Just as he had done with John La Farge and his creation of the stained-glass window, [George] Nixon [Black Jr.] was careful to leave the details of the design of this seaside home in the hands of Bob Peabody. The family had specified only a simple cottage, smaller than their Boston home, in which second-best furniture and rugs would be comfortable. Agnes and Mary Black wanted porches. Nixon hoped for a large stable that would give his horses a taste of the country air and perhaps house an additional pair.
Nixon’s heart quickened when the saw the masterful results of [Robert Swain] Peabody’s ruling pen and his inky brushstrokes. Before him lay a building in the Queen Anne style but completely encased in rustic wooden shingles. In design, it was like the newly built house he’d rented from Cyrus Bartol last summer, but more wonderful, crafted of rough wood and homely stones, yet ingenious and original. Playful porches and a tower sprung from the dark and secret interiors, delightful inglenooks were alongside fireplaces. An imposing archway, included because Nixon had admired the brickwork version on the Trinity rectory, solved the problem of the shallow building site’s limited space in which to turn carriages around.
“I consulted with Olmsted on the siting,’’ Peabody remarked, referring to the well-respected landscape architect responsible for the design of Central Park in New York City and a string of beautiful pleasure grounds in Boston. “It was his suggestion to allow the drive to pass beneath a section of the house, giving me the chance to provide you with Phillps Brooks’ arch.’’
Nixon was impressed. The famous Frederick Law Olmsted had been consulted for his mere six acres? But, of course, Bob Peabody knew everyone and was fast becoming famous himself.
“Olmsted has asked if you would considering putting the landscaping into his hands,’’ Bob said. “The great man seems to think there are too many properties in the vicinity that look like public gardens. He hoped you might want to keep the natural character of the place and work it up.’’
“By all means,’’ Nixon assented, as this was exactly what he had in mind, for in his deepest heart he’d never forgotten the cottage at Nahant. He wanted a similar, casual place with a genuine feeling of nature. He dreamed of a charming structure facing a view of great beauty, a house he could fill with old things and antique furniture. He wanted the green room and ironstone vase he’d long remembered. The drawings now before him had the desired homespun character, a touch of the new English aesthetic, and the delicacies of Peabody’s beloved colonial work; simple small-paned windows, dentil moldings, paneled wainscots. Kragsyde, as conceived by both architect and client, was both ancient and brand new.
“Is this cottage like the one you would have carved?’’ Peabody asked.
“Pardon?’’ Nixon replied, not understanding.
“You told me the day we first met at Nahant that you carved buildings from wood when you were a boy. Is this the sort of cottage you would have carved?’’
“Yes, so I did,’’ Nixon chuckled, remembering. He was astonished he and Peabody had recalled Nahant at the same moment.
The library, that February night, was softly lit. The gas lamps were turned low, and the log fire, banked deeply, flickered its shadowy light across the earnest brow of Robert Peabody. Nixon could see clearly the same face, years younger, illuminated by the dim flame of a lantern in Swallow Cave, watching as he was rescued from falling by Frank Crowninshield.
Nixon placed his hands on the drawings and ran his palm over them. Everything he could salvage from the past and hope for the future was here. “Yes, Bob, this is what I would have carved.’’
Nixon knew now he had been closely observed, and on this roll of linen, lovingly rendered.
Printed with permission from Benna Books, an imprint of Applewood Books, of Carlisle, Mass. Copyright © 2017 by Jane L. Goodrich. All rights reserved.