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"CHANGE AND REST" – SUMMER BARGAINING
ALTHOUGH on the surface Cape Cod seems to offer a haven of refuge to that much overworked appendage to the modern man, the pocket-book, there are dotted here and there upon the highways many comparatively innocent pitfalls.
To a close student of the danger spots, they may be grouped under the heading "Tea-Rooms, Arts and Crafts Stores, and Antique Shops."
I know of no greater relief than to escape from town and come to the Cape. Once there, the daily routine of office, the absence of any assigned duty, the leisure hours passed in or on the water or idly knocking about the golf links, tend to merge one day into another, so that time flashes past at an alarming rate. But every now and again comes a day when some member of the family suggests that we take the motor and extend our vision. It is upon such occasions that we test the financial astuteness of the aborigines.
One never visits the Cape without discovering how effectively the climate stimulates the appetite. What wonder, therefore, that every village and hamlet possesses a Tea-Room of varying attraction?
The stop is made and the Tea-Room visited, only to find that the family, in addition to ordering the tea, with its accompaniment of toast and cake, or, for the younger members, a bottle of ginger ale or an ice-cream cone, are bent upon securing a souvenir. The Tea-Room is generally furnished with an assortment of articles intended for just such gullibles as ourselves. There are, for instance, baskets of assorted sizes and colors, for flowers, or fruit, or sewing, or pine cones; in fact for everything that should be thrown away, but isn’t. We have several such baskets at home, but that does not prevent some member of the family from buying another. It will do for a Christmas present. Then there are varieties of other things made far away and designed to lure the cheerful motorist, such as charmingly decorated match-cases for elderly people, noisily painted tin pails for the children, dainty knockers, and all manner of knick-knacks for the women of the party. The invariable assortment of what, to a man, seems the essence of uselessness, and yet, I confess it, attractive to an insidious extent.
The pocket-book is touched, not severely, to be sure, but there is a perceptible shrinkage as we file out to continue on our harmless junket.
For a few miles we bowl along over a delightfully smooth road and give ourselves over entirely to the view. Now a long stretch of pine woods gives just a glimpse of the water glistening through the trees; here and there a little farmhouse, snugly tucked among a clump of lilacs close to the road, with visions of larger establishments in the distance, out toward the sea, the homes of summer residents boldly exposed to the refreshing southwest wind; then a long stretch of marsh and dune brilliant in the sun. Suddenly we come upon a more thickly populated district where many of the old houses have been purchased and renovated to fit the needs of city people, who, with the assistance of some modern architect, oftentimes make enticing homes of these structures by the simple addition of porches and piazzas, with bright touches of paint here and there on blinds and doors, and the whole garnished well with bright flowers, climbing roses, and cozy hedges.
It is generally near such a settlement that we come upon the Arts and Crafts in all their glory.
Compared to the Tea-Room, the Art-Shop is a veritable mine of treasure. From a variety of toys which would do credit to Schwartz to a complete set of hand-painted furniture such as one might expect to find in the window of the largest furniture store in Boston during the months of May and June, seems, a far cry for a small shop occupying a converted bungalow in a modest Cape town; but this sort of thing exists, and between these items there is an almost endless list of what for a better term may be called "specialties," and even I, who scorn the newness of furnishings as they are displayed in town, fall a victim first to an exceptionally soft-toned rag rug, oval in shape and comfortable to the tread, and also to a set of doilies made of a light, colorful variety of oilcloth with dainty pattern that my wife says will save washing; and lastly to a pair of bayberry candles, olive green and a full eighteen inches high, which it seems to me will give an admirable touch to our living-room mantel.
The shrinkage in the pocket-book is easily discernible; in fact I am led to say briskly that I think we had better be getting along home, and so we put our new treasures into the car and proceed homewards by a new route more inland.
It is always interesting to try the lesser known roads even if they are a bit rougher. They are little traveled and for this reason pleasanter in midsummer; one rarely loses the way, for signs are plentiful, and so we wind about the higher stretches which form the backbone of the Cape, along sandy roads which at times diminish to mere cart-paths, but at all times are passable.
Emerging from this forest district on one such excursion, we came quite suddenly upon the forking of two roads where a clump of neat-looking farmhouses, a schoolhouse, and a diminutive church indicated a real town. Here my eye was arrested by the magic sign "Antiques" stuck into the lawn in front of one of the houses.
While I do not admit the slightest lure in the sign of a Tea-Room except when hard-pressed by hunger, and but scant attraction in the Art-Shop, there is something about the word "antique" that whets my appetite for exploration, and especially so when found in a quiet little hamlet off the beaten path and probably not familiar to the many hundreds of tourists whose smoothly running motors of ample proportions bespeak well -filled pocket-books. Consequently I grasped the emergency brake and came to a sudden stop in spite of a feeble protest from my daughter and a heavy sigh from my wife on the back seat.
Where antiques are concerned, I take the lead, or, to be more accurate, I stand alone, and so proceeded to the back door of the house; for those who know Cape-Codders well enough realize the inconvenience and delay which a knock at the front door provokes. Seeing a middle-aged woman bending over the stove in the kitchen, I called a merry "Good-afternoon" by way of salutation.
"Good-afternoon," she replied as an echo might have thrown back my words.
"I saw your sign 'antiques' and thought perhaps I might have a look at them," I continued, nothing daunted.
"Mister Eldridge ain't to home, but if you want to go out to the barn you can see what he's got," she replied, without even turning her head to see what sort of a second-story man I might be.
Here was luck, however, for I could look over the stock in trade of this ambitious couple to my heart's content, and I made haste to the barn, which I found converted into one of the most amazing junk-shops it has ever been my pleasure to explore.
Crowded together without rhyme or reason, and with no thought of display, were the goods and chattels of generations of Cape-Codders ; tables, chairs, beds, sofas, ice-chests, a parlor organ, curtain rods, bits of carpet, crockery in all stages of dilapidation. On one of the tables a variety of hardware was strewn about, on one of the stiff-backed chairs reposed three old brass lanterns. A Rogers group on a kitchen table was flanked by a White Mountain ice-cream freezer on one side and a fine old fire bucket on the other. A four-poster, of apple-wood, with fluted posts terminating in pineapple tops, the wood in an excellent state of preservation, was the repository of a half-dozen pictures, three face-down, while one of the others disclosed itself as a really good copy of the engraving of Washington and his family. But to the casual observer, there seemed scarcely a piece of furniture or, in fact, anything which was sufficiently in repair to survive the journey to my house; furthermore, the rank and file of articles were of recent date and had no charm for the collector.
However, the very hopelessness of the quest whetted my appetite, and to the utter disgust of my family, I spent a good half-hour rummaging about, not only in the main part of the barn, but also in the stalls, and even in the hayloft, for the whole building was bulging with what seemed the cast-off furnishings of the entire Cape. The result of my examination was a really fine ship's lantern which I found in the loft; a pair of old pewter pepper pots, reclining in an old soap dish, and a couple of straight-back rush-seated chairs, a trifle rickety, but with the seats in excellent condition with the original rush plaiting, which is unmistakable.
For fear of mislaying my selection, I had brought them outside the barn, and at that moment a lanky, middle-aged farmer drove up in a buggy and slowly got out.
"Is this Mr. Eldridge?" I asked.
"Thet's me," he replied. "Been havin' a look over the department store? I ain't got in my elevators, an' the outing department [here he looked at my golfing tweeds] ain't much to brag about, but I've got 'most everything in thar except the town hearse an' I 'm savin' that for my mother-in-law."
By George! I thought, here's one of the real old-timers, nothing taciturn about him, and I pointed to the modest selection I had made and asked him what the price was.
"Well, as to price," he replied, taking off his hat and meditatively scratching his head, "that's the worst of the business. I never just know what my things are worth. Them chairs came from old widow Crocker's, over by Forestdale. She'd-never sell 'em till she died, an' then she couldn't help herself an' her son-in-law cleaned the place out, an' I got quite a lot of stuff an' paid him for the lot: What d' you say to a 'couple o' dollars apiece?"
I said, "Yes," as soberly as I could. I would have given much more.
"As to that lantern, it 's a good 'un and the glass is all right. I shall have to get at least four dollars."
"All right," said I, cheerfully, for I had seen a smaller one in Chatham go for eight just a few days before. "And how about the pepper pots?"
"Oh, you kin have 'em. for -- let's see -- 'bout seventy-five apiece." And I agreed.
"What do you do with all this stuff?" I asked, as he helped me to dispose of my treasures in an already well-filled car.
"Oh, mostly I sell to the Portugees that come here farmin' and cranberryin'. Now an' then I get some old stuff same as you jest picked up, but generally it's the newer kind they like the best. I jest set that there sign up 'cause I see every durn fellow 'long the road what has a toothpick or a shavin' mug to sell puts up a sign, an' so, says I, guess I'll stick up one too."
And that is the way I became acquainted with Silas Eldridge, dealer in antiques, who has sold me many a real treasure, but I keep his whereabouts as secret as possible, for of all the fascinating places for picking up astonishing bargains on Cape Cod, his old dilapidated barn offers the most surprises.