laid definite plans for sorting out the box completely and writing the first scene down on fair, unspotted parchment. Each dawn he vowed to tackle the job at sunset. Perhaps it was as well that he delayed. His was a sensitive spirit, and so long as the play remained unfinished and unseen—I shall not say unstarted—well, nobody could tell him that it was terrible. As the years fled by—and they did, even with the forty-eight hours a day—he learned to look upon his undertaking in a way that seemed to him sufficient, as an end in itself rather than a practical means of reforming the little theater movement in Savoy. "At court," he said to himself, "I could never have come within a mile of it; here at Smith's I have come within half a mile." For all that, he kept on throwing thoughts under the sink, on the theory that you're never licked till you quit.
Meanwhile life was not so bad. The Duke did not require a great deal of amusement. He'd had his fun, enough to last for years, and some of it splendid material for the play. As he explained to Piedmont Pete, the neatherd, "People never become hermits until they have been around and seen a lot that no right-thinking person ought to see; otherwise, they'd be afraid of missing something, and they would be perfectly right." So he had his memories; emotions recollected in tranquillity were a hobby with him. "I have a past, and no one can take that from me," he told Pete. "Thank God, I have something to regret." "Lord lumme," he would add, in reminiscent mood, "I certainly had some wonderful, undesirable friends ashore." Yet this playful old party, who had been such a son of a gun in his youth, and who invented the morally subversive literary maxim, "Good authoring and a clear conscience will not mix," was wont to declare, "There comes a time when a quiet life can be quite as thrilling as sin itself!"
Though he loved this quiet like good wine, and had always hated the loud noises the Savoyards continually made, apparently from pure meanness, it is not true that the Duke insisted upon absolute silence throughout his island domain. He did throw things at the birds to make them stop yelping, and tried to cure Pete of whistling, but sometimes he felt just like having a musical evening in the shack. He had brought his lute with him, and a theorbo and a cithern and a psaltery, upon all of which he performed with a pensive charm—he had never got the hang of the sackbut or the shawm, so his recitals were always a little weak in the wood winds. Invariably the neatherds would arrive in a body after the first selection and oblige with folk-tunes on the cymbal, timbrel, ocarina and zambomba, and like as not it would turn into quite a party.
The plaudits of the great world meant nothing to this man, though he would not have minded taking a bow at a certain first night he often thought of. After all, he had been Duke of Savoy! He had reigned gloriously for a time, and you can hardly beat that for publicity of the right sort. Distinguished throughout Christendom for wisdom, justice, temperance and personal appeal, he had left behind an honored name when he up and adopted the life of Reilly. That he never tarnished, though he did little or nothing to keep his legend alive. When the Savoyards sent special messengers to Smith's Island begging him to mediate between powers and principalities, or when ambassadors prayed him to accept the kingship of some orphaned nation, he simply told them to go chase themselves and not come bothering him with such nonsense. He never gave up his rank (such was his common sense), but held himself in readiness, should nothing ever come of the play, to consider any reasonable offer from the politicians—but none of your small kingdoms or empires with their long hours, short pay and try and get it. "In Savoy," he would reflect, "I was a big toad in a big puddle; out here I am a small toad in a small puddle, or vice versa, and I can't see that it makes the slightest difference about the sizes of toads and puddles, anyway—you can't take 'em with you!"
Speaking of the Duke's conversational remains, I cannot refrain from quoting another of those sagacious phrases which have done so much to perpetuate the fame of the grand old guy.
"Why be a hermit?" asked one of those pests to whom I have already referred.
"Why not?" said the Duke.
I forgot to mention that the neatherds and other denizens of that part of the ocean never thought of him, much less addressed him, as the Duke of Savoy. They called him, in their own tongue, Guglielmo dell' Isole—which is as much as to say, Will o' the Isles.
Etiquette, or dog, in the original Coptic, means behaving yourself a little better than is absolutely essential. The ancient Copts were great sticklers for form, and you see what it got them. It is owing entirely to the Copts, as we know from hieroglyphics deciphered by certain scholars to their own satisfaction, that to-day at our state banquets and in our more exclusive American homes we do not eat pie with a knife.
Whether that is a good or a bad thing it is no part of my present purpose to go into. I'm not looking for trouble. It is not my intention to take sides on the pie question, but merely to clear up a few popular fallacies about minor problems of good form as applied to bachelors, especially if they happen to be book reviewers living on Jones's Island. I am convinced that grave misunderstandings abound in this branch of learning. So would you be if you got a letter from a fair unknown ending, "P. S.—Do you wear a bib?"
Perhaps the postscript was meant in jest, but it hurt, pointing so heartlessly at what is generally believed to be the bachelor hermit's weak spot, namely, his table manners. Evidently my correspondent feels that an inhabitant of Jones's Island would not be likely to grasp the subtle difference between dining and just shoveling in the provisions. Meanwhile I thank her for her recipe for warmed-over beans, her gift of a patent can-opener and her sympathy, and assure her that I do not wear a bib. I have a napkin. She would be surprised though, if she knew how many prominent people do wear bibs.
Moreover, napkin technique in my shack differs only slightly from that in respectable circles ashore. I favor the red bandanna type. It doesn't show the soup, and it makes a gay spot of color wherever it happens to be left about the house. My napkin has seen its best days, but who hasn't, for that matter? I'm not one to switch to a blue bandanna just because it is said to be very chic with a deep-dish huckleberry pie. At Jones's, as elsewhere, the napkin is partly unfolded, if it ever was folded, and laid unostentatiously across the right knee of the overalls. Then let nature take its course.
Being so much alone, though, and with one thing and another, it is an undoubted and more or less deplorable fact that hermits do occasionally let down in their etiquette. This is because hermits, especially those of metaphysical bent, sometimes get to feeling, if only subconsciously, that where there is no eye to see it, there is no etiquette. Supposing, to put it in the classical manner, that a hermit is eating soup at a distance of several miles from the nearest human ear—his own doesn't count, as he is absorbed in a book; can the sound waves resulting from the operation be said really to exist in the sense that—that—in the sense that—Oh, well, take it or leave it. According to the paradox of Zeno—No, that was about Achilles and the tortoise, and when I first heard that one I said that Achilles would eventually overtake the tortoise, and I still say it. In brief, can social errors be committed where there is no society? Does etiquette itself exist in such a situation? Indeed, hermits often get to wondering whether they themselves exist. They try to reassure themselves by repeating, "I think, therefore I am," and even then some still, small inward voice is only too likely to whisper, "But do you?"
Where life is lived amid such uncertainties and complications, you can see how etiquette is bound to suffer. Take the book-reviewing hermit who is trying to eat a plate of lettuce salad and read "The Mystery of the Haunted Tooth" at one and the same time without missing a thrill or a mouthful, and perhaps write it up to boot. Sooner or later that hermit is going to cast aside the centuries of etiquette, tell the ancient Copts to forget it and cut up his lettuce with a knife and fork. After all, he figures, the main idea is to convey the nourishment from the plate to the alimentary canal with a minimum of accidents, and a writer is never at his best with the salad trimmings cluttering up his stock in trade, with perhaps a sprig of catnip or smilax worrying one ear and maybe a stray fish thickening the plot of his review.
At first my whole soul revolted at the notion of cutting up my lettuce before dinner merely that I might read, write and eat in comparative peace and content, with a fair degree of synchronization; but I got to thinking. It would be so easy, and who would ever know? And then, one day, I did it! I was without the pale, but nothing happened. In fact, my fortunes took a temporary turn for the better, as I managed to produce from two to five more book reviews per meal, not to speak of the saving in flying parsley, lettuce and sardines. Naturally, I take a vicious delight now in attacking my salad with a butcher knife when I am in a jam with my articles. "Ha! Ha!" I laugh. "One simply doesn't do it, eh? Well, I do it!"
There is another, a darker side. Having once cut up his lettuce, and all for the sake of worldly success, one cannot escape the inevitable regrets. Blue devils assail one, hissing of what the future may bring forth. Shall I finally take to hacking my pancakes, my ham and eggs, my very clam fritters into small hunks—for a career? Shall I come to blowing in my soup, drinking out of my saucer, spilling crumbs on the floor and stacking my dishes? Shall I, in a word, become an out-and-out Goop?
I suppose the ever present realization of my own fault has made me something of a liberal in the matter of downing the trickier foods. Knowing but too well that I have failed in the ordeal by lettuce, my heart goes out to the millions of my fellow creatures who may be trying at this moment to consume asparagus, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon and squab in the manner prescribed by those tiresome Copts. Some of our best brains have literally worn themselves out inventing ways to eat green corn so that horrified observers will speak to them afterwards, and nothing much has come of it but blasted hopes and souls forsworn and ruined bridge-work. One keen thinker suggests having the others present blindfold themselves in the belief that it's all a game, and then fall to. My own system is to yell "Fire! Murder!" at the psychological moment and have a gorgeous time with the corn under cover of the excitement.
As for asparagus, the Copts themselves were rather vague, but it should be evident to all that there is small æsthetic value in the widespread sword swallowing or trained seal method. Any one who has seen Mr. Ringling's sea elephant having a snack will probably agree that everything humanly possible—particularly fish—should be treated as a fork food. Experience, however, has convinced me that to inhale a squab or other small bird in a way at once sufficient unto the censors and the basal metabolism is quite impossible. Wait until you're among friends. Many such tactical problems arise in the eternal battle between the instinct of self-preservation and the urge to beauty. And since we have been countless ages learning to eat a lamb chop without getting more than half of it into our system, it would be kind of a shame to lose the art, wouldn't it?
I fear that hermits, when out in company, are likely to eat too fast and too much, to grab the largest piece of chicken, spill the water right off the bat, play tunes on the glassware and dispose of grape-seeds in a manner of which the less said the better. But I think the Copts go too far in expecting the guest to take the piece of chicken nearest him when it is passed. Such a rule may impress the besotted, taboo-ridden social climber, but it will never frighten the able-bodied hermit who possesses any sense of fair play. Some hostesses are fully capable of fixing the platter so that they will get all the white meat. I think, therefore, that a little picking and choosing is allowable, and if anybody objects, tell him that you're looking for the smallest piece.
I have gradually cured Rattlesnake Ned, the hermit of Crow's Island, of all his worst gaucheries except using his pocket comb between courses, throwing butts into the finger bowl and leaving his spoon in his cup. When these things occur at luxurious functions a mere whisper, "Ship your oar, Ned!" or "Do you want to get us thrown out?" quickly mends matters for the time being. It is true that he recently assaulted and severely bit a wax pear that had been presented to our hostess's grandmother by one of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting, but I had to laugh at that myself. I prefer not to tell what Ned did the time he got the mouthful of hot escalloped corn—probably the hottest thing on earth excepting hot escalloped tomatoes. At least, they might have let me explain.
I should never have set up as an authority on etiquette but for the fact that I've read it and Ned hasn't; it's in the back of my cook book, complete from ordinary neighbors on through ministers plenipotentiary and papal nuncios up to kings, queens and magazine editors. If I sometimes err when it comes to a showdown, I really know better. I have the book. I find, however, that hasty perusal of the full directions just before going to a dinner party has a tendency to confuse the hermit so that he's certain to do something awful. My advice is to watch the hostess, but even then the hermit's furtive glancing about, shifting of food from the wrong to the right plate, juggling with forks and generally spasmodic behavior gets him practically nowhere. Finally, when the attention of the whole bejeweled throng has concentrated itself upon the poor goof and his strange antics, the only thing left to do is to cut his own throat. Personally, I try to hold fast to the thought that the fork is never used for the thinner soups and that the drinking glass should never be raised to the perpendicular and rested upon the nose in the effort to drain the last drop unless the host or hostess has specially asked you to do a trick.
Remember, fellow hermits, clam diggers and oyster tenders, that the way you eat shows how you were raised, and that is a thing to be avoided at any cost. The main idea is to give the impression that food means less than nothing to you, that you'd as soon go hungry as not, and at the same time keep rolling it in. While I by no means advocate anarchy at the table, I cannot agree with my cook book that daintiness is the sum and substance of refined eating. Dainty is as dainty does. But let's resolve, one and all, to become a little less uncouth during the coming year. I'm going to try, if I have to feed myself a bean at a time.
scene: Mrs. Paterson's salon in Hell's Kitchen, New York City.
Cuppy. Is it true, O thou wise Diotima, that you are very fond of spinach?
Paterson. Of that, Socrates, you may be assured. But who told you?
Cup. Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus.
Pat. I thought perhaps it was Metrodorus of Lampsacus, or Stesimbrotus of Thasos, or Burton Rascoe of Larchmont.
Cup. The fact is, I knew it all the time.
Pat. You ought to.
Cup. Then pleasure is not the same as good fortune, or pain the same as evil fortune, and therefore the good is not the same as the pleasant?
Pat. Have it your own way.
Cup. But is not the good also the beautiful?
Pat. Well, is it?
Cup. And is not the State greater than the individual?
Pat. Some States. But you told me you wished to use George Moore's "Conversations in Ebury Street" as a model for this interview.
Cup. So I did. Ah, here is Mabel with the tea.
Cup. Nowhere. But George Moore is always saying, "Ah, here is Mabel with the tea."
Pat. Who is this Mabel?
Cup. Now don't have one of your tantrums. I tell you there is no Mabel. Ah, here is Mabel with the tea.
Pat. Perhaps you had better just speak English. Anyway, George Moore does not discuss spinach.
Cup. He discusses George Eliot!
Pat. And, after all, you are not George Moore.
Cup. Don't be too sure of that.
Pat. Ho hum!
Cup. May I bore you with some figures for a moment?
Pat, For a moment, yes.
Cup. A learned mathematician has discovered that one-half cupful of cooked Spinacia oleracea—
Cup. You heard me, you ain't blind. One-half cupful of cooked Spinacia oleracea, belonging to the natural order Chenopodiaceæ—
Pat. Do you call that English?
Cup. —known to the Persians as aspanakh and to the aborigines of Jones's Island as hay, or timothy—well, one-half cupful, weighing four ounces, contains twenty-seven calories. The usual one-hundred calorie portion, therefore, would have to be two cupfuls, weighing one pound, and in order to obtain his daily two thousand calories an adult living entirely upon spinach, as you are said to do, would be forced to eat forty cupfuls, weighing twenty pounds, or the rough equivalent of a fleet of moving vans overloaded with the stuff.
Pat. Your facts, figures, premises and conclusions are open to argument, but it could be done. I knew a man once who did it. What a man!
Cup. You do take up with the darndest people.
Pat. You should be the last to remind me of that.
Cup. Where did my pencil go when I fell off the sofa just then?
Pat. Here it is.
Cup. Please don't do that again.
Pat. You were about to advance the quaint view that spinach is not nourishing. Nobody said it was.
Cup. What is it, then?
Pat. It is edifying.
Cup. Prove it!
Pat. It is a thing you cannot prove statistically. I merely ask you to consider this, whether or not spinach conduces to the higher life and the general happiness. Its entertainment value is very great. Spinach eaters are invariably people you would like to be seen walking down Park Avenue with.
Cup. But once you take up spinach, you have no time to walk down Park Avenue. You must stay home and wash it.
Pat. Yes, unless you make a life work of it, you don't get anywhere, but that is true of everything.
Cup. You said it. Would you mind telling me exactly how you cope with spinach? Have you a system?
Pat. Indeed I have. There is only one right way. On some subjects, such as Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, there may be legitimate divergence of opinion, but not with spinach. In the Ideal State, degenerate minds who do not follow my plan will be segregated or banished.
Cup. I recall no such stringent proposals in Plato's "Republic."
Pat. No, all those boys did was sit around and talk about the good life, instead of eating their spinach.
Cup. Nor in Sir Thomas Browne's "Utopia."
Pat. Doubtless you mean Sir Thomas More's "Utopia"?
Cup. I guess so—go ahead.
Pat. Well, then! On the principal spinach days you must get up at five in the morning, otherwise you'll get nothing else done. Proceed to the garden, if you have a spinach garden, as everybody ought to have, and cut spinach for about two hours—that is, for one person.
Cup. How about the family?
Pat. The rule is two hours for each. Of course, if you live in New York, drive to the market in your largest town car, fill it with spinach and bring it home.
Cup. Is that what you do?
Pat. Yes. And you must have a proper kitchen, with tubs.
Cup. Spinach tubs?
Pat. No, just tubs. Then take the spinach, a leaf at a time, and look at it. Yes, each leaf; only that way lies safety.
Cup. That way lies madness, I should say. Still, it does, anyway, so why worry?
Pat. Throw away all the bad leaves, the roots and so on—that will be about one-third discarded.
Cup. Do you cut off the stem?
Pat. About half of it.
Cup. They say there isn't so much iron in the stems, anyway.
Pat. Bother the iron. People who want iron in their diet should become sword swallowers and be done with it. Then throw the remaining leaves into a tub of water.
Cup. Great heavens, weren't they in water all this time?
Pat. No, it is more agreeable to pick them over dry first. Then lift them out of the tub into the sink, which has been scrubbed for the purpose, and run more water over them, stirring vigorously to get the sand out. Then put them back into the tub, put on more water—da capo.
Cup. How long does this go on, by and large?
Pat. At least eight times, without stopping for meals.
Cup. Is it clean now?
Pat. Comparatively. As you know, perfection is hardly to be hoped for.
Cup. I can see how life might be like that. The trouble is, I should think you could hardly see the trees for the spinach.
Pat. Are you trying to be funny?
Pat. Try harder.
Cup. It seems there were two Irishmen, Cup and Pat.
Pat. Then cram the spinach into your largest kettle, place on the fire and pour boiling water over it, with a spoonful of salt. I should have mentioned that any that falls on the floor must be bathed again, unless you have stepped on it.
Cup. Do you step on much?
Pat. Not so much now. Remember that if you put the spinach on in cold water it will heave up and all over the stove as it gets hotter, a fact which has discouraged a lot of beginners. Boil for twenty minutes, actual boiling time. Twenty-five minutes won't hurt, but more is too much.
Cup. Lucrezia Borgia was very fond of spinach.
Pat. Do you know that for a fact, or did you just hear it?
Cup. I know it for a fact.
Pat. Then lift it out of the pot with a fork—by lifting instead of pouring, a few grains of sand will remain behind—into a press colander, and press out all the water you possibly can. Sloppy spinach is dreadful, it's the chief reason why so many people hate spinach. It should not be minced or creamed or anything of the kind. Put it in a warm dish with a little fresh butter on top. Don't mix the butter in, and don't mess it up—also some freshly ground pepper. Then eat it.
Cup. At last!
Pat. The anti-spinach propaganda is promulgated and kept going simply by people who are too lazy to prepare it correctly. I lay the present outbreak of lawlessness to the fact that not nearly enough people follow the proper procedure. You can see for yourself that if they did, they'd have no time left for any criminal occupations.
Cup. Brillat-Savarin tells of a Canon Chevrier who would never have spinach served up on Friday that had not been cooked the Sunday before and put every day on the fire, with a new addition of butter.
Pat. I am not surprised at anything that Canon Chevrier might do.
Cup. Spinach can be made very attractive by molding it into the shape of birds and animals and trimming it with a border of candy-tuft and maidenhair fern. Would you object to that?
Pat. I consider it mere trifling, but I do not seriously object.
Cup. The advantage is that you can always eat the border.
Pat. Ha! Ha!
Cup. But surely you have other preferences in the way of food?
Pat. Certainly. The ideal menu for the spinach eater begins with a clam-juice cocktail, with the conventional olives and celery as hors-d'œuvres, followed by broiled brook trout and guinea hen stuffed with truffles—unless you object?
Cup. The sky's the limit.
Pat. Asparagus, green peas, potatoes souffléd. SPINACH. Watercress salad, strawberries and caramel ice cream.
Cup. Why not strawberry shortcake?
Pat. Of course, and coffee and apricot brandy. Champagne to be served throughout the dinner.
Cup. Just what is the subtle affinity I have noticed between spinach and champagne?
Pat. Both conduce to cheerfulness. The Burgundies and clarets, the great wines, are admirable, certainly, but they tend to solemnity. Specialists in them almost always become unduly serious. In moderation, yes; but taken to excess—
Cup. How about champagne to excess?
Pat. That is impossible. In the first place, you can't get it. Secondly, if you could, whatever you had would be just barely enough. Ah, here is Edith with the tea.
Cup. We cracked that joke before.
Pat. But you see her now, don't you? Edith, please bring some of the same. Two lumps?
Cup. Nothing in mine, thanks.
Pat. You don't care much for tea?
Cup. Not much, but this spinach is really delicious. Your own make?
Pat. Yes, do have some more. I believe in time you will become a true spinach eater.
Cup. After all, why not? We live but once, if that. May I have a third helping? Do you like being interviewed, Pat?
Pat. I love it, Jake.
Cup. What is your favorite flower?
Pat. Pansies, lilacs, roses, nasturtiums and mignonette.
Cup. What do you think of New York?
Pat. I don't know. I'm a stranger here myself.
Cup. May I tell my readers, then, that you attribute your success to spinach?
Pat. What success?
scene: A subway shuttle-train plying between Times Square and the Grand Central Station, New York City.
Paterson. But you've interviewed me about spinach once already, don't you remember?
Cuppy. Could I forget?
Pat. I wouldn't put it past you. But I've too much work on hand to-day. I have to write "Turns With a Bookworm" and two articles and a chapter of the novel and go to a party and deliver a lecture and—
Cup. Do you call that work?
Pat. Well, it cuts into the afternoon.
Cup. Then why go clear from Times Square to the Grand Central after more spinach, when you have enough for nine people right here in this enormous bag?
Pat. They're having a sale. Shall I carry it?
Cup. No, I can manage it nicely with your brief-case and books and umbrella and parcels, by hanging this little one on my ear.
Pat. Let me hang it on. There!
Cup. I heard many compliments on our first interview about the capture, initiation ceremonies, compulsive bathing and secret culinary rites pertaining to Spinacia oleracea, or spinach.
Pat. Yes, it was in your best classic manner.
Cup. Nonsense! I mean the funny things you said in it.
Pat. But you said all the funny things.
Cup. Oh, what a fib! I did not! I thought I gave you a break.
Pat. Did you?
Cup. This is gratitude, when I'm always telling you how brilliant you are.
Pat. Oh, but I'm not. I'm only a plain, simple little thing. You are the brilliant one. Why else do I have you around?
Cup. I had hoped—
Pat. I wish these people would quit stepping on me.
Cup. What do you think of tripe?
Pat. I don't think of it.
Cup. I feel that I should give you my tripe recipe in return for your spinach directions.
Pat. I'm in no state of mind just now to hear any tripe.
Cup. But it would go so well in the article.
Pat. As for articles, I always say keep your mind on the main subject and the tripe will take care of itself.
Cup. Take two heads of fresh, young tripe—
Pat. Two heads of tripe?
Cup. Two heads are better than one. Boil forty-eight hours, add chlorate of lime and—Oh, well!
Pat. I warned you.
Cup. Would you care to discuss the economic aspects of spinach?
Pat. With pleasure. Some of our great American fortunes are founded upon spinach.
Cup. Where can I get some?
Pat. That man stepped on me again.
Cup. You have been heard to express the opinion that spinach has its literary side.
Pat. It has hardly anything else. Great writers have always known that, instinctively. Spinach and literary genius go hand in hand, as it were.
Cup. Would you say that the spinach causes the genius, or that the genius causes the spinach?
Pat. Genius is born, but it requires spinach and other favorable conditions to bring it out. That is all one can say about genius.
Cup. Put case a young person who develops acute cacoëthes scribendi, or the uncontrollable itch to write things down on paper and try to get them printed. Should he be fed upon a diet of spinach? Would that make his productions less horrible?
Pat. If spinach won't help him, nothing can—it is the will of Allah. In the Ideal State a skilled physician will first determine whether the youth has true cacoëthes scribendi or merely scarlatina. If it is only scarlatina he will be cured by means of herbs and simples and turned into a useful member of society as a husbandman, weaver, smith, neatherd, goatherd, shepherd, bootlegger or judge.
Cup. But if it is really cacoëthes scribendi?
Pat. Spinach is indicated. One of the wisest of the elders will then be appointed to read the youth's works and decide whether to administer more spinach or some form of euthanasia, or painless annihilation.
Cup. I suppose I ought to eat more spinach. If I did, do you think I would be a better reviewer of detective stories?
Pat. Your problem would then work itself out in another way.
Cup. You mean that I wouldn't review them at all?
Pat. Did I say so?
Cup. Detective stories serve a worthy purpose. They rest the mind.
Pat. Sure they do, if you have that sort of mind.
Cup. You think detective authors should eat more spinach?
Pat. No, more strychnine.
Cup. Who are some of these great writers who eat spinach, anyway?
Pat. Well, you seem to eat quite a bit of it, man and boy.
Cup. Oh, I'm not bragging.
Pat. Robert Browning was a natural born spinach eater. He got plenty. That accounts for his cheery, warbling note, his feeling that God's in his heaven, all's right with the world, the snail's on the thorn and all that.
Cup. Who's this—Eddie Guest?
Pat. No—Robert Browning.
Cup. For me, Browning represents the triumph of mind over spinach, or vice versa. I also detect a trace of deadly nightshade in his work.
Pat. Dante, on the other hand, never got enough, with resultant depression and gloom. He really belongs, of course, but circumstances were against him. The "Inferno" clearly shows the lack of Vitamins A and B.
Cup. Vitamin A is also found in alfalfa and clover.
Pat. Young clover is delicious.
Cup. Dr. Johnson——
Pat. Distinctly non-spinach.
Cup. Yet Boswell says that Dr.Johnson ate spinach once.
Pat. Dr. Johnson was exactly the kind of man who would eat spinach once.
Cup. He had soup, a boiled leg of lamb and spinach on April 11, 1773.
Pat. Mutton, probably. Carlyle, though, was the real ringleader of the opposition, the head and front of the anti-spinach party. This stubborn obsession of his made him utterly impossible to live with and caused him to write in such a style that nobody to this day has been able to read him and find out what it was all about. He absolutely never ate spinach, and it would have done him no good if he had.
Cup. You seem a little shy of positive examples of spinach addiction in history.
Pat. History, is it? The whole cause of the sudden marvelous efflorescence of genius that took place in the great Tudor days was simply that Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, who, being Spanish, introduced salad and spinach into England. She had always been used to green vegetables at home and insisted upon having them at the English court, so they became fashionable. But she could never get Henry to eat any spinach, and that's the reason he turned out the way he did. Ultimately, of course, it broke up the marriage.
Cup. That's just another negative example. Bring on your spinacharians.
Pat. You can read in any authority that Queen Elizabeth ate practically nothing else.
Cup. She was a distant relative of Henry's, wasn't she?
Pat. Only his daughter. That succory pottage that the historians mention was spinach. They speak of her making a whole meal of a manchet of bread and some succory pottage, that is to say, spinach.
Cup. What are your grounds for thinking that succory pottage is spinach?
Pat. Why—everybody knows that!
Cup. You wouldn't mislead me about it, would you, Pat?
Pat. Gosh, no, Jake, you know I wouldn't. So it wasn't long until the spinach habit had spread throughout the land, and you got Shakespeare, Jonson, Marlowe and all the magnificent company of Elizabethan dramatists, singers and what not.
Citp. And the explorers?
Pat. I haven't completed my investigations yet, so I can't say whether they left home in search of newer varieties of spinach and better places to grow it, or in order to get away from it.
Cup. I'm surprised you'd admit that possibility.
Pat. Unfortunately, there is such a thing as unregenerate human nature, and you have to reckon with it. I have told my secretaries to go ahead with the research as soon as I can get an appropriation passed to pay their salaries, and if the argument goes against me, well and good—but it won't.
Cup. I suppose that's why Henry VIII beheaded his eight wives?
Pat. Only two, I believe.
Cup. Is that all?
Pat. You feel that beheading only two out of six is rather a low average?
Cup. Well, yes, for a king, who could do as he pleased. I had always regarded him as a sort of champion in that way.
Pat. You admire him, then?
Cup. Only as a thinker. He was the first to advance the theory that woman's place is on the chopping block. Queen Elizabeth was pretty mean about her sister, Mary Queen of Scots, wasn't she?
Pat. You mean her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots?
Cup. Just how far do you think Queen Elizabeth went with all those men?
Pat. I think her diet sufficiently refutes those ancient slanders.
Cup. Do you care to enlarge upon Shakespeare's love of spinach, with perhaps something in the way of evidence and a few well-chosen quotations?
Pat. That is a subject upon which one has no need to enlarge. There are the plays! They speak for themselves.
Cup. Well, that brings the history of spinach up to 1515, the date of Shakespeare's death.
Pat. It is not the generally received opinion that Shakespeare died in 1515.
Cup. You mean he didn't?
Pat. He didn't.
Cup. I may be dumb, but really, I do know that much. I once put in three hard, grinding years of graduate study on the Elizabethan period, the whole thing leading up to the one central, outstanding fact that Shakespeare died in 1515. If I learned anything whatever at college, it was that. Are you trying to insult my intelligence?
Pat. Your what?
Cup. You can always remember dates if you associate them with little jingles, such as
In fourteen hundred and ninety-three
Columbus sailed the deep blue sea.
Pat. Shakespeare was born in 1564. He bought New Place at Stratford in 1597 for sixty pounds. The Globe Theater was finished in 1599, Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and the First Folio appeared in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death.
Cup. Well, that proves that Shakespeare died in 1616, just as I've been trying to tell you.
Pat. Life is very hard at times. Will you please quit stepping on me, Mister?
Cup. That's not the same man. That's a couple of other fellows.
Pat. Oh, I apologize! Go right ahead, boys.
Cup. Speaking of "Hamlet," how did you happen to take up spinach, anyway?
Pat. It was when I was having difficulties with my first novel.
Cup. And since then everything has been jake?
Cup. Am I right in feeling that there is veiled spinach propaganda in your Elizabethan novel, "The Fourth Queen"?
Pat. Yes, of course. It's in the form of a cryptogram. I'm leaving it for posterity to decipher.
Cup. Hell, I wish I was rich.
Pat. Why didn't you get a job?
Cup. Vissi d'arte, vissi d'amore.
Pat. That does complicate matters.
Cup. There's evolution to consider, too.
Pat. What are you leading up to?
Cup. Eohippus, the Dawn Horse. It seems likely that spinach prevented stringhalt in Eohippus, Orohippus and Epihippus in the Eocene, Mesohippus and Miohippus in the Oligocene, Parahippus, Protohippus and Hypohippus in the Miocene, Pliohippus in the—
Pat. It is also good for morbid conditions of the cerebral cortex in certain Primates, such as the Simiidæ, or man-like apes.
Cup. You win. It seems terrible, though, that Eohippus, the Dawn Horse, is extinct. The poor little thing was only about the size of a cat. Its fore limbs had four functional digits, the second to fifth, while the first was completely lost. The hind legs were three-toed, the first and fifth being merely vestigial remains—cute, eh? Do you think we came from monkeys?
Pat. What do you mean, came?
Cup. I hold that if birds came from reptiles, anything might happen. Have you anything to say about the Mendelian bean?
Pat. Not for publication.
Cup. We haven't mentioned Neanderthal Man.
Pat. I know him personally.
Cup. Do you believe in epigenesis in ontogeny?
Pat. I suppose it's all right if one has nothing better to do.
Cup. That just about covers the subject of evolution. What do you think of trilobites?
Pat. There seem to be millions of them in this shuttle-train. What do they mean rushing about and fighting each other this way? Ouch!
Cup. This is the rush hour. Maybe we'd better get off this trip.
Pat. Do you mean to say you've let me sit here and ride back and forth all afternoon in this subway?
Cup. I couldn't bear to interrupt you.
Pat. Come on, now! Step lively.
Cup. My God, I've been robbed!
Cup. Your brief-case! Your books! The parcel on my ear! All gone!
Pat. The bag of spinach?
Cup. Here it is, still clutched firmly in my arms, if we ever get out of here alive.
Pat. My hero! You have saved my spinach! Please don't worry for a single moment about that silly brief-case and the other things—it was only some unfinished manuscripts and my bank book and some stocks and bonds and my passport and my watch and a few old family necklaces. I was tired of them, anyway.
Cup. I'll get you some more necklaces.
Par. You'll do no such thing.
Cup. Angel! Watch your step!
Pat. Whew! Where are we now?
Cup. Times Square.
It is a commonplace among thinking economists that a dollar bill will go just so far and no farther at a given time and place, the same law of Nature holding true for bills of other denominations, such as $2 bills, $5 bills, and so on, and even truer for the more familiar nickel, dime and quarter. This doubtless accounts, or let us so assume, for the widespread use of budgets, which have been defined as financial estimates, filled with characteristic dotted lines, embodying plans for the ensuing year. Budgets were well known to the ancients, and frequently have been found alongside the mummies in Egyptian tombs.
Anyway, it may not come amiss—and this is what I'm driving at—to relate my own budget experiences for those in the same fix. Though based roughly upon such scientific factors as supply and demand, entrepreneurs and unearned increment, my observations are not put forth as strictly professional. There is nothing hidebound or academic about them. All I intend is to offer a few hints to hermits, hack writers and other morbid bachelors on how to sustain life or its equivalent upon a very moderate income, if that—in a word, how to become efficient without a chance in the world.
I made my first budget a year ago, without appreciable results. Having read in a book that a budget is a machine guaranteed to convert the raw material, or income, into whatever one desires to get out of life, I constructed such a machine designed to get perhaps more than can be got all of a sudden. I based my calculations too trustfully upon the way things would be if they were the way they ought to be. I included practically everything there is in life, quite overlooking the catch in the whole business, to wit: the income. The budget was a good one, as budgets go, but this one weakness seriously undermined its practical value. Still, there was a wild, untrammeled charm to that budget that I just loved.
Without unduly catering to a cowardly and pessimistic prudence, and with the tacit understanding between it and me that something may turn up this year, my new budget takes more account of actual conditions in the here and now. It remains fluid or elastic, existing, as it were, in a state of flux, subject to unexpected jumps in income, invitations out, birthday presents, discovery of a gold mine and possible adoption by a wealthy couple in search of a steady, reliable, deserving and middle-aged hermit who will take care of his own room and not expect much pin money. Let us now examine it briefly.
Taking up the various budget divisions in the regular order of food, shelter, clothing, operating costs and advancement, we are faced at the outset with the old bogey of starvation, which it is always to a book reviewer's advantage to hold off as long as possible while hoping against hope that some one may discover potential genius in his paragraph on the back pages of literary journals and do something. Although a certain amount of suffering is said to be just fine for the spiritual development of writers, the harried book reviewer is inclined to draw the line at hunger pains. He feels that in justice to his editor he must eat. But how?
Well, supposing that the hypothetical hermit has saved up $10 for the purchase of food, he will find the daily budget an excellent contrivance for helping him spend it. The following memorandum is recommended for marketing of this nature: One ham (the same ham that he has wanted for years), probably about $5; fresh green vegetables for vitamins, about $1; whole wheat flour for mineral salts, somewhere around $0.25; package pancake flour, maybe $0.50; coffee for inspiration, $0.50; carton Luckies for ditto, $1.35 or some such price; twelve chocolate almond bars, large size, $1.20; two cans honey, about $1 or less; miscellaneous, $1. Tucking this list inside his seven sweaters, he sets out blithely for shore in the teeth of a threatening snowstorm.
It may be noted that this budget foots up to $12.95, instead of $10. It turns out not to matter, since one finds that one owes the grocer $8.15, anyway, leaving a total of $1.85 for current supplies. There goes the ham again. Hurriedly tearing up the budget, the hermit's next move is to return to Jones's Island in a raging blizzard with a soaking wet bundle containing one pack smokes, $0.15; one tube tooth paste, $0.45; stamps, $0.50; one almond bar, $0.10, and potatoes (very filling), $0.55. This leaves a surplus of $0.10 and incipient pneumonia.
I have outlined an extreme case, which need discourage no determined hermit. The fact is, if he can find some way to get ashore and back, and if he possesses sufficient powers of persuasion, he can always charge his groceries, a nice basket of which can be obtained in this way for from $5 to $10, depending upon the size of the basket and the price of the foods. So why worry about this phase of the problem? The grocery lady will soon be back at Jones's Island and the summer colonists will be along eventually and Rattlesnake Ned has a good idea about making vitamins out of eel grass and seaweed. And for that matter, the Coast Guards would never see me starve.
I find that it does not pay to burden my mind with the actual cost of the various items of diet—surely life has enough interests without that. But it is probable that the typical hermit's meal would go something like this: Clams, $0.00; corn muffins, $0.02; butter, $0.01; coffee, $0.01; water, $0.00; laundry, $0.00; breakage, $0.00; one can corn, presented by E. R. Tappen, $0.00; one can sardines kindly sent by Franklyn Fisher, $0.00; overhead, $0.00; one onion, forget it. Total, $0.04. I think I shall be able to cut my food expenses still lower if I can learn to live on soy beans. Of course, when I entertain I am as likely as not to break out a jar of figs in syrup or a can of shrimp, but as a rule I try to keep my Blue Plate dinners within reason, say about $0.09. Only last week, however, I gave a party that ran well into two figures.
Shelter and operating costs for the family of one may be grouped together. As I own my own country estate, I suppose I get shelter free—at least, that is my understanding of the arrangement. Upkeep on my house and outbuilding has probably amounted to $3.30, but that isn't much for seven or eight years. Under operation this year I lay out to get two ten-gallon cans of kerosene for illumination, a ton of coal for next winter, a new mosquito-netting canopy for my bed, a large bottle of citronella for the guest chamber and a set of washers for the pump. I must also see if Mrs. Prodgers can spare another lamp, as mine smokes, leaks and has dizzy spells. All in all, exclusive of the coal, which will doubtless disappear from the budget when the time comes, operating costs should come to about $4.35. As for coal, there is much to be said for the popular feeling that hermits were intended to burn driftwood. The circumstance that, by some hideous freak of fate, there isn't any on Jones's Island in the winter explains why one hermit talks to himself.
Clothes, of course, one can't get away from. The weather being what it is, and it is certainly all of that, we of Great South Bay require a lot of good durable clothes; though, truth to tell, the changing fashions do not disturb us at all. Why should we be slaves to some dim arbiter in Paris, who couldn't tell a stiff gale from a cyclone? What do they know in Paris of the needs of High Hill Beach, Goose Crick and Crow Island? The hermit will do well to leave to the very last his pink pajamas, silk socks and suchlike, including first in his budget the best obtainable grade of hip boots, oilskins, flannel shirts and woolen breeches—that's where the money goes. And if the Rue de la Paix objects, he can tell the rue to lump it.
During the long winter evenings at Jones's the Coast Guards and I are wont to admire, without precisely aspiring to the elegant costumes in the ads. Soup and fish, patent leathers—they are hardly for us, but there's no harm in looking. We mostly have enough clothes already, what with the large and varied assortment on the station hooks, for these are a common possession to be used by the first comer, like the station harmonium. We really solve this problem at a minimum expense by wearing each other's clothes. It's a wise beachite who knows his own pants.
Occasionally I add to the general wardrobe some items of apparel which I keep in mothproof bags in my spare room on the theory that if things get much worse I may be glad to wear them out in company. As the rest do the same, we are always becomingly, if not gaudily, arrayed. This year I do plan to have a new bathing suit, but you never can tell. A bathing suit will always last one season more, if you bathe away up the beach where chance spectators are likely to be in the same predicament. In this way the hermit not infrequently gets the full effect of the ultra-violet rays where they will do the most good. A couple of dollars, then, for beach clothes, and a plentiful supply of socks will come to about a dollar more.
But what of the hermit who goes occasionally to New York, where men are fashion plates? What about Sunday clothes? How is he to compete with the Coast Guards, beside whom, when they go ashore, the lilies of the field may be said to be practically nowhere? As Bill Williams may need his overcoat ere I return and Slim may miss his shoes, it comes down to maintaining a more or less stylish outfit of my own. My budget policy, here as elsewhere, is to let it ride—in short, wait and see what may happen.
My next town suit, for instance, depends upon what Chase Horton, the celebrated bon vivant of Greenwich Village, is going to do about the brown tweed which he refused to sell me last year. Discovering that I wanted the suit, he took a sudden liking to it, and as he has worn it almost continuously since then—though he has eleven other suits—it is hardly likely that he would have the nerve to charge much for it at this late day. And right here arises the possibility that in some future, fairer age persons of quality and the well-to-do classes in general will give literary hermits a thought before they go tossing suit after suit out the window just because they (the suits) are a little bit thin in the seat. I must say for Chase that he has always been most reasonable about that sort of thing.
Next comes the important matter of advancement; under this heading may be grouped, in various pleasing arrangements, such items as vacation, travel at home and abroad, amusements, college for the kiddies, gifts to church and charities, insurance, savings, investments and yachts. Here also belong books, magazines, lectures, cut flowers, illness, postage stamps, napery and Chautauqua courses. It is from no wish to remain coarse and brutal that I manage to save quite a tidy sum on these folderols. The forward-looking budgeteer can always cut out the advancement. Nobody can force you to be refined if you can't afford it.
Now in re doctors. Since this is neither the time nor the place to dwell upon my bodily ailments, suffice it that I am at some pains to preserve such limbs and faculties as have been spared to me and that this must be a considerable strain upon somebody. By a happy coincidence my physician in chief, who has given lavishly of his time, luncheons, spare rooms and dinners to assure me that my diseases are all in my head, seems to be far above all sordid, mercenary motives. Little does Dr. Raggi suspect that I intend to discharge my heavy obligation by mentioning him prominently in my will.
Dentists come a little higher. Mine has already done for me about all that his branch of learning has thought up since the invention of the original hydraulic gimlet, and $30 will nicely cover all that I owe him at the moment. Dr. Steeves has opened vistas I hardly dreamed of and has given me plain and fancy feelings compared to which being in love is a positive pleasure. All this costs money, at least on paper, and it would be well for the hermit to add the round sum of $30 to his list as a permanent fixture. And about $5 for running amuck in drug stores. It is fortunate that persons obsessed with an ungovernable passion for practically everything they see in drug stores—and most hermits must confess to this peculiarity—are automatically protected from total ruin by the fact that drug stores demand spot cash.
We live in an age of travel, so one must spare something for this broadening influence. It costs me anywhere from $0.99 to $1.14 every time my soul succumbs to wanderlust and nostalgia for the far places, this being the fare to the Penn Station from my various points of embarkation, once I get ashore. Then there are the nickels for the subway. Hermits loose in Manhattan use more of these than the natives, since they are likely to drop another one in the dujingus when they exit, from sheer inability in the excitement to know whether they are going or coming. Speaking of uplift, I shouldn't mind owning a second-hand copy of the encyclopædia, either. It's an awful strain having to make up my own learned references about all kinds of science as I go along, and sooner or later it's going to get me fired from something. I should also like the moon.
I thought of starting a bank account, but I am informed by the hermit of Crow's Island that this is easier said than done. He says that once you do get $17 over and above urgent current expenses, and take it to a bank, they mumble something about a deposit of $200 and wink at each other right before your eyes. Ned may have confused the checking and savings departments in some way, but there's a good deal of fundamental truth in his argument. As a principle, the family of one should probably concentrate on the institution of borrowing, which offers a shorter cut to advancement than savings do. Moreover, the saving type is not in the best odor out here. The fellow who doesn't spend his check before he gets it is bad pay, and that does no one's reputation any good. We prefer to treat our money as though we really owned it. If we want to shoot a dime for a chocolate almond bar, we shoot it and reck not of the future. If we couldn't do that, we'd as soon be in jail.
I wish I could do more for charities. I should like to give liberally to Chinese missions, the Anti-Noise movement, the Society for Being Kind to Hermits and many other worthy causes, and make some very good looking people independent for life. For the present I have to curb this side of my nature at every turn. Yet I do what I can. I have for some years made it a practice, whenever occasion offers, to smile at old crossing sweepers, assist crippled beggars through the traffic, force my attentions upon apple and gum sellers and be as nice as pie to shabby and forbidding ancients who look as though they might own apartment buildings and be searching for a beneficiary of their vast wealth. If that is not striving for advancement, what is it?
In closing, let me advise the family of one not to take its expense account too seriously. When you are making out a budget, don't include everything you absolutely need, but on the other hand, don't skimp yourself too much. Do the thing right. I find it an excellent plan to do one's budgeting weekly instead of yearly, and as I am just starting ashore for a while, I append a sample budget hastily contrived to cover the next seven days:
|One felt hat for street wear ........||$ 10.00|
|One extra large ham .............||9.00|
|One new typewriter ............||112.00|
|Pay S. K. F. Chicago ............||45.00|
|Beach expenses, general, from last
|One dictionary, simply must ........||3.00|
|One dozen chocolate almond bars ..||1.20|
|Christmas cards, don't forget this
|Second-hand encyclopædia ....||50.00|
It will be observed that the element of chance must be allowed for in the above estimate. Indeed, nothing short of some gigantic upheaval of nature or a total change in the financial system, or both, can help me come out even this week. And what of that, when you come right down to it? I sometimes think that wishing is an end in itself. As for cold, hard facts, it may be that whatever you want in this world, ten to one you won't get it; but, Lord love you, that needn't stop a body from making a budget.
Perhaps no single component of our modern, highly advanced civilization [laughter] is so little understood by the layman and laywoman as the common, or soft clam (Mya arenaria), unless it's the hard clam, or Freud. Some authorities attribute this to the gradual movement of all intelligent persons towards New York City after the Repeal of the Corn Laws; others blame the widespread loss of respect for custom and tradition following the introduction of gin. Both sides would benefit a lot by taking a teaspoonful of thyroid three times a day—there's nothing like it for that touch of cretinism.
I lay the whole thing to a conspiracy of silence, a policy of suppression which has kept the boys and girls of to-day in almost complete ignorance of the facts, and scared Nature authors into writing about the birds, the flowers and how pretty the sunset is, whether it is or not. Essayists who wish to reveal the true state of affairs find themselves balked at the start, for Roget's Thesaurus is pathetically vague on the subject; and as for "How to Sell Manuscripts"! The real lowdown on clams is jealously guarded by the Encyclopædia Britannica, which is owned by people who do not have to write about clams. At their death the complete set and the case it came in passes by due process of law to still other persons who don't know what it is to miss a meal. Gawd, it's tough!
Indeed, what have we about clams in all literature—what have we that will live, I mean—excepting several sporadic studies of the love life of this species by writers with few if any scruples, who have stressed the erotic at the expense of the more serious aspects, if there are any? Many of my readers will immediately think of Fr-nk S-ll-v-n and R-b-rt B-nchl-y—and I may state that neither of these gentlemen invented the clam. And what have they discovered, beyond the elementary fact that clams have a fully developed philoprogenitive tendency, to put it that way, or, to come right out with it, a grasp of fundamentals surpassed only by some of the mammalian bipeds, such as business men, politicians and any one else with the time and money? I wish, however, to express my indebtedness to Mr. S-ll-v-n's valuable monograph on a Long Beach clam named Elsie; without it I should never have met Elsie's sister Agnes, now my next-door neighbor at Jones's Island.
He jests at clams who never—who never— At any rate, it is well to remember, before sneering at any of the Mollusca, that they are older citizens of our planet than some of the land animals that pretend to be so much. Scholars tell us that they had a complete culture and a really wonderful civilization of their own millions of years (262 millions, to be exact) before you and I were ever heard of, or maybe I am thinking of the Chinese. In the hunting field, where success so often depends upon a superior quality of cerebral neurons, a fairly clever soft clam is often more than a match for an athletic hermit. The pity of it is that he has a one-track mind and knows but a single direction—straight down—a peculiarity which has led certain of our biologists to advocate crossing him with the rabbit. If this can be done, I believe that a new day will dawn for the clams. We'll have them chasing the hermits instead of the other way round. And that will be news.
I saw in the paper that the young, or larval, clams rotate spirally as they move through the water, reminding one of a flock of young lambs frisking merrily about the dam. That is to say they do not actually remind one of young lambs, since lambs do not really rotate spirally, but lambs might easily give that impression, especially if one were rotating spirally oneself at the time; the point is hardly worth fighting about, as you can't see the larval clams, anyway—they are only one four-hundredth of an inch long. I simply mean to indicate that there is something essentially playful and appealing in a larval clam for which it seldom gets credit.
Note what life does to these happy, carefree creatures. After rotating for a few brief days, with no very tangible results, they sink to the bottom and glue themselves to old shells or what not, seldom moving from their chosen anchorage; when they attain the length of one-half inch they dig farther down into the mud and never rise to the surface again! They're through. I wonder whether this is the clam's natural and inescapable destiny, or whether it is the result of false conventions, of dogmas enforced upon the young of the species by venal leaders for their own sufficient reasons. Whichever it is, it shows an unfortunate hypertrophy of the herd instinct—the sheep motif again. It seems not improbable that sheep, as we know them to-day, are direct descendants of the clam. The bivalves also display a curious likeness to the ostrich, which similarly buries its head in the sand (ostriches do not do this, but so many people think so that it seems a shame to deny it—besides, I shouldn't be surprised if they really do, there's so much talk). On the other hand, fossil clams have been found many miles from the nearest fossil water, so they probably get around more than we imagine.
The psychology of the clam is still in its infancy. Hard clam fans find a decided kick in the somewhat aggressive, masterful nature of the quahog, as opposed to the gentler, rather whimsical personality of the humble softie. I have never known either kind to attack a human without due provocation, and even then fear, rather than pure meanness or the desire to make an extra nickel, was the ruling factor. The incurably vicious clam is in the vast minority. As for further research into the soul secrets of this interesting animal, I favor applying the behavioristic system of Dr. John B. Watson, in the firm belief that some sense might come of it.
People often ask me if I keep any clams as pets. No, I do not. I have never kept even a fish. Having been born and brought up inland, I seem not to have acquired the usual infantile fixations upon fish. They seldom stir me. As companions fish can be awfully tiresome after the first few sessions, and they have never struck me as nearly so lovable as some of the other vertebrates. Their complete lack of response finally wounds one's vanity past bearing, and all bets are off, if you want to save the last remnants of your self-respect. Clams are even worse. Platonic is no name for their utterly blah indifference, their self-sufficiency and conceit. Who do they think they are?
Besides, the clam's span of life is so short that if you did become deeply attached to one you'd suffer something fierce. Your existence would be just one clam after another, which, for some people, might be pretty thrilling—but you have to be the type. Such affairs seldom come to light, as the appearance of the clam is all against it for anything approaching intimate relations. For what becomes of high romance when you can't tell whether the small exposed portion of the other party is its foot or its face? I pause for a reply.
It is really surprising what may be done in the home with a small can of paint, if you aren't careful. A little paint is all that is needed when the average hermit gets to feeling that he can no longer cope with the mosquitoes and the rejection slips and stark realism in general. At least so the experts say, and you know what elegant results have been obtained by color lately in the treatment of the more complicated neuroses and psychoses, such as most of us probably have. I heard of a case where a single quart of common barn paint cured a Middle Western hermit-author of delusions of dialect, toothache and bad grammar in one application. After the second coat he quit mumbling to himself, turned cheerful as anything and stopped trying to think up homely and horrible people to write about.
In other words, I'm going to paint my bedroom. The recent official investigation of conditions in my shack by myself and the Zachs Inlet crew convinced us, as it would doubtless convince any fair-minded jury, that the main trouble lay in the color scheme. This bit of reform should come as good news to the summer resorters of High Hill Beach, who sometimes pass my bedroom windows on their way to gather mythical cranberries in the uncharted marshes back of my bungalow. I caught a bevy of these ladies peering into my sleeping quarters one morning, as I played dead under the blanket, and heard one of them say that the place ought to be advertised as one of the plague spots of Long Island.
I wish I'd been up to answer that woman, but I'm always just getting to sleep when the slummers see fit to visit my part of the island, or, for that matter, when anything else of interest or importance happens. Since my bedroom is an open book, having two windows abutting on what might be called the main thoroughfare to the swamp, it offers a tempting mark to the general public during July and August. As a summer menagerie I may consider myself a great success, and I suppose I am lucky that nobody has yet chopped off an ear or a toe as a souvenir. I have nothing much to conceal, but if this goes on much longer I swear I'll get window shades for my bedroom.
I must admit that the view of the interior from the windows is slightly distressing. The foreground appears a trifle huddled, but that will be all right as soon as I can do something about the dismantled spare bed, the parts of a porch swing, the steamer chair, that old trunk and the canned goods that I have to keep in this room in addition to my own bed, bureau, table and clothing. Besides, it will look entirely different when I get the rug. In time I hope to have a chastely Hepplewhite bedroom, but just now, as that lady rather cruelly went on to giggle, it shows the marked influence of Attila, the Scourge of God. She must be right. Even Rattlesnake Ned says that my boudoir reminds him irresistibly of the Death House at Sing Sing. You may well wonder how, in the midst of such a shambles, with its clutter of unfortunate furniture and its air of chaos come again, I have managed to insinuate a modicum of that modest and unpretentious charm which is always to be met with in the bedroom of the man who knows. Well, maybe I haven't.
The trouble is that the color of the walls and ceiling—identified by an artistic visitor as one of the more trying shades of dying prune—invariably induces in all but the most callous constitutions acute symptoms of eighteenth century spleen, contemporary vapors and sometimes the Jones's Island horrors, or slight manic-depressive seizures attended by vertigo. In the one spot where I should be able to relax, forget the facts and sink into restful, dreamless slumber, all I can do is lie awake, staring bitterly into the blackness of an all too certain future, shuddering with thoughts of the inevitable Judgment Day and wondering what evil genius with a kink in his brain produced that particularly hideous hue, that dire insult to the ruddier side of the spectrum which it is my ambition to eradicate from off the face of the earth or perish in the attempt. It came with the house.
The color is one of those rare accomplishments in art which produce their own proof of malicious intent. Yet it seems impossible that one lone criminal, guided by a libido however sadistic, could have turned the trick without calling in outside help; so maybe it was a gang. Still, Jones's being Jones's, I should not be surprised if the whole thing was simply the result of a former owner's mixing a gallon of pigmentary odds and ends found in the tool chest with another gallon of something else discovered under the porch. If so, my bedroom is a brilliant example of the Early—and Late—Zachs Inlet school of thought, the object of which is not so much to chase the nuance as to get it over with as soon as you can and start smearing up something else so that it's own mother wouldn't know it.
I am none too familiar with any of the colors, excepting red, blue and green, and this one has me licked. I spoke of dying prune, but that's too good for it. Decayed raspberry is also fulsome flattery. Is it a particularly vicious petunia? A disillusioned magenta? Perhaps it would be more charitable to name it a baffled mulberry, or to think of it as a not quite bright verbena. All of these together may serve to impress upon a few attuned and sympathetic intelligences some vague notion of what I have suffered. I try to be fair, but I have reached the conclusion, after mature deliberation, long continued self-communion in the watches of the night and several cat-fits in the morning, that this color is what caused the Fall of Rome. In that bedroom Pollyanna herself would begin crossing bridges.
I haven't picked the new color yet. Some pretty deep research in the literature of the subject has left me just that much older. One book strongly advises a combination of ivory, yellow, green and violet; another holds out for gray and periwinkle blue; a third for lavender, robin's egg and peach. None of these seems exactly right. Orchid is out on the principle—well, on any principle. The same is true of shrimp. There is a place for shrimp, and it is not in the bedroom. Nor should I care to hold myself accountable in a mauve bedroom stippled with turquoise on a ground of salmon. I knew a hermit once who used that color scheme, and only the other day I heard they had put him away.
A man's bedroom should be masterful without looking aggressive—bold, if you will, and full of personality, but not noticeably fresh. The ideal paint should appear to compromise with life's little ironies, yet possess a mind of its own—something suggesting dolce far niente, with nevertheless a sort of seeming accidental note of Carpe diem. So why not red—a good, honest red? I love red, and I understand that a timid, supersensitive nature can often develop courage, poise and worldly success by wallowing in it. Still, my favorite color is blue, and that would be nice, too. Even so, it's got to be red, for I see that red is a warm, advancing color, while blue is cold and retreating. I'd rather have blue, but I'll not have it said, hermit or no hermit, that my bedroom is cold and retreating. I'll paint some other room blue.
All the rest of the room needs is an overhauling and a few operations. Take my bed. When I rescued it from a pile of abandoned household effects in the hills, it wasn't much to look at. Rusty, rheumatic, totally unattractive as it was, I recognized some bond between us and took it home. Painted a tasteful pink, it is now the envy of all visitors who have to sleep on the floor and the despair of every decorator who has seen it. Once junk, it may now be said to have succeeded in life. You would think twice before you threw it out or gave it to your sister-in-law.
Having always regarded the French Empire style as suitable for bachelors, it was my intention to build around this bed something swell in that line. Obviously of the Coolidge period, however, it stubbornly resisted my every effort to make it or anything else in the same room look Napoleonic. You can't carve pineapples, cornucopias and bees on a castiron bedstead, so I had to be satisfied with draping my mosquito netting over it in rather an Empress Josephine manner. If I can ever get any one to embroider the imperial "C" all over the netting, I shall have something not unimpressive in the way of a bunk.
So pretentious a bed is at its best on a dais, but I don't know. There is something about a dais that just naturally puts the beholder in his place, but out here at Jones's it might be thought a trifle affected. For the present the bed must stand on its own three legs and the bricks, and I'd rather have a new mattress, anyway. "But why do you put sawdust on the floor?" people often ask me. I don't; it's the mattress. That's also the answer to the question, "Why do I get up with lumbago, double neuritis and internal injuries?" Really, my mattress is only fit for a guest room. Or maybe it's the springs. They looked fine when I found them under a summer bungalow. They proved to be the kind you have to live with before you discover their real nature. I often become discouraged when I think of the postures into which I am gouged by these springs in my efforts to snatch some sleep. In order to go on I concentrate on the tricks done by Hindu fakirs, such as standing on one leg for ninety years. If they can do it, I say to myself, so can I. Let us all, fellow hermits, try to look at life in this manner. On the other hand, let's make heroic efforts to get some new springs and mattresses.
To end on a cheerful note, it will soon be time to get out the old feather bed. That will help a lot. I know that some authorities call feather beds unhygienic. Well, they keep you from getting struck by lightning! Is that hygienic, or isn't it?
First catch your lettuce (from the Greek Lettuce, meaning lettuce). There, in simple, untechnical language, is the garnered wisdom of the ages about salad—and for once I agree with it. To manufacture salad that is really salad with a mission and not just something pour passer le temps, first catch your lettuce. I suppose every one will admit that.
As a matter of fact I suppose no such thing. I know only too well that there exists to-day a growing and influential body of public opinion upholding the notion that a ring of canned pineapple with a ball of Grade A putty in the hole and a small American flag stuck in the putty is an honest to God salad. Patriot as I am, whenever I meet this particular tidbit out in company I feel impelled to ask: Whither are we drifting? Have we lost all sense of moral obligation and responsibility, all trace of Old World courtesy, all connection with Early Victorian values in our mad scramble after the almighty dollar? Are we, in short, reverting to a state of primitive savagery, in which the passions are finally to overpower what little intelligence we have left? I could ask a lot more of these, but what's the use?
What I say is, even if the pineapple and putty item were trimmed with George Washington in fireworks, it would still not be salad. It might be wonderful in its way, but not salad. Never one for half-measures, I advise that when and wherever this atrocity is met up with it be instantly hurled straight at the shirtfront of Higgs the butler. It would be a lesson.
Naturally, my readers will demand proof of my theory that all salad should contain lettuce; the day has gone by when a domestic scientist could write just anything foolish that came into his head and expect to get away with it. Well, I started to work it out mathematically, but you know how that goes, with all one's housework to do. Suffice it to say for the present that several statistics have already been obtained and that the net results will be announced in due time; and you may rest assured they will be in favor of lettuce.
Meanwhile I beg everybody to keep cool and act accordingly. Above all, refuse to be stampeded by the jeers of a few flippant, wise-cracking sophisticates who will tell you that lettuce is rabbit food. This argument, all the more fiendish in that rabbits are said to possess the smallest mammalian brains in captivity, will not hold water for a moment—because it isn't so. In a state of nature, if there is such a thing, rabbits never touch lettuce, subsisting entirely upon roots, berries and the products of the chase. And supposing they did, there are worse things than rabbits. Rabbits are among the few remaining vertebrates which neither bark, sing, whistle, play the piano, lecture nor invent new machines to make more of the same or other loud noises. They should be encouraged.
At any rate, the younger hostesses of to-day are not doing right by lettuce. They seem to take a wicked, irreligious delight in banishing it from their menus, a procedure which may be attributed in part to a widespread loss of respect for the older Vegetables, in part to a dangerous enthusiasm for the new and untried, and in part to certain obscure pathological conditions of the medulla oblongata, or posterior brain. A radish rose, a celery curl, a deviled bean or a fluted cucumber, and they think they have satisfied the conventions. It remains, nevertheless, a self-evident truth that no amount of dicing, cubing, shredding, fluting, hemstitching, jig-sawing and brow-beating the vital vegetables can make up for the lack of the one ingredient without which a salad is only a pathetic bunch of left-overs, a jumble of odds and ends. Where, I ask you, is the melodic line? In the mayonnaise? No, too often mayonnaise but covers a multitude of sins.
As for fluting one's cucumbers, that may be well enough, if one has nothing else to do, but it can easily become a menace. At best it offers an occupational novelty to those jaded housewives who have spent years of their lives rubbing two severed portions of a cucumber together in the fond belief that thereby they are extracting a deadly poison and saving the whole family. Me, I omit cucumbers altogether. They cramp my style.
I really think that if things go on this way we're in for a wave of rickets, if not beri-beri. Lettuce is anti-scorbutic, too. I can't stop you if you've made up your mind to be scorbutic, but remember I warned you; the novelty soon wears off and you'll wish you'd never heard of it. It is no secret that lettuce cures rickets, though it may not be common knowledge that it also strengthens the pituitary gland, tones up the cerebral lobes and does wonders for the os innominatum, or am I thinking of ultraviolet rays? Moreover, the courtesans of Alexandria used external applications of lettuce for softening and whitening the skin, considering it much better for this sinister purpose than turnip-tops, eggplant, vegetable marrows or Swiss chard.
Up to a point I understand and sympathize with those who refuse to take advice, especially from food experts. What so robs existence of its romantic glamour, nay, of self-respect? Time was when I, too, scorned lettuce because it was healthful. Conformity seemed like giving over all my youthful dreams of rum, riot and rebellion, open sedition and piracy on the high seas. Now I'm more orthodox, whether from some subtle stirring of the instinct of self-preservation, the wisdom and tolerance of advancing years, or both, who knows? Perhaps it was the spiritual side of lettuce that won me. Eating my lettuce gives me the distinct impression that though my past may not have been spotless, though I made mistakes, though I sowed false steps and bankruptcy and blasted hopes and stomach-aches as thick as summer flies, yet am I not all bad. I feel virtuous. I feel that sooner or later I may succeed in life, that after all something may turn up, and if not, there's always the county. If a feeling like that isn't worth fifteen cents, what is?
There are drawbacks to lettuce, too, but hermits are seldom exposed to the most insidious and horrible of them all, a form of vegetable mania known as lettuce fondling. It is seldom possible to obtain enough lettuce for this purpose at Jones's Island. In the warmer months the grocery store at High Hill Beach carries lettuce, but try and get it before the women folks have been there. For one reason or another, chiefly the latter, it is necessary for hermits to sublimate their desire for lettuce, so that the affliction mentioned remains, if at all, in a latent or incipient stage. Ashore, the seeing eye can pick out many a bachelor lettuce fondler, but let's not be too harsh with them; let's remember that even Balzac confessed, in his famous letter to the Duchesse d'Abrantes that he felt within himself the capacity to become one of the worst.
It seems likely, on the whole, that this type of person will soon be a thing of the past. Throughout the age of Victoria—and sporadically since then—he devoted the major portion of his spare time to mixing salad dressings, often in plain view of the public, his face illumined the while with a secret and sinful smile—and Freud has taught us the meaning of that! One of the prominent remaining specimens is Dear Old Charlie in Eugene O'Neill's "Strange Interlude," and to my mind the most significant moment in the play was when the leading lady told Dear Old Charlie to come behind the scenes and mix his favorite salad dressing. You should have seen him go. I am not at liberty to reveal the complete recipe, but the first thing Dear Old Charlie did after he was behind the scenes was to rub his left ear with a clove of garlic handed to him by the leading lady with fire-tongs. And from then on!
The cleaning and care of lettuce is a legitimate household activity, not to be confused with compulsive fondling. Most experts wash each leaf separately, rubbing briskly with a calico lettuce cloth at right angles to the wrinkles; some probably use vanishing cream and an astringent composed of equal parts benzoin and creosote. I just hold the lettuce under the pump to remove the larger and more vicious microbes, the main trouble with that being that my well water is full of much larger and more horrible things. From the splinters, animalculæ, fossil remains and unidentified souvenirs that come out of my pump, it seems likely that the pipe connects with an abandoned sawdust mine, or perhaps with a kitchen midden of the Jones's Island aborigines (Pottawatomies). We can't have everything.
The next two steps are draining and drying the lettuce. Hermits have no lettuce drainers, so they squeeze it gently or brandish it vigorously to and fro, an act involving quite a bit of dampness for all concerned. Dry with an embroidered lettuce rag if you are that sort, then place in a knitted lettuce bag before sending to cold storage. It is a source of regret to me that I have no knitted lettuce bag; it would be so wonderful for clothespins. As things are, my clothespins are thought to be out under the clothesline, but when I go after them, they turn out to be those wooden parcel handles. What becomes of all the clothespins?
I might put the lettuce in the icebox then, if I had the icebox, but my experience is that lettuce ought to be kept fairly warm. It's frozen on me too often. If, dear reader, you have ever tried to keep a head of lettuce in a seaside bungalow in zero weather, you realize that said employment comes under the head of vain ideals and lost causes. You retire in good order after tucking it into its crib, and that very night, the worst since the blizzard of '88, the kitchen stove gives out. Comes the dawn, and your cherished head of lettuce is only one more item to take out and bury.
I have often been urged to go ahead and eat the lettuce before it has had time to thaw, but that's easier said than done. Liquefaction sets in as soon as you build the fire. Melted lettuce is much less palatable than it sounds, and it sounds awful; too, its appearance, at once anæmic and utterly blah, is all against it. Have you ever noticed the reproachful look of a head of lettuce that had trusted you? It doesn't bear thinking of, much less eating. Let us trust that some day science will tell us how to revive a head of lettuce that has gone the way of all vegetables; at present chafing with handfuls of snow and frostbite drill by the Coast Guard crew only complicate matters.
I'm rather surprised to find myself so worked up about this subject; I hadn't realized how I cared. Strange, for the truth is that the emotional kick of lettuce is not so good; it lacks something. Lettuce has a fundamentally lovable nature, within limits, but it doesn't knock you all of a heap, like. I'm all for the lightning stroke myself, as opposed to the lambent fireside glow of understanding comradeship. Electrocution's the word! Strike me pink and I'm happy. My affection for lettuce is not like that. With me it seems to arouse the instincts of pity and protection. I want to guard it against life's pitfalls, save it from the many dangers of this jazz-mad age and see that it doesn't go making a fool of itself. I want to feel sure that after I have been out at a conference I have something pretty nice, after all, to come back to, something I can respect. The place for lettuce is in the home.
As for the other contents of my salads, I favor the full meal model, preferably of the protein or carnivorous type. With an exclusively vegetarian salad I always feel that somehow I am not experiencing nearly all life has to offer. The lettuce, tomatoes, carrots and what not of the main dish are all the better for some canned fish, potted meat or cold boiled eggs. Such a combination, if large enough, goes very well with a snack of bread and butter, cold beans, crackers and cheese, bread and molasses, cigarettes, coffee, bread and jam, clam chowder and more bread and jam. I don't care what you put on it. Personally, I do not live in the odor of garlic.
I suppose salads ought to be beautiful, but I can't seem to get the knack of those artistic rainbow creations you see in the ads. Lately I saw a highly colored composition of green peas, grated carrots, tomato jelly, shrimp, maidenhair fern and pimiento which I regarded as little, if at all, inferior to the Mona Lisa. A cherry here, a prune there, makes all the difference. Anyway, my salads seldom reach the table, for by the time I should have the whole thing assembled and strategically piled at the old feeding place I most generally have eaten the color scheme as I went along. I may suggest, however, that a few almonds, pecans, filberts or pistachios scattered negligently about will serve admirably to give your salads that nutty appearance. Still, looks aren't everything. The kind of salad I yearn for is the kind they used to have at the Presbyterian socials in Auburn, Indiana. It consisted, in part, of potatoes, spring onions, boiled eggs, celery, lettuce and parsley—the rest was genius. I understand there are still branches of the same lodge in Hicksville, Ohio, and White Pigeon, Michigan—how about it, Aunt Eliza?
And speaking of thrills—oh, you celery! There can never possibly be too much celery. That is why I often plan, as I sit thinking my thoughts and Watching the steam dredges and civilization creep closer and closer to my hermitage, to move to Kalamazoo. If one must be civilized, one might as well go where the celery is. Still and all, I may decide on Hershey, Pa.
I shall be delighted to correspond with one who seems to take such a deep interest in all that pertains to the habits, customs and folklore of the pancake. Your letter has touched me in the right spot, for, as you doubtless know, we hermits are almost solely dependent upon pancakes for our enzymes, hormones, amino-acids, migraine and miscellaneous joie de vivre. It must be fate that has brought us together, if I can ever get over to Staten Island, but are you sure you gave me your real name? Are you in the telephone book? But now let's dispose of unfinished business.
You tell me that you are very, very fond of pancakes, and wish to know if I approve. Am I, you ask, in favor of the pancake when employed as human food? At first blush I feel inclined to reply, as usual, yes—and no. But I am weary of that age-old, fool-proof answer, though it is probably the best one ever invented up to now. Let us have done with such halting dubieties. Let us cast off the shackles of doubt and take our stand for the moment upon an everlasting Yea! Let's have pancakes if we want them.
I mean by this, my dear "Worried," that of course it's all right to have pancakes if you like them and if they harm nobody else very much. But right here we bump against the moral issue, since you imply that though you thrive upon the succulent flapjack, your husband and seven children have a furious and ungovernable aversion to same as a steady diet. Anybody who has ever been in a family can but sympathize. As I often remark, laughingly, families are a public nuisance. I mean it is often hard to see the home for the family.
It looks to me, "Worried," as though you are suffering from a New England conscience or some severe infantile trauma, or both. I am running enough lives as it is, but let me remind you that we pass this way but once. I suggest that you take up the philosophy of Aristippus of Gyrene, in which you will find good excuses for almost everything that's a lot of fun, with just enough Marcus Aurelius thrown in so that you can cast a free and untrammeled balance between the pleasure you actually derive from pancakes and the annoyance to which you are subjected in listening to the complaints and shooting cramps of your loved ones. Look at the matter in a detached and sensible way, as if you were still happy and single.
If you decide then that griddle cakes are what you really want in this life, go to it. If you crave pancakes more than the rest of the vain shams of the world, eat them—all you can get, up to the seventeen per sitting allowed by the leading insurance companies. Give all you own for griddle cakes. We have our special ways of praising the Lord, and if such be your desire and destiny, say it with pancakes. As dear old sentimental Baudelaire would have advised you, be drunken, if only on pancakes. Thus and only thus will you be able to murmur, as an exit line, "Well, I ate every gosh-blamed pancake I could stow away, and I glory in it!"
Yes, I know, all the time your poor family will be eating them, too, growing meaner and meaner, and perhaps staggering in and out of the dining room in loud tortures of acute double-jointed gastritis. Still, if they weren't kicking about pancakes, it would be parsnips, or baked apples, or codfish balls. In concentrating their violence upon pancakes you will be providing them with a comparatively harmless outlet for the baser passions and helping the crime situation. They will simply take it out on pancakes, instead of their fellow creatures.
And yet, "Worried," and yet— Too surely the day will come when you will recover from this passing fancy. You will awake some morning, suddenly, just like that, with the exclamation, "Heavens, how I detest pancakes!" The very thought of batter will be bitter. You will wonder what you ever saw in them in the first place, and, by God's mercy, pancakes will seem even a little bit ridiculous. You will take up the shattered pieces of your past and pass on, I hope, to less monotonous and maybe higher things.
Believe me, whether you then join the vast army of prune fans or the orange juice and dry toast addicts, you will find either pleasant enough in its way. Perhaps never again will you recover the mad, godlike frenzy of your pancake phase. Nor can I promise that you will be a bigger woman, for pancakes are fattening—had you thought of that? But you will have gazed into your interior and made your peace with prunes, and I think, all said, that you will be happier. You will have come safely through the Neo-hedonists and arrived at the Aristotelian mean, bless its old practical heart. You can live with it. And what's more, your family can live with you.
In advising you to go ahead, I have only meant to suggest that until the pancake problem works itself out naturally and inevitably in your inmost soul, without external compulsion, don't weaken. While you are young and able to fight your husband and seven children on even terms, have a good time in your own way. But there's a limit—Oh, remember that! Don't keep it up too long. Else some tragic morn you are likely to face an empty breakfast table and a vacant hearth and to hear through receding bursts of mocking laughter the fatal cry, "You made your batter—now lie in it!"
I can best answer your other questions, "Worried," by telling you about the Inter-Sandbar Pancake Convention held in my shack last week. As a good time was had by all, we hope to make it an annual affair. The first session was only an informal gathering consisting roughly of the hermit of Goose Crick, a game warden from shore (America, as we often call it), an oyster tender from Whale-neck Point and one of the boys from Snappin' Island, who rowed over for a chat and a shot at something that might go good in a stew. And, of course, over the Orange Pekoe and Fig Newtons the subject nearest all our hearts was bound to come up.
For instance, about lumps in the batter. I have been frantically chasing those lumps around my pet dipper for years without tangible results. No man on earth has put more downright industry—nay, passion—into his job. And what has it got me? I have stalked them with a fork and squeezed them with the back of a spoon, I have waited until they came round again and swatted them with a knife, a small trowel, with what not? I have done everything but dive into the dipper and engage in hand-to-hand conflict, only to decide again and again that there is something about lumps in the batter that we poor mortals were not meant to understand, let alone do anything about.
No sooner had I mentioned those lumps, casual-like, to the hermit of Goose Crick, than I was conscious of a new feeling in my kitchen. A tense, telepathic, electric, throbbing change came over those strong silent baymen sitting in the sink, on the floor and in my chair. I thought for a moment that Pete, who had come over from the Coast Guard Station, would burst into tears at the sheer poignancy of it all. We were moved as by a trumpet call or a dinner bell. We had all been chasing those same lumps for years. How alike we are in fundamentals! Or are we?
And then, dear "Worried," it came to me in a flash of what we book reviewers jokingly call inspiration. Suddenly I remembered some priceless words of Miss Florence Brobeck's in one of those recipes she thinks up for millionaires with model kitchens—perhaps it was in her classic essay on ketchup. Well, I just waved my Fig Newton in the air and repeated her magic phrase, "Put through a colander!"
I will spare you the scene of almost indescribable confusion that followed the release of all that pent-up emotion. Suffice it to say that I gave Florence Brobeck full credit, and henceforth, wherever hermits ply their trade in the chill dawn of Great South Bay, wherever Coast Guards are to be observed at 6 a.m. putting their pancakes through a fine-toothed colander, Miss Brobeck will be known as a full-fledged life-saver with the freedom of the flats and the rank of admiral. Unfortunately for hermits, this lady likes her pancakes Russian, with caviar and sour cream, and expects them to be surrounded by chicken Florentine Moray, clams Duxberry, Hawaiian curry with Major Gray's Indian chutney, cottage cheese, gooseberry jam, gingerbread, a cheese slipover consisting of a deep-dish apple pie with a Welsh rabbit melted over it, lobster stuffed and baked, broccoli Parmesan, crisp endive with Roquefort dressing, baked Alaska, coffee with grated orange peel and a clove, a Bacardi swizzle and a bottle of Fiora del Alpina, with a cashew nut to nibble and any other expensive or out of season comestibles obtainable or not. Ah, well!
All the boys have promised to get colanders as soon as the spring thaws arrive, so something is sure to come of it unless they forget. I happen to have a colander of my own, which came with the shack and has been lying fallow all this time. It's not what it was, but I believe it can be restored to its pristine vigor and an entirely new field of usefulness with a few bits of string and glue. I must report that there was one dissenting voice, as there always is in any iconoclastic and forward-looking movement. Said Singapore Sam, the hardest-boiled of the Coast Guards, "I guess your appetite must be all in your head if you can't stand a few lumps in your records." Out here we call them records, and that is the real origin of the popular phrase, "Put on another record."
At our next meeting we hope to tackle the problem of how to mix pancakes without mixing enough for a family of twenty-nine. You know how it is. In the effort to obtain a proper consistency of batter one is always pumping too much water into the dipper and then adding too much flour to make it come out even again. As the batter grows by leaps and bounds, the nest of yellow bowls and a part of the floor are soon full and overflowing, with resultant waste and mental agony. It is almost enough to make one give up hermiting.
"This thing has got to stop!" I often say to myself as I try to stem the tide, but try and do it. The worst of it is that once you have obtained a practicable thickness or thinness of the batter you must act with lightning speed. Turn your back an instant, the stuff changes on you and the whole nerve-racking, soul-shattering procedure begins all over again. I suppose the thing to do is simply to take a chance on the first stirring, have the griddle hot, pull yourself together, dump in the batter, trust to luck and watch for the bubbles.
I forget what humane author first wrote, albeit guardedly, in fear and trembling, of housekeeping as a dangerous profession. Guardedly, because this is one of those delicate subjects over which the governing classes, through centuries of oppression and for reasons that would hardly bear investigation, have cast a veil of illusion, of obscurantism, of downright falsehood. Most essayists who so much as mention it are never heard of again; others are kidnapped and held for ransom, with no takers. And we housekeepers have stood for it all like a flock of fish.
Surely the times are ripe for—I mean to say, it seems as though we ought to take steps, and no halfway ones, either. Let us get together and give our opponents a bit of lip about the perils of the home. After all, talking back is about all one can hope to accomplish in this mortal vale. Much good it does, too, though it often saves a visit to the psycho-analyst and otherwise helps to cut down the manic-depressive statistics. The majority of housekeepers have hysterics in the butler's pantry simply and solely because they don't come right out and tell the world what a fix they're in.
I look for no immediate improvement in conditions. Philanthropy hasn't got to us yet. Social science is too busy building fences around complicated and rather silly industrial machines which have been invented, apparently, for the one purpose of having fences built around them. What does it care if we unprotected kitchen mechanics sit down on a red-hot stove? Hermits can do next to nothing about such a state of affairs, but there are plenty of others who can. Decent legislation may come eventually, or it may not, if you housekeepers who are in a position to do so begin at once to nag and keep on nagging until something happens. Persistent nagging, my friends, has achieved more victories here below than all the armies of the military geniuses and kings and potentates combined. It would be a sad day if this, practically the only weapon remaining to a large proportion of our citizens in this age of—this age of—well, if they lost it all of a sudden.
My own contribution to the cause, consisting of data collected during quite a spell of home work at Jones's, is put forward as a mere feeler, on the chance that it may call forth the testimony of those who have been crippled up, cut, scratched, gouged, banged and bettered even more than I have; thus a dormant public opinion may be aroused and we may all live to see a situation known in legal parlance as the status quo. Not yet a complete and incurable wreck from the so-called pleasures of steering the domestic craft, I feel in my bones what is coming; I fear there are millions to whom it has already come.
I believe the fiendishness of inanimate objects is familiar to all who have ever been chummy with a kitchen stove. My own stove is perhaps my proudest possession, but, like so many other things one cares for, it can be cruel. It has taught me to think kindlier of the heroines of novels and plays who burn their fingers the minute they try to cook a biscuit or its equivalent for the hero. I used to regard the heroine who did this as a low form of half-wit who should be taken out and shot. I still think that a big grown-up girl should be able to shoot a biscuit without yelling bloody murder, but now I can see her side of it, too. I suggest that young women who blister themselves once or twice be let off with a warning; after that, anything goes.
The suspicion remains that they do it to be cute. Stop it, girls! You don't see seasoned housewives who can bake strawberry shortcake and all that giving way to these fits of temperament. I suppose that after they have manufactured some tons of biscuits for a family of about eleven over a stretch of years the desire to be cute in that particular way sort of wears off. Still, occasionally they get theirs, in spite of woman's intuition and the really uncanny skill with which she learns to coax an incandescent and reluctant muffin into her clutches. Lacking as they are in patience, finesse, sympathy and Christian charity, male housekeepers find the problem pretty fierce. You know them by their bandages.
Or take frying pans. Some joker has gone to the trouble of inventing one with a trick wooden handle which revolves upon its axis, or vice versa, at the psychological moment, dashing the simmering contents upon all and sundry. I have one. The perennially unsuspecting chef who tries to carry a panful of boiling bacon grease from the stove to the sink is out of luck nine times in ten. The artistic effects are even worse than the shooting pains along the exposed flank. Nobody likes to see a mess of fried eggs on his spotless floor; it might be spotless but for these very tragedies. A meal of creamed codfish in the same posture is quite as gauche. Pancakes may be dusted off, generally rehabilitated and bolted as usual, but a skillet of dried beef gravy that has once fallen is just fallen dried beef gravy. Just something else to mop up. More small talk, more vows of deadly vengeance, more maniacal laughter in the face of pitiless destiny.
My frying pan will look as though it had not a thought in the world but to make me happy and gay, then—Bam! go the French fried. Plainly I foresee the day when I'm going to spill a quart of hot clam stew down the back of some haughty dowager, just after I have become engaged to her homely but wealthy daughter. You may well shudder. The dowager will start reprisals and one of us will get the bum's rush.
Yet hermiting is not commonly classed as a hazardous occupation. True, out here at Jones's one can't get run over by an automobile, gaspiped by thugs or pushed under a subway train, but within the sacred portals of the home (and why shouldn't hermits have sanctity in their homes, like anybody else?) the risks are quite as omnipresent and grave as in Manhattan itself, or Indiana. Here as elsewhere one has the towel rack to gouge out portions of the human face, the hanging lamp to extract divots from the invaluable scalp, lamp chimneys to slice off hunks of one's favorite finger, coffee cups to bounce on your bean from the top shelf, needles and pins to turn up in totally unexpected regions of the torso and all the other accompaniments of the cloistered career. Every move a pain.
The peculiar maimed and mangled appearance of hermit housekeepers, as distinguished from the civilized, is in part attributable to wood-splitting, a sport which compares favorably with the better class of explosions and earthquakes. It is extraordinary the way a log of driftwood will leap up and soak you in the beak at the slightest provocation; which leads me to pass on to married persons a hint I found in an old newspaper under the bedroom carpet. It seems that a lady who was wont to lecture her husband daily for his sins while he was chopping the firewood got gorgeously biffed in the eye by a large flying wedge of hickory, with resultant syncope and temporary impairment of the vocal cords, glottis and epiglottis. She complained that he had been trying to do that very identical thing for forty years. The judge let him off.
Yes, what with tripping over the coal scuttle into tubs of wash, stepping on tacks, grappling with splinters and fishhooks, getting stuck in the wringer, barking our shins on the tool chest, drowning in dishwater while ramming the mop into the milk bottle, losing our front hair in gasoline explosions, slipping in the bathtub and falling up and down stairs with armfuls of this and that, we housekeepers do our bit towards keeping modern life picturesque. For us existence is one long procession of adhesive tape, rubber fingers, iodine, arnica, chloroform liniment, hot water bottles and weak gruel. And what does it get us? Admiration? Don't make me laugh. People will gape by the hour at a parachute-jumper in the curious belief that by comparison we in the home are a lot of timid, unenterprising worms, if not actually slackers, cowards and caitiffs (Memo: Must look up caitiffs). What I say is, in a parachute at least you know where you are.
I trust I have not exaggerated the risks run gayly and high-heartedly by so many of us. Let us seek the silver lining. It is true that we have chosen, perhaps none too wisely, between retaining the use of most of our original faculties and doing the housework. But—and here's the point—we know the thrill of adventure! We have escaped the drab lot of laborers in TNT factories and of sitters upon volcanoes, of the tamers of man-eating lions and of the human flies who climb the Woolworth Building with their fingernails. We have felt the exaltation of real danger. We have lived. Besides, there are savage tribes in Africa which greatly esteem and honor such bumps and blemishes, scratches, scarifications and mutilations as we housekeepers regularly acquire in the line of duty. If we ever move to the jungle that might mean a lot in a social way.
It's getting so a body cannot mention food or eating without being called, among other things, the Brillat-Savarin of his time. Let but some mute, inglorious hermit babble of condensed milk sandwiches, he will immediately be tagged as a gourmet or a gourmand (whichever is which), a connoisseur, a ban vivant and a prominent salad-mixer. From there 't is but a step to the name of Sybarite, trilobite, hellgramite and worse. That's the way it goes in this business.
Well, my conscience is clear. I know and everybody knows who has ever visited me at Jones's Island that I am not Brillat-Savarin; if others choose to insist I can only repeat that it's all a terrible misunderstanding. Brillat-Savarin was a lawyer, a physician, a philosopher, a diner-out, a high priest of transcendental gastronomy, an inhaler of ortolans, and the final authority on poularde de Bresse truffée à la périgourdine. His pheasants had to be just so. I take my food as I find it, no questions asked. That day seems afar off, and I pray that it may never dawn, when I shall sneer at a hot dog. I believe I may say without exaggeration that we represent two entirely distinct schools of thought. That's only fair to both of us.
I seldom achieve ecstasy at my meals. I don't gloat enough over my food to be really artistic. Still and all, I remain unconvinced that in order to know anything whatever about the subject it is necessary to have been christened Jean Anthelme Marie Henri Louis Philippe Marie Hippolyte, to have written a volume entitled "Physiologie du goût; ou, Méditations de gastronomic transcendante" and to have died in Paris, Feb. 2, 1826, after seventy-one years of almost continuous banqueting on poularde de Bresse truffée à la périgourdine. At times, when I have been goaded past endurance by invidious comparisons, I feel that I could cast off all restraint and state boldly, without fear or favor, that Brillat-Savarin was full of truffles. There!
But let's get one thing straight. Before launching my vicious attack against Brillat-Savarin and his "Physiology of Taste" I wish to defend him against the charge of intemperance. It was the Marquis de Cussy, a contemporary observer, who wrote: "Brillant-Savarin ate copiously and ill; chose little, talked dully, had no vivacity in his looks, and was absorbed at the end of a repast." Well, why wouldn't he be absorbed? In my opinion the Marquis de Cussy was jealous, auto-intoxicated and afflicted with a negative poularde complex, if not with subconscious homicidal tendencies. Supposing Brillat-Savarin did overeat once in a way! I'm strongly in favor of that, if only to spite the Anti-Fun League. Things have come to a pretty pass when a champion gourmand cannot overeat. And what was the marquis doing there? It looks as though he was not a total stranger himself to what some cynic has called the pleasures of the trough.
What riles me more, with its veiled insinuations and subtle propaganda against Jones's Island and the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station, is the master's famous Fourth Aphorism, "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce qui tu es"; which is as much as to say, "Tell me what you eat and I'll tell you what you are." To this I simply reply, "Non! Jamais de la vie!" which may be freely translated, He's crazy. Were this theory to be generally accepted, dear reader, it would make you bacon and eggs and sometimes chicken on Sunday. In a way it stands to reason, or almost. Perhaps the man who eats a potato in its jacket does thereupon instantly become, through some strange doings of Dr. Albert Einstein, a pomme de terre en robe de chambre—who am I to say? A pleasing whimsy, but doubtless more strictly true in some dimension other than the first three. And what about prunes?
I could wish that Brillat-Savarin had been more charitable in this matter. We can't all have the Blue Plate dinner. The person who feeds upon desiccated tripe is often a person, admirable in other respects, who has been driven by hereditary influences, environment, radio, women or the hellishness of life as a whole to feed upon desiccated tripe. Show me a man toying with a side-order of parsnips and nine times out of ten he is a man who can't get roast turkey with dressing. Figure to yourself a hermit who lives exclusively upon strawberry shortcake, and you're straining your imagination. And what of him whom cruel destiny has forced to become omnivorous? Is he by that token a cross between an ostrich and a goat? Well, then, M. Brillat-Savarin!
Moreover, I find it difficult, as I wrestle catch-as-catch-can with the bean and other dietary problems, to forgive our author for remarking that "the empire of taste has also its blind and deaf people." Thusly he rubs it in: "The sensation of taste resides principally in the papillæ of the tongue. But anatomy teaches us that every tongue has not the same number of them, and that in some tongues there are three times as many papillæ as in others." You cannot miss the artful implication that he has more papillæ than he really needs and that hermits have hardly any, a rumor against housekeeping bachelors from the day that the Egyptian called Antonios fled from the fleshpots of Heracleopolis with a basket of lentils, not to mention Eusebius Hieronymus Sophronius, whose cupboard was even barer. They hadn't all their papillæ, forsooth! That seems to me too facile an explanation of the mystic way. What, then, were the real facts? Why was it that neither of these famous hermits would have stepped across the street for a double order of filet de sole Marguéry? Well, they had other fish to fry.
I am sorry to say that the dictionary lends partial support to this absurd doctrine of papillæ, submitting that the papillæ are known according to their shape as circumvallate, fungiform and filiform, and that the circumvallate and the fungiform bear taste buds. This is a pretty fix to be in, if you care for that sort of thing. Taste buds, indeed! What next won't they invent?
A careful comparison of Brillat-Savarin's dates and my own would seem to indicate that he never heard of me, yet the whole inner message of his book for the modern world is that eating is a lost art and that I lost it. I wonder! I hold no brief against the æsthetics of deglutition. There's room for all kinds in this world. All I'm saying is that in order to enjoy your three squares rightly you don't have to win a pie-eating contest.
True, voluptuous nourishment is not encouraged at Jones's. Already there have occurred regrettable incidents in the Zachs Inlet mess-room, chiefly over stew; it would be too awful if the boys got to demanding their plum duff on weekdays. For disciplinary reasons Coast Guards who show the early symptoms of transcendental gastronomy are sent on cutter duty, shipped to the Siberian mines or ordered to paint the oil-house. While I remain their neighbor I must set an example. Some day—who knows? I may even become a Sybarite, if I can get the gardenia.
And I have another crow to pick with Brillat-Savarin, or shall I say a potato? Observe the utter wrongness of this passage from his Meditation XXI: "I look upon potatoes as a great preservative against famine; but, except that, they seem to me thoroughly insipid." Now I seldom indulge in violent abuse, but at the risk of provoking a duel I declare that Brillat-Savarin says the thing that is not. To maintain that potatoes are tasteless is to maintain stark, staring lunacy. It all goes to show that people who brag about their papillæ only too often turn out sadly deficient, just pathetic victims of Adlerian organ inferiority; while people you'd swear had not a papilla to bless themselves with are likely to give you the surprise of your life.
Economically as well as psychologically, an abhorrence of potatoes leads to no good. Many of those who scorn this humble vegetable because it is abundant and inexpensive wind up in the poorhouse, though it is but just to admit that about an equal number become millionaires—it's a poor potato that won't work both ways. It is a not less significant fact that those who love potatoes, especially baked potatoes, are almost invariably a credit to themselves, their community and their country.
Brillat-Savarin appears also to regard the potato as a deadly poison, since he speaks of the necessary removal by the cook of its "deleterious qualities," doubtless referring to the valuable mineral salts, vitamins and horoscopes in the skins. All this is hard to bear, what with M. Tissot's book proving that potatoes cause idiocy, palsy and leprosy, and the clamoring of those who stigmatize potatoes as unscriptural—they're not mentioned in the Bible. Worse (though it may be all newspaper talk), there are said to exist to-day in our midst some very tiresome persons out to stop the constant crossbreeding so essential to the health, happiness and reproduction of the potato on the ground that it is inimical to the morals of the tuber and will eventually undermine the home. What, they inquire, will happen to endogamy if all this exogamy is allowed to go on? And what, I ask right back, will happen to hermits and Colorado beetles if it isn't?
Let them rave. Let a froward generation of artichoke fans run after their decadent groceries. Let Brillat-Savarin, swollen with insensate pride and truffles, lash his whiskers in impotent fury, the fact remains and shall not go unheard while I have strength to yell that baked potatoes are grand. What a dish, my friends, is this! How new in season! how exquisite in sapidity! in form and flavor how easily digestible! with butter how like nothing else! with salt and pepper how perfectly damned gorgeous! the bachelor's delight! the paragon of edibles! I speak now, dear reader, of victuals that are victuals. Tell me not, after I have eaten my full want of the same, that nobody loves me or that life's but an empty dream; I know different. It is tragic, is it not, that our English and American bards have not devoted more attention to this inspiring theme? I confess with something akin to sorrow that I know of no epic, excepting a few in Lithuanian and several in the ancient Coptic, dealing at all adequately with the baked potato.
If there is a better food, tell me what it is. You can't!—I thought so. Any one who has done justice to an adult baked potato garnished with a chopped raw onion, a poached egg, a scant handful of Hamburger, a few bits of crisp bacon, some gravy and extra butter may well lean back in his chair and quote those lovely words of Bartlett, "Fate cannot harm me—I have dined to-day." I have a little theory of my own which I might as well spring right now: I regard it as practically certain that the baked potato was the original ambrosia, the food of the gods mentioned so prominently by Mr. Bulfinch.
Alas, there are some unruly fans who refuse to eat the skins, either from a fear of germs, a nitrogen-phobia or pure meanness. If taken in time the most stubborn nitrogen-phobia can be cured; the pity is that more and more young victims are permitted to grow up without treatment, filling the world with more wife-beaters, absconding cashiers, theater coughers and people who say there is too much sex in Freud. Those who believe in bacilli may wash the potato before using—a good, durable potato-washer can be purchased at the nicer shops for seven dollars.
The preparation of this dish involves a considerable risk to the performer, but what doesn't that's any fun at all? Up to now our inventors, clever as they are at measuring the diameter of Betelgeuse, have not taught us potato bakers how to prevent severe burns, both going and coming. Many housekeepers manage to escape serious injury while putting the potatoes in the oven, but getting them out again is not so simple. If the top of the oven doesn't get you the door will, and if by some lucky chance you emerge in good condition, except for a blistered face and a soul forsworn, you still have three red-hot potatoes in each fist and a very vague notion of where to put them. It seems advisable for all those who bake potatoes rather constantly to take a course in big-time juggling. What a seal can do, you can do.
I hate to dwell upon these cosmic disharmonies, but I must add one more warning, based rather upon my reading than upon personal experience. It appears that the atoms of baked potatoes—and this food is particularly rich in atoms—are so arranged that the potato is liable to burst with a terrific roar if fondled or squeezed immediately after its stretch in the oven, scattering poultices of superheated pulp, volcanic steam and widespread destruction in its wake. A tradition exists that one ought to prick the skin of the potato before baking, thus releasing a few billions of the superfluous atoms and providing against some of the more spectacular explosions. Conservative potato-squeezers follow this technique, but most of us who belong to the war generation just take a chance—it's all in the game. If you are nervous and run down, however, it will do no harm to lay in a garden rake, some atom-proof gloves, a gas mask, a standard burn remedy, plenty of bandages and the telephone number of a skilled physician—and keep your insurance paid up. If you will take these precautions, your path through life should be one long, sweet song; if not, you may never know what hit you.
Anyway, you see now that the potato, far from being a dull, insensitive clod, is wholly a creature of impulse, a passionate, high-pressure vegetable knowing no laws but those of its own free, untrammeled nature, as wholly irresponsible as all true genius ever was and will be. Insipid? The word does not fit into the picture. I leave the potato in your hands, my friends, confident that it will receive fair treatment from so broad-minded and good-looking a jury.
Does it not strike you as rather tragic that in so enlightened an age I must add to this article a systematic defense of roast turkey? Yet that such an emergency exists no person in his sober senses would dream of denying—and all because of Brillat-Savarin. Fortunately, he left roast turkey with a few shreds of its reputation, though he might have done better. His characterization of this noble creature as "the largest, and, if not the finest, at least the most savory of our domestic birds,"—savory is the word, but why not the finest, M. Brillat-Savarin?—is probably the grandfather of some of the anti-turkey opinions circulated so freely nowadays by gastronomes and other society leaders. The most sagacious essayist in this country, by and large, but recently described the turkey as "too big, too tough, too coarse grained." Did you ever hear the like? It is the custom in some inner circles to raise an eyebrow at intruders who prefer turkey to chicken and are courageous enough to say so. Hostesses seem to fear that oafs of that sort are likely at any moment to throw the broiler out the window and shout for roast turkey—and if roast turkey, why not roast elephant or roast diplodocus? Yet turkey-lovers can behave as well as any one else, and always do so unless pushed too far.
I hear that in certain homes chicken, duck or goose is served even on major feast days. We have ducks in plenty at Jones's, but it's not the same; as for goose, one can only say that there are people whose subtle affinity for goose is congenital and ineradicable—nothing can be done about it, so why argue? Me and the Coast Guards, give us turkey. The government and book reviewing would be in a bad way on our island if the butcher and grocer on shore did not send us turkeys for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's; the energy and efficiency of the inhabitants would be all frittered away with indignation meetings, their voices worn hoarse and haggard with the insistent cry, "We Want Turkey!" If the grocer and the butcher ever weaken, there will be reprisals, swift and terrible.
This brings us to osmazome, a mysterious and presumably delicious ingredient which Brillat-Savarin says is found in very small quantities or not at all in the white meat of turkeys. "It is for this reason," he chirps, "that real connoisseurs have always preferred the thick part of the thigh." Have they, indeed? Be that as it may, upon white meat I take my everlasting stand—try and budge me. These thigh fans often go to incredible lengths with their foolishness. Speaking of a smaller bird than our hero, Brillat-Savarin inquires, "Do we not see in our own days some that can distinguish by its superior flavor the thigh on which the partridge leans while sleeping?" Sure, we do. We also see some who will sell you Brooklyn Bridge.
To Brillat-Savarin, of course, a turkey without truffles was but a poor, homeless outcast, a veritable pariah fowl. This is hardly the place, if there is such a place, to deal with truffles as they so richly deserve. Our good Brillat-Savarin is known to have been more than slightly hipped on them. He goes so far as to tell us, "However good an entrée may be, it should always be accompanied by truffles to set it off to advantage"; naturally, a turkey without a stuffing of these subterranean fungi was utterly outside the pale. His one concession to the tight money situation is that persons of moderate income may upon occasion stuff theirs with Lyons chestnuts. For all that I hope that the sturdy peasantry of our land will long continue to riot in forbidden stuffing. I shall, for one, to the last scrap of stale bread, salt pork, sage and maybe oysters. Add giblet gravy, and you can have your old stocks and bonds.
And another thing, should any of my readers remain unconvinced of M. Brillat-Savarin's fallibility, I shall merely quote the following sentence from the final pages of "The Physiology of Taste": "It was the Count de Laplace who discovered a very elegant way of eating strawberries, namely, of squeezing over them the juice of a sweet orange, or apple of the Hesperides." Have fairer names ever been put to a more dastardly use? Could a fiend from the pit devise a more diabolical plot to ruin one—nay, two!—of God's grandest fruits? I will bet anything within reason that this was the same Laplace who balled up the nebular hypothesis so that they haven't got it straightened out yet. I never liked that man's face. And where, I ask you, were his papillæ?
Wou'd hardly believe that Dame Rumor would bother her silly old head about a mere hermit. Or would you? Well, Dame R. hath it that she heard from a friend of hers, who got it straight from some one who ought to know, that I told another party that I hated having company, and that I wished all the people who visit me, promise to visit me or threaten to do so would stay at home where they belong, and not come pestering me at my seaside villa. That shows how things get garbled.
I may have muttered in some unguarded moment at the unexpected, or expected, arrival of a fresh batch of week-end guests, complete with radio outfits, livestock, boatload of impedimenta and happy, carefree laughter, when I was hoping against hope to finish a book review or an article, or at least get one started, that I moved to Jones's Island to be alone, and that running a more or less refined boarding home from Thursdays to Wednesdays, excepting in January and February, however enjoyable it might be from some points of view, struck me as an exceedingly roundabout way of achieving that particular end. Is that logic, or is it not? As for saying that persons who go merrily stirring up hermits in their chosen solitudes invariably lack one or more hemispheres of the cerebrum (the little gadget that is supposed to make us think), I never! Nor did I state that ninety-nine per cent of these hermit hunters are perfectly lovely people but practically half-witted.
I deny the whole thing. I love company. I never tire of asking everybody I meet on the mainland to come and see me at the first opportunity. If I seem a little less cordial when they actually arrive—well, I deny that, too. I trust I am not one to violate the sacred laws of hospitality, even if it ruins my critical poise, wrecks the second act of my play and generally makes of my fondest dreams a hideous mockery. Why do you suppose I invite them, anyway? Just to get them to shut up? I did tell one or two people that I loathed having company, but they thought that was only my way of making advances.
It would be easy enough to prevent company from reaching my island if I were that sort of host. All I'd need would be a little arrangement of floating mines, barbed wire entanglements, a cordon of natives and a battery of trained scorpions, and I know a hermit who is working on that now. I consider it a mean trick to give prospective guests elaborate traveling directions which will land them eventually in Montauk Point, Alaska or the South Seas. If I have ever sounded vague about where Jones's is, that's partly because I have no bump of direction—the Coast Guards attend to that sort of thing—and because it is an ancient and inviolable rule for hermits not to tell exactly where they live. The truth is they hardly know themselves.
There are lots of nasty ways of getting rid of company, too. Personally, I take steps as soon as the guests begin remarking that the beach is so lovely and the sand so comfortable that they could stay forever. I do nothing low, but manage to get the thought across that they might be just as comfortable if they were on some other beach bothering somebody else. A policy of slow starvation is recommended by many hermits. Arsenic is no longer in favor, as the coroners are beginning to detect it right and left in returned week-enders. I merely mention these rather crude methods for what they may be worth.
Perhaps I do appear slightly distrait and moody before my arriving guests, but that's only because my bungalow isn't ready for them. I've only lived in it seven years, and it isn't rid up yet. I haven't got settled. An expert tells me that the shanty is quite lacking in accommodations for any but the less fussy Hottentots, the hardier Nootka Indians and the more informal and backward Kamchatkans. That is why sensitive and cultured visitors who have left good homes to come and see me often act so strangely. It explains why several of my former friends have confessed at their departure that they felt as if they had just been released from a long stretch at Dannemora. I may mention here that it is not in the best taste to send one's weekend host, instead of the usual clam chowder note, a comic Valentine depicting a large and very repellent pig wallowing in the midst of an untidy landscape labeled Jones's Island.
Speaking of how to act, I fancy I comport myself as well as some of my guests from the moment I meet them at the dock. No hermit, unless he has been called upon to welcome a mid-Victorian dowager reeling to port after a hard night aground in Goose Crick in Rattlesnake Ned's scooter, can rightfully claim that he has lived and suffered, especially if she has frozen a few toes, got herself mixed up with the motor, sat in the tar or dropped her aspirin overboard. She is likely to say things. One of them recently read me my horoscope with a richness of epithet that was supposed to have died out with the Elizabethan pamphleteers and a few of the prettier duchesses at the court of Charles the Second. It wasn't as bad as that, really, but she was pretty mad. She still believes that Ned hit the mud on purpose and that I, as the King Canute of these parts, ordered the tide to wait until broad daylight. Week-enders, bless their innocent hearts, are firmly convinced that hermits cause the weather, the mosquitoes and all the other frightful phenomena incidental to Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, though modern science has gone out of its way to prove the exact opposite.
No, entertaining at the villa is not so simple as it might seem at first glance. The ordinary rules for the bachelor's shooting lodge or clam preserve hardly cover the ground, for I live here all the year round and people expect something pretty polished. I used to strive for a semblance of Old World gentility by awaiting my guests in the drawing room (where the chairs are), as was always the custom at the late Earl's place down in Kent, but I found that sooner or later I'd have to chase down to the dock with the wheelbarrow, anyway. Now I just rush for the scene at the first sign of trouble, prepared to tell all and sundry how glad I am that a virulent cyclone did not arise while they were in the middle of the bay and blow them all to Amagansett and gone.
I also omit tea, but each arrival is more than welcome to as much as he can stand of the pot of strong black coffee kept simmering on the rear of my kitchen range, you might say for generations. Those who prefer are shown at once to the sink to remove the marks of travel; which is putting it optimistically, since the process would remove at the same time the greater portion of the epidermis. For the convenience of such I always keep my guest towel hanging right by the pump, together with a supply of salt water soap, a good, durable quality of steel wool and a pint bottle of iodine. In entertaining, it's the little things that count.
Now, if it has stopped raining or snowing, we are all set for a spell of real old-fashioned glee, such as bathing, clamming, eating, clamming, bathing and eating. Ten to one the merry-makers will want to carry their lunch to the surf and there consume it, whether from a desire to provide their gustatory joys with a background in a big way or to express their love for the Atlantic by throwing egg-shells and banana peelings into it I have been unable to determine. I suppose they mean it as a compliment. I'm not the type myself, and I am against dispersing the general effect of the Atlantic among a lot of dill pickles and sandwiches. I feel that it deserves one's undivided attention—it's sort of earned it. Nevertheless, I trudge along, and run back to the shack for water, and eat and run back for still more water. Fun!
I recall one historic occasion when a visiting luncher smuggled some canned music to the beach and, what's more, set it going presumably to drown out the sound of God's waves. Well, one may rise superior even to such a blow of fate. We happened to have with us a prominent college widow of some seasons back, so she and I up and waltzed, and if you want to see a certain eligible hermit give his well-known imitation of Prince Charming, just strike up "Kiss Me Again!" I have heard the sinister whisper passed along at more than one party on shore, "Oh, don't bother with him, he's only a waltzer!" I wear the insult gayly, like a plume. I glory in it! I could die waltzing, and maybe I will yet.
As I delve into the secret memoirs of entertaining at Jones's, I remember several happy afternoons, and I am not thinking of the day a bevy of visitors made straight for the beach and got lost in the fog until it was time to leave. For instance, it's all kinds of fun to guess what was in the old tin cans that wash ashore. I only wish that Rattlesnake Ned, who invented the game, would stop tasting the darn things—it's taking unfair advantage of the fact that he's part ostrich on his grandfather's side, and it makes week-enders nervous. As I have no other pastimes to offer, I fear I am a far from perfect host, but is it my fault if people who want to go visiting have got me and the Coast Guards mixed up with the Prince of Wales' set, just because we happen to live on the lunatic fringe of Long Island, the playground of the rich?
One word to those who are planning to weekend with a hermit. Don't expect too much; in fact, don't expect anything. Don't go around muttering, "Never again!" Avoid making class-conscious remarks, such as, "Well, well, so this is how the other half lives!" Some day you might say that to the wrong hermit. When herded to your sleeping quarters, if such they may be called, don't bring up Houston Street and the Bowery. If you feel any social or other qualms about the flopping arrangements, remind yourself that there is not room in my house for both company and the conventions. Just try to remember that I have moved out of my own bedroom, that I will have to move back to-morrow and that with luck I may possibly get things fixed so that I can start on that book review again by next Wednesday afternoon. And that I just love company.
If you expect the hermit to furnish such staples as bread and butter, don't kick if they aren't Grade A. It is pretty crude to refer to the white bread served by the hermit as pumpernickel, but I suppose you can't help knocking the butter. My butter is always served in beautifully firm hunks in the winter, but in hot weather it's something else again. I started housekeeping with the idea that keeping ice in iceboxes is all foolishness, and I have stuck to my theory, though the butter weakened. Besides, the top of my icebox is full of books that all visitors so far classified would borrow if they got half a chance. Bear in mind also that jokes about the biscuits are no longer playing the big cities. You may not be aware that in ancient Greece, before the Age of Luxury, the Spartans lived on a simple dough of barley meal moistened with water and terrible wine, and that it wasn't cooked at all. And don't examine that green spot on the can of evaporated milk too closely; if it's a bacillus botulinus, you probably have it already—go quietly to your room, make your will and return without causing a scene. But really, I get fewer complaints on my meals than you might expect, considering. A recent guest was gracious enough to inform me that I had provided a regular Barmecide feast. That's the spirit to take on your week-ends!
All things come to an end, even company. Sooner or later the wet blanket is sure to break into the party with the long-awaited remark, "Well, Will, I guess we'd better be getting along." I fill in with some neutral comment, such as, "I suppose I mustn't try to keep you," or "It does look as though you'd have just enough time to get across the bay before it rains," and they're off. Most authorities on etiquette agree that at parting neither the guest nor the host need speak out all that is in his heart, yet I feel that a little well-chosen invective and a fist fight or two often serve admirably to clear the air and speed up the progress of the race as a whole. And I beg to remind all hardworking hermits, everywhere, that if it weren't company, it would be something else. Keep smiling!
Who since the invention of printing by those heathen Chinese has fitly sung the praise of cookery books? Alas, almost everybody! And yet, the production and consumption of articles on this timely subject being what they are, is there not always room and welcome for one more? Here again a strict regard for the plain, unvarnished truth might compel us to answer, "No!"
So far the argument appears to leave us about where we were, but so do all arguments. We may as well proceed with the main topic of the day, to wit, the use of cook books by old bachelors; to put it more concretely, the use of my cook book by me, or vice versa, since there are indications that the cook book has the upper hand.
Not that I am an abject slave to that or any other collection of recipes. For I have lost the innocence of perfect faith. Time was—and those were happy days—when I believed in the direct inspiration of all cookery books. Before that fatal occasion when some one introduced me to the tragedy of pure reason I believed that recipes as a whole and in part, having originated in the brain of Mrs. Rorer herself, who ought to know, were not for the likes of us to pull to pieces and debate. Ours not to reason why. Some day we'd understand.
Always a trusting soul, as a child I had not sought to question the authority of revealed cooking as practiced by mother over a fire she had presumably snatched from heaven for the sole benefit of your humble servant. There was something in it, too. I can testify as well that in spite of the Frenchified ways that even then were creeping insidiously into our American kitchens, mother swung a mean sun-dried cherry, not to mention her masterly crisp-fried beefsteak, her chicken gravy with giblets, her mashed potatoes, her Charlotte Russe, her endless dinner array of pickles, quince jelly, cookies, strawberry shortcake and seven regular side dishes—nine for company. And they wonder why I am plump.
Martha Washington was mixed up in all that, though I found out later that she didn't write the "White House Cook Book." Yes, our old kitchen companion was an early edition of that splendid work, complete with our nation's Capitol and a view of the executive mansion stamped in shining silver on the white front cover, both and all now somewhat obscured by a rich patina of time and tomato soup. There was Mrs. Washington's picture on page ninety-nine, just opposite the directions for pot roast (Old Style), and much prettier, I thought, than the smaller insets of Mrs. James Monroe, A. Adams and Martha Jefferson Randolph. She and she alone inspired and guided my first childish steps towards the presidency.
Now that I own this rare volume and have leisure to study the several pages of our presidents' wives, I feel that I was right in picking Martha Washington. Something of the old intimacy has fled, but she is still beautiful in her powder and her shawl, or whatever that thing is she has on; to-day she reminds me not so much of strawberry shortcake as of some one I met at a masquerade. The others are all right, too, though the sheik of our day might hesitate to take some of them out, handy as they might come in at charades. Lacking as one or two of them may be by the severest classic tests—well, I'm sure their pictures don't do them justice, especially Dolly Madison. A grand lot of girls they were, and if I know a basque with jet passementerie when I see it I'll bet you they could cook like a house afire; still and all, it seems there has been a great improvement in this branch of our government here lately.
Times, as I was saying, have changed. Since I brought the old book to Jones's Island I have learned by trial and error to look upon it, if not with less reverence, at least with a clearer realization of what it will do and what it won't. Much as I deplore the modern tendency to higher criticism, I have found several recipes which are obviously the survivals of some savage state of culture, others which are certainly the work of commentators no brighter, to put it bluntly, than I myself. In a word, carking care, relativity, natural selection and all the ironies of life, love and art have forced me to abandon the dogma of infallibility. Theoretically, that is. In a tight place I seek the old book's guidance, just like the rest of us poor hungry, baffled mortals. There's nothing quite like it sometimes. Yet I would warn the inexperienced bachelor to have a care in approaching any of the recipes which run above simple addition, to close his eyes and ears to the seductions of those calling for logarithms, square root and meringues.
Well for you, brother hermits, if you do not take the cook book too literally. It is rather wonderful, I know, to read of chicken patties, timbale of macaroni, potato snow, muttonettes, royal sago pudding, syllabub, sweetbreads à la Pompadour and fruites saumoné au beurre de Montpellier, but why let it get you? We have all heard of these things, but who has actually seen them? Who has made and eaten them? The use of a little common sense right now will save the too optimistic hermit much useless agony and vain regret, many a bitter longing for what exists, perhaps, only as the wishful fantasy of some impractical dreamer. Open your heart and your minds, my hermits, to the sheer loveliness of the words, "sweetbreads à la Pompadour" but don't forget that what really counts is ham and eggs. Such a point of view need not poison for you the springs of beauty. If you have a cook book, try to regard it as pure literature rather than as a guide to conduct; as poetry rather than dull, plodding prose. After all, its true value inheres in its symbolism. Much in life will still remain to you, whether or not Jonah swallowed the whale.
Though an expert might estimate the practical influence of my cook book upon my basal metabolism at approximately zero, or nil, I may have picked up a thing or two just by luck. Without it I should never have managed that rakish something about my fried salt pork and I should be muddling along without escalloped corn. With it my lemon pie and chocolate blanc mange remain in the controversial field—the blanc mange is not at all bad if you use your imagination. The lemon pie was only a joke. Anyway, I had sense enough not to try apple dumplings. That way lies madness. In fact, was it not George III who went crazy wondering how the apple got into the dumpling? And to this day nobody knows how it did get in!
I went into cooking, as we all do, with the laughing heart of a child, and emerged in the usual condition, after winning a hand or two. In baking, for instance, I found the elementary straightaway directions easy, lucid, admirable in every respect. I learned to make cornmeal muffins without eggs; since then I have made them without milk, without salt, without sugar, without baking powder and even without cornmeal. A muffin will meet you halfway. It was a proud day when finally I mastered the muffin, and it might have been a prouder had I not sought, filled as I was with vaulting ambition and vainglory, to scale the heights. "If muffins," I said to myself, "why not marble cake, molasses fruit cake, chocolate layer? If chocolate layer, why not sponge drops, why not lady fingers?" I well recall when I cried out in my invincible ignorance, "If lady fingers, why not angel's food?"
I shall not distress you with a description of my attempt at angel's food. When I had worked my will upon the whites of eleven eggs, the cream of tartar and what not, I took the count. I was licked, and forever. Finally reason came winging back, and I opened a can of beans. I can only say that if my recipe for angel's food is intended as wit and humor, it's all sticky. If I had needed any mucilage I would have turned to the proper page, after procuring the needful amounts of gum dextrine, acetic acid, water and alcohol, if I had to rob the compass. 'Twas thus I came to discover the true inwardness of cook books for the hermitical intelligence and to formulate my theory that they are to be considered as belonging to the literature of escape.
Most of us can never hope to make an angel cake, yet need that plunge us into dull despair? No; let us continue to read about all kinds of cake, even cocoanut jumbles, in the firm belief that they have a being in the Idea if not in the oven, upon some fairer plane if not in the here and now. Anything else can but lead to the dangerous materialism of Democritus as opposed to the teachings of Plato.
There are also times when I permit myself a less orthodox philosophical frolic, when I prefer to look upon my cook book, with its recipes for lemon trifle, jelly kisses, apple puff, green gooseberry tart, ribbon cake and tutti frutti ice cream exactly as I look upon the "Egyptian Secrets" of Albertus Magnus, particularly his remedy for the sweeny in man or beast, his amulet against cramp, what to do if the cattle are bewitched, how to obtain money and how to make yourself invisible. For this last "you must obtain the ear of a black cat, boil it in the milk of a black cow, then make a thumb-cover of it, and wear it on the thumb, and no one will be able to see you." To get the cash, "take the eggs of a swallow, boil them, return them to the nest, and if the old swallow brings a root to the nest, take it, put it into your purse, and carry it in your pocket, and be happy." Mind you, I'm not saying that Albertus Magnus ever wrote all the things attributed to him; he was far too sound on nominalism versus realism, universal ideas versus particulars and the manifold errors of Averroes to lose his head. I haven't finished his "Summa Theologiæ" yet, but I heard it was grand.
Lord knows the authors of my cook book are not to blame. Mrs. Fanny L. Gillette was one of the slickest pie wranglers of all time. She knew her muffins. Her collaborator, Herr Hugo Ziemann, was nothing less than steward of the White House Itself, in just which administrations remains in doubt as we rush to press. He was, moreover, according to the preface, "at one time caterer for that Prince Napoleon who was killed fighting the Zulus in Africa"; though where all these Zulus come in I can't see. He also reigned at the Hotel Splendide in Paris, at the Brunswick Cafe in New York and at the Hotel Richelieu in Chicago when Chicago was a wide open town, I mean wide open; 'twas at the Richelieu he laid "the famous spread to which the chiefs of the warring factions of the Republican Convention sat down in June, 1888, and from which they arose with asperities softened, differences harmonized and victory organized," in fact, everything hotsy-totsy until next morning. I give these statistics in simple justice; those desiring further proof will find Hugo's picture on page forty-three, together with a view of the White House kitchen, not inelegantly equipped with one dozen tin pans, one medium dipper, a rolling pin, a nutmeg grater and a regular Jones's Island coffee grinder.
The hitch occurred when Mrs. Gillette and Herr Hugo began ministering to a hermit. They wrote at a time when housekeepers automatically dropped three dozen eggs and two quarts of double cream into each recipe as a mere starter, and for a clientele that seems to have lived over a department store in the middle of a dairy farm and truck garden. A hermit who seeks to emulate these fortunate cooks will find himself at the last moment with large quantities of staple groceries completely wrecked, an immediate need for twenty-six other ingredients which grow only in Park and Tilford's front window, and a wistful longing for a pinch of something known only to Theodore of the Ritz and a few of his trusted confidants.
You still think it isn't in nature to be so dumb about a cook book? Well, I'll tell you. Tradition hath it that the good fairies who presided over a certain hermit's birth away back in the past forgot all about dowering him with the Order of the Skillet. It completely slipped their minds. Observing which, a rather dissipated but kindly old hamadryad who was skulking about the place waved her wand and cackled shrilly, "He'll never be able to cook, but he'll eat practically anything." The ancient prophecy has come true, and then some; to this day I couldn't tell a ramekin from a lambkin if I were to swing. I do wish that old hamadryad had thought up something snappier, such as the magic gift of baking my own gingerbread instead of the talent for gulping it by the acre about once every three years. She is the direful spring of all my troubles. All her fault the morbid yearning for strawberry shortcake which, much as I struggle against it, runs like a minor strain or a boll-weevil through my written works. Thence the Russian pity, the Weltschmerz, the wondering betimes whether, after all, Santa Claus isn't just a solar myth.
So my cooking is nothing to brag of. My humble efforts aim not so much at the creation of new, novel and startling effects as at stirring up a pot of mush; I aspire no longer to achieve the ineffable, but to avoid the utterly inedible. The net result is full of good intentions, some have even called it grub. I have but one lasting regret: that I have furnished certain stuck-ups with evidence that the American cuisine, as they go about raving, is punk. Does that give visiting wise-crackers leave to remark, "What's one man's poison is chocolate blanc mange à la Cuppy?" Is it polite and seemly for my company from the city to spend their time guessing whether my fritters are animal, vegetable or mineral?
I have saved for a final word the main secret of me and my cook book. Read and ponder, hermits, but don't go shouting it out for all to hear. Go ahead and enjoy the esoteric pleasure I shall share with you, but remember that for less, far less, some very nice people have been lured into red brick institutions and accommodated in rooms with cushioned walls—because, forsooth, they were a little different! There's a way of thinking about your three squares. Buy a cook book that contains, like mine, meals for every day in the year, all nicely cooked and arranged and everything. When your cuckoo clock strikes the hour, turn to the proper page, loosen your belt and peruse. You'll be surprised at the added zest to hermiting. The habit will grow on you; you'll find, as time goes on that you can't do without it. Go to it, but mum's the word if you see one of those mental specialists around; he's sure to go talking about the flight from reality and regression to second childhood and acute anaphylaxis and the like of that. What do those birds know about reality? They think that reality is anything that's no fun.
To-day my cook book luncheon consisted of scrambled mutton, Welsh rabbit, olives, hominy croquettes, currant jelly, molasses cup cake and chocolate. To-night I dine upon oyster soup, roast loin of pork with applesauce, boiled sweet potatoes, scalloped onions, stewed carrots, pickled green peppers, royal sago pudding with sweet sauce, crullers, fruit, cheese and coffee. Wouldn't I be the fool to sniff at that?
As I've been working pretty hard, to-morrow I plan to splurge a bit in time and space. I may go to Mrs. Cleveland's wedding lunch, though the layout there will be simpler than I'm used to—nothing, really, except the snipes on toast and the mottoes for dessert. I'd take in General Grant's birthday dinner, only it begins with clams; besides I had squabs yesterday at the menu for six covers on page 463. The buffet for 1,000 people ought to be worth while, especially the cold saddle of venison, but maybe I ought to attend the state dinner at the White House—their hors-d'œuvres are always splendid, and they offer some interesting dishes called Haute Sauterne, Amontillado, Rauenthaler Berg, Ernest Jeroy, Château Margause and Clos de Vougeot. No, I won't, either. I couldn't work afterwards, and besides, the whole beauty of not being president is that you needn't attend these tiresome formal banquets. I shall be content with the homey little family dinner on page 429:
Oysters on Half Shell
Roast Turkey Oyster Stuffing
Mashed Potatoes Boiled Onions
Baked Winter Squash
Cranberry Sauce Chicken Pie
Plain Celery Lobster Salad
Olives Spiced Currants
English Plum Pudding Wine Sauce
Mince Pie Orange Water Ice
Fancy Cakes Cheese Fruits
Nuts Raisins Confectionery
That will be all for to-morrow excepting baked apples, hominy, broiled white fish, ham omelette, potatoes à la Crême, Parker House rolls, crullers and toast for breakfast, and cold roast turkey, Boston oyster pie, celery salad, baked sweet potatoes, rusks, fruit cake and sliced oranges for supper. The next day I hope to spend quietly at home, perhaps in the bedroom, reading the pages on barley water, weak oatmeal gruel, arrowroot porridge, molasses posset, boneset tea and Grandmother's Universal Liniment.
They kid me a lot about my cabbage. I take it raw, in rather large and unusual quantities. Just the other day some joker sent me a home talent painting of a head of cabbage with Russian dressing and blue eyes—a darned good likeness, too, though the nose was insulting and my ears don't flap that way. Let them have their fun. I love cabbage, and I don't mean kohl-rabi.
I am not ashamed of my passion for cabbage. I know and the cabbage knows there is nothing in our relations which may not with the strictest propriety go on between a God-fearing hermit and a green vegetable. If at times our close companionship seems to stray outside the bounds of the completely abstract—well, my good gosh, we're made like that, aren't we? Yet I've heard talk. Rumor has made much more than was necessary out of the fact that I slept with my cabbage a part of last winter to keep it from freezing; literally to save its life, not to mention my own. I think that people who find food for gossip in that must have a strong tendency that way themselves. It shows what their minds run on! Besides, it isn't as if I was alone with the cabbage. There were plenty of potatoes in the same bedroom.
Cabbage is one of my hobbies, and I can't see why it is not just as respectable as chasing butterflies, raising Belgian hares, carrying a cane or piscatology in general; we need not speak of chess and philately, as I have no wish to hurt any one's feelings. Green vegetables are fashionable, too, and even a hermit has to keep in the swim. I probably chose cabbage because it lasts longer than most and is less sensitive to the violent changes in temperature on Jones's Island. Mine is no blind and deaf infatuation, for I can see the charm of the others. They are hard to get, however, and you can't go sleeping with a bedful of lettuce, beet leaves and turnip-tops half the time. I haven't come to that yet.
Indeed, I hope to branch out next winter with more or less fresh things that won't stay the night. One of the men on the steam dredge has volunteered to be my endive bearer, and Rattlesnake Ned will act as tomato messenger when he comes from shore. I'm thinking up a human chain and relay system that ought to do wonders, and if all goes well I shall see Great South Bay dotted with swift ice-boats bringing me this and that. It ought to give me a much more wholesome outlook. You know a tomato here, a lemon there and so on soon count up.
I maintain that cabbage is worth the money. Not a few housekeepers disparage it because it happens to be 91.5 per cent water in the raw state. Why pay out cash for mere moisture, they inquire, especially if you have to chew it? Because of what they believe to be the high watery content of cabbage they are inclined to look upon it more as a beverage. They are blissfully unaware that cauliflower is 92.3 per cent water and that the official returns on asparagus, celery, lettuce and cucumbers are 94 per cent, 94.5 per cent, 94.7 per cent and 95.4 per cent! It would be a good lesson if some professor told these people who object to the contents of cabbage exactly what they are made of! I suggest that all housekeepers looking for something dry take up a diet of cowpeas in a serious way—they are only 13 per cent water. If I were mean enough I'd mention evaporated carrots, perhaps the dryest substance known to science, only 3.5 per cent water.
Others deprecate our hero on the ground that a pound of it gets you only 143 calories. Here again one runs into the significant fact that leeks provide only 125 calories to the pound and raw pumpkin but 117. If mere calories are what you seek in life, why not dried beans at 1,564 calories? A pound of potato chips will put 2,598 calories under your belt, the trouble being that a pound of potato chips, when stowed away, is said to be nineteen and two-thirds times as heavy as a pound of feathers. If all else fails, a pound of shelled hickory nuts will turn the trick, for they average 3,238 calories to the pound. Unfortunately the person who tried to verify this by eating several pounds at a sitting left no record of his sensations, it all happened so quickly.
Of course, if you cook your cabbage, all this advice goes for naught. The watery content, for instance, advances to the ruinous and really unreasonable mark of 97.4 per cent. Why this is true, if it is true, I cannot say. Perhaps the mathematicians include the soup in their calculations. I had supposed that the water would sort of seep out of the cabbage while boiling, thus accounting for the familiar clinical picture (limpness), but seems not; apparently part of the water you pour in seeps into the cabbage; the whole thing is difficult and complicated, a problem understood in all of its aspects only by Dr. Albert Einstein and twelve other superior brains here and there, chiefly the latter.
Other more ghastly evils follow the cooking of cabbage. For one thing the revolutions of cooked cabbage upon its axis are thirty times as numerous as those of Welsh rabbit, not to speak of its simultaneous whizzing around its orbit and the phenomenon of mean left ascension. Plenty of people have lived through a sight of boiled cabbage, but don't ask me how. Its effect upon me is approximately that of equal parts strychnine and prussic acid. Toxicologists and criminologists would do well to get wise to this side of their profession, for I am firmly convinced that all this raving of ratsbane, deadly nightshade, cyanide, dhatura and other subtle Hindu poisons in so many of our murder trials could be obviated by the application of a little common sense. The state would be saved a pile of money and many an innocent victim would escape the chair if only it were realized that in nine cases out of ten the whole trouble was due to boiled cabbage. It wasn't arsenic, it was simply cabbage. I don't care if Apicius, the famous Roman man about town, did cook it. Apicius was the chap who used to stuff dormice with asafetida and then eat them to an obbligato of choice Latin phrases; any one who would do that will bear watching. His cabbage recipe in his "De Re Culinaria," which he probably did not write, begins: "Take only the most delicate and tender part of the cabbage, which boil, and then pour off the water; season it with cummin seed, salt, old wine, oil, pepper, alisander, mint, rue, coriander seed and gravy." Other things he might add from time to time were onions, raisins, leeks, flour of almonds and olives, with perhaps a sprinkling of anise seed, hyssop, pennyroyal and birdseed; if he had any asafetida handy, that went in, too. I must admit that he had the right idea about disguising this powerful food, but, personally, having been practically raised on it, I've done all for asafetida that I'm ever going to do. In my opinion, boiled cabbage will never come into its own until our research experts discover some entirely new principle of ventilation and one or more disinfectants stronger than formaldehyde.
Later on, having spent a round four million dollars on his alimentary canal, Apicius committed suicide because he had only half a million left and was afraid of starving to death. As nobody ever went bankrupt on cabbage, I assume it was the dormice that ruined him—he'd better have stuck to his greens. Despite his example, I just chop mine into hunks with a knife and sometimes add salt and vinegar; as yet the technique of coleslaw eludes me, but that may come in good time.
A correspondent signing herself "Maizie" is obsessed with the notion that living as I do entirely upon raw cabbage (which I do not) I must soon find myself practically bedridden and unable to write book reviews, if not a charge upon the community. Investigation shows that there is something in what she says, though not much. It is held in some quarters that cooking one's cabbage helps to rupture the little starch grains, thus making them more readily digestible, but out here at Jones's if the little starch grains remain unruptured, that's their hard luck. My time is worth money, or would be if I could get it to do. If I had any to spare I'd rid up the kitchen, buy an encyclopædia on the instalment plan, read the Sunday papers and write a play; then I'd consider rupturing the starch grains.
"You'll be champing raw turnips next," submits the fair unknown. You flatter me, Maizie, I invented that sport. And, by the by, I wish some of my dietetic colleagues would stop talking about chopped swedes, escalloped swedes, shredded swedes, swedes au gratin and so forth. It makes me nervous. If they mean rutabagas, why not say so; better still, why not work off their sadistic impulses on mangel-wurzels? I don't care what happens to mangel-wurzels, but any reference to French fried swedes never fails to give me a turn. If there is a time and place for such, it's in a detective story, not a cook book. No, Maizie, I'm not a vegetarian. I have nothing against meat, as such. If I dwelt on the mainland, next a butcher shop, my life would probably be one long, delirious symphony of Hamburger rare; as it is, a carbohydrate in the system is worth two proteids across the bay.
Doctors have always depended upon this wonderful plant in emergencies, so much that they often exclaim, "When in doubt, cabbage!" This remedy was used by Hippocrates upon his wealthiest patients, sharing equal honors with such items as asphodel, bryony, henbane, hellebore, squills, poppy and mandragora, and with most felicitous results upon the blood, the phlegm, the bile and the black bile; the fact that Hippocrates thought the earth was flat is neither here nor there. Cabbage shed a trifle of its prestige as a panacea when Asclepiades invented the Doctrine of Solids, as opposed to the Doctrine of Fluids, or Humors, but what it lost there it gained on the roundabouts. Dioscorides, private physician to Antony and Cleopatra, invariably succeeded with cabbage when petrified toads failed to do the work.
A few of the younger Greeks believed that this herb had an unfortunate effect upon the cerebrum, resulting in an acute form of hedonism; it is too late now to find out whether it was that or something else. Possibly a long continued and exclusive diet of cabbage might in time weaken the normal brain, but it is doubtful whether a normal brain would be caught in that galley. At any rate, Pythagoras urged cabbage upon his friends and enemies, and Cato the Elder is said to have regarded it as a certain cure for the plague, the quinsy and chronic blindstaggers. Of late it has proved its worth in stubborn cases of hordeolum, or congenital baldness (Alopecia congenitalia), where the child is born without hair, isn't that killing?
Among the ancient Chaldeans, Assyrians and Babylonians cabbage was held in high esteem, providing as it did a welcome change from the eternal barley, millet, sesame, locusts and wild honey. You all know the anecdote about King Sennacherib of Assyria and what it says in the Code of Hammurabi, while King Nebuchadnezzar's fondness for greens was notorious throughout Babylon, indeed, throughout Mesopotamia; it was Belshazzar, however, who spilled the beans. The Egyptians fell into line, for all the popular fallacy that they ate only lepidotus, nefareh, sagbosa, lotus and papyrus. To become convinced of this one has but to study carefully the hieroglyphs of the falcon Horus, the dog Anubis and the ibis Thoth.
Prominent Egyptians whose names I associate with cabbage include Queen Hatshepsut of the XVIIIth dynasty, who got such a bad break; Khufu, or Cheops, who built the Great Pyramid, and Prince Ptah-hotpe of the Cairo Ptah-hotpes. But my main exhibit is Amenhotep IV, otherwise Akhnaton, a veritable slave to the stuff; a rather fascinating personality, though something of an impractical dreamer. Full of piety, good works and misfortune he was always munching a handful of you know what and thinking beautiful thoughts while the Hittites sneaked up on him from behind. It is a strange fact that cabbage addicts are mostly of the visionary type and cursed with more than their share of hard luck. They bear it all with Christian fortitude. When they see a lot of dumbbells running loose, impressing magazine editors and making heaps of money, they just smile tenderly and murmur, "Heaven bless those dumbbells. God is love and the editors are right. Who am I? Nobody!" They act that way even when their rivals are obviously swinging from branch to branch by their tails.
Naturally, Akhnaton was partly to blame for his troubles, though I can't see just where the catch was. Josephus tells us that he was very homely, maybe that was it. Interested as he was in the serious problems, he never did find out what it was all about. I think his mind lacked a certain fundamental sanity; some of his contemporaries did not hesitate to hint as much. He was obviously neurotic, and must have been an awful strain on his wife, Queen Nefertiti the One-eyed, she that was the daughter of Ay and Ty and sister to Mutnothem, who married Harmhabi. You may recall that Akhnaton and Nefertiti had seven daughters; one of them, Enkhsenpeaton, got married to Tutankhamen. The other girls did well for themselves, too, which ought to stop the rumor that cabbage is a vulgar vegetable—for that matter, it never pretended to be a calla lily. Moreover, there is evidence all about us that plenty of cabbage came over in the Mayflower.
How did Akhnaton get that way? How did I? Well, I suppose that I incline my thoughts towards cabbage for the same reason that Immanuel Kant kept harping on the categorical imperative and that Bishop Berkeley made such an object of himself, and object is putting it mildly; in all these cases the answer is infantile fixations, with me, mother's coleslaw. We would come at cabbage differently, that's all. If I understand Bishop Berkeley, he held that cabbage was mostly in his own head, or at any rate, that its being consisted entirely in being perceived; or, if that isn't plain enough, that its esse was percipe. Kant, on the other hand, insisted that it was a Ding an Sich. At Jones's it's just cabbage and glad to get it. It stays by you, and that's a lot these days.
In the spring a housewife's fancy—if she has any left—lightly turns to you know what. House-cleaning! Magic word! At the very thought existence takes on a rosier hue and one feels rich, indeed, in the blessings of love and all the finer things of the spirit. One night the housewife retires as usual. Comes the dawn, lightly she leaps forth, caroling, "Oh, goody, goody! Spring, the season of housecleaning, is here! How good to be alive! How wonderful that I am a housewife with a dirty house to clean from cellar to attic. Hooray! Hooray!! Hooray!!!"
A few take it harder. Here and there a housewife will merely roll over and mutter, "Spring has come! To hell with it!" To such the vernal equinox is only a pain in the neck, and they don't care who knows it. Hermits are the same way. The average hermit requires only about two minutes to decide that last year's housecleaning is good for another twelve months. And the pity is that most hermits' shacks could very well do with a dusting, if not a thorough coat of whitewash inside and out.
My own bungalow is much more vast in extent, and my housekeeping problems therefore considerably larger, than most people seem to realize. All the talk about my tiny shanty must have started when I told one of those New York interviewers that my shack measured 20 by 20 feet, as, in fact, it does; I may state that he wasn't interviewing me at the time—we just happened to be lunching at the same counter on one of my trips to the city. I see what must have occurred. This chap repeated to somebody else the dimensions of my four-room domicile, and it got around that since the whole thing measured 20 by 20 feet, each of the four rooms must measure 5 by 5 feet. Ask somebody to figure it, and listen.
Now I'm not going to argue. Any one who is willing to concentrate, brush up on arithmetic, call in the neighbors, draw a few diagrams or come out to Jones's Island with a footrule will eventually find that each room, supposing they were all the same shape, would measure 10 by 10 feet. Nevertheless, either because the calculators stopped school in the third grade for obvious reasons or because the talent for simple subtraction has died out in this country, I still get letters from sympathetic housewives telling me how to be efficient in 5 by 5 rooms. It can't be done. One of my correspondents has gathered that the shack itself is a 5 by 5 affair and that each room is 1¼ by 1¼ feet—another glaring example of confusing the participle with the gerundive. Next thing they'll have me down a rabbit hole.
What I'm getting at is that I have all of 400 square feet of floor space to be spotlessly cleaned each year, let alone the other spring ceremonies. Many words have been wasted on this subject by people who do not seem to know that I own the largest private collection of soaps, washing powders, spot removers, magic scourers and scrubbing brushes in our part of the ocean. And when the proper spring arrives, I shall put them to good use. I do not want to assume an air of conscious merit, but whenever I look at my cleaning things I feel a little thrill of satisfaction at the thought that my home would be as spick and span as any one's if only it had the proper care. And so help me, I'll do it yet, if I ever find the time. Last spring I did sweep—tons! But what the place needs is an utterly ruthless steam shovel in the prime of life, or a savage wrecking crew that has been fed on raw meat, or both.
What I want to make clear is that I'm really a soap-and-water hermit; but somehow, with one thing and another, I can't seem to prove it. Life is difficult enough for any homemaker, but remember that a book reviewing hermit on an island has to do—or ought to do—single handed, in the few moments allowed him at recess, what the whole of civilization, working in shifts on a twenty-four hour schedule for some æons now, has but imperfectly achieved, that is to say keep house. Well I know that the price of cleanliness is eternal vigilance, and even then people will talk—ask, maybe, whether you are sure you washed behind the pump. Anyway, I have one dear friend in New York who knows of my veritable passion for chasing spots. She's always sending me presents of soap—and I'd call that good, wholesome romance.
I wash, too, whatever people may say. Summer colonists who complain that they never see any washing on my line are unaware of my indoor drying system—a little trick I learned from none other than Abigail Adams. My own East Room is always gay with shirts, socks, red bandannas, blue pants and what, if memory serves, used to be pure white towels—I haven't been firm enough with those towels. And I can prove by visitors that I always have three buckets of wash going, as has every hermit worthy of the name. I don't make a lot of useless fuss with ammonia, borax, bluing and boiling, but the good work goes on just the same. I simply soak, wring, hang and repeat, though I have nothing against hermits with washing-mania who devote every Monday to its traditional use. It's a good, clean mania, unless carried to excess. Of course I wash, as everybody ought to know from my family motto, "Lux et Rinso!"
My windows are something else again. Whoever built my house was an ardent advocate of those windows with twelve little panes of glass in each, and how he managed to get six windows into one small shack beats me. That makes seventy-two panes, all rattling at once. "They must be awfully hard to keep clean," a lady once observed, and I often wonder if she wasn't kidding me. It was the first time that aspect of the subject had occurred to your humble hermit. They must be, indeed. I must leave my readers to decide for themselves how I solve this part of my housecleaning problem.
Though the spring riot seldom hits Jones's Island head on, I am far from lacking a certain academic interest in the phenomenon. I reviewed a book on the subject here lately, and I must say the author made cleanliness sound very attractive. Take her cleaning closet de luxe, a dujingus made of white enameled steel, which may be obtained in varying sizes, priced from $60 to $495,000. It has flush construction, well-fitting doors, hardware of the finest quality, nickeled hooks and adjustable shelves re-introducing the central motif of enameled steel. And what is supposed to be kept in this elegant, sanitary object? The family jewels? No, just mops and such, including suction cleaners, brushes and brooms in vast array, carpet sweepers, mop wringers, cleaning baskets, dusters, cleaning cloths, chamois doilies, window cleaners, tongs, floor waxers, stepladders, scrap baskets, soaps, liquid polishes and eyebrow-curlers.
This is truly a far cry from the yellow soap, ragbag and woodshed method prevailing at Jones's Island. I'm afraid that if I owned that closet de luxe I should be tempted to use it as a library and reception room, leaving the dustrags to their fate. One realizes, however, that times are changing. The old mop is not what it used to be. The very pot scourers are demanding a more refined environment and shorter hours. Personally, I'm old-fashioned. I like a mop to keep its place, but at the same time I must try to compromise with the age. Let's be pals with our mops, instead of tyrants. Only thus shall we arrive at a fuller understanding.
That book taught me a lot of other things, too, that you'll never learn in college. The author recommends a circular motion for scouring unfinished wood, prefers the overlapping stroke for dusting ceilings and mentions favorably a correspondent's plea for the upward, instead of the downward, brushing of side walls. One who has suffered makes bold to add that even the downward kind of brushing, with all its many faults, is immensely preferable to the deadly side to side stroke employed by some wall brushers—and the Australian crawl is even worse. The chapter on sweeping was also a revelation to a certain bachelor who has always employed the Kansas cyclone method of removing debris, as was the kitchen section, though when the author speaks casually of the thrice a day cleaning of the sink she is out of my depth. This seems to border dangerously on fanaticism. On the other hand, how timely is her warning against chipping ice in the sink. Who hasn't seen a perfectly swell sink started on the downward path by a thoughtless blow from an ice pick in the clutch of some charming little woman who wasn't quite herself at the time?
Although many other esoteric problems demand research and exposition (by more experienced hands and fancier pens), I must content myself with a concluding word on feather catching, an art much neglected in our day but of prime importance to any one who owns a feather bed, or even a pillow. Countless thousands will bear me out in my statement that one never knows what real excitement is until the feather bed bursts while being turned, beaten or let severely alone. When this happens one gets, of course, a certain amount of transient fun pretending that one is playing the snow scene from "The Two Orphans," but just as surely one finally decides that it cannot and must not go on forever. Something must be done, yet how few housekeepers, when called upon to sweep up a few bushels of feathers which have run amuck, have the faintest notion of what to do beyond yelling for the police?
Successful feather catchers are not born, but made in the give and take of actual experience, tried and tempered in the school of hard knocks, and life has taught them to beware of insensate violence in their chosen field. Probably the only means that would instantly quell an uprising of vigorous, adolescent goose feathers would be a surprise barrage of buckshot or a combined attack of several fire departments, but time has proved both these techniques unwise. Nor can rampaging feathers on holiday be intimidated by wild leapings and cavortings with a broom and dustpan, since for pure impudence, irresponsibility and malicious gayety they are equaled among so-called inanimate objects only by golf balls and collar buttons. When you fly aft in a fine frenzy of misguided confidence, they sail gracefully for'ard, and there you are. And there they are, I might even say.
Don't lose your head. Keep cool, and when the dam things appear to have forgotten all about you, advance slowly upon them with outstretched wet newspapers, enfold them gently and they'll never know what hit them, in case you did bag a few. And the moral of that probably is that feathers, in their way, are a symbol of this our mortal life, which is always breaking out in some other direction the minute you think it's all set. Anyway, once the feathers got loose, the problem of exercise in the home is solved for the next week or so.
Here it is almost Christmas, and not even a list made out yet. No, that's hardly true. I did prepare my usual schedule of the presents I want, but I'm not going to send it around—and you can be the judge who's to blame for it all. It looks very very much as though there would be an empty sock in a certain hermit's shanty this Yuletide, and just when I was trying for a banner year!
Maybe I tried too hard. Anyway, all it got me to go flinging gifts right, left and sideways most of last spring and summer and part of this fall was the name of angling for return parcels this Christmas, an aspersion the more unfortunate in that I already had a slight reputation as a hinter—though I don't call it hinting to tell people to whom I have been properly introduced that I am fond of blue neckties. I repeat that I am fond of blue neckties, and blue neckties I will have, one way or the other.
Those heavy suitcases, huge cardboard boxes and mysterious packages wrapped in old newspapers which I kept lugging ashore all year were presents to friends in New York, that much is perfectly true. For these same friends I risked chronic lumbago and permanently weakened the rowing muscles of Portygee Pete. For them I weathered a blizzard, two cloudbursts and several fights with Long Island railway conductors who tried to put me in the baggage car. At the cost of a pretty penny, as pennies go at Jones's Island, I employed every means of efficient distribution of presents known to modern science, short of calling out Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen, only to discover—with Christmas at my very door!—that my friends weren't much thrilled, if at all, by those boatloads of beach pebbles I took them. No matter how I found out. I can put two and two together when I am notified by a lot of people upon whom I have been lavishing beach pebbles that they have just started on a trip around the world and will be gone quite some time.
Well, I accomplished one thing. I did bring on a sudden and sensational epidemic of Chinese lilies in dozens of homes where all they had ever known about botany was a pot of verbenas. These verbena fans were particularly hard to manage; there seems to be something about that unassuming little plant that makes housewives positively stubborn, or perhaps the verbenas are the effect rather than the cause. Yet I beat down all opposition, terrorized the cowering verbenas and saw to it that those housewives had Chinese lilies, willy-nilly; since, after all, about the only thing you can do with a large consignment of pebbles, after the goldfish bowl is full and the children have taken their pick, is to put them in a shallow bowl and go buy a bulb. And when my generosity was at its height, it took a lot of bulbs to come out even. It was fun while it lasted, but I might have known there was bound to be a reaction. I suppose they got to thinking how they had neglected the verbenas; or perhaps they decided the pebbles were not so hot, anyway, even if the Chinese lily had bloomed—life is like that.
To be sure, the Jones's Island pebbles are only small stones, not very expertly colored. Yet, on their native beach, as the Atlantic surf swirls coolly over them, they are translucent, opaline, iridescent and all that sort of thing. The pity is that in captivity they lose much of their wild, free spirit. A pebble on the seashore is really a wonderful phenomenon, but a pebble in a rolled oats container looks like nothing so much as a pebble in a rolled oats container. By the time it gets to town it is utterly disillusioned. It has lost its joy of living and most of its looks—all the more reason, say I, to give it a helping hand, a warm, old-fashioned welcome in the home and some assurance of a better and brighter to-morrow in a shallow bowl with a bulb. Mere outward beauty isn't everything, though I must admit it's a great deal.
Then look what happened to the tons of bayberries I gave away, not to mention the stone paper weights, the empty quart bottles suitable for lamps and candlesticks, the little glass jugs to be used as vinegar cruets and the skimmer shells for the kiddies. I expected the bayberries to make more of a hit, seems like they used to. With all their faults I love bayberries. The gray, waxen pellets, when denuded of their leafage, make delightful decorations and will last forever if you are careful to glue, sew or tack each berry to the stem; otherwise you will put in a lot of time sweeping them up. The blighted specimens, of course, are not so pretty, and many persons object to the little red worms that come with them. So my bayberry clients have started around the world, too. They seem to have forgotten that I never gave them any umbrella stands full of pampas grass!
Whatever happens Christmas morning—and I'll be up at dawn—my conscience is clear. My motives were good, as motives go; if I happened to think of Christmas once or twice while delivering my beach products, it was in a perfectly nice way and not what they say. I hold no malice. I make no secret of the fact that I love my friends and should like something to remember them by, and if they see eye to eye with me on this proposition, I can do nothing to prevent them. I'll even include the ones who called me a hinter trying to acquire Christmas merit and blue neckties by unloading useless Jones's Island junk all over their rugs. All I want this year, though, is for my friends ashore to have a gorgeous time and give marvelous presents to each other and never think of the lonely hermit in his hut. In this connection I am reminded of a favorite quotation from Wordsworth, immortalized by Mr. Bartlett:
"Give all thou canst; high Heaven rejects the
Of nicely calculated less or more."
Good old Wordsworth!
Although I am not officially releasing my list this year, I may state in a general way that hermits as a class, or sub-species, are not very particular what they get for Christmas, so long as it's something. One hermit, whose identity must not be disclosed, is always tickled to receive shoes in fairly good condition, sizes 8½ to 10, inclusive; dungarees, 34 waist; chest, unexpanded, 38 inches; height, 5 feet 10½ inches; blue eyes and mild disposition unless riled. He's on the prowl all the year round, and nothing makes his eyes glisten with sheer mischief like diverting from its proper source a missionary box intended for the Patagonians, the Uap Islanders, the Binbinga of Northern Australia or the Wagogo of East Africa, unless it's obtaining access to a barrel of odds and ends addressed to some community stricken by flood, earthquake or famine—he's forever asking people if they have heard of an earthquake lately and who is going to send a box.
Since it happens to be extremely fashionable this season to provide for hermits, I will add that presents need not be confined to cut flowers, sheet music and picture postcards of Anne Hathaway's cottage. Why not a beribboned carton of peanut brittle or a gayly painted tin of glacéd prunes, both acceptable combinations of art and nourishment and much more tactful than a great crate of bread and butter. A safe rule to go by is that hermits need about two of everything, and if I were rich I'd see that they got it. So far I have received but one Christmas present from a millionaire. It came in a grand envelope that must have cost a quarter all by itself, and when I opened it, out popped—what do you think?—a wonderful paragraph just bursting with love, best wishes and good advice. Life is like that, too.
If you truly want to bring a little Yuletide joy into the lives of others, my friends, see any mail order catalogue. There's one at the Coast Guard station, and reading it of nights is almost as good as Christmas itself. I've just gone through it again, and if I lose my critical reputation I call it the best book of the year and superior on every count to all but a few of the chosen classics of all time. It wasn't just thought up by some one who was no brighter than he should have been. It has a message. And some day, when my ship comes in, I'm going to write to the author and tell him to rush me one of each. It will cut into the principal and sort of crowd the shack, but it will be, I flatter myself, a magnificent gesture.
I've given the matter quite a bit of thought, and about the only things in our catalogue that I can get along without are ageratum seeds, pickle forks, wind chimes, cuckoo clocks, bee traps, hot air accelerators, artificial boutonnières, imported hand-painted cookie dishes, chin rests for playing the violin, bird remedies, cream separators, sheep dip, asthma relief, air ferns and coin purses. I can't decide about the genuine leather adjustable horse collars for expressing and teaming, and the high quality, waterproof fly nets with straps to buckle around the hames. They're worth considering, but first I want to go thoroughly into the whole subject of hames.
Meanwhile, Christmas is coming! And I, for one, shall be on my best behavior until the last returns are in. I suspect that a great many people are secretly rejoicing in the fact that pebbles and bayberries are out of season. But who knows what a hermit may do when the Yuletide spirit seizes him like a frenzy and the joy of giving rouses all that is worst in his nature? I still have a few pebbles left. I wonder!
History has recorded many famous banquets. Herodotus tells us, I forget just what; but certainly there have been plenty of important feeds—Herodotus was nothing but an old liar, anyway. I know for a fact, and can prove by witnesses, that there recently occurred a pretty large and vociferous dinner party at Jones's Island, and that those present, including myself, some of the hungrier Coast Guards and a couple of visiting hermits from the Eastern marshes, fairly groaned with viands. The repast was spread at and practically all over my shack, and a good time was had, if I do say it. I cooked it myself and didn't lose a guest.
All persons from the mainland were barred by a rising vote of the tribe. We had a rank outsider at our last affair—a humorist from New York—and everything struck him as funny. He made several unnecessary remarks about the food, such as, "Well, you don't go till your time comes!" and kept calling, "Come on in, Lucrezia!" and making other cracks about slow poison. He even looked up the list of antidotes on the back of my cook book. He got away.
That and similar experiences have shown the wisdom of admitting no critical and, for all we know, cultured aliens to the Feast of the Bean. I am afraid we of Jones's are not always careful to observe the delicate line, if any, which differentiates the truly fastidious gourmet from the Motumotu of New Guinea. The whole point of the orgy is quantity or bulk of intake, and individual success depends largely upon the fine art of grabbing, which not infrequently brings out some notable feats of strength and agility rather dangerous to those of frail physique. Sometimes we forget to eat as though we hated it.
I came through the ordeal all right by sticking closely to the rather rigid ceremonial prescribed for the Feast of the Bean. Tradition requires the host, at the appointed hour, to seize the communal megaphone, expand his chest and yell repeatedly, "All hot! All hot!" adding, perhaps, by way of sentiment, "Come and get it!" Invited guests and others within earshot invariably flock in at the rate of ten seconds flat to each hundred yards, whereupon the host points silently to the festive oilcloth in sign of good faith, waves each comer to his chair or its equivalent and puts everybody at his ease with the welcome words, "Eat hearty, boys, and give the ship a good name!" By that time the soup is about gone.
The soup was not clam chowder, for it is a point of honor among beachites to omit that grand but provincial dish sometimes, just for a change, particularly upon extraordinary occasions such as the return from the hunt, hauling in the catch, a tribal wedding or the Feast of the Bean. One can always serve clam chowder, but it is not every host who provides consommé froid, consommé Du Barry, potage à la Bellevue, or split pea, any one of which may be prepared by the initiates in about a day and a half, excepting Barsch with Ushka, the Polish national sport, which takes two weeks without counting the Ushka, and generally involves a score of assistants and social ostracism. If I said we had any of these I'd be fibbing like two hermits. I can make soup, if I have to, I'll say that. In my day I have thought up some highly unusual ones, so much so that many a visitor has exclaimed, "What a soup!" and turned my first course into a guessing game. They have guessed ectoplasm, beaver-board, paranoia and manic-depressive without a single bull's-eye; ten to one it was only left-overs—no trouble at all, but it takes a knack. This time it was canned tomato.
Nor shall I apologize for dealing a patent brand of soup. When all's said, I can't help thinking that those fellows in the factory, who make it a life work, have hit upon a richer mixture than any poor efforts of mine have achieved to date. As for the manual labor, you never know what real, solid comfort is until you quit bucking the soup trust. Mental agony you are spared as well, since people no longer ask you, with sincere concern, whether you have lost your sense of taste or smell, or both. Everybody's happy. Is this spineless compromise? Is this weakly giving in to life? No, in most cases it's just common decency. You may feel that your party's a success when your guests, as mine did, demand at least three helpings—after that, anything goes. Thank goodness for canned soup!
Fortunately, the beans were swell. They had to be, for immemorial custom decrees that they must oblige as fish, entrée, roast, salad, and sometimes dessert. Nothing is said in the by-laws about hors-d'œuvres, and I spent many an anxious moment wondering whether to stage some such course; reason prevailed, and I didn't. A literary correspondent whose help I enlisted, suggested, "Why not escargots à la Bourguignonne?" I simply replied by return mail, "Not in my house!" Her next message, reading "Since when?" failed to alter my decision. For a while I considered Bologna, but my enthusiasm dwindled. By and large, the wursts leave me cold. And pickled beet relish drives me crazy mad.
I find it difficult to exercise restraint when I think of the misguided people whose hors-d'œuvres, day after day, year after weary year, consist of what?—pickled beets. I dare say that pickled beets, with their deadly, soul-sapping monotony, have torn more fond hearts asunder, broken up more happy homes and caused more crimes of passion than any other three vegetables chosen at random. Picture to yourself the young artisan returning from the foundry fairly sober, kissing his happy bride and inquiring with a light laugh, "What have we for hors-d'œuvres this evening, sweet?" "Same old thing, pickled beets!" says she. "Fine!" exclaims the illuded youth, vouchsafed as yet no prevision of the tragedy that is to stalk in after years. If only they had realized! But they never did (not being very bright, anyway) until they met as strangers in the bread-line during a blinding snowstorm, pathetic victims of ten thousand portions of pickled beet relish with all its brood of quarrels, flatirons and bricks. Better, far better, if they had done without hors-d'[oeu]vres altogether. I could furnish more frightful examples by the dozen, now that I have already ruined my plot with this one. Yet how often to-day we hear the cri du cœur from victim after victim of the pickled beet, "My God, I've married a moron!"
Beets in any form are, strictly speaking, a food for the rougher sort of cow. Their one merit from the human point of view is that alcohol may be extracted from them, and a few delightful housewives have the secret of coloring pickled eggs with their aid. The main trouble is that beets contain 85 per cent of concrete. I once boiled a couple of them during an entire afternoon without the slightest result—if anything, they seemed to get harder. Turn, gouge and glare at them as I would, not one' single gleam of intelligence could I get from those beets. In the evening I forked them again, but they had apparently made up their minds to be stubborn, and my own blood was up, too (cf. the old folk-saying, "As stubborn as a beet"). Finally I forgot the water and they were left high and dry. I have always felt that the joke was on them. I must confess that I am against beet soup, too, especially cold. Cold beet soup always gives me the decided impression that life is just a grim joke of the gods, and adding sour cream to it doesn't help much. The fact that the people who put sour cream in cold beet soup are Lithuanians seems a very flimsy excuse.
To return to the Feast of the Bean, another inflexible law, said to have been rushed through by Old Zachs of Zachs Inlet himself, calls for as many beans as a crew of eight surfmen and a skipper can account for at a single sitting, or, as we of to-day interpret the ancient ruling, infinity of beans, beans without end, let or hindrance. Whether the original intention was in this manner to symbolize the fertility of Nature, the bean producer, or the capacity of man, the bean eater, will probably never be determined, obscured as the finer points have been by generations of scribes, yeomen, clam diggers and hermits. At any rate, beans it is.
And a good thing, too. The bean is all that the beet is not. I have small patience with people who are always sneering at the bean and insisting that it caused the Hundred Years' War. A prominent dietitian recently declared that the common or navy bean contains in great abundance every element needed to sustain life; he lost his job the next day, but there may be something in it. He who attacks the bean is threatening the very existence of the social order, at least here at Jones's. He is guilty of treason to the spirit of our American institutions. Such a one must take his chances before the tribunal of history, unless we catch him first.
Where would we be without the bean? Charles Darwin, the evolution man, was a rabid vegetarian, a loyal bean fan. George Bernard Shaw adores beans. William Salt, the eminent antiquarian, Egyptologist and authority on mummies was inspired to some of his most heroic feats by beans and beans alone. And what of those great human documents, Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence? What about the cotton gin and the spinning jenny, or is it the other way round? In my opinion Shakespeare was an out-and-out beanist, though he denied it with some heat.
So many gifted authors have lavished their eloquence upon baked bean recipes that my own humble, unassuming one—requested so often that I dare no longer refuse—may come as an anticlimax. The method with which I have had most success, and remember that I'm not bragging, goes something like this: First be sure your fire is burning like sixty and the dampers are properly adjusted for a strong, steady heat. Have your best bean-pan spotless and gleaming. Lock every door in the house, then sneak to the pantry, select a plump, full-grown, nicely rounded can of beans and use your own judgment. This may shock some of the veterans, but it's a secret every bride should know, and may also stop the report that hermits are too lazy to warm up their food. For the Feast of the Bean I used two large cans to a man, with a dozen extra for possible shrinkage, and nobody reneged except Portygee Pete, who'd had his five squares and could cope with a mere can and a half. As usual, Ned won, claiming a total of three flat. Of course, we had bread, too. We of Jones's hold the old-fashioned Ptolemaic, or pre-Copernican, view that white bread made from denatured flour is the staff of life, and not the rank poison it's supposed to be nowadays. White bread was good enough for Old Zachs, and he lived to be ninety.
The one awkward moment came at the very end of the meal, for the rumor of dessert had somehow got abroad; probably one of the boys saw me pricing plum puddings and imagined I had come into money. I have never understood why dinner guests so often become violent about the dessert, when by every rule of physiology they should be reduced to a state of harmless complaisance and good will towards all. But no, they seem to get a new lease on life about that time, and are likely to start a fight at the first glimpse of a baked apple or worse. Like as not they expected floating island, filled cookies, or even something as sensational and improbable as a banana split or baked Alaska, if not the Venus de Milo in Jello. Well, it passed over all right, but there was a dangerous look in more than one eye when I produced the coffee ring. Next time I'll certainly invest in those canned puddings, or see to it that the coffee ring has nuts on the top—that seemed to be the main grievance. Rattlesnake Ned, with his heart of gold, saved the situation by rustling griddle after griddle of his justly celebrated pancakes, reputed to be the fillingest this side of Montauk Point. After all, the Coast Guard marches on its stomach, and some of the guests still had work to do. Thus was good humor restored and our congenial fellowship spared anything so vulgar as a free-for-all over a coffee ring.
On the whole, and allowing for the dessert, I knew that my party had got across. Already the guests, if able, were rising from their seats with symptoms of that postprandial languor which attests man's kinship to the boa constrictor. Comanche had that blissful look of the bayman who has eaten just a little too much, Ned had assumed the glassy stare with which he always succumbs to the processes of digestion, osmosis, transmogrification and apotheosis on such occasions, and the rest were trying their land-legs about the banquet hall. All was as it should be, for while some epicures love to fancy that they have heard the rustling of angelic pinions with their dinner, we like to feel that something has hit us, that we have something tangible under our belts and that the basal metabolism has plenty to work on. And that's just what we felt. It was ten o'clock of a fair frosty night, sea calm, wind Northwest by North, and we were fed up for another day, or would be after another snack at bedtime. The Feast of the Bean was over, except for rhubarb and soda all round, bicarbonate where needed and a spoonful of Jamaica ginger for Shanghai, the youngest. Shanghai can't stand much.
I'm not so sure that I want to be in a sideshow. I have spent years, you might say, keeping out of one, and I hate to give up the struggle. Still, it's time I was getting started at something.
I don't mean a regular sideshow in a circus, with good pay and a chance to lay up a bit for old age. I never get offers like that. What I mean is—well, it's a very delicate matter, and I hope my readers will forgive my mentioning it. The fact is—and remember it's none of my doings—can I help it if certain persons want to turn my hut into a literary shrine? Of course, it wouldn't be Stratford-on-Avon; anyway, not right at first. But in time—
To get at the plot, we must go back to the morning when I first noticed that peculiar throbbing sensation in my ears. It wasn't really painful; just a sort of vaguely maddening pulsation only loud enough to poison the incoming air waves and evoke some pretty low thoughts without driving a hermit completely nuts—not unlike a radio in the distance, except that radios sometimes stop, if the owner is shot. For a while I thought it must be a mosquito in the aural vestibule, or maybe in the Eustachian tube—and why my Eustachian tubes are not always full of mosquitoes is more than I know.
Along towards evening, after first aid treatment with hot cylinder oil, iodine, Sloan's and ten-penny nails, I ruled out the mosquito and flew to the family doctor book, as I always do when I want a good scare. And there I read, as the wind howled mournfully outside and the lightning struck everything but my humble cot, how I had not only elementary tinnitus, or noises in the ears, but acute otitis media, with secondary dislocation of the malleus, incus and stapes and rupture of the main drum (the ten-penny nails did that!), accompanied by serious disturbance of the endolymph, complete functional breakdown of the auricle and the pinna and something frightfully wrong with, of all things, the cochlea—I never knew I had one! Well, I was fit to be tied.
Naturally, I took steps and practically everything else in the medicine chest, nor did I neglect to send up a few heartfelt petitions to whatever gods there be—a little habit I have when I'm sick, right reason or no right reason. All this modern science served only to intensify the symptoms and bring on complications. I began seeing things, too; and where I had pains you wouldn't believe. So I resigned myself to the worst, put my affairs in order and went ashore to the doctor. And, to make a long story short, he refused to operate. This was just as well, for the noises turned out to be steam dredges in the bay.
Yes, steam dredges in the bay, quite a ways off as yet, but creeping slowly and ever slowly towards my hermitage. And why? You may well ask.
I have decided to be very nice about these dredges and what they did to my life. God bless them! They were, and still are, as I pen these words, engaged in pumping up sand to build a road, with bridges, across the bay, so that thousands upon thousands of utterly delightful people can drive their automobiles right out to Jones's Island and up and down the length of same on a concrete boulevard. As I live and breathe, a concrete boulevard. For it seems that as a joint result of recent elections, modern philanthropy and what is known in my family as the Luck of the Cuppys, Jones's Island is going to be a State Park.
And God bless whoever thought that up! Now all and sundry can come right out to my shack and have picnics in my front yard with their banana peelings, cute little poodles, golden-haired infants with pop-guns, canned music and firecrackers. God bless them! To all concerned in this perfectly splendid scheme for bringing a little sunlight into the lives of the masses and disrupting what is left of my reason I wish the very best of everything in this great big beautiful world—would that they had but one neck. And yet, my friends, and yet! Was it for this that I—well, was it for this?
At first I'm afraid I was selfish about the State Park. I talked of sinking the dredges, blowing up the bridges, seizing the post office and murdering the politicians with subtle tortures that would make Edgar Wallace look sillier. And I didn't mean a word of it. Through suffering I have come to realize that State Parks, as part of the glorious march of civilization—which is to say as part of the general conspiracy against hermits—will go on and on, and I'm through fighting them. I've done all I can against the glorious march of civilization, and I haven't scratched the surface. I realize, too, that the poor mainlanders with Fords must have sunlight and fresh air and a bath and hot dogs, and that the only place they can get these is Jones's Island, and I'm sorry now that when I first heard of their dire need I exclaimed, "Why don't they eat cake?" God bless them again, and that goes double.
That's how I come to be planning a literary shrine for the multitude, just when I was getting started as a hermit—with prospects, too, such as they were. I am not pushing the idea in any immodest manner. I'm only saying that if it be the will of the people, if the sovereign state of New York so orders and decrees, I'm willing to dicker. If, on the other hand, I am requested to move on to some other beach, and make it snappy, I won't answer for my neuroses. I'm not the migrating type, and it would be plain hell taking up with a lot of strange clams. I want to stay, even if I have to be one of the Zips.
I must admit that my shrine would be the least worthy known to fame; and perhaps the only one featuring a reviewer of detective stories. The park officials could ward off criticism on that score by posting large and conspicuous signs reading, "This Way To The World's Worst Literary Shrine." I shall insist upon that. My shack doesn't pretend to be Poe's Cottage or the last resting place of Alice and Phœbe Gary, and I shall make no such claim. Still, I see where they're fitting up a memorial for Henry Thoreau,who lived for two years by a mere pond up in Massachusetts, and if you ask me, he was only fair to middling. They have quite a shrine for John Burroughs, too, the famous peewit chaser of some time back, and what's so noble about chasing peewits I never could understand. Such facts lead me to hope that I might get over, on my merits. I'm not woodsy, like Thoreau and Burroughs, but I can wiggle my ears.
Really, I think my hut is rich enough in literary associations to make a passable showing, when everything is set out in glass cases, with labels and dates and things. To the right as you enter would be my herbarium of rejection slips from some of the leading magazines, with the actual manuscripts razzed and letters from the editors explaining in none too guarded terms just why I am not front page news—some of them very nice people, but natural-born hermit haters; also communications from prominent authors and newspaper readers inquiring why I don't see a cranial surgeon, now that operations are nothing at all. And, of course, the First Folio, containing the complete authentic, unexpurgated text of all my books, namely, "How To Be a Hermit," together with notes by the commentators, if there should be any.
I'm short on portraits and busts at present, but that's soon fixed; and I think I'll plant a mulberry tree, just in case. And why not a small aquarium showing the seven ages of clams from the larval state to fritters à la Zachs? Later I'll arrange parking space for the pilgrims who come in motor cars, wheel chairs and such; the rest will be a mere matter of a few guides, guards, interpreters, bouncers and barkers—that'll be Ned, who was born with a caul and a carnival.
And speaking of art, isn't there something said of a sixpence at Stratford Church? If so, I wonder whether it is good form to collect while one is yet quick? I should certainly feel like a ninny taking dimes at the door, yet I think it only fair to charge a nominal fee. Perhaps Ned will relieve me of the sordid details on a commission basis—of course, the park officials will get theirs too. Even at five cents a caller I believe my whole attitude towards visitors would change for the better. Or would it be more in the spirit of simple dignity and classic traditions to have a hermit-box for voluntary contributions? Frankly, I feel that it would not.
There would have to be a candy counter, but one thing I'm going to be firm about. I'll not have the whole thing cheapened with a lot of high pressure business. There will be no hot dogs in my shrine. They'll be outside, with the peanuts, popcorn, soft drinks, souvenir clam shells, photographs and autographed copies of "How To Be a Hermit." And while we are on this embarrassing subject of money, I may as well state that any hero worshipers who appear with offers of bronze tablets, stained glass windows and illuminated scrolls attesting my influence upon the decline and fall of American letters will be given fifty per cent off for the cash. Dividends may be slow at first, so I think I'll just sit in a corner, reviewing books, protected by a rope fence and a sign announcing, "Visitors Are Strictly Forbidden To Prod Or Feed The Hermit." I'm crazy about peanuts, too, but you've got to keep order. Pilgrims who insist upon meeting me, strictly for literary purposes, may do so for fifteen cents extra, two for a quarter.
Of course, if I put on the act, my hut must have a name—and not The Cuppy Hole, either. I did call it Villa Mon Repos one season, but I'd rather have something I can pronounce. Another year I hit upon Flotsam, and that only kept me explaining, with no very tangible results, what I had against Jetsam. I rather liked Flotsam, but you can't be forever explaining the difference between flotsam and jetsam, with a dictionary that gives you practically no help; and I may say that I'm in favor of clearing up the matter once for all by making jetsam the female of flotsam, or vice versa. Anyway, I finally painted out the Flot and left Sam, which caused even more excitement; so one day Ned and I took Sam for a ride. That left me with a prominently displayed sign about Rabbits For Sail, but that was never the name of the shack, any more than last winter's Steam-Fitting And Plumbing Done Here—just boards for patching the porch.
Kind friends have suggested plenty of names, but something is wrong with them all; and you can parse that to suit yourselves. Castle Terrabil sounds kind of grand and Arthurian, until you think it over, and the same is true of Moronia and Dumbbellton Grange. Bellevue is a nice name, too, but kind of ambiguous. Tottering-on-the-Brink is good. In fact, it is much too good. You can't tell me that the race has gone on for millions of years without thinking that up and using it long ago. If we are reasonable beings in a reasonable scheme, dozens of hermits, created for that special purpose, must have lived, suffered, hoped in vain and died unwept in bungalows named Tottering-on-the-Brink. Otherwise, where are we?
For years and years I tried to think up something of the sort used by the summer colonists, who run to such hospitable lengths as Dew Drop Inn, Uneeda-Rest and Dowantogawa. I dallied with Keepa-Going, Go-Rite-On-By, Danger This Means You, and Smallpox, but lost my nerve. Same with Nobody Home, which could easily give the wrong impression. Besides, I need something now that will draw the crowds. Heartbreak House might be over their heads, and so would Help Wanted, and Concha del Clam is perhaps too upstage for a ten-cent attraction.
Ah, well! A part of the dream is dreamed out, and the rest will be as may be. The Fords have not actually arrived, and meanwhile I have some names that I like to meditate upon as the bridge crawls closer to my hermitage. God bless that bridge! Perhaps my favorite, no kidding, is Fool's Paradise; to me it means a lot of things that I haven't time to explain. And sometimes my home is Joyous Gard, because of the Zachs Inlet crew, and sometimes Just An Idea, after one of the Prince of Wales' horses. In more literary moments I think of it as one of those P. G. Wodehouse places, but I never can decide between East Wobsley, Little-Wigmarsh-in-the-Dell, Lower-Briskett-in-the-Midden and Higgleford-cum-Wortlebury-beneath-the-Hill. So now I just call it August Johnson, as you may verify by the huge gold curlicued letters over my porch. Shanghai found the gorgeous sign on the beach and dragged it home, knowing my taste in art or its equivalent. It's a swell sign and an honest, respectable name, but I'm open to reason.
And to think that the very day before I heard of the State Park I was all set on Hermit's Snug Harbor. Pretty tough, what?
At the moment, I confess, I'm a hermit up in the air. To Zip or not to Zip, that is the question. I know just how that poor fellow felt when he couldn't make up his mind about whatever it was; but I'll never admit that he was mad, and if he was a bit off, why wouldn't he be? What would he have done in my shoes? He'd have made a fearful mess, one way or another, that's all we can be sure of, the rest is silence. I'd better be asking, what would Anthony have done—meaning, naturally, my favorite hermit, Antonios the Egyptian.
It's uncanny how I stumble along in the footsteps of that grand old guy, though falling rather more frequently beside the way. He had his Jones's Island, too—a pleasant breathing place beside the Nile, whither he had retired from the foolish goings-on of Heracleopolis and Alexandria. For twenty years he dwelt there in great peace and content in a little abandoned fort in the sand, and no man set eyes upon him; no, nor woman, neither, excepting the somewhat persistent wraith of the Queen of Sheba, who wouldn't take no for an answer. And one day, aware of unseemly commotion, he stepped forth, astonished, into that fierce light which beats upon a hermit. Did his eyes deceive him?
Nay, 'twas true enough. The place was alive with hermits, profane tourists, camels, donkeys and unclassified. Somebody had constructed a pilgrim road across the Nile, and now the little crooked fort in the sand was become the center of a thriving settlement; and its name was Aphroditopolis! You may read in the "Apophthegmata Patrum" of our hero's horror. So Antonios of Egypt stood there, thinking long, long thoughts, and staggered back into the fort to think some more.
He bore it for a time, but finally, according to an ancient manuscript, "he beat it to a more remote part of the desert." In fact, he never stopped running until he reached the Red Sea. I like to think that he was happy there, meditating his fill, resisting some wonderful temptations and communing betimes with passing Anthropophagi, Cynocephali, Nisnas, Blemmyes and Sciapods. He was a great one for the likes of that, Antonios was. You do meet some interesting Blemmyes, considering that they have no heads, but I never could abide those Sciapods, who lie fettered to the earth by their hair, with their umbrella-shaped feet in the air to keep off the sun and the rain—I always get the feeling that they do it on purpose.
Of course, there were always the Sphinx and the Chimera to converse with, and such pets as sadhuzags, basilisks, griffins and catoblepases. All I have is a phœnix and a unicorn and a dipsas—and the dipsas is pining away. I've always wanted a catoblepas, but I don't know. I might get all moved and wish I was back. I suppose a catoblepas has its drawbacks, too.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia