My Trip to Dixie by Edgar Wilson Bill Nye
I once took quite a long railway trip into the South in search of my
health. I called my physicians together, and they decided by a rising
vote that I ought to go to a warmer clime, or I should enjoy very poor
health all winter. So I decided to go in search of my health, if I died
on the trail.
I bought tickets at Cincinnati of a pale, sallow liar, who is just
beginning to work his way up to the forty-ninth degree in the Order of
Ananias. He will surely be heard from again some day, as he has the
elements that go to make up a successful prevaricator.
He said that I could go through from Cincinnati to Asheville, North
Carolina, with only one easy change of cars, and in about twenty-three
hours. It took me twice that time, and I had to change cars three times
in the dead of night.
The southern railroad is not in a flourishing condition. It ought to
go somewhere for its health. Anyway, it ought to go somewhere, which at
present it does not. According to the old Latin proverb, I presume we
should say nothing but good of the dead, but I am here to say that the
railroad that knocked my spine loose last week, and compelled me to
carry lunch baskets and large Norman two-year-old gripsacks through the
gloaming, till my arms hung down to the ground, does not deserve to be
treated well, even after death.
I do not feel any antipathy toward the South, for I did not take any
part in the war, remaining in Canada during the whole time, and so I
can not now be accused of offensive partisanship. I have always avoided
anything that would look like a settled conviction in any of these
matters, retaining always a fair, unpartisan and neutral idiocy in
relation to all national affairs, so that I might be regarded as a good
civil service reformer, and perhaps at some time hold an office.
To further illustrate how fair-minded I am in these matters, I may
say I have patiently read all the war articles written by both sides,
and I have not tried to dodge the foot-notes or the marginal
references, or the war maps or the memoranda. I have read all these
things until I can't tell who was victorious, and if that is not a fair
and impartial way to look at the war, I don't know how to proceed in
order to eradicate my prejudices.
But a railroad is not a political or sectional matter, and it ought
not to be a local matter unless the train stays at one end of the line
all the time. This road, however, is the one that discharged its
engineer some years ago, and when he took his time-check he said he
would now go to work for a sure-enough road with real iron rails to it,
instead of two streaks of rust on a right of way.
All night long, except when we were changing cars, we rattled along
over wobbling trestles and third mortgages. The cars were graded from
third-class down. The road itself was not graded at all.
They have the same old air in these coaches that they started out
with. Different people, with various styles of breath, have used this
air and then returned it. They are using the same air that they did
before the war. It is not, strictly speaking, a national air. It is
more of a languid air, with dark circles around its eyes.
At one place where I had an engagement to change cars, we had a wait
of four hours, and I reclined on a hair-cloth lounge at the hotel, with
the intention of sleeping a part of the time.
Dear, patient reader, did you every try to ride a refractory
hair-cloth lounge all night, bare back? Did you ever get aboard a
short, old-fashioned, black, hair-cloth lounge, with a disposition to
I was told that this was a kind, family lounge that would not shy or
make trouble anywhere, but I had only just closed my dark-red and
mournful eyes in sleep when this lounge gently humped itself, and shed
me as it would its smooth, dark hair in the spring, tra la.
The floor caught me in its great strong arms and I vaulted back upon
the polished bosom of the hair-cloth lounge. It was made for a man
about fifty-three inches in length, and so I had to sleep with my feet
in my pistol pockets and my nose in my bosom up to the second joint.
I got so that I could rise off the floor and climb on the lounge
without waking up. It grew to be second nature to me. I did it just as
a man who is hungry in his sleep bites off large fragments of the air
and eats it involuntarily and smacks his lips and snorts. So I arose
and deposited myself again and again on that old swayback but
frolicsome wreck without waking. But I couldn't get aboard softly
enough to avoid waking the lounge. It would yawn and rumble inside and
rise and fall like the deep rolling sea, till at last I gave up trying
to sleep on it any more, and curled up on the floor.
[Illustration: I bought tickets at Cincinnati of a pale, sallow
liar, who is just beginning to work his way up to the forty-ninth
degree in the Order of Ananias (Page 222)]
The hair-cloth lounge, in various conditions of decrepitude, maybe
found all through this region. Its true inwardness is composed of
spiral springs which have gnawed through the cloth in many instances.
These springs have lost none of their old elasticity of spirits, and
cordially corkscrew themselves into the affections of the man who sits
down on them. If anything could make me thoroughly attached to the
South it would be one of these spiral springs bored into my person
about a foot. But that is the only way to remain on a hair-cloth chair
or sofa. No man ever successfully sat on one of them for any length of
time unless he had a strong pair of pantaloons and a spiral spring
twisted into him for some distance.
In private houses hair-cloth sofas may be found in a domesticated
state, with a pair of dark, reserved chairs, waiting for some one to
come and fall off them. In hotels they go in larger flocks, and graze
together in the parlor.