Bed in the bush with stars to see,
Bread I dip in the river—
There’s the life for a man like me,
There’s the life forever.
The only time of the day when our spirits began to fail was toward its close, when the shadows of supper and bed in some inclement inn began to fall over us, and we confessed to each other a positive sense of fear in our evening approach to the abodes of men. After a long, safe, care-free day, in the company of liberating prospects and sweet-breathed winds, there seemed a curious lurking menace in the most harmless village, as well as an unspeakable irksomeness in its inharmonious interruption of our mood. To emerge, saturated, body and soul, with the sweet scents and sounds and sights of a day’s tramp, out of the meditative leafiness and spiritual temper of natural things, into the garishly lit street of some little provincial town, animated with the clumsy mirth of silly young country folks, aping so drearily the ribaldry, say, of Elmira, is a painful anticlimax to the spirit. Had it only been real Summer, instead of Indian Summer, we should, of course, have been real gypsies, and made our beds under the stars, but, as it was, we had no choice. Or, had we been walking in Europe ... yes, I am afraid the truth must out, and that our real dread at evening was—the American country hotel. With the best wish in the world, it is impossible to be enthusiastic over the American country hotel. How ironically the kindly old words used to come floating to me out of Shakespeare each evening as the shadows fell, and the lights came out in the windows—“to take mine ease at mine inn;” and assuredly it was on another planet that Shenstone wrote:
Whoe’er hath travelled life’s dull
Whate’er his fortunes may have been,
Must sigh to think he still has found
His warmest welcome at an inn.
Had Shenstone been writing in an American country hotel, his tune would probably have been more after this fashion: “A wonderful day has come to a dreary end in the most sepulchral of hotels, a mouldy, barn-like place, ill-lit, mildewed and unspeakably dismal. A comfortless room with two beds and two low-power electric lights, two stiff chairs, an uncompanionable sofa, and some ghastly pictures of simpering naked women. We have bought some candles, and made a candlestick out of a soap-dish. Colin is making the best of it with ‘The Beloved Vagabond,’ and I have drawn up one of the chairs to a table with a mottled marble top, and am writing this amid a gloom which you could cut with a knife, and which is so perfect of its kind as to be almost laughable. But for the mail, which we found with unutterable thankfulness at the post-office, I hardly dare think what would have happened to us, to what desperate extremities we might not have been driven, though even the possibilities of despair seem limited in this second-hand tomb of a town....”
Here Colin looks up with a wry smile and ironically quotes from the wisdom of Paragot: “What does it matter where the body finds itself, so long as the soul has its serene habitations?” This wail is too typical of most of our hotel experiences. As a rule we found the humble, cheaper hotels best, and, whenever we had a choice of two, chose the less pretentious.