Apocrypha—Melville and Hawthorne

Shortly after Herman Melville had moved himself and his family to the Berkshires of Massachusetts, he and Nathaniel Hawthorne began what in time became a singular and enduring (if later less intense) friendship. In the two years before the Hawthornes would remove to Concord, Nathaniel on a number of occasions invited Herman to his home, which, due to the distance between the two farms, meant that Herman would stay for days at a time.
            Howsoever the earliest visits might have passed, they did so to the eventual vexation of Nathaniel’s wife Sophia, who began to chafe at the insulated nature of the affection between the two authors. And though Sophia may well have tried to conceal her pique, Nathaniel at last, during a visit from Melville in middle March, took notice of his wife’s umbrage and made himself a mental note to remedy the complaint as soon as possible.
            Early the next evening, while he and Herman were out tippling and talking of books at a tavern in the nearby town of Lenox, a lightly lubricated Hawthorne put his hand on Melville’s shoulder and said, “Herman, I feel that our affinity for one another is beginning to abrade my beloved Sophia, a state of affairs that I think requires some small concession on our part. I have an idea.”
            Instantly Melville was appalled to learn that their mutual affinities had become irksome to Sophia, whom he liked very much, and whom he, intuiting Hawthorne’s devotion to her, wished never to offend. “Death and devils!” burst Herman, lately being prone to fits of theatricality and presently aweigh on a sea of ale, “By rights, so rank a breach in civic decorum can be atoned only by the summary punishment of keelhauling!” Then puffing out his chest, he continued, “I submit myself to the terratime authority of the drumhead court-social and will abide its judg...”
            “Listen,” interrupted Hawthorne, “The rheumatism in my left pinky finger is predicting a small amount of snow tonight. But only if it drops before we get home will we be able to execute this idea of mine. Nevertheless, we’ll need to prepare for it first by holding our water for the remainder of the evening. So drink accordingly.”
            As if at attention, Melville saluted and burbled, “Though inebriate mutiny currently disrupts this vessel’s upper decks, the ship shall remain duty-bound and wholly sworn to thy service, Admiral.”  
            Married thus to the tentative plan, the two turned the conversation back to literature, drinking and talking until closing; by which time both had become indisputably soused; Melville moreso, having consumed the larger share of ale, and to such a degree that he had begun to shudder intermittently from the attendant stress he was enduring in navigating the difficult Straits of Incontinence.
            Soon, though, they exited the tavern. Beneath a star-strewn celestial hemisphere, the countryside lay covered by a vestal layer of new snow, just as Hawthorne’s pinky had predicted. As they weaved homeward under a moon nearly full, Hawthorne revealed the remainder of his plan to Melville. “My design is for us to use our urine to write Sophia we love you in large letters on the hillock facing the bedroom window. In the morning she will wake, draw back the curtains, see the message, and hopefully have her spirits brightened by it. We’ll divide the task in two; I will work forward from the word Sophia, you, backward from the word you. We’ll meet somewhere in the middle, God willing.” And after what to Herman seemed an eternity, the two finally arrived at the incline and they began immediately.
            Cutting across the bank, Melville made such short work of the u and the o that he, still feeling full, was contemplating the addition of serif adornments to some of the remaining letters. Yet at the tail of the y (which he finished not by the hand but a flourish of the hips), he mysteriously stiffened, blacked out, and toppled over into the snow like a freshly cut maple.
            Unsurprisingly, Melville woke the next morning in a welter of confusion and remorse. He was lying on the daybed in the Hawthorne’s parlor, still wearing his overcoat and boots. He looked up to find Sophia hovering above him, weaving gently into and out of focus.
            “Lash me to the mizzen, Sophia,” sighed Melville as he began rubbing his eyes, “Scourge my naked back until the welts gutter crimson, I have been a terrible houseguest. I cannot apologize enough.”
            “Let it be,” said Sophia softly, “I have seen the note the two of you left me last night, and am well pleased by it.”
            “If my memory and my present condition speak honestly,” returned Melville, “it would seem that I had less a hand, and bladder, in it than was originally hoped. Again, I am sorry.”
            “No apology is necessary, Herman,” she replied, “Nathaniel has told me the entire story.” Then smiling sweetly she put her hand on Melville’s head and added, “Thank you for just peeing you.”