Here Are Soporifics
I have here, wakeful reader, a pair of mental lullabies. The elder of them, which, as you see, appears a trifle dog’s-eared, has been in use for half a dozen years. I can establish that date, for I began to use it shortly before our Charles and Susan E— announced their engagement — an event, it will be remembered, which took place in the autumn of 1913. Relations and friends have long urged me to give it to the public; but it was only on my discovery of a second, or emergency, anodyne, complementary to the first, that I resolved to publish both.
It was, as I have said, during the time when Charles was absent so often and so long, at the E—s’, and when his grandmother and myself were naturally somewhat solicitous about his affairs, that I fell into the unlucky habit of lying awake for some time every night among the small hours. I counted sheep; watched three black rabbits going lippety-lop in the snow; repeated hymns; made my mind a vacuum; ‘put my fingers to sleep’; bore down heavily with my head on the pillow; drew long breaths, and ate apples at bedtime. All in vain.
It was not by accident, but by application, that I eventually discovered the principles of the art of resuscitating sleep. It requires, as I learned through long study, a preliminary state of delicate boredom — a soft, monotonous teasing of the brain. To keep the monotony light, the teasing soft, and, as one may say, tranquil, the interest must be shifted often, though leisurely, from point to point. The attention must be held, like the brake of a Ford car, ‘in neutral.’ I applied here the same experimental talents which discovered, in another sphere, the tutti-frutti pie and the rainbow frosting for cake, so famous at our church suppers. I took for my first experiment a word of seven letters, — Spanish, to be exact, — and resolved to think of a river, a newspaper and a vegetable, beginning with each letter.
‘The Schuylkill,’ I began, ‘the Warsaw Sentinel,’ and, after a little search, ‘salsify.’ From a light clouding of the consciousness I waked, and went on, ‘The Po — the New Orleans Picayune, — parsnips. The Amazon — the Commercial Advertiser — asparagus.’ On this toothsome suggestion I fell asleep; and it lent an aroma to my dreams.
On how many a wakeful night, from that day to this, have I used my ‘ hourly varied anodyne’! I have performed with it a vaster labor than the Federal Census. Mine has been a combined universal gazetteer and thesaurus. I have listed the pagan virtues, the men of our town over seventy, the villains of the Old Testament, Mrs. Beauchurch’s cooks, the anti-suffragist club, the French words I know, varieties of pills and of auction scores, sock patterns, the pastel shades, catching diseases, and the hotels of New York.
There are in our village a large number of single women, and a respectable body of possible husbands for them. These husbands I undertook to assign, with as great wisdom and consideration as possible, among the women best fitted to care for them. (It is true that, not realizing how inadequate the supply of husbands would prove, I supplied at first several widows, members of our own family; but this was not in any sense favoritism, but only because, in the normal course of my plan, I began at the south end of the village, where we and our cousins live. As soon as I realized the discrepancy, I deprived my own relations at once of their fiancés.) I reached the middle of the main street before I began to grow at all drowsy. But there, behind the big elms, lives a lady of incalculable tastes — I had almost said, skittish ones. She has beauty, she has vivacity; and she has twice proved to possess the ‘come hither in her eyes.’ To betroth her suitably called forth all that I could muster, in Stevenson’s phrase, ‘of delicacy and courage.’ I broke engagements I had made but fifteen minutes before; jilted, forswore, and returned many a ring; but none would suit — not even the young doctor I had been saving so long. My chest relaxed, my pillows slipped down, and I found myself sinking into a delicious haze of medley fancies. — When next I thought of Mrs. B—’s husband, it was full daylight.