A Holiday in Bed by J. M. Barrie

 

People have tried a holiday in bed before now, and found it a failure, but that was because they were ignorant of the rules. They went to bed with the open intention of staying there, say, three days, and found to their surprise that each morning they wanted to get up. This was a novel experience to them; they flung about restlessly, and probably shortened their holiday. The proper thing is to take your holiday in bed with a vague intention of getting up in another quarter of an hour. The real pleasure of lying in bed after you are awake is largely due to the feeling that you ought to get up. To take another quarter of an hour then becomes a luxury. You are, in short, in the position of the man who dined on larks. Had he seen the hundreds that were ready for him, all set out on one monster dish, they would have alarmed him; but getting them two at a time, he went on eating till all the larks were gone. His feeling of uncertainty as to whether these might not be his last two larks is your feeling that, perhaps, you will have to get up in a quarter of an hour. Deceive yourself in this way, and your holiday in bed will pass only too quickly.

Sympathy is what all the world is craving for, and sympathy is what the ordinary holiday-maker never gets. How can we be expected to sympathise with you when we know you are off to Perthshire to fish? No; we say we wish we were you, and forget that your holiday is sure to be a hollow mockery; that your child will jam her finger in the railway carriage, and scream to the end of the journey; that you will lose your luggage; that the guard will notice your dog beneath the seat, and insist on its being paid for; that you will be caught in a Scotch mist on the top of a mountain, and be put on gruel for a fortnight; that your wife will fret herself into a fever about the way the servant, who has been left at home, is treating her cousins, the milkman, and the policeman; and that you will be had up for trespassing. Yet, when you tell us you are off to-morrow, we have never the sympathy to say, "Poor fellow, I hope you'll pull through somehow." If it is an exhibition you go to gaze at, we never picture you dragging your weary legs from one department to another, and wondering why your back aches. Should it be the seaside, we talk heartlessly to you about the "briny," though we must know, if we would stop to think, that if there is one holiday more miserable than all the others, it is that spent at the seaside, when you wander along the weary beach and fling pebbles at the sea, and wonder how long it will be till dinner-time. Were we to come down to see you, we should probably find you, not on the beach, but moving slowly through the village, looking in at the one milliner's window, or laboriously reading what the one grocer's labels say on the subject of pale ale, compressed beef, or vinegar. There was never an object that called aloud for sympathy more than you do, but you get not a jot of it. You should take the first train home and go to bed for three days.

To enjoy your holiday in bed to the full, you should let it be vaguely understood that there is something amiss with you. Don't go into details, for they are not necessary; and, besides, you want to be dreamy more or less, and the dreamy state is not consistent with a definite ailment. The moment one takes to bed he gets sympathy. He may be suffering from a tearing headache or a tooth that makes him cry out; but if he goes about his business, or even flops in a chair, true sympathy is denied him. Let him take to bed with one of those illnesses of which he can say with accuracy that he is not quite certain what is the matter with him, and his wife, for instance, will want to bathe his brow. She must not be made too anxious. That would not only be cruel to her, but it would wake you from the dreamy state. She must simply see that you are "not yourself." Women have an idea that unless men are "not themselves" they will not take to bed, and as a consequence your wife is tenderly thoughtful of you. Every little while she will ask you if you are feeling any better now, and you can reply, with the old regard for truth, that you are "much about it." You may even (for your own pleasure) talk of getting up now, when she will earnestly urge you to stay in bed until you feel easier. You consent; indeed, you are ready to do anything to please her.

The ideal holiday in bed does not require the presence of a ministering angel in the room all day. You frequently prefer to be alone, and point out to her that you cannot have her trifling with her health for your sake, and so she must go out for a walk. She is reluctant, but finally goes, protesting that you are the most unselfish of men, and only too good for her. This leaves a pleasant aroma behind it, for even when lying in bed, we like to feel that we are uncommonly fine fellows. After she has gone you get up cautiously, and, walking stealthily to the wardrobe, produce from the pocket of your greatcoat a good novel. A holiday in bed must be arranged for beforehand. With a gleam in your eye you slip back to bed, double your pillow to make it higher, and begin to read. You have only got to the fourth page, when you make a horrible discovery—namely, that the book is not cut. An experienced holiday-maker would have had it cut the night before, but this is your first real holiday, or perhaps you have been thoughtless. In any case you have now matter to think of. You are torn in two different ways. There is your coat on the floor with a knife in it, but you cannot reach the coat without getting up again. Ought you to get the knife or to give up reading? Perhaps it takes a quarter of an hour to decide this question, and you decide it by discovering a third course. Being a sort of an invalid, you have certain privileges which would be denied you if you were merely sitting in a chair in the agonies of neuralgia. One of the glorious privileges of a holiday in bed is that you are entitled to cut books with your fingers. So you cut the novel in this way, and read on.

Those who have never tried it may fancy that there is a lack of incident in a holiday in bed. There could not be a more monstrous mistake. You are in the middle of a chapter, when suddenly you hear a step upon the stairs. Your loving ears tell you that the ministering angel has returned, and is hastening to you. Now, what happens? The book disappears beneath the pillow, and when she enters the room softly you are lying there with your eyes shut. This is not merely incident; it is drama.

What happens next depends on circumstances. She says, in a low voice:

"Are you feeling any easier now, John?"

No answer.

"Oh, I believe he is sleeping."

Then she steals from the room, and you begin to read again.

During a holiday in bed one never thinks, of course, of analysing his actions. If you had done so in this instance, you would have seen that you pretended sleep because you had got to an exciting passage. You love your wife, but, wife or no wife, you must see how the passage ends.

Possibly the little scene plays differently, as thus:

"John, are you feeling any easier now?"

No answer.

"Are you asleep?"

No answer.

"What a pity! I don't want to waken him, and yet the fowl will be spoilt."

"Is that you back, Marion?"

"Yes, dear; I thought you were asleep."

"No, only thinking."

"You think too much, dear. I have cooked a chicken for you."

"I have no appetite."

"I'm so sorry, but I can give it to the children."

"Oh, as it's cooked, you may as well bring it up."

In that case the reason of your change of action is obvious. But why do you not let your wife know that you have been reading? This is another matter that you never reason about. Perhaps it is because of your craving for sympathy, and you fear that if you were seen enjoying a novel the sympathy would go. Or perhaps it is that a holiday in bed is never perfect without a secret. Monotony must be guarded against, and so long as you keep the book to yourself your holiday in bed is a healthy excitement. A stolen book (as we may call it) is like stolen fruit, sweeter than what you can devour openly. The boy enjoys his stolen apple because at any moment he may have to slip it down the leg of his trousers and pretend that he has merely climbed the tree to enjoy the scenery. You enjoy your book doubly because you feel that it is a forbidden pleasure. Or do you conceal your book from your wife lest she should think you are over-exerting yourself? She must not be made anxious on your account? Ah, that is it.

People who pretend (for it must be pretence) that they enjoy their holiday in the country, explain that the hills or the sea give them such an appetite. I could never myself feel the delight of being able to manage an extra herring for breakfast, but it should be pointed out that neither mountains nor oceans give you such an appetite as a holiday in bed. What makes people eat more anywhere is that they have nothing else to do, and in bed you have lots of time for meals. As for the quality of the food supplied, there is no comparison. In the highlands it is ham and eggs all day till you sicken. At the seaside it is fish till the bones stick in your mouth. But in bed—oh, there you get something worth eating. You don't take three big meals a day, but twelve little ones, and each time it is something different from the last. There are delicacies for breakfast, for your four luncheons and your five dinners. You explain to your wife that you have lost your appetite, and she believes you, but at the same time she has the sense to hurry on your dinner. At the clatter of dishes (for which you have been lying listening) you raise your poor head, and say faintly:

"Really, Marion, I can't touch food."

"But this is nothing," she says, "only the wing of a partridge."

You take a side glance at it, and see that there is also the other wing and the body and two legs. Your alarm thus dispelled, you say:

"I really can't."

"But, dear, it is so beautifully cooked."

"Yes, but I have no appetite."

"But try to take it, John, for my sake."

Then for her sake you say she can leave it on the chair, and perhaps you will just taste it. As soon as she has gone you devour that partridge, and when she comes back she has the sense to say:

"Why, you have scarcely eaten anything. What could you take for supper?"

You say you can take nothing, but if she likes she can cook a large sole, only you won't be able to touch it.

"Poor dear," she says, "your appetite has completely gone," and then she rushes to the kitchen to cook the sole with her own hands. In half an hour she steals into your room with it, and then you (who have been wondering why she is so long) start up protesting:

"I hope, Marion, this is nothing for me."

"Only the least bit of a sole, dear."

"But I told you I could eat nothing."

"Well, this is nothing, it is so small."

You look again, and see with relief that it is a large sole.

"I would much rather that you took it away."

"But, dear——"

"I tell you I have no appetite."

"Of course I know that; but how can you hope to preserve your strength if you eat so little? You have had nothing all day."

You glance at her face to see if she is in earnest, for you can remember three breakfasts, four luncheons and two dinners; but evidently she is not jesting. Then you yield.

"Oh, well, to keep my health up I may just put a fork into it."

"Do, dear; it will do you good, though you have no caring for it."

Take a holiday in bed, if only to discover what an angel your wife is.

There is one thing to guard against. Never call it a holiday. Continue not to feel sure what is wrong with you, and to talk vaguely of getting up presently. Your wife will suggest calling in the doctor, but pooh-pooh him. Be firm on that point. The chances are that he won't understand your case.