YEARS ago, now, my wife and I were pleasuring in Vermont, savoring the bosky dells and verdant dingles with their purling streams. Highway engineers have since straightened some of Vermont out, but back then every dale and vista was just around the next bend. Except for bridges, no road in Vermont was straight, and on going right or going left you broke even. The road we'd chosen that day, pristine and unspoiled, made around a curve, and we beheld a weathered farmhouse speaking for generations and waitin g to have its picture in Yankee Magazine. "Lovely," she said.
Before I could agree, the door of the farmhouse opened from inside, and out stepped a young soldier of the American Civil War - uniform, packsack, musket, and his little campaign cap as jaunty as if he were bound for Antietam. But that was not his present destination. He marched in military formation across the farmyard, opened a door, and stepped into the barn.
I can't tell you a thing more than that. He crossed the yard, and we passed. The winding road ended the scene; we were looking at another and different episode. And we've always felt this was right. How many people, amongst all the strutting and fretting upon the stage, have seen a Yankee soldier come out of his house and go into his barn? Gun and all. What explanation could possibly be better than conjecture? What could that soldier tell us to better the guesses we made in the next 10 miles?
Was he going to be in a play? Had an ancestor bought out an Army surplus store back in 1868? Did he dress thus for farm chores, and was he going to feed the pigs? Had he, like old Rip, just awakened, and like Alice, was this his dream or ours?
All too seldom as this world lags, something of this sort comes up to grace the humdrum otherwise in forces. There was the time, for instance, that Don Rose staged Shakespeare's "Love's Labour's Lost." Don did a daily and sprightly column for the lamented Philadelphia Bulletin, and he frequently used his family as grist. He had a dozen or more children, and wrote a book titled "A Full House." Sadly, the book languished with the publisher and appeared after another book was successfully on the best seller
list - "Cheaper by the Dozen." Don's book was written first, but people thought he had swiped the idea.
So as a stunt the Rose family presented Shakespeare; everybody in the cast was a Rose. The municipal auditorium was hired, and Don huckstered tickets in his column until they were all sold. On the appointed evening the Rose family had an early supper, arranged the stage makeup, donned costumes, and got into three taxicabs for the trip to the theatre. This would be precisely at the peak traffic time in the City of Brotherly Love. And at the city's busiest intersection the foremost taxi blew a tire and pul led to the curb. The other two taxis drew up behind, and all was bustle and confusion.
The traffic officer then on duty beheld this state of affairs and blew his whistle. Then he left his post and started over to see if he could do anything. He was halfway there when the doors on all three taxis opened, and out stepped the King of Navarre and his Lords, the Princess of France and her Ladies, Don Adriano himself, Holofernes, Costard the Clown, and all the Rose family right up to the Good Curate, who chided the police officer for his unseemly words in the presence of the ladies.
The traffic officer was visibly shaken by this, and waggled his head. But unhappily for all the innocent witnesses to this, and for the City of Philadelphia, the explanation came in Don's next column. Everybody now knew how a band of Elizabethans came to turn out and change a tire. Curiosity ceased and the simple explanation deprived Philadelphia of an ongoing whimsy. We were lucky never to have our Vermont war veteran elucidated.