I WAS raised in the State of Connecticut, but it was no fault of mine. My parents, before I reached the age of consent, experienced one of those sudden reverses of fortune which have always been so popular in my family, and we left our beautiful New York home, replete as it was with every luxury, including a large and variegated assortment of chattel mortgages, and moved up into Windham County, right in the center of the pie-belt and quite near the jumping-off place. It was a lovely, beautiful, quiet, peaceful, restful, healthful, desirable, bucolic hamlet, three miles from the cars and far, far from the madding throng, and where a man could use his knife for the purpose of transferring nourishment to his mouth without attracting undue attention. When I say it was quiet I but feebly describe it, but when I say it was healthful I am well within the mark. If a man died in that village under eighty years of age, they hung white crape on the doorbell and carved a little lamb on his tombstone. I left there twenty-five years ago to seek my fortune — which I’m still seeking — but the old people who were old then don’t seem any older 174 now. Last summer, when I went up with my children, I noticed that the same old people were about as lively as ever, and the same old pink popcorn balls and jack-knives were still in the show-case of the store, which I used to think I’d buy when I got rich, but no longer seem to crave.
We boarded at the village hotel, and the experience I gained there has been of incalculable advantage to me in later years. Whenever a knotty question of hotel ethics presents itself to me, I try and decide what my old landlord would have done and then I do just the opposite.
And yet he had some good practical ideas which I should like to adopt in my hotel. For instance, he expected his guests to saw and split their own firewood in winter, generously supplying the cord-wood, however, and the ax as well, and also the saw. If I remember aright, we were expected to supply the pork wherewith to grease the saw, but he furnished the saw. My room was in the third story, and its ceiling slanted down rapidly, so that sometimes in the night, when aroused by a rat bounding joyously around on the quilt, I would sit up suddenly and embed portions of my intellect in the rafters. In the midst of the room was a sheet-iron stove, of forbidding aspect, which stood like a light-house sequestered in the midst of a great Arctic Sea of zinc. It had great powers as a fuel-consumer, the peculiar quality so characteristic of country stoves, to wit.: the more fire you had 175 in the stove the colder the room seemed to become. I made a scientific examination of that stove, and conclusively demonstrated that of the heat generated thereby, 125 per cent. went up the flue and the balance went into the formation of rheumatism, goose flesh and chilblains.
Being, naturally, of a somewhat shiftless nature, I very rarely laid in a stock of wood at night, and in consequence I frequently had to go down early of a winter morning and dally with that woodpile. There are a good many cold things in this world — cold hands, cold feet, cold bottles, marble hearts and frozen faces — but of all cold things in this world, the coldest is an ax-helve which has reposed all of a winter’s night on a Connecticut woodpile.
There was another feature of this little hotel which commended itself to me. The foods was good, plentiful and nutritious, and it was all put on the table at once. The boarders were privileged to reach out and spear such viands as attracted their fancy, and transfer the same to their plates without loss of time. Compared with this Jeffersonian simplicity of service the average banquet seems cumbrous and ornate. Yet one thing is certain; things seemed to taste better in those days. Why, I can remember the thrill of ecstasy which vibrated through my Gothic system when the sound of the dinner-bell fell upon my strained and listening ear. With what mad haste I dashed up to the
good old colonial wash-stand that stood near the door, dipped out a tin basinful of water, scooped up a handful of soft-soap out of the half-cocoanut, and proceeded to remove my disguise. And then the towel! Ah, me, the towel! It was a red-letter day in the history of that hotel when we got a clean towel. And then the comb and brush! Perhaps I ought to draw the veil of charity over the comb and brush; and yet I used them just as generations had done before me and generations then unborn are doing yet. And when at last, with the mysteries of the toilet completed, with shining face and slicked hair, I would descend upon the dining-room and proceed to devastate the eatables — shades of Lucullus, Harvey Parker and Delmonico, how I did relish my victuals in those days.
An amusing accident once occurred at a time when an American vessel was lying at Naples. On being visited by the King and his suite, one of the latter, with cocked hat, mustache, sword, etc., was exploring the ship and mistook the main hatch wind-sail for a mast, and leaned against it. The officer of the deck was promptly advised of the accident by the boatswain’s mate, who said:
“Excuse me, sir, but I think one of them ’ere kings has fell down the main hatch, sir.”