Cobb's Bill-of-Fare
by Irvin Shrewsbury Cobb
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It is a fine thing to talk about the perfumed and restful bed of balsam boughs, and the crackle of the campfire at dusk, and the dip in the mirrored bosom of the pellucid lake at dawn—old Emerson Hough does all that to perfection; but these things assume a different aspect when it rains. There are three conditions in life when any latent selfishness in a man's being, however far down it may be buried ordinarily, will come surging to the surface—when he is courting a girl against strong opposition; when he is playing a gentleman's game of poker, purely for sociability; and when he is camping out and it rains. Before a man makes up his mind that he will take a girl to be his wife he should induce her to go in surf bathing and see how she looks when she comes out; and before he makes up his mind that he will take a man to be his best friend he should go camping with him in the rainy season—the answer in both cases being that then he won't do either one.

I remember going camping once with a man who before that had appeared to be all that one could ask in the way of a chosen comrade; but after we had spent four days cooped up together in an eight-by-ten tent that was built with sloping shoulders, like an Englishman's overcoat, listening to the sough of the wind through the wet pine trees without, and dodging the streams of water that percolated through the dripping roof within, I could think of more than seven thousand things about that man that I cordially disliked.

His whiskers gradually became the most distasteful of all to me. Either he hadn't brought a razor along or it was too wet for shaving—or something; and his whiskers grew out, and they were bristly and red in color, which was something I had not suspected before. As I sat there with the little rivulets running down the back of my neck and the rust forming on my amalgam fillings and mold on my shoes and mushrooms sprouting under my hatband, it seemed to me that he had taken an unfair advantage of me by having red whiskers. Viewed through the drizzle they appeared to be the reddest, the most inflammatory, the most poisonous-looking whiskers I ever saw! They were too red to be natural.

I decided finally that he must have been scared by a Jersey bull so that his whiskers turned red in a single night—and I was getting ready to twit him about it; but he beat me to it. It seemed that all this time he had been feeling more and more deeply offended at the way in which my ears were adjusted to my head. He couldn't make up his mind, he said, which way he would hate me more—with my ears or without them; but he was willing to take a butcher knife and experiment. He also said that, as an expert bookkeeper, he wouldn't know whether to enter my ears as outstanding losses or amounts brought forward. Going into those woods we were just the same as Damon and Pythias; but coming out his bite would have been instant death, and I felt toward him exactly as the tarantula does toward the centipede. We were the original Blue-Gum Twins.

Coming now to aquatic sports as distinguished from pastimes ashore, I feel that I am better qualified to speak authoritatively, having had more experience in that direction. Let us start with canoeing. Canoeing is a sport fraught with constant surprises. A canoeing trip is rarely the same thing twice in succession; and particularly is this true in streams where the temperature of the water is subject to change. It is comparatively easy to paddle a canoe if you only remember to scoop toward you. You merely reverse the process by which truly refined people imbibe soup. Even if you never master the art of paddling you may still get along fairly well if you know how to swim. On the whole I would say that one is liable to enjoy a longer career as a canoeist where one swims but can't paddle, than where one paddles but can't swim.

Approaching the subject of motor-boating as compared with sailboating, we find the situation becoming complicated and growing technical. In sailing, as is generally known, you depend upon the wind; and there are only two things the wind does—one is to blow and the other is not to blow. But when you begin to figure up the things that a motor boat will do when you don't want it to, and won't do when you do want it to, you are face to face with one of the most complicated mathematical jobs known to the realm of mechanical science.

A motor boat undoubtedly has a larger and fancier repertoire of cute tricks and unexpected ways than anything in the nature of machinery. I know this to be true, because I have a relative who suffers from motor-boatitis in an advanced form. He has owned many different brands of motor boats—that is one reason, I think, why he is not wealthier; in fact he has had about all the kinds there are except a kind that will start when you wish it to and stop when you expect it to. His motor boats do nearly everything—backfire, and fail to spark, and clog up, and blow up, and break down, and smash up and drift ashore, and drift out from shore, and have the asthma and the heaves and impediments of speech; but he has never yet owned one that could be depended upon to do the two things I have just mentioned.

After trying various models and discarding them, he now has one of the most complete motor boats made. It has what is known as a hunting cabin, it being so called, I think, because the moment anybody gets into it he has to get out again while the owner crawls in and takes up all the seats and hunts for something. It is the theory that one could live afloat in this hunting cabin—and so one could if one were only a dachshund and inured to exposure. It is plenty wide enough for the average dachshund and plenty high enough, too, but not more than about two-thirds long enough. If one were a dachshund one would either have to coil up or else remain partly outdoors. Also, on board is a galley, which would be a success in every way if you could find a style of cook who could get used to sitting on one hole of the stove while he cooked on the other. One of those talented parlor magicians who does light housekeeping in a borrowed high hat by breaking raw eggs into it and then taking out omelet souffles, might fill the bill—only I never have chanced to see a parlor magician yet who could crowd himself and his feet into that galley at the same time.

The principal feature of this motor boat, however, is the engine, which is a very complicated and beautiful thing, with coils and plugs and brakes strewed about over it here and there, and a big flywheel superimposed right in front. It is the theory that, by opening several cocks and closing several others, and adjusting about fifteen or twenty little duflickers just so, and then revolving this wheel briskly with a crank provided for that purpose, the engine can be started. It is supposed to say chug-chug a couple of times impatiently, and then go scooting away, chug-chugging like an inspired slide-trombone.

Such is the theory, but such is not the fact. I've seen the owner crank her until his backbone comes unjointed, without getting any response whatsoever. And then, just when he is about to succumb to hate and overexertion, the thing says tut-tut reprovingly—and then gives one tired pish and a low mournful tush and coughs about a pint of warm gasoline into his face and dies as dead as Jesse James. I've seen her do that time and time again; but if she ever does start, the only way to stop her is to steer into some solid immovable object, such as the Western Hemisphere.

At that, motor-boating for an amateur such as I am has certain advantages over sailboating. A motor-boatist—even the most reckless kind—knows enough to stay ashore when a West Indian hurricane is romping along the coast, playfully chasing its own tail like a young puppy; but that kind of a situation is just pie for your seasoned sailboatist.

Only last summer I had a very distressing experience in connection with a sailboat, which was owned by a friend of mine—or perhaps I should say he was a friend of mine until this matter came up. From the clubhouse porch I had often admired his boat skimming gracefully over the bay, with its sail making a white gore against the blue background; and one day he invited me to go out with him for a sail. Before I had time for that second thought which is so desirable under such circumstances, I found myself committed to the venture.

Right here, though, I wish to state that if anybody ever gets me out in a small sailboat again it will be over my dead body.

Well, anyway, we cast off, as he called it. I did not like that phrase—cast off—it sounded too much as though one were bidding farewell to all earthly ties—and almost immediately I was struck by other disconcerting facts. The first one was that his boat, which had looked roomy and commodious when viewed from shore, appeared to shrink up so when you were aboard her. Really, she was not much larger than a soapdish and not nearly so reliable. And another thing I noticed was a lot of the angriest-looking clouds that anybody ever saw, piling up on the horizon. And the waves were slopping up and down, and giving to the water that dark, forbidding appearance that is so inspiring in a marine painting, but so depressing when you are thrown into personal contact with it.

I made a suggestion. As I recall now, I said something about waiting until the typhoon was over; but my friend grinned in an annoying, superior kind of way and said he doubted whether the wind would blow more than half a gale. He was right there—but it was the last half. Anyhow he swung her round and she heeled away over in an alarming fashion, and we headed right into the center of the vortex. He gave me the end of a rope to hold and told me to swing on to it, which I was very glad to do, because there are times and places when it gives you a slight sense of comfort to have anything at all to hold to, even if it is only a rope. On and on we careened madly. I was so occupied with harkening to the howl of the mad winds in the rigging and watching the mad waves that, when he suddenly called out something which sounded like Hard Ah Lee, I paid no attention. If his fancy led him in a moment of dire peril like this to be yelling for somebody with a name like a Chinese laundryman, it was no concern of mine.

Then he bellowed: "Leggo that sheet!"

Now I knew there was something about a sailboat called a sheet, but I naturally assumed it was the sail. I leave it to any disinterested person if a sail, being white and more or less square in shape, doesn't look more like a sheet than a mere rope does. So, as I wasn't near the sail, but was merely holding on to my rope, I started to tell him I wasn't touching his blamed old sheet. But the words were never spoken.

The boat tried to shy out from under me and came very nearly succeeding. At the same time, she buckjumped and stood right up on one edge, like a demented gravy dish. At the same moment, also, a considerable portion of the Atlantic Ocean came aboard and lit in my lap, and something struck me alongside the head with frightful force; and something else scraped me off the place where I was sitting and hurled me headlong.

When I came to, the man who owned the boat was scrambling round, stepping on me and my clothes, and grabbing at loose ends, and swearing; but as soon as he had a moment to spare from these other duties he called me a derned idiot! I was his guest, mind you, and he used that language toward me.

"You derned idiot!" he said. "Didn't you see she was about to jibe?"

I told him in a dignified manner that I certainly did not; that had I known she was about to jibe I would most certainly have jobe with her; that personally I preferred any amount of jibbing, however painful, to being drowned first and then beaten to death. I demanded to know why he had assaulted me upon the head and what he did it with.

It developed, though, that he had not struck me at all. The boom swung round and hit me. This is a heavy section of lumber, and I think it is called a boom from the hollow, ringing sound it makes when dashing out the brains of amateur sailors. In my judgment these booms are dangerous and their presence should not be permitted aboard a sailing craft—or, at least, they should be towed a safe distance aft.

But I digress. Referring to the devastating and angry elements that encompassed us, the owner of the boat said there was now a nice, fresh breeze blowing, and that he hated to miss the fun; but if I preferred to he would run back in and hug the shore. Hug it! I was ready to kiss it! What I wanted to do was to take that dear shore in both arms and press my throbbing cheeks against her mossy breast, and swear that nothing should ever again come between me and the solid part of the continent of North America.

So, by a sheer miracle escaping death on the way, we returned, and I betook myself off of that craft and headed straight for the clubhouse. I wish to take advantage of this opportunity, however, to deny the report subsequently circulated by certain malicious persons to the effect that I was scared. Any passing agitation I may have betrayed was due to my relief at finding that the cyclone, despite its fury, had not swept the North Atlantic Coast bare. I also wish to deny the story that I was pale. I have one of those complexions that come and go. Anybody who knows me will tell you that.

However, I have decided to give up sailboating; and, to a person of my shape and conservative tendencies, this leaves the field of outdoor sport considerably circumscribed. I am too peaceful for baseball and not warlike enough for football. I had thought some of taking up tennis, but have been deterred by the fact that so many young women excel at tennis. I could stand being licked by another man, but the idea of facing one of those sinewy young-lady champions whose stalwart face looks out at you from the sporting page is repellent to me.

I can understand why so very few of these ultra-athletic college girls marry off early. A man instinctively is drawn to the clinging-vine type of female. If there is any sturdy oak round the place he wants to be it. But what I cannot understand is how these brawny young persons can be the granddaughters and the great granddaughters of those fragile creatures, with wasp waists and tiny feet, who lived back in the Early Victorian period and suffered from megrims and vapors. I'll venture that none of this generation ever had a vapor in her life; and as for megrims, she wouldn't know one if she met it in the big road. She may be muscle-bound and throw a splint sometimes, or get the Charley horse; but megrims are not for her—believe me!

Oh, I've seen them often—the adorable yet brawny creatures, leaping six feet into the air and smacking a defenseless tennis ball with such vigor that it started right off in the general direction of Sioux Falls at the rate of upwards of ninety miles an hour, and coming down flat-footed without having jostled so much as a hairpin out of place. You may worship them, all right enough, but it is safer to do so at long distance.

Suppose you were hooked up for life to a lady champion and you happened to displease her? She'd spank you! Think of being laid face downward firmly across a sinewy knee and beaten forty-love with one of those hard catgut rackets! The very suggestion is intolerable to a believer in the supremacy of the formerly sterner sex.

So I have decided not to take up tennis; but the doctor says I need exercise, and I think I will go in for golf, which is a young man's vice and an old man's penance. I have already taken the preliminary steps. I have joined a country club; I have also chosen my caddie. He is a deaf-and-dumb caddie, who has never been known to laugh at anything.

That is why I chose him.


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