IT was in that period of mingled depression and delight which generally precedes a man’s first marriage (for all I know, his second and third, too), or, to be more precise, it was on a late afternoon in May that Priscilla and I sat in her father’s library planning our honeymoon. If the copybooks (’Happiness is three-fourths Anticipation’) and the advice of our friends were to be trusted, the programme of our idyllic fortnight was likely to prove illusory. Said our married friends, — remembering, I suspect, their own disappointments,— ‘For heaven’s sake, keep traveling; if you stop you’ll wish you were home!' or ‘Whatever you do, don’t motor! It means packing and unpacking your trousseau every day.’ And Aunt Anna, who has more charm than most, quietly remarked that she had been on three honeymoons and had been properly bored by them all.
Since I remember Uncle Oliver, — Aunt Anna’s last, — I had a partial clue to this disillusion. A less companionable man may I never meet! And I dare say that if ever one needs to be entertaining it is on a honeymoon. For, though most of us are best when least in company, I for one know no more critical audience than a modern bride — which is to say, Priscilla. So —
‘Pris,’ I said, ‘what books’ll we take with us?’
‘You choose,’ she answered. ‘You seem to think you’ll need them.’
‘Well, first, Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, and second, Katherine Mansfield’s Bliss.’
‘They sound appropriate.’
‘And,’ I continued, ‘Swinburne’s early Songs and Ballads and Rupert Brooke.'
‘Why not Keats?’
‘Good! The edition with his letters. ’
‘And how about a little salt with your poets?' said Priscilla. ‘ How about Falstaff, how about Alice in Wonderland? '
‘Cheers for both. Anything else?’
‘Oh, yes,’ she added sweetly, ‘The Taming of the Shrew.'
I chose to ignore the issue.
But, seriously, you may protest, with Priscilla, ‘Why so many?’ Because reading is most enjoyable when you have a wide choice. And for such an occasion where will you find a wittier traveler than Sterne, a greater lover than Rupert Brooke, — present company excepted, — unless it be Swinburne, or a more delightful correspondent — no pun intended — than Keats? I am modest enough to know how one may shine by reflected glory.
Something of this I was endeavoring to explain when in came Priscilla’s parents.
‘Well, if there’s any cooking to be done,’ observed her mother, ‘Priscilla’d better take a cookbook.'
Priscilla did n’t think that was very funny.
‘Since you’re going South,’ remarked my father-in-law, soothing the situation, ‘take it from me, you’ll need a road book. And why not something on the battlefields — say that new book on Lee?’
‘Enough’s enough,’ I cried. ‘ There’s no five-foot shelf in the Ford.’
Enough to say that, when we set off, Sterne, Keats, Alice, Falstaff, Swinburne, and the others (and eleven pieces of baggage!) were in the back seat.
We drove and we drove until we came to stone walls covered with honeysuckle and locust trees in flower. And the June days grew hotter and hotter until with Falstaff we ‘larded the lean earth’ when we walked. Gettysburg was the first objective, and at the rocky spring not far from Little Round Top we made a picnic and afterward read aloud from Lee. But just beyond the shade of our tree the fields danced and shimmered in the sunlight — and at such a time and place Lee was undeniably a heavy book — and Priscilla’s shoulder was soft — so we slept. And in the confusion of our sunset departure I regret to say that Lee was left behind.
Thereafter we followed our noses and asked the natives the way to the nearest battlefield. So we came to Harpers Ferry. Now on that torrid afternoon reading epitaphs — ‘HERE JOHN BROWN, etc. etc.’ — was a thirsty business, and our eyes wandered easily from the tablets to twinkling Potomac ever within sight. As we meandered out of town we kept a lookout for refreshment. Not a mile had passed before we came to a little bridge and just beyond it a green track leading off the highway and along the bank of a ravine. Lurching and rattling, we pushed our way into a tunnel of greenery until the track ended in a little clearing at the lip of the stream. The motor died away and the water sang invitingly.
When Priscilla was in her pool and I in mine I reached Rupert Brooke down from the sunny rock above me and, keeping my hands clear of the cool spray that tumbled over my left shoulder, I began to read: —
And ripples with dark ecstasies.
His bliss is older than the sun.
Silent and straight the waters run.
The lights, the cries, the willows dim,
And the dark tide are one with him.’
At this point a series of prehistoric snorts shook our universe. They were followed by the increasing and all too unmistakable rumblings of a passenger train that swept into view on the opposite bank above us! We caught a glimpse of amazed countenances at the windows before in consternation we turned our backs. ‘Give me that book!' hissed Priscilla.
When the beast had passed we fled to the thickets, our illusion shattered beyond repair. We dressed undisturbed until, as we brushed our hair before the windshield, Priscilla suddenly wailed, ‘Oh, where’s the book gone?’ We ran to the bank: it was not on the table-rock. But downstream and twenty yards or more out of reach a black-and-white cover showed where Rupert Brooke bobbed and scraped his way over the rills toward the sea.
At Berryville for a day or two thereafter the heat was unbearable and travel out of the question. We opened ourselves to what cool there was and then gave thanks for Falstaff and Katherine Mansfield. Singly, but still better in concert, they can transpose a perfunctory hotel room into something resembling a dear memory.
Then came a west wind and we were off again. Winchester, dozing like a sleepy white cat in the sun, held us too long, and by sundown we were scurrying supperless for Charlottesville. Along a nameless stretch of road I detected that symptom dear to repair shops — the death rattle of burnt bearings. With terrifying din we labored on and at last, into the yard of a lone farmhouse.
I think it was the headquarters of Southern hospitality. The farmer, a gaunt man with a black beard, listened in silence to our tale of woe.
‘That’s bad, with you-all jest married,’ he exclaimed (we hadn’t told him). ‘But come right in. I reckon we c’n fix you up.’
That it was long past bedtime and we were Yankees made no difference. Ma, as her husband called her, and tenyear-old Hester in pigtail and flying nightgown, soon set before us a sugared ham and spiced apples, a cottage cheese with little rolls, and preserved plums and glasses of warm sweet milk. Between bites we told of our journey, until food and friendliness had their way. Dimly I remember hearing the Ford go rattling into the barn, and then, after some thumping from above, Mrs. Picketts calling, ‘Come up now. Your bed is ready.’. . . And behold, it was the morning of the next day.
‘They gave us their only bed!’ Priscilla whispered after breakfast. ‘They slept on the floor. Hester told me.’
We lingered through the morning while a mechanic from the nearest village tinkered with the car and growled at my assistance. In the shade of the porch Hester and Priscilla were poring over Alice in Wonderland. At length the job was done, tested, and paid for. It was time for our leave-taking. But despite even Priscilla’s persuasion the Picketts would hear of no payment. ‘We don’t often have brides down this way,’ grinned our host, ‘and when they come we aim to give ’em a time.’
As I wrung their hands and sought for the right thanks, Priscilla slipped behind me and fumbled in our baggage. She reappeared with our little red volume of Wonderland. ‘It’s for Hester,’she explained. So we all wrote down our names and the date on the flyleaf—‘for a keepsake,’ said Mrs. Picketts.
We reached Charlottesville to discover, I am sorry to say, that Priscilla’s face lotion had leaked all over Katherine Mansfield and that, as a consequence, a light green tint had been imparted to the surrounding ‘pretties.’ Unreasonably1 — for I did n’t pack the bag — Pris insisted that it was my fault. As the postcards say, the spot, or rather spots, mark our first disagreement.
After rambling about the University and Monticello, we began to think of turning homeward. Our time was more than half spent, and our money — good heavens, our money was all spent! It was wry to discover that tens had so swiftly depreciated to ones — and but few of them — and that we had not a single check between us. ‘“My face is my fortune, sir,”she said,’ quoth Priscilla. ‘They’ll trust us.’ But I was n’t so sure. So we framed a discreet telegram and, since we really needed an immediate return, sent it to Priscilla’s father. You may believe I was embarrassed: it was not a propitious example of the style to which I was accustomed.
His reply we still have, folded away in one of our books. It read:—
AM WIRING ONE HUNDRED NEXT TIME LEAVE KEATS AT HOME AND TAKE YOUR CHECK BOOK — FATHER
- It is not unreasonable! Why should I pack his books in my bag! — PRISCILLA↩