I WONDER if other wayfarers through New England greet, as I do, with special affection the old house on the bend of the road? It is so characteristic of an earlier civilization, so suggestive of a vanished epoch — and withal so picturesque! Even if you are unfortunate enough to ‘tour’ in a motor-car, which of course is far from the ideal way to savor the countryside, still you cannot miss the old house on the bend, even though you do miss the ‘ feel ’ of the land, the rise and dip of the road, the fragrance of the clematis by the wall, the already fading gold of the evening primroses when you start off after breakfast.
Even for a motorist, however, the old house on the bend stands up to view, especially if you are on the front seat with the driver. The car swings into a straightaway, lined, perhaps, with sugar maples and gray stone walls. Between the trunks are vistas of the green fields and far hills. But the chief vista is up the white perspective of the road, which seems to vanish directly into the front door of the solid, mouse-gray house on the bend.
The ribbon of road rushes toward you, as if a great spool under your wheels were winding it up. The house rushes on with it; grows nearer; details emerge. You see the great square chimney; the tiny window-panes, six to a sash, some of them turned by time, not into the purple of Beacon Hill but into a kind of prismatic sheen like oil on water; the bit of classic egg-and-dart border on the door-cap; the aged texture of the weathered clapboard; the graceful arch of the wide woodshed entrance, on the kitchen side; the giant elm rising far above the roof. You rush on so near to the house, indeed, that the car seems in imminent danger of colliding with the front door, when suddenly the wheels bite the road, you feel the pull of centrifugal force, and the car swings away at right angles, leaving an end view of the ancient dwelling behind you, so that when you turn for a final glance you see the long slant of the roof at the rear, going down within six or eight feet of the ground.
Such is the view from a motor-car. If you are traveling on foot, however, there is much more to be observed, such as the great doorstep made from a broken millstone, the gigantic rambler by the kitchen window, the tiger lilies gone wild in the dooryard, and above all, the view from the front windows. Since the house was visible far up the road, conversely a long stretch of the road is visible from the house. Standing in front of it, you can see a motor or wagon approaching a mile away, and from the end windows, too, can be seen all approaching vehicles from the other angle. Moreover, if you lived within, you could not only see who was coming, but you could step out of your door a pace or two and converse with him as he passed. The old house is strategically placed.
When it was built, a century or even a century and a half ago, no motors went by on that road, and not enough of any kind of traffic to raise a dust. The busy town to the south, the summer resort to the north, were alike small villages, given over to agriculture. There were no telephones, no newspapers even. Fortunate indeed was the man whose farm abutted on a bend, for there he could set his house, close to the road, viewing the approaches in either direction, and no traveler could get by him, or at any rate by his wife, without yielding the latest gossip from the town above or below, perhaps from the greater world beyond. The high-road was then the sole artery of commerce, of communication, of intercourse of man with man.
How neighborly was the house on the bend, shedding its parlor-candle rays like a beacon by night down the mile of straightaway, or flapping its chintz curtains in the June sunshine! What a testimony it is, in its present gray ruin, to the human hunger for news and gossip and friendliness!
The old order has changed, indeed. We no longer build on the bend. We don’t have bends if we can help it. They are dangerous and hard to maintain. A house on one would be uninhabitable with the dust. We do not seek the neighborliness of the road, but retire as far as we can to the back of our lot, with our telephone and newspaper. The old house on the bend halfway between Lenox and Stockbridge now stands deserted. From country estates dimly seen in their remote privacy of trees and gardens, the stone highway leads to other estates equally remote and scornful of publicity. Between them the motors rush. The old house on the bend is dusty and deserted, and every passing car kicks up some bit of crushed stone into its tangled dooryard. It looks pathetically down the road with unseeing eyes, the last relic of a vanished order.