As I was hunting through my bookshelves (utterly disordered thanks to my two-foot-tall roommate, who likes to take books out and toss them around) for The Wind in the Willows, my hand briefly rested on E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan. And some automatic little voice immediately piped up--"watercress sandwiches," it said.
I could fill this blog with excerpts from children's books--I wonder why that is? Are books for children necessarily more vivid about food than books for adults? Or does it have something to do with the way we remember them?
At any rate, here is Louis the swan, making himself comfortable at the Ritz, in Boston, in E. B. White's simple, decorous, crystalline prose:
On the wall of the bedroom, he found a button that said WAITER. Louis put his beak against the button and pressed hard. In a few minutes, there was a knock at the door and a waiter entered. He was nicely dressed and tried not to show surprise at finding a swan in the room."May I get you something?" he asked.Louis picked up his chalk pencil. "Twelve watercress sandwiches, please," he wrote on the slate.The waiter thought for a moment. "Are you expecting guests?" he asked.Louis shook his head."And you want twelve watercress sandwiches?"Louis nodded."Very good, sir," said the waiter. "Do you wish them with mayonnaise?"Louis didn't know what mayonnaise tasted like, but he thought fast. He cleaned his slate and wrote: "One with. Eleven without."The waiter bowed and left the room. Half an hour later he was back. He rolled a table into the room, placed a huge platter of watercress sandwiches on it, along with a plate, a knife, a fork, a spoon, salt and pepper, a glass of water, and a linen napkin, nicely folded. There was also a butter dish, with several pieces of butter covered with cracked ice. The waiter arranged everything carefully, then handed Louis a bill to sign. The bill said:12 w/c sandwiches: $18.00"Goodness!" thought Louis. "This is an expensive place. I hope the Boatman won't be mad when he sees this supper charge on the bill tomorrow morning."He borrowed a pencil from the waiter and signed the bill: "Louis the Swan."The waiter took the bill and stood there, waiting."I guess he wants a tip," thought Louis. So he opened his moneybag again, drew out two dollars, and handed it to the waiter, who thanked him, bowed again, and went away.Because a swan has such a long neck, the table was just the right height for Louis. He didn't need a chair; he ate his supper standing up. He tried the sandwich that had mayonnaise on it and decided he didn't like mayonnaise. Then he carefully pulled each sandwich apart. All he really wanted was the watercress. He piled the slices of bread in two neat piles, scooped the watercress onto his plate, and had a nice supper. He did not touch the butter. When he was thirsty, instead of drinking from the glass of water, he walked into the bathroom, drew a basinful of cold water and drank that. Then he took his napkin, wiped his beak, and pushed the table out of the way. He felt much better.