Other Folks' Harbors
Other Folks' Harbors
BY MARY HEATON VORSE
AN hour after I had hired the Kathie C. an errand called me "'way up along." On the board-walk two miles from home I met Captain Amos Mayo.
"Well, well!" he greeted me, "so I hear you've hired the Kathie C. to go cruisin' down to Buzzard's Bay, to the Vineyard Sound Island. I always did hold with visitin' islands by sea! Might 's well take the steam-cars to a port and be done with it, 's go by steamboat. I wouldn't want to visit other folks' harbors except by sea."
I think it was a subconscious understanding that islands should always be visited by sea which had made the poring over charts and the stimulating Coast Pilot our favorite indoor sport.
For years these plans were unattainable dreams. We live in Provincetown on the end of Cape Cod, which thrusts itself out to sea nearly eighty miles. Arm and fist, the cape has been called, with a finger of sand to make our broad harbor for us.
We lived remote, a dour, harborless coast on whose length lie the bones of vessels—they call it the graveyard of the Atlantic—separating us from the Vineyard Sound and our sister towns. When the Cape Cod Canal joined our bay to Buzzard's Bay as with a silver wire, it made New Bedford our neighbor, Nantucket and Edgartown accessible, and our cruise became a reality.
When we weighed anchor the shadow of a sudden storm was still over us. There had been men lost—how many we didn't know as yet. Now the bay rested. It was pale as polished silver mirroring a distant sky.
We pounded past the silent fishing fleet, rounded Long Point, and Province-town played her conjuror's trick which to the end makes one feel the victim of mirage.
One moment you are in a populous harbor tongued with gray wharves, the low-lying houses trooping like gray sheep into the sea; pass the lighthouse, and a desolate sand-dune is all that remains, the remote resting-place of gulls.
As we passed Wood End Light a seiner appeared under our lee. In the early morning the men's faces shone like bronze, and their red boots, the brown swirl of their nets, and their black boats showed violent against the intense pallor of the sea. There was something fatalistic in their aspect as they stood among their nets. They seemed unchanged from those men of ancient days who went out to put forth their nets for fish.
"Hello, Tony!" one of them hailed our captain. "We was just telephoning you from Wood End to tell Gerald to bring us gas."
We dropped them astern, two of them sitting in the cross-tree of their sloop watching for the ripple of schooling fish to flush with a darker blue the shining surface of the water, spots of black against the sky's lofty pallor.
My eyes went over the homely details of my vessel with pride. The Kathie C. was my first command. She is no pleasure craft, and makes her living floundering in Hyannis winters.
I had cruised often enough, but always in the capacity of an afterthought, a meek creature of protective coloring, who cherished in her heart the stern maxim that on a boat a woman should neither be seen nor heard; there on sufferance, sentenced to hard labor, performing the duties of able seaman, cook, and cabin-boy, and also doing my trick at the wheel when the going was uninteresting.
The boats on which I had cruised had had yachtish pretensions, and the usual pretension of a small boat of this kind is speed. They tend to be narrow, their spaces are cut up, while the Kathie C. has a cockpit the size of a small back yard. She is indeed everything a yacht of her size—thirty-eight feet is her overall—would not have been, leisurely and comfortable, built as she was for space and weather. Instead of beauty there was a quality in her so downright and honest that my heart warmed to her. Beside the boats I had known she seemed a jolly sea tramp. Here there would be none of the yachtsman's pretentious punctilio—the smaller the yacht the more insistent the punctilio—that had darkened former cruises for me.
We surrendered ourselves to the peace that only a small boat can give one, not caring where we went, knowing only that our port was Adventure, our thoughts as fluid as the sea.
The captain spoke. What he wanted was that water should be heated for him. To this his wife responded with the idle good nature of a woman whose tasks were done, that, so far as she knew, he was not paralyzed and he would find the kettle on the stove.
Never had I heard the captain of any vessel thwarted, partaking, as captains do, of the sanctity of absolute rule.
I waited. Nothing happened. The heavens did not fall clattering. The captain stared—but his wife was lost in pleasant contemplations. He turned, perplexed, to the cabin. I watched him, another illusion shattered.
The sun climbed up among the architectural high clouds and we passed the desolate sandspit which marks the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal—where the hull of a vessel, like the vertebrae of some sea monster, lies bleaching. I fancy all the canals, from our hyphen to the Panama, smell offensively of engineering, and though time may soften the newness of their edges, they never can fail to give a sense of their self-importance. At the end of the canal, however, the traveler has his moment of victory, when the great bridges docilely lift themselves to let him into Buzzard's Bay.
They are so short, a distance apart—our bay and Buzzard's Bay—but they belong to different worlds. Provincetown is a serious and self-supporting town. And, though the summer colony splashes color on its streets, it lives by the sea; its crop is fish. Almost every one earns his living in some way connected with this industry. No year passes that this dangerous trade does not kill its men. Our people have the calm fatalism of those who live perpetually under the shadow of disaster.
Buzzard's Bay is inland water. On the left side its harbors are small, the shore bordered with what, to our eyes, accustomed to our low-lying houses, looked like the infant progeny of the summer hotel. What with its yacht clubs and its "summer-people" air, it reminds one of Long Island Sound. Some serious-minded craft have always made their way to its head bound for Wareham, but until the canal went through most vessels having a business in the world stopped at New Bedford.
Yachts sped gladly down the sun-soaked bay. We passed slow-going tugs. A satin-smooth black steam yacht left a wake for us to play with.
Suddenly we were snatched back from the impersonal aloofness of the sea by a little dark-gray boat of the Scout Patrol which hailed us through a megaphone and asked us our business.
And finally New Bedford loomed out of the sea, the towers of its mills forming a high rampart, as though it were a fortress of industry. Her towers are so high that, on pale autumn days, you may see her in mirage across the Vineyard Sound, a stain of smoke like a cloud above her. Along her water-front are concrete piers. The past and present meet and cross in New Bedford. As we drew near we could see the lofty masts of square-rigged vessels. They are still there, the last of a gallant and dying race, a scant dozen where formerly two hundred whalers left New Bedford each year.
We made our berth at the fish wharf on which men were hoisting the cadavers of sword-fish, shocking in their bulk. A big Gloucester seiner lay next us, her cockpit an eddying pool of nets. To one side a power cat-boat from Cuttyhunk was loading provisions against the rapacity, no doubt, of the island's storekeepers; and beyond that was a Nantucket sloop closed and deserted, her cabin locked, her men ashore. Like all docks everywhere, ours were an impromptu village composed of boats from different towns.
Fishing-boats have no anonymity; how little I realized as we drew up along the New Bedford dock. A dark man was sitting on a keg, picking his teeth. I did not see him glance our way. He seemed absorbed in reflections, but he threw to our captain:
"Your uncle wants you on the telephone." He had never seen us before, but he knew the Kathie C.
Ashore fishermen, chance-met, were exchanging news about the recent gale. New Bedford had lost three boats, but no lives; Edgartown had a vessel unaccounted for. No one knew where Nova Scotia Jawn from Provincetown was. News of wounded boats drifted through the mess talk, as they stood in the shadow of the square-rigged whalers, the Viola and the Wanderer, the Viola loud with the noise of carpentry, the Wanderer receiving the finishing touches, the eagle of her figure-head shining with yellow paint.
Then I realized I was part of the Fisherman's Club where you can learn the coastwise gossip from Maine to Long Island Sound, and which under ordinary circumstances would have been inaccessible to me. I had a standing in the world. The master of the lofty Wanderer was the brother-in-law of the owner of my boat; they knew our captain, who has gone dragging for flounders winters in Hyannis.
They stood there under the shadow of the aspiring masts and talked of the gale, which with sudden fury had plunged every seaport town in mourning. I was in the world where people are chart-minded. To the man on shore the world is composed of land surrounded by bodies of water. To the man at sea the world is a body of water surrounded by fringes of land. Mountains interest him merely as landmarks. Shoals, rocks, and bars are his enemies; buoys, bells, and lights his protectors; the hidden currents of the sea and the tides are alternately friend and enemy. The weather no longer means comfort or discomfort, but becomes of imperious importance, since a dropping barometer has to do with life and death.
"Boy, we were out in it!" one man kept repeating. "The waves run sixty foot high!" One had a vision of furious seas, a sudden screaming wind, vessels, like frightened, winged creatures, flying toward death; and afterward up-turned dories floating helpless. . . . The group changed, shifted, altered, each man contributing his detail of the storm's fury. They drifted off at last and there were left only the men weighing sword-fish and the dock-man still sitting on the keg of fish.
As we went up the wharf we paused before a lofty, square-rigged vessel, which seemed to be the home of a flock of goats. They skipped over the rail of the Clarendon Belle with the assurance of old habit, foraged on the wharf, or stood contemplating the fleshy corpses of the sword-fish sewn up rather awfully in burlap. The Clarendon Belle, alive as it was with goats, was bound for what port I cannot tell. Its decks were piled high with red-and-green tin trunks, whose like we presently saw in a shoe-store—"At the Sign of the Whale." Provisions, barrels of flour, kegs of salt meat, littered the deck; incongruous cargo cluttered the gangway. The Clarendon Belle, to judge by the familiar airs of the swarming goats, must have made her berth here for some time; by her looks she would not be sailing for weeks, and yet, incredibly, she was sailing to-day with her trunks and cargo stacked uncomfortably about her mast.
I imagine her under way across the seas, bound for some islands somewhere, for what her destination was, not even the Fishermen's Club that knows everything could tell us. I can see her slanting precariously in a sou'east gale, her load of parti-colored baggage still unstowed and surmounted to the last by an adventurous goat. There was something unnatural in her silence, broken only by the pattering of goats around the swirl of baggage on her cluttered decks. She led so lonely a life apart by herself that she seemed, big as she was, almost to partake of invisibility.
Each fishing-place has its own smell—fish for Provincetown, clams for Nantucket and Edgartown, and New Bedford is still redolent of whale-oil. The docks and the yards behind the piers are piled high with barrels full of "ile," each one with the initials of its vessel, while in the cavernous shops of neighboring streets goes on an eternal cask-making and coopering.
It is a fantastic sort of water-front, nor can you believe on an August afternoon that you are in the North. There is a measured slowness in the way the men unload the cotton-bales at the wharves—a down-at-the-heels look foreign to New England. The air is full of a golden dust. The paint scales from the fine old houses, once the homes of whaling captains, and the shutters are loose. To-day they are inhabited by Portuguese-speaking negroes, a different race from the negroes that we know. They carry themselves with the splendid stride of those accustomed to bearing burdens on their heads, and their noses are straight and of an Arab cast. And those negroes with their soft guttural honeyed syllables of Portuguese dripping from their tongues form a town as alien as anything you might find in the mysterious islands to which the Clarendon Belle was bound. So foreign is this quarter of the town that the very children in the streets turn to stare at you, and a splendid negress with thin features, the yellow handkerchief on her head like a spurt of flame against the faded pallor of the street, checks her stride to wonder about us.
Past all this busy, leisurely waterfront sputters the dangerous little railway, snorting and putting back and forth. We walked before it in one of its moments of quiet, when a man darted out to admonish us with high New England sarcasm:
"Next time you walk in front you might walk a little nearer, so's if she should start you'd sure get run over!" He spoke as though the little engine were a sort of iron horse which at any moment might start up of its own volition. In the very midst of wharf traffic was a small and flashing garden gay with cannas and dahlias, a garden kept with care and tenderness. It had an air of having strayed in by mistake; one expected to see the wife of one of the old whalers' weeding it.
I suppose it has been the dream of everyone who cares for things of the sea to take a long voyage on a sailing-vessel. Most of us on the New England coast have had our minds stored when we were young with tales of such voyages. I myself can never believe that I never went to Funchal by sailing-vessel, so vivid was the oft-repeated voyage made to me.
Here in New Bedford I chanced on the vessel of my dreams, ready to sail. She was the Bertha, a one-time whaler, now a packet. The mate told us that she took passengers, and invited us down into the cabin. Tiny state-rooms gave on the saloon; in the space back of it was the traditional legless sofa sacred to the captain and his wife. The Bertha was sailing for the Cape Verde Islands. She was carrying a cargo of wood on her decks, and they evidently intended her to go as high-laden as the three-masters that come down from Nova Scotia to bring us our wood in Provincetown.
But as one walked up and down her decks one knew it never could be—there was an air of slackness about her. The second mate, a good-looking mulatto, the red shining warmly through the yellow of his skin, flashed a smile at us—there was in his manner something that marked him as coming from a place where the color-line was disquietingly vague. Forward past the galley the cook, a fierce-eyed, ashen negro, his wool snow white, sat before the mast. He shot at us a look that had in it I know not what distrust and dislike. As the long corkscrew apple-peelings fell one by one from his hand he flung them to the convenient Berkshire pig. . . . No, a voyage on this packet would have to be for more adventurous souls than ours. It is to be recommended, however, for the Bertha is a fine vessel and sea-worthy, of the best tradition of whalers.
While we stood there, dreaming of the voyage that was never to be, the Greyhound, the largest of the shrunken whaling fleet, her sails ready to break out, her masts very tall and stately beside the little busy tug which convoyed her, went down-stream to the lower harbor, "bound after whale."
The pier opposite us was loaded with great channel-buoys, up for painting. They lay there in all their huge tonnage, grotesque and lobster-red in the evening light. There was something unseemly in thus exposing them to the view. They seemed like some monstrous sea-fruit that might grow in the garden of the giant squid.
But everything goes to lie up in New Bedford. Boats lie up there till they die. I saw a haunted old steam-tug of a bygone pattern, the very home of fishy ghosts. They said that she belonged to owners in New York who were always going to get her but never came. There were other boats like that, too, and near the water-front, in frowsy back yards, were a huddled trio of lunch-carts lying up, too.
The tradition of the days of whaling saturates the water-front as unescapable as the smell of whale-oil. Now it is a harpoon for sale in a ship-chandler's, now a frieze in a corner drug-store—done, you are told, in a week by a sign-painter—which portrays the various stages of the trapping of leviathan from the classic "there she blows" to the final harpoon thrust. With quaint forehandedness they have even put a whaling-vessel in a museum, and that the illusion might be as complete as possible, a one-time whaling captain is her custodian.
There is no more rewarding museum than the one that shelters the half-size model of the Lagoda, who made the fortune of her owner, Mr. Bourne. In pious memory of this virtuous vessel and her owner, the daughter of Mr. Bourne has created this museum. There is the Lagoda, exactly half-size complete, from the copper kettles for "trying out" to the sewing-room of the captain's wife.
With her custodian we went out in the perilous life-boat. He himself, it developed, had been "often upset by whales." We harpooned the whale; we assisted in its cutting up. With him we ladled out the precious oil from the top of the head and assisted in the final trying out of the fat in the copper kettles.
During the talk it came out that he hailed from Provincetown. Now in fiction one may not drive coincidence too hard; the writer finds everywhere in life coincidences that are too flagrant for him. Life itself continually hands one out plots that seem as though made by a machine, so abounding with chance detail that one must tone down, omit, elide. But in telling a plain story of facts one can transcend the inevitable limitations of fiction; one may, in short, tell the truth.
My own home once belonged to a whaling captain, Kibbe Cook.
"Kibbe Cook!" he cried. "One of my first whaling voyages was in one of his vessels. In the Hatfield I sailed, Keene Conwell, master. Ha! that was a voyage!" It was a wonderful voyage, full of stopping in strange ports, dallying in beautiful islands, a swanking and wassailing voyage, told, too, in the terms of the best tradition of narrative. "Yes," he added, "I set sail in the Hatfield on the 30th of December, 1873."
There is in my library a row of old log-books, the records of Kibbe Cook's one-time whaling fleet. I found it there when I returned: "The Hatfield, out of Provincetown, December 30th, 1873. Keene Conwell, master," written in a fine old hand, a circumspect and illuminating account of this great whaling cruise.
I shall never go back to New Bedford. The whaling ships would be gone; the Clarendon Belle with its skipping goats will have sailed for its unknown port, and the Bertha long since departed for the Cape Verde Islands. I doubt if I should find my way to the shop where we bought a lantern—ostensibly a ship-chandler's, but really I imagine it is a water-side club. Whales' teeth are bought and sold in this shop, and outside was a life-preserver marked Edith Cavellwhich was found floating about by one of our incoming vessels, mute testimony that one had been done to death by the enemy who had executed its namesake.
Our course was to the Elizabeth Islands. They prolong the mainland in a broken peninsula and divide Buzzard's Bay from Vineyard Sound—Nomamesset, Naushon, Pasque, Nashawena, Cuttyhunk, Penikese, and Gull Islands—strange, low-lying islands, rolling up gently from the bay, and infinitely lonely, beautiful, uninhabited islands; at one end of Naushon is a summer hotel and one on Cuttyhunk, but otherwise one must believe them to be as they were when the Indians gave them their names.
The passages between them are difficult; Quick's Hole the best, but even that not recommended except on a fair wind and tide. These are islands, if one wishes to visit them, which must be gone to by sea. Why no one lives here I was not able to find out. There was some talk about rich men; perhaps they are owned by a syndicate, but no one was able to tell me. They lie very lovely and inviting, diversified with inlets and undulating moorland country. Small ponds dot them in which grow lilies, and they smell sweet of bay thickets.
When one looks back on a cruise one sees it as a series of adventures strung like bright beads, the road one followed the string connecting them. Usually on any given journey the events are of a kind—and so with us, but for the night at Nashawena. That stands out as lit by lights from other worlds. Afterward it seemed as though I had lived for some hours in some story of high and noble significance. I wandered through its setting. I saw its august decoration, but I have yet to guess the story. Sometime I am sure I will find it—some story will be told me that I shall know must have happened on such a night in Nashawena.
We anchored in Quick's Hole, which separates Pasque and Nashawena, and went ashore. We might have distrusted the island's smiling somnolence from the first. On its highest point a single farmhouse reared its head. There are sheep on Nashawena, and the marks of their hoofs were in the fine sand; and there were marks, too, of a man's foot. One could see where he had chased the sheep. We saw them on the moors, grayish- white flocks moving slowly, but no sign of man about the desolate farmhouse.
Across the way on Martha's Vineyard was a dim fog bank; one moment we were bathed in sunlight, our island ringed in shining water, the next the fog walked across the land blotting out water and moor, ragged fragments of it blown on ahead as though some unseen force had taken handfuls and flung it. And with its coming the Sound was full of the warning voices of vessels.
Night came down and we cooked out supper by a wood fire; and still the fog wraiths blew past us and still the fog shut out all the world from us except the voice of the vessels crying aloud their presence to one another. We went off through the fog to bring back wreckage for our fire. The fog was full of sighing—of faint, unexplained noises; the waves clucked and lisped disquietingly. The sense of the unknown pressed in on us. Anything might have come out of that fog, even to the legendary Great White Face.
We were whelmed by our sense of desolate isolation; tragedy lurked in the stifling fog and in the tortuous currents of the sea. The wind blew, and from time to time the fog was rent as though by furious hands. There was a sense of haste and of motion; the fog wraiths were like scurrying shapes.
Presently in our search after drift wood we came on a shattered boat borne far inland on some violent wave—a Portuguese boat, its colors still bright upon it.
One was glad to get back to the leaping fire. We made our beds near it and fashioned a kind of tent with sails and oars, settling down for the night, with a feeling of unseen presences about us. Then suddenly the heavens took fire with a far-off and intense flame. Supernatural search-lights penciled the sky with light. At first it seemed as though it must be some vast signaling as of universes at war of which our world war was but a tiny reflection. Now flushes of light sped up the sky; now Valhalla burning was outlined, light streaming from its battlements; and suddenly the fog was pierced by a meteor of surprising brightness, which lighted up our startled faces.
For a moment we had a disquieting vision of man in his true perspective, no longer filling the picture as he does within the kindly shelter of low walls, but helpless beneath distant towering skies whose lambent battlements were aflame, at the mercy of hidden currents and life-taking fog or a fierce and sudden wind carried by bellying clouds. We knew we as individuals meant nothing, for man has significance only collectively. By himself he is weaker than an oyster.
And then we went to bed, and grumbled at the damp and at the sand in our beds, and next minute cried aloud like wonder-stricken children at the glory of the heavens—and grumbled again at the encroaching sand. And I felt I had never before understood life—where at the same moment we lift our eyes to the immemorial mystery of the northern lights and grumble about the sand in the bed.
We had planned rather vaguely to go to No Man's Land, an island off Gay Head, but in New Bedford we had heard rumors that the man who once kept sheep there had gone, and that instead there was a summer hotel "which wouldn't let you land." Besides, fog still hemmed the horizon. A rabble of hunted clouds streamed down the sky, the mirage of headlands and distant islands reared itself from the water. There was a wide iridescent ring around the sun. It was no day for far adventuring.
I wanted to go to Memsha Bight on the Vineyard across the way. I knew that of all bights and coves it was the loveliest, and that romance lived upon its shores; but I didn't go. Nor did I stop at Tarpaulin Cove, the famous shelter of the old coast-wise trade. Why didn't I go? I was commander of the boat—it was my cruise. Why didn't I put my foot down? Even now I cannot tell. I can call it a semi-victory that the captain didn't attain his goal, which was the moving pictures of Oak Bluff's—née Cottage City. We compromised on Edgartown.
As we made the harbor a bright fleet of little boats, their sails the color of cream, winged their way toward us. We had come from the world that works to the world that amuses itself. They have become pleasure islands—the islands of Vineyard Sound, and as the days go by they more and more cease to live a life of their own. In the end the ugly modern cottages of Vineyard Haven will cover the Vineyard coast, Tom Never's Head on Nantucket will be a summer colony, and the summer hotels of Naushon and Cuttyhunk will spread until they meet midway at Pasque.
Boys in white flannels were helping fifteen-year-old girls into a boat as spotless as their white skirts. Here the world of boats was cloven so that those who went in one cat-boat and in another were not within hailing distance. The yachtsman's world and the fisherman's go on perpetually side by side. They use the same wharves and docks, their boats are of the same model, and yet they seem to have a certain measure of invisibility for one another. Ashore the town was gay with young people; there are undoubtedly children of all ages in Edgartown, but it seemed full of boys of seventeen and girls of fifteen, the kind that get hung up on every rock for the clamming captains to rescue, for Edgartown is in the hands of summer people.
They cherish the memory of the old days—even the butcher had been a whaling captain. I suppose there must be elderly and middle-aged men around the Vineyard Islands who were not whalers in their youth, though I met none. I came down the dark streets rather sorry about the town, cherishing its memries amid the cheerful clatter of alien young people. I felt alien myself. I walked down our dock and a dark shape loomed out of the black and a soft Portuguese voice asked me:
I was on Carlos's boat and Maria was Carlos's wife, and we "belonged" while I sailed in a Provincetown fishing-boat.
When the captain asked me the next morning, "Where you goin' to-day?" "Memsha Bight," I suggested, warily.
"You got to go to Nantucket some time," he urged, gently. I agreed. "It's going to take a lot of gas to get there." I could tell by his gentleness he had something on his mind—something on his mind he wanted to put over. I waited. "'Twould cost you an awful lot, and the fog's coming in. I wouldn't care if 'twas my own boat—" Still I waited for him to tell me what to do.
"You'd better take the steamboat," was the sentence he pronounced upon me. He let fall a mendacious "Of course you're running this." I had suspected it before when I had suggested "Memsha Bight," and yet had gone to Edgartown, and now I knew my command was illusion. There is no suffrage on the sea.
It was going by steamboat that we learned how right Captain Mayo was. What did we care now if we were on Squash Meadow? What was Hedge Fence or L'Homme Dieu? The Cross Rip Lightship became a curiosity, and the buoys, the sign-posts of the sea, had now no meaning. Tide and wind were unimportant. The fog might blanket thickly, but we were as safe and comfortable and as uninterested as in a railway train. The intimate joy of finding the channel to Quick's Hole was gone; it was nothing to us that Robinson's Hole was a treacherous place and Wood's Hole almost as bad. We were far from the world of reality, and from the people who had created these towns and marked and named the shoals and rips and currents—the holes and bights.
In the harbor one of our own fishing vessels lay at anchor, beside her a handsome Gloucester boat. The men from the boat were talking together on the pier—dark and serious, slow-spoken men. We knew by the very hunch of their shoulders and the large sweep of their gestures that they talked of the squall. They had perhaps more news. Perhaps the Annie Perry had been heard from; they might even now be telling each other what had become of Nova Scotia Jawn. But we were outsiders—we had not come by sea. The Fisherman's Club was closed for us. We had lost our place in the world. It was like becoming suddenly invisible in a hospitable land. We were there and our friends were there, yet we could not talk to them. There was now no reason for lingering on the water-front, and we turned into town.
Of all the towns on our coast the prize for high perfection belongs to Nantucket. This town is like some beautiful old woman sitting dreaming in a garden. Its lovely old houses—built in the days when Nantucket was second only to New Bedford—are surrounded by flowers. Nantucket is so lovely, she has been so praised, can you blame her if she is a trifle conscious of her perfection? She sits back amid her old-fashioned gardens among her lanes edged with Queen Anne's lace, and smiles and folds her hands, a little too aware that she is the aristocrat of the coast towns, proud of her faded and excellent beauty which does not lack even the high attribute of strangeness. One admires and admires the dignity, the quiet, the beauty, and then a sadness comes over one's spirit. Is there too much gentility here? When whale-oil and not flowers perfumed the air and Nantucket was young and lusty, was she so conscious? Underneath her brave front I think she knows she does not earn her own living any more and that alien summer people keep her alive. Two thousand people, so they say, live here in winter, and thirteen thousand in summer. The summer people cherish her tenderly—no profaning emigrants swarm through the wide houses of the old whaling captains.
How they cherish the memories of these old captains! The book-stores have an array of new books, telling of the old characters of Nantucket. There is even a glossary of old whaling terms.
A place, like a person, which does not earn its own living must lack moral stamina, and when the minority of the population lives on the majority there is an atmosphere partaking of a flint-hearted step-parent and a grasping boarding-house keeper.
We were driven over the lovely Nantucket moors by a slow-spoken lad, and unconsciously he voiced the native attitude to all pleasure-seeking "off-islanders" who have sought amusement around these waters. As we neared 'Sconset, "It's an actors' colony," he told us, a touch of pride in his voice. We commented on the rise and spread of colonies: religion in Oak Grove, science in Wood's Hole, actors in 'Sconset.
"Yes," he said, in his slow, painstaking way, "there's lots of colonies. Hear you got an artist colony to Provincetown!" He ruminated awhile. "Over to an island off Cuttyhunk," he gave out, "there's a lepers' colony!"
I have two memories of Nantucket: one is of a faded and beautiful street at dusk, and a street-lamp shining on the sudden and piercing blue of a hydrangea, while over the doorway the climbing roses wreathed themselves as though they were a painted scroll. The other is of a tiny half-gage railway track, on one side of it small and dilapidated houses, on the other sheds flanked with great mounds of clam-shells, and everywhere ragged robin and Queen Anne's lace, the whole silhouetted against the blue of the harbor where lay the cat-boat fleet, for fishing has grown humble on the Vineyard and Nantucket, and it is a far cry from the days of those lofty vessels, whose masters built their towns, to the tame catching of eels and quahaugs.
An old man pushed along a barrow of clams; he stopped and asked us where we came from. " Provincetown," he repeated after us in tones of gentle finality; "there ain't nothin' in Provincetown." We stopped and chatted and it developed that he, too, had gone whaling in his young days—and this is a symbol of Nantucket: an old man once a whaler now a digger of clams for the summer people.
Edgartown and Nantucket have retired genteelly from the fishing business—their harbors are now but a refuge for the vessels of off-islanders.
New Bedford has already put its whaling vessels in a museum; its old houses dream of their former greatness to the drone of the mills. Of the four whaling towns, Provincetown, the humblest of them all, remote and low-lying, continues, as she always has, to live by the sea.
I like best the towns who live by their own efforts. I was glad to be under way in our tramp boat—visiting places by sea again in the leisurely fashion of an ocean caravan. How far we had diverged from the standards of proper boats I realized when the toll-boat ran up toward us, as we came again to the canal.
"What's that?" We heard them asking one another: What were we? A gipsy crew afloat—dinner was spread in the hatch—blue hydrangeas bloomed in pitchers before the house—bathing clothes hung drying on the boom.
"You're a pleasure boat," they accused us, perplexity in their voices.
"Do we look like a pleasure boat?" demanded the captain, leaning against the mast.
"You got wimmen aboard," they accused us further.
"Do they look like women who've been pleasuring?" asked our captain. We didn't—not as they knew the pleasure boats on Buzzard's Bay. So we paid only the working boat's toll which was our right, for we had worked our way.
Again the peace of the little boat enveloped us; the silence was broken by the captain's voice, who wanted water heated to wash up for supper. With the ready civility that one shows a commander of a vessel, the captain's wife hurried below.
I do not know yet how he had assumed full command, handicapped as he was by youth and good-nature. Perhaps it was his superior knowledge. He could run the boat. A vessel, anyway, is a natural autocracy. Deep-sea cruising in stormy weather should be compulsory for all theorists of democracy.
We tied up at the Cold Storage in the canal—the dark bulk of a mine-sower alongside of us.
"Well," said the captain, "it'll seem good to see a real harbor again where there's room to move in—choked up, those Vineyard Sound harbors—bad country, too, full of rocks and foggy."
"Provincetown," cried a reproving voice from the wharf above us, "that's a fine harbor in a sou'east gale, boy! Can't tie up to the wharf with the wind from that quarter! I was tied up there alongside of a fisherman last week—and he kep' a-jumping up and down, all night—" It was the engineer of a tug-boat lying alongside of us. Outside of him was a lobster boat from Rockport, Maine. The captain's wife, an ample woman in bloomers, called to us:
"Have you heard Nova Scotia Jawn got in?" We were home again in the Fisherman's Club, accounted-for people with our place in the world at any wharf on the coast.