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- Kent Knowles: Quahaug - 1/81 -







I. Which is not a chapter at all

II. Which repeats, for the most part, what Jim Campbell said to me and what I said to him

III. Which, although it is largely family history, should not be skipped by the reader

IV. In which Hephzy and I and the Plutonia sail together

V. In which we view, and even mingle slightly with, the upper classes

VI. In which we are received at Bancroft's Hotel and I receive a letter

VII. In which a dream becomes a reality

VIII. In which the pilgrims become tenants

IX. In which we make the acquaintance of Mayberry and a portion of Burgleston Bogs

X. In which I break all previous resolutions and make a new one

XI. In which complications become more complicated

XII. In which the truth is told at last

XIII. In which Hephzy and I agree to live for each other

XIV. In which I play golf and cross the channel

XV. In which I learn that all abbeys are not churches

XVI. In which I take my turn at playing the invalid

XVII. In which I, as well as Mr. Solomon Cripps, am surprised

XVIII. In which the pilgrimage ends where it began

XIX. Which treats of quahaugs in general



Which is Not a Chapter at All

It was Asaph Tidditt who told me how to begin this history. Perhaps I should be very much obliged to Asaph; perhaps I shouldn't. He has gotten me out of a difficulty--or into one; I am far from certain which.

Ordinarily--I am speaking now of the writing of swashbuckling romances, which is, or was, my trade--I swear I never have called it a profession--the beginning of a story is the least of the troubles connected with its manufacture. Given a character or two and a situation, the beginning of one of those romances is, or was, pretty likely to be something like this:

"It was a black night. Heavy clouds had obscured the setting sun and now, as the clock in the great stone tower boomed twelve, the darkness was pitchy."

That is a good safe beginning. Midnight, a stone tower, a booming clock, and darkness make an appeal to the imagination. On a night like that almost anything may happen. A reader of one of my romances--and readers there must be, for the things did, and still do, sell to some extent--might be fairly certain that something WOULD happen before the end of the second page. After that the somethings continued to happen as fast as I could invent them.

But this story was different. The weather or the time had nothing to do with its beginning. There were no solitary horsemen or strange wayfarers on lonely roads, no unexpected knocks at the doors of taverns, no cloaked personages landing from boats rowed by black-browed seamen with red handkerchiefs knotted about their heads and knives in their belts. The hero was not addressed as "My Lord"; he was not "Sir Somebody-or-other" in disguise. He was not young and handsome; there was not even "a certain something in his manner and bearing which hinted of an eventful past." Indeed there was not. For, if this particular yarn or history or chronicle which I had made up my mind to write, and which I am writing now, had or has a hero, I am he. And I am Hosea Kent Knowles, of Bayport, Massachusetts, the latter the village in which I was born and in which I have lived most of the time since I was twenty-seven years old. Nobody calls me "My Lord." Hephzy has always called me "Hosy"--a name which I despise--and the others, most of them, "Kent" to my face and "The Quahaug" behind my back, a quahaug being a very common form of clam which is supposed to lead a solitary existence and to keep its shell tightly shut. If anything in my manner had hinted at a mysterious past no one in Bayport would have taken the hint. Bayporters know my past and that of my ancestors only too well.

As for being young and handsome--well, I was thirty-eight years old last March. Which is quite enough on THAT subject.

But I had determined to write the story, so I sat down to begin it. And immediately I got into difficulties. How should I begin? I might begin at any one of a dozen places--with Hephzy's receiving the Raymond and Whitcomb circular; with our arrival in London; with Jim Campbell's visit to me here in Bayport; with the curious way in which the letter reached us, after crossing the ocean twice. Any one of these might serve as a beginning--but which? I made I don't know how many attempts, but not one was satisfactory. I, who had begun I am ashamed to tell you how many stories--yes, and had finished them and seen them in print as well--was stumped at the very beginning of this one. Like Sim Phinney I had worked at my job "a long spell" and "cal'lated" I knew it, but here was something I didn't know. As Sim said, when he faced his problem, "I couldn't seem to get steerage way on her."

Simeon, you see--He is Angeline Phinney's second cousin and lives in the third house beyond the Holiness Bethel on the right-hand side of the road--Simeon has "done carpentering" here in Bayport all his life. He built practically every henhouse now gracing or disgracing the backyards of our village. He is our "henhouse specialist," so to speak. He has even been known to boast of his skill. "Henhouses!" snorted Sim; "land of love! I can build a henhouse with my eyes shut. Nowadays when another one of them foolheads that's been readin' 'How to Make a Million Poultry Raisin'' in the Farm Gazette comes to me and says 'Henhouse,' I say, 'Yes sir. Fifteen dollars if you pay me cash now and a hundred and fifteen if you want to wait and pay me out of your egg profits. That's all there is to it.'"

And yet, when Captain Darius Nickerson, who made the most of his money selling fifty-foot lots of sand, beachgrass and ticks to summer people for bungalow sites--when Captain Darius, grown purse- proud and vainglorious, expressed a desire for a henhouse with a mansard roof and a cupola, the latter embellishments to match those surmounting his own dwelling, Simeon was set aback with his canvas flapping. At the end of a week he had not driven a nail. "Godfrey's mighty!" he is reported to have exclaimed. "I don't know whether to build the average cupola and trust to a hen's fittin' it, or take an average hen and build a cupola round her. Maybe I'll be all right after I get started, but it's where to start that beats me."

Where to start beat me, also, and it might be beating me yet, if I hadn't dropped in at the post-office and heard Asaph Tidditt telling a story to the group around the stove. After he had finished, and, the mail being sorted, we were walking homeward together, I asked a question.

"Asaph," said I, "when you start to spin a yarn how do you begin?"

"Hey?" he exclaimed. "How do I begin? Why, I just heave to and go to work and begin, that's all."

"Yes, I know, but where do you begin?"

"At the beginnin', naturally. If you was cal'latin' to sail a boat race you wouldn't commence at t'other end of the course, would you?"

"_I_ might; practical people wouldn't, I suppose. But--what IS the beginning? Suppose there were a lot of beginnings and you didn't know which to choose."

"Oh, we-ll, in that case I'd just sort of--of edge around till I found one that--that was a beginnin' of SOMETHIN' and I'd start there. You understand, don't you? Take that yarn I was spinnin' just now--that one about Josiah Dimick's great uncle's pig on his mother's side. I mean his uncle on his mother's side, not the pig, of course. Now I hadn't no intention of tellin' about that hog; hadn't thought of it for a thousand year, as you might say. I just commenced to tell about Angie Phinney, about how fast she could talk, and that reminded me of a parrot that belonged to Sylvanus Cahoon's sister--Violet, the sister's name was--loony name, too, if

Kent Knowles: Quahaug - 1/81

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