Once there was a provincial Tradesman who gave his Yokemate a Christmas Present. It was a kind of Dingus formerly exhibited on the What-Not in almost every polite Home.
By peering through at the twin Photographs and working it like a Slide Trombone, one could get ravishing glimpses of Trafalgar Square, Lake Como, and the Birthplace of Bobby Burns.
Nearly every evening the Tradesman would back up to the Student Lamp and put in a delirious half-hour with the Views.
While gazing up the Rue de Rivoli or across the rice paddies at the snowy cap of Fuji, his Blood would become het by the old boyhood Desire to sail across the Blue to Foreign Parts.
Those who saw him mowing the Lawn little suspected that he was being inwardly eaten by the Wanderlust.
The Tradesman, Edwin by name, and his Managing Director, Selena, formed the magic-lantern Habit away back in the days of Stoddard. They never missed a chance to take in Burton Holmes. Sitting in the darkness, they would hold hands and simply eat those Colored Slides.
Selena belonged to a Club that was trying to get a side-hold on the Art and Architecture of the Old World. She had a smouldering Ambition to ride a Camel in the Orient and then come home and put it all over a certain proud Hen who had spent six weeks in Europe.
One visit to Niagara Falls and a glorious week of Saengerfest at Cincinnati had simply whetted her desire to take Edwin by the hand and beat it all the way around the Globe, via Singapore. To prepare herself for the Grand Tour, she took 12 lessons in French and read up on the Taj Mahal.
She had to wait patiently until Edwin was threatened with a Nervous Break-Down. At last the Happy Day arrived when the Specialist told him he must make his choice between a long Sea Voyage and a slow ride to the Family Lot.
Selena used Hydraulic Pressure in packing her Wardrobe Trunks. She took all her circus Duds and a slew of Hats so that she could make the proper Front, while being entertained Abroad.
Edwin had secured a Passport which identified him as a male white Person, entitled to all the Courtesies and Privileges usually extended to an American Citizen holding a Passport.
They were on the verge of the Jumps when they boarded the Train, but they hoped to Relax and get a lot of Sleep on the Ocean Greyhound. A few days later they were curled up in a Cabin de Luxe about the size of a Telephone Booth, waiting for the Ocean Greyhound to recover from an attack of Hydrophobia.
When they tottered down the Gang-Plank, after six days on the playful North Atlantic, their only Comfort was derived from the knowledge that, as soon as they had rested up, they could write home and quote the Second Officer as saying it was the roughest Passage he had ever Known.
After spending a few days in London, trying to get warm, they moved on to Paris, which they remembered long afterward on account of Napoleon’s Tomb and the price of Strawberries.
Selena pulled her tall-grass French on a Hackman, but there was nothing doing. He had taken it from a different Teacher. So they employed a Guide who knew all the Shops. If Selena happened to admire a Trinket or some outré Confection with Lace slathered on it, a perfumed Apache in a Frock Coat would take Edwin into a side room, give him the sleeve across the Wind-Pipe, and bite a piece out of his Letter of Credit. Edwin did a little quick work with the Pencil and said they could either hurry on or else hie back to the Home Town and begin Life all over again. Three weeks after saying good-bye to Griddle Cakes they were in Naples, which they had seen pictured on so many Calendars.
Looking back across the Centuries they recalled the Clerks standing in the Doorways and the friends of the Progressive Euchre Club. It was sweet to remember that the world was not made up entirely of cadging Head Waiters.
Once in a while they would venture from the Hotel to run footraces with the yelping Lazzaroni or try to look at Vesuve without paying seven or eight members of the Camorra for the Privilege.
After being chased back into the Hotel, they would sit down and address Post-Cards by the Hour, telling how much they were enjoying the stay in Napoli, home of Song and Laughter.
Their only chance of catching even on the Imperial Suite at $9 a Day was to make the Folks back at the Whistling Post think they were playing Guitars and dancing the Tarantella, whatever that is.
Next we see them in Egypt, still addressing Post-Cards, and offering anything within Reason for a good Cup of Coffee.
Somehow, sitting in the dusky Tombs didn’t seem to help their Nostalgia.
Not that they would own up to being Home-Sick. No, indeed! They kept writing back that they enjoyed every Minute spent among the Cemeteries and Ruins, or sailing up the Nile, and Edwin was holding up wonderfully, for an Invalid.
Only, when either of them spoke of the Children, or Corned-Beef Hash, or the Canary, a long Silence would ensue, and then the Nervous Wreck would cheer her by computing that they would be in God’s Country within four months, if they escaped Shipwreck, Sunstroke, and Bubonic Plague.
While parboiling themselves down the Red Sea it began to soak in on them that, east of Suez, the Yank has about as much standing as the Ten Commandments.
They could have endured sleeping in a Trough and bathing with a damp Towel and eating Food kept over from the year before, if their Fellow Voyagers had made a slight fuss over them or evinced some interest in the wonders of North America.
The Congressman at home had assured them, on numerous occasions, that Columbia was the Jim of the Ocean and the most upholstered portion of the entire Foot-Stool.
Consequently, it was somewhat disconcerting to meet British Subjects who never had heard of Quincy, Illinois, and who moved their Deck Chairs every time they were given a chance to hear about it.
Back in the Middle West, Edwin and Selena had been Mountains arising from the Plain. At all points beyond Greenwich, they were simply two unconsidered fragments of Foreign Substance.
The Passport did not seem to get them anything. While being walked upon by the haughty Tea-Drinkers they could not claim the protection of the American Flag, because they didn’t see the Starry Banner after leaving New York, except in front of a Fake Auction Sale, arranged especially for Tourists.
By the time they found themselves in that vast bake-oven known as india they were benumbed and submissive and had settled into a Routine.
They would arrive in a New Town, fly to the Hotel, unpack, go out and buy their colored Post-Cards, come back to the Dump (usually called the Grand Hotel Victoria), address Cards to all the Names on the list, then pack up, pay the Overcharges, and ride to the Railway Station, accompanied by a small regiment of Bashi-Bazouks who were looking for Theirs.
The sight of a Temple threw Edwin into a Relapse, but he would have given $8,000 for one look at the galvanized Cornice of the Court House.
Selena was still buying Souvenirs, but doing it mechanically, as if in a Trance.
They had been stung with so many Oriental Phoneys and stuck up so often that they had gone Yellow and lost their Nerve.
When they saw an outstretched Palm, they came across without a Whimper.
Cousin Ella, back among the Corn Fields, pictured them as riding a caparisoned Elephant up to the marble Palace of the Gaekwar of Baroda, where Edwin would flash his Passport and then the distinguished Guests would be salaamed to the Peacock Throne.
Nothing like it. They were led up to highly odorous Bazaars conducted by lineal Descendants of the 40 Thieves.
Often, while riding in the dusty Cattle Cars and looking out at the parched Plains, they would think of the shaded Front Porch, only 5 minutes from Barclay’s Drug Store, where they sold the Ice Cream Soda. Moaning feebly, they would return to the italicized Guide Book. The Chow consisted largely of Curry and Rice, the medicinal flavor of which was further accentuated by Butter brought in Tins all the way from Sweden.
Although the Heat was intense, they found occasional Relief in sitting next the Britons and getting a few Zephyrs direct from the Ice-Box.
Each day they would purchase a Newspaper about the size of a Bed-Spread and search eagerly for American News. Once in a while they would learn that Congress had met or another Colored Person had been burned at the Stake. It cheered them immensely to know that the Land of the Free was still squirming.
At Rangoon they met a weary Countryman headed in the opposite direction. He was a hard-faced Customer who was fighting the Climate with Gin and Bitters, but they fell upon him and wanted to Kiss him when they learned that he had once met Selena’s Uncle at Colorado Springs.
They told him how to save time in getting across India, and he gave them a list of Places in China and Japan that might be dodged to advantage.
Year after year in the months of March and April they continued on their tedious Way through the burning Tropics.
Sometimes they came to a discouraged belief that the World was one bluey expanse, disturbed by Flying Fish.
Then they would spend weary Ages along the avenues of white Lime-Kilns, looking at Countless millions of hungry Brunettes in fluttering Nighties.
Their principal Occupation, when not setting down Expressions of Delight on the Post-Cards, was to study Time-Tables and cable ahead for Reservations.
The Invalid’s one desire was to get home and take a regular Bath before being laid out.
Hong Kong pleased them exceedingly because they learned, by consulting Mr. Mercator’s Projection, that they were on the Home Stretch and, with Luck in their favor, might live to see another Piece of Huckleberry Pie.
Japan they liked the best of all. At Yokohama they received a bundle of Dailies only six weeks old, giving full Particulars of a Wedding and telling who was about to run for Mayor.
As soon as they were on the Pacific and headed for a refined Vaudeville Show, they began to recover the brave Spirit of Travel and blow about what they had seen.
The Towns and Temples and Tombs and Treasures of Art were all jumbled together, but, by daily reference to Baedeker and Murray, they were enabled to find out where they had been and what they had seen with their own Eyes and how it impressed them at the time.
Before touching at Honolulu they were real enthusiastic about india. They advised the awe-stricken Listener who had not been all the Way around to be sure and take in Penang and Johore and, if necessary, they would give him Letters of Introduction.
They said it had been a Wonderful Experience. Yes, indeed. And broadening. Very. Then Edwin would wander to the front end of the Ship and want to climb out on the Bowsprit so as to be in Frisco ahead of anybody else.
He convalesced rapidly as they approached the Golden Gate, for he knew that in a few days he would unpack for good and gallop down to the office and not have to worry about Travelling.
The only Dark Cloud on the Shore hung above the Custom House. They looked at all the Junk wished upon them by the simple Children of the Far East and didn’t know whether to declare it for what it cost or what it was really worth.
Being conscientious Members of the Church, they modified their Perjury and smuggled only the usual amount of Carvings and hand-embroidered Stuff.
Two hours after landing, Edwin saw a Porter-House Steak and burst into tears.
They sped eastward by the first Train, still busy with the little Red Books, for they knew they would have to answer a lot of Questions.
“Shall we own up and tell them the Awful Truth?” asked Selena.
“Not on your Esoteric Buddhism,” replied Edwin. “We never will be rewarded for our Sufferings unless we convince the Neighbors that we had a run for our Money. It was a troubled Nightmare, in Spots, but when I lecture in the Church Parlor I am going to burn Joss Sticks and pull every variety of Bunk made famous by Sir Edwin Arnold and Lafcadio Hearn.”
On the following Tuesday, Selena appeared at the Club with her Mandarin Coat and the long Hindoo Ear-Rings. She had them frozen in their Chairs. Moral: Be it ever so Hard to Take, there is no Place like away from Home.
The Dream that Came Out with Much to Boot – Ade’s Fables