One violet throbbing star was climbing in the southeast at half-past four, and the whole flat plain was rich with golden moonlight. Early rising in order to quicken the furnace and start the matinsong in the steampipes becomes its own reward when such an orange moon is dropping down the sky. Even Peg (our most volatile Irish terrier) was plainly awed by the blaze of pale light, and hopped gingerly down the rimy back steps. But the cat was unabashed. Cats are born by moonlight and are leagued with the powers of darkness and mystery. And so Nicholas Vachel Lindsay (he is named for the daring poet of Illinois) stepped into the moonshine without a qualm.
There are certain little routine joys known only to the servantless suburbanite. Every morning the baker leaves a bag of crisp French rolls on the front porch. Every morning the milkman deposits his little bottles of milk and cream on the back steps. Every morning the furnace needs a little grooming, that the cheery thump of rising pressure may warm the radiators upstairs. Then the big agate kettle must be set over the blue gas flame, for hot water is needed both for shaving and cocoa. Our light breakfast takes only a moment to prepare. By the time the Nut Brown Maid comes singing downstairs, cocoa, rolls, and boiled eggs are ready in the sunny little dining room, and the Tamperer is bathed and shaved and telephoning to Central for “the exact time.” The 8:13 train waits for no man, and it is nearly a mile to the station.
But the morning I think of was not a routine morning. On routine mornings the Tamperer rises at ten minutes to seven, the alarm clock being set for 6:45: which allows five minutes for drowsy head. The day in question was early February when snow lay white and powdery on the ground, and the 6 o’clock train from Marathon had to be caught. There is an express for Philadelphia that leaves the Pennsylvania Station at 7:30 and this the Tamperer had to take, to make a 10 o’clock appointment in the Quaker City. That was why the alarm clock rang at half-past four.
I cannot recall a more virginal morning than that snowy twilight before the dawn. No description that I have ever read–not even the daybreak in “Prince Otto,” or Pippa’s dawn boiling in pure gold over the rim of night–would be just to that exquisite growth of colour in the eastern sky. The violet star faded to forget-me-not and then to silver and at last closed his weary eye; the flat Long Island prairie gradually lost its fairy-tale air of mystery and dream; the close ceiling of the night receded into infinite space as the sun waved his radiant arms over the horizon.
But this was after I had left the house. The sun did not raise his head from the pillow until I was in the train. The Nut Brown Maid was still nested in her warm white bed as I took her up some tea and toast just before departing.
The walk to the station, over the crisply frozen snow, was delicious. Marathon is famous for its avenue of great elms, which were casting deep blue shadows in the strange light–waning moon and waxing day. The air was very chill–only just above zero–and the smoking car seemed very cold and dismal. I huddled my overcoat about me and tried to smoke and read the paper. But in that stale, fetid odour of last night’s tobacco and this morning’s wet arctics the smoker was but a dismal place. The exaltation of the dawn dropped suddenly into a kind of shivering nausea.
I changed to another car and threw away the war news. Just then the sun came gloriously over the edge of the fields and set the snow afire. As we rounded the long curve beyond Woodside I could see the morning light shining upon the Metropolitan Tower, and when we glided into the basement of the Pennsylvania Station my heart was already attuned to the thrill of that glorious place. Perhaps it can never have the fascination for me that the old dingy London terminals have–King’s Cross, Paddington, or Saint Pancras, with their delicious English bookstalls and those porters in corduroy–but the Pennsylvania is a wonderful place after all, a marble palace of romance and a gallant place to roam about. It seems like a stable without horses, though, for where are the trains? No chance to ramble about the platforms (as in London) to watch the Duke of Abercorn or the Lord Claude Hamilton, or other of those green or blue English locomotives with lordly names, being groomed for the run.
In the early morning the Pennsylvania Station catches in its high-vaulted roof the first flush of sunlight; and before the flood of commuters begins to pour in, the famous station cat is generally sitting by the baggage room shining his morning face. Up at the marble lunch counters the coloured gentlemen are serving hot cakes and coffee to stray travellers, and the shops along the Arcade are being swept and garnished. As I passed through on my way to the Philadelphia train I was amused by a wicker basket full of Scotch terrier puppies–five or six of them tumbling over one another in their play and yelping so that the station rang. “Every little bit yelps” as someone has said. I was reminded of the last words I ever read in Virgil (the end of the sixth book of the Aeneid)–stant litore puppes, which I always yearned to translate “a litter of puppies.”
My train purred smoothly under the Hudson and under Jersey City as I lit my cigar and settled comfortably into the green plush. When we emerged from the tunnel on the other side of the long ridge (which is a degenerate spur from the Palisades farther north) a crescent of sun was just fringing the crest with fire. Another moment and we flashed onto the Hackensack marshes and into the fully minted gold of superb morning. The day was begun.