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!
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.
620 West 122nd Street New York City October 4, 1930
My dear Mate:
Your letter arrived here on Wednesday, the 24th of September. I remember that, because it was sent on the 22nd, and I remember my delight and amazement, and my admiration, too, for this world of wonders. A letter across the continent in two days? What next?!
I sat down at once and wrote an answer to it–yes, the very day I received it, mind you. Then, on reading my letter, it seemed too puny and putrid to exist, and hopelessly inadequate, so I tucked both your letter and my embryonic one away in a drawer. Then came the week-end–a week ago, and I firmly intended to answer you then. You see, Saturdays and Sundays are my only real days, and so I save up everything all week to do then, with the result that I get about half of the things done.
Well, I thought so very much about your letter, and my answer to it, that I thought myself into a state of believing that I had answered it, and it didn’t really occur to me until this morning that I hadn’t, and that my embryo was still lying in a drawer. You don’t know (yes, I guess you do, though) what a day–a week–is like in New York C I T Y (as our friend Leo Meyette always writes it on envelopes!).
Now whatever I was going to say has entirely slipped me, so I’ll begin over, having all day to do it in–that is, if I neglect my washing, and the meals, and my week-end home-work, etc., etc., etc., which I intend to do if I desire.
Your headlines are very juicy. Of the four I deciphered one–the one about the icy doom stilling the heart, don’t you know, and the record thrust within clothing. I suppose that was eventually intelligible to me only because I have been following, off and on, the tragic discoveries in the Arctic. Speaking of the Arctic: the other day my red hair was made to rise stiffly on end (like quills, etc.) by seeing a little piece in the Tribune about an air-plane which effected a rescue of the crew of a trading-ship somewhere north of Alaska–a ship owned by the Seattle Fur Trading Company. My high pitch of excitement (to put it mildly) did not abate even when I learned that the ship was a motorship, with a name which not even a newspaper reporter could have confused with my C. S. Holmes.
Imagine Phoebe studying punctuation and grammar! The funny part of that is that I, also, am studying punctuation and grammar. At the commercial school whose walls enfold me half of every week-day, they require one to take a little subject known as “business correspondence”–more briefly, “correspondence.” This embraces spelling (such words as “separate” and “February,” and others that Anderson would laugh at), also grammar (such things as the “can” and “may” hitch, etc.). Apart from this it is quite interesting, and I think I am getting something out of it–although some of my friends would doubtless say that what I mostly need is not a correspondence course, but a hush-up course.
But this is a mere digression. What I started to say in the paragraph above this one is that Phoebe is a brick of the best no. A1 material. Isn’t it disgusting–how Things Are? Degrees and credits——bah! To sweat for one’s shelter, clothing, and bread! Ye Gods, let’s go to Tahiti. I like, and I don’t like, to think of Phoebe in school. It isn’t right, and yet it’s marvellous of her to be attacking her dragon by the hind legs and pinning him down.
There is school, and there is school. Sabra seems to be enjoying hers terrifically. She is happy as can be–comes out at one o’clock hopping and prancing and singing. She learns cooking, and handicraft, including carpentry, painting, etc.–really they show a great deal of imagination and skill down there. The children mess around with smocks on, make as much noise as they like (within reasonable bounds, of course), do more or less what they like. As you perhaps know, this Lincoln School is a so-called “progressive school.” That means that children are not “sat on” or “squshed,” or boomeranged with “mustn’ts” and “don’ts” and “be quiets.” Which is an extremely good plan–for that tender age, at least.
“Green Pastures” is easily the most tremendous thing, in a dramatic line, that I’ve ever seen or heard of. I think it beats–for effect and appeal to one’s innermost vitals–Hamlet, or R. and J., or any of the old stand-bys. Is this a literary sacrilege? Well, I can’t help it if it is. When Jehovah (a kindly, fatherly old preacher in a frock-coat) produced the firmament in a terrific thunder-clap, I wept and wept. I don’t know why. They have staged it to perfection. The thunder shakes the theatre. They have a real sea for the Ark, and a long sandy stretch of road along which God walks for miles, it seems, while bushes and trees and houses float past. It is a rolling platform, of course, but one gets the effect of walking forever and ever, and before the end of it comes everyone aches from head to foot, so real it is. I suppose someday the play will leave New York, don’t you? If it ever gets within reach of you ——— well, I guess you don’t need any advice on the subject.
Such things are—-what’s the plural of oasis?—-oases, I suppose, though it doesn’t look right. They are—-that—-in a desert of grindstones, inhabited only by dragons with scalesome, flailsome tails. Isn’t that a picture? I bet Phoebe could draw it admirably. Get her to try her hand at it, if it appeals to her. The dragons would be something like Kipling’s Bi-Colored-Python-Rock-Snake, I imagine.
I have set aside a few days around the middle of this month–marked them off mentally with red ink–for the days during which I may hear from my wandering sailor. Of course one can’t tell–I might hear tomorrow, or I might never at all. Rather uncomfortable suspense. I don’t know quite what would happen to me in that case, and I don’t care to speculate. If I don’t hear before November, I shall be worried. I haven’t many bulwarks. My family isn’t a bulwark at all. You are, and he is. He is so simple at heart that he would be laughed at by some of this world, and distrusted by most of the rest–my farents, for example–my fermenting farents. He is the soul and essence of the sea. He can sit on a schooner’s taffrail at night and become so utterly a part of the ship and the sea and the night that it makes you cease your breathing for awe. He is rugged and uncut, and, though so far above the standard of most sea-farers, he still falls far short, in some ways, of the shore-world’s standards. He is ignorant–of the little things that don’t matter. But he is so real that he puts to shame thousands of people who probably would consider themselves far “above” him.
And he answered a need of mine that nothing and no one else could answer, by knowing how to laugh, and by being serene and tranquil and deep as the trade-wind Pacific. Bulwark, oasis, anchor–what-you-will. Mysterious, too, in his comings and goings, as the sea with its tide. A romantic soul. “Sure. Don’t I know? Haven’t I sat on deck in the moonlight and let fancy put on its seven-league boots and go roaming among the stars?”
He and Conrad would have hit it off grandly.
Forgive my “uplift” trend (as old M’Andrew would have said), but one does get a bit romantic and poetic over the week-ends. At last I know what the week-end really means to the hordes and hundreds! Helen and I stand by the front windows and watch the pantomimes across the street and in the park opposite–you have no idea how interesting it all is, to see these hundreds of human figures, young and old and medium, gesticulating and running and arguing and laughing–like a puppet-show, don’t you know. It is excruciatingly funny, and excruciatingly sad–sometimes we laugh at it, sometimes we weep. Always we feel about three centuries old–in comparison to Sabra, for instance, who is so full of energy that she quite appalls both of us.
Well, what’s one to do? Here we are, all of us, kicking and straining and growing black in the face to keep up to some invisible, tyrannical Mark. I don’t know, but I’m in the fight. The shorthand? I don’t know how much longer, but I know that I can’t afford it forever. I think about a month more, and then I shall get a little job out here in Columbia. I have made some important friends, got them interested in me, and built for myself a reputation which I probably can’t live up to. More struggling–to keep up with that. There is nothing very Iridescent in sight. Helen has no job, and neither the MS nor the house is sold. Cheerful! Ja gewis. Fox Film Corp. has given up all outside readers. So farewell to the putrid novels–farewell, also, to that handy little twelve or eighteen dollars a week!
What more shall I say? I don’t wish to end this in a minor key. You are NOT to think I’m discouraged, or despondent, or anything, because that would be disobeying orders, and at sea we respect orders from mates. And anything can be shattered with a laugh. Remember what dear old Satan said about that, in The Mysterious Stranger? “Power, money, persuasion, supplication, persecution–these can lift at a colossal humbug–push it a little–weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to rags and atoms at a blast. Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”
Besides, it’s Good to be alive and healthy and young, wherever you are, or whatever you’re doing; and there are wonderful things even in the newspapers. In the last Herald Tribune Magazine there were a couple of pictures which an astronomer-artist-engineer had painted of the planet Mars, viewed form one of its own moons. Could anything be more glamorous than that?
All congratulations on your latest entries in the unofficial log. It arrived this morning, and so you see I am SETTING YOU AN EXAMPLE. In fact, I wrote you a letter before this one, but tore it up. It contains too much really Tough Language, and all That Sort of Thing! I suppose I picked it up form the Unmentionable Movie Trash which I Read For a Living–anyhow, where-ever I picked it up, it certainly is NOT the proper thing to send in a letter to one who is writing Healthy Young Men for a Living.
My dear, don’t you ever yearn to spit in their faces, and to create for a change some perfectly Horrible and Gritty young men who would hammer and mash and batter and whang up all the healthy-minded maidens? I suppose, were a list of detailed rules for healthy stories written out, they would look something like this: “No kisses of more than two second’s duration,” and that sort of thing. Wouldn’t they?
Well, anyhow! Dang it all, I’d like to see all you Russells together. It’s not right for people to have half-continents and such trash shoved whang into their faces, between them and those they love, is it? We are just Victims, that’s all. There are half a dozen or so great Wheels grinding around toward each other all the time, interlocking on the rims, and if we happen to get caught between them—–we just get mashed.
Many red devils ran from my heart And out upon the page, They were so tiny The pen could mash them, And many struggled in the ink. It was strange To write in this red muck Of things from my heart. Stephen Crane.
Tough going at times, my beloved mate!
I wish I had some GOOD news for you! Alas! I am fairly busy over my eighteen-a-week (more-or-less). I have a fairly regular round of housework, synopsisses, tipe-riting, an’ a’ that. My sole pastime, so far, consists of walking along the river-bank park in the evenings after dark–“to mark, wi’ envy in my gaze, the couples kittlin’ in the dark between the funnel-stays.” (If only there were some funnel-stays! Alas!) Helen’s Manuscript is less and less sold all the time. Sabra is still at camp. Finances become lower and lower. You can’t live–here–on my salary–though I daresay I could alone. And to think that I’m the only one of the family who has a “yob!” That tickles my sense of humor fine!
My sense of humor has had more and more heavy responsibilities of late. I really need fuel for it–fresh fuel from the outside. However, I can say very truthfully that it has never yet failed me, and it isn’t going to either . . . . Leo Mayette (have I told you anything of him?) and his wife, and his brother, and his sister, have all been here for a while, but now they have departed for New Hampshire and the old home-farm again. It was a delight to have them here. Leo, in particular, is really one of the greatest persons in the world, as well as one of the very simplest and humblest.
Have you Seen or Heard anything of the Farents? I confess to a mild sort of curiosity. I suppose I should write to them, but–oh my, oh my! You see, I feel that if I can stick out this particular present-minute, present-place situation, and get on top of it, and yammer at it, and smash it, and domineer over it, and be Snooty and Disagreeable to it, and Awe it, and just make it Cringe–why, then, I guess I’m doing all I have room for. And I am doing just that. So picture yourself an Amazon, mounted upon a Bucking Elephant, and hammering that elephant over the head with a Fijian war-club.
Anyway, there’s a picture of Joseph Conrad over this table ….
And NOTHING can daunt me!
“I got a home in-a dat rock.”
Wings! I have ’em!
And Joseph Conrad sent me his blessing and his love. Not so very long ago.
And Anderson comes home in October.
Lots of things have Occurred to Me, anyhow. I think I’m ready to live a much happier sort of life from now on–I mean, to make the best of circumstances and of myself, and get a lot of pleasure and fun out of anything and everything. I wish poor Helen could do that as effectively as I have learned to do it. She hasn’t. She’s under water. God! And I can’t rescue her. I do forty-nine fiftieths of everything that is done at No. 122, as it is; and I sing as I do it: “I got a home in-a dat rock, Don’t you see?”
And in October, Anderson comes home. And I’ll have that fresh fuel for my S. of H. Besides, I may earn a whang on the back from him, and that’s worth anything.
But I want all the Russells to be together. And why must Phoebe go to school, with her scientific father to superintend her? I think school is really and primarily a place for children whose parents are banging each other over the head with rolling-pins, or whose parents are absolute morons, and whose parents are both slaving at outside work for a living, or for children reared in utter poverty and misery. (This is not supposed to cast any reflections of any kind upon the Russells, I hope you understand!) But rainbows shouldn’t be stuffed into sofa-cushions, should they?
CUBS HAMMER MOSS, SCORING ON ROBINS. How’s that, my dear?
Well, ‘ere I ham, as one might say. Your letter arrived a rather shocking long time ago (it’s make my heart beating like a earth shocking), and I would be ‘shamed if I weren’t so almighty damn-fired hell-bent busy. You see, I am no longer begging for work, I am in work up to my ears, and over them at times. Yes, I have bearded New York in its lair. I find it not so appalling, in fact I rather like it, as one likes some colossal piece of machinery; and struggling into the sardine-packed express “L” at quarter to nine in the morning is almost exhilarating. It thrills me to see all those millions of faces, all going to their respective puny jobs, and all so tense and rushed. I don’t know, but New York has so far done me much more good than harm. I feel more of a sympathy and understanding for People In General than ever in my life before, because I am One Of Them, which I never was in my life before. I find myself buying my chewing-gum from a cripple in the street, rather than in a drug-store.
Yes, I long and long and long for the sea, and woods, and quiet, and more sunshine, and the wind, and a little more room, please, and not so many people on my feet, if you don’t mind. And there are times when I feel my heart beginning to curl up just a little at the edges–the first step, the warning symptom, to its sickening and dwindling. I keep holding out my arms–I mean my spiritual arms–like an amoeba or sumthin. A ceaseless need. Sometimes I think it’s the sea, and sometimes I think it’s Anderson’s correspondence, and sometimes I think it’s just space I need, and the wild. And I can’t have ’em!
You see, I am now taking a course at the Packard Commercial School, and studying shorthand with might and main. Already I have caught up to the class which started two weeks ahead of me, and I’ve only been there five days! You see, a really good and intelligent stenographer and typist can always get some sort of a job, while there’s damn little chance for an inexperienced nothing-in-particular, as I am. I really am having a fine time at the school. The teachers are good souls, both of them, and it is as fine a bunch of young womanhood as I ever set eyes on–those girls.
I am also writing synopses for Fox, at six dollars apiece, which is fun. Then, too, occasionally someone drops a bulky MS into my lap and says: “Here! I’ll give you five dollars for your opinion on this, expressed in two pages.” That’s a tribute to one’s critical sense, ain’t it? Furthermore, it’s pin-money–lunches and stockings and tooth-paste and what-not.
About Sabra. Please don’t let your imagination go running away with you, or I’ll die. You know, after all, she is only a little, little girl. It was almost a terrible experience, if you want the real truth. I rushed to her with my heart wide open, and my soul ready for the balm I felt she’d give–and the beautiful dream melted, and I found a little child–a darling little child, to be sure–who took all I could give, and gave almost nothing in return, because she could not, of course, and I was ridiculous to expect it of her, but expect it I did. She could not fill any need of mine–not the need I thought she could fill, that is, but something entirely different that hasn’t got oriented yet; and the other need, the greater one, is still hungry. And it’s dying now. You can’t keep anything hungry forever, without eventually just starving it to its death. There is a limit.
Well, just what will happen I don’t know. I have been in New Haven a good deal, slaving away in the attic of No. 176. It’s fascinating! Sorting out books, and junk–amazing junk! I’ve pretty well worked things out. You know, we’ve rented an apartment in the city, and we’re moving into it the first of August, and we stay there until June, 1931, at least. At that date the building is going to be torn down, so I suppose we may just conceivably have to clear out. And I think it’s lucky. Otherwise we might become appallingly rooted there.
So far my life seems to be nothing better than a mess, so far as the future is concerned. I have to work, that’s certain, and if I get a regular job I’ll have to stay with it, and that means–well, it means just what I’m having now, more or less. I have to heave a sigh at times. Sometimes I even get very morbid and decide that I’ll marry the first person who offers a chance to get out of it. And then sometimes I change my mind. I don’t know. Anderson informs me that dreams have to be put away on the shelf occasionally–usually, he should have said! New York, New York. Two weeks vacation. Slaving for your salt and matches and tooth-paste, and your cup of soup and crumb of hard-tack. I always swore I would never get into the “mood” about it all, but I seem to at times in spite of myself.
But don’t mistake me. When I’m busy–and I am busy–I am really happy, you know. I don’t have much tie to sit down and think, and I guess that’s lucky. I haven’t any time but for the ten-of-eight train in the morning, the 3rd Avenue express, the Packard School, lunch, afternoon business, the trains again, supper, Amos ‘n’ Andy, work, bed, and the ten-of-eight in the morning again. I meant to go down to New Haven over this week-end, but the prospect of two quiet days in the “timid little house” was too tempting to resist. I meant to go down to Baltimore when the Marsodak came in last trip, but didn’t. I mean to go to N. H. next week, but probably shan’t. I also mean to go to Baltimore next trip, but really I can’t possibly. I also meant to write and do Farksoo, but somehow I keep missing the mark. My nose is shackled to the grindstone! I never can lift my head to get a peek at the blue sky!
And you–you are a grand, gorgeous soul, and I am with you more than you know. And I’m glad you agree with me about the cocked hats.
Yours ever, Barbara.
P. S. The house is getting ready to be sold now. Helen and Sabra are living there. I was to stay there too until August 1, but joined the school instead. You can imagine how that flabbergasted Helen, who had counted on my staying down there and helping out. But I figgered that I would be a coward either way, and so I took what I guess was the severest course after all!
Russian looks to me worse than Gregg shorthand, and not nearly so convenient!
You know, I really am a wonderful person. Three different makes of typewriter in three days. This is Mr. Bryan’s Remington Portable–my own is in dry-dock at present, as one might say, if one were nautically inclined.
It is glorious, in more ways than one, to have this really private address. I wish Anderson were here–correspondence would be very enjoyable–no restrictions, as one might say. Well, we’ll make the most of this opportunity, won’t we.
There’s so much to say, my dear, that, to put it very tritely and very truly, “I don’t know where to begin.” About the Farents. I know nothing about them, and I really don’t care a damn now. I only care in so much as I sympathize deeply with the situation confronting you and E. when they came trooping up to the desert. It was—-well, it was one of those Grand Accidents that Occur Occasionally. I don’t particularly want to think about them. I tried sincerely to get myself to write, but failed of course. They don’t seem quite of my world at present. I am truly very happy now, and I want to keep to this particular circle, for the time being at least. You see what I mean? And don’t you think I’m right?
The only thing that makes me unhappy now is that my dreams are going through their death-flurries. I thought they were all safely buried, but sometimes they stir in their grave, making my heart-strings twinge. I mean no particular dream, you understand, but the whole radiant flock of them together–with their rainbow wings, iridescent, bright, soaring, glorious, sublime. They are dying before the steel javelins and arrows of a world of Time and Money. I am happy the whole live-long day–happy as a bird–but when night comes and I settle down in bed for a night’s sleep, then my tortures begin. I don’t know when I’ve had a night’s sleep without a prelude consisting of an hour or so of writhing! By day I think it’s a grand old adventure; by night I think it’s Hell, and double Hell.
I am seeking a Yob. Yobs are (as the Naturalist said, speaking of the “big game” in the West Indies) few and far between. I have several lines out, and something may bite someday. It must. I can stay here as long as I like, and I have forty-five dollars, earned from Dr. Paul, and he owes me about ten dollars more–that will pay carfare to N. Y. for some time to come. (G.D! how I hate this machine)
The MS may sell. Harper has rejected it. Helen is in the hands of two female agents, who seem to be very influential people around here. They make lavish promises, and Helen believes; Barbara, the skeptic, says: “A bird in the hand, etc.” Anyway, Collier’s, American, the Companion, and Good Housekeeping, are all interested, and will all have a shot at it–and, as I said, these two ladies seem to be influential. Someone telephoned their office about it while I was there talking, and one of them said: “Oh, but you’ll have to stand in line, you know.” Which delighted Helen beyond measure, naturally.
Oh, I wish, and WISH Mr. R. and Phoebe could go to Russia alone. I think it would be the best thing that could possibly happen, for both of ’em. Meanwhile, you and I will hold down the continent of North America until they come back, in the very distant future–or, perhaps, until you follow them over. In all events, they should go alone for a while, and you and I should be together somewhere, with our cocoa cups.
You and I could have the most excellent laugh about these people right here, for instance. I told you a little about them when I was out there. They have become even worse. They never go out of the house at all. If Mrs. Bryan has to go down to the village on some little errand, Mr. Bryan stands by the window and peers anxiously forth until she returns. At night every bolt and lock and key in the whole house is drawn or turned; the chain bolt on the front door, both locks, the knob on the screen-door, the key on the inner door, and all the windows fastidiously bolted. I never saw such terribly, appallingly fastidious people in all my days. They’re worse than Mrs. Hayball. There re two “objects” in the kitchen, and neither is ever used at all. The “swamp angels” are fastidiously removed and put outdoors at once. The say that those two objects are merely for use in the winter, when it is too snowy or dripping to go outside. It seems strange, when one considers all this, that Mr. B. doesn’t keep the type of his Remington in better shape.
Mrs. B. never does any house-work at all, except for very superficial “picking-up” and dusting around. Every Saturday she has man come to clean house. The Two themselves do nothing but sit, first in one chair and then in another. They don’t know what to do or think about–and the result is 0. They listen to the same things every night on the radio, and go to bed in the same way. But it amuses me infinitely. I enjoy it, I have to say. I am more private than I’ve had the privilege of being for a long time. I josh them good-naturedly, and they seem to like it–but they don’t know what to make of me. You can readily imagine what vague, scandalous, unaccountable, phenomenal sort of Thing I am to them!
What are you going to do about the pot-boiler? Take out the fox-meat? It’s somewhat ironical that the market you scorned should have dumped you, isn’t it? That’s what comes of being snotty, even if it’s only mental. Well, good luck to it (damn this ribbon!) I think, as always, that the whole great Thing we call Life is one huge practical joke, anyhow. If we take it as such, it is instantly powerless, and we may with impunity exult. THEN–the old Joke treats us Well for a change, and we begin to forget that it is a Joke–with the result that we are unprepared for the next battering. Then is heard the rumbling, ironical Laughter of the Gods. I think a good, sound, healthy pessimism is a Wise and Noble Thing.
Don’t be so humble and modest. You’re a wonderful safety-valve; and I damn well hate to think that you were nothing but that (Oh, the language which is going on inside me about this ribbon!)–a safety-valve? No, no–you’re about the best friend anyone ever had, or ever imagined. To be a safety-valve is just a small item which is an automatic and natural part of a Friend, don’t you think so? As for Anderson, he has served my needs a whole year now, and a rest will do both of us good, I suppose–though it is a little strange not to be able to anticipate those pencilled, air-mail envelopes! I shall hear from him–barring accidents–about the first week in October. I expect he will show up on this coast shortly afterwards. It would be like him to do so. Besides, I flatter myself a little that perhaps my friendship did something for him, too. I think we were mutually very good for each other–let the Farents say what they may!
Do you realize that a year ago yesterday I set sail from Honolulu harbor in my beloved Vigilant? I was rather glum all yesterday thinking of it. It hurt. I suppose it will be years before I go to sea again, and I may never even see that schooner. I suppose that I spent about the happiest month of my life during that sea-trip in her. and it lasted even during that week in port, when I took over the cabin-boy’s job, and when Helen, Anderson, and I had cherry- and ice-cream-parties in the cabin after everyone had gone ashore, and when we used to walk up into that virgin forest two miles up the road, and eat salmon-berries. Life was beautiful then. This doesn’t seem like the same era. Here the beauty consists of great stone towers against the sunset–sublime, symbolic, but away above the plane of us poor ants that hustle along the swarming streets at their feet, so engrossed in ourselves that we never even see a fellow-mortal, but bump into him with a bang, and then hurray and hurry on.
Oh, my God, my God!
It makes one’s heart and soul suffer–it stabs them to the quick. Oh, for wings, for wings!
That is, in general, the theme not only of my own heart, but of the book I’m going to write. I ought to be able to write it–I live it constantly. My heart is the field of a thousand battles every day.
But I’m happy, really–you understand that, don’t you? And I’m coming up, and up. Not a day passes but that I myself climb a little–somewhere. I am getting gradually to a point where I can trust myself, put faith in myself. Gradually, and cautiously. Once I tried it before I was ready, and the cargo spilled. But I’m Building, always. If I can put unbounded faith in myself, I don’t care what happens. And I can, as time goes on.
Your shore-bound mate, Barbara.
P. S. Dr. Paul spends time and postage writing me love-letters! He also sends me now and then a batch of stuff to edit and typewrite. This is Well–it means Cheques!
The MS is nearly FINISHED!!!!! The heart’s blood has all been shed, and nothing is left now to do but to add a few finishing touches. We’ve been here two months now, and our rent expires, so we are going out into one of those delightful little one-horse villages in the Virginia backwoods, to spend a week of sheer rest, walks, and finishing touches, before we sail for New York. We’ve earned it, don’t you think? At least, Helen has.
My job goes out to the back-woods with me. You see, I am now a full-fledged Editor. I edit, and suggest, and copy for that certain medical and scientific gentleman whom you have heard of. This, incidentally, is the typewriter I use for him–I use it myself to keep in practice with it! And that certain gentleman rewards my distinguished efforts at frequent intervals with one of those succulent tid-bits knows as Wages. In fact, I get paid fifteen whole cents for every single page; and since this type is large, the pages count up mighty fast.
Well, what I mainly wanted to say is already said–about going off into the back-woods. They are going to hold mail here until we get back to Washington, in about a week from now, or perhaps a little more. Then–New York! Helen has a friend there with whom she can stay for nothing, and I am going to stay with my Strange-Marriage Family, which I told you about, in Pelham, twenty minutes from New York. Thus we shall be SEPARATED–which will be good for us both. Furthermore, she can transact her business in N. Y. alone–just as she wants.
Then I’m going after a job. I made a definite determination that by June 15th I was either going to have one or a definite prospect for one. I have a vague feeling that Harper may land me in his Bookshop–especially if he likes the MS. Then there is Percy Waxman, Helen’s friend at Pictorial, and there is always A. A. Knopf. I am one of his authors, and he is almost bound to do something for me if necessary, though that is the last resource–as I despise the place, the chilly, rapid-fire efficient business money-atmosphere of the place. There is also a Jew by name Goldsilver or something of the sort, a friend of a friend of ours, a wealthy and influential person, who might help.
I’ve been into the Civil Service Commission here, but that’s definitely out. If I live to be forty-nine, and am still an old maid, I’ll consider it–not until then! Anyway, I have a fancy that New York will do something, it being so tremendous and–oh, well, there’s no adjective for it. In New York, the first few days, it takes the whole set of a human being’s faculties just to keep his head through the uproar. But one improves with a little time.
Anderson sailed on the 16th, as per schedule, sailed right out into space. Look up Point Barrow on a map of the Arctic regions–that’s the end of the route–then they turn around again and circle Alaska toward home–if they don’t encounter a nor’-easter, or an iceberg, or the pack-ice. Before they sailed he sent off one dashing letter, or quite a different tone from what you’d expect of a person embarking on such a mean voyage. He described his own particular position aboard, half-way between sailor and engineer (there are four gasoline engines for sails and cargo, you see); and then he wrote several ages in mocking echo of the “tourist literature” on Seattle, concerning statistics and what-not. And then he seemed to run out of material, and said “Well, goodbye!” or words to that effect. A person like that sort of takes one’s breath away, seems to me. Very startling and over-powering.
Farksoo progresseth, even with everything else that is on hand. I improve it every time I take out the MS and breathe gently on it. Sometimes I arise at six in the morning and gloat triumphantly over it. I’ve combined the two vocabularys (ies, I mean!) into one, Farksoo and English all mixed. It’s much better that way; and the Grammar develops magnifiquement.
How is The Exception? And the Devil’s Limb? And the Other One? And Thyself? It seems a very long time–almost a kickworthy long time–since I heard from you! Maybe there’ll be a Royal-typed letter awaiting me when I come back our retreat in the woods.
We have seen the Pratts, and spent a most glorious day at Capitol View with them. I think those woods are too beautiful to be true–oh, how well they satisfy the hunger of one who has spent a year and a half away from New England! Pinkish bronze oaks, gold-green maples in the sunlight, dogwood and red-bud flowering…. And I saw the quarry pool, and the daffodils growing wild on your lawn, Shipmate. And the apples and lilacs were flowering, then, and there were violets and spring beauties everywhere. And Phoebe’s bench is still up there in the branches of the enormous old cherry-tree.
But this won’t do, in this curious old world of ours! Anyway, here’s a whole steamer’s cargo of love to you.