Read CHAPTER VI of Their Pilgrimage , free online book, by Charles Dudley Warner, on ReadCentral.com.

MANCHESTER-BY-THE-SEA, ISLES OF SHOALS

Mr. Stanhope King was not in very good spirits. Even Boston did not make him cheerful. He was half annoyed to see the artist and Miss Lamont drifting along in such laughing good-humor with the world, as if a summer holiday was just a holiday without any consequences or responsibilities. It was to him a serious affair ever since that unsatisfactory note from Miss Benson; somehow the summer had lost its sparkle. And yet was it not preposterous that a girl, just a single girl, should have the power to change for a man the aspect of a whole coast-by her presence to make it iridescent with beauty, and by her absence to take all the life out of it? And a simple girl from Ohio! She was not by any means the prettiest girl in the Newport Casino that morning, but it was her figure that he remembered, and it was the look of hurt sensibility in her eyes that stayed with him. He resented the attitude of the Casino towards her, and he hated himself for his share in it. He would write to her..... He composed letter after letter in his mind, which he did not put on paper. How many millions of letters are composed in this way! It is a favorite occupation of imaginative people; and as they say that no thoughts or mental impressions are ever lost, but are all registered made, as it were, on a “dry-plate,” to be developed hereafter what a vast correspondence must be lying in the next world, in the Dead-letter Office there, waiting for the persons to whom it is addressed, who will all receive it and read it some day! How unpleasant and absurd it will be to read, much of it! I intend to be careful, for my part, about composing letters of this sort hereafter. Irene, I dare say, will find a great many of them from Mr. King, thought out in those days. But he mailed none of them to her. What should he say? Should he tell her that he didn’t mind if her parents were what Mrs. Bartlett Glow called “impossible”? If he attempted any explanation, would it not involve the offensive supposition that his social rank was different from hers? Even if he convinced her that he recognized no caste in American society, what could remove from her mind the somewhat morbid impression that her education had put her in a false position? His love probably could not shield her from mortification in a society which, though indefinable in its limits and code, is an entity more vividly felt than the government of the United States.

“Don’t you think the whole social atmosphere has changed,” Miss Lamont suddenly asked, as they were running along in the train towards Manchester-by-the-Sea, “since we got north of Boston? I seem to find it so. Don’t you think it’s more refined, and, don’t you know, sort of cultivated, and subdued, and Boston? You notice the gentlemen who get out at all these stations, to go to their country-houses, how highly civilized they look, and ineffably respectable and intellectual, all of them presidents of colleges, and substantial bank directors, and possible ambassadors, and of a social cult (isn’t that the word?) uniting brains and gentle manners.”

“You must have been reading the Boston newspapers; you have hit the idea prevalent in these parts, at any rate. I was, however, reminded myself of an afternoon train out of London, say into Surrey, on which you are apt to encounter about as high a type of civilized men as anywhere.”

“And you think this is different from a train out of New York?” asked the artist.

“Yes. New York is more mixed. No one train has this kind of tone. You see there more of the broker type and politician type, smarter apparel and nervous manners, but, dear me, not this high moral and intellectual respectability.”

“Well,” said the artist, “I’m changing my mind about this country. I didn’t expect so much variety. I thought that all the watering-places would be pretty much alike, and that we should see the same people everywhere. But the people are quite as varied as the scenery.”

“There you touch a deep question the refining or the vulgarizing influence of man upon nature, and the opposite. Now, did the summer Bostonians make this coast refined, or did this coast refine the Bostonians who summer here?”

“Well, this is primarily an artistic coast; I feel the influence of it; there is a refined beauty in all the lines, and residents have not vulgarized it much. But I wonder what Boston could have done for the Jersey coast?”

In the midst of this high and useless conversation they came to the Masconomo House, a sort of concession, in this region of noble villas and private parks, to the popular desire to get to the sea. It is a long, low house, with very broad passages below and above, which give lightness and cheerfulness to the interior, and each of the four corners of the entrance hall has a fireplace. The pillars of the front and back piazzas are pine stems stained, with the natural branches cut in unequal lengths, and look like the stumps for the bears to climb in the pit at Berne. Set up originally with the bark on, the worms worked underneath it in secret, at a novel sort of decoration, until the bark came off and exposed the stems most beautifully vermiculated, giving the effect of fine carving. Back of the house a meadow slopes down to a little beach in a curved bay that has rocky headlands, and is defended in part by islands of rock. The whole aspect of the place is peaceful. The hotel does not assert itself very loudly, and if occasionally transient guests appear with flash manners, they do not affect the general tone of the region.

One finds, indeed, nature and social life happily blended, the exclusiveness being rather protective than offensive. The special charm of this piece of coast is that it is bold, much broken and indented, precipices fronting the waves, promontories jutting out, high rocky points commanding extensive views, wild and picturesque, and yet softened by color and graceful shore lines, and the forest comes down to the edge of the sea. And the occupants have heightened rather than lessened this picturesqueness by adapting their villas to a certain extent to the rocks and inequalities in color and form, and by means of roads, allies, and vistas transforming the region into a lovely park.

Here, as at Newport, is cottage life, but the contrast of the two places is immense. There is here no attempt at any assembly or congregated gayety or display. One would hesitate to say that the drives here have more beauty, but they have more variety. They seem endless, through odorous pine woods and shady lanes, by private roads among beautiful villas and exquisite grounds, with evidences everywhere of wealth to be sure, but of individual taste and refinement. How sweet and cool are these winding ways in the wonderful woods, overrun with vegetation, the bayberry, the sweet-fern, the wild roses, wood-lilies, and ferns! and it is ever a fresh surprise at a turn to find one’s self so near the sea, and to open out an entrancing coast view, to emerge upon a promontory and a sight of summer isles, of lighthouses, cottages, villages Marblehead, Salem, Beverly. What a lovely coast! and how wealth and culture have set their seal on it.

It possesses essentially the same character to the north, although the shore is occasionally higher and bolder, as at the picturesque promontory of Magnolia, and Cape Ann exhibits more of the hotel and popular life. But to live in one’s own cottage, to choose his calling and dining acquaintances, to make the long season contribute something to cultivation in literature, art, music to live, in short, rather more for one’s self than for society seems the increasing tendency of the men of fortune who can afford to pay as much for an acre of rock and sand at Manchester as would build a decent house elsewhere. The tourist does not complain of this, and is grateful that individuality has expressed itself in the great variety of lovely homes, in cottages very different from those on the Jersey coast, showing more invention, and good in form and color.

There are New-Yorkers at Manchester, and Bostonians at Newport; but who was it that said New York expresses itself at Newport, and Boston at Manchester and kindred coast settlements? This may be only fancy. Where intellectual life keeps pace with the accumulation of wealth, society is likely to be more natural, simpler, less tied to artificial rules, than where wealth runs ahead. It happens that the quiet social life of Beverly, Manchester, and that region is delightful, although it is a home rather than a public life. Nowhere else at dinner and at the chance evening musicale is the foreigner more likely to meet sensible men who are good talkers, brilliant and witty women who have the gift of being entertaining, and to have the events of the day and the social and political problems more cleverly discussed. What is the good of wealth if it does not bring one back to freedom, and the ability to live naturally and to indulge the finer tastes in vacation-time?

After all, King reflected, as the party were on their way to the Isles of Shoals, what was it that had most impressed him at Manchester? Was it not an evening spent in a cottage amid the rocks, close by the water, in the company of charming people? To be sure, there were the magical reflection of the moonlight and the bay, the points of light from the cottages on the rocky shore, the hum and swell of the sea, and all the mystery of the shadowy headlands; but this was only a congenial setting for the music, the witty talk, the free play of intellectual badinage, and seriousness, and the simple human cordiality that were worth all the rest.

What a kaleidoscope it is, this summer travel, and what an entertainment, if the tourist can only keep his “impression plates” fresh to take the new scenes, and not sink into the state of chronic grumbling at hotels and minor discomforts! An interview at a ticket-office, a whirl of an hour on the rails, and to Portsmouth, anchored yet to the colonial times by a few old houses, and resisting with its respectable provincialism the encroachments of modern smartness, and the sleepy wharf in the sleepy harbor, where the little steamer is obligingly waiting for the last passenger, for the very last woman, running with a bandbox in one hand, and dragging a jerked, fretting child by the other hand, to make the hour’s voyage to the Isles of Shoals.

(The shrewd reader objects to the bandbox as an anachronism: it is no longer used. If I were writing a novel, instead of a veracious chronicle, I should not have introduced it, for it is an anachronism. But I was powerless, as a mere narrator, to prevent the woman coming aboard with her bandbox. No one but a trained novelist can make a long-striding, resolute, down-East woman conform to his notions of conduct and fashion.)

If a young gentleman were in love, and the object of his adoration were beside him, he could not have chosen a lovelier day nor a prettier scene than this in which to indulge his happiness; and if he were in love, and the object absent, he could scarcely find a situation fitter to nurse his tender sentiment. Doubtless there is a stage in love when scenery of the very best quality becomes inoperative. There was a couple on board seated in front of the pilot-house, who let the steamer float along the pretty, long, landlocked harbor, past the Kittery Navy-yard, and out upon the blue sea, without taking the least notice of anything but each other. They were on a voyage of their own, Heaven help them! probably without any chart, a voyage of discovery, just as fresh and surprising as if they were the first who ever took it. It made no difference to them that there was a personally conducted excursion party on board, going, they said, to the Oceanic House on Star Island, who had out their maps and guide-books and opera-glasses, and wrung the last drop of the cost of their tickets out of every foot of the scenery. Perhaps it was to King a more sentimental journey than to anybody else, because he invoked his memory and his imagination, and as the lovely shores opened or fell away behind the steamer in ever-shifting forms of beauty, the scene was in harmony with both his hope and his longing. As to Marion and the artist, they freely appropriated and enjoyed it. So that mediaeval structure, all tower, growing out of the rock, is Stedman’s Castle just like him, to let his art spring out of nature in that way. And that is the famous Kittery Navy-yard!

“What do they do there, uncle?” asked the girl, after scanning the place in search of dry-docks and vessels and the usual accompaniments of a navy-yard.

“Oh, they make ‘repairs,’ principally just before an election. It is very busy then.”

“What sort of repairs?”

“Why, political repairs; they call them naval in the department. They are always getting appropriations for them. I suppose that this country is better off for naval repairs than any other country in the world.”

“And they are done here?”

“No; they are done in the department. Here is where the voters are. You see, we have a political navy. It costs about as much as those navies that have ships and guns, but it is more in accord with the peaceful spirit of the age. Did you never hear of the leading case of ‘repairs’ of a government vessel here at Kittery? The ‘repairs’ were all done here, at Portsmouth, New Hampshire; the vessel lay all the time at Portsmouth, Virginia. How should the department know that there were two places of the same name? It usually intends to have ‘repairs’ and the vessel in the same navy-yard.”

The steamer was gliding along over smooth water towards the seven blessed isles, which lay there in the sun, masses of rock set in a sea sparkling with diamond points. There were two pretty girls in the pilot-house, and the artist thought their presence there accounted for the serene voyage, for the masts of a wrecked schooner rising out of the shallows to the north reminded him that this is a dangerous coast. But he said the passengers would have a greater sense of security if the usual placard (for the benefit of the captain) was put up: “No flirting with the girl at the wheel.”

At a distance nothing could be more barren than these islands, which Captain John Smith and their native poet have enveloped in a halo of romance, and it was not until the steamer was close to it that any landing-place was visible on Appledore, the largest of the group.

The boat turned into a pretty little harbor among the rocks, and the settlement was discovered: a long, low, old-fashioned hotel with piazzas, and a few cottages, perched on the ledges, the door-yards of which were perfectly ablaze with patches of flowers, masses of red, yellow, purple-poppies, marigolds, nasturtiums, bachelor’s-buttons, lovely splashes of color against the gray lichen-covered rock. At the landing is an interior miniature harbor, walled in, and safe for children to paddle about and sail on in tiny boats. The islands offer scarcely any other opportunity for bathing, unless one dare take a plunge off the rocks.

Talk of the kaleidoscope! At a turn of the wrist, as it were, the elements of society had taken a perfectly novel shape here. Was it only a matter of grouping and setting, or were these people different from all others the tourists had seen? There was a lively scene in the hotel corridor, the spacious office with its long counters and post-office, when the noon mail was opened and the letters called out. So many pretty girls, with pet dogs of all degrees of ugliness (dear little objects of affection overflowing and otherwise running to waste one of the most pathetic sights in this sad world), jaunty suits with a nautical cut, for boating and rock-climbing, family groups, so much animation and excitement over the receipt of letters, so much well-bred chaffing and friendliness, such an air of refinement and “style,” but withal so homelike. These people were “guests” of the proprietors, who nevertheless felt a sort of proprietorship themselves in the little island, and were very much like a company together at sea. For living on this island is not unlike being on shipboard at sea, except that this rock does not heave about in a nauseous way.

Mr. King discovered by the register that the Bensons had been here (of all places in the world, he thought this would be the ideal one for a few days with her), and Miss Lamont had a letter from Irene, which she did not offer to read.

“They didn’t stay long,” she said, as Mr. King seemed to expect some information out of the letter, “and they have gone on to Bar Harbor. I should like to stop here a week; wouldn’t you?”

“Ye-e-s,” trying to recall the mood he was in before he looked at the register; “but but” (thinking of the words “gone on to Bar Harbor”) “it is a place, after all, that you can see in a short time go all over it in half a day.”

“But you want to sit about on the rocks, and look at the sea, and dream.”

“I can’t dream on an island-not on a small island. It’s too cooped up; you get a feeling of being a prisoner.”

“I suppose you wish ’that little isle had wings, and you and I within its shady ’”

“There’s one thing I will not stand, Miss Lamont, and that’s Moore.”

“Come, let’s go to Star Island.”

The party went in the tug Pinafore, which led a restless, fussy life, puffing about among these islands, making the circuit of Appledore at fixed hours, and acting commonly as a ferry. Star Island is smaller than Appledore and more barren, but it has the big hotel (and a different class of guests from those on Appledore), and several monuments of romantic interest. There is the ancient stone church, rebuilt some time in this century; there are some gravestones; there is a monument to Captain John Smith, the only one existing anywhere to that interesting adventurer a triangular shaft, with a long inscription that could not have been more eulogistic if he had composed it himself. There is something pathetic in this lonely monument when we recall Smith’s own touching allusion to this naked rock, on which he probably landed when he once coasted along this part of New England, as being his sole possession in the world at the end of his adventurous career:

“No lot for me but Smith’s Isles, which are an array of barren rocks, the most overgrown with shrubs and sharpe whins you can hardly pass them; without either grasse or wood, but three or foure short shrubby old cedars.”

Every tourist goes to the south end of Star Island, and climbs down on the face of the precipice to the “Chair,” a niche where a school-teacher used to sit as long ago as 1848. She was sitting there one day when a wave came up and washed her away into the ocean. She disappeared. But she who loses her life shall save it. That one thoughtless act of hers did more for her reputation than years of faithful teaching, than all her beauty, grace, and attractions. Her “Chair” is a point of pilgrimage. The tourist looks at it, guesses at its height above the water, regards the hungry sea with aversion, re-enacts the drama in his imagination, sits in the chair, has his wife sit in it, has his boy and girl sit in it together, wonders what the teacher’s name was, stops at the hotel and asks the photograph girl, who does not know, and the proprietor, who says it’s in a book somewhere, and finally learns that it was Underhill, and straightway forgets it when he leaves the island.

What a delicious place it is, this Appledore, when the elements favor! The party were lodged in a little cottage, whence they overlooked the hotel and the little harbor, and could see all the life of the place, looking over the bank of flowers that draped the rocks of the door-yard. How charming was the miniature pond, with the children sailing round and round, and the girls in pretty costumes bathing, and sunlight lying so warm upon the greenish-gray rocks! But the night, following the glorious after-glow, the red sky, all the level sea, and the little harbor burnished gold, the rocks purple oh! the night, when the moon came! Oh, Irene! Great heavens! why will this world fall into such a sentimental fit, when all the sweetness and the light of it are away at Bar Harbor!

Love and moonlight, and the soft lapse of the waves and singing? Yes, there are girls down by the landing with a banjo, and young men singing the songs of love, the modern songs of love dashed with college slang. The banjo suggests a little fastness; and this new generation carries off its sentiment with some bravado and a mocking tone. Presently the tug Pinafore glides up to the landing, the engineer flings open the furnace door, and the glowing fire illumines the interior, brings out forms and faces, and deepens the heavy shadows outside. It is like a cavern scene in the opera. A party of ladies in white come down to cross to Star. Some of these insist upon climbing up to the narrow deck, to sit on the roof and enjoy the moonlight and the cinders. Girls like to do these things, which are more unconventional than hazardous, at watering-places.

What a wonderful effect it is, the masses of rock, water, sky, the night, all details lost in simple lines and forms! On the piazza of the cottage is a group of ladies and gentlemen in poses more or less graceful; one lady is in a hammock; on one side is the moonlight, on the other come gleams from the curtained windows touching here and there a white shoulder, or lighting a lovely head; the vines running up on strings and half enclosing the piazza make an exquisite tracery against the sky, and cast delicate shadow patterns on the floor; all the time music within, the piano, the violin, and the sweet waves of a woman’s voice singing the songs of Schubert, floating out upon the night. A soft wind blows out of the west.

The northern part of Appledore Island is an interesting place to wander. There are no trees, but the plateau is far from barren. The gray rocks crop out among bayberry and huckleberry bushes, and the wild rose, very large and brilliant in color, fairly illuminates the landscape, massing its great bushes. Amid the chaotic desert of broken rocks farther south are little valleys of deep green grass, gay with roses. On the savage precipices at the end one may sit in view of an extensive sweep of coast with a few hills, and of other rocky islands, sails, and ocean-going steamers. Here are many nooks and hidden corners to dream in and make love in, the soft sea air being favorable to that soft-hearted occupation.

One could easily get attached to the place, if duty and Irene did not call elsewhere. Those who dwell here the year round find most satisfaction when the summer guests have gone and they are alone with freaky nature. “Yes,” said the woman in charge of one of the cottages, “I’ve lived here the year round for sixteen years, and I like it. After we get fixed up comfortable for winter, kill a critter, have pigs, and make my own sassengers, then there ain’t any neighbors comin’ in, and that’s what I like.”