Lost In The Maine Woods – New England Travel

I was awakened the next morning by a noise of stiff paper. I had been dreaming that my ears were full of the din of battle, a battle which I was running away from as rapidly as heavy dream-legs would permit. So it was a relief to me to find that it was only the Illustrator joyfully crackling his new map of Lower Maine and the Maritime Provinces.

The reader may remember that our paraphernalia mentioned in the first chapter included two golf bags. We had carried them with the idea of stopping over wherever the golfing was good and taking a day or two off from automobiling. But we had not stopped. We were consumed, as time went on, with an ever-increasing desire to motor and do nothing else. It was not with the intention of getting it over with that we swept through the country; rather, a complete capitulation to that quality one might coin as automobilism.

I still claim that it is a better attribute than militarism, which possesses Europe at present, although my mother has written me a letter or two regarding the value of homeism and workism, and saving-your-moneyism, as opposed to this glorious motoring obsession.

It was not entirely the fun of seeing ” the wheels go round ” that kept us moving. Going over the same motor track each day might be exhilarating (and at first we felt happiness in mere swift motion), but the eye and mind would certainly lack stimulus. Whereas part of the tour now was the daily anticipation of new scenes and new people, and this was the reason that W ___, although he loved mountains, was waking me up with the map of Lower Maine and the Maritime Provinces. We were not going to the Maritime Provinces, but the words smell of the sea. Indeed, I thought I smelled the sea already, for I knew it would be ours by nightfall, and called in to the Illustrator to ask if he noticed it. He called back that he didn’t, that it was rain on the window-pane I was sniffing, but he thought we had better go on just the same.

Miserably for me the rain slackened as we were about to start, and the chauffeur appeared with the canopy folded up. He would not look me in the face nor would W ___, and when it began to patter gently down again as soon as we were under way, both of them pretended that there was no back seat at all.

I put up my umbrella, completely shutting out the view, and since I might as well have been at church for any enjoyment of the landscape, I gave myself up to some of the things one thinks about during the sermon—and planned my winter clothes.

In this way they made the wrong turn before we had gone many, if any, miles. I had just time to peer out, a sense of direction permeating my silk umbrella, and cry: ” This is not the road to Fryeburg,” as they motored to the right. But the chauffeur, who was driving, insisted that a sign-post claimed it was the road, and as W ___ said he didn’t want to go to Fryeburg anyway, I retired under my shield again.

I was not going to get rained on trying to prove to the Illustrator that, no matter whether he liked Fryeburg or not, he would have to go there if he wanted to reach Poland Spring. I did not even ask that he take out the map and have a look at it. One of the bitterest commentaries on the Illustrator’s attitude toward me and to-ward his maps is the way he won’t take them out on bad days for fear they’ll get wet!

I went back under my umbrella, and in fifteen minutes we were in a charming wilderness of balsam woods ploughing through a narrow way of Maine sand, with W ___ feebly commenting on the poor quality of the ” highway ” as soon as we got out of New Hampshire. He said he had always heard the roads in Maine were bad. But he would not catch my eye, although I leaned over and described circles in the effort to catch his. I had closed my umbrella, for it was worth while getting wet to accomplish this, but the Lord was on my side, for it stopped raining anyway.

We asked a woman who was driving a grocery wagon if this was the Portland Road, and she replied that she really didn’t know. One would think that a driver of a delivery wagon would learn something about roads and I muttered words to this effect, but she answered that she didn’t deliver out of the Conways—that was far enough for her—so one mustn’t expect wide knowledge from a creature so ambitionless. Americans admit their ignorance, anyway, and there is an element of greatness in that. In the Latin countries the travellers of the road will never fail to direct you some way, although it may be wrong. It is a matter of pride with them to know everything.

We rocked on until we reached a choice of four lanes with a sign-post in the centre pointing to a number of destinations which we had no desire to reach. We sat there very comfortably, the balsams blessing us with their odours, and I was obliged to admit that I was enjoying our plunge into the Maine backwoods. Another wagon finally came along, the driver, who was an intelligent gentleman, jerking his thumb in the direction from which he had just come, as though he was in the habit of meeting an automobile there daily, and sending it back to the route from which we had strayed.

When he had arrived within speaking distance, he told us that we wanted to go to Hiram, and while I didn’t want to go to Hiram any more than the Illustrator didn’t want to go to Frye-burg, I refrained from confusing the man by telling him so. In fact, the Illustrator was rather ready to go to Fryeburg now, and asked for it hurriedly, in a small voice, hoping that I wouldn’t hear him. But the man said we, on the minor route, were now beyond Fryeburg on the highway, and the best thing for us to do was to go to Hiram, which would bring us into the Portland Road further along. He added, in parting, that it was like a triangle and we had ” simply ” taken two sides of it instead of one.

He was a kind man, and it would not be decent to call him untruthful, although W ___ insinuated that he was after we had cut through ten miles or more of forestry, ” describing ” not only two sides, but every side of a triangle, and every side of every kind of a triangle. I did not know what to call them until I looked them up in my dictionary, there to find that, while our geometrical designs were not limited to this figure, we described an equilateral triangle, several isosceles, four obtuse-angled triangles, and one undoubted scalene.

It was at the apex of the scalene that we came across the ruins of a farmhouse, and, although it had been burned down long ago, our car instinctively stopped to ask the way to Hiram. Be-fore we had time to bid our faithful friend go on again an old man emerged from the ruins, and we forgot all about asking the road in our eagerness to find out about the fire. He was not de-pressed over his loss, as was our acquaintance of the Green Mountains. I do not know whether his mother-in-law burned up in it, but he had insured it two days before the conflagration, and had built a much better one further on with the proceeds. A solitary cook-stove, seemingly unharmed, was all that was left of the furnishings. He pointed to it and chuckled : ” See that stove—never would burn.” A very chipper old gentleman!

There were many delightful farmhouses along this untravelled way, pleasant in outline but unpainted from the day of their birth. Since paint is a preservative, it is difficult to figure why the man who fences his fields, weeds his garden, and hoes his corn does not apply some of that industry to anything as essential as his rooftree. I asked the chauffeur (for we had all grown friendly again, owing to the loveliness of the sweet woods) how much it cost to paint a farm-house, and he said several thousand dollars. W ___ challenged this, and the boy argued back that it cost fifty dollars to paint a small motor-car, and as the area of a farmhouse was larger.

This boy has no instrument of comparison except an automobile. The Illustrator, who was hurt that I had not asked him how much it cost to paint a farmhouse, explained that one does not use the same paint on a house as on a car, and decided that it would cost twenty-five dollars to paint one of these buildings if you hired a man, and four dollars if you did it yourself.

I don’t know how he came by these figures, but it was so within my means that I suggested buying one of the places along the sandy track and having the four-dollar job done. But W , appreciating that he would undoubtedly be the one chosen to paint the house, since I counted on the smaller sum, thought it would be a mistake, for we might never be able to find the estate again if we left it for a moment. And as this was so unusually intelligent I gave up the idea, concentrating once more on Hiram.

We saw a small store, although there was no reason for its being, as there was no one around to buy anything, with the name of Ole Johnson over the door, and we quieted the motor, that our voices might be lifted in a sort of yodelling trio as we called, ” Ole, Ole, Ole, Ooh! ”

He turned out to be a pretty girl, who asked us flatly why we wanted Hiram when Fryeburg was just up the road. And we concealed our astonishment that we were anywhere near this mysterious town, the Illustrator gallantly admitting that she was right, and swallowing his hatred for the hamlet in order to make some small advance. We passed through Fryeburg one hour and a half later than we need have if the canopy had been up so that I could have directed them as to the route. But I did not say this, and as a token of appreciation for my forbearance W stopped at Denmark to let me attend a green-corn husking bee.

It was not a merry affair with young boys pursuing pretty girls. Fifty men and women were squatting in the sunshine before a cannery, tossing the husked ears into individual baskets of which a record was kept by an overseer. They received five cents a basket, some of them making two dollars and fifty cents a day, so I can leave you to work out the number of baskets they filled daily. I asked one of those employed what they did with the corn, and she said she didn’t know. There seemed to be no excuse for this ignorance except that many of the huskers had come from a distance; the explanation of the overseer implying that those not closely related to the town of Denmark suffered from a lack of mental development.

I went through the building with the wife of the proprietor, as he did not appear at all. The process was accomplished with little use of human hands and that but to watch the machinery. There may be fingers in many a pie, but there are no fingers in canned corn and I have been eating it all winter with enthusiasm. The wife knew every cog of the machinery and of the business. She was of those capable women whom one meets throughout the villages of the United States, with a cultivation of mind that causes one to bless anew ” Cadmus, the Phoenicians, or who-ever it was that invented books.”

While I was interested in corn she was interested in the latest publication. She spoke of Galsworthy, Anatole France, the while she gave me statistics as to the number of tins sealed in an hour. When I told her that, hitherto, our travel stories had been only of Europe she stopped leading me about and looked out of a window that gave upon the village street, up the road to the fir trees and the strips of sand.

” Europe—Italy—the Riviera-the Black For-est. I have never seen them.” She turned to me. ” What can you write of in New England? What can you write of to-day? But then, of course, you are going to Poland Spring.” I told her that I should write of something much more interesting than the guests at Poland Spring, but she was too modest to understand me.

There was another effort as we neared Naples to turn us from the straight road, and force us into a circuitous route around Lake Sebago. A freshly-painted sign-post named every destination one would be likely to want within a day’s run, but we had developed caution as the sun reached its meridian, and asked a passing driver what all these signs, obviously pointing us away from the main road, could mean. It was unfortunate that we chose a man with a skittish horse, but I held the bridle while he restrained it from an inclination to eat me as he explained that the signs were ” kind of a blind.” Various innkeepers put them up to get the motorist to go by their hotels.

“‘Tain’t right,” he admitted, but he said worse things than that happened in Maine. Some of the very best residents of the country dug up reliable sign-posts and used ‘em to hold up clothes lines. Surely enough, a little further on we found one holding up a choice array of lingerie in a back yard, with a majestic finger bearing the inscription ” Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston,” pointing to a beehive.

Naples was so named because it was on the water. It bore no other resemblance to that pink city which one is bidden to see and die. The water was one of a series of little lakes which we were now continually passing. They were lovely, clear lakes with islands planted neatly in the centre of each, producing the effect of toy Japanese gardens, such as we receive for Christmas gifts. Summer cottages and campers besprinkled the shores, and there was an air of festivity about that invested even the roadway.

It particularly invested it at one point where the way was narrow, for we encountered a merry-go-round in transit, an implacable caravan that refused to share the road, so that we were the ones who had to ” go °round ” by crawling into the ditch, and were not at all merry about it. The driver was grim of visage, endeavouring to preserve his dignity, for he was sitting in a fish, while his helper, a very homely man, was glowering at us from a sort of bower of roses. Ah, well! Business had been bad perhaps. Although the ” new thought ” books argue along different lines, there is no reason why it should be amusing to furnish amusement to a frivolous public.

We left the direct Portland Road at Naples, ‘ taking two sides of a triangle again, that we might lunch at Poland Spring, although an enterprising shopkeeper, who wished to sell us hats when we arrived at Portland, continued with his milestones and exhortations all along our way. My spirits rose with the natural elevation of the land as we approached this famous Source, reaching a climax in a burst of song which no one heard, but it is a fashion of mine to sing when I am happy in the back seat.

There was a reason for my delight. Poland Spring had ever been definitely visaged in my mind as a place in a flat wood, far too low, and thickly grown with brush. The hotel was painted a dark green with cream trimmings, little damp walks led to small basins where water trickled into muddy pools. I fancy this was the result of my first ” cure ” in an undeveloped Indiana re-sort thirty—yes, alas—thirty years ago, but I am glad that it was so gloomy in my imagination, for nothing could have been more surprising than the sudden gaining of the high plateau. There I found myself amidst the best kept lawns in America, with three gleaming hotels scattered about the great open space, and fine roads invitingly leading us to each one of them.

Vulgarians by nature, we chose the largest, so large that one cannot imagine where any other Americans spend the summer when this one is ” full up.” The clerk assured us that it was always ” full up ” and we could not stay the night if we wished, but he was not supercilious about it. Like all able creatures he was modest, though he could well have been proud, for his intellectual development extended to the reading of a guest’s name upside down on the register.

” Lunch, Mr. Hale? ” he asked as soon as the signature was completed, leaving the Illustrator titillated with the possibility that he might not have read the name, but have recognised him from Sunday newspaper cuts. As we were not taking rooms we could not discover if he possessed that other coveted gift of writing numbers upside down, although, no doubt, that lay within his grasp as well.

We once encountered in a small hotel out West a clerk with this attainment, but he was not a pleasant man. There were deep grooves in the desk which he had made by raking his finger nails into the wood after each guest had registered, which occasioned a sinking of the heart, fearing we had unwittingly strayed into an ogre’s den. I remember asking him if he was sure we could get our laundry by the next day. ” Nothing is sure, lady, but death,” he replied, raking terribly. We did not stay overnight in that hotel.

It was hard to decide which was better at luncheon: the food or the views. There were gentle hills, lakes, streams and farmlands stretched out as extensively as the menu, and as I complacently ate I decided that this rolling country was better suited to my mild nature than the majesty of mountains.

The golfers played almost up to the verandas. I never knew anything tamer than the balls unless it was the squirrels. ‘We walked over to the shrine built about the only and original Poland Spring with the squirrels taking every liberty with us. One even scampered up my gown to my hat, running around the top of it madly under the impression that it was the wheel in a cage. Every one was amused at this but myself.

” It wants you to give it a nut,” explained an old gentleman with a squirrel sticking out of his pocket as he was about to address a ball with a brassie. ” They’re very fond of filberts.” He looked at me reproachfully as I made no effort to take a filbert out of my hair or produce it by some other act of magic, and the squirrel tore around my motor bonnet more wildly than ever. And while I like animals, I was exasperated at the squirrel, feeling that it should keep in its place, and I asked the golfer where did he expect me to get a filbert?

He avoided answering by making a very good brassie shot, at least good enough to take him far away from me, which was a relief to us both, the squirrel ending the complication by leaping from my hat to a tree, carrying with him a portion of my hair net.

Nevertheless I was mortified at not having a filbert, and I think guidebooks should speak of the wisdom of investing in this commodity be-fore leaving for Poland Spring. The depression might have continued had it not been dispelled by the necktie of the attendant who offers one a drink of water from the original source if one wants it.

It was a silk tie with a Gibson girl painted on it. The top of her pompadour came just below the knot, her face and shoulders were neatly spread out after the fashion of four-in-hands, and her right eye was squarely punctured by a ruby scarf pin. W says no European spring is half as beautifully encased as is this one and I must take his word for it—I saw nothing but the necktie. I hope the boy will wear it forever and make thousands of tired business men happy.

We went on to the bottling works nearby. It was not an exciting process, the bottles slipping along in a little groove, getting themselves filled and corked without effort, and going off to New York to be sold for a sum quite out of proportion to the ease by which the thing was seemingly accomplished. But we do not pay for the water alone. We pay, and everlastingly should, for the brain of the first Ricker who owned this Spring and who decided to cork it up as a commercial enterprise. I stared at the long line of sliding green bottles. If a Jones had had this farm in 1797, or an Ames, perhaps, or—surely—a Hale, to this day the cows might have been standing in the little stream its narrow trickle would have made, snoozling up through their nostrils the present dividends of a vast corporation.

We did not visit the other buildings on this four thousand acres of estate. Everything is here that one could possibly want, even, I am told, to some of my books in the library ! Everything, at least, but the sea, and as we wanted the sea most urgently we sent out an S. O. S. call for our automobile. And in an instant, by some mysterious process, it came rattling out of the bejewelled garage and we were on our way. But we looked back regretfully, for this of its kind is a finer flower than the older countries of Europe have to offer.

In spite of the Call of the Sea we stopped, soon after quitting the park, at a large stone building so forbidding that it tempted us, like the apple, to inquire of it. We learned that it is now but the dairy house for the big hotels, but that it had once belonged to the Shaker Settlement. This elicited further inquiries, and a little ” more far,” as the French say, we espied a neat old lady sewing at a window. She was so extraordinarily placid and so sternly bonneted that we knew we were at the Shaker house for the women. More than that, goods were announced for sale, and glad of an excuse for meeting a Shaker lady, I went in to see the wares.

She of the window met me at the door, and took me into the shop. I was impressed by her simplicity, and I was almost afraid that I might take advantage of her while acquiring a few souvenirs. I was afraid she might want to give them to me and that I would be obliged to force the money upon her.

But she was a remarkable old lady, her sober habit but the cloak to as keen a trading instinct as one finds at the Rag Fair in Rome. She did not heed my modest demands at first. She began with the most expensive articles, working down toward my price with a certain restrained contempt that made me a little sick at her worldliness. I wanted to ask her if she had ever heard of the McCreery Stores, and of the printed notice given to each clerk that the smallest buyer is as valuable to the shop, and as welcome, as the most reckless purchaser. New York and its ways were quite simple to me after my encounter with that old lady, and I went away carrying m/ few acquisitions—mentally at least—between the thumb and forefinger.

I was glad to be going on to Portland, where (I am told), with Providence and some other New England cities, there are schools of etiquette for clerks, and courteous methods are rehearsed for dealing with discourteous shoppers. I sat back relieved to find, after I had admitted it, that I was as glad to be approaching a city as I was to be nearing the sea.

We whizzed past generous farms, through little hamlets, circumvented ox-carts, with an eye eager for the first glimpse of a trolley car coming out from Portland. And when we saw it speeding through the country with tired farmers’ wives carrying early autumn hats in paper bags, we followed up the track with the same enthusiasm that Hop-o’-My-Thumb’s parents must have trailed the bread crumbs. For the pursuit of the city is as stimulating as the chase for Maine deer in the open season.

It is worthy of comment that we arrived before dusk, and by some confusion of trolley lines found Longfellow’s home before we met the harbor. The Illustrator insisted that this was the Long-fellow home, and, being substantiated by the passerby, emptied himself out of the car to make a sketch.

As Portland is a historic town, no one is alarmed when an artist takes to drawing in its busiest, thoroughfare, although there is the usual comment from the street as to the excellence of the work. This freedom of expression is limited to no one country, but is less humiliating in foreign parts as it is done in a tongue fairly unfamiliar to us.

While I was proud of W —’s sketch, I was embarrassed at finding his subject the real Long-fellow residence. In a previous visit I had picked out another house as his, and pointed it out to strangers who were as ignorant as I. The one of my choice stands in the little open place where his statue is erected. The chauffeur and I drove past there as we endeavoured to choose a hotel, and I still like it, and wish he had lived there. It is at the end of the most delightful street in the world, where the shade trees are not limited to a noble row on either side, but extend themselves to two rows, and conspire to form the nave and side aisles of a cathedral which one can motor up and down without disturbing the service.

In fact, the chauffeur spent so much time motoring up and down it, turning and re-turning in the wide street (turning without drilling is the chauffeur’s delight), that we arrived at the Lafayette Hotel too late for any rooms save those next to the elevator, and, all of a sudden, my joy was turned to bitterness. The car was sent after the patient Illustrator, and I gloomily unpacked with every evidence of a boiler factory going up and down one wall. When our effects were disposed for the night, and I was just saying I must make the best of it, I went out into the hall, quite without my own volition, and screamed out that I couldn’t.

As a reward for my lack of self-control, a sympathetic bell-boy heard me, and we two scouted about the halls, going up and down ,steps, and trying doors, until we marked a party leaving rooms in a far, quiet corner. By a certain ex-change of silver for keys the rooms were mine, and attendants, carrying dinner dresses, and pumps, and toothbrushes, and yawning hand-bags, moved me into them. Even then I forgot the soap, but had it by the time W ___ arrived.

I was paid for my efforts by the way he sank into a wicker chair, exhausted by the criticisms of his drawing of the Longfellow house, and, lying back comfortably, remarked that some body, not a hotel, had furnished the room. I had been thinking the same thing, and marvelling that with all the guests going in and out daily there was still a pervading sense of some one individual.

Long ago a fire had burned on the wide hearth, marks showed against the wall the traces of book-shelves once affixed there, a bracket for a plant was empty by the window, and a fixture from which a bird-cage must have hung was still suspended over the fresh curtains. W generously insisted upon my taking this room, and I do not think he was uneasy over any gentle ghost that may have been hovering about. Strangely enough, the adjoining room, although the same in size and furnishings, carried with it no delicate sensation of a life so quick that its glad vibration stirred a chord in our own emotional hearts.

We ate on the roof—how often do I speak of eating!—green corn, horribly, for there is no other way of denuding the cob. But I do not look at W ___ when he is eating, and he does not look at me. I look at the other guests eating corn, however, and hate them. Some go straight around the cob, some in a long line from end to end, and some gnash in anywhere. The last have no sense of order. It was pleasanter to look out over the city and to see the lights of Casco Bay. The smell of the low tide reached us even on our rocky eyrie. The little steamers were going to the various islands, far beyond was open water.

And yet—we returned to the window of our spirit room, the one that looked up the quiet street where the couples were walking. The moon shone down through the branches of the trees—still it was dark enough for couples. One young man quarrelled with his young lady and she cried. He ” made it up.”

” One might think we’d go out on the water,” said the Illustrator, ” now we’ve reached it.”

But we made no move. We were at that world-old occupation of enjoying humanity, and there are no romances like those of the city streets.