From a Window: A Genre Study

People have described so often the joys of convalescence,and these family likeness every time one hears of them, that I feel it slightly unnecessary to bring forward my own particular experiences. But there is one thing that especially strikes me in the state, —the revived appreciation of the joys of looking out of the window. You lie happily on your couch, feeling too newly, gratefully well again to begin any discontent just yet at absence from the world’s work or play : you see other people going to or coming back from toil, whereas you have done nothing at all for days, and are not ashamed of it; “you watch who crosses and gossips, who saunters, who hurries by ; you watch the changes of the day, if it is only over roofs and houses ; and though your view may not he beautiful, you cannot fail to find all sorts of delight in it. I wish I could give any idea of the pleasure and interest afforded me, during a recent convalescence, only by the circumstance that from the upper window of my home in this New Zealand town I have a good view of a flourishing bakery.

The bakery in question is a massive-looking building of red brick, and has a sideways frontage upon a paved yard, with stables, etc., on the other side, shut in by a high double gate. All kinds of things go on in that yard. Early in the morning begins the first of those “ loud knockings ” at its great doors which have earned the place the title of the “Macbeth Bakery,” — together with the further consideration that by late and early noises it too often “murders sleep.” Well, the first knockings mean the arrival of workmen for the day : tenders of engines, drivers of carts, and ‘prentice boys with white aprons. Then, perhaps, a great cart comes, bringing fresh food for the horses,—bundles of cool grass, or it used to be red clover all in bloom, a beautiful, fragrant load. Next, still quite early, follow the harnessing of horses and filling of carts with the loaves for the day’s delivery, — bright yellow loaves baked during the night, that come out with a jerk from an open doorway, to be caught by twos and threes as deftly as the bricklayer’s assistant catches his bricks. Thus the carts are filled one after another, and go off soberly on their rounds ; all this daily business carried through, as one might expect, with no particular adventure, but interesting enough as such things go. And I have a special interest in the vagaries of one dainty little mare, who evidently considers herself a cut above the baker’s-cart business. She is a pet, I think, and great respect is paid to her feelings ; and usually, after some persuasion, she resigns herself to her fate, and goes gayly off, lifting very prettily her disdainful little feet. But she fell down one morning in the shafts, —

I am quite sure out of simple perversity. She had resolved not to take the cart out that day. Over it went, breaking a shaft, and sending an avalanche of loaves all over the road. That made a wonderful commotion. Out came a swarm of baker men and baker boys, white-capped, white-aproned, who took the mare out of harness and walked her to her stall again, backed the cart into the yard for repairs, and with laughs and jokes and quick, nimble movements carried in the loaves on trays and in baskets, and had the place clear again in a couple of minutes. I was grateful to the wicked little mare. With the sudden change from quiet to activity in the bright, empty morning street, and such a quaint appearing and disappearing of odd-looking active figures, it seemed as if I had had a glimpse of a scene at a pantomime.

The carts dispatched, there is still a constant movement of some sort or other in my yard. Piles of biscuit tins are carried across : carts come from neighboring retail establishments or from country stores to secure their tale of loaves; or perhaps packages are brought in, spices, sugar, etc., needed for sweet things; or a wagon rolls through the gates, piled high with big bags, bringing in new supplies of flour. These have to be swung up by block and pulley, and lodged in the upper story; and here is another animated scene. It is all transported from wagon to loft in wonderfully quick time,— all the work done at this bakery seems accomplished at the greatest possible speed and with the brightest good-humor, — and the whole business, from a picturesque point of view, is simply entrancing. The strong lines of the wagon below, with the horses standing solidly, thankful for the rest; the driver mounted on the pile, and falling unawares into all sorts of fine attitudes as he secures each bag in turn upon the hook, or directs its course as it swings up into the air; and the action of the men above as they pull up or haul in their prey out of the sunshine into the black open doorway, — I have seen again and again such a series of fine effects in this stirring life picture. Any one of them would have made an artist’s fortune if he only had skill enough to reproduce it exactly, with every line done justice to, and no point lost of sun and shadow.

Biscuit-making is going on all day, and machines are at work, as one can hear. Through one loophole I catch a glimpse of black moving belts that form part of some mysterious machinery. I should see nothing of the men employed here were it not that a pump stands, out-of-doors, at the corner of the building,— a pump with a tin pannikin hung near at hand. “All of us have been thirsty thousands of times, and felt, with Pindar, that water was the best of things.” Working in biscuit factories in warm weather, one wants the best of things very often. So my friends the bakers seem to find, the young ones especially. One comes out now and then, pumps for himself, and drinks with deliberate satisfaction; then carries in a pannikinful for some thirsty comrade who may not leave his post. There is one small boy, with a dear little round head nicely patched with white at the back, where he has leaned it against something floury. He lifts his can for a long draught with such an evident depth of pleasure it is perfectly delightful to see him. In years to come I think that boy will have as pleasant associations with a deep tin pannikin as any Oliver Wendell Holmes, with his brown mug and white-pine bucket.

Have I convinced any one that these things are interesting? Well, such as these go on all day till five o’clock comes: the engines stop; the men and boys go off, throwing on their jackets as they go, and not at all too worn out to indulge in chaff and fling gibes — perhaps born of some incidents in the day’s work — at one another as they part. Then there is calm for a while, and the yard is a blank, until later, when the telegraph man goes by, and the care-taker or custodian of the place, who does little but look majestic and open gates, has had his tea, and comes out to enjoy the evening air. Each night he brings out his chair, and sits there, hard by the pump, to read his paper. I see his figure there, with head bent, down in happy, slow absorption of the news, until at last I lose it in the dusk.

So the evening closes in, and nothing more is seen or heard until a succession of later knocks and an opening of the big gates announce the arrival of the night workmen. The pump goes vigorously, — this time for water to mix the dough, — and waking perhaps at midnight, I put aside my blind for a moment, and see that while the future consumers are asleep the process of making their bread is in full swing; and the building stands by night a sleepless enchanter’s castle, with its windows alight, like red eyes flaming out into the dark.