Home Is Best

FOR months I had planned my trip. In fancy I had many times traversed the romantic European lands so long and so happily dreamed of. On the Italian shore I meant to begin my pilgrimage, through Germany I was to continue it, and in France I thought to bring it to a climax of delight. And then illness brought my high hopes down. Instead of rushing through active days in ancient cities, I must compose myself to long rest in the summer woods of home. This seemed at first a sad exchange indeed, but my mourning has been turned to great relief, for in a startling way the truth about Europe has been revealed to me. Out of my abandoned steamer luggage I extracted, as melancholy solace for my empty days, a little Book of Travel Talk. In four languages it is, — in English, in French, in German, and in Italian, — and it leaves few emergencies unattended to.

Life, I find, is stern in Europe. Unrest, suspicion, and strife seem to be everywhere. Disillusion sets in on the very first page of ‘Short Phrases in Common Use.’ In four tongues I learn at once to say, ‘Don’t be impertinent!’ (This admonition is never necessary in the Adirondacks.) Things get rapidly worse, ‘He is following me at a distance!’ being instantly succeeded by ‘Coward!’ and ‘Do not push me!’ True, an apology is forthcoming, — ‘I did not do it on purpose,’ — but the roughness was evidently there, and fear is not allayed, for next we read, ‘Where is the British Consulate?’ After this, ‘What are you staring at?’ seems merely silly.

Affairs are no better in the hotel. ‘This room is stuffy.’ ‘These sheets have certainly been used already.’ ‘Shut the window tight before you light the candle, for fear of the mosquitoes.’ ‘The mice kept me awake all night. Please set a trap in my room.’ ‘The fire will not burn.’ ‘The chimney smokes, the wood is quite damp.’ ‘The chimney is on fire!’ The proper retort to this comes at once: ‘I am going out.’ How wise! It is only a slight comfort to find next, ‘Give the lady a little wine.’

Consider, too, the discomfort of the holiday. ‘I like plenty of fresh air, but I can’t and I won’t sit in a draft.’ (In German!) ‘I positively have no room to eat. Why do you crush people in this way?’ (In hysteric Italian!) ‘Have you no better ink? This is too thick (thin), full of dust, and covered with mould.’ And the actual perils of the way: ‘One of the wheels is off!’ ‘The coachman has been thrown down!’ ‘Run for a surgeon!’ And again the voice of wisdom: ‘Stop a moment; I want to get out.’ ‘I shall demand reparation from the Company. ’

Even the hazards of walking seem unduly great. ‘Has anyone been up the mountain this year already?’ ‘All traces of the path have disappeared.’ ‘Tell me the honest truth, have you ever been this way before?’ ‘How deep is the abyss?’ And (fearing the worst?): ‘Where does the curé live?’ It is not in agitation such as this that one takes a stroll where I live.

But worst of all is the prevailing spirit of querulousness that seems to characterize life in four languages. ‘Please don’t talk. Don’t stand behind my chair.’ ‘I don’t think it is fair for that gentleman to sit here with a lighted cigar in his hand; it is just, the same as smoking.’ ‘At what hour shall I find the least number of people here? I hate a crowd.’

And who shall describe the horrors of a toothache in French? Or the exhaustion attendant upon hiring a grand piano for a month in Italian? Not even a study of the proper form in which to write to the Pope in German can restore serenity to a mind disordered by so great a strain.

My camp is not ancient, and there are no cathedrals in the neighborhood. But no one is impertinent to me there except the chipmunks, I am rarely jostled by a deer, and I can sit in all the drafts that please me.

Another summer perhaps, when I am much, much stronger, I may decide to travel in Spain.