Title: Letters from a Travelling Bachelor
Creator: Walt Whitman
Date: November 18, 1849
Publication information: New York Sunday Dispatch 18 November 1849: .
Source: Original issue held at the Library of Congress. Our transcription is based on a digital image of an original issue.
Whitman Archive ID: per.00297
Contributors to digital file: Vince Moran, Jason Stacy, Elizabeth Lorang, and Kenneth M. Price
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Letters from a Travelling Bachelor.
AN ADVENTURE ON HEMPSTEAD PLAINS, YEARS AGO
One of my old friends for the last fifteen years has made it his annual custom to go down on Long Island, for purposes of recreation, sporting, and to get sniffs of the sea air that sweeps over every part of that amphibious sort of territory. It was on one of these occasions, some ten years since, that he met with a little adventure wherewith he has, in my hearing at least four times regaled a suppertable; and I consider it worth putting in print. All the additional preface necessary is the motto of the knights of the garter, "honi soit qui mal y pense."1
Frequent mention has been made in these veracious letters of the Plains, and the reader is probably aware what a wild and wide stretch of desert they are; but ten years ago they were still more so. Only here and there at intervals of many miles over their immense surface, a hut or hovel was situated, in whose door or window the chance passer-by, of a summer day, would behold a startled bare-footed woman, and divers children, looking upon him as if they had not seen a stranger for months before, which very likely they had not.
My friend aforesaid had gone out to shoot on the Plains (stopping awhile on his way farther east) one fine but not sunshiny morning, and had met with tolerably good luck, when, toward the middle of the day, a drizzling sort of rain-shower came up, which was succeeded by a light fog. Thoughtless of whither he was going—for a New Yorker never thinks of such a thing as he losing his way anywhere—he kept tramping on until after the lapse of two hours he suddenly came at right angles upon some tracks made in a loamy spot, and saw at once that they were his own, and that he had, as frequently happens in such cases, been marching round-about, and at last returned to the same ground he had travelled over before.
The narrative of the efforts my old crony made that afternoon, (the fog deepening meanwhile) to get on the right road for home, would be tiresome to the reader—unless he could hear it from the unfortunate man himself, when it is funny enough.
We jump at once to night-fall, or a bit afterward, when, tired and drenched through, the hapless sportsman fortunately espied a light, which proved to come from a rude yet by no means comfortless cottage, consisting of exactly one room, and "nothing else." He knocked at the door, told his story, and was consoled with the comfortable assurance that there was no other house within five miles—and that there was only one bed in the cottage, the occupants whereof were the couple then and there present, having been married some six or eight months.
"Na'theless," said the young farmer, who was half undressed, his wife being already in bed, and listening, "Na'theless, we can 'commodate ye, if ye'll sleep with us. Sukey is not much of a body, and the bed is big and strong, and I dare say you are tired out like. Come in; come in."
My friend was indeed tired, and thankfully accepted the honest fellow's offer. The intruder proposed that he himself should lie on the floor; but there was a scarcity of covering, and neither the wife nor husband would consent to such a thing, protesting that they would do so themselves first. The wanderer of course demurred to that; and the final conclusion was that the primitive offer of the host was accepted as at first made, he of course lying down in the middle, and the new comer, after a moderate supper, found room enough on one side of him.
That our hero had a most excellent sleep, and was disturbed by no dreams, is as true as that it would be well for many of our city youth to purchase slumber by similar vigorous exercise. He slept indeed so well, that he was only partially awakened by the sound of a voice speaking loudly and suddenly early in the morning:
"Massy sakes!" it exclaimed, "O, Derrick! Derrick!" (which was the farmer's name) "the cow has got in the buckwheat lot! I declare she's broke down the fence, and may be been there all night!"
The wife was leaning up on her elbow in bed, and looking out of the uncurtained window, which gave a good view of three or four little fields, containing probably most of the farmer's produce. Derrick sprung up at once! Hauling on his trowsers, and rubbing his eyes, he sallied forth to eject the rebellious cow, and save his grain. The wife gazed after him a moment, then giving a stray glance at the stranger as he lay apparently sound asleep, she relapsed back into her own slumber with perfect composure.
My friend, be it known, is the most modest of men—and now what the deuce to do, was the question. His perplexities were cut short by the loud clear voice of the young man outside:
"Suke! Suke! for God's sake come here. I can't get the darned cow out, except you help me."
Sukey answered the summons like an obedient wife, and the skies looked bright again. No sooner was the woman, (who, far less fastidious than my friend, made no bones of jumping out and deliberately putting on her gown, before his eyes, although he shut them, as in decency bound,) out of doors, than the relieved child of modesty was out of bed, and ensconced in his well dried clothes, the outer and heavier portions of which had been hung the previous evening in front of the fire place.
After breakfast neither the young man or his wife could be prevailed on to accept more than a couple of shilling pieces. They were perhaps the reader imagines, excessively primitive in their notions; undoubtedly, but my sporting friend describes then as more than ordinarily intelligent, and evincing every sign of uprightness and kindness. He has since visited them more than once. Their simplicity, unsuspiciousness, and goodness, have not degenerated, although they live in a thicker neighborhood; and their farm is now quite fertile and valuable, and they have a large family of children.
1. Old French; "Shame be onto him who thinks ill of it," the motto of the Order of the Garter, founded by Edward III in 1348 (see George Frederick Beltz, Memorials of the Order of the Garter, from Its Foundation to the Present Time [London: William Pickering, 1841], xxxii). [back]