Motor Mountain Climbing
( Originally Published 1915 )
OWING to our arrival at Bethlehem under cover of darkness there was not the gratifying effort to secure our patronage that W ____had counted upon.
But the Sinclair House atoned for it by giving us ecstatic attention from the bell-boys. They denuded our car with a tenacity of purpose that only armed resistance could have withstood. They were mindful that twenty-nine other hotels were ready to receive us, even if the porters, and waiters, and guests were not out in the road making fin-like movements with their hands to-ward their wide porticoes.
They even pulled from the receptacle which the top (being down) formed the old shirts and the whiskey bottle and that of hair tonic. They marched upstairs with the chauffeur's new shirt, neatly done up in a package, and had to be marched down again with it. Before I could say I didn't like the rooms (which I did, but one has a formula while travelling) the bags were unstrapped, and my dinner gown was popping enticingly out. More wonderful than all this, they did not linger about for tips, but disappeared as soon as their work was done.
Only the captain remained—to assist me, I should judge, in dressing. He told me that he went South to work in winter and to school in the spring and autumn—he had a stepmother and was fond of her. And all the time he was fixing shades, and turning on lights and seeing if we had sufficient stationery. Upon reflection I put it down that he was the most complete bell-boy I have ever met although, curiously enough, lacking an ear.
When the Illustrator upbraided me for my sudden friendship with him, I argued that as our stay in Bethlehem was short, I could not find out about the ear without compressing the right of several years' acquaintance into fifteen minutes. Even so, I never discovered how the accident occurred, in spite of the fact that I told him of our losing a tire early in the day. This was in the hope of delicately leading up to that member of which he had been so unfortunately bereft. I might have learned had not a waitress arrived with the news that they were keeping the dining-room doors open for us, and this new attention so touched me that I bowed the complete bell-boy out of my life forever.
The head waiter was taking his evening meal when we gained the dining-room, sitting in a far corner with his napkin carefully spread over his shirt front. His kind is so majestic when he is in action, so supercilious, so gravely critical of any breach of table etiquette, that it was rather a pleasure to find him humbly trying to make his dress shirt last another day.
I never could see just what started this hideously dignified air of those who serve us in life —just how it began, in the first place. It must be that they ape a manner popularly supposed to belong to their superiors. Yet what caused the first butler in the world to adopt a frozen dignity. Whom did he emulate? And why—oh why are we willing to pay more for this joyless, mummified type than for those who serve interestedly, and who are not above laughing at our best jokes?
Certainly it cannot be that they have borrowed their grand manner from those upon whom they wait, for it is an optimistic and relieving thought that those who are grandest in the social scale have the least manner. It is only the great who can afford to be simple. Therefore we saw the head waiter, eating wheat cakes with his napkin tucked under his chin, in his finest moments.
His assistant served him, a young woman in white, with no enthusiasm for her job, and when he had finished she sat down and was served, in turn, by an ordinary waitress—in black. She was not so indifferent, for she was of that age when the woman higher up commands a deep admiration. She called attention to her hair which she had dressed after the style of the head waitress who, I thought, was rather languid about it. I asked our handmaiden what girls served those in black when it came their turn, and she said the kitchen maids, and when I asked who served the kitchen maids she replied, scornfully, that nobody did. So one infers that the scullions are on the lowest rung of the social ladder in hotels, and do not eat at all.
I fear it is the contrariness of my nature that occasions me to cover all the pages allotted to Bethlehem with the doings of the servants' hall. Here we were in the White Mountains, a locality that, from my earliest recollection, stood for all that was elegant in the world of fashion, yet I could find nothing of interest in the guests, and very little in the village of hotels. We walked about the streets before going to bed, almost alone in this mild pursuit of pleasure. The houses were glaring with lights, and discords from a medley of orchestras smote the ear; through the windows we could see couples limping backward and forward in the employment of a dance-step which must be a severe strain on the tendons. In a gymnasium the " lame duck " would be considered far too fatiguing for steady exercise.
As we gained the steps of our own hostelry hideous screams from the main parlour filled us with dread—a dread that we must hear, if not see, a visiting Elocutionist giving an imitation of Richard Mansfield as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It was Mr. Hyde going on at the time, wallowing on the carpet and eating the body Brussels roses. It was a long while before the gentler and quieter personality of Dr. Jekyll overcame the wallower. There was peace for a moment when the Doctor gained the ascendency.
Through all this babble the stars remained shining in the sky. Nothing frightened them. But if stars think, they must marvel that this little town, named years ago by pious settlers, could so lose its beautiful significance.
I am guiltily mindful that the history of my country was greatly neglected in the last chapter, and that I shall have few, if any, dates sprinkled through this one. W—, who is fond of mountains, and would not exchange a foothill for the finest date in history (even 1066 or 1492), argued gladly that we were too far north for any of our wars, and that we had best abandon ourselves to peaks.
The morning dawned splendidly for the abandonment, and we got away in excellent time considering the hampering of the cohort of bell-boys who slung everything on wrong. They were alert, however, as every one was, and we put it down to mountain air, for we were feeling very elastic ourselves and bounced around in the car like rubber balls.
We took a turn to the right at McKenna's Store for the Profile House, turning again to the right when we reached the main road. The high-way was not without its sign-post, but this sign brought a lump in my throat for an instant. W—, pointing to it, asked if I wanted to go there, and I said " no," but I think if I had been told that I should never see " New York " again the lump would have come to stay. Recently, while travelling across our Continent, I chanced to glance from the window of the Pullman, and my eyes fell upon a sign-post quite as thrilling. The new Lincoln Highway was under construction, and at this point in the desert, sticking up from the sand, were two hands, and one pointed to the West and the other to the East. " San Francisco—New York—Half-way" read this message in the desert.
We were immediately in the mountains when we turned toward the Profile House, mountains which we have endeavoured to garnish by fine roads and civilise by great hotels. But a mountain is uncompromising. One can wreathe it in garlands like a Roman Emperor and it will not lose its grimness. I am rather in awe of these great creatures, and I marvel that so many silly people can spend the summer among their heights and not grow uncomfortable.
It is said, however, that the rocky profile of the Old Man of the Mountain is scaling off a bit. Possibly its steady contemplation of the world is effecting a gentle softening toward mankind. He knows that all of us men and women, wriggling down below, are made of meaner clay, and he may appreciate that it is not so easy to be good and resolute when our hearts are not of flint.
The motorist could not very well miss seeing this great rock, but, for fear one should, an enter-prising arrow marks the best view along the road by pointing heavenward. After this one might expect other arrows designating the moon, the sun, or the Dipper. A number of automobilists were looking at the Profile as solemnly as were we. There is little to be said about a great freak of nature, although one young woman who had brought her opera glasses bridged the chasm between almighty nature and nature simply human by remarking the resemblance of the Profile to " Grandpa."
Many of these automobiles continued south through Franconia Notch, and we would have spent more time in this district but that our itinerary forbade too much lingering. We re-traced our path with the idea of the Bretton Woods for luncheon. For a distance we were not out of the woods, pine and birch wove their branches above us, and if one can find any fault with this wonderfully-laid track through the great forests, it is that the way is too enclosed for extended views.
The roads were magnificent, some of the turns made with " banked curves " for fast going, like a motor race track. Which is all very well for one who is driving rapidly, but causes the car of milder pace to fear that it may topple over. Much of this land is preserved forestry which Uncle Sam, like a good housewife, has husbanded (granting that Uncle Sam can be a housewife, and, if a housewife, can husband) for an indefinite future. Along the way boxes of tools are ready for the dreaded fires, and foresters in khaki with the best of motor-cycles were scouting along the road. The Illustrator's recollection of the Old Man of the Mountain was completely obliterated in his anxiety to remember whether he did or did not blow out " that match."
At Twin Mountain House we came into the open once more, meeting a railroad which was obsequiously shrinking across our path. Time was when the railway crossed the road in an aggressive manner, other vehicles were interlopers, but in this paradise for automobiles it is distinctly second. We look upon a train in disapproval when it holds us up, and are inclined to show surprise if any other heads than pumpkins peer out from the windows. When motor trucks begin to carry freight the fast express will pass away from shame.
The golf course at this point is traversed both by the road and the tracks. It is known as a splendid " hazard," and as W 's nose was nearly hit by a dying ball I think it well named. The ending of the story is excellent, however, as I caught the ball, and it is now in my handkerchief case in the trunk. My dishonesty very nearly severed the friendship between the Illustrator and myself. I still claim that it was not altogether from a sense of sportsmanship which occasioned his protest, as his principal argument was that he might some day meet the owner of the ball.
It recalls an incident of a protesting modern mother. " Don't you know it is immoral to drive alone in the park with a gentleman," one of this species recently said to her daughter. " What if there should be an accident!"
It was unfortunate to engage in any marital bickering with the whole Presidential Range looking down upon us. We should have been feeling loftier, and hitching our wagon to a star, or, at least, to Mount Washington. I told this to W and he said you could only get there by donkeys. But his mood softened, and we both melted as we passed the big hotel known as Fabyan's. For in front of the hotel was the little roadster of the young couple who went back to St. Johnsbury in the last chapter, and who, with the confidence of the young, had said they would surely see us on the morrow.
They were evidently at luncheon, but the doggie was in the car, guarding it with shining teeth, which nature, not a bad disposition, had forced it to show continually. Mindful of their complete harmony we grew friendly again, for we were not going to be outdone by a young couple in a small roadster. And we wavered uncertainly before we decided to go on to the Mount Pleasant House. The Illustrator, who has kept up the understanding of youth, feared to intrude upon their happy intimacy. When we grow older we are ready—alas, eager—to give more generously of ourselves. All this to explain to the young couple, should they chance to read our book, why we didn't meet them again. Perhaps on the morrow—or the morrow—or the morrow?
At the Mount Pleasant you not only register for lunch, but you pay for it in advance. If you chance to choke on an olive pit before the soup and die on the spot, your estate would get no refund. As this was probably the most conservative of the hotels we visited, it speaks poorly for the honesty of the best people. But, to return to a more optimistic point of view, it is pleasant to reflect that one receives at the best places the best attention, the best food, and the best quarters. And I should have very little to say about the dishonesty of the best people when a golf ball was rolling around in my handbag. Perhaps it is my best plea for being of the " best."
We were careful with our olives and completed an excellent meal. I asked the waitress all about herself, and was told very nearly All. She was from Maine and stayed " to home " in the winter. She was niggardly with forks, but generous as to knives, and this may have been the result of Maine influences.
She told me also that many of the good-looking waitresses whom we had seen throughout this part of the country were shopgirls from Boston, who gave up their work in the summer to accept a humbler but more healthful profession. It is the most intelligent action I have ever known a shopgirl to adopt, and I fear it is because they come from Boston that they show this breadth of mind. I have inquired since—and been snubbed for my pains—but I have never heard of a New York clerk following such a course when the thermometer mounts to the nineties in a hall bedroom—and stays there.
Mellowed by food, we talked at table of lingering in the White Mountains. From our window, across the wide, treeless plateau, the Presidential Range was beckoning us. It seemed absurd to be covering this entire district in a day, but as W pointed out, we couldn't see it all if we stayed forever, and as we were singularly healthy and richly poor it would be foolish to remain for a holiday.
While this most famous of our mountain play-grounds was all one could wish, it was in no way as I had imaged it, and I was particularly disappointed in the Presidential Range. It was even more imposing, and much whiter, than I had expected it to be, but it was on the wrong side the scenery. All my life I had planned to come up from the South and find these " most grave and reverend seigneurs " on my right, and here they were stolidly on the left.
I spoke about it to the girl who helped me on with my coat, and she was inclined to blame the hotel for my confusion. She said if the hotel had been built on the other side the Range, then the mountains would have been on my right. I admitted this, but sought to straighten out the tangle that the position of the hotel had occasioned by asking which way it faced. As a rule, attend-ants have no idea how a single room in their hotels faces—they are entirely devoid of a sense of direction. A bell-boy recently insisted that our north rooms gave on the south for the reason that the sun shone on the windows of the house opposite all day, and the glow was reflected into the windows of our suite.
This girl was very glib. She said the hotel faced the west. This was utterly impossible with a brilliant afternoon sunshine pouring down on the back of the hotel, but she would not give in. She said she knew it was the west, for when she was in school her right hand always pointed to the east and the left to the west.
" But how were you facing? " I asked craftily. " I was facing the teacher," she replied. Baffled, we drove on, stopping at the little church which lies between the two great hotels, a memorial for some one whose spirit must have been as lofty as the surroundings. While this district is known as Bretton Woods, we were not in the forests again until we passed the Craw-ford House, and entered Crawford Notch. We then moved through the most lovely glades, the road roofed with green so delicate in colour that it would seem spring was clutching its privileges to the exclusion of summer. A stream which surely must have been known as Boulder Brook was our inconstant companion, flirting off into the woods and coquetting into our presence again when we least expected it.
With a fine artistic appreciation even the signs were made of rough bark. " Caution! " was hung on trees like Orlando's eulogies of his fair Rosalind. This word of warning was probably meant for the pedestrians as opposed to the swift motor, but it served a double purpose, for one " Caution ! " fell on our heads as we passed under it, nearly guillotining the Illustrator.
There were evidences in the upheaval of rock along the way that the motor had other dangers to contend against. At one point on this route an unhappy family, by the name of Willey, were entirely wiped out by an avalanche. Of course we missed the point, but as it happened a century ago and the Willeys would all be dead by this time anyway, I felt no particular grief over their rocky end.
They, at least, have insinuated themselves into history by their annihilation. Their demise is recorded in all American guidebooks, but, to my delight, the English gentleman who compiled the Baedeker slipped in and out of the White Mountains without ever hearing of the Willeys. They do not get a word, although we learned that " black flies and mosquitoes are somewhat trouble-some in June."
It is interesting to note in guidebooks compiled for the foreign visitor how much space is given to the welfare and equipment of the pedestrian. It recalls to mind the many climbers we have met in the mountains of Europe, yet we have no recollection of a single walking party through-out our New England trip. If we haven't rail-road fare in America we stay at home—and save until we can buy a motor.
With a hundred excursions behind us to do some other day, we ran out of the woods at Bemis, and entered into the workaday world once more. There were few houses and no farms until we reached Bartlett. Even then there was little suggestion of a populated district save, inversely, by the reappearance of those small pathetic grave-yards which we frequently passed in New England. It is not so much life that gives a settled air to a community. Rather the small gleaming headstones that bespeak life's complement: death.
At Bartlett we stopped for gasoline, and to talk routes and distances. We would have to turn off at Glen if we wished to circle the Presidential Range, probably making Gorham for the night, or we could cut more swiftly out of the mountains and go on to North Conway. We were entirely willing to adopt either plan, and we could not make up our minds before we reached the point where we must turn north for Gorham, or continue straight on for North Conway. We did not make up our minds then, for the chauffeur was driving, and as he had no idea where he was going anyway, and didn't much care, he clung to the main road from habit, and this settled the matter for us very comfortably. If it is the broad road that leadeth to destruction, every chauffeur is instinctively bad.
In a short time, long before dusk, we were in a pretty village looking for the Kearsage Hotel. We scoured the wide street for it—we turned back—we asked ignorant little girls, one of them contending that the Kearsage was a vessel. We grew rather cross about it, and drew up at last before the oldest inhabitant. We told him before he had time to speak that, as we were asking for the best hotel in North Conway, we saw no reason why the inhabitants should so demean our choice as to know nothing of it. There was no doubt that we were piqued out of vanity. This selecting of an inconsequential hotel discredited our taste.
The oldest inhabitant, with the deliberation of all realistic actors, took a chew of tobacco, and said we could look all night and we'd never find it there.
" And why not? " I asked severely.
" 'Cause this town's Intervale."
It was dusk when we arrived at North Conway and were embraced by the friendly arms of the Kearsage. Yet it was not thick dusk. We could still see—it took some walking—the gleaming stone on the mountainside that was called the White Horse. The most remarkable thing about this stone is that it looks like a white horse. I have always had small patience with the astronomers who find extraordinary animals in the heavens, and marvel at less imaginative people because they can't see them. " How plain the Great Bear is tonight," they will say, leaving us to pass over the subject hastily and concentrate on the obvious Milky Way. The White Horse is to the mountains what the Milky Way is to the sky, and I cannot imagine why, in this district of great hotels, there is not a single White Horse Tavern.
The village street was very pleasant at dusk. We wandered into a shop almost entirely abandoned to postal cards and bought White Horses largely. The pictures were of unusual merit, and when I commented upon this to the young woman in attendance she told me they were copied from the collection of her father's photo-graphs. " His health failed—we had to have a trained nurse—I didn't know what to do—that was a long time ago when illustrated postal cards were just coming in—I made a few and they sold—now I turn out thousands and it keeps us comfortably."
I thought it was the best brief I had ever heard read for postal cards. We bought quantities, and a little bow and arrow as well. The bow and arrow were sent to a small boy who had hurt his foot. I don't know why I should choose this active form of exercise for a boy so—handicapped, can one say? It seems that he has punctured almost everything in his room, including his mother, and she has written me a very sharp letter about my selection of the gift.
I put it down to the influence of the nice young woman who had the invalid father. I went out of her shop leaving behind my handbag containing my money and jewellery in the most unwordly fashion. Later I not only acquired it, but a large photograph of Cathedral Walk. The Walk leads out of North Conway, and when I return I am going to take it, delighting Mr. Baedeker, for the young lady said : " It is so beautiful that it is just like going to church, and not having to hear anything."
I often wonder what the villagers did before these towns were given over to visitors. I suppose the money they bring makes the natives put up with all sorts of dull types. We sat at table that night with two of the dull ones-I don't know what they called us. We bowed to them as they took their seats, for it is disagree-able to break bread in a silence that cannot be equally broken. But they were not accustomed to the foreign fashion and stared unbelievingly, so that we all ended by keeping our eyes fixed on our food for fear there might be the interchange of a glance. It was a good way to kill the flavour of a good dinner.
Such encounters have an advantage: they render the steady company of the Illustrator more delectable. And he, in turn, let himself down by my side for his after-dinner cigar with a sigh of relief. I know it was his reflection that if I hadn't firmly seized him when I did that very woman with the horror of bowing at table might have carried him off, and he would, by this time, be that terrible man who accompanied her, and who would not speak to us.
A Russian orchestra played—all one family, but, instrumentally, a happy one. And we were equally happy in North Conway.