Satisfied Reflections of a Semi-Bostonian


LAST March I started on a pleasure-trip, with a friend of mine who comes from Chicago. I do not often take a trip, because I am a farmer’s wife, and the mother of three small boys, and a very zealous worker in all the Good Causes of the little village where I live; and that combination of responsibilities fosters a mode of life which is not favorable for much running about the country. But on this occasion, lured on by Alice, the lady from Chicago, I made my escape from home, and promptly set about to enjoy myself very much indeed, as I always do. I glanced about the car for material for immediate pleasure, and saw, sitting at a short distance from us, a very beautiful and clever Bostonian, with whom I have the honor of a slight acquaintance. She bowed to me, smiling graciously, and after a moment left her seat, and came and sat down with Alice and me.

I hasten to state that my acquaintance with this Gracious Lady has nothing to do with my own merits, but is due solely to the fact that my husband — although he is also a farmer, as I said before — occupies a state office similar to that which hers once held, and that consequently we have met and conversed on one or two official or semi-official occasions. Of course, I have heard about her all my life — everyone in New England has; but I know her just well enough to say, if anyone asks me, ‘Why—I have met her. Yes, lovely — ’

Such an acquaintance does not make a very solid bed-rock for conversation in a railroad train; and Alice was not helpful. When she gives a dinnerparty, she has a way of saying, ‘Now, my dear, tell us about that thrilling experience you had in-,’ and then devoting herself calmly to her food, while you are forced to allow the best courses to escape you, as, perspiring and selfconscious, you vainly endeavor to be brilliant, and to comply with her request. And though on this occasion she did not actually say, ‘Now, my dear, show this gracious lady how well you can talk, even if you do live in the country,’ I could see that she was leaning back on her green plush seat with her typical dinner-party expression of countenance.

Fortunately, the gracious lady has a son at the Front. I mean, fortunately for me. It furnished my benumbed mind, which, seeking for relaxation, had found labor, — and Heaven knows, all farmers wives have labor enough at home, — with an immediate topic. There was not even an awkward pause.

‘I trust,’I said blandly, ‘that you have good news from your son.’

I thought that I was perfectly safe in trusting that, out loud; for if the slightest injury happens to anyone so eminent, of course we all hear of it at once. But the gracious lady’s face clouded.

‘Yes,’she said, ‘yes, on the whole, I think. He is well, he is safe, he likes his work. But in one respect he has suffered — ’

My heart contracted. Even Alice looked a little less languid. To hear a mother, whose son is in France, say that he is suffering, in these days —

‘Has suffered real inconvenience,’the musical voice went on; ‘his mail, you know. Even the weekly Transcript and the Atlantic Monthly do not reach him regularly.’

I am sorry to say, that, in the pause of relief with which I greeted this statement, Alice laughed. But what can you expect of Chicago?

However, late that night, when we had reached our journey’s end and I was snugly tucked into bed, — a twin bed beside Alice’s, at the luxurious hotel where her Western extravagance had taken us, — I laughed myself — a laugh of understanding, and satisfaction, and relief. There was a time when to be considered a real Bostonian represented the zenith of my ambition. Since then, my ambition has expanded; and this expansion is due, I believe, partly to a very mixed heredity, and partly to an equally mixed environment.

To explain myself, it is necessary to be slightly autobiographical, and to begin the autobiography with my ancestors — for the careless way in which they jumbled things is doubtless responsible for many of my own difficulties. My mother’s father hailed from Vermont; he was the grandson of a Revolutionary colonel of some note, who, as well as all his family for several generations, had been farmers in a small village in the Connecticut Valley, living, one after the other, in a spacious, simple house, with big fireplaces and white paneling inside, and lilac bushes and elm trees in the front yard. But this particular boy decided not to till the soil, and after graduating from Dartmouth,and beingadmitted to the bar, he went to New York City to seek his fortune. His fortune was so far favorable—though I have never heard that he was much of a lawyer — that it led him straightway to the presence of a young lady about twenty years old, who laughed and danced and sang from morning till night, whose face and figure were altogether lovely, whose father was one of the few millionaires of his day, and whose name was Delia Maria.

In Delia Maria’s family it was not the custom to plough and reap; a large and immensely profitable warehouse provided the wherewithal to maintain a corner house on Madison Avenue; and her education, obtained at Miss Anthony’s Select School for Young Females, at Troy, had taught her more about playing the harp and embroidering samplers than about anything more prosaic and useful. But she was undeniably very beautiful, and besides, her flounced silk dresses came from Paris and her jewelry from Tiffany’s, and such things do help out even the finest looks, no matter how hard those of us who cannot have them try to pretend that they do not. It is easy to see why my grandfather fell in love at first sight. And as New England farmers are sometimes more attractive — and more eloquent — than they are popularly supposed to be, I myself have never thought it strange that he won his suit without much difficulty. He and the lovely Delia Maria were married without delay, and my mother was their only daughter.

This combination of solid yeoman worth with New York frivolity might have worked out very well for their descendants, if my mother, when she married, had not seen fit to add another element to it, thus most rashly endangering my chances for balance. For she chose a young man from the suburbs of Boston, the son of a Congregational minister who had never had an income of a thousand dollars a year. This enterprising youth, after working his way through Harvard and graduating with high honors at the age of nineteen, spent several years studying and traveling in Europe by means of the scholarships that had been awarded to him, earning several honorable degrees, but not much of anything else, and finally returned, to marry my mother and become a teacher of ancient languages at one of our large universities.

On both sides of his family, for generations back, the record had been the same — a long line of clergymen, teachers, and judges. There had been sturdy pioneers, to be sure, but their first care seems always to have been to build schools and churches rather than comfortable homes for themselves. There had been brave officers, as far back as King Philip’s War, and down through the Revolution; but in every case they had laid down their swords as quickly as possible, and returned to their teaching and preaching. Conscience and brains reigned supreme. The pleasant wealth of Madison Avenue and the broad acres of the Connecticut Valley would alike have proved unalluring to them.


And then I came along.

I grew up without worrying at all about what this mixture of levity with devotion, rigid conscientiousness with reckless gayety, love of books with love of open country, might in time do to me. In fact, on the whole, I grew up very pleasantly indeed. With the exception of a few seasons in Europe and the West, I spent my winters in Boston, — I must even admit, on Beacon Street, — attending the school and the dancing-school most approved at that time in the Back Bay; but my summers I spent on the old farm in Vermont, — which, by this time, my mother had inherited from her paternal grandfather, — attending nothing at all. And by the time I was able to read all the books of Virgil with some ease — which would have pleased my father, who had died when I was only two years old; by the time I had gone to Early Service through several Lents, with a zeal which that first clergymanancestor who gave up his parish rather than subscribe to some doctrine which he did not believe could hardly have surpassed; by the time I had developed a taste for dancing and pretty clothes which would have left Delia Maria quite breathless — I was married, myself, and went to live, at the age of eighteen, on a big farm within a stone’s throw of the one on which the Revolutionary colonel had settled, though mine happens to be just across the border-line of the Connecticut River, and consequently in New Hampshire.

It was not long after this that the combination of my up-bringing and my heredity began to rest rather heavily upon me. I could never get deep in a book, that the ungovernable longing to get out of doors and down the lane to the river did not set in. I could never feel that I was the belle of a party, that I did not begin to wonder if I had done quite right in leaving the children. I had been advised by all my teachers to try my own fortunes with my pen, but it seemed hardly worth while to risk a rebuff at the hands of scornful editors, already amply supplied with the works of the Best Authors of the Day, when there was not the slightest doubt that my jam was excellent and my needlework highly satisfactory.

And in those first winters in the country, when the snow lay ten feet high in my own driveway; when my hushand — a farmer, as I said before, but given to many other pursuits as well—was away most of the time; and when the all-enveloping quietnessseemed broken only by the incessant demands of little children, I longed — oh, most desperately — for Boston! for Beacon Street, and Hovey’s store, and the Tremont Theatre; for the group of girls and boys — the ‘Old Guard,’ we called it—that was always to be found at a certain hospitable home in Brookline every Sunday, where a twelve-pound roast of beef and a gallon of vanilla ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce were always prepared for its refreshment; for the crowded subway near St. Paul’s, and the Harvard Bridge with the wind blowing up the Charles River; for Huyler’s sodas, and Page and Shaw’s candy; for the sunset over the Fenway; for the bells of the Church of the Advent! in fact, for everything that seemed to stand for home to me—the wealthy, cultured, friendly Boston of the Evening Transcript and the Atlantic Monthly.

It was not until I heard the gracious lady say, that day in the train last March, that her son was suffering because he was deprived of these two periodicals, that I fully realized to what extent I had at one time done the same — or how completely I had ceased to do so. I do not mean by this that I am not still very fond of them both, and very conscious of their great merits. An evening at home, settled upon my own comfortable sofa, before my own big fireplace, seems strangely incomplete if the Transcript has failed to arrive, even though I can find the main facts of the day’s news more rapidly in some other newspaper. The Atlantic Monthly is among the first of the magazines which crowd the mail-bag about the twenty-fifth of every month, to have its cover torn off and its contents eagerly devoured, in spite of the fact that it returns, with a chilly and courteous note of thanks, the literary offerings which I present before its shrine, and which I then cheerfully send off to find a warmer welcome elsewhere.

Let Alice, whose Chicago mind favors no newspaper without glaring headlines, no magazine without brightly colored illustration, laugh at the bare idea of a man ‘suffering’ for the lack of them — and that means also, of course, for what they represent. I know, all too well, that he may really do so, and with good reason, because I have lived in Boston. But because I have lived somewhere else as well, I can now, if necessary, pass a very pleasant hour with my own state paper, the Manchester Union, which furnishes me with authentic war-news and agreeable editorials, and with Life, which offers a lively substitute for the ‘Contributors’ Club.’ Indeed, sometimes of an evening I do not read at all. I set my eldest son to playing the ‘Devil’s March’ and the ‘Bubi Fox-Trot’ on our little Victor, and reflect, as I sit peacefully knitting and listening to them, that, after the war is over and the men with whom I used to dance to the airs of those tunes have returned from France, and there is a sugarbarrel in the store-closet once more, we will pull up the front-hall rugs, and fill the ice-cream freezer, and have a party again.

I realize, too, as I make these rosy plans for the future, that Beacon Street has become to me just a street, and not a road to Mecca; that there are now other stores than Hovey’s, other sodas than Huyler’s, other sunsets than those seen over the Fenway; the ‘Old Guard,’dear as it will always be to me, is scattered now from one end of the globe to the other, and the hospitable Brookline house is sold to someone whom I do not know. But thereare many others near at hand, where I am always welcome now; and the farmer, whom the ‘Old Guard’ feared I was ‘burying myself alive’ to marry, has risen to heights of well-merited prominence, undreamed-of then. I even know — though this has come last of all — that the ardor which I took to the beautiful services at the Advent cannot compare with the deep and peaceful faith with which I go to worship now, in the bare little hall which perforce serves us for a chapel in this village. The Old Order, which was good, has indeed changed, yielding place to new, and the New is better — far better still.


Two years ago, accompanied only by Henry, — that same eldest son who plays the Victor to me, and who at that time was eleven years old, — I went to California to visit a friend, who, though she had grown up not far from me on Beacon Street, elected, when she reached years of discretion, to go and live in Los Angeles. I was not very well at the time, and my appearance was more subdued than usual, partly on this account, and partly because I was in mourning for my mother-in-law; but my spirit was delightfully untrammeled, because I had at last reached a region where nobody knew me, and where I could do substantially what I pleased. I decided, among other things, to go from Los Angeles to San Diego and back by jitney, over the wonderful road that stretches along by the sea, and then curves back over the mountains. I did not feel sure that my family would smile upon such a means of conveyance. At home I take the air and do my errands in a neat though modest product of the automobile industry of Detroit, winch bears my own initials on its door, and which is known to the entire household by the affectionate name of ‘Dodgey.’ If persons outside of my own family accompany me on these expeditions, they are carefully chosen from the congenial circle of friends who have now been my neighbors for many years. On the rare occasions when I go to the city to visit, I often ride about in limousines, even those of foreign manufacture, and driven by chauffeurs of haughty speech and imposing appearance. I knew that the jitney would resemble neither of these familiar types of motor. Nevertheless, my friend the ex-Bostonian saw no reason why I should not travel in one, if it pleased me to do so; so armed with Henry, my simple black clothes, and my untrammeled spirit, I left Los Angeles one gorgeous November afternoon at two o’clock, eager for whatever might befall.

A number of interesting things befell.

In the first place, the other occupants of the jitney proved worthy of my interested attention. On the front seat with the driver, a cheerful, attractive youth, about eighteen years old, were two Mexicans who could speak very little English, but who were nevertheless very eloquent about some injustice which they felt had been done them in regard to their pay, just received. The driver frequently ducked, rather hurriedly, to escape the arms which waved excitedly every now and then, as they expressed their indignation and displeasure.

The auxiliary seats were occupied by three gentlemen who had refreshed themselves more copiously than wisely before leaving the great city, and were severally sleepy, cross, and given to song. On the back seat with Henry and me was a black-clad, morose individual, — I set him down as an undertaker, — who picked his teeth, read a circular as long as there was light enough, and never opened his mouth during the entire journey. Lest anyone labor under misapprehension, however, let me hasten to state that all these travelers were as civil to me as they were uninterested in my presence. It is so usual in California for a woman a lady—to go about everywhere and anywhere and at any time that suits her, that it does not even occur to anyone to notice her, unless something special arises to call attention to the fact that she is there; in which case she expects — and receives — instant kindness and consideration from whomever she happens to be thrown with.

About half way between the two cities, the road, which up to that point has followed the sea so closely that you can often feel the spray on your face, turns abruptly over a bridge which spans a narrow rushing stream, and begins to wind up among the mountains. It was growing dark when we reached this point, but it was not too dark to see the tragic remains of what had once been a very handsome motor, lying on its side near the foaming water. The driver turned to impart an interesting piece of intelligence.

‘Bad accident here the other day,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Two people killed outright, four others hurt considerable. They had to send an ambulance down from Los. Yes, ’t was a shame — but you can’t help such things happenin’ pretty often on these roads, especially after dark, they’re so pesky curvy and steep.’

He smiled a very winning smile, showing fine white teeth, as he turned casually back to his wheel, and shifted into second. We had begun to ascend the road, which, though beautifully wide, and smooth as a lady’s looking-glass, was certainly ‘pesky curvy and steep.’

‘Gosh!’ he exclaimed, a moment later, ‘there goes one of my headlights — and I didn’t bring an extra one.’ And, ‘Gosh!’ he said again, ten minutes later still, ‘there goes the other — and we’re twenty miles from a house, let alone a garage.’

It was perfectly true. For over two hours we crept along, in darkness which quickly became the blackest I have ever known. There are no twilights in California. Even the Mexicans grew subdued. I could hear the snores of one of the gentlemen who had refreshed himself before leaving the great city, and who was by now quite indifferent to such a trifle as headlights. I could feel Henry’s fingers in mine. But I could not see one inch before my face. The cheerful driver was silent. Up and down grade, around curves shaped like hairpins and others shaped like serpents, he guided the car. We went on — and on — and on — for what seemed an eternity. And at last, far up on the side of the mountain we saw a single twinkling light.

‘That’s Muggins’s!’ shouted the driver. ‘He’ll have an extra light, likely. We can make that all right - the road’s a cinch from now on.’

It was a cry of triumph, but it betrayed, by the relief as well as the victory which it expressed, how great the tension had been. When we reached Muggins’s he gave another, as an individual in overalls advanced to meet us.

‘I’ve driven all the way from the bridge without lights!’ he yelled, ‘and I’ve got eight passengers — two Mexicans, four men, a kid, and a lady.’

The next day, after Henry and I had spent a rapturous morning at the Exposition, and gone over to Coronado Beach for our luncheon, the cheerful driver called at our hotel, according to arrangement, to take us back to Los Angeles. We found only one passenger in the jitney this time — a heavy, middle-aged man, with an air of prosperity and a kindly manner. There was something very like welcome in his expression as we seated ourselves beside him. We had not gone far before he spoke to us, in the friendly fashion of California.

‘You come up from Los yesterday, did n’t you?’ he asked, with interest.

We said yes, we had. The smile of welcome broadened.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I own this jitney line. My driver here’s been tellin’ me about your trip. Course he oughter ’a’ had extra lights along, and he’s the kind that likes to do his own tattlin’. “Gosh!” sez he to me’ (only the owner of the jitney did n’t say ‘Gosh’) ‘ “when that second light give out, hell,” sez he, “now I guess I’m in for a case of hysterics! But she never opened her yap” — he meant you, miss. “Darn it all ” ' (only the owner of the jitney line did n’t say ‘darn’), ‘“that girl’s got sand — and her with her kid brother along, too. If she’d ’a’ come from a city, things would ’a’ ben different. But it’s easy to see she must ’a’ ben raised on a ranch, plain and rough, same as we was. Gosh!” I’m real glad to meet you myself, miss.’

My heart swelled with pride. It was the most sincere compliment I ever had. I did not disillusion him. I realized that, for the first time in my life, perhaps, I was standing entirely upon my own merits, such as they were — realized too, what a wonderful sensation it was, and that I would have a new standard of courage to live up to all the rest of my life. For the supreme virtue in this man’s mind was not pretty clothes or brains or broad acres or even high character. He set it down to my credit that I had, as he supposed, been raised ‘plain and rough’ — what really counted was ‘sand.’ I doubted whether he had ever heard of the sheltered Connecticut Valley, and I felt perfectly sure that both Beacon Street and Madison Avenue were beyond his ken. He talked, affably and intelligently, of many things, as we sped along. I learned much of geography and farming and machinery. When we reached the stopping-place for supper, — San Juan Capistrano, — he seemed to take it entirely as a matter of course that we were all to sit together in the little restaurant. When I pulled off my gloves, disclosing my wedding-ring (the only ring I had on), a fresh topic of conversation sprang up.

‘You’re married!’ he exclaimed.

I pleaded guilty. But in the face of the flattering fact that both he and the driver had mistaken Henry for my ‘ kid brother,’ I was loath to add that this was a story now twelve years old.

‘Any kids?’ he asked with interest.


Murder will out. I glanced at Henry with amusement.

‘Well, now, you don’t say! How old are you?’


‘You don’t look it.’ Then, scanning me carefully, and taking in my black dress, ‘You — you ain’t had a — loss, have you?’

I hastened to assure him that my husband was in the best of health.

‘That’s fine,’ he said, visibly much relieved. ‘Got a good job, has he?’

‘A farmer,’ I announced, with commendable candor.

‘ We knew you was raised in the country. Well, he’d ’a’ ben pleased if he could ’a’ seen you last night. Sand! that’s what I like — bet that’s what he likes, too. Grit! — How large a farm?’

‘A thousand acres,’I flung out, with the happy New England delusion that that was a fair-sized place. He echoed me with commiseration.

‘A thousand! I was raised on one of thirty thousand — though that ain’t large for this state. Not but what a young man can get a living for his family off a smaller one, if he’s smart. Do have some more stew.'

He had the air of wishing to assure himself that Henry and I should get a square meal for once in our lives.

We parted that evening with mutual esteem, and in the mutually expressed hope of meeting some time again.


I enjoyed every minute of that trip between Los Angeles and San Diego, no more, no less, than one I took, soon after I was married, in the Van Ritches’ private car, when the Van Ritches’ chef prepared wonderful dinners of seven courses for us every evening, and the Van Ritches’ limousines stood waiting for us at every station at which we chose to alight, so that we need never take an unnecessary step, or be touched by any unfriendly breeze. Could I, I wonder, say that with such entire truthfulness, if my heredity and environment had been all of Boston, and not the funny mixture of elements which I have described? And would the trip of my dreams — the ideal trip, which is still before me — be quite of the nature that I love to picture it? Fond to the heart as I am of ‘Dodgey,’ awake to the joys of both jitneys and private cars, my ultimate ambition is to attain a gypsy wagon. (I cherished this ambition, even before I read ‘Open Country’ and ‘The Happy Warrior,’so do not accuse me of copy-catting.) It is to be painted a bright apple-green, and drawn by one large, strong gray horse. It is to be equipped with a back piazza, a comfortable bed with great square pillows, — I insist that the pillows be square, — a few necessary cooking utensils, and a goodly supply of reading material — including, of course, the Evening Transcript and the Atlantic Monthly. There must also be lace curtains at the windows — why, I do not know, as they are a luxury to which I have always refused to give houseroom.

I shall take on this trip one agreeable companion, though whom, I have not as yet the least idea. By day, we will amble leisurely and pleasantly along the highway. By night we will draw up in some sloping pasture beside it. I must confess that the details of how we shall procure food and wash our clothes are rather vague — but are not the most beautiful dreams indistinct in places?

My satisfied reflections had taken me a long way from Alice, who was by this time presumably sleeping peacefully in the twin-bed beside my own, for it was getting on toward morning. I turned to look at her, in the dim light which streamed in from the little parlor, which at the last moment she had insisted on taking ‘so that we should be really comfortable,’ besides the ‘double bed-room and bath ’ previously telegraphed for. She was stirring — perhaps had been dreaming. There was a gentle movement under the sheets, and a still gentler snort — if ladies as sweet and lovely as Alice is can ever be said to snort.

‘Suffering!' she murmured, drowsily, but joeringly, ‘for the Evening Transcript and the Atlantic Monthly! Howcomic Bostonians are!’

‘ We are not,’ I protested indignantly.

‘“We!"’ Alice was roused.

‘Yes,’ I said proudly, ‘you seem to forget that I am one. Just because I happen to live in New Hampshire now — ’

Alice turned over comfortably.

‘Living in New Hampshire now has nothing to do with it,’ she proclaimed. ‘You never were more than a semiBostonian, anyway, and if you’re tactful, the new acquaintances you make nowadays won’t guess even that. Where did you get that red velvet dress you wore to-night? From Paris, I suppose! It’s lovely; but really, you frivolous creature, I tliipk that in war-time—’

Feebly I defended myself. The dress had been bought from a reputable and conservative firm on Tremont Street; it had cost $49.50. It owed much of its distinction, though it was pretty, to the diamonds inherited from Delia Maria, which I wore with it. And I was not frivolous, and I was a Bostonian — that is —

Then I decided that it was useless to argue the case with a lady from Chicago, especially if she was sleepy. Her outlook, anyway, is limited on one side by the prairie, on the other by Lake Michigan - a fairly broad expanse. I gave it up as hopeless, and went to sleep.

That is why I have written it all down here instead.