The North Shore And The Breeches Bible
( Originally Published 1915 )
BETWEEN the individual charms of the old darky and those of Newburyport I found the usual difficulty in getting away. Everything was there, including abounding laughter occasioned by the porter.
I heard him coming up the stairs the next morning, jangling keys affixed to huge tin horse-shoes, oversize for any pocket. A prospective guest was in his wake looking at rooms for an extended visit, and she was twittering between a choice of those on the parlour floor and on the top. The porter paused on the last step. " Lady, how many trunks you got?"
"Four," said the lady.
" Pahlour floor's the best," hastened the porter. And she thanked him for his interest in her welfare.
I asked him, later, what the old town was principally noted for, and he answered its Purity and the landing here of the Siamese twins. He added that they were both dead, and I do not know whether he referred to the two attractions, Purity and the Siamese, or simply to the twins.
I was shocked that he did not speak of Washington and Lafayette who had slept in a nearby mansion, but notables who were not freakish by nature he held in small esteem. Even the hotel clerk was rather blase about these distinguished guests, opining that these two gentlemen, if one could judge by tablets all over the country, slept more than any other men in history.
His Newburyport favourite was Lord Timothy Dexter, who was not a lord at all, but had longed so ardently to be one that the title attached itself to him by the force of thought. He was an eccentric creature who, during Colonial days, lived in one of those great houses I had seen by moonlight and sworn never to see again. He was a philosopher, if saying you are makes you one, and wrote a little book of precepts which have no merit whatever beyond the quaintness of the phrasing. Once upon a time, as a joke, he sent a boatload of warming pans to the West Indies, although I don't know on whom the joke was except him-self for his expenditure. But the cargo was the wisdom of a fool, for the warming pans were applied to ladling up cane sugar, and Lord Dexter grew even more rich by his folly.
All this is very well to talk about sitting on the front porch of the Wolfe Tavern of a late summer's morning. But, from my own acquaintance with village cut-ups, I can imagine what a bore he must have been in his day, and how he found our wide street of the night before as empty as did we when he sallied forth for a promenade.
He served, however, along with the Siamese twins and the porter, and the old house across the street which Stanford White greatly admired, to bring the personal equation strongly into New-bury. Its Puritanism was nicely blended with fine tales of privateering, of prize ships towed into the harbour, and, quite at variance with these attractions, but of especial interest to us now, of the attitude of the dames of the town during the distressful times of the Revolution. For it was the custom of these ladies " to meet and dedicate a few glasses to the following truly sentimental and highly republican toasts :
" 1. May our beloved President preside at the helm of government longer than we shall have time to tell his years.
" 2. Mrs. Washington, respected consort of our illustrious chief.
" 3. May the fair patriots of America never fail to assert their independence, which nature equally dispenses.
"4. Maria Charlotte Corday. May each Columbian daughter, like her, be ready to sacrifice their life to liberty.
" 5. The day that saw the wondrous hero rise shall, more than all our sacred days, be blessed."
That was five drinks. If a suffrage dinner party in this city filled their glasses at all the Cause would be lost. I cite this to prove that we women, while expanding in our demands, are contracting in our beverages.
The world is getting better. We were shown an old bill for liquors concocted at the Wolfe Tavern and drunk by gentlemen of distinction. The sum total amounted to L59, of which only £7, as far as I could make out, was ever paid. W ____ asked the clerk if we could get away with anything like that, and he replied, very firmly, that we could not. So there seemed to be nothing to do but pay our account and go on.
I went up the wide street which we had traversed the night before with my eyes shut—which was absurd, I grant—but I opened them at the edge of the town, to see a baby of three toddling along the highway in front of our car, evidently making, as were we, for Rowley. It broke into a frantic little run as we appeared to bear down upon it, and roars filled the air, yet it continued on its way, a good deal as we must all do in life, crying, perhaps, but holding stubbornly to our direction in spite of the terrors that beset us.
I got out and led the child back to the old farmhouse from which it had evidently strayed, for I wished to take no chances with motors less controlled than ours. I was going to tell the mother some things about guarding her youngster, but I saw at first glance that it would be wasted. She took the rescue calmly, her admonishment to the child consisting of " baddy boy," as one says, " two lumps, please." So he is probably on the road this very minute, with legs grown a little longer—and nearer Rowley.
We only wished for Rowley that, acquiring it, we might go on to Ipswich. But the Common was so pleasant that I insisted upon a photo-graph of it for myself. It remains only in my memory as I took two pictures on one film, the result being a small strip of grass with a dog of mammoth proportions eating up the houses beyond. We stopped by a watering trough on which was carved " Blessed are the Merciful," and one of the merciful was endeavouring to entice water for his horse from the reluctant pump. Yet he was not blessed, although, had he pumped long enough, he might have received a benediction. The only thing that flowed was his profanity, and at last he drove away with the beast's thirst unslaked.
We were now on the Bay Road of 1640, with every wrinkle so removed from its old face that it made me long to have a steam-roller at my own command. It was a homely way, in the real sense of the word, for the air was full of the odour of autumn pickling. Housewives peered out of the doors to see if we were the vinegar they had sent for, and went back to their stoves disgustedly, seeing we were not.
The smell changed to the less pleasant one of tanned leather as we came to Ipswich, and we stopped before one factory with soles drying in the sun, to ask where we could find the Whipple House. We wanted the Whipple House because we wanted to see the Breeches Bible. That is, the Illustrator wanted to see it. The Bibles which had been left by the Gideons were good enough for me. Besides, I was afraid to see the Breeches Bible for fear the Illustrator was right.
It was his contention that this famous book, of which we spoke so glibly and knew so little, was given the name because it was the first Bible small enough to go into a breeches pocket. After saying this must be wrong I stuck to it, although inwardly asking myself why it should be called that if it didn't have something to do with trousers. I endeavored to weaken the Illustrator's attitude, which was growing more arrogant every minute, by asking him whose breeches it was that carried this Bible, and, after a minute's hesitation, he said Mr. Whipple's breeches, because it was to be shown in the Whipple House.
This I was sure was an error, and he must have felt that he had gone a little too far with his deductions, for we never found the old mansion in Ipswich. He tried to, he claimed. He went up to several doorsteps by himself and asked for something or other. I could hear him mumbling out a question, but I believe it concerned the road to Essex.
No one could mistake the Essex route, and few could have been any happier than were we in spite of dissension. The road under foot was rut-less, sky overhead cloudless, there were elm-shaded villages, red-dyed downs, and, far off, white patches of sand mid strips of blue water. More than that, we were going to stop off for a day or two and see some friends. At last we were to have an opportunity to use our golf clubs. Just why we should choose friends living on a small island off the mainland as those most likely to give us a game of golf is something not to be answered with any credit to ourselves.
Unfortunately, we could not visit them if we could not find the island. We knew it was in the water, as an island should be, and we could motor to it coming up from Boston, although we did not know how to reach it going down from Newbury-port. It would be a waste of time to go to Boston in order to reach an island nearby, so we asked along the way, and it was not as difficult to learn of the island as it was of the Breeches Bible—being larger. The barber in Essex pointed the route. There is always an elegant efficiency in barbers—they cull gossip with their razors and travel vicariously.
After a time we were being. rowed in a small boat to a cottage on a rocky promontory, with the high tide encircling half of it while our motor talked over our trip to our friends' motors in a garage on the mainland. I would like to go on writing of our life on the island, and of the golf we didn't play. But I am again frigidly re-minded that this is a motoring story, and that the real tour carried us through Essex to Gloucester. So I must hurry you on, and say nothing of the waves lapping my room at night, or of the red flag hung out in the morning, and how the lobster man, seeing the signal, rowed directly to the door with his catch. At least, I can say nothing more than this except to advise the tourist to spend part of his time along the Massachusetts coast. I know that I have advised him to linger on each day's run, but, upon retrospect, I know no playground more lovely than what is known as the North Shore.
Chief in interest to the reader may be the behaviour of our island hosts when we mentioned the Breeches Bible. They were from Boston, and we knew their culture was sufficient to em-brace complete knowledge of this sartorial volume at the Whipple Mansion. But they showed nothing but an over-developed sense of humour when we told them our story, refusing to enlighten us beyond gasping out " in Mr. Whipple's pocket! Oh, Moses! "
All this mysterious reticence drove me to our New York library as soon as I could shake the dust of the tour from my clothes. I had grown fearful of any further questioning among my friends, but one has no shame before the librarians. We grant them superior creatures at the start. The first one whom I attacked in the history-room behaved unusually, for, instead of raining heavy tomes down on me from the gallery, he unlocked a door and told me " third turning to the right and there it is."
He then pushed me away unwillingly while I muttered that " it " was at Ipswich, that all I wanted was to know about it, and that a small encyclopedia would be sufficient. I reiterated this same speech to a blond young man at the third door to the right, who did not hear me out, but turned on his heel, and came back with a good-sized volume in a new binding. He was apologetic about the binding. He was sorry that it was new, but their first edition was under lock and key.
I was inclined to be severe with him. I told him that the Breeches Bible was at the Whipple House at Ipswich, unless (I dwelt upon this) it had been recently stolen. But he was not at all resentful. He said all of the Bibles printed in England from 1560 to 1590 were Breeches Bibles, and. he did not laugh when I cried out in despair over the size pockets must have been to carry such large volumes. He was accustomed to ignorami like myself. He very gently, something in the manner of a physician, turned to the third chapter of Genesis, walking modestly away while I read these words:
" Then the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed figge-tree leaves together, and made them-selves breeches."
" So," continued the young man, not looking at me, " such editions employing this word were classed under the head of the Breeches Bible."
And the worst of it is I remember now having learned that at school, and the Illustrator re-members having learned it also.
We left for Gloucester exactly at the hour we had arrived in Essex a few days back, so the running time was not confused in our simple minds.
Gloucester is on a peninsula and one can cut it out altogether, but if he does he will miss the quaintest seaport on the route, and millions of codfish drying in the sun, like the leather soles. The Gloucester boats still go to the Banks. Some do not return, and every spring there is a service at the water's edge, when flowers are thrown upon the surface to be carried out by the tide for those who did not come back.
The wharves and boats are so picturesquely ragged that I thought we had lost the Illustrator forever. The chauffeur and I broiled in the sun as we sat in the car. We were alongside a ship in dry-dock, and I agonised over the effort it must take to get the vessels up this incline. A workman—not working told me nothing could be easier: once get them on the ways, and they can be pulled up by hand. It still seemed a difficult process to me, and our young driver, whose life is far removed from dry-docks, mistook ways for waves, and remarked, to the great disgust of the longshoreman, that he wouldn't have thought the waves big enough to get a boat on them.
We ate a " shore dinner," consisting of fish " just in that morning," and clams cooked four different ways. How surprising it would be to hear of fish " just in yesterday morning," or, grown absolutely honest, to have our fish dealer say, " Here is something choice, ma'am, not over three months old." I have a cousin who makes eighty per cent. out of the frozen-fish industry, and it is possible that the truthful fishmonger should make this speech oftener than he does. I do not believe in frozen fish, although I have frequently endeavoured to buy some of my cousin's stock.
While the fish was fresh, the coffee was so stale that I asked in all sincerity if it really was coffee. The waitress gathered up my cup with the avowed intention of getting some made. " I'm a coffee drinker myself," she said, sympathetically. She was an amiable girl, prefacing her attendance upon us by remarking that, " It sure was one grand day."
We could not dispute this, and we remained uniform in all our opinions until the change came from the bill W gave her. The coins on the plate were so large that it would seem she must receive a tip out of all proportion to our account.
But the Illustrator found some odd quarters in his pocket, and from that moment a cold east wind blew between us.
Another villager remained sympatico from first to last. We stopped in the narrow main street to ask for an art store of a policeman big enough for New York to entrap and carry away. The shop was directly in front of us, this causing a laugh at the Illustrator's expense, which engendered a friendliness between the policeman and myself.
I do not know why at least one person in a humorous story must suffer. To render some one uncomfortable appears to be the foundation of all pleasantries. And it must be a human being, for there is no fun in a story when the laugh is on a horse, or a rose-tree, or a lobster-pot. I often grow sorry for the Illustrator in this book as all the laughs are on him. And some day, he tells me, he is going to write a book of his own, relating the number of times he has scored off me, which, no doubt, the present reader will find delightful.
The policeman was glad that we had artistic inclinations. He had once sung in a glee club that went all over New Hampshire and he had also played in a brass band in Providence. " And now look at me," he sighed, " nothing but a policeman." I knew he was an artist then, for surely no one but a Bohemian would find an officer of the law anything but the next best job to that of President.
We got along so exceedingly well that I told him one of Gloucester's most prominent summer residents had, at the age of sixteen, asked me to marry him, and I, at fourteen, had considered it seriously. The policeman's respect for me increased enormously and, as the prominent cottager walked along this street every day and always nodded pleasantly, this member of the force promised to convey my regards. He took out his notebook to write down my name, so that the distinguished gentleman would not confuse me with some girl he had arranged to marry a little earlier or a little later in his career. The passersby thought I was being summoned, and ceased to be passersby, by stopping and becoming a crowd. So that they had to be dispersed, sternly, by the law.
I parted with this artistic policeman reluctantly, not only because he was a Bohemian at heart, but for the reason that we were now going into a part of the country where roadside conversations were rare. Insidiously, as we found ourselves among formal people, we began to assume a conventional manner. We hated it, but it was not to be shaken off. And as we commenced our drive along the North Shore, from Magnolia through Manchester, Prides, and Beverly, we were certain that we were far removed from " experiences " beyond the probability of a collision at each sharp turn.
But, in motoring, the loss of one form of enjoyment can always be compensated by the acquiring of another. Where there are no farmers to talk to there are generally better roads ; where there are no quaint towns there is open country ; where no open country there are great estates.
On the North Shore life in a stable is not to be despised and one in a cottage beyond the dreams of avarice. There are miles of these estates lining either side the road, and, although a radical, I did not find the wealth exasperating. We had grown so grateful to the woods and fields, which had long been our companions, for their decorative qualities, that this land of gabled houses, French chateaux, and old English manors we accepted as a combination of nature and humanity to make our trip delightful. With the growing egoism of the motorist, we felt that this pageantry was arranged for us, and we were able to enjoy the lavish expenditure of others with no tax on our own purse. Blessed be the highway. It is for rich and poor alike, and on such a tour as ours is as infinitely varied as life itself.
The road continued fine, although the estates dwindled into smaller garden patches, with a pasture for the family cow, as we approached Salem. This is one of the towns that needs no guide-book or further digging into histories. About the first thing learned in school which remained in our memory before we had reached the corner was the witchcraft of Salem. And I think to-day any small boy of this town would write " witches " as the principal exports and imports of the place if the question was put to him at examinations.
All one has to say as we motor into the old town is " witches," and the youngsters leap to the running-board, firing volleys of misinformation as you drive through the streets. They meretriciously confuse Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables with the Witches' Jail, and point out the drug store, which is the real " Witch House," as that unhappy roof tree which sheltered the Reverend Parris—who began all the trouble. As a matter of fact, this reign of terror started at Danvers, five miles to the west of Salem. Here Samuel Parris, through the testimony of eight girls, ranging in years from eleven to twenty, caused the death of twenty innocent women. These unfortunates were not even hanged in Salem, but on Gallows Hill, a mile to the west, which, as a guidebook puts it, " can be reached by a pleasant trolley ride."
In spite of the humming trolleys and a stirring of industrial activities, Salem remains uncanny. I am sure that I would live in fear of the law so long as I stayed there. A filthy railway station does not dissipate the atmosphere of Puritan times, nor does the new portion of the town, now largely destroyed by fire, lend an air of modernity.
Indeed, there is something sinister about this new part, with its wide open spaces, being licked up by the flames when the old, closely settled region remained invulnerable. It was as though some of those witches had been flying about in the sky, sweeping back the fire with their magic brooms. The Illustrator, who accepted my idea without surprise, said that it was most unlikely, as the spirit witches, if they had any sense at all, would burn up the old part of the town, taking particular enjoyment in consuming the descend-ants of such Puritans as had led them out to Gallows Hill. Why is it, I wonder, that it is estimable to have as forbears those who have condemned a poor creature to the gallows, when it is so disreputable to descend from those who were hanged?
We shook our last small guide off the running-board as we passed out through the burned portion, refusing a log of charred wood as a souvenir, and swept on to Swampscott, watches in our hands, for we were dining with friends in Boston that night. The traveller would do well to take the longer road by way of Marblehead. It is not much of a pull, after ten days of motoring, to choose between friends and a pleasant detour. We would have abandoned ours shamelessly had they not been motoring during the summer also, and we were anxious to assure them that our experience had been more successful than theirs.
Swampscott is principally green in our memories for a loud report which we took to be that of the tire of an automobile behind us, affording us much amusement. A few more revolutions and we knew it was our report and our tire, the car stopping nicely in front of a garage, although the shoe detached itself completely and rolled on toward Boston, until subjugated by a small boy. Small boys were plentiful in Swampscott. They read the foreign labels on our battered trunk with no emotion beyond a skepticism that we had ever been further than the confines of our country. The discovery of our New York number gave us a better position than the labels, and one boy with a far-away look in his eyes asked me if it was very crowded there. I told him that it was no more crowded than Boston, and again I fell in his esteem. " I am to go there some day," he told me, and I am sure that he will—and further. That far-away look in one's eyes carries one's feet through many lands.
There is a series of boulevards clinging to the coast, leading through Cambridge that one may avoid the traffic of lower Boston, which combines to make this day's run as perfect as one can find in America or any other country. From Lynn we began to feel the tremulousness which seizes us as we approach a great city. There was that perfect order of the road, the many wisely-worded signs, and the excellent system of lighting, which is the blend of city brains and city money.
We approached Boston intelligently—as one should—and we would, I believe, have arrived on time for dinner had not the Wellington Bridge—whatever that is, we never saw it been closed. Some said it had burned up, and, after prowling about on the Middlesex Fenway for a long way, we, in our exasperation, hoped if it hadn't that it would. Yet we never left the fine macadam, passing through Medford and Somerville, and, quite unexpectedly, finding ourselves in the midst of Cambridge kultur.
Here we paused, for the motorist can trail through a country as an Indian can pick his way in a forest, but Indian and automobile alike bow to the intricacies of city streets. A large yellow car asked if we were going to Copley Square, and as we were (or would have if we hadn't been, since the car had a sort of Copley Square look about it) we followed it humbly to the city. No doubt any stranger will find just such a kindly motor ready for escort, although I cannot guarantee the canary colour.
We needed no guide after we reached the bridge spanning the Charles . River at Massachusetts Avenue, and we called out the names of the streets, each trying to get ahead of the other, as though we had discovered them for the first time. Beacon Street—Newbury, or is it—Commonwealth Avenue—keep on till you get to Dartmouth but is it called Dartmouth on this side the square ?—turn in, turn in—all torn up—I have lived in that hotel—here we are—what makes you think so?—Why, The Library!
Lights too dim, and erudition, and plate-glass windows, and wisely arranged. flowers; women with bags, no spectacles whatever, good deeds a-plenty, and a curious joyousness, which is not to be understood—or denied. That's Boston.