March 7, 1928 – Letter to Wilson Follett

176 Armory Street, New Haven, Connecticut
March 7, 1928

Dear Daddy:

I did receive your letter, yesterday afternoon, and I read it (as you may suppose) a good many times before I came to any conclusion or conclusions concerning it. And now that I think that I have, I feel that I must point out two ideas in that letter that seem like ill-concealed weaknesses, and that cannot help but make me suspicious. (1) Because you do not give any clue as to what your answer almost was, and especially because you call attention to the fact that you have given no clue, I am tempted to think that the answer you had in your mind was one that you are now ashamed to reveal. For, had the intended answer been the right one, why all the secrecy about it? (2) Because the question of the divorce was brought up, that seems to me to put all idea of choice out of the picture, and it also seems to betray what was in your mind. For, in the desiring of a divorce from Helen (and I shouldn’t have let her give it to you, anyhow), how is it possible that this answer which “rang clear as a bell” in your mind was the right one?

Then there are others–other points–though those are the chief ones that have anything to do with your letter. For instance, Helen clearly and decidedly eliminated the idea of divorce long before she and Miss Whipple left New Haven. I was in the room at the time, “neque temere incognitam rem pronuntio.” Besides this, Helen was actually not asking you to return to her, but to return to the family. Aren’t we ever again going to cross the ranges of mountains in all weathers, or play about in Sternway, or steer a real windjammer though the seven seas, or take sailing-lessons from Mr. Rasmussen–as we once planned?

Such things do not reconcile themselves. For instance, if you now finally and determinedly drop all that, leave it behind, kick it out of the way, then how am I to believe that they actually and truly meant all to you that they seemed to at the time? And if they did, then how am I to believe that you don’t feel any more the lure of The Maine Woods–the lure of that mountain that we have always had vaguely in our minds? This is the time of year when you are wont to have feverish spells of mountain-lure–why aren’t you having them?

In short, and taking all this into consideration (as I hope you do), the whole wretched affair strikes upon me as being so absolutely nightmarish, insane, unthoughtof, that I can hardly convince myself that I ought to take it seriously. It seems to be like the last thing on earth that a person with any fragment of a brain or of a sense of responsibility would do. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

Then there’s another very important thing. You say Helen needs me, and right you are; but I need you, too. Thus, when you think that out, how am I to manage? She needs me, and I need you; but there aren’t two of me, are there? And I can’t cut myself in two parts, and then set the parts fighting as you and Helen are fighting–can I? Besides, though you say a great deal, both in this letter of yours and at other times, about the destructive and “poisonous” relationship between Helen and yourself, you must remember (for even I can remember that) that it hasn’t been true except during the last year or so; and that, even now, there is hardly anyone in the world who still doesn’t believe that you and Helen are an ideal pair. Why, you are the only one who even entertains that wild though! And, after all this, who is going to consider your thoughts the right ones? And besides, you cannot impress it upon me or anyone else that a relationship with a young girl of twenty is going (I mean, in the long run) to be anything but a worse nightmare than even you think your relationship with Helen is.

Now that I have said my say: there only remains one more thing. I feel that it is my duty to relate to you truthfully and accurately the details of my conversation with Miss Whipple. For I have an idea that she has gone to you, complaining that she has been maltreated in your house and by your daughter; and I have also a feeling that you are going to sympathize with her, and let her tell you what a beast I am, and all that. Well, you know that my memory is fairly sound on detailed conversations; and I here promise and swear that such fragments as I can’t remember I won’t set down at all.

To begin with, Miss Whipple asked Helen to telephone me where I was with Sabra, to tell me that she wanted to talk to me. And so I came. Naturally, we couldn’t launch immediately into that conversation, and so at first there were only a few friendly remarks. And then—

W. You see, Barbara, I think he would be happy and contented with me; and you wouldn’t object to his being happy and contented, would you?

B. You think you can make him happy?

W. I do.

B. Well, but is that a very honourable sort of happiness?

W. I don’t know; you see, I suppose I’m in love with him.

B. Well, then I think you ought to try and get out of love just as quick as ever you can. Besides, can’t you be on friendly, happy terms with him, without taking him away from his family?

W. People in love just don’t do that–that’s all.

B. Then what do you want; what do you expect?

W. I want to marry him.

B. Yes; but I might raise objections to that.

W. You see, your mother told me that if I married him I’d ruin your whole life, smash all your ideals, and all that. Well, I don’t want to do that; you may not believe it, but I don’t. Would it ruin your whole life?

B. I don’t see how I can tell whether it would or not. It might not ruin the whole of it; but don’t you see–it isn’t that–it’s simply the fact that it’s dishonourable and unfair, that’s all. Good heavens, Miss Whipple–don’t you see what you’re doing? Can even you, “in love,” as you say, think that it is fair to take a man away from his family as you’re doing? You can realize that you are not in the right of it, can’t you.

W. Unfortunately, I’m not.

B. Indeed, and I think it’s extremely fortunate that you’re not. Besides, do you want to know what I think? I suppose you don’t, but here it is, anyhow: I think you’ve taken an unfair advantage of him when he was and is in a physically low condition–exhausted with work, powerless to resist your “love,” as you call it. Because I can tell you I am absolutely sure that, if he were in his right mind, he would never think of such a thing–never even listen to it for a minute.

W. (shrugs her shoulders; enter H.) Well, Barbara’s been trying to give me advice.

H. You can’t blame her; she’s only fourteen and she’s having her father taken away from her.

(Here follow scraps of conversation; among them H.’s definite assertion that there will be no divorce.) [Enter Taxi, shortly.]

B. (advancing menacingly upon W.) Besides, I have another thing to say to you, and it’s this: If I were in the painful position you’re in; if I were doing what you are trying your best to do, I wouldn’t stand up there, so extremely unashamed of myself.

W. (mockingly) Thank you; –that’s all I can think of to say.

B. Goodbye, Miss Whipple; I’m going to swear at you behind your back when you’ve gone.

W. Mm-hm;–all right.



Now, there remain only a few general remarks. (a) You told me, over the telephone, Monday afternoon, to “hold my horses; and everything will be all right.” Naturally I believed you (must I begin to train myself not to?) Did you want my horses held so that they (my horses) wouldn’t get in your way–interfere with your plans? I cannot think of any other explanation; especially if this is the “all right” that you promised. (b) I never realized that my whole life has been simply a jumble of two persons “poisonous” to each other. I won’t believe it, that’s all; I won’t. ( c) I can also tell you that in the conversation between Helen and Miss Whipple, there were no dramatics at all, which was very fortunate; all that got out of Helen’s system on Sunday. It was a cool, calm, deliberate conversation–and, as I said before, “non temere rem incognitam pronuntio.” (d) Consider Sabra, among all the other things you have to consider. Can’t you see that she is not possibly able to grow up decently in the midst of this whirlpool? Why, she will have to spend all her time struggling to keep herself from being sucked down into it–and, as yo know, she can’t quite swim yet. And besides, you can see–can you not?–that she can’t in any way get along respectably with only two out of the three of us? It wouldn’t matter which two you picked, she needs the third–she needs us all.

Well, I think that’s all–every detail–every scrap. I depend very much on you; and I trust you to give another heave at the capstan bars, to get the family anchor started toward the surface again. After all, you have the strongest shoulders for heaving of us all! And, really and truly, you don’t want the family anchor to remain forever at the bottom, do you?


September 22, 1924 – Letter to Mr. Oberg (unfinished draft)


[Appears to be a draft of an unfinished letter]

Still from Sunapee
September 22, 1924

Dearest Mr. Oberg:

I believe now you have now written to me twice, with no letters from me in between, but I have had many other things I really ought to do, that I have had no time to write letters.

Now, as concerning the mysterious key you sent me. I don’t really believe that it did belong to the ogre’s castle. You see, there ought to be a great strong brass key for that a flexible little thing like that wouldn’t cover an eighth of the lock. But I do think it belonged to something very mysterious–perhaps, to one of the many thousands of side-doors to fairyland.

Several days ago Daddy and I started out with our big khaki tent, the canoe on a trailer, and provisions, to scout out the first grounds of a long trip we intended to take later this year. We started out with the idea of putting in with the canoe at Ossipee River, a river flowing out of the lake, a little way. But upon enquiries, we found that we could put in at the Bear Camp River, a medium river flowing from the town of West Ossipee into the same Ossipee Lake that we had intended to put in at before. So we left the old bus and the trailer at a house in West Ossipee, loaded the canoe, and put in under the bridge at West Ossipee. And right then and there I experienced a sensation that none but those who have been on a river know anything about. The rushing current with its treacherous snags and quicksands, together with the folds made by the current in the gold sand, all hold an enchanted fascination for one.
Before that, on the way up, before we had passed Winnepesaukee, there was a good few of a fairly large section of it, though, of course, nothing more than a little cove in proportion to the gigantic whole. And, across that section were parts of the magnificent Sandwich Range. Before that, I thought I knew what mountains were like, but my wildest imaginations never equaled what then lay before me. Oh, I never saw anything so awe-inspiring as what I then saw.

But to turn to the river again. We made late camp that evening on an island in the river, made an island because the high water from the big rain made a sort of back-channel around it. That night we slept there, and we made friends at the farm-house upon asking for good water for drinking, for we didn’t like to use the river-water because, after all it comes from West Ossipee and, inevitably more or less garbage gets into it. The next morning we paddled the rest of the river, down to Ossipee Lake, a huge one, with very few noticeable coves, really almost round. There we had dinner on a nice beach. That afternoon we headed for the spot where we judged by the map The Narrows were. The Narrows would have been the beginning of the Ossipee River, except for a dam a few miles down it which over-flows it on to the rather swampy ground there there, making a regular water-labyrinth, cut up with coves, peninsulas, and islands. There were only nine or ten houses on it so we named it Lake Solitude. That night we camped on one of the several islands in Lake Solitude. The next morning we paddled down to Effingham falls, where the dam was, and back to the island where we had left our things in Solitude, where we were held up by a shower, and so we stayed there and played games and chattered until next morning, the only place in the whole trip where we slept twice.

[end of draft]

August 6, 1924 – Letter to Mr. St. John


From the Woods
August 6, 1924

Dearest Friend: [Mr. St. John]

I was very glad to get your letter, the picture of the silver fox, your account of your search for orchids, and what you are going to do at Shawandasee. Then, of course, I was glad to hear about Mr. ‘Coon. I like them very much: they are so pretty with their black masks, their dainty little feet, and their gorgeous tails.

I would like to tell you about an adventure I had this morning with one of our feathered friends. I was over at the Secret Beach–I had been watching the pretty sparkling minnows, the little golden-coloured perch, and the sometimes solitary, sometimes in school, bass. The three kinds of fish sometimes mingle together, the ones at the Secret Beach being about the same size. As I said before, I was over at the Secret Beach watching them all, when a great flapping of might wings reached my ears. I looked up and saw a great bird fly to a tree and alight on one of the limbs. He looked like a great dark splotch, but, as I had seen him alight there, I knew it was he. I crept along through the bushes stealthily (afterwards I discovered that there was no need of being stealthy) until I got out on the path over which passed the limb on which he sat. One leg he held tightly against his bluish grey breast of a very pale colour. He was all pale grey-blue with some brown mottling on his back and throat. His under tail parts were almost white. I bet he’s still sitting there on the limb. The whole family has seen him–and he just sits there and looks at what going on around him. I don’t know what kind of bird he is.

I hope very much that on the way to Passaconaway you will stop in the Gravel Cut.

With ships, with fluttering sails and jeweled masts, of love in baskets woven and embroidered with flowers,


July 31, 1924 – Letter to Mr. Oberg

From the Woods [cottage by Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire]
July 31, 1924

Dear Mr. Oberg:

Needless to say, I am now in the land which Nature loves so much. It is the land of the lake of beauty unsurpassed, it is the land of the little shy nymphs and fairies, that here one sees all the time. Of course, it is Sunapee! Sunapee, the loveliest land in the world! Now of course, that isn’t saying very much, for I have not seen the whole world. I have not even seen the whole of the New England States. There may be lands which are more beautiful in scenery which is always the outside of a land, but there is no land equal to it when you take it from the inside. Now no one really knows what the inside of a land is, but, even if you don’t know, you can always be sure that it is the inside of a land that counts, not the outside. Also, even if one doesn’t know what the inside of a land is, one can usually tell by magical signs whether the inside of one land is better than the inside of another. But that is not of importance. I think Sunapee is the nicest land in the world, let that suffice.

I am swimming so much better than I did last summer, that I really [think] that there must be some magic concerned in it. The first time I was in the water this summer I swam much better than last summer. The puzzle is this: that peculiar change didn’t come gradually, it came over the winter, and, of course, I had not been in at all in the winter. Yesterday, for the first time, I had the nerve to go in head-first. Then I did several other times in rapid succession! I guess I dived twelve or fifteen times, and only two were bad, and then, not so very bad. I thought that I wouldn’t like the sensation of going in head-first, but oh! I do! Daddy persuaded me all the time to open my eyes under water and see things, so I’ve decided that I will the next time I dive. The children that play out at the raft jump off feet first and feel around when [they] want to bring up some of the fresh-water clams, that are so common there, but, when I get to bringing up clams, I’m going to dive and look for them with my eyes open. Helen Stanley always dives when she goes for clams, but I think she feels about for them. Eunice Stanley jumps off and stoops over to pick them up.

If you could see Sabra, you’d certainly see something that would make you feel happy. She loves Sunapee, especially in the morning and afternoon when Mother turns her loose with Ding or me in the sand. She likes to feel the nice sand run through her rose-bud fingers. She is a little apple-blossom. Thank you very very much for the dear little cards you sent her. I’m sure that when she gets three or four and I show them to her and tell her that they were her one-year-old birthday cards she will be highly pleased. I’m going to keep them very carefully until that time.

May a great, big ship, with jeweled sails and mast of gold reach your lonesome port loaded high with love and kisses,

from your loving friend,

Letter to Mr. Oberg, March 5, 1920

One of Barbara’s earliest letters, written the day after her sixth birthday. From Harold McCurdy’s “Barbara”:

Her first important correspondent was an elderly Swedish gentleman who restored antiques. They met in his shop in Providence when she was four. She was carrying a stuffed toy rabbit who had lost an eye. Mr. Obert took sympathetic notice and paused in his work on two ancient clocks to repair the deficiency in her rabbit. She was impressed. Not long afterwards she composed a story in Mr. Oberg’s honor, and signed it with her full name.

With thanks to Columbia University for the images. (And thank you Mr. Oberg for the butterflies in Farksolia’s banner, which he drew to Barbara’s specifications some years later for her Farksolia book project.)