The Washington Irving Country
( Originally Published 1915 )
THERE. are two ways of getting out of New York into New England, and whichever road you choose, friends will say you had better have taken the other.
That is the worst of friends. They combat you at every turn, and because they are friends you have to call their efforts kindly when they are purely officious. They will also tell you what to do after you have started, the best roads, the best hotels, and, if they are New Yorkers, the quickest way of getting back to the city. It is amazing how a man will pick a bad road and declare it is good for the reason that he has gone over it. One would think his automobile was a steam-roller.
One is not a prey to friends alone in the picking of a tour. Every hotel brochure in every part of the country can choose for you a succession of good roads that, by some curious circumstance, lead directly to the hotel advertised.
You can take either one of the two ways of getting out of New York, you can go miles in the opposite direction from the hotel, yet there are maps in the brochure to prove that you can cross country, jump stone fences, ford brooks, and, with the greatest ease, end in that hostelry for the night. Indeed, there is no other place on the map where one can stop. It is amazing to unfold a large crackling piece of paper dotted with towns, and find all roads leading, like a spider's web, to the single hotel which our vast country affords. I know of one fat spider (i.e., hotel proprietor) who can produce no way of either going or coming from New England save past his house.
I would advise laying aside the pamphlets issued by a single hostelry, or a combination of them. Rather, decide upon what you want to see, buy road maps, compiled by the automobile associations, be guided by their advice as to your stopping-places, or, better, motor till you are tired, and take your chance at the inn. Automobiling, remember, is a sport, and we are short sports if we do not take long chances.
We chose our route for the reason that it comprised as great a diversity of scenery as one could find in any clime, and all of it compressed in a much smaller area than any other country could offer. It should make a particular appeal to the automobilists, for it can be done quickly, as a purely motoring stunt, or slowly, as a summer vacation.
In ten days, or less or more, one can enjoy the mighty Hudson, sweep through the fashionable Berkshire hills, peep into the lives of the Vermont and New Hampshire farmers, fish on Lake Champlain, trace his finger on the snow caps of the White Mountains, drink the waters of Poland Spring, rough it in the Maine woods, enjoy the magnificent living of the North Shore residents of Massachusetts, and brush the cob-webs out of his brain in Boston. From here he can leave cards at Newport, visit the haven of all yachts, New London, and return through the lovely placid country of Connecticut. As the English would now say, having adopted our slang as we relinquish it, this is some trip.
Then there is the historical interest. The Illustrator was very keen to polish up on history. He has several Colonial Dames in his family, and at various reunions he has sat apart while the glories of his ancestors were sung. He was strong on foreign events.
" He knew the great uncle of Moses,
But he dared not express himself freely concerning the battle of Valley Forge in the fear of confusing it with that of Bull Run. And he felt that motoring, and possibly golfing, over a beautiful country was as pleasant an arrangement for one acquiring historical knowledge as could be devised.
The American schoolboys have the advantage over those of Europe, for the reason that the history of our country is more limited, owing to its youth. Only the other day an English woman was commenting upon the Tricentenary celebration of New York City. She said London paid no attention to its birthdays. But London is like a woman with too many years to encourage confession.
Yet it is something to muse upon, is it not, that history began with Adam and Eve, and the very rock upon which our New York apartment sits has been the scene of a panorama of events which would be worth the agony of committing, had the historians, in the days of the dinosaur, safeguarded their records in Carnegie libraries.
Happily for the small American boy he can hammer 1492 into his brain, and hop with glad free grace from that date to the early part of the seventeenth century when the Pilgrim Fathers, aided by the French, Spanish, and Dutch Settlers, began pressing the Indians westward, and laying the cornerstone, all unwittingly, of the Woolworth Building.
The Illustrator did not expect history to be-gin as soon as it did. He hoped to get as far as Yonkers, perhaps, enjoying the run along the river with no strain on his intellect beyond telling the chauffeur, who knew it already, that the glorified cheese-box, at the head of Riverside Drive, was Grant's Tomb.
But I surprised him before we had left Fifth Avenue by the suggestion that we turn into the Park to stop at McGowan's Pass Tavern for educational purposes.
One does not, as a rule, stop there for that reason. Yet the Tavern, originally built in 1750, was a famous inn, and a favourite resort for fox hunters after a meet. More than that, it was as good a place for definitely beginning a tour as we could find. The old Post Road ran through the Pass, and there was a great tooting of horns when stagecoaches and hunters met. The tooting continues to this day, but the honk is not the same, and any confusion in the traffic is regulated by a beautiful blue cop, who could tell you all the wrongs of Ireland, but would not recognise a Revolutionary uniform if George Washington himself climbed the steps of the Tavern to order a bowl of punch.
Yet authority compensates for a lack of imagination. A policeman always fills me with awe, and I am pleased, but surprised, when I find under his proud buttons that a warm heart is beating. We were just sweeping out of the Park at the Hundred and Tenth Street gate, the roadway quite full of vehicles, when the majestic hand of One of the Finest was hastily lifted.
In response there was such a jamming down of brakes that all the cars were slanted, heads were stuck out of limousines, and necks craned from tonneaus to see what lord of creation was about to cross the way. It was only a squirrel, a little grey squirrel hopping over while millionaires awaited its leisure.
Every one laughed and was happy. The driver behind us, who had nearly run into our car, not being timely with his brakes, hoped he had not hurt our lamp. And we, in turn, prayed we had not scratched his mud-guard. And there sprung into our hearts a fellowship for the other fellows in the road which was more valuable for an extended tour than all the maps of Yankee-dom.
We followed the river drive for its beauty, turning into Broadway only when Lafayette Boulevard, arguing that we had seen enough of the Palisades, took us willy-nilly back to the direct route. Yet there is one more divergence, for at Two Hundred and Thirtieth Street, if one wishes, one can turn from Broadway again and strike the River-dale road, which leads straight to Yonkers.
Now that we were on Broadway we clung to it rather tremulously, as it stood for the city which we were quitting. Not that we had left but the heart of it, for its long extended arms are growing like a schoolgirl's. The development of a town is ever of interest. When it is booming the suburbs are on the aggressive. They are eating up the country with pert little houses, and the fields creep back in fear. Let the boom burst and watch the earth reclaim its lost ground. The houses of the suburbs lose their colour—their grip. Weeds grow in the roadways, and the whole town takes on the air of a poor old woman with shrinking petticoats.
There is nothing shrinking about New York. I should think that it would be Albany which would feel some apprehension. The metropolis is a natural foe to the open country and behaves . so badly to the trees in our parks that the leaves never turn red—simply gasp and fall.
Van Cortlandt Park deceives us into thinking that we are out in the open, and we say good-bye to the underground, which is very wonderfully running over our heads. But, oh, dear no ! New York will not leave us yet. More prosperous apartment houses spring up, fencing in small dilapidated farmhouses, which peep out between the interstices with a squeezed look of pain.
I told the Illustrator that Broadway, before it developed into the Albany Post Road, had been an Indian trail. As I spoke a young blood in a high-powered car cut across us without apology, and at this W said it was an Indian trail still. We only hoped he would continue in his speed as far as Yonkers, which is a staid town with a stern policeman.
The policeman, while severe, is polite, as he should be in Yonkers, for the word is a corruption of Yonk-Herr, which means Young Gentleman. We drew alongside him to ask where was the Philipse Manor House. Rather, while W ___ was asking where it was, I was poking him in the back and insisting that we need not ask, as we had passed it a hundred times. The officer did not confuse us with directions, as he admitted he had never heard of it, although he had a feeling that it was not far. Indeed, it was not far, it was just behind him, fooling the young Irish-man completely under the name of the Town Hall.
We got out to examine the Hall, for we felt that if there was anything in Yonkers beyond hospitable friends whom we have visited from time to time it was well to know about it. I did not learn until I called at the library for further researches that one of the largest books in the world has been written about Yonkers. I did not read it all, but I learned that the cry of the Indian tribe, who often came up from New York, was,
" Wouch, Wouch, Ha, Ha, Hach, Wouch."
This interested me, for it was not spelled in any way like the sound that we, as children, playing Indians, managed to produce by patting our hands against our mouth. And I was whispering the battle-cry earnestly as I sat in the quiet reading-room, when a card was handed to me by an attendant civilly requesting my silence.
I hastened away in embarrassment, for I must have been very ridiculous with a large respectable book of Yonkers before me, aspirating, " Wouch, Wouch, Ha, Ha, Hach, Wouch," as though I were at college.
Nor have I yet found a corner in New York sufficiently noisy to cover up any further practice of the yell. The nearest approach to complete noise is a subway station with two locals and two expresses passing at once. But even then I was not successful, for a kindly old lady interpreted my first " Wouch " as ouch, and asked if she could help me.
As I said several paragraphs back, we got out to view the old manor and to look at the soldiers' monument in front of it. It is astonishing how much time we spend staring at monuments when we are travelling, and how indifferent we are to those that grow at our doorstep. With a few exceptions I would advise one good look at the first soldiers' monument and let that serve for the rest of the trip.
This one, like many of the others, consisted of figures carrying guns and mattlasses, eager to mow down Yonkers at a moment's notice, while, underneath, ran an earnest plea for peace. Ah, well ! This complete armament, with the unconscious irony of tender mottos beneath, is not inconsistent with the year 1914.
We peeped through the windows of the Town Hall and were confounded by an array of sewing machines about the walls. The rooms were locked at the time and there was no one about to tell us how the machines happened to be there. I am not sure that I want to know, for as it stands now in my mind, the Town Council is composed of able women busily making over laws and reducing rents by sewing them up.
W_____said this was ridiculous, and he hoped I would not " put it in," but he was not in the best of humour, for I had refused to be photo-graphed standing on the Manor House porch, as though it belonged to me, and he thought I was very disobliging. I knew that I would never permit the film to exist for any length of time, for I did not like my hat, and while he contended that it was his camera, I retorted that it was my face.
This camera subject is not matter extraneous to a motor trip. No automobile is complete with-out one, and the hour may come when the photo-graphic apparatus accompanies every car purchased. I have known a party to go round the world with no other evident purpose than that of choosing a varied background to be photo-graphed against. " Here I am," said one strip-ling, " and here is Napoleon's Tomb."
But we must get on, for we are now striking stretches of wide lawn, and the joy of the road is beginning to permeate us. Not the joy of getting anywhere, but the pure happiness of swift motion.. It is the region of great estates, where one can breathe deeply without the fear of anything but the most old-fashioned of country germs entering the lungs. These stately country places are not unfriendly in appearance, although earnest notices are tacked over the gateways that the grounds are not open to automobilists. One fears that the manners of the travelling motor are not always of the best. Yet the owners are in sympathy with the travellers on the road, for along one stretch the telegraph poles are stained a soft green to tone in with the trees and carry out nature's colour scheme.
Some of the mansions of Hastings, Dobbs Ferry , Tarrytown, and beyond are given over to private schools. I remember reading their pamphlets, when I was a girl in the West, and feeling the impressiveness of going to an abode of learning in the heart of Washington Irving's country. What would the fashionable schools have done without that estimable writer!
I have noticed of late that they do not parade him as they once did, but this is a mistake if the pamphlets are calculated to touch the Middle West. Washington Irving is still read in Indianapolis, Ind., and Granada, Spain. We prefer the legend of Sleepy Hollow in the Hoosier State, but Spain is true to the Alhambra, and a copy decorates every Spanish parlour table, like the plush-covered photograph album.
A little north of Tarrytown lies the region of Sleepy Hollow, although I have heard this combated by a very fashionable and young man, who said Sleepy Hollow was a golf club and high on a hill.
This was the region of Ichabod Crane, who " tarried " to teach the young idea how to shoot. I can remember Irving's Sketch-Book but vaguely, although it should be re-read before going into this part of the country. But I have always felt toward Ichabod, with his long arms dangling from his short sleeves, a passionate pity. There was a tragic year, as a child, when I shot beyond my clothes in every direction, and I know how it feels for hands to dangle miles from a friendly cuff.
The bridge of the headless horseman has been done over in neat grey stone by Mr. Rockefeller. It had grown very shaky, due no doubt to the ghostly rider crossing it every night " faster than a trot." Still I wish Mr. Rockefeller hadn't.
On the slope on the right of the bridge is a cemetery, where Irving lies buried. W wished to take a photograph of this gentle acre, but being nearsighted, first snapped the monument works next door. And if any sketch appears in this work of the lovely old cemetery it is only fair to warn the reader of his original inspiration.
On the left of the bridge another manor house rises charmingly from a fair acre. Like the one at Tarrytown it was also built by the Philipse family in the seventeenth century. I had to learn at dinner the other night from a fine old gentleman, who came of Dutch stock, that these Philipses were the nouveaux riches of this locality, buying their way into society and upholding the Crown when the United States made its fight for freedom.
As a result of this their lands were confiscated, and the name Philipse hid its shame by degrees of corruption into just plain Philips—with whom you probably have acquaintance, and who do not know till this day that they are traitors.
The proprietor of the Florence Inn, in Tarry-town, where we stopped for luncheon, believed that the manor by the headless horseman's bridge would be the best proposition for a roadhouse in the vicinity. W and I, being the most temperamental and inept business couple in the world, thought we had better buy a license and open the establishment that afternoon. Our enthusiasm cooled after we had paid for our luncheon, feeling that there would not be enough money left for a manor house and a trip to New England.
So we passed hurriedly on over the County House road, which leads directly out of the right from Tarrytown, with the great Kensico Dam ahead of us, as our next prospective investment.
One cannot mistake the County House road, for it is indeed Over the Hills to the Poorhouse. The hills are poorer than the House, however, which is as shining as a Dutch doorknob. Directly across is a corner fenced off from a farm-yard, making a triangular piece which faces two roads. There is the inspiring sign above it, " Horses Broke to Automobiles." The small space was crowded with bored-looking colts paying no attention to us and prancing only when a strange-looking thing, once known as a surrey, came along.
I have observed that chickens are not as foolish over approaching motors as they once were, and sometimes stay on the same side of the street ; dogs are certainly wiser, and I see no reason why colts cannot be bred, in time, with a full consciousness that the automobile is a friend to relieve them of cruel labour, and not a snorting monster seeking to devour.
The Illustrator, when I leaned over and ex-pounded this, said it was foolish, and he hoped we would reach the Kensico Dam before it was too late to photograph. I think he planned for me to be standing by it with a small trowel in my hand. But I was very firm about this, and he sketched the bridge instead.
The Kensico Dam is to Westchester County what Gatum Dam is to Panama. To me it appeared quite as enormous and very awful—in the real sense of the word.
Possibly this was because we ran down underneath into that hollow which will some day be a reservoir. It is a great lonesome tract of country, but sparsely occupied now by homesteaders, who are clinging as long as they can to the condemned property. But the houses have an unstable air, and the sketch was so long in the making that I grew timorous myself. What if the waters should come tumbling in, and we could never go upon our trip. How unfortunate it would be to our friends in New York if, by the long arm of circumstance, we should be forced through their water-pipes some morning and spoil their morning bath.
I was glad to return to the fine highway, where, aided by plentiful sign-posts and some inquiries, we struck the Armonk road, which leads to Old Bedford. Here again we found great estates, with gently rounded hills for a vista, in place of the stretch of the Hudson. It is a sinuous way and one must drive carefully. I can imagine the upsets the stagecoaches of old were subject to, when they went bumping over the ruts that have now given place to fine macadam.
Old Bedford was the first stopping-place for the night of the stagecoaches headed for Vermont. This is thirty-eight miles from New York and a fair run for horses over roads either good or poor. A connection of W 's, by the name of Vandervoort, owned this line of " Flying Chariots," and out of respect for his memory his descendant hoped to find an old tavern on the village green, where he could descend as did the passengers, and drink to his memory.
It was a thin excuse to my mind and I was glad the exclusiveness of Old Bedford's summer residents has discouraged hotels. There was only a humble place which would have been known as an Ordinary in coaching days, but as we were to spend the night with friends not far from the scene, it would be as well not to be discovered wiping one's mouth while issuing from a pub.
Our run for the day was not much greater than the stagecoaches', but they started at dawn, and owing to the struggle with superfluous garments, it was nearly noon when we left. Indeed, the readers, who motor, will find that our mileage would be more limited than theirs—partly the result of making sketches and of endeavouring to force me into being photographed in an unbecoming hat.
This visiting of the county folk en auto is as near a revival of the days before the steam and rail as we can institute. And the roads of Westchester County near the tea-hour are flashing with cars, all intent upon getting to other homes than their own. Like ours, baggage-laden motors twist around the lakes on the Cross River road, and endeavour to pick out from .a, distance the especial roof which is to afford a hospitable shelter for the night.
One cannot always tell a host by his house tree. Having picked a wrong one we rolled up a wide driveway and were before the house ere the mistake was made plain. The butler, who came out to greet us, was also in a state of con-fusion, as his family were expecting guests, and made forcible efforts to carry off my typewriter under the impression that it was a jewel-box.
He said we were expected and we doubtless would have gained our bedrooms had not a hostess, strange to us, happened to stray in from the tennis court.
In this—to me—very pleasant fashion of leaving guests to themselves, there is no particular reason why W and I could not have remained deceived and deceptive until we rustled down to dinner, like polite burglars. There are the possibilities of a play in this, and I shall go no further for the benefit of others.
With typewriter restored, we tried another hill, which possessed more staying qualities. The dogs, the host, and the children were about, the trunk was dusted and brought upstairs, and our chauffeur, having firmly removed his dress hat, passed out of vision until the morning.
I often wonder if the chauffeur of America does not find his position trying. He is neither flesh nor fowl, nor good red herring. He is superior to the maids and men servants, yet, by education—for we should have no other standards in our country—he is inferior to his employers. Therefore, if he cannot sit at his master's mental table he is uneasy at his material one.
To depart from this figure of speech there are many occasions upon motoring wanderings when there is only one table for all of us to sit at. And at such a long board we have made many a pleasant meal, for the accommodating spirit is a good travelling asset. Conventions I take it should be but Conveniences, and we are always doing the " Right thing," when we are doing the simplest.
I remember a night spent in a small inn in the Pyrenees. At the long table with us were a French nobleman and family, with their chauffeur, footman, and a lady's-maid. And I know nothing more charming than the fashion in which the old marquis would explain now and then, in the French tongue, to his employees, that which we were discussing in English.
Motoring is the blue blood of travelling. Blue blood is true democracy. Ergo : motoring is democracy—see to it.
We were talking of our duties to humanity during the evening until we became guiltily conscious that the servants would as soon as not turn out the lights and go to bed. It is so easy to make rules for good conduct and so difficult to follow them.
The moon was full, and from my bedroom I could see a sunken pool below me, with a leafy tree reflected in its still depths. Beyond, the gentle hills rose into the sky. It would seem a very comfortable place to spend a summer vacation, as our host had suggested. But between the hills and sunken pool, at the foot of the sloping garden, lay a white sinuous invitation to go on. It was a luring stretch of macadam, and I leaned far out, that my eyes might follow the road the road—the road!