Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The Story of a Pioneer
Cape Cod Memories

Looking back now upon those days, I see my Cape Cod friends as clearly as if the intervening years had been wiped out and we were again together.  Among those I most loved were two widely differing types--Captain Doane, a retired sea-captain, and Relief Paine, an invalid chained to the couch, but whose beautiful influence permeated the community like an atmosphere.  Captain Doane was one of the finest men I have ever known--high-minded, tolerant, sympathetic, and full of understanding, He was not only my friend, but my church barometer.  He occupied a front pew, close to the pulpit; and when I was preaching without making much appeal he sat looking me straight in the face, listening courteously, but without interest. When I got into my subject, he would lean forward --the angle at which he sat indicating the degree of attention I had aroused--and when I was strongly holding my congregation Brother Doane would bend toward me, following every word I uttered with corresponding motions of his lips.  When I resigned we parted with deep regret, but it was not until I visited the church several years afterward that he overcame his reserve enough to tell me how much he had felt my going.

``Oh, did you?'' I asked, greatly touched.  ``You're not saying that merely to please me?''

The old man's hand fell on my shoulder.  ``I miss you,'' he said, simply.  ``I miss you all the time. You see, I love you.''  Then, with precipitate self-consciousness, he closed the door of his New England heart, and from some remote corner of it sent out his cautious after-thought.  ``I love you,'' he repeated, primly, ``as a sister in the Lord.''

Relief Paine lived in Brewster.  Her name seemed prophetic, and she once told me that she had always considered it so.  Her brother-in-law was my Sunday-school superintendent, and her family belonged to my church.  Very soon after my arrival in East Dennis I went to see her, and found her, as she always was, dressed in white and lying on a tiny white bed covered with pansies, in a room whose windows overlooked the sea.  I shall never forget the picture she made.  Over her shoulders was an exquisite white lace shawl brought from the other side of the world by some seafaring friend, and against her white pillow her hair seemed the blackest I had ever seen.  When I entered she turned and looked toward me with wonderful dark eyes that were quite blind, and as she talked her hands played with the pansies around her.  She loved pansies as she loved few human beings, and she knew their colors by touching them.  She was then a little more than thirty years of age.  At sixteen she had fallen downstairs in the dark, receiving an injury that paralyzed her, and for fifteen years she had lain on one side, perfectly still, the Stella Maris of the Cape.  All who came to her, and they were many, went away the better for the visit, and the mere mention of her name along the coast softened eyes that had looked too bitterly on life.

Relief and I became close friends.  I was greatly drawn to her, and deeply moved by the tragedy of her situation, as well as by the beautiful spirit with which she bore it.  During my first visit I regaled her with stories of the community and of my own experiences, and when I was leaving it occurred to me that possibly I had been rather frivolous.  So I said:

``I am coming to see you often, and when I come I want to do whatever will interest you most.  Shall I bring some books and read to you?''

Relief smiled--the gay, mischievous little smile I was soon to know so well, but which at first seemed out of place on the tragic mask of her face. ``No, don't read to me,'' she decided.  ``There are enough ready to do that.  Talk to me.  Tell me about our life and our people here, as they strike you.''  And she added, slowly:  ``You are a queer minister.  You have not offered to pray with me!''

``I feel,'' I told her, ``more like asking you to pray for me.''

Relief continued her analysis.  ``You have not told me that my affliction was a visitation from God,'' she added; ``that it was discipline and well for me I had it.''

``I don't believe it was from God,'' I said.  ``I don't believe God had anything to do with it.  And I rejoice that you have not let it wreck your life.''

She pressed my hand.  ``Thank you for saying that,'' she murmured.  ``If I thought God did it I could not love Him, and if I did not love Him I could not live.  Please come and see me VERY often-- and tell me stories!''

After that I collected stories for Relief.  One of those which most amused her, I remember, was about my horse, and this encourages me to repeat it here. In my life in East Dennis I did not occupy the lonely little parsonage connected with my church, but instead boarded with a friend--a widow named Crowell.  (There seemed only two names in Cape Cod: Sears and Crowell.) 

To keep in touch with my two churches, which were almost three miles apart, it became necessary to have a horse.  As Mrs. Crowell needed one, too, we decided to buy the animal in partnership, and Miss Crowell, the daughter of the widow, who knew no more about horses than I did, undertook to lend me the support of her presence and advice during the purchase.  We did not care to have the entire community take a passionate interest in the matter, as it would certainly have done if it had heard of our intention; so my friend and I departed somewhat stealthily for a neighboring town, where, we had heard, a very good horse was offered for sale.  We saw the animal and liked it; but before closing the bargain we cannily asked the owner if the horse was perfectly sound, and if it was gentle with women.  He assured us that it was both sound and gentle with women, and to prove the latter point he had his wife harness it to the buggy and drive it around the stable-yard.  The animal behaved beautifully.  After it had gone through its paces, Miss Crowell and I leaned confidingly against its side, patting it and praising its beauty, and the horse seemed to enjoy our attentions. We bought it then and there, drove it home, and put it in our barn; and the next morning we hired a man in the neighborhood to come over and take care of it.

He arrived.  Five minutes later a frightful racket broke out in the barn--sounds of stamping, kicking, and plunging, mingled with loud shouts.  We ran to the scene of the trouble, and found our ``hired man'' rushing breathlessly toward the house.  When he was able to speak he informed us that we had ``a devil in there,'' pointing back to the barn, and that the new horse's legs were in the air, all four of them at once, the minute he went near her.  We insisted that he must have frightened or hurt her, but, solemnly and with anxious looks behind, he protested that he had not.  Finally Miss Crowell and I went into the barn, and received a dignified welcome from the new horse, which seemed pleased by our visit. Together we harnessed her and, without the least difficulty, drove her out into the yard.  As soon as our man took the reins, however, she reared, kicked, and smashed our brand-new buggy.  We changed the man and had the buggy repaired, but by the end of the week the animal had smashed the buggy again.  Then, with some natural resentment, we made a second visit to the man from whom we had bought her, and asked him why he had sold us such a horse.

He said he had told us the exact truth.  The horse WAS sound and she WAS extremely gentle with women, but--and this point he had seen no reason to mention, as we had not asked about it--she would not let a man come near her.  He firmly refused to take her back, and we had to make the best of the bargain.  As it was impossible to take care of her ourselves, I gave some thought to the problem she presented, and finally devised a plan which worked very well.  I hired a neighbor who was a small, slight man to take care of her, and made him wear his wife's sunbonnet and waterproof cloak whenever he approached the horse.  The picture he presented in these garments still stands out pleasantly against the background of my Cape Cod memories.  The horse, however, did not share our appreciation of it.  She was suspicious, and for a time she shied whenever the man and his sunbonnet and cloak appeared; but we stood by until she grew accustomed to them and him; and as he was both patient and gentle, she finally allowed him to harness and unharness her.  But no man could drive her, and when I drove to church I was forced to hitch and unhitch her myself.  No one else could do it, though many a gallant and subsequently resentful man attempted the feat.

On one occasion a man I greatly disliked, and who I had reason to know disliked me, insisted that he could unhitch her, and started to do so, notwithstanding my protests and explanations.  At his approach she rose on her hind-legs, and when he grasped her bridle she lifted him off his feet.  His expression as he hung in mid-air was an extraordinary mixture of surprise and regret.  The moment I touched her, however, she quieted down, and when I got into the buggy and gathered up the reins she walked off like a lamb, leaving the man staring after her with his eyes starting from his head.

The previous owner had called the horse Daisy, and we never changed the name, though it always seemed sadly inappropriate.  Time proved, however, that there were advantages in the ownership of Daisy.  No man would allow his wife or daughter to drive behind her, and no one wanted to borrow her. If she had been a different kind of animal she would have been used by the whole community, We kept Daisy for seven years, and our acquaintance ripened into a pleasant friendship.

Another Cape Cod resident to whose memory I must offer tribute in these pages was Polly Ann Sears--one of the dearest and best of my parishioners.  She had six sons, and when five had gone to sea she insisted that the sixth must remain at home.  In vain the boy begged her to let him follow his brothers. She stood firm.  The sea, she said, should not swallow all her boys; she had given it five--she must keep one.

As it happened, the son she kept at home was the only one who was drowned.  He was caught in a fish-net and dragged under the waters of the bay near his home; and when I went to see his mother to offer such comfort as I could, she showed that she had learned the big lesson of the experience.

``I tried to be a special Providence,'' she moaned, ``and the one boy I kept home was the only boy I lost.  I ain't a-goin' to be a Providence no more.''

The number of funerals on Cape Cod was tragically large.  I was in great demand on these occasions, and went all over the Cape, conducting funeral services--which seemed to be the one thing people thought I could do--and preaching funeral sermons. Besides the victims of the sea, many of the residents who had drifted away were brought back to sleep their last sleep within sound of the waves.

Once I asked an old sea-captain why so many Cape Cod men and women who had been gone for years asked to be buried near their old homes, and his reply still lingers in my memory.  He poked his toe in the sand for a moment and then said, slowly: ``Wal, I reckon it's because the Cape has such warm, comfortable sand to lie down in.''

My friend Mrs. Addy lay in the Crowell family lot, and during my pastorate at East Dennis I preached the funeral sermon of her father, and later of her mother.  Long after I had left Cape Cod I was frequently called back to say the last words over the coffins of my old friends, and the saddest of those journeys was the one I made in response to a telegram from the mother of Relief Paine.  When I had arrived and we stood together beside the exquisite figure that seemed hardly more quiet in death than in life, Mrs. Paine voiced in her few words the feeling of the whole community--

``Where shall we get our comfort and our inspiration, now that Relief is gone?''

The funeral which took all my courage from me, however, was that of my sister Mary.  In its suddenness, Mary's death, in 1883, was as a thunderbolt from the blue; for she had been in perfect health three days before she passed away.  I was still in charge of my two parishes in Cape Cod, but, as it mercifully happened, before she was stricken I had started West to visit Mary in her home at Big Rapids.  When I arrived on the second day of her illness, knowing nothing of it until I reached her, I found her already past hope.  Her disease was pneumonia, but she was conscious to the end, and her greatest desire seemed to be to see me christen her little daughter and her husband before she left them.  This could not be realized, for my brother-in-law was absent on business, and with all his haste in returning did not reach his wife's side until after her death.  As his one thought then was to carry out her last wishes, I christened him and his little girl just before the funeral; and during the ceremony we all experienced a deep conviction that Mary knew and was content.

She had become a power in her community, and was so dearly loved that on the day her body was borne to its last resting-place all the business houses in Big Rapids were closed, and the streets were filled with men who stood with bent, uncovered heads as the funeral procession went by.  My father and mother, also, to whom she had given a home after they left the log-cabin where they had lived so long, had made many friends in their new environment and were affectionately known throughout the whole region as ``Grandma and Grandpa Shaw.''

When I returned to East Dennis I brought my mother and Mary's three children with me, and they remained throughout the spring and summer. I had hoped that they would remain permanently, and had rented and furnished a home for them with that end in view; but, though they enjoyed their visit, the prospect of the bleak winters of Cape Cod disturbed my mother, and they all returned to Big Rapids late in the autumn. 

Since entering upon my  parish work it had been possible for me to help my father and mother financially; and from the time of Mary's death I had the privilege, a very precious one, of seeing that they were well cared for and contented.  They were always appreciative, and as time passed they became more reconciled to the career I had chosen, and which in former days had filled them with such dire forebodings.

After I had been in East Dennis four years I began to feel that I was getting into a rut.  It seemed to me that all I could do in that particular field had been done.  My people wished me to remain, however, and so, partly as an outlet for my surplus energy, but more especially because I realized the splendid work women could do as physicians, I began to study medicine.  The trustees gave me permission to go to Boston on certain days of each week, and we soon found that I could carry on my work as a medical student without in the least neglecting my duty toward my parish.

I entered the Boston Medical School in 1882, and obtained my diploma as a full-fledged physician in 1885.  During this period I also began to lecture for the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association, of which Lucy Stone was president.  Henry Blackwell was associated with her, and together they developed in me a vital interest in the suffrage cause, which grew steadily from that time until it became the dominating influence in my life.  I preached it in the pulpit, talked it to those I met outside of the church, lectured on it whenever I had an opportunity, and carried it into my medical work in the Boston slums when I was trying my prentice hand on helpless pauper patients.

Here again, in my association with the women of the streets, I realized the limitations of my work in the ministry and in medicine.  As minister to soul and body one could do little for these women.  For such as them, one's efforts must begin at the very foundation of the social structure.  Laws for them must be made and enforced, and some of those laws could only be made and enforced by women.  So many great avenues of life were opening up before me that my Cape Cod environment seemed almost a prison where I was held with tender force.  I loved my people and they loved me--but the big outer world was calling, and I could not close my ears to its summons.  The suffrage lectures helped to keep me contented, however, and I was certainly busy enough to find happiness in my work. I was in Boston three nights a week, and during these nights subject to sick calls at any hour.  My favorite associates were Dr. Caroline Hastings, our professor of anatomy, and little Dr. Mary Safford, a mite of a woman with an indomitable soul.  Dr. Safford was especially prominent in philanthropic work in Massachusetts, and it was said of her that at any hour of the day or night she could be found working in the slums of Boston.  I, too, could frequently be found there--often, no doubt, to the disadvantage of my patients.  I was quite famous in three Boston alleys--Maiden's Lane, Fellows Court, and Andrews Court.  It most fortunately happened that I did not lose a case in those alleys, though I took all kinds, as I had to treat a certain number of surgical and obstetrical cases in my course.  No doubt my patients and I had many narrow escapes of which we were blissfully ignorant, but I remember two which for a long time afterward continued to be features of my most troubled dreams.

The first was that of a big Irishman who had pneumonia.  When I looked him over I was as much frightened as he was.  I had got as far as pneumonia in my course, and I realized that here was a bad case of it.  I knew what to do.  The patient must be carefully packed in towels wrung out of cold water. When I called for towels I found that there was nothing in the place but a dish-towel, which I washed with portentous gravity.  The man owned but one shirt, and, in deference to my visit, his wife had removed that to wash it.  I packed the patient in the dish-towel, wrapped him in a piece of an old shawl, and left after instructing his wife to repeat the process.  When I reached home I remembered that the patient must be packed ``carefully,'' and I knew that his wife would do it carelessly. That meant great risk to the man's life.  My impulse was to rush back to him at once, but this would never do.  It would destroy all confidence in the doctor.  I walked the floor for three hours, and then casually strolled in upon my patient, finding him, to my great relief, better than I had left him.  As I was leaving, a child rushed into the room, begging me to come to an upper floor in the same building.

``The baby's got the croup,'' she gasped, ``an' he's chokin' to death.''

We had not reached croup in our course, and I had no idea what to do, but I valiantly accompanied the little girl.  As we climbed the long flights of stairs to the top floor I remembered a conversation I had overheard between two medical students.  One of them had said:  ``If the child is strangling when it inhales, as if it were breathing through a sponge, then give it spongia; but if it is strangling when it breathes out, give it aconite.''

When I reached the baby I listened, but could not tell which way it was strangling.  However, I happened to have both medicines with me, so I called for two glasses and mixed the two remedies, each in its own glass.  I gave them both to the mother, and told her to use them alternately, every fifteen minutes, until the baby was better.  The baby got well; but whether its recovery was due to the spongia or to the aconite I never knew.

In my senior year I fell in love with an infant of three, named Patsy.  He was one of nine children when I was called to deliver his mother of her tenth child.  She was drunk when I reached her, and so were two men who lay on the floor in the same room. I had them carried out, and after the mother and baby had been attended to I noticed Patsy.  He was the most beautiful child I had ever seen--with eyes like Italian skies and yellow hair in tight curls over his adorable little head; but he was covered with filthy rags.  I borrowed him, took him home with me, and fed and bathed him, and the next day fitted him out with new clothes.  Every hour I had him tightened his hold on my heart-strings.  I went to his mother and begged her to let me keep him, but she refused, and after a great deal of argument and entreaty I had to return him to her.  When I went to see him a few days later I found him again in his horrible rags.  His mother had pawned his new clothes for drink, and she was deeply under its influence.  But no pressure I could exert then or later would make her part with Patsy.  Finally, for my own peace of mind, I had to give up hope of getting him--but I have never ceased to regret the little adopted son I might have had.

Return to Contents Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus