620 West 122nd Street New York City November 2, 1930
I heard from your own particular Mate just before your letter arrived, in which he remarked that he had been handing you a “raw deal”–that was how he expressed it. But if, as you say, he is to be happier and healthier because of the change, I don’t call it a “raw deal” at all. That’s just what you would want, isn’t it? I mean, let me quickly say, Under the Circumstances. Of course it is not, NOT as it should be to have a part of oneself drifting about on the other side of the continent from one, is it? But I should think that Washington would be immeasurably more pleasant to live in then Detroitmich, as we write it in shorthand. And Air Mail across is remarkably rapid, though, of course, not rapid enough.
Don’t allow your feelings to be too much mixed about my job. You see, I really am having quite a good time. Don’t imagine that it’s a desperate struggle, or anything of that sort. Taking letters in shorthand is still quite a glamorous proceeding to me; though the last few days I have been addressing fifteen hundred envelopes–invitations to the very formal banquet of the Annual Fall Conference! That is rather monotonous, but it is just part of it, you see; and I like the people I work with–we all get along admirably well–and none of them works very hard; so I couldn’t have landed in a better place for a first job. After November 7th, I think it will be full-time, at twenty-five a week, or thereabouts. That is a remarkably good wage for a person so inexperienced as I.
Helen has just triumphed over a very crooked deal that was going on in New Haven concerning the house. She found that she had gotten into a “nest of crooks,” so to speak, and by supreme courage and daring she managed to call their bluff, and we don’t think any radical harm has been done. She is going to give a little talk soon, about the trip. She seems to be quite cheerful, and is riding the waves in great style. I like to see a ship riding the waves.
The way you are, my dear Matey, and Phoebe, and the other member of the family in Detroit, and also the Deserters–of whom what news, by the way? I hope there will not only be cocoa when next I sail into port, but also Graham Crackers. I laugh still when I remember that colossal carton which Phoebe so thoughtfully purchased for my luncheon one day! Is it empty yet?… Last night Helen and I, with California resounding in eyes, nose, and mouth, bought and ate two large red-gold persimmons…. Not long, now, Matey–not long! I’ll be there!
I really think you are a thorough-going Traitor not to have been dumb enough to have been surprised; though, certainly, you would have been dumb, come to think of it. Don’t think that that “dramatic arrangement” was at all pre-thought-out. It just occurred to me that the announcement needed a page to itself. It occurred to me just as I got to it–not before; and so I just naturally took that page out of the typewriter. It wasn’t until afterwards that I slipped it back in to indicate that the letter didn’t jump off in mid-air right at that point.
The dropped stitches have been carefully retrieved; or, I’d better say, the torn sails have been carefully patched, with marline warranted to hold “till the cows come home.” (Funny, that that should be a nautical expression, but it is used by every sailor on earth when he’s speaking about tying knots!)
It would be hard to tell what a relief it is to me. I don’t any longer get to wondering whether the schooner is hemmed in by icebergs or getting battered by Arctic gales, or any such horridiferous thoughts. He, being a cautious soul, has decided to stay aboard a while longer, because there aren’t any jobs for sailors any more than there are for anyone else at present. The vessel is laid up in Seattle, and he and the mate are alone aboard. They take turns cooking and feeding the cat, and they work whenever the weather lets them. So I guess he’s lucky, and he is certainly quite right to stay where he is. It was, as he termed it, a “professional compliment” to be asked to stay on, alone of all the other men, anyway.
Seems to me this was a specially juicy lot of headlines. The New York Times and the Herald Tribune never indulge in such things, and I chuckle over these long and heartily. I can’t make any of them out, which certainly proves that the headliner is a “bright fella.” More power to him!
A thousand thanks for your Christmas gift, which was a very happy thought indeed, and which I shall read with the greatest of pleasure–and wistfulness, too, I guess. I can’t forget the torment of Wuthering Heights. It’s a haunting thing to me.
I don’t think it was so very terrible of you to open It before Christmas. It was quite my fault. Then, too, as you know, I am somewhat of an atheist; and to tell the truth quite despise the mercenary thing Christmas has become! The real thing goes far deeper than that.
We enjoyed all your gifts ever so much, including every scrap of gilt ribbon, even! The “edibles” were quite ambrosian (speaking of ambrosia!) The soap-Santa-Claus made such a hit that it hasn’t been used yet! It’s one of those sad problems: “You cannot eat your cake and have it too.”
We had a three-foot Christmas tree and a lot of fun buying things for Sabra, mostly from Mr. Woolworth. That’s about all.
Well, to tell the truth, the graham crackers which you so subtly allude to, Matey Mine, are somewhat more chocolate-covered than before–not to say “gilt-edged,” which doesn’t seem to fit the metaphor so well! I’d hate to think you really were so blind as you suggest that you are.
Anyway, Christmas is gone, and here is another year, brand new, just out of its chrysalis!
Thanks again; and to all of you I wish the best luck in the world.
Your pard, Barbara
[in hand] Pardon the puny dimensions of this, won’t you?
In September 1924, ten-year-old Barbara climbed Mt. Chocorua with her father. It was (I think) her first White Mountain peak. Eighty-eight years later (who knows—perhaps to the day?) I climbed the same mountain and shot this video, which will be pretty much the same as Barbara’s view from the top.
Here’s an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her friend Mr. St. John on October 5, describing her trip.
The next morning we had breakfast, fairly late, and broke camp, together with something additional—packing our packs for the spend-the-night. Three blankets were all we could conveniently carry for bed-clothes, only Daddy planned to keep a noble fire going all night. Then off we drove for Clement Inn, at the foot of Chocorua. When we got there, we left the car, put on our packs, and started up the Piper Trail. It was not steep at all at first, indeed it was almost level, but up above Chocorua Brook a slight change began. Still farther there was quite an abrupt change, and the hard climbing began. Then we were I think about half a mile from the cabins. We began to get tired, and our discomforting packs pulled back our shoulders, and tried their best to make our feet fly out from under us. At last we got to the cabins—Camp Penacook and Camp Upweekis. We visited them both, but found Penacook much the preferable. The view from camp Penacook was the picture you sent me from Chocorua—I recognized it as soon as I looked down from the camp.
After we had rested and deposited our packs we went on towards the summit, intending, you see, to come back to the cabins that afternoon and spend the night. I was pretty well done for after the climb to the cabins, and Daddy had his doubts about my getting up to the summit that afternoon, but, strange enough, after I was freed from the heavy burden of my pack Daddy couldn’t keep me in sight all the way. I ran up precipices of granite, and caught up to and even led some people who, a long time ago, near the foot of the mountain had passed us while we were resting. On top it answered my dearest expectations. Fold after fold of mountains rising range beyond range into the cloudy sky. Of course, Washington was in clouds, but even what I saw of it, its huge base, was enough to convince me of its tremendous height and size. And the peaks of granite—the very peaks of granite I was standing on! It seemed impossible that I was now standing on that very peak which I had seen so far off at first! Then after a long talk with the fire warden up there, we went down to the cabins again and there we spent the cold bitter night, but thanks to a fire Daddy kept going all night we were reasonably comfortable.
The next morning, after taking a picture, we went down, crossing the seven brooks we had crossed coming up, stopping at the foot to pick a pail-full of blackberries from a huge patch, which were greatly relished at home.
620 West 122nd Street New York City February 24, 1931
I hardly dare to write to you at all now! Oh, I admit it, I admit it, my dear, it is simply horridiferous of me to have neglected no. 2001 so very long. I know–I don’t have to be told so, or mercilessly scolded, or kicked, or shaken!
Human nature, I’ve decided, is a very ornery sort of thing, when all’s said and done. In spite of my inward resolution to make no excuses for my long, dastardly silence, I am going to proceed at once to make some! To begin with, Helen has been down and out with the “flu.” She’s been up for some time now, but for several days the place was pandemonium, and there was no doing anything save just dragging along from one hour to the next. Everything seemed as wrong as possible. Even Anderson, the unfailing standby, was summoned up-sound with the owner of the ship, with the result that I didn’t have any word from him for over two weeks, which was uncomfortable. I learned afterwards that the two of them had been cutting down a tree for a new mast for the schooner. Still romance in the world, eh, what? I like the idea of cutting down trees for masts–in 1931! Seems too good to be true.
Even at the office, things were deadly, as the Director had to go out West to a big meeting, to deliver a couple of addresses, etc., and when he’s away there’s hardly anything to do down there; and if there’s anything I hate, it’s keeping up a semblance of having something to do when in reality I’m not. The time hangs awfully heavy at such times. Now, however, Helen is well, A. is back, the Director came back today; also a deluge of proof for the technical Journal came in in the morning’s mail, and my down-town desk is loaded!
I have other exciting news. The other week, in pursuing through the Shipping News, I came upon an item about my old schooner, the Frederick H.–that is, of course, the Norman D. It seems she had gone ashore off Mount Desert (Maine) in a gale o’ wind, and damaged her rudder. (Follett would know about Mount Desert.) Well, that set me thinking. I got to thinking about that “worthy mariner” (as Anderson calls him), Mate Bill, and how he was, and how Mrs. Mate Bill was, who wrote me once; and whether the schooner was badly knocked up, and whether Bill still remembered at all the little red-headed girl who kicked about the decks of the Frederick H. so long ago, when she was only about up to her own shoulder, or less!
So I typed off a letter to Mate Bill.
And in reply:
Port Greville Feb. 12. 1931
Dear Barbara we got your letter O K and was glad to here form you again. Bill is not home so he got me to drope you a line Bill was in Frederick last summer and this summer to he left hur about 3 weeks befour she went ashore she is in river now not hurt much. we was tacking about you about a week befour Bill got your letter he was useing knife you give him and sed I like to no ware Barbara is now he though he would never here form you again Bill sed he would make you a boat like Frederick and take it up to you in summer.
2/ if you think you could fine him he would let you no Bill ofen speek about that man that came down in Frederick and would love to see him I am send you some snaps of Frederick H. now Barbara I will Close for this time Please write soon again form Mrs McClelland
Bill working in woods about 16 mile form home he diden have aney chance to write he in a camp with about 28 men so you see he would have no place to write please excuse him
Real honest-to-God sterling people? Yes! And what difference does it make whether they can spell or not? Not a sand-small bit–though of course it’s preferable, I think, to have, as a steady correspondent, someone who can spell and punctuate and form good Anglo-Saxon sentences and paragraphs!
Well, I was overjoyed. So it seems I may be seeing Mate Bill this summer, “if I can fine him” that is, which I think I can do, even among the dingy, complicated, disgusting wharves of New York. If I do, there will be a story. And yet–I confess I have a vague fear when it comes to seeing Bill again. Bill remembers me as a little kid. I’ve put on so much stature, etc., I’m afraid he may be rather flabbergasted. However, I don’t see that I could have done anything about it; though I do think it would be nice to have some magic gift by which one could become twelve or thirteen years old at will. Don’t you?
Other news I have none, I guess. Helen’s manuscript is battling for dear life. There are three very powerful ropes out now, and any number of smaller fish-lines. Some of it is in the hands of St. Nicholas, which has so far reacted favorably. Helen, with the help of a new-found actress friend, is dramatizing it with radiostic ambitions, as perhaps I’ve told you. And then the Junior Literary Guild. One of the three ought to happen. I should think, anyway! If all of them happen–but that isn’t to be expected. But if any one of them happens, it will help the other two!
She herself is working like an Injun most of the time. I, on the other hand, ain’t working no more than I have ter!
Sometimes, still, I spend week-ends at that quiet, timid little house in Pelham, with the elderly poet and his elderly wife. I spent this last week-end on holiday with them, reading Sherlock Holmes and Sat. Eve. Post stories, and in general having a good relaxation. I also did some writing. I find it rather difficult to get all the writing done here that I might like to do. It’s rather thick at times!
Have you heard anything, or seen anything, or felt anything, of Follett? Or of The Other? I wonder, I wonder, what they can be doing, and how they are, etc. How’s that “menial job” which Follett said he had?
Your story, I regret to say, hasn’t sold yet. I’m going to take it down to Ethel Kelley next week-end, and read it aloud to her. She is a very precious friend of both Helen and me, you know; and is well up in literary things, and knows a lot about possible markets, etc., even if she has been flat on her back for three or four years.
The only other bit of news is that my German friend, the young and fair-haired second mate of my last steamer, the Marsodek, came for a “wisit” with me the other week or so. I came home from work and found him sitting at the table with Helen, laughing, and looking quite like himself. We had a very jolly time. He went out and bought two immense porterhouse steaks about three inches thick, and a dozen pastries with whipped cream in them. Lord-a-mercy! when these sailors get ashore! That’s one thing I like about A: he doesn’t force fanciful boxes of candy upon one at every corner. But the German mate was very entertaining, as usual: he spun yarns till nearly midnight. It seems his ship, the Marsodek, is laid up in Baltimore: he got transferred to another of the company’s ships, which just came into New York. He was shivering, however, and talked a great deal about California, and his favorite town, San Francisco.
The weather has been rather beastly, though not half so bad as I expected. It’s been alternately cold and warm, cold and warm, all winter long. There’s been real northerly spice in the air, and quite a lot of snow; and there have been some of those clear, cold, north N. E. (that stands for New England!) days that make one feel very virile and full of life and energy. These last three days, on the other hand, have been gloriously like spring itself.
In your last letter you commented with great, great enthusiasm, on N by E. Funny that our tastes in literature should clash, even a little, isn’t it? I can’t praise the book with the whole-hearted eagerness that you do. You say that Rockwell Kent is a Man and a Seaman. I don’t think he is quite either. There are some gorgeous bits in the book, and I love some of the pictures; but damn it! there’s too much Rockwell Kent at every turn! I have a feeling, also, that there’s affectation in the book–it doesn’t quite ring, to me, with the genuine wholesome sound that it ought to have. It can’t be said that I am prejudiced, either, because I started out with the feeling that I should certainly admire and love the book straight through. But it doesn’t seem to me the book that his earlier one, Wilderness, is. (Pardon this atrocious sentence!)
Another thing that doesn’t ring with me is the breaking up of the little party.
Another thing that’s out of place is the episode of the Greenland girl.
I’ll tell you, though, of one really gigantic piece of writing that has come to light. It’s in the February issue of Harper’s Magazine; and it’s William McFee’s article, “Engine Room Stuff.” Now on the whole I have had occasion to be hugely disappointed with McFee’s writing. But this one piece is epic, cosmic. It’s without doubt one of the best short pieces of writing I’ve read for a long time. It has, in fact, only one bad line in it–which one can skip when reading it aloud to friends, as I do. I suggest that you dig it up. It’s far more than worth the trouble.
My love to the fambly. I suppose B. R. is in Washington, now. Alas! These continental separations! Atrocious, aren’t they? If you will give me his address, I think I’ll write to him again shortly. How’s Phoebe? The House Beautiful covers are GRAND!
There are lots of things I should have said that I haven’t, I’m sure. Yet this is, at least, a starter, isn’t it? I hope you don’t feel too thoroughly exasperated with
620 West 122nd Street New York City March 12, 1931
My dear mate:
How glad I am that our last letters crossed in the mail! I had a genuine feeling of shame when I received that little admonishing letter of yours–but think what that feeling would have been had I not been secure in the knowledge that my letter was on its way to you as fast as the faithful little plane could take it. Just think! Only three days from me to you, clear across this old continent–two days if you happen to hit the mail just right! How many months did it take in olden times?
Well, anyway…. Everything is going well here. Helen’s book is, I believe, on the very threshold…. Oh, I know, it’s been on that threshold a very long time! The job holds. Anderson is marvellous. Honestly, I don’t see how I could possibly get along without his twice- and sometimes thrice-weekly communications: all done in the best Andersonian manner, and never less than two pages in length. He is–a rock.
I have had two other bits of mail lately that have been interesting, besides the letter from Mrs. McClelland. One came from my dark suitor in the Tonga Islands. In his quaint English he expressed the opinion that it was a “poor world.” The other was from a half-caste girl whom I knew I Samoa, and came to like very much. I thought she had by far the most personality–as we measure personality–of anyone I met down in those outlandish parts. At that time there was something in the air about her marrying a white man–a wireless operator aboard one of the Navy ships, I believe. That was two years ago. I was interested to hear this time that it was still in the air–in fact, she is to be married in April. I am a little distressed of course, because I don’t like inter-racial marriages, and can’t help having doubts about the man. She has great dreams of coming to live in the States. Poor child! A Polynesian is a “nigger” here, you know. If only one could say those things. But no–you have to be silent.
It does seem to bad to let Phoebe grow up. I know you won’t try to prevent it, though, for of course you realize that that is misery-making. Oh, Mate, I can give you all sorts of sage advice on those points! I remember certain things so very well, you see–things that have grown a little less real and vivid, perhaps, to an older person. I think growing up could be a most glorious experience. But, oh, it can be so ghastly.
Incidentally, I wish Phoebe would write to me someday when she feels like it. I wrote to her two or three times, and hoped for a brief word sometime. I got the impression that perhaps she was very much disappointed with me–and I honestly don’t blame her. She started out with the idea that I was such a romantic character, you know, and of course I wasn’t. I felt at the time that perhaps she had built up something around me that was too iridescent and fragile and beautiful for any mere mortal to live up to. Oh, I know…. Butterfly wings …. Touch them, and the powder comes off on your hand….
I have been meditating a good deal the last few weeks on the rather abstract problem of whether or not I should go to college–that is, of course, assuming I could get in, which I doubt. I don’t feel the faintest ray of desire or enthusiasm–in fact, I feel a decided antipathy. But I do believe it to be an asset, if you can display your A.B. or B.A.. or whatever it is, when applying for a job. I have decided to get the opinions of several of my friends, on the subject. That doesn’t mean that I will promise to follow their opinions, of course, even should they all turn out to be “for” it–it just means that I am interested to see what they think.
I am not only vague in the extreme on that point, but I am also vague about the immediate future–this summer, I mean. The building we are living in is to come down in June, at least our lease ends in June. Helen wants to go away somewhere. I do, too, but if the job holds I intend to cling to it with might and main. I don’t believe it will hold all summer, as the Federation goes very slowly from June to about September. If Anderson were going to be here I should certainly make some sort of effort to see him, but he is going up North again, as perhaps I told you. Not such a long trip, he says, but I feel rather bleak about it. He is going because he wants the money and is saving it–For A Purpose. Also, times are so damned hard, he thinks quite rightly that he had better stick while the sticking’s good! So with him away, I don’t care much where I go, but I certainly want to go somewhere. Anywhere Helen decides on will be agreeable to me, I guess. We’ll probably hunt up a schooner and sail to the coast of Maine, or maybe to Nova Scotia–or maybe in another direction entirely, toward the West Indies. All things hang on two “ifs”–if my job doesn’t hold, and if the book goes. Otherwise I guess we stay here–(Heaven help us!)
I’m writing a preface (trying to, I mean) for the book. They think it will give it the punch of authority and genuineness, if you know what I mean. I’m hoping to be able to pull off six or seven good pages, but have produced so far only a bit of garbage. You know. When it’s done I’ll send you a copy for criticism. I’m also sending out two or three other copies to my friends–when it’s done. That’s the way Dr. Bingham, Director of the Federation, always writes an article, and I think it’s a good scheme.
Well, I guess that’s about enough dribble for this time, isn’t it, Mate? Anyway, you can see that I’m at least making quite an effort to take my life and put it up on a peak where–alas!–it isn’t. I’m happy in the effort. And I love you. You and Anderson are the two best friends in the world.
I am really almost afraid to write to you at all. I feel quite dastardly, and all that. But I’ve been endeavoring to do sixteen different major things at once, and you know what that is like. Furthermore, the scheme of the universe was just about as full as I could manage, and I had to keep going pretty tight to keep up with it at that. Now there is one extra corner. You can have it!
Your last letter was really a very grand one. Maybe it will help a little for you to know that I answered it twice, or started to, but the answers never got finished! Also I never received the headlines which you enclosed in it. They had a tragedy. You see, I opened the letter as I was on my way from the house to the subway station, and so they blew away! I chased them a little, but there was quite a wind, and they eluded me. Of course, knowing your habits, I should have been prepared.
The best thing that letter contained was your news about B. R., and yet YOU merely appended it in ink, as an after-thought! It is too grand to be true that someone is going to see somebody they want to see. I envy you and rejoice with you all at once.
We have some rather good developments of late. Helen’s book is TAKEN!!!!!!!!!! By Louise Seaman, of Macmillan. Furthermore, it seems that now it’s been accepted, and a generous advance offer made, certain other publishers in N. Y. are on its trail–which is flattering, you know. Well, the joke’s on them.
Now, I don’t want this to be mentioned. It’s a great secret, for the time being. You must share it only with Phoebe. Helen is very anxious to have it a surprise to W. F., and for that reason I think it would be better not to tell even the Deserters. Furthermore, the Contract isn’t actually signed, nor the Check received; but it’s as good as done, and I don’t think it can really go wrong now.
There is still more editorial work to be done on it. It was accepted on faith, so to speak. Helen has gorgeously revised the first four chapters, and the faith is that the rest of the book will be pulled up to the high standard of those four. That will be done this summer. The book will doubtless be out next spring.
Helen says she’s going to get that book serialized before it’s published, then accepted by the Junior Guild, then published, then radioized, and perhaps a few odd chapters accepted by Harper’s Magazine in payment of the Debt! Well, SOME of those things ought to come through!
Other things have happened. One sad one. A. has gone, of course–which leaves the corner in my time which I was speaking about before. I’m glad to have the corner, of course, and yet — It was more of a jolt than I had anticipated. I feel quite nebulous, not quite sure of whether I’m here.
Other things have happened. We’re moving, as you can see by the heading. Just an apartment round the corner, because this building is to be torn down, beginning tomorrow, supposedly. The new place is bigger and airier and sunnier and expensiver, with a grand view of the New Jersey hills, Grant’s Tomb, and the rear of the statue of Butterfield.
Other things have happened. I’m to have a two months’ vacation, and we’re moving up to Hanover to spend them in a little cabin in the woods, just across the river from our old and dear friends the Meserveys. Really in the woods. Wood-thrushes and crickets and pine trees. Oh, my God! And stars, and smells, and green grass. A little log cabin, all furnished, facing Mt. Ascutney, for $20.00 a month. Not too extravagant, eh what? I shall climb mountains and tear around. Just the worst two months here in the city. What luck! July and August.
Other things have happened. I’m writing a book. A good book. The one about wings. The first chapter is done, and the second is well under way. The plot is mapped out rather clearly–in my head. It begins rather dismally, but soon acquires some sun. There will be sea (naturally), and a romance (?), and a satisfactory amount of misery. The plot is exceedingly old and trite, but it’s going to be handled in a new way. It’s about a shipwreck, an island, and so on. But it doesn’t turn out very well. It leaves you a little poised in mid-air.
Well, I think that’s all that has happened, summed up in brief. I think you’d better move east next winter. It’s going to be a good winter. I’m to have the same job, “with added responsibilities and an increased stipend.” The last clause is particularly inducive, I think. “Increased stipend” has a pleasant ring, has it not? Someday I’ll buy an island yet! Or a boat. Or both.
As I said, it’s going to be a really good winter. Helen’s book will be on its exciting trip through the press, I shall be working up mine, plus a few articles for Harper (say I lightly!). We’ll have a little more breathing-space, too. Why, I shall even have a room all to myself, which I haven’t had for ever and ever so long. And how I shall work!
I was going to say a lot about your comments on college. But that is so long past that I’m quite out of the mood at present. I saw your points at the time, I believe; in fact, they were obvious points. But somehow I don’t believe it will happen. Everything can’t happen, you know. I’d rather cut it out than some of the other things. One has to choose. The point is, weed your garden, don’t you know?
What are you doing, and planning to do? Damn, damn, it’s a long time since I’ve seen you. Come east next winter. It looks as if I shouldn’t go west for some time yet. Got to stick at the wheel and weed my garden. But it’s really awful how all my best friends are thousands of miles away. It’s as if I had a cursed circle around me that my friends can’t get into. A geographical circle, I mean. The only real friend I have in New York is Ethel Kelley, and she’s too sick to see me at all most of the time. When I want her most, she’s invariably too sick. Also, she’s trying to write a book too, and giving all her spare energy to that. The only other person who is at all in reach is Norman D. of New Haven, who comes down to N. Y. once in a while on business. Otherwise, I’m damned alone, if you want to know.
But that doesn’t matter, and isn’t interesting anyway.
This style of writing of mine sounds rather curt in a letter, doesn’t it? It’s a new development. I think I rather like it. The novel is more or less written in that style. Some sentences which aren’t really sentences, you know; and no long, involved ones. W. F. wouldn’t approve of that, I suppose, he being the champeen sentence-twister and wordsmith of the generation! Incidentally, any news of him? And don’t forget! He’s not to know about Helen’s book.
Do you remember that beautifully involved sentence in the introductory sketch to The Scarlet Letter? It begins “In my native town of Salem….” and ends, halfway down the page, “there stands a spacious edifice of brick.” Words to that effect. In between those two clauses, which are the complete structure of the sentence, he describes the whole town of Salem, I should say, with dashes and comma-dashes and semicolons galore. Incidentally, it was my first reading of the book, just yesterday. I never could plough through Hawthorne before. I used to get snowed under before I could find out what it was all about. But I got such a tremendous kick out of that book that I had an attack of hysteria or sumthin very like it. The suspense is crushing, and the whole structure is built up magnificently. I didn’t know he wrote like that!
That’s all I’ve read for months. Except galley proof, of course. There’s always lots of galley proof to read, when a good eye is available. I read just about all the proof that comes into the office, and am getting quite famous for not passing up errors. Very uninteresting material, though, for the most part. Scientific and technical and deadly dull! Scientists can’t write a good English sentence, somehow.
Anyway, I still think Lord Jim is the greatest book in English, and a point above Nostromo. Tell W. F. that when you see him. Then he’ll know I still disagree with him!
I suppose California is getting hot. We’ve been fried and frizzled the last three days. Helen and I have been carting basketloads of books across the street to the other apartment, and we’re about done up. I think S. F. would be grand about now. But not so good as little old Hanover!
I hope you’ll condescend so far as to forgive the long silence and write me. I’ll try to make up for it; but my tryings never seem to amount to very much. Letter-writing is a delicate matter. It has all sorts of strange bumps and valleys. It’s a quicksand affair. But even quicksand serves to pave a river with.
I wonder, wonder, wonder. IS anything wrong with the R’s? I’m rather worried. I’d hate to think so. Or HAVE I done anything wrong—other than not writing for a long, long time?
Sometime I’ll tell you why that long break occurred. It was horrid of me, I know, but I was in a snowdrift and could not get out, and didn’t care much.
Or maybe that last letter of mine went wrong—in which I told you about Helen’s book and Macmillan’s acceptance of it; and also of my projected book, of which three chapters are now in existence. Maybe that letter smashed in an airplane or sumthin.
Anyway, I do want to hear from you — ever so. About how you all are. I suppose B. R. has been west by this time, hasn’t he? Or did something slip up there? I am rather worried. I do hope that everything’s well with you and yours.
My love and Helen’s to Phoebe, et al., and plenty left over for yourself.
Yours, B. F.
P.S. If it is true that that letter didn’t reach you, please don’t say a word about this to anyone. W. F. mustn’t know — yet!
Your letter came just in time—I leave tomorrow morning early for the month, and Helen follows in a few days. The address will be: ℅ A. B. Meservey, 24 Occam Ridge, Hanover, New Hampshire.
Oh, I am so sorry that things are going so rottenly for you. There is no justice in Heaven or Earth, it seems. Really, I cried over your letter—as if that would help any! How I wish I could do something! My heart would tell you to pack up and go to B. R. at once. But there’s poor E. So I would compromise. I would go to him as soon as ever her need of you is abated a little. I don’t believe it’s a case of Money, A. D. R. … But then, of course I am probably all wrong. Only you mustn’t say that about not seeing him again. You mustn’t even contemplate such a thing. There is a limit to what the gods can do, you know.
There are three chapters of my book in existence now—pretty fairly good I think. Its title so far has been “Lost Island.” Does that sound intriguing? The few persons whom I have so far confided in have liked it—also have been enthusiastic over the outline of the story. I am having a good deal of fun wrestling with it.
I think it’s swell that The American Girl has been chasing you for material. That is about the highest compliment a writer can have, isn’t it? And you must find time to do the work. If I think of a rip-snorting Idea I’ll let you know. But maybe you already have plenty of Ideas. Apparently that is the easiest part! It seems to be with me.
There are no further developments on Helen’s book. I imagine it will be out next spring sometime. They are casting about right now for an illustration—a “tropical bird” preferably, as H. says. Whether it will work out I don’t know. Also, we are still revising the MS. One can revise till Doomsday, it seems. We probably will!
Alaska is a Hell of a long way off! No mail until October. But that’s something to anticipate. He is such a faithful soul. Two letters a week, and sometimes three, form the time he landed last fall till the schooner sailed this spring. He’ll come back. I have an idea that he’s unbreakable and eternal.
Oh, A. D. R., I don’t know what to say, but I’m sure you should come east. The bus costs only $55. Could you stand the bus? If it’s lack of ready cash, I could remedy that—yes, even I, incredible as it may seem. And oh, how I’d love to see you myself! Of course, there will not be that old California glamor—that subtle, fleeting thing that surrounded us before. It might be a little unreal. I haven’t carried over much of that atmosphere. But we could have cocoa and graham crackers even here, and I could whirl you around. How about next fall?
Next fall looks just a little dreary to me anyway. To be sure, I’l have that same job again, and probably it will be a bigger one. My employer has industrial ideals—that your job is your own property, so to speak. But oh, oh, in N. Y. the moths feed on the wings of your soul. This is probably an unhealthy attitude, I know. But I do think the world is rather horrid. Most of my dearest friends seem to be in deep trouble, and I can’t do anything about it.
Perhaps that’s why I cling for dear life to A. He, with no tools and no material, has nevertheless made something most beautiful and real out of life. I don’t know just how. But he is a rock and a shelter. I’ll never forget or forgive WF’s attitude toward him. That was mainly what caused the sharp and sudden break between him and me. It was unwarranted and ridiculous and mean. My respect for WF did its loudest blowing-up over that…. A. is a treasure.
Anyway, you come East this fall—or sooner. One can get to the point where one doesn’t know what to do and consequently does nothing, whereas an outsider, acquainted suddenly with the true situation, at once forms rather definite opinions. Of course, this outsider isn’t pretending to be God! But I know how easily one can let Money rule one—especially if Money is thought of at every step. Soon one ceases to take steps. I know!
If you will come, you know that you could stay here with us—we have plenty of space now, and anything we have is yours. Helen longs to see you, too. You would be quite close to B. R. and could run down to Washington often by bus. I feel sure that everyone concerned would be happier for it. You could rent the house; and if Phoebe couldn’t come too I know she would understand, and would be glad to carry on for a while. And oh, we would welcome you so! So do think of it seriously.
This is a nice, cool, comfortable apartment, with lots of light and plenty of good tables to work on. You could get a lot of writing done. We would all be writing together. Wouldn’t it be fun? Also, we live right near the Hudson River, which is really beautiful at night–dreamy, promising. There is a nice park—a public spoonery, to be sure, but still very nice. I think we could have a grand time.
This is the great 4th of July. It seems strange and incongruous somehow, to hear the snapping of toy pistols and firecrackers. Silly. It makes H. and me a little depressed. Seems so utterly futile.
One very nice thing did happen this week. The Chief wrote to me — at last. H. had been to Boston, and his boat was in. She went down to pay a friendly visit. The letter is more or less the result of that, but that fact doesn’t make it any less pleasing. It’s just the kind of letter that was needed to square that account. It has relieved me more that I imagined, and given me a freedom from that vague and horrid sense of guilt and discomfort. Until now there was still something pending—waiting to be settled. Not it’s all definitely fixed, somehow—the account has been cleared, and well cleared. Until now I had vague feelings of sadness on the subject, which have completely vanished now.
Now for the woods! I am looking forward to sunlight and trees — the Earth. Except for a curious and indefinable loneliness, which I have experienced a good deal of late without exactly knowing why—except for that, I think the next two months will be glorious. One does get lonely in the springtime somehow, when the wind is warm on your face and the grass is green.
I need you a great deal. I know we each have a lot to discuss and propound which we wouldn’t by mail. At any rate, mere quiet companionship would be very soul-satisfying.
Do give our love to the “fambly.” I am holding my thumbs for you, my dear, and I do want and hope and long for things to be better. I won’t say “pray,” because whatever small part of God I may once have believed in, I don’t believe in any more. But I believe in love.
The Meserveys brought over your letter yesterday, and I was very glad to have it, even if it was a rather sad sort of letter. Although I still doubt whether the gods are “equal to anything,” I know they are equal to a hell of a lot, and I’ve been worrying about “you-all” a great deal. I’m awfully glad that E. is getting better. Doctors, I think, are generally pessimistic. They are rather interested in their infernal fees, and they are quite pleased when somebody springs a strange new disease or combination of diseases that nobody has ever heard of before.
I do hope Phoebe won’t crash up next. Or you. I don’t see how you manage to avoid it, with all the mental and physical stress you must be under. Of course, if one can keep from losing one’s head, that’s the main thing.
I suppose you are right about B. R., if he really is that way. I hadn’t thought of it in just that light before. Still, I think he’s wrong; but if that’s how he is he can’t help it of course. I wish, for the sake of all the R.’s, that he weren’t quite so much of a Stoic, or had quite so much of a hankering for self-dependency. Of course I know he wouldn’t want to be “hovered over and looked out for and taken care of and protected”—and he isn’t exceptional in that, because I don’t think any man who is a man wants that. It isn’t exactly a question of “hovering over,” in my mind. Of course a great many women can’t do anything but “hover” (that’s a wonderful word!), but you aren’t like that. I can’t rid myself of the feeling that you could do him more good than harm; but probably you know better. That’s just my feeling.
Anyway, I hope that the “psychological moment” comes soon, when he will be a little bit swayed by his feelings. I do want to see him swayed by his feelings. Everyone ought to be, once in a while. A. and I were discussing that in our sage transcontinental manner just before he left, and we came in perfect accord to the conclusion that you can’t build an intelligent life solely on a foundation of either Reason or Passion. It’s a question of blending them and getting the most out of each, and shedding the husks and putting them in the garbage can. And when A. and I come to a decision—well, it’s a Decision, that’s all!
Please don’t think I’m trying to tell you anything, because I’m not. But I’ve worried a great deal about you, and wanted to say some of the things I’ve felt. And one of the things I feel most strongly about is that separation is Dire. It seems that most of my life I’ve been parted from the people I’ve most wanted to be with. It’s a kind of doom that hangs over me. But it’s a dire kind of thing, that I oughtn’t to yield to. I think togetherness is the best way of fighting sadness and despair, just as cleanishness and good Ivory soap is one of the best ways of fighting drab poverty. I think even you once said that if people were together that was half the fight. I think that holds good. I mean, of course, if the people are congenial, and happy to be together. I merely assume that that holds true of the R.’s.
As you say, it is rather a “weary, futile world.” There isn’t very much to be said for it most of the time, A.D.R. It’s a disappointing Jinx. And the only way of beating it is just not to let it weigh you down. What I should like to do is to pack B. R. up in a crate, labelled conspicuously “FRAGILE. PERISHABLE. HANDLE WITH CARE.”, and address him to No. 2001 via Airmail. This might be utterly the wrong technique, I can’t pretend I’m right, but somehow I’d refuse to let the old Jinx cheat you out of everything. It’s bad enough as is, without all these damned infernal separations.
It’s strange that I should be given a physical endurance, at least, that is nigh unending, and yet that I can’t come out and scrub pots and pans and do the cooking, or tend the store in the desert and help Phoebe out. I’d be very good at that sort of thing. I’m getting quite Practical. But I have my own little circus, and have to run it. It’s only a one-ring one, but it’s all I can handle, as sometimes the elephants are rather unruly, and come near squashing me against the wall.
This summer won’t grant much of a respite, but it is a grand change. I do ninety-five per cent of all the work that is to be done, which is considerable of a job in a camp. But I don’t mind that. What I do mind is an article I’m still trying to write for Harper’s. I’ve decided that that is going to be done this summer, whether or not I get much ahead of “Lost Island” (which I probably shan’t). But “Lost Island” is pretty well started, and I don’t think it will miscarry now. Three long chapters, and the story well under way. The next thing really is this Harper article, and it’s going to be done.
This little cabin really is very enchanting. It’s up in a pasture, on a hill, with sumac in front, and hemlock and woods stretching indefinitely behind. The hermit-thrushes sing nearly all the time, and are quite tame. The field is white with daisies, and alive with big orange butterflies. The steeplebush is soon coming out. There is a huge patch of rhubarb down below the cabin a little way, so we have a continual supply of super-excellent rhubarb sauce. The hemlocks make a grand harp to the wind. And it’s good to be wearing old black pants again. They have shiny streaks on them which is varnish remover from the Marsodak; they have spots of engine-room oil on them; they have a streak or two of whitewash from A.’s large brush aboard the Vigilant—in fact, quite an atmosphere.
There’s nothing like these northern woods and hills and wild flowers, anyway. We have the cabin full of wild flowers, just ordinary ones, like daisies and buttercups and meadowsweet and Queen Anne’s lace; but they have a delicate and subtle Something about them which isn’t to be equalled in a Fifth Avenue florist’s window. And I am also peacefully reading “Coniston” for the first time.
So you saw W.F.—well, well. If he gets much sourer, A.D.R., he’ll turn into curds, and have to be combined with a good deal of baking soda and made into gingerbread…. I made a perfect one last night, with some milk that was terribly sour, so sour I had no faith in it whatsoever, since it was solid—but the gingerbread was superb, which just goes to show that you can’t daunt a gingerbread.
I believe that W.F. has become the prince and king of all Fools. I think that probably the reason he and M. turned against A. and were so utterly mean to me about him was that they were somewhat afraid of him because he was upright and honest and aloof and didn’t approve of them. He’s ten times the man W.F. is, and maybe W.F. sensed that—you sometimes do—and naturally would resent it.
Anyway, A.D.R., don’t you lose your sense of humor, whatever happens. If you have that, you can keep your head above water—just. Sometimes it’s by a hair’s-breadth, but still it’s above water. Without it one may as well lay down and die. That you still have plenty of yours is evidenced by the last headline you sent me. I can’t make anything out of it at all. It does sound somewhat vacationy, though I can’t define the reason for it. What masterpieces that headline fella does pull off!
I certainly don’t think there is much to be said for this so-called civilization. It’s barbarous, that’s what it is. The primitivest of the primitive were never capable of such outrages as this Jinx civilization. That’s one of the things “Lost Island” is about—sort of a fling, a kick, a dig at the world. Not a nasty one, just a grieved one. I wish we were back to the cave days. Even nowadays there are some tribes that are happy. Look at the Polynesians, for instance. Naturally we can’t be happy in their surroundings, but that’s not the fault of the surroundings. It’s our fault—and civilization’s. Damn, damn!
But lest you think I’m becoming very despondent myself of late, let me assure you that this is my normal state of mind, when I allow it to come to the surface. That is, I always am grieved at the world. But I usually don’t allow it to come to the surface. I sink it. And I do love listening to those hermit-thrushes. They are divine. And there are a few beings whom I love a great deal, and who make most of what there is of Good in life. But I don’t believe in God. God got discouraged and gave up long ago, and I don’t blame him, I’m sure!
A.D.R., I do with all my heart hope things will come somewhere near right for you soon. If you would come east this winter, even if you still felt that you should keep away from B.R., we’d adore to have you. Why don’t you come anyway? And then if the “psychological moment” arrived, you’d be that much closer. I think that’s a good idea. I think we could find a certain amount of peace, and might really get a lot of masterpieces done. I feel all energy at the very thought. And cocoa is an inspiring drink. You see, friends have to stick together in the face of the Jinx.
I was glad to have heard from you at last. Of course, I realized that you couldn’t be writing letters; the only trouble being that I worry about you.
After reading your letter three or four times, I felt pretty sure that you were feeling better about B.R. You didn’t dare to say so in so many words, and I don’t blame you—but still, there it is, isn’t it? I was also awfully glad to realize, by your quotations from his letters, that he still has plenty of his own sense of humor, and that nothing can alter that.
As for you, you don’t have to worry about old ladies’ almshouses, or anything of that sort!
When I turned the page of your letter and read the “further happenings of this horrible summer,” I said to myself: “This is more than the limit. It can’t be true.” And I laughed a little, it seemed so utterly far-fetched, if you know what I mean. Well, what can I say? Ye Gods!
Thanks for the clippings. Yes, I sympathize very much with that poor chap who wanted to be let alone and to have a row-boat.
You want to know Things. I should say it was you who had the Things to relate. Helen says that she would write to you, only she can’t think of anything to say, because there is too much to say. She feels for you quite tremendously, I am sure of that. Her revision is all finished now, except for a few details. She is now working on a new prospect, a rather vague one as yet, in connection with radio broadcasting.
We haven’t gone back to New York yet. I may not for nearly two weeks yet. I haven’t gotten very brown, and I’ve worked pretty nearly all the time, but I’ve enjoyed myself a good deal. Somehow I can’t make this summer a parallel with the one of yours that you told me about. I am a bit depressed, and anyway the hermit-thrushes have stopped singing now. But the goldenrod is glorious. I console myself at times by indulging in long conversations with an ancient farmer who has friendly blue eyes and an immense white moustache behind which he smiles secretly.
The Harper article fizzled, because I couldn’t, if you know what I mean. The book may just possibly escape fizzling. I have nearly finished the sixth chapter now. That is about half of it, I should say, because they are long chapters—fifteen pages each. I still hold to my opinion that it’s a pretty good book.
I think it was grand that you got that Thanksgiving story off. I don’t know how you managed it, with all your sixteen worries, each one being plenty for one person at a time. I get thrown all off the track myself by reading in the newspaper some little item about the ice being bad up Point Barrow way.
The thing I have been gladdest of this summer, I think, is that I have been working on Farksoo again, after a long spell during which it rested in a drawer untouched.
I am lonesome as hell, and wish I could see you. It was partly for selfish reasons that I suggested that you come east this winter. The invitation still holds good, in fact, it always holds good. If I ever come to live out west, you’ll come to see me sometimes, won’t you? We can have cocoa and discuss the events of the world. I believe I shall come, someday.
I guess that’s about all. I feel miserable because I can’t do anything, for you or myself or the ice or anything. I think impotence is about the worst sort of curse. If ever there is anything I can do, you’ll let me know, won’t you? And if anything does happen that makes you change your mind about coming east, remember that we want you.
Anderson—God willing—will be back toward the end of September.