THE CONTRIBUTORS’ CLUB
IN the mind of the wide-eyed child traveler, refreshments by the way are the greatest delight of the journey, as well as the most frequent necessity. The dripping water-cooler in the end of the car is as alluring as a very fount of the naiads; and ambrosial are sandwiches from nice white boxes, bananas from the kind newsman, and chance cookies from a neighboring old lady’s bag — these are in the foreground of delights, with flying woodlands, rumbling bridges, waving children on disappearing fences, prancing wild-tailed horses in running pastures, as a much less actual and enjoyable background. Later in child-life — and more luxurious in child-experience — the ingenious surprises of the buffet-car and the bewildering abundance of the diningcar become the true objective points of the journey, and are as magical as if a genius should produce baked beans and ham sandwiches from the ring on his finger. No matter how brief the journey may be, it is in getting a drink and taking a bite that the little persons on half-fare find the real reason for traveling.
And with us older folk, too, refreshments by the way have their value, quite aside from the fact that they have sustained us — provided, of course, that they are refreshments, and not just food and drink Most valuable and most significant have they been to those of us who traveled before the dining-car was ‘ put on at Buffalo,’ and who have rattled over remote tracks on which never tinkled ice-water and silver dollars. Not delicious, perhaps, from a table-d’hàte standard were the sandwiches and doughnuts hurriedly drawn in through car-windows,the blueberry pie hastily consumed on a high stool, in the presence of a chatty maiden who made digest ion more sure by watching your train for you. But oh, how delicious the meadows’ sweet air that blew in with the sandwiches! How spicy the woodbine by the restaurant window! And how engaging the eyes of the lad who took your ten cents and told you, quite unmelodramatically, that mother had made the doughnuts, and then, if the engine’s breathing continued difficult, pointed out the meeting-house spire over yonder, the road that led to a swimming-place, the inviting piazza of the American Eagle Hotel! And how delightful — how infinitely more delightful than the trickle of a Pullman wash-room — the cold gush of a chance pump at some wayside station, where, before making a rush for a glass cake-cover, you dashed real water over your face and wrists! Perhaps a friendly dog nosed your boots, or a small girl offered you a short-stemmed handful of violets; and after the pie, you dropped, really refreshed, into your seat, and watched regretfully the little station and the hats of the platformloiterers slide behind your car-window , and, so far as you were concerned, back into the map. What matter if summer resort proved laborious, or city dull, or relatives and friends eccentric or bigoted or shallow or ignorant or narrow, or even badly dressed, if there had been such refreshments on the journey!
To those of us who have been quite unrefreshed by such primitive refreshments in our own country, traveling abroad has perhaps offered a food spiced with novelty, which would often equal, if not rival, the charm of castle or of cathedral. Perhaps to equal, if not to rival, what Baedeker stars, would be asking too much of wine or cheese or even omelette. But truly, œfs-auplat eaten under twittering cages of fauvettes, at a vine-hung junction between Paris and Geneva, make one ready for the ecstasy of Mont Blanc, and bees in the honey and purple on the grapes at Giessbach lift one’s mood to the height of a first meeting with the Jungfrau.
The map of Europe, to certain of us who have wondered and been refreshed — sometimes with little but a rundreise in our pockets — is starred with such experiences: a basket of Westmoreland strawberries, and a brown and wrinkled smile from an old woman in the station at Penrith; a yellow bowl of milk, banded with blue, bought at a thatched cot on the high moors just over the Border, during a wait for the up-train from Durham; tea and scones and a Scotch song on the coach near Braemar, ’mang the bonny Highland heather; cherries and passion-flowrers and the laughter of children on the Sorrento road! And yet, after all, not just eggs and bread and cherries and tea, those refreshments, so full of sweet humanness, of human nearness through the sudden rift in distance and strangeness! Truly, such refreshments are almost sacraments in the great religion of brotherly love!
And yet how many girdle the world, hungry, thirsty, unrefreshed except for the dining-car and the table-d’hœte! How many time their run, or buy their tickets, for diner at the Schweizerhof! Fancy putting on full speed for déjeuner at Morlaix, when at the old milehouse in the valley of Landeveneck, which runs down to the sea, the hens are cackling of omelettes ready to hop into Mère Gonvil’s pan, and Mère Gonvil is ready to tell you, while you eat, of the six tall sons who go on the Iceland fishing, all save the three who have gone down in the gales! Or fancy taking the express for Inverness when, quite simply, by missing connections, you can sup over the peats in a Highland kitchen, off fresh eggs and toast and jam, with the bairns, big-eyed and still, watching you from the shadows, and outside, the pipes skirling softly at the door, and the moon rising over the heathery moors.
Oh, that they live at all, anywhere, anyhow, those great rich ones that never are refreshed! They eat cresses, yet what know they really of brooks and skimming swallows! They dine off spring lamb and mint sauce and ducks from the wild sea-marshes, and they talk of stocks and bonds and clothes!
Rather would I send my spirit alone on excursions, leaving me to toss fagots on my fire and darn my damask, than go myself in body a-traveling, so much eyes and ears that my spirit is left behind. One word with a peasant in his own speech is worth one of the old masters, and the plucking of an olive in a gray Tuscan orchard teaches a wisdom beyond books. And food is but food without the flash of spirit upon spirit.
O Hermes, when thou leadest the phantoms of men outworn down the dark ways past the streams of Oceanus, pause once in the land of dreams and give them a bunch of cress and a greeting, and so refresh them before they fare on to the Elysian fields!