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Chapter 1

From Tideaway to Tideaway (1892)--

IN SIGHT OF MONADNOCK

After the gloom of gray Atlantic weather, our ship came to America in a
flood of winter sunshine that made unaccustomed eyelids blink, and the
New Yorker, who is nothing if not modest, said, 'This isn't a sample of
our really fine days. Wait until such and such times come, or go to such
and a such a quarter of the city.' We were content, and more than
content, to drift aimlessly up and down the brilliant streets, wondering
a little why the finest light should be wasted on the worst pavements in
the world; to walk round and round Madison Square, because that was full
of beautifully dressed babies playing counting-out games, or to gaze
reverently at the broad-shouldered, pug-nosed Irish New York policemen.
Wherever we went there was the sun, lavish and unstinted, working nine
hours a day, with the colour and the clean-cut lines of perspective that
he makes. That any one should dare to call this climate muggy, yea, even
'subtropical,' was a shock. There came such a man, and he said, 'Go
north if you want weather--weather that _is_ weather. Go to New
England.' So New York passed away upon a sunny afternoon, with her roar
and rattle, her complex smells, her triply over-heated rooms, and much
too energetic inhabitants, while the train went north to the lands where
the snow lay. It came in one sweep--almost, it seemed, in one turn of
the wheels--covering the winter-killed grass and turning the frozen
ponds that looked so white under the shadow of lean trees into pools of
ink.

As the light closed in, a little wooden town, white, cloaked, and dumb,
slid past the windows, and the strong light of the car lamps fell upon a
sleigh (the driver furred and muffled to his nose) turning the corner of
a street. Now the sleigh of a picture-book, however well one knows it,
is altogether different from the thing in real life, a means of
conveyance at a journey's end; but it is well not to be over-curious in
the matter, for the same American who has been telling you at length how
he once followed a kilted Scots soldier from Chelsea to the Tower, out
of pure wonder and curiosity at his bare knees and sporran, will laugh
at your interest in 'just a cutter.'

The staff of the train--surely the great American nation would be lost
if deprived of the ennobling society of brakeman, conductor, Pullman-car
conductor, negro porter, and newsboy--told pleasant tales, as they
spread themselves at ease in the smoking compartments, of snowings up
the line to Montreal, of desperate attacks--four engines together and a
snow-plough in front--on drifts thirty feet high, and the pleasures of
walking along the tops of goods wagons to brake a train, with the
thermometer thirty below freezing. 'It comes cheaper to kill men that
way than to put air-brakes on freight-cars,' said the brakeman.

Thirty below freezing! It was inconceivable till one stepped out into it
at midnight, and the first shock of that clear, still air took away the
breath as does a plunge into sea-water. A walrus sitting on a woolpack
was our host in his sleigh, and he wrapped us in hairy goatskin coats,
caps that came down over the ears, buffalo robes and blankets, and yet
more buffalo-robes till we, too, looked like walruses and moved almost
as gracefully. The night was as keen as the edge of a newly-ground
sword; breath froze on the coat-lapels in snow; the nose became without
sensation, and the eyes wept bitterly because the horses were in a hurry
to get home; and whirling through air at zero brings tears. But for the
jingle of the sleigh-bells the ride might have taken place in a dream,
for there was no sound of hoofs upon the snow, the runners sighed a
little now and again as they glided over an inequality, and all the
sheeted hills round about were as dumb as death. Only the Connecticut
River kept up its heart and a lane of black water through the packed
ice; we could hear the stream worrying round the heels of its small
bergs. Elsewhere there was nothing but snow under the moon--snow drifted
to the level of the stone fences or curling over their tops in a lip of
frosted silver; snow banked high on either side of the road, or lying
heavy on the pines and the hemlocks in the woods, where the air seemed,
by comparison, as warm as a conservatory. It was beautiful beyond
expression, Nature's boldest sketch in black and white, done with a
Japanese disregard of perspective, and daringly altered from time to
time by the restless pencils of the moon.

In the morning the other side of the picture was revealed in the colours
of the sunlight. There was never a cloud in the sky that rested on the
snow-line of the horizon as a sapphire on white velvet. Hills of pure
white, or speckled and furred with woods, rose up above the solid white
levels of the fields, and the sun rioted over their embroideries till
the eyes ached. Here and there on the exposed slopes the day's
warmth--the thermometer was nearly forty degrees--and the night's cold
had made a bald and shining crust upon the snow; but the most part was
soft powdered stuff, ready to catch the light on a thousand crystals and
multiply it sevenfold. Through this magnificence, and thinking nothing
of it, a wood-sledge drawn by two shaggy red steers, the unbarked logs
diamond-dusted with snow, shouldered down the road in a cloud of frosty
breath. It is the mark of inexperience in this section of the country to
confound a sleigh which you use for riding with the sledge that is
devoted to heavy work; and it is, I believe, a still greater sign of
worthlessness to think that oxen are driven, as they are in most places,
by scientific twisting of the tail. The driver with red mittens on his
hands, felt overstockings that come up to his knees, and, perhaps, a
silvery-gray coon-skin coat on his back, walks beside, crying, 'Gee,
haw!' even as is written in American stories. And the speech of the
driver explains many things in regard to the dialect story, which at its
best is an infliction to many. Now that I have heard the long, unhurried
drawl of Vermont, my wonder is, not that the New England tales should be
printed in what, for the sake of argument, we will call English and its
type, but rather that they should not have appeared in Swedish or
Russian. Our alphabet is too limited. This part of the country belongs
by laws unknown to the United States, but which obtain all the world
over, to the New England story and the ladies who write it. You feel
this in the air as soon as you see the white-painted wooden houses left
out in the snow, the austere schoolhouse, and the people--the men of the
farms, the women who work as hard as they with, it may be, less
enjoyment of life--the other houses, well painted and quaintly roofed,
that belong to Judge This, Lawyer That, and Banker Such an one; all
powers in the metropolis of six thousand folk over by the railway
station. More acutely still, do you realise the atmosphere when you read
in the local paper announcements of 'chicken suppers' and 'church
sociables' to be given by such and such a denomination, sandwiched
between paragraphs of genial and friendly interest, showing that the
countryside live (and without slaying each other) on terms of terrifying
intimacy.

The folk of the old rock, the dwellers in the older houses, born and
raised hereabouts, would not live out of the town for any consideration,
and there are insane people from the South--men and women from Boston
and the like--who actually build houses out in the open country, two,
and even three miles from Main Street which is nearly 400 yards long,
and the centre of life and population. With the strangers, more
particularly if they do not buy their groceries 'in the street,' which
means, and is, the town, the town has little to do; but it knows
everything, and much more also, that goes on among them. Their dresses,
their cattle, their views, the manners of their children, their manner
towards their servants, and every other conceivable thing, is reported,
digested, discussed, and rediscussed up and down Main Street. Now, the
wisdom of Vermont, not being at all times equal to grasping all the
problems of everybody else's life with delicacy, sometimes makes
pathetic mistakes, and the town is set by the ears. You will see,
therefore, that towns of a certain size do not differ materially all the
world over. The talk of the men of the farms is of their
farms--purchase, mortgage, and sale, recorded rights, boundary lines,
and road tax. It was in the middle of New Zealand, on the edge of the
Wild horse plains, that I heard this talk last, when a man and his wife,
twenty miles from the nearest neighbour, sat up half the night
discussing just the same things that the men talked of in Main Street,
Vermont, U.S.A.

There is one man in the State who is much exercised over this place. He
is a farm-hand, raised in a hamlet fifteen or twenty miles from the
nearest railway, and, greatly daring, he has wandered here. The bustle
and turmoil of Main Street, the new glare of the electric lights and the
five-storeyed brick business block, frighten and distress him much. He
has taken service on a farm well away from these delirious delights,
and, says he, 'I've been offered $25 a month to work in a bakery at New
York. But you don't get me to no New York, I've seen this place an' it
just scares me,' His strength is in the drawing of hay and the feeding
of cattle. Winter life on a farm does not mean the comparative idleness
that is so much written of. Each hour seems to have its sixty minutes of
work; for the cattle are housed and eat eternally; the colts must be
turned out for their drink, and the ice broken for them if necessary;
then ice must be stored for the summer use, and then the real work of
hauling logs for firewood begins. New England depends for its fuel on
the woods. The trees are 'blazed' in the autumn just before the fall of
the leaf, felled later, cut into four-foot lengths, and, as soon as the
friendly snow makes sledging possible, drawn down to the woodhouse.
Afterwards the needs of the farm can be attended to, and a farm, like an
arch, is never at rest. A little later will come maple-sugar time, when
the stately maples are tapped as the sap begins to stir, and be-ringed
with absurd little buckets (a cow being milked into a thimble gives some
idea of the disproportion), which are emptied into cauldrons.
Afterwards (this is the time of the 'sugaring-off parties') you pour the
boiled syrup into tins full of fresh snow, where it hardens, and you
pretend to help and become very sticky and make love, boys and girls
together. Even the introduction of patent sugar evaporators has not
spoiled the love-making.

There is a certain scarcity of men to make love with; not so much in
towns which have their own manufactories and lie within a lover's
Sabbath-day journey of New York, but in the farms and villages. The men
have gone away--the young men are fighting fortune further West, and the
women remain--remain for ever as women must. On the farms, when the
children depart, the old man and the old woman strive to hold things
together without help, and the woman's portion is work and monotony.
Sometimes she goes mad to an extent which appreciably affects statistics
and is put down in census reports. More often, let us hope, she dies. In
the villages where the necessity for heavy work is not so urgent the
women find consolation in the formation of literary clubs and circles,
and so gather to themselves a great deal of wisdom in their own way.
That way is not altogether lovely. They desire facts and the knowledge
that they are at a certain page in a German or an Italian book before a
certain time, or that they have read the proper books in a proper way.
At any rate, they have something to do that seems as if they were doing
something. It has been said that the New England stories are cramped
and narrow. Even a far-off view of the iron-bound life whence they are
drawn justifies the author. You can carve a nut in a thousand different
ways by reason of the hardness of the shell.

Twenty or thirty miles across the hills, on the way to the Green
Mountains, lie some finished chapters of pitiful stories--a few score
abandoned farms, started in a lean land, held fiercely so long as there
was any one to work them, and then left on the hill-sides. Beyond this
desolation are woods where the bear and the deer still find peace, and
sometimes even the beaver forgets that he is persecuted and dares to
build his lodge. These things were told me by a man who loved the woods
for their own sake and not for the sake of slaughter--a quiet,
slow-spoken man of the West, who came across the drifts on show-shoes
and refrained from laughing when I borrowed his foot-gear and tried to
walk. The gigantic lawn-tennis bats strung with hide are not easy to
manoeuvre. If you forget to keep the long heels down and trailing in the
snow you turn over and become as a man who fails into deep water with a
life-belt tied to his ankles. If you lose your balance, do not attempt
to recover it, but drop, half-sitting and half-kneeling, over as large
an area as possible. When you have mastered the wolf-step, can slide one
shoe above the other deftly, that is to say, the sensation of paddling
over a ten-foot-deep drift and taking short cuts by buried fences is
worth the ankle-ache. The man from the West interpreted to me the signs
on the snow, showed how a fox (this section of the country is full of
foxes, and men shoot them because riding is impossible) leaves one kind
of spoor, walking with circumspection as becomes a thief, and a dog, who
has nothing to be ashamed of, but widens his four legs and plunges,
another; how coons go to sleep for the winter and squirrels too, and how
the deer on the Canada border trample down deep paths that are called
yards and are caught there by inquisitive men with cameras, who hold
them by their tails when the deer have blundered into deep snow, and so
photograph their frightened dignity. He told me of people also--the
manners and customs of New Englanders here, and how they blossom and
develop in the Far West on the newer railway lines, when matters come
very nearly to civil war between rival companies racing for the same
cañon; how there is a country not very far away called Caledonia,
populated by the Scotch, who can give points to a New Englander in a
bargain, and how these same Scotch-Americans by birth, name their
townships still after the cities of their thrifty race. It was all as
new and delightful as the steady 'scrunch' of the snow-shoes and the
dazzling silence of the hills.

Beyond the very furthest range, where the pines turn to a faint blue
haze against the one solitary peak--a real mountain and not a
hill--showed like a gigantic thumbnail pointing heavenward.

'And that's Monadnock,' said the man from the West; 'all the hills have
Indian names. You left Wantastiquet on your right coming out of town,'

You know how it often happens that a word shuttles in and out of many
years, waking all sorts of incongruous associations. I had met Monadnock
on paper in a shameless parody of Emerson's style, before ever style or
verse had interest for me. But the word stuck because of a rhyme, in
which one was

... crowned coeval
With Monadnock's crest,
And my wings extended
Touch the East and West.

Later the same word, pursued on the same principle as that blessed one
Mesopotamia, led me to and through Emerson, up to his poem on the peak
itself--the wise old giant 'busy with his sky affairs,' who makes us
sane and sober and free from little things if we trust him. So Monadnock
came to mean everything that was helpful, healing, and full of quiet,
and when I saw him half across New Hampshire he did not fail. In that
utter stillness a hemlock bough, overweighted with snow, came down a
foot or two with a tired little sigh; the snow slid off and the little
branch flew nodding back to its fellows.

For the honour of Monadnock there was made that afternoon an image of
snow of Gautama Buddha, something too squat and not altogether equal on
both sides, but with an imperial and reposeful waist. He faced towards
the mountain, and presently some men in a wood-sledge came up the road
and faced him. Now, the amazed comments of two Vermont farmers on the
nature and properties of a swag-bellied god are worth hearing. They were
not troubled about his race, for he was aggressively white; but rounded
waists seem to be out of fashion in Vermont. At least, they said so,
with rare and curious oaths.

Next day all the idleness and trifling were drowned in a snowstorm that
filled the hollows of the hills with whirling blue mist, bowed the
branches of the woods till you ducked, but were powdered all the same
when you drove through, and wiped out the sleighing tracks. Mother
Nature is beautifully tidy if you leave her alone. She rounded off every
angle, broke down every scarp, and tucked the white bedclothes, till not
a wrinkle remained, up to the chine of the spruces and the hemlocks that
would not go to sleep.

'Now,' said the man of the West, as we were driving to the station, and
alas! to New York, 'all my snow-tracks are gone; but when that snow
melts, a week hence or a month hence, they'll all come up again and show
where I've been.'

Curious idea, is it not? Imagine a murder committed in the lonely woods,
a snowstorm that covers the tracks of the flying man before the avenger
of blood has buried the body, and then, a week later, the withdrawal of
the traitorous snow, revealing step by step the path Cain took--the
six-inch dee-trail of his snow-shoes--each step a dark disk on the
white till the very end.

There is so much, so very much to write, if it were worth while, about
that queer little town by the railway station, with its life running, to
all outward seeming, as smoothly as the hack-coupés on their sleigh
mounting, and within disturbed by the hatreds and troubles and
jealousies that vex the minds of all but the gods. For instance--no, it
is better to remember the lesson Monadnock, and Emerson has said, 'Zeus
hates busy-bodies and people who do too much.'

That there are such folk, a long nasal drawl across Main Street attests.
A farmer is unhitching his horses from a post opposite a store. He
stands with the tie-rope in his hand and gives his opinion to his
neighbour and the world generally--'But them there Andersons, they ain't
got no notion of etikwette!'

Rudyard Kipling

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