Among The Puritans
( Originally Published 1915 )
THERE is a saying that a visitor who tarries over a week on the Isle of Capri stays there for life, and while Boston is far removed from that lotus-eating land, it has a like hold upon you.
If I were a tourist from the West I should spend the summer in Boston. There is much to keep one interested: roof gardens gay with champagne, and earth gardens resplendent with flowers; public institutions, beautiful to the eye and satisfying to the mind, enrich the fine drives; brilliant shops deplete the purse; and a profusion of railway tracks run through the town to assure the visitor that he can get away quickly if he wants to.
We did not remain long this time, remembering the adage regarding Capri. We started at noon of the next day, after the Illustrator had made a sketch of the old State House from the front seat in the car. He was most triumphant, as this was the first time the car had been able to fulfill its original mission, which was to save him the rental of a chair. And he paid a high compliment to the Boston citizens for not bothering him as he sat in the busy street. " Brains count," he said.
The luggage was strapped on with the same despatch to be found in country inns. I had wondered, before our arrival, if there would not be some confusion in finding a garage in so large a city. But, of course, there was none, the taxicab-starter of the hotel, driving off with the chauffeur, instead of a bell-boy, to show the way. It came to me, then, as it has many times before, that there is some one to take care of us in every exigency of life if we assume a helpless air.
In five minutes we were lost in the Fenway, circling around the flower beds and statues to men (who would have been less profane than W in such a predicament) in an effort to reach Jamaica. We received many directions which were at variance with the beauty of the drive, for our landmarks were not the clump of hydrangeas, the wall of fuchsias, or even Arnold arboretum, but simple, homely things, like the railway bridge, the pump, and the saloon at Blue Hill Avenue.
We were further hampered by a babel of foreign tongues. Once safely established on Blue Hill Avenue, we forbore to ask for anything as difficult to pronounce as Ponkapoag, thinking it safer to limit ourselves to an English word like Stoughton. We had known a family of Stough-tons once, and it was pronounced Stow-ton as it should be, but the gentlemen selling berries would have none of this. If we would go to Stoughton with the first syllable sounding like the " o " in how he was ready to direct us, and we had to repeat it after him before he let us pass on. There was the same scrimmage in our effort to reach Taunton. We had to give it up until we were willing to ask the way to Tanton. I demanded of one lady, with the intention of crushing her, if one in New England " taunted a person or tanted a person," and she replied that, while she never did any such thing, if the occasion ever arose she would undoubtedly " tant her." I don't know why she said " her " when I said " a person," and I am inclined to think that, in spite of her godliness, some one of her own sex was on the brink of a tanting."
The Blue Hill Observatory sits up on a hill at our left as we approach Stoughton. And, while we did not see it, it was doubtless observing us in the pursuance of its duty, and recording that a buff motor-car was stealing apples. The Germans frugally make use of fruit trees on either side their country ways—the sale of the fruit paying for the upkeep of the roads. But the Germans are an honest people, too much in awe of their government to steal anything associated with the military. We have never stolen an apple in Germany, but such of the fruit as hung over the fence in America we seemed strangely drawn to. W said it was dangerous to have apples blocking the way like that—they might fall off, hitting some one—and our efforts, combined with those of some small boys, largely rid the roadway of this insidious peril.
A party of cavalrymen appeared over a hill, and we hurriedly concealed the apples, in the instinctive fear of uniforms. We heard a great shout after they had passed us, and the chauffeur speeded up, looking as guilty as though he had run over a baby. But the Illustrator nobly bade him stop, and it was well that he did, for the cavalrymen had discovered that our hatbox was open. And while we had not lost the driver's derby, ten soiled collars of the Illustrator's, with which he had surreptitiously encircled my hat, were distributed along the roadway, while a suit of pajamas was about to hop out and see the world.
We were glad this error was rectified before we reached Taunton, as the guidebook tells us that it was founded by a pious Puritan, Elizabeth Pool, who had come from Taunton in Somersetshire. I think she was to be commended for not naming it Pool, as I am sure any man would have been tempted to do.
Upon a former visit here, I saw a madman running amuck in the principal street, but I fear even that offence to decorum would be obliterated if we had sought the hotel with W —'s pajamas swinging from the hatbox as though they were a trapeze performer.
We did not recognise the hotel at first, as it had a new front in Spanish mission style. Remembering the interior, I greatly feared that beauty would continue only skin deep. But I was wrong, for we sat down in a new dining-room to a table d'hote luncheon, which was not so young as it was at noon, but still with the warmth of youth. It was only fifty cents. I mention the price, for that was the smallest amount we paid on our tour. And we wished for several stomachs, like a camel, to store up fifty-cent luncheons for the rest of the journey.
Yet, as we uttered this flippancy, we stared at each other in amazement, for we did not need this charming qualification of the camel.
" The rest of the journey! " We grew a little sad as we reflected that we would consume but one more luncheon as travellers of the road. According to our figuring we would spend the night in Newport, the next in Bridgeport, noon of that day I would be talking over the telephone to the mysterious butcher with the pleasant voice, whom I have never seen, and begging him to French the chops, please. Or, perhaps I would get the wrong number, and tell a strange young gentleman about the chops, who would interrupt me to say, " This is the morgue, madam," and hang up before I could retort that the morgue was what I wanted—with him in it.
We went out thoughtfully, W ___ to make a sketch of a modern public building, as though he already felt the influence of new New York, and I to buy a patent mouse-trap, mindful of my kitchen, which I saw in a window.
The mouse-trap later proved a failure, catching only my handmaiden's toe, but the sketch was more successful. Or was it? W sent a proof of the original to the postmaster at Taunton to ask the name of the building, for he had for-gotten that in the numbing thought that he would soon be in his studio—with only a daily spin through the park when work was over. The postmaster sent back the proof, writing across it that " It is the Court House—and a very good one." So we do not know whether he referred to the drawing or the edifice.
Upon leaving Taunton for Fall River, an iceman told us that We would have to make a detour, as the road was in process of reconstruction. But we did not heed its warning, for ice wagons are proverbially slow, and the repairs might have been completed since it last covered the ground.
Ice wagons are not only slow, but conventional. It is the only kind of vehicle that has not changed its outline within my memory. Even the surrey of my youth had summers with and without fringe about its top, and sometimes you got in from the front, squeezing yourself into the back seat, or leaped in directly from a low step. You always get on at the back if you enter an ice wagon, which you are warned not to do by a threatening sign of " Danger " swinging aloft.
But, as children, we paid small attention to these signs, and as grown-ups on the road to Fall River, we continued in spite of a gloomy notice to the effect that we did so at our own risk. Considering that everything we do in life is at our own risk, and that the county is not any more responsible for the traveller on a good road than on a bad one, I took exception to this grim washing their hands of us.
There is only one meaner trait, and that is the " I told you so," which comes after we have done something at our own risk, and the act, by pure chance, has not turned out well. Road-menders, hard men by profession, who, as a rule, would never do anything for you at their own risk or yours, possess this attribute to such a degree as to put to shame even mothers and school-teachers. They gathered about us on the road to Fall River, when we found ourselves' in what would appear to be the bed of a dried mountain stream full of boulders, and taunted—no, tanted us with " I told you sos," until I was ready to burst into tears.
The Illustrator was braver than I. He did not cry, and he tormented the captain of the road-menders by assuring him that we had seen much worse thoroughfares, and thought we would continue. Labourers along the way are like plumbers. They like to tear everything up and leave it in as horrible a condition as possible. It hurt this man to suggest that he had not done his best to create discomfort to automobiles. But he was a Yankee, with that humour known as dry, because it is withering in its results.
He said we had a good car—a trained car. He could tell that by the number of gaits it exercised when going over the boulders. But he doubted if it was a jumper. Now the bridge was down a few yards on, and if it could jump twenty-three feet, " go right on, go right on--"
He was a very tiresome man and we did not hear him out, cutting straight into a pumpkin field as though it were ours, and gaining a narrow lane (before the real pumpkin man saw us) which led us down to the Taunton River.
We rejoined the main road here. There was a lovely old house at this corner, and along the highway, which followed the river-bank, came a party of schoolgirls, marching gaily and singing. Some boys on bicycles carried their coats, at least they carried them as far as our car, when they shamefacedly rebelled, thinking to establish their claim to manhood by refusing to " lug " for girls any further.
" All but Mamie's," they said. They were willing to continue being slaves to Mamie. I endeavoured to pick out Mamie among the lot. I could see her in my mind as the village charmer, amiable to the other girls, smiling, doing nothing, and getting all the boys without the appearance of effort. But she was a little lame girl, limping along in the rear, her deformity denying her full share in the sports of life, while she received, in their place, the compensations of the fragile.
The girls went on a-carolling, and the boys went on a-caracolling, the river was blue, and green trees arched over the road, and, all of a sudden, I was back in Sicily, looking through grey olive trees to the purple sea. A tiller of the field nearby was singing an improvised canzonetta, such as Mascagni has put into his operas, and a girl was laughing at him.
But, just as this scene in Massachusetts re-minded me of Sicily, so did Sicily, then, recall a picture which has never filled my real vision, for the picture was of ancient times when Greek girls and boys walked among these olive groves, which run down to the sea. Just as we lurched along the road in Sicily, I with the sensation of living in classic days, just so, now, I was far re-moved from the boys and girls walking by Taunton River. I think it is youth which renews these glad visions. Is it not a lovely thought to enlighten a tired face that our souls remain unalterably young!
It is hard to dip suddenly into megaphones after this flight of fancy. But, as we were about to pass the bridge instead of crossing it to get into Fall River, a quiet voice, from nowhere seemingly, told us to go over it. The purveyor of this news was an obliging old man some distance away, with one of these valuable instruments in active use, and we crossed the bridge waving wireless thanks.
W ____ immediately wished for a megaphone as part of our equipment. We could then inquire the way of countrymen rocking on far-off porches and ask them to reply by definite nods, negative or positive, if we were right. I had once pursued some such a course in Germany, for my desire was to limit the volley of directions which I could not understand to Ja or Nein, and I learned carefully: " Answer me yes or no, otherwise I do not understand you." And this worked to a charm, economising both vocal expenditure and time. But I grant that the Illustrator's idea for a megaphone was electrifying, and I spent the next half hour planning what I could pack into it.
Fall River, except in time of strikes, we think of only as a place where the boats stop—and start. But we found it a town of so many mean streets, given over to factory hands, that the finely housed must serve as an inspiration for, no doubt, they too were once of the narrow by-ways. The main street is lined with cheap shops, containing tawdry clothing. One wishes that the poor could get more comfortable values for their money, but the aim at present is to copy as cheaply as possible the garments of the prosperous. Possibly a feather in a hat may mean more than a warm body, and a brass bracelet express a stirring after the ideal which, while formless, is in all our hearts.
A newsboy from whom we bought a New York evening paper (with a beating in our breasts at the pink sheet) had his ideal of an automobile. " Gotta self-starter—Yep? " he asked. And when we were forced to reply, " Haven't got one—nope," he lost all interest. It depressed us. But, had we lingered, I might have developed some violent friendships, for Yankees, like their architecture, are too fine in design to cover ginger-bread souls.
We were now on the right of the river, going toward Tiverton, which is the door to Newport. It is a very sporty door, and if any automobilist is too puritanical to inquire the way of a drinking-place, he will never get any further, as all Tiverton is roadhouses. We compromised on a wharf cafe, exhibiting a greater array of fish than bottles, and found that we must traverse the bridge, and, immediately, on the other side, we would find Newport beginning.
It began slowly, but in a most dignified manner. We passed miles of fine farms with the houses (inversely, for the American farmer) larger than the barns. Blooded horses were in the paddock, bored oxen in the pastures, and chickens, with family trees to roost upon, walked in and out of their steam-heated apartments.
On the outskirts of the town we were surprised to discover that here was a district of new frame residences, a terrible combining of the Georges with Queen Anne, tempered to decency by red mission roofs. They were the kind we see in every growing Western town, and the homes, I suppose, of the prosperous tradesmen of the town. One never thinks of any one living in Newport except a few old, impoverished families, and the rich cottagers, who come for the summer.
We did our duty by the great palaces, industriously pointing out the houses of the great to our indifferent chauffeur, who seemed chiefly interested because he knew some of the men from their various garages. One cannot motor along the front of these palaces, but a wise law, created many years ago, makes the edge of the water the right of way for any one who has legs to walk. And, armed with a guidebook, one can correctly pick out the establishments, providing he begins at the right end. I once rode backward in a diligence through the Tyrol, following in my Baedeker the various old castles marked at the right and left of us. I found every one of them, nor was my satisfaction any the less complete when I realised that my right-hand ones were really those on the left in the guide.
There is a Handbook of Newport with a picture on the cover of two Puritans sitting under a tree, while an Indian stands back of them, watching the bathers in the abbreviated attire of to-day passing down to the beach. They all three look rather glum, but they need not if they are true disciples of Roger Williams. It was in 1638 that this excellent man, exasperated by the bigotry of Boston, fled to Rhode Island, purchasing the country round about here from the Indians for forty fathoms of white beads, ten coats, and twenty hoes. It is difficult to estimate the length of forty fathoms of white beads, but if the amount is in any way proportionate to ten coats and twenty hoes the purchase would be termed by a Wall Street man as a " good buy."
This is one of the reasons that the Puritans need not look so sadly at the gay bathers, all of whom must give untold fathoms of beads for a single acre of Roger Williams's purchase. More than that, any bather present on the frontispiece would give his suit then and there—if permitted —and all his clothes left in the bathhouse to claim direct descendance from those under the tree, or even from the Indian with the hoe, for Indians are older in ancestry than Puritans. And, more than all that, the mingling of redskin and early settler and modern bather, together with the thriving shopkeepers of the ugly frame houses, is but a carrying out of the plan of Roger Williams. He offered freedom to all people, and the persecuted of the Colonies came to him, even as in Newport of this day there is a varied assortment of classes who, from reasons of pleasure or profit, find the port a shelter.
Sympathetic as we were with those who take their pleasure by acquiring profits, we settled in the hotel on the Square, far from the fashionable portion, fearing terribly that we would be uncomfortable and rejoicing exceedingly that we were not. It was quite early in the day and there was some talk of our going on, but so violent a dispute arose between a bell-boy and a maid, cleaning the brass strips on the hall steps, over the hours of the ferries to the mainland, that it was too late to take anything—except rooms—by the time they had finished.
The argument was not varied, settling down to a " five-thirty " from the maid, with every rub of the brass work, and " six " from the bell-boy, when he had a moment to give to it. " Five thirty—six. Five thirty—six " they went on, until we decided to have the baggage taken off. They ceased then, so the argument may have been occasioned by a previous arrangement with the proprietor.
I whisked around into the shopping street of the town to do my usual amount of looking. This was not Bellevue Avenue, which is patronised only by the summer visitors, but a narrow way that the city once hoped to widen, but a woman owning one of the buildings refused to have her house moved, and as chivalry was still extant in those days, and " condemning " unknown, the thoroughfare has remained as delightful as Waterport Street of Gibraltar.
Like Gibraltar it was full of sailormen of all nations, starting in to celebrate Saturday evening, after the usual formula. Our own Jackies lend a tone, for three forts and a torpedo-boat station are within gunshot of the town, a battle-ship always in port, and sailors from many yachts add to an excessive cleanliness of appearance, although the purity does not extend itself to speech.
As though there was need for it, the Salvation Army gathered in the Square, singing to cymbal and cornet. This was after dinner, as we sat in the broad window, under a sort of arch of chamois gloves, which I had washed out and pinned to the curtains. The cabbies were below counting over their fares for the day, and anathematising this new desire of Americans to walk.
" Oh, you must be a lover of the Lamb," shrilled the Army, " or you can't go to Heaven when you die," the threat gathering a fair complement of sailors and their girls. How well I remember the hoots that assailed the first endeavours of these uniformed men and women, of their arraignment by the clergy, of their condemnation as public nuisances. Now they are accepted by the noblest dame and the meanest roisterer with a respect which is granted the highest mission.
The deep whistle of a boat divested the Army of many of its audience. The cabbies leaped to their perches, and we left our bower of gloves to join the nightly rush to see the Fall River boat come in. The smell of autumn was in the air, long lines of covered broughams and victorias were waiting to be rolled on board and carried down to New York. Passengers were going on, attended by ladies'-maids and footmen, and hampered by jewel-cases held firmly in their hands.
On a level with the dock was the storage deck, and hundreds of barrels of fish, packed in ice, were going down to the city in a whirlwind of haste to see the sights. The boatswain stood with watch in hand as the stevedores ran back and forth with their trucks. They were given so many minutes to store away the morning's catch. The grind of small iron wheels was incessant, sweating bodies leaped through the air at the slight rise of the gangplank; some slipped, but righted themselves before the long trail was upon them. I do not know what stevedores receive for this herculean labour under stress of time, but whatever it is, they deserve it.
" Do they always get through? " I asked a bystander, who looked as though he never did any work in his life, but took an enormous pride in the capacity of others. " Always," he answered, " but they're kinda tired afterwards."
There were little eating-places on one side the long causeway which connects the town with the dock. On the other side was the quiet water, with boats at anchor, showing milk-white lanterns of safety. There was not so much safety in the eating-places, yet there was kindness. One of the foreign tars, in the course of his meal—which he must have been too muddled to enjoy—fell off his high stool and lay on the floor contentedly, with his fork clutched correctly in his hand, until a fresh-faced waiter lifted him back, when he went on with his supper as though this were the proper thing to do between courses.
The scene was not Newport of the Cliffs or Bellevue Avenue or the great farms, and it was like our perversity to enjoy the very thing for which the famous resort was least noted. But we went to rest feeling that we had " done " the town more thoroughly than if we had been hedged about by pomp and circumstance. And before he returned to the hotel, the Illustrator, I regret to say, attended the movies.