Here to return to
IN THE ADIRONDACKS
“I’LL be ready in a minute,” said the stage-coach driver, and then he spent half an hour stowing away a vast cargo of boxes, barrels, and other miscellany in his rusty, canopy-topped vehicle. So little spare space was left I was thankful that I was the only passenger. I had just alighted from a train at a little station among the outlying foot-hills of the mountains, and my destination was an inland valley. When the driver climbed in and took up his reins to start, I called his attention to several great piles of hemlock bark near by awaiting transfer to some tannery.
“Those piles ain’t nothin’ to what we used to see,” was my companion’s comment. “Our timber lands are growin’ poorer all the time, and hemlock bark’s gittin’ more skurce every year. We’re cuttin’ off everythin’ we c’n git a cent for — that’s the trouble.”
From what the driver said and all I had heard of lumbering in the Adirondacks I expected to find the mountains much denuded, but to my eyes they seemed still heavily timbered. Yet most of the finest trees have undoubtedly been felled, and the ancient primeval majesty of the forest is departed forever.
We had not gone far on our road when the driver pointed with his whip toward a high mountain slope across which there was a drift of yellow smoke. “By gol, look a’ that!” he exclaimed. “Thar’s a fire up in thar, and it’s started since I went down an hour ago. But it’s too early in the season for it to burn good. The woods ain’t dry yit. Last summer we fit fires stiddy for a month, and the fire wardens got out every one they could git. Sometimes thar’d be a hundred men workin’ on the same mountain. We carried shovels and dug trenches. You see the top o’ the ground was dry several inches deep, and would burn off. We’d dig down to whar it was damp, and when the fire got to the ditch we’d made it would usually stop:, but if thar was a stick lay across, or a dead tree got to burnin’ and fell over the line, the fire would start again and we’d have to trench around it once more. It ain’t a job I like — fightin’ fire — with all the smoke and climbin’ and the diggin’. Sometimes I’ve been surrounded by the fire and had to break a way out through the flames. You have to look out for that.”
“How do the fires start?” I asked.
“We don’t often find out for certain, but thar’s a lot o’ fire bugs in the mountains. They’re sore over the game laws, or they start a fire so’s to earn some money puttin’ of it out. The pay’s high enough to make that quite an inducement. We git two dollars a day. The state pays half and the town half; and you never can tell when you git a lot of men out whether they’re workin’ or not. Some of ‘em just lie around drunk. Last year’s fire ran over those ridges on ahead thar. You c’n see whar it’s burnt, can’t you?”
Yes, I could see long stretches of the upper mountains that seemed to be a charred desolation of black earth and gaunt, dead trees. It looked as if the green would never return.
“Off on those higher mountains are white patches that appear to be snow,” I remarked presently.
“I do’ know but they are. More likely, though, they’re bare rocks and the sun glistenin’ on water that’s runnin’ down over ‘em. Still, thar’s snow in some of the high hollows most all summer. We’ve got what they call an ice cave in the town whar I live, and every Fourth of July regular the young folks go up to it and have some fun snowballing. Thar’ll be plenty of snow thar next Fourth if we c’n judge anything by the winter we’ve had. Worst winter for snow ‘t I c’n remember. It begun in November with a three-foot storm that caught us all unexpected. I’d been ploughing the day before, and it buried my plough out of sight. I had to go and dig the plough out of a drift that was higher’n my head. For five days we was cutoff from the mail and everything else. Dozens of weak roofs was broken in — mostly of sheds, piazzas, and barns, but sometimes of houses. After that storm we never had any let-up. The snow kept comin’ and gittin’ deeper all winter. Thar was too much for good sleighin’ and too much for loggin’ in the woods; but it went fast as soon as the sun begun to warm up about the first of April.”
We were now going through a narrow pass between two mountains, and I mentioned the wildness of the spot to the driver. “Yes, it is kind o’ wild,” said he, “that’s a fact. This is a great runway for bears across here. They’ve got a den back on one o’ the ridges not fur away. You find their tracks in the road often, and about a year ago this time as I was walkin’ my horses up the hill we’re comin’ to I see a bear — an old big fellow — large as a cow — diggin’ out mice at the foot of a rotten stump. But they keep out o’ the way and don’t often show themselves. Lot’s o’ people that have lived in the Adirondacks all their days have never laid eyes on a live wild bear. Do you know Len Hoskins? He’s a hunter and guide, and he’s got a little place off in the woods where he stays a good share o’ the time. He sees bears every year. He routed out one bear right in the middle of winter. ‘Twa’n’t nothin’ strange. The bears don’t hide away in the rocks as you might think. Rocks are too cold. They like to crawl into some hollow, or a narrow place between two fallen trees and let the snow drift over ‘em. This bear of Len’s had put up not so very far from a wood road, and Len was goin’ along and his dog was with him, and the dog run off among the trees and begun to bark and paw the snow. Len saw ‘t he’d struck some game, and he sicked the dog on, and first thing he knew a bear rose up out of the snow. The bear got the dog, but Len, he had his gun, and he got the bear.
“I had a little adventure myself one time when I was spending a few days with Len. He had some bear traps out and one o’ the animiles got caught. It was a little year-old cub, and I expect it had been in the trap for at least two days when we found it. The trap had broke the bear’s leg, and it had got out and left its leg behind, but it couldn’t go far. We’d been out pickin’ berries and hadn’t nothing except our jackknives and a couple of long sticks we’d cut for canes, and we’d ‘a’ let the bear alone if we’d thought we was goin’ to have any trouble. That little beast was terrible spunky, if it didn’t have but three legs, and soon as it see ‘twa’n’t no use tryin’ to git away it showed fight. First it would go for Len and I’d whack it with my stick, and then it would turn on me and Len would git in a whack. We had a fifteen minutes’ tussle, and I worked harder and sweat more than I ever have in that length of time before or since. But at last we killed the critter and slung him on a pole and carried him to camp. We had bear steak for a while then, and I called it better ‘n venison.”
“Do the bears ever trouble the farmers any?” I inquired.
“No, they don’t do much damage. I did some think they got six sheep o’ mine a few years ago, but I guess those bears didn’t have more’n two legs. Thar wa’n’t the least sign o’ the sheep to be found nowhar, and a bear always leaves the hide, if nothin’ more. It’s torn some, but it’s cleaned out a good sight cleaner than you could git it with a knife. The deer do the most harm. They’ll git over the best fence we got, and the back lots next to the woods ain’t never safe from ‘em. They spoil more’n a little grain for us, and they’re gittin’ worse, too. The law don’t allow hunting of ‘em with hounds now, and they ain’t so timid as they was, and they’re increasin’. But thar’s too many hunters for ‘em ever to git very numerous.”
About the middle of the afternoon, the stage reached the end of its route, and I continued farther into the mountains on foot. Most of the way the road led through the woodland up a valley, and had close beside it a swift, noisy stream. The forest was charming with the emerald and tawny tints of spring, and was musical with bird songs. As for the walking, it might
have been better. Sturdy rocks humped up out of the earth at intervals in the very centre of the highway, there were often muddy shallows in the low spots fed by little rivulets that trickled down the wheel tracks, and not infrequently I encountered boggy places which had been filled in with brush and corduroy. The corduroy was not, however, of a very strenuous type - not much more than saplings. You would have to search far now to find the genuine article, but it used to be common in the Adirondacks, wherever the road inclined to be soft. Ordinarily it consisted of substantial sticks about six inches in diameter, but which might be as much as ten. In any case they would fairly make one’s teeth rattle to drive over them.
Along the road I was travelling were occasional meadow openings occupied by a house or two, or perhaps several of them; and in the fields near these houses I was pretty apt to see men and boys busy ploughing and planting. The land in the clearings was for the most part steep and broken, and the soil so stony that the progress of a man ploughing was very jerky and uncertain. He was constantly striking, not only loose stones of all sizes, but heavy boulders that brought him to frequent sudden stops. Then he had to pull and haul to get ready for a fresh start.
AN ADIRONDACK FARMER
Wherever I went during my Adirondack stay the houses were small and usually unpainted. The barns were likewise meagre and rusty, and though the storage room they afforded was Iikely to be eked out by a number of sheds and lean-tos, it never seemed to be equal to demands. A very common arrangement of the house buildings was to have the barns just across the road from the house. If such were the case, the manure heaps were very likely thrown out of the stable windows on the houseward side in conspicuous view. This was simply a matter of barbaric convenience, and was formerly customary in all our older farming regions.
The Adirondack sheds and barns were often of logs; but the era of log construction is past, and buildings of this kind are becoming rarer every year. The majority of the log dwellings that still remain have been added to and improved past recognition, and the rudeness of those that continue as originally built is a constant distress if their caretakers have any pride. The logs used are hewed off a little on each face, so that they are halfway between round and square, and the chinks are stopped with plaster. Such houses are considered warmer in winter than frame buildings; but the floors are uneven, the log sills of the second story are exposed, and the walls inside and out are alternating ridges and hollows. If the rooms are papered, the roughness of the walls is still apparent, and the paper is sure to crack badly and peel off in spite of all that can be done.
One of the Adirondack days I remember with especial pleasure was a certain lowery Friday. In the afternoon I was caught by a shower that came charging with its mists down a mountain glen. I hastened along the forest road while the drops played a tattoo on the leaves overhead, until I reached a roadside house where I sought shelter in a woodshed with an open front. This shed was in the ell of a house adjoining the kitchen, and was used in part as a back room. The far side was stowed full of neatly piled split wood, but in the other half were pots and kettles and pails, a swill barrel, and a rusty stove. I asked a woman at work in the kitchen for a drink of water; and she brought out a chair for me, and stepped across the yard and filled a dipper at a tub set in the ground. This tub was connected with a spring up the hill, the woman said; but, though springs were abundant, very few of the neighbors had running water. They were deterred by the expense of buying pipe, and got along with wells. From these they as a rule drew the water by means of some old-fashioned windlass contrivance, or a pole with a hook on the end, or an antiquated well-sweep.
I had not been long in the shed where I had taken refuge when a small boy in a big straw hat came around the corner of the house. He carried a fish-pole and a tin box. He had been fishing for trout, he said, but had caught chubs.
“Do you always fish for trout?” I questioned.
“And do you ever catch any?”
“No,” he acknowledged despondently, “just chubs. I put ‘em in this box. It’s full of water.” He took off the cover and showed me several tiny fish swimming about within.
“Are they good to eat?” I inquired.
“No, they’re only good to kill,” he responded with frank innocence of his savagery.
Now his mother called to him. “Willie,” she said, “I wish you would bring in some wood before it rains any harder — that wood outdoors, you know, that we didn’t have room for in the shed.”
The boy went lingeringly toward the remnants of a pile in the yard. “It’s thunderin’, mamma,” said he.
“You’d better hurry, then.”
“Sounds like tumblin’ down stones.”
“Mamma, there’s a hawk!”
“Well, I don’t care!”
“It’s a chickenhawk, I guess! Come aout and see it. It’ll get those little chickens of ourn.”
“Don’t stan’ out there hollerin’ any longer — bring in the wood.”
But the boy had slipped away behind the house, and a few moments later he reappeared with his father, whom he had summoned from the cornfield.
Shelling Seed Corn
“Let me have my gun!” the man called to his wife, with his eyes turned skyward toward the hawk, and the woman handed it out to him. He clicked a cartridge into the muzzle and aimed at the soaring bird. But he did not fire. “Too high up,” said he, lowering the gun and passing it back to his wife. “Well,” he went on, “I guess I’ll shell some seed corn, and then if it keeps on rainin’ I’ll go fishin’.”
“Do you go fishing every time it rains?” I queried.
“No, but I’m pretty apt to. The fish bite better in drizzlin’ weather.”
He did not go this time, for he had hardly got his corn and sat down in the shed to shell it, using his hands and a cob, when the sun began to glint through the flying drops and to brighten the green, watery landscape. “Hello!” said the man, “‘Rain and shine to-day, rain to-morrer.’ That’s the old saying, but I’d like to have it pleasant for about a week so I could finish up planting.”
As soon as the shower was over I resumed my rambling, and the tumbled ridges of the Adirondacks never loomed finer than they did then, veiled in the moist haze that succeeded the rain, with here and there a filmy cloud floating across the loftier heights. Wherever I obtained an extended view, the mountains looked mighty and magnificent enough to satisfy their most ardent admirers. I plodded along the muddy roadway, sometimes in the dripping woods, sometimes amid little house clearings. Toward evening I met a small drove of cows coming home from pasture in charge of a woman, the whole making a delightfully idyllic bit of life there on the quiet of the secluded forest way, with a murmuring stream close at hand and the tink, tink of the bell on the leading cow’s neck adding its musical, rustic accompaniment. A little later I came to a house with a pasture just across the road, and in the pasture a lad milking. The boy said most people drove their cows into the barnyard to milk them, but his folks always milked them there at the pasture bars in summer. I had stopped to ask if I could get kept over night at some place near, and he sent me to the next house up the hill — Mr. Macey’s.
Bringing in the Cows after their Day’s Grazing
One never has much trouble in getting lodged in the Adirondacks. The wayfarer can find accommodation at almost any home where he chooses to stop, and the standard price is fifty cents for a room with supper and breakfast. The house I sought was a little brown dwelling on a slope overlooking a vast sweep of valley and dim mountains. Mr. Macey was standing in the yard smoking his pipe when I approached — a thin, gray man of rather more than threescore years. In response to my question as to whether I could stay for the night he leisurely removed his pipe and said: “You’ll find my wife and daughter in the house thar. It’s the women folks that do the work. All I do is the eatin’. You c’n talk with them.”
A stout, elderly woman appeared at the kitchen door just then, set two pails of milk out on the piazza, and asked rather sharply, “Why don’t you feed this to the calves as you was goin’ to an hour ago?”
The old man stepped over to the piazza and took the pails with an alacrity that betokened a smitten conscience. At the same time I went to the door and proffered my request for lodging.
“It wouldn’t be convenient to-night,” replied Mrs. Macey. “We’re goin’ to keep a spectacle pedler that came along before supper, and it wouldn’t be convenient to take any one else.”
I was turning away when I was met by one of the sons of the family coming across the yard from the barn with the pedler of spectacles.
“What’s the matter?” he asked. “Where you goin’? Can’t get kept? Well, I’d like to know why! See here!” he continued, turning to his companion, “you’re used to sleepin’ three in a bed, ain’t you?”
“Yes, sure, six!”
“Do you kick?”
“No, but I give you fair warnin’ I’m a snorer.”
“That’s all right. You just as soon bunk in with this man, hadn’t you?”
“Why, yes! If he’s satisfied, I am.”
So it was settled and I stayed. The house proved to be of logs, but these had been clapboarded over, and the real construction was not revealed until I went inside. There I found the logs very apparent, though partially hidden by a covering of wall-paper. Overhead was the flooring of the rooms upstairs, with the long sagging logs that served for joists incrusted with many coatings of whitewash.
While I sat at supper eating alone, for I was late and the others had finished, Mr. Macey came into the back room. “I been talkin’ with that spectacle man,” he remarked to his wife, “and he’s a plaguey nice feller, I’ll bet ye.”
“Well, you be careful then he don’t sell you nothin’ you don’t want,” was Mrs. Macey’s comment, as she came in to the supper table with a plate of cake. The dog followed her. “Here, get out of here,” she commanded, taking up a piece of bread and throwing it out into the back room.
Mr. Macey had entered the dining room and was standing by the stove opening his jack-knife. “That’s a good dog,” he said to me, “if he does get in the way once in a while. He ain’t never barking and snapping at people. I’d as lieve a man’s children would come out and throw stones at me as to have his dog run out and bark at me every time I go past.”
Picking up Chips
Mr. Macey now took up a stick and began to whittle shavings. He did not sever them from the stick, but left them fast at one end. When he had bristled up the stick to his satisfaction, he laid it down, and took up another which he treated in like manner.
“What are you making?” I inquired.
“Kindlings. You see you touch a match to the ends o’ them shavings and it’ll start up a good blaze right off. Whittling kindlings is a job I do every night. I have to have two or three sticks fixed for this stove, and two or three for the back-room stove. I’m usin’ cedar wood from some old fence posts at present, but I like pine better when we can git it.”
After I finished eating I visited the barn, where I found Mr. Macey’s two sons, Geoffry and “Ted,” milking. They were lively, capable fellows about eighteen or twenty years of age. I was just in time to see Ted get into trouble with his cow. The creature put her foot in his pail, and he jumped up, fierce with wrath, and banged her with his stool, and called her slab-sided, and went on to blast her with as wild and sulphurous a string of invectives as I have ever heard. But the milking was nearly done, and the boys soon went to the house. The family presently got together in the dining room, which also served as a sitting room and to some extent as a kitchen, and the spectacles pedler and I “made ourselves at home” with them.
“If I had such a cow as that red and yellow one I’d sell her,” Ted remarked to his father with great disgust.
“What’s the matter?”
“She’s got altogether too contrary a disposition. You can’t make her stand still.”
“She’ll stand still as a mouse when I milk her.”
“These are the easiest galluses ever I wore,” interrupted Geoffry, giving a hitch to his suspenders; “but they feel darn funny when the buttons are off.”
“They’re made o’ leather, ain’t they?” asked the spectacles pedler.
“Yes,” Geoffry replied, “I had ‘em built special at the harness-maker’s. Come, Ted, sew on this button, will you?”
“I’ll sew it on,” said his mother.
“No you won’t, ma. You’ve done enough to-day. I’d sew it on myself if it wa’n’t around back of me.” Ted was willing enough and seated himself behind his brother and got to work, at the same time mentioning to his sister that he wished to goodness she’d make some pie-plant pie. “I was looking in the garden this afternoon,” he went on, “and the pie-plant’s gettin’ good and big.”
“Oh, gee, Ted! why don’t you say rhubarb?” Molly commented. “If you was ever to take dinner at a restaurant in the city, and ask for pie-plant pie, they wouldn’t know what you meant. They’d think you never had been out of the woods before.”
“That wouldn’t be anything much,” declared Mr. Macey. “There’s people here in this town that never ‘ve been outside the county — men older ‘n I am.”
“There’s some people in this town too smart for the clothes they wear, I know that!” affirmed Geoffry, severely.
“I’ll warrant you there are!” exclaimed the pedler of spectacles. “Some in my town too.”
“I know a girl,” said the daughter of the house, “who’s never seen a train of cars in her life, and she’s twenty-two years old.”
“I jolly!” said the spectacles man, “if I was one o’ you boys, I’d hitch up and take that girl down to see the cars right off.”
“Oh, thunder! you don’t know the girl,” snorted Geoffry, “or you wouldn’t be so sure. She’d talk you to death. It’s nineteen miles to the railroad and nineteen back.”
“It’s more than that, my kind little friend,” said Ted, and then the two brothers entered into a dispute to settle the exact distance.
Meanwhile, Mr. Macey had got out his pipe and was filling it. “I hain’t been everywhere,” he remarked, “but I’d be ashamed o’ myself if I hadn’t never seen a train o’ cars.”
“Say, mister, you would, wouldn’t you?” was the pedler’s comment.
“Well, a man that’s more curious to me than anyone else around here,” began Geoffry, “is a fellow I know of who gets his living by sitting in his chair and making ashes, and he’s got a large family to support. Making ashes is about all I’ve ever seen him do — just smoking, you know. I’ve offered to give him a cow for the receipt of how to live without doing nothing. He ain’t got no cow, and he needs one bad, but he won’t sell me the receipt.
THE KITCHEN DOOR OF A LOG HOUSE
“He’s got a horse,” said Ted.
“Yes, but what’s that horse o’ his’n good for?” queried Mr. Macey. “He keeps it just for swapping. He’d spend all his time swapping horses if he could find any one to swap with, specially when he sees a chance o’ gittin’ something to boot. If he c’n git a dollar to boot, it don’t matter what sort of a horse he gits; and there’s times he’ll only git a rooster or a dozen eggs. Then, again, he maybe has to pay boot. But I c’n say one thing for him -he’d starve before he’d steal.”
“Pete Foster’s laid up yet with his sprained ankle,” remarked Geoffry, changing the subject. “He says he wishes it had been a broken bone. Thinks if it had been, he could ‘a’ ordered a new one and got it here by this time, and been out and around.”
“What’d he say about that two-shillin’ hen he bought?” inquired Ted. “He’s tellin’ everybody that now.”
“Oh, he said he bought the hen, and the idea struck him he’d have it to eat, seein’ he was kind of an invalid at present. So he got the hen ready for the kittle, and his wife set up all night and boiled it. She didn’t seem to make much progress in cookin’ it tender, so they boiled it all day, and ‘twa’n’t done then, and Pete he set up all that night to keep it boilin’, and the next morning, he tried it again, and it was so tough he couldn’t stick a fork into the water it had been boilin’ In.
“Pete’s kep’ pretty straight sence he took the Keeley cure, hain’t he?” Mr. Macey interrogated.
“Yes; he won’t even eat mince pie that’s got cider in it.”
“Do many take the Keeley cure here?” I inquired. “Oh, land, yes, lots of ‘em; and some come back and go right to drinkin’ again; and then perhaps they’ll take the cure a second time and pay the hundred dollar fee twice over and still drink. But with a good many it really makes a man of ‘em. I’ve known fellers cured that beforehand was that crazy for drink they’d swallow Jamaica ginger or peppermint essence, if they couldn’t get anything else.”
“What did you mean awhile ago when you were telling of a two-shilling hen?” I asked Ted.
“I meant it cost two shillin’s — two York shillin’s — same as twenty-five cents. Folks speak of shillin’s a good deal round here, though there ain’t no money of that denomination, and never has been since I c’n remember. Mostly we reckon in shillin’s when we c’n talk about a single shillin’ or two shillin’s. Sometimes you hear four shillin’s instead of fifty cents, and ten shillin’s instead of a dollar and a quarter, but for the rest we say dollars and cents.”
“At the house where I had dinner this noon,” said I, “the man told me he went fishing the other day and put six flies on his line, and he hooked three fish at once. He got two of them, and the smaller one weighed a pound and the other weighed two pounds, and the one that broke away was big as both those he caught put together.”
“How’d he know about the heft of the one that broke away?” queried Mr. Macey.
“He didn’t explain that point,” I replied. “He said he caught the fish in the river down in the valley below here, and they were trout from California that had been put in the lake up above. They were so gamey he couldn’t pull them out, and he had to play them and use a net.”
“I’ve heard about their putting in those trout there from California or some other foreign country,” said Ted. “I hooked one myself down in the holler last summer and it did act queer, but I finally treed it and got it.”
“What was the man’s name where you stayed for dinner?” Mrs. Macey asked.
“Dickon!” ejaculated Geoffry. “Well, I hope the Lord you didn’t believe all he told you!”
“Did you have Dutch cheese there?” inquired Mr. Macey. “They’re great hands for Dutch cheese at Dickon’s.”
“They had it on the table,” I answered, “but it isn’t a thing I care for.”
“Gosh, I do! I wish I had a chunk of it in my paw now. I’d lay down my pipe and eat it. Where was it Dickon said they’d put in those trout?”
“He said in the lake.”
“What lake’s that, I wonder.”
“He meant the pond, father,” Geoffry explained. “The city people don’t like ponds, and I don’t believe there’s a pond left in the Adirondacks now. Dickon drives for one of the sporting-houses in the summer, and he’s caught the city notion of giving what we’ve always known as a pond a more tony title.”
“What do you mean by a sporting-house?” I asked.
“Oh, just a house where the city people stay — a summer hotel. There’s one sporting-house in this town that’ll accommodate three hundred people. It’s only about two miles from here, but you have to climb a deuce of a hill to get to it.”
“We’ve got a picture of it somewhere,” said Mrs. Macey. “Won’t you see if you can find it, Geoffry? and perhaps this gentleman would like to look at that picture of our house we had taken last year.”
Geoffry after a short absence brought forth the latter from the next room, remarking: “I can’t find the shorting-house, but here’s this. It was made by some men that came along in a photograph cart. That’s my mother and beloved sister sitting out in front with the dog. There wa’n’t no one else at home. You can see the shingles that we’d patched the roof with where it had been leakin’, and the whole thing’s very natural, I think.”
“A while after the fellers had been along with their cart,” said Mr. Macey, “they come again and brought the picture all finished to sell, and they wanted two dollars for it. That was too much. I’d a’ paid a dollar and been glad to; but they began to throw off when they see I wouldn’t pay their price, and then I didn’t know what the thing was worth. They got down to fifty cents finally, and I said I’d give ‘em a quarter. They said the lowest they’d take was half a dollar. So after a while they started off, but they hadn’t got far when they stopped and hollered back for me to get my quarter. It was a good bargain, I guess.
“I don’t think so,” commented Molly. “What do you want a picture of your own house for? If you want to see your house, all you have to do is to go out and look at it.”
“I’d like a picture of some of the houses the way they was when I was a boy,” said her father — “log houses with stone chimneys outside built against the ends. In the kitchen you’d find fireplaces big enough to take in a backlog four feet long and two feet through. I’d like to see my daughter here try to get a meal in one o’ those fireplaces. I know just how my mother used to fry flapjacks — she’d stand there front o’ the fire with her long-handled frying-pan, and when a cake was done on one side she’d give a shake to loosen it and then toss it up, and it would come down on the other side. The floors were of split logs hewed off flat. The kitchen’d have one or two bedrooms opening off of it, and up above under the roof there’d be a long, low chamber that you went up to by a ladder.
“My wife, here, has a wool wheel yet, and spins her own yarn and some to sell; and a good many of the older women in the Adirondacks does the same. But the spinning they do is nothing to what their mothers did. Besides wool, they used to spin flax, and they had looms and wove their own cloth, and they made all the clothes for the family. I c’n remember, too, how in the winter my grandmother would put on a pair of men’s boots, and wade through the snow to the barn to milk. Some women still know how to milk, but very few make a practice of it. I tell you, them old-time women did a lot o’ work that the women don’t do these days.
“In my grandmother’s family they ate off pewter plates. They didn’t have no crockery, and when company came they’d use the pewter just the same, only they’d give it a special shinin’ first.
Spinning Yarn for the Family Stockings
“My mother every fall ‘d make up twenty-five or thirty dozen of dipped candles, enough to last till spring. Candles was all we had for lightin’ the house, and we had to use ‘em, too, in our lanterns. Them lanterns was tin, like a tall four-quart pot all pricked full of holes, and the holes only let out the light in little slivers, so ‘t if you wanted to see anything you had to open the lantern and give the candle a chance. I recollect the time when we began to buy lamps for whale oil, and, later, what they called fluid lamps — a spindlin’ kind of a glass lamp with two wicks and little brass caps to go over the ends of the wicks for extinguishers; and then finally karosene come into use.
“When I was a boy lots o’ people would go to church in ox-teams, and sometimes a man would go on horseback with his wife settin’ behind him. We didn’t dress up as much then for church as we do now. I’ve been to meetin’ barefoot, many a time.”
My attention was presently attracted from Mr. Macey’s reminiscences by a game his sons had started. They said they were playing “Bumblebee.” Ted had his fists together, thumbs up, with a light stick poised on them. Geoffry was moving the forefinger of his right hand around the end of the stick in an erratic manner, sometimes slowly, sometimes fast, and dodging this way and that. At the same time he made a variable buzzing sound with his mouth. Suddenly he picked up the stick and gave his brother’s thumbs a smart rap. “There!” said he, turning to the rest of us, “the bumblebee stung him.”
Ted had tried to part his fists and let the stick pass harmlessly between them, but he had not been quick enough. If he had succeeded he could have been the bumblebee himself, and tried to sting Geoffry. The game went on for some minutes, and then Ted turned to me and asked if I had ever played “Chipmunk.”
I had not, and the brothers proceeded to illustrate. Ted got down on all fours, facing Geoffry, and the latter, who remained seated, spread apart his legs and by putting his open hands just inside his knees made a kind of human trap. Ted, squeaking and chattering in imitation of a chipmunk, dodged his head this way and that over the trap, and when he thought there was a good opportunity bobbed it down between Geoffry’s legs, while Geoffry attempted to make a capture by thumping his knees and hands together. But the chipmunk had escaped, and he set his trap again. Ted, this time from below, went on chattering and making feints to confuse Geoffry until he fancied he could safely jerk his head back up; and when Geoffry really did grip Ted’s head the two changed places. Long before they had wearied of this sport, Mrs. Macey, who had retired, called out from an adjoining room, “Boys, do stop that noise and go to bed. I shan’t get to sleep to-night if you keep up that racket,” and this brought the evening’s sociability to a close.
A Home in a Valley
In the morning the family were stirring about four o’clock, and by breakfast time, at half-past five, a good start had been made on the day’s work. Salt pork had chief place in our morning bill of fare, but was supplemented by boiled eggs and pancakes made from home-grown buckwheat. As soon as we finished eating, the boys turned the cows and sheep out to pasture, hitched a pair of horses to a wagon and drove off to an outlying field they were planting to potatoes. The spectacles pedler lingered a short time in an attempt to dispose of some of his wares and then resumed his itinerant journeying. Mrs. Macey and Molly busied themselves with the kitchen work, while Mr. Macey, after doing a number of small jobs around the place, sat down on the piazza to cut seed potatoes. The best of the potatoes he sliced into a bushel basket, the small ones he put in a pail to boil for the pigs, and the rotten ones he dropped into another pail to throw away.
“When I was a youngster,” said Mr. Macey, “we used to begin saving the seed end of the potatoes — that’s the end the eyes are on, you know — in February. We’d eat the other half.”
“Yes,” added Mrs. Macey, who had left her housework to help with the potato-slicing, “and by planting time we’d have a great lot o’ those dried-up ends ready. They didn’t look as if they’d grow, but they would.”
About eight o’clock Ted came with the team to get what potatoes were ready for the ground. “Why, good Lord! father,” he exclaimed as he alighted, “don’t cut any more. We shan’t know what to do with ‘em.”
But Mr. Macey was sure the supply was still insufficient and kept on. Just then a tidily dressed little girl passed along the road on her way to school. “Good morning, Gusty,” said the people on the piazza.
The schoolhouse was not far distant — a small, clapboarded wooden building with a board fence around the yard. I had looked into it while on a walk that morning, and I had on previous occasions visited several others in the mountains. They were all much the same — very plain outside and in. A box stove was always present with its long elbowing pipe, and they were certain to be equipped with rude double desks made by the local carpenters — desks that were apparently used as much by the pupils for whittling purposes as for study.
The school year in the mountain villages consists of two terms of sixteen weeks each, so arranged as to have the teachers free in summer to serve as waiters in the sporting-houses. The usual pay received by a schoolmistress is seven dollars a week. Out of this she has to pay her board unless she resides in the district. If she goes home Friday night to stay over Sunday, she may get boarded for two dollars; but if she stays the full week, she has to pay from two and a half to three dollars. “We used to pay women teachers a dollar a week, and they boarded round,” said Mr. Macey; “but of course we had to pay a man in winter considerable more. I don’t think the schools are as good now as they were. They don’t have as good discipline.”
“No,” remarked Ted, “the teachers leave their sled stake outdoors now. About all they do is to give the scholars a tongue-banging.”
“The boys used to be learnt to bow and the girls to courtesy,” Mr. Macey continued, “and when school was dismissed they wa’n’t allowed to leave on the jump. Now, when they have recess, you c’n hear ‘em for miles the minute they’re out. Another thing we did a sight better ‘n they do these days was spellin’. We was always havin’ spellin’ matches in the school, and our best spellers would go and spell against those in other schools, and we’d have great times.”
“You’d ought to seen the schoolhouse we had here eight years ago,” said Ted. “It was made of logs and it had got so old it wa’n’t fit to keep calves in. The sides were squshing out, and some of the sleepers that held up the floor had rotted off one end and some the other end. The stove had a rack around it on the floor two or three inches high, that was filled in with small stones and dirt, so the sparks and coals falling out from the stove wouldn’t set the building on fire. The last teacher I had was Jane Traver. Her great punishment was to have every boy that didn’t behave roll a boulder into the schoolroom from the yard and sit on it. I didn’t mind that. It bothered her more than it did me. I’d spread my handkerchief over it, and then she’d scold me, and I’d tell her I had to put my handkerchief on there, the rock was so hard.”
Ted paused and took something from the bottom of his wagon. “Here’s an animile we killed over by the woods this morning,” said he, holding it up.
“A hedgehog, eh?” was Mr. Macey’s comment.
“That reminds me of a ghost story. I suppose you know what to say to a ghost?” he inquired, looking toward me.
No, I did not.
“You want to say, ‘In the name o’ God, what do you want o’ me?’ Then the ghost’ll have to answer. But what I was goin’ to tell about was a happenin’ years ago at a neighbor’s by the name o’ Stetson. They heard a sound every night like sawing wood, in the woodshed with a buck-saw.”
“Did they?” Ted interrupted: “You bet your life I’d get up a lot of wood and let the ghost saw.”
“The people would look into the shed,” his father continued, “and there wa’n’t nothin’ there. Well, that sawin’ kep’ on, and every night the folks would come from all around to hear it, and the Stetsons was gettin’ pretty well scared. By and by I went one night, and I heard the sawin’ same as the rest, and we took the light and looked into the shed and couldn’t find nothin’ to cause the sound, high nor low. Then I went outside, and just around the corner, what’d I find but a hedgehog, gnawing at an old barrel the Stetsons had bought salt mackerel in; and I threw the barrel down into a brook that was close by, and they never had no more trouble after that with any ghost sawin’ wood in their woodshed. You see it sounded so like it was inside, no one never thought to look outside before.”
“Well, I don’t wonder the people was frightened,” said Mrs. Macey. “Even a little mouse will make a horrid noise in the night.”
“Yes,” declared Ted, as he and his father emptied the cut potatoes into the wagon, “and if you hear a gray squirrel running through the leaves in the autumn, you’d think a catamount was after you.”
With this remark, Ted drove off, and not long afterward I left the farm-house, and began my day’s tramping. I became acquainted with a good many of the mountain people, by the time my Adirondack trip ended, and it seemed to me that their general intelligence was of a high order, and that, in spite of lack of polish, they were sure to win the respect of any one who was at all in sympathy with rural life. They have not yet lost the pioneer flavor and are still wrestling with nature in the woods far from railroads, unaffected by cities and by the influx of foreign immigrants. They are Yankees of a primitive sort that has pretty much disappeared from New England. Among them is a certain proportion of the shiftless and unthrifty, but in the main I thought them hardworking and ambitious of bettering their condition. Their language was picturesque and had its local tang, but it was seldom grotesque and ignorant. In dress, the men and boys were addicted to wearing felt hats, which continued in use long after the bands frayed and disappeared, and till these articles of apparel had become shapeless and faded to the last degree, but beautiful and harmonious with the environment, nevertheless. The other work-day garments of the people had the same earthy, elemental look, and were apparently never thrown away as long as thread and needle and patches would make them hold together.
It was a pleasure to get acquainted with the children, they were so modest and unsophisticated. I liked to watch the boys working in the fields and the gentle little girls playing about the home yards. They get a good elementary education in the district schools, and a generous proportion of them continue their studies at the academies in the large villages, and many after that go to Albany and take a course in a business college. As to the future of the Adirondack people, the region impressed me as a fresh upland fountain of human energy, certain to contribute much of its strength to the town life of the nation in the days to come.
A Roadside Chat