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9/19/2017 2:28:24 PM

Introduction | Acknowledgements
Chapter Selection:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

From Chapter II: Stage-Coach Views

After spending the night in Bridgewater, and picking up a few arrowheads there in the morning, we took the cars for Sandwich, where we arrived before noon. This was the terminus of the "Cape Cod Railroad," though it is but the beginning of the Cape. As it rained hard, with driving mists, and there was no sign of its holding up, we here took that almost obsolete conveyance, the stage, for "as far as it went that day," as we told the driver. We had forgotten how far a stage could go in a day, but we were told that the Cape roads were very "heavy," though they added that, being of sand, the rain would improve them. This coach was an exceedingly narrow one, but as there was a slight spherical excess over two on a seat, the driver waited till nine passengers had got in, without taking the measure of any of them, and then shut the door after two or three ineffectual slams, as if the fault were all in the hinges or the latch--while we timed our inspirations and expirations so as to assist him.

We were now fairly on the Cape, which extends from Sandwich eastward thirty-five miles, and thence north and northwest thirty more, in all sixty-five, and has an average breadth of about five miles. In the interior it rises to the height of two hundred, and sometimes three hundred, feet above the level of the sea. According to Hitchcock, the geologist of the State, it is composed almost entirely of sand, even to the depth of three hundred feet in some places--though there is probably a concealed core of rock a little beneath the surface--and it is of diluvial origin, excepting a small portion at the extremity and elsewhere along the shores, which is alluvial.

For the first half of the Cape large blocks of stone are found, here and there, mixed with the sand, but for the last thirty miles boulders, or even gravel, are rarely met with. Hitchcock conjectures that the ocean has, in the course of time, eaten out Boston harbor and other bays in the main land, and that the minute fragments have been deposited by the currents at a distance from the shore, and formed this sand bank. Above the sand, if the surface is subjected to agricultural tests, there is found to be a thin layer of soil gradually diminishing from Barnstable to Truro, where it ceases; but there are many holes and rents in this weather-beaten garment not likely to be stitched in time, which reveal the naked flesh of the Cape, and its extremity is completely bare.

Our route was along the Bay side, through Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis and Brewster, to Orleans, with a range of low hills on our right, running down the Cape. The weather was not favorable for wayside views, but we made the most of such glimpses of land and water as we could get through the rain. The country was, for the most part, bare, or with only a little scrubby wood left on the hills. We noticed in Yarmouth--and, if I do not mistake, in Dennis--large tracts where pitch pines were planted four or five years before. They were in rows, as they appeared when we were abreast of them, and, excepting that there were extensive vacant spaces, seemed to be doing remarkably well. This, we were told, was the only use to which such tracts could be profitably put. Every higher eminence had a pole set up on it, with an old storm-coat or sail tied to it, for a signal, that those on the south side of the Cape, for instance, might know when the Boston packets had arrived on the north.

It appeared as if this use must absorb the greater part of the old clothes of the Cape, leaving but few rags for the peddlers. The wind-mills on the hills--large weather-stained octagonal structures--and the salt-works scattered all along the shore--with their long rows of vats resting on piles driven into the marsh, their low, turtle-like roofs, and their slighter wind-mills--were novel and interesting objects to an inlander. The sand by the roadside was partially covered with bunches of a moss-like plant, Hudsonia tomentosa, which, a woman in the stage told us, was called "poverty grass," because it grew where nothing else would.

Late in the afternoon, we rode through Brewster, so named after Elder Brewster, for fear he would be forgotten else. Who has not heard of Elder Brewster? Who knows who he was? This appeared to be the modern-built town of the Cape, the favorite residence of retired sea-captains. It is said that "there are more masters and mates of vessels who sail on foreign voyages, belonging to this place than to any other town in the country." There were many of the modern American houses here, such as they turn out in Cambridgeport, standing on the sand; you could almost swear that they had been floated down Charles River, and drifted across the bay. I call them American, because they are paid for by Americans, and "put-up" by American carpenters; but they are little removed from lumber, only eastern stuff disguised with white paint, the least interesting kind of drift-wood to me.

Perhaps we have reason to be proud of our naval architecture, and need not go to the Greeks, or the Goths, to the Italians, for the models of our vessels. Sea-captains do not employ a Cambridgeport carpenter to build their floating houses, and for their houses on shore, if they must copy any, it would be more agreeable to the imagination to see one of their vessels turned bottom upward, in the Numidian fashion. We read that, "at certain seasons, the reflection of the sun upon the windows of the houses in Wellfleet and Truro [across the inner side of the elbow of the Cape] is discernible with the naked eye, at a distance of eighteen miles and upward, on the county road." This we were pleased to imagine, as we had not seen the sun for twenty-four hours.

At length, we stopped for the night at Higgins's tavern, in Orleans, feeling very much as if we were on a sand-bar in the ocean, and not knowing whether we should see land or water ahead when the mist cleared away. We here overtook two Italian boys, who had waded thus far down the Cape through the sand, with their organs on their backs, and were going on to Provincetown. What a hard lot, we thought, if the Provincetown people should shut their doors against them! Whose yard would they go to next? Yet we concluded that they had chosen wisely to come here, where other music than that of the surf must be rare. Thus the great civilizer sends out its emissaries, sooner or later, to every sandy cape and light-house of the New World, which the census-taker visits, and summons the savage there to surrender.

Introduction | Acknowledgements
Chapter Selection:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10

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