Old No. 620
October 13 
I am taking advantage of this unfathomable holiday (Columbus Day, I think) to write to you. The last few days (extending from last Monday to last Saturday) have been as momentous as any days have been for a long time–in fact, so momentous that I haven’t recovered from their effects yet–not by a long shot. However, lest you die of suspense, let me proceed.
Monday, when I came home from school (this was a week ago exactly) I was informed by Helen that I had been solicited for a job, that she had accepted with alacrity for me (wise woman!) and that I was to go to work Tuesday afternoon, for half-time work indefinitely, along with school, you see. The office is the Personnel Research Federation, and the boss is an old friend (more or less) of the family.
So Tuesday afternoon (that’s enough excitement for one paragraph, don’t you think? that’s why I’m changing!) I wandered into this office with my school-bag in my hand and my only hat in (on, rather) my head. That hat was dug up in the New Haven panic, and is at least eight years old, but it was a twelve-dollar felt hat, and one advantage of them is that they LAST. (I don’t know why I put that in.) As soon as I entered the office I was asked whether I took dictation–and how glad I was to be able to say “yes.”
My job is that of any ordinary stenographer (and I am almost equal to it!), and I am enjoying it hugely, and getting twelve dollars a week for half-time, and promise of a full-time position as soon as I finish school; and I have a desk of my own and a large old Remington Noiseless, and it’s a great life and New York’s a pretty good place. There!
But, my dear, that’s a mere fraction!–a puny, putrid, infinitessimal fraction. Don’t faint away. I know one shouldn’t put so much vital material into one short letter, but that’s the way things happen–they drag on forever and ever and ever, and then pile all on top of each other in a rush. I guess you know what has happened.
By the time last Saturday came (that was day before yesterday) I was very tired indeed, and when I left the office Saturday noon I had a curious pain in the region of the solar plexus, which increased, until I was fairly hobbling down Sixth Avenue. I got home all right, but it was a hard job, and I couldn’t think what was wrong with me. When I came stumbling into the corridor at 620, I felt a little better–the worst of it seemed to be over. Then I came into the dining-room, and on the table was your last letter with the delectable headlines, and the explanation of “hunger’s bloated ghost.” (But what about the hopi bean and the baby lima???)
I read your letter, sitting in the brown rocker beside the front window, and I laughed so hard that it was real torture, for laughing hurt where the pain still lingered, and that seemed to me so comical that I laughed still harder and it hurt still worse…. Then your letter was finished…. I leaned forward to lay it down upon the windowsill.
… And upon the windowsill….
I can’t say this dramatically, so I won’t….
I saw there that very familiar pencilled air-mail envelope, Seattle-post-marked, and flavored with Camels and oakum.
Helen had played that windowsill stunt on me, and damn foolish of her it was. The truth must be told. It was more of a shock than anything else. Of course I had expected it for weeks, but my expectations were always naturally ended as soon as I came into the house from school and saw whatever mail there was. This time it had been your letter–a glorious treat. I wasn’t ready for this that followed. It was like a terrific earthquake.
The result was that–having answered the little note–I relapsed on the dining-room day-bed, and didn’t move the rest of the day nor Sunday morning, wondering what the hell was wrong, and what I should do about it, and what I managed to do to myself. I lay there grinning but in very real physical pain.
The pain is all gone now, and I know what was wrong, and it was nothing serious–I’m not going to die or anything exciting at all, so that’s all right. And I’ve recovered, more or less, and I feel merely buoyant and ready to tackle New York with fresh vigor for another new week, beginning this afternoon, in the office of the P. R. F.
You can imagine, of course, how disorganized the poor man is. It was only a tiny note, just saying he had arrived. It was dated September 7–instead of October 7. That’s a good enough illustration of what a long voyage of that sort does to one. He hinted, in a way that made my blood run cold–“the breeze of wind you suggested turned out to be a man-sized affair, and it threatened not to be all right for a while.”
O God, these wild people of the sea!
Of course I can’t believe it yet. It’s been a terrible gulf. It will be a long time before things can be as they were. I had half expected that the threads would just pick up again where they broke, but threads don’t do that. There have been too many vital changes. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m still stunned. And I still hear that “man-sized affair” howling about split spars and streaming rags of sail. I know!
When he gets more or less organized again–not before–I shall gently hint that we would both like to see him this winter. I have a good idea that he’ll take the hint. It’s very easy to ship coastwise, especially in the winter, and it’s rather hard to ship anywhere else except offshore. I feel somehow as though we should have to talk and laugh before balance can be recaptured. I am all up in the air now. I have concentrated all my faculties on trying to believe that that little letter is genuine, and not some ghostly aberration come to haunt me. I felt as though I were writing to a ghost, Saturday afternoon.
Stunned but happy, happy but stunned….
Well, was I right? Will you admit that last week was a momentous one? If you don’t, I’ll make you eat your words!
We’re all coming out to California next summer, so beware!
Then here’s to the day you and I can do dishes once more, in our incomparable and sublime manner!