On To The Berkshires
( Originally Published 1915 )
Tim Illustrator has ever been stern regarding the morning start : it should not be too early. Never caring for worms, the story of the bird's reward leaves him cold.
Once upon a time, in Sicily, where I was touring alone with an intrepid lady, we took our coffee at three in the morning, that we might make the run from Taormina to Palermo in a day. And I remember the breaking of that day over the sea, of the first rose on the snows of Mount AEtna, of the dignity of the old Greek Amphitheatre in the isolation of the hour, of the cries of the fishermen coming in with their boats. It seems to me now, if I had missed it I would have lost, forever, the great meaning of life.
I have often spoken of this to W________ in the hope of stimulating him into earlier rising. He is adamant—although gallant. He declares he would rather have me tell of it than to have enjoyed the experience himself. He admires my eloquence. He fears that if he arose at 3 A.M., to take a morning spin, he would miss some of those glowing features which I have so nobly depicted. As the result, our coffee trays continue to come in at nine, and when we are quite ready we go on.
I was awakened this next morning by a curious sound, which I could liken only to large bull-frogs jumping into a pond, with their croak eliminated. It happened at irregular intervals, yet was so persistent that I made a sleepy way to the window to study the phenomena.
The bull-frogs were an extraordinary size—for frogs—but mere pigmies as human beings. They were the four children of our host plunging in and out of the pool with a lack of vocalisation, out of respect for their sleeping elders, which could have been accomplished only by severe training.
I had never believed it possible before to drop into a body of water larger than a bathtub with-out a shriek, either of pleasure or misery, and, as there were bathing suits in the guest rooms, I shortly found out for myself that it could not be done by those out of their " teens."
My cries soon brought out the grown-ups of the household in self-defence, and there was so much high diving ,and drowning and rescuing that we all made as late a breakfast as W could desire.
After this came packing up, and " descending the baggage," as the French put it, and forgetting the hatbox, and going back for it, so that it was almost noon of an intensely hot day before we continued over the new state road in the direction of the Berkshires.
Westchester County is very proud of this perfect strip of going, as the entire state will be when it is completed. It cost twenty thousand dollars a mile, and the richest man in the county will speak of this with bated breath. He ought to—he is taxed for it.
The optimist will travel over the road in complete enjoyment, but I found myself dwelling pessimistically on the possible bumps that will some day (after the fashion of our country) mar its beautiful surface. Bumps that will be unheeded until they become ruts—and motoring horrors. It is as sad to reflect upon as the face of a lovely woman indented by time.
We were still among the lakes and reservoirs and the babbling brooks that, before evening, would be quenching the thirst of the roasting New Yorkers. When we are in the country, suffering a great deal from the heat, it is a cooling thought that those left in the cities are worse off than we are. At least we declare that they must be worse off, very often—as we wipe our foreheads—and very loud. We say we are glad we are not in town today--whew!
We passed Golden's Bridge, Croton Falls, and stopped at Brewster for lunch because it was the lunch-hour. In Europe we can be fed at any time we open our mouths like baby birds, and give evidence of money in our purse, but over here we eat when the proprietor says it is time to eat.
This was our first stop at a real country inn, for the roadhouses about New York do not—as the children say—count. And I was not so curious as to what we would find on the table as to the manner of our reception. In France we tumble out of our car, and exchange glad greetings with the inn-keeper, his wife, and the personnel, as though we had, all of us, only lived for this hour. But here in America we do not look upon courtesy as one of the essentials to a possible business. Or at least that was my impression. I am inclined now to think that I was wrong and to thank the motor for a revival of hospitable manners. Like the post-chaise of old, we come directly to the door, toot the horn instead of crack the whip, and receive a welcome in accord with the stateliness of the arrival.
The proprietor at Brewster answered my foreign greeting with an equal amount of enthusiasm.
Although the hotel was simple he conducted me to a dressing-room painted white, where, as the darky said, were all the means of " refreshing up." The automobile tourist has demanded and received this accommodation. With a reckless splendour, the comb and brush were not chained even, and the roller-towel had given place to clean little dabs of linen.
The lunch, too, was clean, and better than it would have been ten years ago under the same management, the dessert offering satisfactory evidence to W that we were in or near the pie belt.
The long tables have gone, but the conversation was general. The young woman who served us, as usual, knowing nothing at all about the place in which she lived, but deferring, in a loud voice, to a regular boarder at the other end of the room, regarding telegraph offices, and the hour of outgoing mail.
I suppose when a waitress concentrates on a list of edibles in bird bathtubs, there is little room left in her mind for general information.
Soon we quitted Brewster—detained for an instant by the clerk—although we had paid for our luncheon we had not registered. There are no incriminating registers in Europe. 'Tis a gay land.
The S.H.D. Patrol was going down the street, and it is my regret that I shall never know what the S.H.D. Patrol really means. To the eyes of the uninitiated it was a small wagon bravely placarded, with a driver sweeping the road. In the pursuance of his duty, he threw a shovelful of dust in our eyes as we passed him.
Our direction was Pawling. A few encouraging sign-posts kept us to the path, although at every cross-road we were met by fingers of fate pointing us to Patterson. It is strange how a town of which you have never heard before suddenly appears upon the sign, continues for miles to urge you to see it, and with a last finger indicating a road which you refuse to take, disappears out of your life forever.
The plea to go to Patterson was discontinued before we reached Pawling, but at the latter place we found so little to interest us that we regret now our lack of deviation from the straight road.
It was not until my descent upon the public library that I found the town to be worthy of a chronicle as thick as that of Yonkers. Washington, that most agile of great men, slept there, and a whipping-post still stands, which was used for military punishment. This mode of procedure was one hundred lashes for various of-fences, only fifty administered at once. My heart warmed toward Washington at this, but upon reading along, I discovered that the second fifty were laid on as soon as the first stripes festered.
They had also, in the community of Pawling, a custom in the eighteenth century, known as Putting Out the Poor. This did not mean out of their misery, but selling them to the Dutch settlers as slaves, where, with as little food and clothing as could be managed, they proved that they could work if work was only given them.
For a village that is fashionable in the summer, and doubtless has a thriving charity organisation, I find little to recommend in it, and if I was of another nationality, where the poorest form of wit is generally accepted, I might suggest that the present name is a corruption of Appall—but let us go on.
Go on—for beyond Pawling a thriller was re-served for us. It was a red arrow on a white ground, pointing in the direction we would like to go. " To the Berkshires " read the sign beneath. It was a recurrent arrow indicating the way whenever we grew uncertain. At times we would find such a bad bit of going that we thought we must be off the main road, but the arrow cheerfully signified: " Press On, I know the road is rotten, but at the other end are the Berkshires ! "
We passed a vast preparatory school for boys along this way, although I do not know what they were to be prepared for beyond a good time. A private golf course was in process of construction for them, and the main building suggested marble baths incased in Tudor architecture. The Illustrator, to show his disapproval, stopped to make a sketch, and I asked a road-mender what he thought of such mansions for young men. The road-mender opined it was a mistake. That the boys came from just good plain families, with a bath every Saturday night, and returned to their homes too set up to do any sort of work that wasn't on a banjo.
I agreed with the road-mender. We had had two days of motoring past just such extravagant inducements to have an education, but I had not been able to put my objection into any such terse form as now expressed by my new friend. I fear we shall never meet again.
We had missed the county stone between Westchester and Dutchess Counties, but we had long known we were in the latter province by a certain businesslike quality of the farms. They had a self-supporting air that all of the Westchester country places, no matter what statistics are shown, cannot acquire. And the barns are painted red. They are not white barns nor grey, nor boulder to match the house, nor stucco to go with the garage. They are red because it is a service-able colour, and they are large because the harvests are plentiful.
The farms all have or were having, or are taking measurements for having, a cylindrical tower at one end of the barn. To be fair to our Westchester host he had one also, but I did not ask what it was, for at the time it did not occur to me that I would see more of these towers before the journey was over than we felt bumps in the road—and that is saying a good deal.
A New England farm without a tower is as low in the social scale as a garden without a pergola, and I besought W _____ to stop long enough for me to find out their use. He demurred, for it was cool going and hot stopping, but I was insistent. And I must say here that the automobilist in America must make the most of the joys of conversation, en route, to atone for the loss of historic chateaux, walled towns, and magnificent churches, which are his rich portion in Europe.
There may be something snobbish in the expression of " Studying the People " as one journeys along. Do not let that thought distress you, for the countryman you are accosting is also studying you. The outcome of these wayside chats do not, one will observe, result in a chuckle or a dropping of the eyelids when the ships have spoke each other and passed on; rather is there engendered a broader understanding, which comes to us in the broadening of our acquaintance.
The hermit may be wise, but he would be wiser did he extend his visiting list.
We are a conscious people in America and we must begin to talk quickly, or we will lose the courage to ask so much as the route. We sit up in our proud carriages with all the appearance of being prim and forbidding when we are only shy !
It was Barrie who wrote of a young man at a dinner party abandoning the first topic that came into his mind as being too slight to crystallise into speech. This weakened him—each succeeding idea growing more and more valueless. As the result he did not speak at all beyond asking a lady if she cared for the salt. She misunderstood him and thought he asked for it, so he used it when it was passed and there the conversation ended.
What I found out about towers was a strict utilitarian reason for these architectural additions. It seems that the day of the husking-bee is over, and that corn and stalks now disappear into the cylinder to be chopped up into fodder.
Dutchess County is a great cattle country. Black and white cows fit in nicely with the landscape, but show a disinclination to be photographed, with which I thoroughly sympathise.
At South Dover, along the stream that once fed an old mill (" Grain and Wheat Ground and Sold " on the swinging sign) , we found many of them engaged in forming a composition dear to a painter's eye, yet whisking their tails busily to prevent a snapshot. There were also two goats in the meadow by the stream, and while this is of no importance, I wish to put it down in writing, I have never yet seen a goat drink.
W _____ would not remain to watch if they ever did drink, and we lurched on through Dover Plains until the stern sign of Detour warned us that the way beyond was under reconstruction, and, while promising well for the future, was doubtless dreary for present travelling.
There was a country inn at this juncture with a written invitation on a board to " Rest Awhile," and we would have done so had we known of the hitherto undeveloped quarry over which we journeyed before we again struck into the highway.
The rocks of New England were now beginning to manifest themselves in the fields, gleaming through the herbage in white patches " like snow upon the desert's face "—a poor comparison considering their endurance—and we had already passed a prosperous working quarry. It made one feel sorry for the man who has endeavoured to wrest a living from the top of the earth when he could gain so much more by digging down.
The undeveloped stone industry under the country lane, which we now followed, made itself known by catching at our dust-pan, swung low for European travel, and tearing it away from us. The sun was still hot, and we were glad our chauffeur was a young man, both strong and amiable. The pause gave me an opportunity to discuss the crops with a farmer nearby. Or I attempted to discuss them, he dismissing the sub-jest to talk frivolously of a wedding back on the main road, which we would miss if we didn't get started soon.
He said it was the biggest event of the year, and all his family was there in a black Ford. He said I couldn't fail to pick it out as it had been washed that morning. With his eager assistance we managed to get away, rounding into the state road, exactly at the scene of the festivity.
The bride and groom were leaving. At least a large motor, hung with shoes, ornamented by white bows, and displaying a placard on the radiator of " Just Married " bore down upon us.
We could not pick a bride from the several girls in bright frocks within, nor could we understand the roars of laughter from the guests gathered on the lawn waving them farewell. Marrying is fairly humorous, but at least a tear is expected at the hour of departure. I was anxious to know about this, but W _____ said we had not been invited to the wedding and it was impossible to stop, and in this wrangling fashion we went on to Amenia.
Ah, but Amenia knew! Just as I dislike Pawling, in equal proportion do I love Amenia. Two garages were there in fierce rivalry. If we had chosen the first no doubt something delightful would have happened, but selecting the one further on we met the cousin of the bridegroom. He had just come from the wedding in a motor as high-powered as could be found in those parts, and in it he had slipped the bride and groom, rushing them to the railway station. The brides-maids were left to follow in the rigged-up auto-mobile, and he didn't believe the town would ever get over laughing at it.
I did like that cousin! And I liked the young man who pumped the gasoline into our tank. He had driven a car once all the way from Havre to Florence (why he stopped driving it in Florence was too delicate a question to put to him) and he couldn't see an earthly reason why we in America shouldn't repair one-half of the road at a time and leave the other free to traffic, " as they done in Urop."
" I hold us in contempt," he added.
He also held the corner druggist in contempt. I had bought a charming post-card of a fine old house, and had asked the druggist if he knew where it was. But he didn't know—he had never seen it. And I went back, hotfoot, to the European traveller, who took a look at the card and splashed a quantity of gasoline all over us.
" Sees it every day of his life," said the live young man of the chemist. " It's down by the depot. No git up and git to him, that's the trouble. Keeps his windows dressed in Scott's Emulsion in the summertime."
During the few minutes that we were in Amenia there was also a dog fight.
The way of the red arrow was now growing compelling. A fine road invited a swift whirring of wheels until we reached Millerton. Here we turned to the right to the road to Lakeville, having been advised by a courteous gentleman, driving up in the Night Lunch wagon, to hold to the left at the ore mines.
We could not fail to recognise them, he said, although I don't know why, as I am not familiar with ore mines. And yet we did, judging, rather, by the miserable ungarnished miners' cottages, which sagged up and down the street. A miner's abode is ever unlovely. It must be that any place above ground is bright and beautiful to him.
We were now in Connecticut, as a big stone along the way announced. A boundary line never fails to be exciting. Whether it marks a country or a state, the slipping over from one territory to another gives one the sensation of fresh adventure, a sloughing off of the old skin of existence, rendering us shining and ready for new conflicts.
Lakeville rose from a mist, a charming town with good hotels, where the motorist who leaves New York early could easily spend his first night, if he had any " git up and git to him."
A small boy was lighting the lamps before the old Farnam Tavern of 1795. He had a way of shinnying up the post and sliding down again that was not as suitable to the swinging sign of the inn as would have been the older method of the lamplighter hurrying through the street with his flaring torch. Other times—other customs.
We hurried on, for we were so near the Berk-shires that we felt the tantalisation of the moment. Promptly at Salisbury the red arrow left us, substituting, laconically, " The Berkshires," as though it had done the best it could for us and we must now find our own way about.
This is not difficult, for the highroad is as broad as the path that leads to destruction, quite as pleasing in its features, and much less direful at the journey's end. We traversed but a corner of Connecticut, and W|______ said we need not watch for the boundary stone as we could tell by the excellence of the roadbed when we were in Massachusetts.
This speech was practically jolted out of him coincident with our crossing the state line. And he sighed, as though one could have too much humour, when I asked if the excellence lay in beneficial results to the liver or the car.
The ruts were not enduring, however, the run through South Egremont to Great Barrington being accomplished swiftly if in a rather teetery fashion. We were travelling toward the end of the summer, and no motor should complain bitterly over the damage his own kind has effected.
Even if you do not find the road perfect you must not tell this to the hotel clerk at Great Barrington. He will reply that about a million people have stopped in the hotel this season and he hadn't had a complaint before.
I suspended my pen in the air as I was about to register. I asked him if he had ever heard of the Texas hotel guest who found fault that the roller-towel was not clean. " Not clean, huh?" answered the proprietor. " Well, you're the first one to kick and it's hung there for three weeks."
The hotel clerk said he had heard it often.