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:
Feb. 12. 1931
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
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
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