Plenty Of Room In The Back
( Originally Published 1915 )
PREPARATIONS for a motor trip go through three phases: the packing of too little, of too much, and just enough.
In those days prior to the start—those ecstatic days of picking routes and poring over maps on the dining-room table (the air heavy with " look out, you're tearing it," or " fold it in its creases ") —the man of the party asks the woman of it, severely, just how much baggage she must carry.
And he is pleased when she tells him, proving her effort to confine herself to essentials. Some-times a dress rehearsal is held and everything goes into the automobile trunk with room to spare. " Of course," she says to him after he has praised her, " I must have a bag for bottles on the outside."
He grants that, for he must have a suitcase—and there is the chauffeur's bag. But they comfort themselves that there is plenty of room in the back.
" Plenty of room in the back " has rhythm to it, which is advantageous if one were to set it to music and make a pathetic song of it, but dangerous to keep running through one's head when the packing begins.
It is amazing how quickly an automobile trunk fills up when it was comparatively empty at the dress rehearsal. But then, in our case, the shoes had been forgotten. I could stop talking about motoring right here and fill the rest of the book with what I think of shoes, if my publisher would permit.
Shoes are as hard as the heart of a coquette. They are harder, for in time the coquette's heart will become worn and pliable—like a beefsteak beaten into tenderness. But no matter how old and worn a shoe may become, it never gives in an inch.
I argued with the Illustrator's shoes as I was endeavoring to poke them into crevasses better fitted to hold a shaving brush. They were so ancient that they were not valuable to him, they were already trembling on the brink of being given to the elevator boy, and I told them, unless they made some concession and " let in " a little, they could not make the trip through New England with us. Still they did not let in a lift of the heel.
Even so, I think I could have crowded them down had not W at the last moment, while my back was turned, thrown in something hastily.
Something that made a louder noise than he had expected, for I turned back and discovered that the few corners left, which I have reserved for evening gowns, were replete with golf balls.
And whatever I have said about the grievous footgear goes double in reference to those white implacable marbles. Not content with the refusal to compress, the golf balls refuse also to remain in any fixed place. They creep up shirt sleeves and roll out of trousers and pop at you from handkerchief cases without ever crying " fore," or exhibiting any sportsmanlike propensities.
I remember once sending a large rubber plant to the florist's for the summer, and receiving, when the autumn came, a small miserable affair which the man claimed was mine. And when I exclaimed over the condition of the plant, I recall his contention that it was a rubber plant, and very apt to shrink. But golf balls will not do this, and it is an everlasting wonder to me that they are selected for their extreme elasticity.
Since there was " plenty of room in the back," however, we managed to get all the starched clothes into the trunk, and such parti-coloured garments as might not occasion comment if we hung them over the brass rail originally designed for rugs.
And at last the tremulous morning arrived when we were to make the start. The car was before the door, the trunk sat upon and strapped, and mysterious creatures began going down in the elevator—creatures of action, although there was no evidence of legs or heads, only two arms encircling masses of coats and sweaters and rugs, while they bumped along on the floor two bags of golf clubs. When the woolly procession reached the pavement, the arms relaxed, garments were shed upon the grass plot, and the faces of the cook, the Illustrator, and myself once more saw the light of day.
Our chauffeur, a dressy young man, had added his suitcase to the impedimenta—a very large suitcase—and was caught in the act of tying a second bag to the tool chest with odd pieces of string. He admitted that it was his other hat, and at this commendable effort to make a good appearance I offered him a place in the circular hatbox, which was strapped into the tires on the other side the auto.
Both W ____ and I had extra headgear, I generously sharing the box with him, for it had been a present to me with the understanding that it was for my hats—and my hats alone.
Since it was my hatbox, it was unreasonable in him to make objections to inserting the chauffeur's derby. And when I finally overcame his prejudices he urged me to take a trip on the elevator while he opened the box himself. And this so aroused my suspicions that I was quite prepared for what I discovered twisted among our millinery.
They were inner-tubes, many of them, tubes that had refused to go under the seat, and had been given this place of honour probably when I was masked by the coats and rugs. The chauffeur had assisted him gladly in this overt act, but was now extremely anxious to get the tubes out, so that they would not crush his derby.
He was about to suggest that there was Plenty of Room in the Back for the tires, but the words froze in his throat as his eyes fell upon that commodious quarter, where we were to harbour such things as would not go in the trunk.
The elevator and telephone attendants had been engaged upon throwing in the bags and wraps while we were not looking (unmindful of loud, persistent ringing at their posts of duty), and their task completed, we saw no evidence of back seat, or any space between, or any brass rail.
Only a mountain of fuzzy things, a few umbrella heads, and the gleam of leather bags met our gaze. On the top of the mountain perched my typewriter, and this I immediately. seized. It was plain to all assembled that there was no use in the typewriter going along if I couldn't go. And it was just as plain that I couldn't go if all these wraps were to take the trip.
W______was very fond of some of his coats, and he might have given them preference had it not been necessary for me to accompany him in order to write this book. (Although, as he is saying now, looking over my shoulder, if I am going to spend so much time on ourselves and so little on the route and the historical interest along the way no one will want the book anyway. And I have had to promise him to begin shortly to speak of these things.) But I must confess that he behaved very handsomely about the discarding of his effects.
Stimulated by his unselfishness, I too raked out a scarlet coat, a foot muff, a lace parasol, a fur stole—everything, indeed, but my warm sweater, a raincoat, the jacket of my suit, and the duster I was wearing. The Illustrator was correspondingly sacrificial, and for a summer's trip, even through the White Mountains, we found this quite sufficient.
It would seem that we were about to start. On our previous motoring experiences, limited—if one can use the word—to traversing Europe, there was a formula of inquiry that prefaced each day's run :
" Have you got the Baedeker? "
" Have you got the dictionary? "
" Got the international pass? "
" The Letter of Credit? "
" Oh, yes."
" Well then, we'll go on."
Today, as a matter of habit, he again paused before letting in the clutch. But he had need of no such anxious preface to our run. And, quite unexpectedly, we found the hush of the moment a thrilling one. For the first time we were going into our own country. Going into it " for better or worse," like a marriage ceremony. With something of the shyness of a bride and groom walking down the church aisle, we left the altar of our home—and swept into the unknown.