A Farming Community

LAST autumn found me installed at Indian Ridge, in the Lincoln House, a rambling white hotel, verandaed, green-blinded, and dormer-windowed. In the office, besides the usual country hotel office furnishings, were numerous potted plants and two venerable oil-paintings (copies, without much doubt) of Daniel Webster and George Washington. The parlor had real gilding on the panel-mouldings of its doors and a fantastic display of curious marine shells, and bore signs of frequent use; otherwise it was precisely the conventional farmhouse parlor. The chambers were simple in their furnishings, but unspeakably neat and sweet.

The host and hostess, Mr. and Mrs. Abraham West, are far past middle life. Having long been free from the necessity of any kind of labor, they are keeping up their house partly from force of habit, partly as a public convenience, and partly (and it would appear primarily) for the sake of the society it brings them. The proprietors reserve to themselves the precious privilege of refusing undesirable guests, particularly itinerant companies of the more objectionable order, with one or two of which, in the past, they have had disagreeable experiences. The absence of a tap-room debars that atmosphere of jovial good cheer one likes to associate with the country tavern ; but Mr. and Mrs. West devote so much of their time to agreeable converse with their guests, — they invariably preside at the table, — and business, spite of the necessary formality of the bill, enters so little into the account, that stopping with them amounts to visiting at the house of a substantial farmer.

Besides the hotel, Indian Ridge — that is, the village proper — contains half a dozen grocery and general supply stores, a pump, hardware, and farming-tool establishment, a blacksmith’s forge, a harness shop, a cobbler’s shop, a tin shop, — in which a watch-repairer and a milliner have counters, — a church, a schoolhouse from which the national flag always floats, a Masonic hall, a town hall flanked by town sheds, a hillside cemetery, and about a score of dwellings. The dwellings, — which are tenanted for the most part by the business men, — as well as the places of business, are nearly all on a single elm and maple bordered street running along the summit of a ridge, in full view of one of the finest mountain ranges of New England. They belong to four pretty well defined architectural types. There are the ancient nearly square hip-roofed houses, with a chimney on each of the two end-slants of the roof, tiny-paned windows, pretentious front doors bordered by fluted side-pillars in relief and surmounted by semicircular “fans;” the equally ancient and almost equally square, but severely plain tentroofed houses, with a single enormous square chimney in the exact centre of the roof ; the pronouncedly oblong houses with the lofty pillared portico fronts, of a later period ; and modern houses as they were before the advent of the Queen Anne furor, which has not yet struck Indian Ridge. It may be noted here in passing, as an item of some interest, that the post-office, instead of being incorporated with a store, as in most country villages, is kept by a soldier’s widow in one of the front rooms of her own house.

Below the western end of the ridge and just beyond the village flows Indian Ridge Creek, a small but fairly energetic stream, spanned by a covered bridge, on whose banks a sawmill, a gristmill, and a corn-canning factory are situated. The land immediately around the village is a rolling tract, myriad - breasted like the statues of the Ephesian Diana. Such land is never quite as beautiful as during the spring months, when its hillocks are soft silk pompons, whose shades and sheens of green under the sunlight rival those of a peacock’s plumes. Still, it is always beautiful. In October, when first I saw them, most of the hillocks had become dun and brown, — only a few, from which the second crop of grass had not been cut, retaining a shop-worn green; but then, by way of partial compensation, the forests outlying them were matchless. These forests have as many evergreen as deciduous trees, and this combination of the sombre and the gaudy is far more effective than deciduous trees alone can possibly make, no matter how fiery their audacity.

All the roads out of the village pass thrifty farms. The farmhouses are modest, — much more so than the barns and the other outbuildings to which they are prudently subordinated. Some of them are sentineled by pairs or rows of soldierly poplars, which lend the scene a finish almost European. In the autumn, the dooryards are piled with ruddy apples, yellow pumpkins, and Hubbard, marrowfat, and crook - neck squashes, and the back porches of the houses and the sunny sides of the barns are festooned with strings of corn and dried apple. Ciderpresses, at rather frequent intervals, perfume the air divinely, inviting to copious draughts of the delicious brown vin du pays without money and without price. Open wells with sweeps or windlasses alternate with pumps. Both are always provided with drinking-cups of some kind — tin dippers, cocoanut shells, or gourds — for the convenience of the thirsty passer. People meeting on the road stop “ to pass the time of day ” (to adopt the phraseology of the district), and no driver would think of going by a foot-traveler without offering to give him a lift. Happy contrast to the regions some of us have been forced to foot it through, where a pedestrian is eyed askance as if he were a tramp, and padlocked pump - handles supplement with beautiful but pitiless logic ubiquitous signs against trespass!

Broadly speaking, Indian Ridge is a farming town. The employees of the sawmill and the gristmill are few in number, and these few, as well as most of the business men, do a little at farming. The corn-canning factory being run only in the fall, there are plenty of the farmers’ sons and daughters glad to work therein for the sake of the ready money which even the prosperous in the country often lack. There is a sleigh and wagon shop a couple of miles out of the village, but the owner of this is also a farmer, and his only employee is also his hired farm man. Work goes on in the shop only in bad weather and off seasons. The farmers, who are all native Americans, — with the exception of three French Canadian and perhaps twice as many Irish families, — are for the most part the direct descendants of the original settlers, who were a sturdy, honest, plucky, intelligent, God-fearing stock. The lean, sharp, laconic New Englander of popular tradition is the prevailing type. There is little wealth and as little real poverty among them. Their food, dress, and home furnishings are of the simplest. To illustrate : with a view to showing them proper respect, I put myself to great preliminary inconvenience to appear in a “boiled shirt,” the first Sunday of my stay, only to be chagrined, when the hour for the service arrived, by finding that I was rather overdressed than otherwise.

The women are true helpmeets. Not only do they do their own work, but they are able and willing to milk the cows, assist in the hay - getting, and in other ways lend a hand out of doors in emergencies. Some of them even eke out the family income by little ventures of their own, such as raising hens and bees, and gathering and marketing spruce gum, beechnuts, and blueberries. There is no servant-girl problem, because there are no servants. When sickness or some other real disability necessitates female help in the household, a neighbor’s daughter is called in. She is of course regarded, and in every minutest particular treated, as a member of the family; it could not be otherwise. The children are trained to bear their share of the family burden, so far as it can be done without interfering with their schooling, and the very school terms are arranged with a view to conflicting as little as possible with farm work. When the children grow up, many of them go out into the world to seek their fortunes (that, within reasonable limits, is a law of nature), but there is nothing like an exodus of the rising generation, no approach to a depletion. Plenty of ambitious, vigorous young men stay behind to arrange themselves in life as their fathers did before them, chopping in the woods during the winter, and in the summer tilling the few acres they have been able to purchase with their winters’ savings. Furthermore, there are plenty of desirable young women happy and proud to cast in their lots with the young men, and do their share of the drudgery necessary in establishing a home. Thus new farms are cleared out of the woodland and the old farms are kept up.

One morning, a few days after my installment at the Lincoln House, the first glance from my chamber window showed me that something out of the ordinary was on foot. The road was fringed for some distance with all kinds of pole vehicles, from which the horses had been detached. Other two-horse rigs were arriving. The reason for the sudden influx came out at the breakfast-table. A young man, recently married, had purchased an unoccupied house, located about a mile to the northward, over the ridge, which he wished to transfer to land of his own on the western bank of the creek. There being no contractor in the vicinity who made a business of moving buildings, the people had decided to do the job for him, and they were assembling with their two-horse teams from all over the township.

It was ten o’clock before the house was properly shod (that is, fitted like a sled with a pair of enormous logs as runners), and eleven o’clock before the horses were attached. By that time the men on the spot numbered more than a hundred. Of these, thirty were drivers of the horses, of which there were thirty pairs in all; as many more manipulated levers and pulleys ; as many more stood ready with skids; and an advance skirmish line of about a score were armed with axes, crowbars, shovels, and pickaxes, with which to clear away obstructions to the route. Caleb Whitney, who had undertaken to engineer the affair, was a fierce-looking man, with a flowing black beard more than a foot long, a coonskin cap, a red flannel shirt, trousers rolled to his knees, leaving his legs bare above his shoe-tops, and a tremendous voice. As he stood in the front door of the house shouting and gesticulating his orders, he was a startling figure, at once forceful and grotesque.

Foremost with the pulleys and levers, commander, as it were, of the lever and pulley brigade, was Nathanael Seabrook, the village doctor, a lean, tall, alert, stubble-bearded man, a sort of Yankee Weelum Mac Lure. It was a unique and inspiring sight to see a professional man in flannel shirt, slouch hat, and rubber boots, “ working like a house afire ” in the performance of a purely neighborly service ; and it is easy enough to imagine a man who would thus recklessly divest himself of all but his native dignity before the eyes of his patrons, and who could swing an axe and drive a peg as he did, making just such a fight for a life as the noble Drumtochty physician made for the life of the man Saunders ; and what sort of a fight that was the world knows.

There was so much ado to get all the horses to pulling at the same time, all the levers and pulleys and men so placed as to secure the most power, that it was high noon before the building was got fairly over the few rods between its site and the road. Then it was time, as the vigorous clanging of a bell proclaimed, for the dinner which the “ women-folks ” had prepared in a barn near by.

Dinner over, the horses laid to their work so well that the building started almost immediately, without any assistance from the levers and pulleys ; and though it was an up-grade pull, and the shoes ploughed deep furrows, and the front corners crashed into the wayside saplings and dug into the banks of the narrow roadway, so that the gravel flew in at the windows, it kept on for a full quarter of a mile without stopping. Then, a quick and tremendous sideward lunge imbedded one corner so deep in a gravel-bank that the horses were thrown back on their haunches and brought to a standstill. There were prying, pulling, twisting, and veering, under the doctor’s supervision, for nearly an hour before another start could be effected. By that time it had been decided to exchange the narrow road for the open fields,—a decision which gave the skirmish line a deal of exertion of the most active kind in getting rid of obstructing stone walls and fences, twenty or thirty feet of the latter being in one case lifted bodily by them. From the moment of taking to the open fields till the arrival at the summit of the ridge, the excitement was intense. There were spurts and set-backs, sudden halts and false starts ; breakings of ropes, levers, and chains ; lashings, kickings, yellings, swearings — even old Deacon Goodhue swore and never knew it — on the part of the men; rearings, snortings, strikings, and plungings on the part of the horses ; and narrow escapes for both men and horses.

An intentional halt of several minutes for breath was made upon the summit of the ridge. On the descent, the horses entered so thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion, and went so nearly as if they believed the object in tow was just about to topple over them, that the drivers had all they could do to keep up with their pace over the uneven ground, and the skid men were forced to abandon their work entirely. The building swept downward of its own momentum, carrying everything before it like an avalanche. A fence, which had not been reached by the skirmishers in time, was turned under it, and a woodpile was made short work of, without causing any visible slackening of the speed ; over both it slipped as smoothly as if they were skids placed beneath on purpose to reduce the friction. Not until the leaders were well into the creek could the horses be brought to a stop. “ More fun for your money than the Allbright Fair,” was Jabez Lyman’s comment, and those hard by who had breath enough left to say anything said a forcible Amen. Though not quite five o’clock, it was decided at this point to quit work for that day; crossing a stream was too difficult an undertaking to be begun in the gathering dusk.

The scene of the second day’s activity being so near the village as to be practically in it, the schools were given a holiday, — a wise proceeding, surely, if for no other reason than this : that a lesson was to be learned out of doors, that day, of far greater moment than the lessons many days of school confinement could inculcate. The sawmill, gristmill, canning factory, and all the stores were deserted as by common consent. The postmistress, reasonably sure she would receive no call, and yet too conscientious a servant of the government to close her office without permission, took up her station at a point of vantage equidistant from the building and her place of business, and scrupulously kept an eye on each. The lawyer forsook his office and the minister his study for the scene of action ; and though these worthies did not take hold just as the doctor did, they were nearly as eager as he, and were profuse of shrewd and sympathetic advice and exhortation. Even the halt, the maimed, and the blind were on hand, trying to do their part with such members and faculties as they actually did possess.

The first task was to line the bed of the creek with enormous logs lengthwise of the current, and just far enough apart to admit of the horses stepping between them. That done, the shoes were pried out of the soft soil bordering the creek, into which they had sunk during the night, the leading horses were driven several times from bank to bank to get them accustomed to the water, and the thirty teams were attached and whipped into the stream. There was an exciting moment when a horse slipped and nearly fell in mid - current, and another when the hindmost team escaped being drawn under the building only by the sudden breaking of the drag-chain. But in spite of these and other trifling mishaps the stream was crossed without serious accident, and the building was landed on its appointed site a little before noon.

Then how the men cheered! There were cheers for red-shirted Caleb Whitney, the stentorian boss, cheers for the doctor, cheers for the young owner of the house and his wife, cheers for the horses, — cheers for everybody and everything relevant to the occasion, and, so great was the excess of spirits, for several persons and several things that were not.

Another public dinner brought the fête to a close.

As a purely physical spectacle, an exhibition of physique and energy and nerve, this building-moving was as well worth viewing every way as any match of football or of polo ever played. Much more was it worth viewing as a moral spectacle ; as an exhibition of community spirit it was superb. It is because so much has been said of late regarding the decay of community spirit in New England that the affair has seemed entitled to a record in detail. True, it was the most signal illustration of esprit de corps that occurred during my Indian Ridge sojourn, but I was assured it was by no means an exceptional one. Hardly a fall passes that some buildings are not dealt with after this fashion. It is only three years since the moving of a ponderous structure that occupied the citizens a whole week. The year before that a schoolhouse was transplanted, at a saving of much expense to the public treasury ; and there is a tradition of a remarkable feat of engineering, which half the town had pronounced impossible, achieved by the redoubtable Caleb Whitney in driving a barn across a deep gully. If many of the other forms of neighborly coöperation which once prevailed here have disappeared, it is because the introduction of improved farm machinery and agricultural methods has taken away the reason for them. Wherever the reason survives, wherever real help can be rendered, the coöperative practice survives also, and ploughing-bees, huskings, and barn-raisings still occur with a good degree of frequency.

During the time when all the families of Indian Ridge used to meet together on Sundays in one of the houses, to study a Bible lesson in the forenoon and teach the children the common school branches in the afternoon, and for many years thereafter, Indian Ridgers were forced by stress of circumstances, as well as led by inclination, to pull together, and the habit of pulling together has never left them. The feeling that incites to helpfulness is as hale and hearty with them as ever it was. Whether this manifests itself in a purely personal way in “ little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love ” between neighbors, in building-movings and ploughing-bees, or in self-sacrificing loyalty to town, State, or nation, it is the same spirit, the spirit of solidarity, that has persisted from the beginning.

In further illustration of the activity of this spirit, particularly where the town is concerned, it should be said that Indian Ridge has forty miles of roads (superior for the section, fair in themselves) upon which the citizens have expended much gratuitous labor over and above what it has been permitted them to turn in for taxes ; a handsome and substantial drinking-fountain, erected by public subscription as a memorial to the first minister of the town; a small but wellchosen free library, in connection with the post-office, to which the postmistress gives her services ; a soldiers’ monument which cost one thousand dollars, — a simple and tasteful marble column with the conventional inscription, “ Sacred to the memory of our citizen soldiers who died in defence of their country in the war of 1861 to 1865 ; ” a town house worth four thousand dollars, containing, besides the town offices, a banquet-room, a large hall with a 22 by 40 stage, equipped with a drop-curtain and five scenes 1— kitchen, parlor, street, forest, and prison — painted by the people themselves, and creditable dressing-rooms. Its hillside cemetery is scrupulously kept. Its primary and intermediate schools are taught by well-paid normal graduates selected with much care, and are generally acknowledged to be the best in that part of the country. Its high school is almost invariably under an earnest college man, and attracts pupils from a large area beyond the limits of the township. High schools, it is true, are now made obligatory by the state law, but the high school at Indian Ridge was started and regularly maintained years before there was any law upon the subject. Nothing has come to the town by gift or bequest. These and many lesser benefits it has secured for itself, on its own initiative, by unity of aim and effort; and it takes a colossal pride in them, as it has a right to do.

In the same way, it feels an honest corporate pride in the fortunes of its absent sons ; and though none of these have chanced to attain national eminence, it follows their careers as lawyers, doctors, merchants, preachers, inventors, and college professors (to mention the vocations in which some reputation has been gained) with as keen an interest for detail as if they were the greatest of the land. It is proud, too, of the moral aspect of the village ; how proud may be guessed from the curious fact that the only check on the intense enthusiasm felt for a muchtalked-of railroad project, which, if consummated, will put it into close touch with the rest of the world, is a vague fear that somehow the railroad may lower the high moral tone that now prevails.

To be thus solidaire — who will question it ? — is to practice a kind of decentralized communal socialism that is essentially noble, and hardly to be taken exception to by the most American of Americans.

The church plays a large part in the life of Indian Ridge. “ W’en a town’s got jest one parson, one lawyer, one doctor, an’ one s’loon, an’ no more,” observed old Ezra Slack, the village patriarch, “ it allus rubs along fust-rate. But w’en you get more ’n one of any one on ’em, it raises more row nor two tail-tied cats a-fightin’ each other over a clothesline. Now, we here hain’t got no s’loon, an’ p’r’aps for the matter o’ that we ’re jest as well off ef we hain’t. I would n’t be the man to try to bring in no s’loon s’ long’s we’ve got our cider to hum, an’ can git whatever else we feel the need on over to the Corners. But I ’m mighty darned glad we’ve got one doctor an’ one lawyer an’ one parson, an’ no more nor one.”

It is at Indian Ridge as Ezra Slack says, and it surely is not the least interesting feature of the town that it has had but one church, — never mind the denomination, — and that this church, in spite of the presence of people of various sects, has always proved an adequate embodiment of its religious sentiment, and has never ceased to be a unifying rather than a disintegrating force in the community. Perhaps it is this circumstance more than any other that has helped to give the town a social symmetry almost equal to that of the French village or the retired English village which has not yet been disorganized and disquieted by the entry of dissent.

However figures may be juggled with, ever and anon, to prove the contrary, there can be no reasonable doubt that church-going and respect for the church have materially decreased in New England in the course of the last half-century, at least among the Protestant population. This does not necessarily mean that religious sentiment has decreased in anything like the same degree, or even at all. It may only mean that a change has come over the modes by which religious sentiment manifests itself. The fact is that, owing to an enormous enlargement of the scope of living, religion finds a hundred means of cultivation and expression to-day where formerly it found one, the church. This will be seen to be equally true whether religion be defined as " morality touched with emotion ” at one extreme, or as emotion embodied in morality at the other, or as something midway between. High aspiration must halt at cross-roads nowadays, while formerly it had only to follow a narrow but well-beaten path.

It is as much because Mr. Woodsum very early recognized and approved the change that was going on in the world around him, as because he has been faithful and diligent, that he has held the allegiance not only of his parishioners, but of the whole community, during more than thirty years of work. He has often been heard to express the wish that he were a young man just beginning his career, because of the opportunity the rising generation has for discovering and applying truth. His own life-endeavor has unquestionably been to find truth and declare it, to the end of building men up and making their lives of honest value to themselves and to the world. A reading, observing, and open - minded man, his thought has necessarily changed with the changing thought of his time. Like the vanguard of his generation, he has gradually become imbued with the belief (whether right or wrong is immaterial here) that salvation comes, not by creed and church attendance, but by character ; that good religion and good citizenship are, in the last analysis, one and the same thing ; that civic improvement and social betterment are to be agitated and toiled for rather than periodic revivals ; and that the church (like the Sabbath) was made for man, and not man for the church. From week to week and year to year, he has made, as it were, a report of progress to his people; cautiously, however, and with so proper a reverence for the convictions of those who were not ready to follow him that they could not in reason take offense.

Thus, gently, tactfully, almost imperceptibly to themselves, he has led his people along the paths of his own thought to himself and his own way of thinking ; has grown himself, and helped them to grow with him. Now he preaches to them with general, though of course not universal acceptance, what would have aroused a storm of almost unanimous protest had he preached it as a young man, in the beginning of his work. So directed, the Indian Ridge church, besides performing the function expected of a church, has been a sort of rural college settlement, organizing or helping to organize, directly or indirectly, divers phases of the life about it for the community good.

Personally, as professionally, Mr. Woodsum is a remarkable man to be located in a remote country parish. He has a fine mastery of the theory and practice of instrumental and vocal music and a fair talent for painting. His execution and ideals in art, owing to his enforced absence from the centres, have been taken from the Hudson River school. The paintings with which his home is hung are copies by his own hand of the favorites of that period. But the art sense and the art enthusiasm are his, just the same. He usually has as pupils a few boys and girls with a taste for the expression of color and form, and one would love to believe that a real art feeling has been aroused among the people in consequence. It is hardly so, I am sorry to say ; the New England nature is too resistant to æsthetic suggestion for that. A considerable feeling for landscape, however, if not much for art, has been developed in those who have come directly under the minister’s art tuition, and this is of more real worth to them, perhaps, in the long run ; it is so much more easily satisfied at Indian Ridge. Along with the rest, Mr. Woodsum is a skillful cabinet-maker. The pulpit he preaches from is his own handiwork, and he recently presented a church of a different denomination, in the nearest town, with another like it, — a most graceful act. These his varied tastes and accomplishments have enabled him to introduce an element of beauty into his church interior and his service, though how far this is appreciated by his congregation it is difficult to say.

Some years ago, Mr. Woodsum conceived the notion that a certain road out of the village needed a double row of elms. He accordingly visited the farmer whose property was adjacent (a nonchurch-goer, by the way), and told him that if he would set out plenty of young elms the next fall, he would paint him a handsome sign with the legend “ Elm Avenue ” in fancy lettering upon it. The bargain was laughingly arranged. The result is an avenue of magnificent trees that will gladden and beautify Indian Ridge long after farmer and parson have passed away. It is a simple, almost trivial incident, but it illustrates so perfectly the attitude and the tact of the man that I have not been able to hold it back.

The life of Indian Ridge is by no means the monotonous, resourceless, utterly empty affair the life of a farming village is popularly supposed to be. The events that stand out are three in number : Memorial Day, the Allbright Fair, and the County Conference.

When it becomes known that, in the appointed order of things, it is the turn of Indian Ridge to have the County Conference, there is great bustle of preparation, especially among the women, who devote themselves assiduously to housecleaning, dressmaking, and bonnet-trimming, as well as to mammoth cookings. When the time arrives, homes are thrown wide open for the entertainment of the delegates by all the citizens, whether church-goers or not. Hospitality of the most lavish sort is everywhere the order of the day.

The Allbright Fair—Allbright adjoins Indian Ridge on the west— differs in no important respect from country fairs everywhere. There are the same horse - trots, ball - games, bicycle - races, livestock exhibits, and trials of draught horses and oxen ; the same side-shows, fakirs, freaks, and uproarious fun that always go with these occasions. For days before and days after nothing else is talked of in Indian Ridge and the other towns within the Allbright radius.

On Memorial Day the ceremonial is the traditional one. But the exercises have so much more significance at Indian Ridge than elsewhere that they seem to belong to an entirely different order. There is a ring to the patriotism, a poignant reality to the grief, and a lilt to the pride that lift them to the plane of high emotions. America cannot easily furnish a more impressive sight than Memorial Day at Indian Ridge. I know of a man — not an old soldier, either, and not too much of a patriot— who drove forty miles to witness the ceremonial, and felt more than repaid for his pains. As a small boy in a New England town, I always set apart Memorial Day for fishing with my chums. No Indian Ridge lad would dare think, much less commit, such sacrilege.

An ancient and honorable chapter of the order of Freemasons has a nicely fitted hall of its own for its assemblings. The Town Hall is the regular meetingplace of five organizations: three societies growing out of the war (the Grand Army of the Republic, Woman’s Relief Corps, and Sons of Veterans), the Good Templars, and the Grange. The Indian Ridge Dramatic Club gives, and for many years has given, frequent winter performances to a small circuit of towns wherein the cast is personally known, as well as at home. The town has a number of good singers, enough for concerts and a choral society. It has its own orchestra, a circumstance which makes dancing a cheap as well as an easily attained amusement ; in a small way at the houses, in a large way at the Town Hall, where occasional union balls are held in which three or four other towns participate. Farmers’ institutes and lectures of one sort or another occur at intervals through the winter. Thus it is that, between regular and irregular functions, the Town Hall is occupied, on an average, four nights a week the year round ; not a bad showing, by any means, for a town of not quite one thousand inhabitants.

Of the manly sports, hunting and fishing are constant and easily available resources, though most of the men are so conscientious about their farm work that they indulge little in them until after crops are harvested in the fall, when a good many go into the woods for a week or more on a stretch. Boys have the use of rifles, horses, and dogs, and are taught to shoot and to manage horses almost as soon as they are taught to do anything. They go on hunting and fishing expeditions with the fathers and older brothers, and by the time they are fifteen or sixteen are expert woodsmen, almost invariably. The ordinary boy-plays, while fairly familiar to them, are decidedly overshadowed by this sharing of the sports of the elders.

The one reliable, never failing resource— evenings, rainy days, and all the time — is the village store. What the café is to the Frenchman the store is to the inhabitant of Indian Ridge. Newspapers and letters of common interest are there read aloud. Checkers, chess, backgammon, and, to a less degree, dominoes are in high favor. Championship series are played which sometimes consume a whole winter, in the course of which there is an infinite amount of probability casting, invidious comparison, and good-natured chaffing. Once in a way a wager is laid which sets the whole town agog.

Talking, however, is the primary pastime of the store - groups. Politics, in their season, they talk, of course, and theology, though to a far less extent than the grocery tradition demands. The planting, cultivation, harvesting, and marketing of crops, the treatment of stock, the processes and prospects of lumbering, are subjects far more in vogue. These come easily first, and next the weather in its relations to them. And it must be admitted that the weather-signs are reduced to an inductive science quite as reliable for the immediate locality as the more dignified predictions of the government weather bureau, while they are as far removed from the platitudes of “ society ” on the same subject as beefsteak is from broth. Reminiscences are rife : of hunting, fishing, trapping, horse - racing, lumbering, most of all of the war, as is natural where many veterans still live, and where practically every family has its military tradition.

In a word, the talk is as varied as are the interests and accomplishments of the talkers, and those are varied indeed. It is customary to speak contemptuously, I know, of the intelligence and morale of the talk of the country grocery. The store-groups at Indian Ridge deserve no such contempt. There are intelligent men among the talkers, and some most interesting and suggestive things are said by them. The atmosphere is not as desperately provincial as might at first be supposed. If there were no other alleviating circumstance, the fact that all the old soldiers in the town have been south of Mason and Dixon’s line at least once in their lives, while several of them have visited the great centres for the reunions of veterans, makes it possible to take for granted a certain if not quite up to date knowledge of the big world outside and the ways of it.

Jabez Lyman, a veteran, who enlisted as a boy of seventeen, and had his constitution undermined by ten months in Andersonville, has passed a large part of his winters since in Washington, or south of it, for his health’s sake. His talk abounds in sage estimates and witty observations on Southern life and character, more especially concerning the colored people.

Elbridge Copeland, sixty-three years old, who recently returned from the Far West despoiled of the fifteen thousand dollars he had amassed by a quarter of a century of storekeeping in his native town, though so poor in pocket as to be forced to begin life over again by clerking on the very spot where he was once the master, is rich indeed in lore of mine and prairie, and recklessly prodigal of it.

Job Preston is a capital mimic. He imitates with equal ease the Irishman, Dutchman, Scandinavian, French Canadian, and negro. His impersonations are so perfect that they never grow stale, and he is never at a loss for tales, more or less spicy, calling his faculty into play.

“ Job Preston can talk the leg off an iron kettle,” was Jabez Lyman’s verdict, when I inquired for particulars about him, “ and he can do that slick enough, I 'll admit; but that’s just about all he can do, and just about all he’s ever done, so far as I know.” True genius unpractical here as everywhere !

Solomon Whiting devotes his leisure to collecting curios. He has a sugar-planting brother in the Sandwich Islands, who began sending him Hawaiian specimens more than thirty years ago. This was enough to give Solomon the collecting fever ; since that time, his house has been gradually transformed into a museum, and he himself into a close approach to a virtuoso. In Indian and early American antiquities his collection is peculiarly rich.

Duncan McAinsh, a native American, but of Scotch extraction, as his name implies, possesses a wide and accurate knowledge of English and Scottish history, partly inherited from his father, partly acquired by his own hard study. He is reluctant to ventilate his knowledge, unlike most of his neighbors; but when he does really let himself go, it is a unique treat. He was somehow prevailed on once, more than ten years back, to give a lecture in the Town Hall. The event is still much talked about, and always with whispered and staring reverence and amaze.

Samuel Wiggin is the versatile phenomenon of the village. Samuel Wiggin’s trade and nominal occupation is watch-repairing, but he supplements the rather slender income the watch-repairing of Indian Ridge provides by tuning and repairing organs and pianos; conducting singing and dancing classes ; giving private lessons in vocal and instrumental music, water-color painting, the decoration of china, and four languages. Samuel is immoderately fond of small children, and they of him. They troop after him — much as the children of a more imaginative race trooped after the Pied Piper of Hamelin— for the wonder-stories he loves to tell them. Surely this talent for loving and dreaming should not be reckoned least among the many he possesses. Small wonder that Sam Wiggin has the reputation of being able to talk well upon any subject whatsoever !

As if the variety were not already sufficient, an old sea-captain and a Boston policeman retired on half pay also live at Indian Ridge. Both are proud of their past and garrulous to a degree about it. Now, he is a lucky man, to my way of thinking, wherever he may be located, who has within his hand’s reach a group of people who can deal intimately with a larger range of worthy and picturesque themes.

Every one is more or less aware. I suppose, through books, if not through direct observation, of the occurrence of quaint types in the New England farming town; hardly, I fancy, of the extent to which these types are a diversion to one another and the remainder of the community, or of how large a part this particular kind of diversion plays in relieving their social life from tedium. This is where the proverbial Yankee sense of humor comes in. In this respect, the stores of Indian Ridge would be to most, as they were to me, a positive revelation.

Thus, Amos Cummings, keeper of the harness shop, and Levi Wilson, keeper of the grocery next door, have for years had an agreement that whenever one of them should succeed in corralling Joshua Puttengill and getting him to talk, he should summon the other. And this summons has invariably resulted in the other’s shutting up shop and devoting an hour or more to pumping old Puttengill.

Josh Puttengill, you see, is the character of Indian Ridge. You would know that to look at him. No commonplace epistle was ever folded in such an envelope. In being tall, lank, and angular he is like the prevailing type around him, but his head has none of the stern characteristics of that type. Josh is a practical farmer, and, for all his fantastic appearance, a man of good common sense, — except when he is yarning ; for yarning is Josh’s specialty, — besetting sin or supreme accomplishment according to the point of view.

If I have refrained from exhibiting in detail the shortcomings of the life, it is not, for that reason, to be taken for granted that there are none, or even that they are few in number. Indian Ridge has all the defects of all its qualities, and possibly some others besides. It is narrowly partisan in its politics ; gossiping and meddling in its temper towards matters of purely private concern ; religion, here as elsewhere, in spite of a general wholesomeness, is not entirely free from hypocrisy, morality from inhumanity and self - complacency, integrity from cruel hardness, nor thrift and foresight from parsimoniousness and worry. It is very little alive to the finer issues of country living; most of them are not so much as suspected by it. For all the mutual helpfulness and abounding sense of humor, the life lacks flexibility, mellowness, warmth, emotion, and emotional expression. It is indisputably triste.

Nevertheless, Indian Ridge exemplifies the best tendencies of the New England country. These tendencies, owing to its comparative isolation, have been manifested in unique and homely ways in some instances, but the tendencies are none the less sound and healthy on that account. They are present to a considerable if not an equal degree, not in all, not in the majority, perhaps, but in many of the rural communities in every one of the New England States. If all instead of a small part of these communities were even thus liberally endowed, there could be no plaint over the decadence of rural New England, for they have in them the germs of permanent progress ; rather, they are themselves the very essence of corporate life.

Alvan F. Sanborn.

  1. It is amusing to note that the drop-curtain, which is a copy of a New England landscape painting containing a great deal of detail, was made by dividing the original canvas into small squares and the canvas for the drop into an equal number of large squares, and copying square for square ; also that the street scene, which is supposed to depict Washington Street, Boston, as it was a century ago, has a flaring Y. M. C. A. sign on the front of one of its most prominent buildings.