Letter to A.D.R. – June 1, 1931

150 Claremont Avenue, New York. Photo taken in March, 2012.

 

150 Claremont Avenue
New York
June 1, 1931

Dearest A.D.R.:

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.

Yours with love,
Barbara

Letter to A.D.R. – July 4, 1931

July 4, 1931

Dearest A.D.R.:

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.

Yours,
B.

July 14, 1931 – letter to A.D.R.

Norwich, Vermont
July 14, 1931

Dear Mate:

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.

Yours with love,
B.

Hermit thrush singing in Maine, by Garth McElroy.

October 7-12, 1926: Franconia Range trip report

The Franconia Range, New Hampshire. Photo taken from the Kinsman Range looking east.

 

At Liberty Shelter: Franconia Range
October 7–12, 1926

OCTOBER 7th

On the seventh we started out from Little Sunapee, cobalt blue and fringed with scarlet wind-tossed maples and dark pines and spruces–on a curving road over gold-prinked hills, among the draping boughs and fiery leaves. It was up beyond Plymouth when sunset overtook us, a marvellous and bewitching sunset, which we caught glimpses of from time to time. First we saw it over Newfound Lake with its two green islets–there we saw a long low bank of yellow-russet clouds, edged on top with a brilliant gold cloud of sharp mountain-peaks. The sky had a rosy glow above the clouds, and in the north and south were high narrow tiers of pink. We longed for it, but we could not wait–it vanished behind dark trees. Suddenly they broke for a moment–we saw another and an entirely different sunset. Now the west was a maze of fire, and nearer us, partly covering it, were dark purple clouds–drifting about and changing. Again we saw it–there were brilliant russet tiers in the north–but the west was almost concealed by those same violet clouds, much thicker now, and breaking open sometimes and showing through arching windows the fire and glow and rosiness. Now gone again–and for a long time we had no more glimpses, but at last, when we thought it must be over, the trees broke, and lo! all was changed–the deep violet clouds had vanished–now there were long narrow tiers of dark yellow in the west, blended with tiers of dusky blue shadow.

We passed the glorious green field from where the Franconia Ridge looms up, and we could feel dimly the presence of those sometimes terrible and awesome mountains–or smiling–sparkling–but always proud.

The Dartmouth Outing Club cabin is near the Moosilauke Brook–a rushing river which thunders over slippery boulders. In places it seems glassy black, ruffled with the white of eddies–sometimes they are strange foam-yellow–sometimes the whole great brook comes rushing through a deep crack a foot wide, with a mysterious crash and whirling foam. Sometimes a black glassy pool surges out from high crags and swings down a green cascade.

There are marvellous rocks to explore on, rocks full of mysterious pools with sheer walls. Often these pools carry several big stones–strange mottled mineral effects, sparkling with mica–all the stones smooth and oval or round. I discovered a tiny cave above a large rock pool, a cave set with stunted spruces and other shrubs. Just below there the stream ran silver and blue with sunlight, through a dark grove of solemn green hemlocks touching their foreheads to the cloud-fringed sky.

OCTOBER 8th

If only I had waked Daddy up I should have prevented a disaster. Why didn’t I? There is no adequate reason. I wasn’t in the habit of waking people up–and I wanted to explore the brook. If I had only thought one minute longer than I did!

We broke camp as quickly as possible, and started for The Flume–from there we were to proceed up the Flume Trail, and up the slide, and on over the peak of Flume, down into the col between Flume and Liberty, then up and over Liberty’s shark-tooth peak, and down to the little shelter on its flanks just below the summit.

The long stretch of green field was fresh and sparkling, and there above it were the mountains we were going to climb–here many hands have failed–here is an invincible challenge–for me mountain-fever is not an illness–but an indescribable longing.

First, way off to the right of the range, was Osseo, that low long mountain, and its sudden deep blue peak with sheer crags was seen behind the shoulder of a flaming hill; then Flume, gashed with its stupendous slide, the peak showing to the left of the same hill; then the green-flanked Liberty, with its summit wavering with sharpness, prinked with great brown crags; then dark-peaked Haystack, not showing far above its ridge; then far-off dreaming Lincoln; and Lafayette in its fringey mantle of white mist.

When I had been on my first northern mountains it was hard to believe where I was. I had heard Chocorua and Moosilauke spoken of, and I knew that I was going to climb them, but when I was really there I could hardly believe it. I have overcome that–all I feel now is an indescribable sublime isolation–I feel the character and spirit of each mountain upon me like a strange dark-eyed thought.

We pushed on through the crimson-draped roads–and often we saw Liberty before us, dull green, with bubbles of rock near the peak–Liberty with its arch of blue sky. Clouds were well down on Lafayette–now Lincoln was among them, too. We reached the Flume House, parked our car, and struggled into our packs, then strode into the driveway that leads to the Flume gorge. All during that trip my pack seemed to grow lighter, not heavier, but at first I wondered whether, going up the great white slide, it wouldn’t really pull me over backwards. I was worried about Daddy, too. His load seemed tremendous–I could barely lift it; it crumpled him up somewhat–and, well, could he carry it up the slide?

The first spectacular thing in the Flume was a long, undulating, but very smooth rock or rocks, over which the Flume brook runs in flood-time. Oh, it was slippery, even though dry! Our hob-nails slipped disgracefully on it, with no more hold than wet rubber soles could have given. If the slide was going to be as slippery as that–well, never mind what I was thinking!

The board walk began to grow steeper, foot-braces about a foot apart appeared–it was wet and the foot-braces were needed very much. Then I saw where I was. The echo of the brook beneath filled the air, leaped about and roared and thundered. My voice was feeble, and my thoughts could not hear themselves. The sky had narrowed to a small slit of blue, and on both sides of me were high dark walls of rock, covered in places with moss and little climbing ferns. It seemed to be raining slightly–the air was full of wetness from the lashing captive brook and dripping precipices.

“What is this famous Flume?” I had said before to Daddy.

“Oh, just a little gorge where the Flume brook comes through.”

“Well, then, what are all these people crazy to see?”

“They get wild and excited about almost anything, because other people do, that’s all.”

I had to be content–naturally I didn’t expect much. In fact, when we had come to the long smooth rock I had thought it was the climax.

“Are there any falls in this gorge?” said I.

“Oh, I think there’s a nice little cascade there.”

When we came to that long rock, I had said: “Is this it?” I was amazed even at that.

He was looking mischievous. “Part of it.” I was excited.

At the head of those great walls were two dazzling, thundering silver cascades.

The Flume Cascade postcard

 

We left the grim rock walls a-whirl with their water echoes. We filled our canteens at a whirling pool of the same brook, where so many canteens have before been filled. Again a strange feeling–the anticipation of mountainous isolation was upon us, we felt it drawing tighter like a shadow as we strode up the beginning of the leafy trail towards purple-gleaming Flume and green Liberty. Sometimes we saw the slide ahead, steep–oh, steep! After quite a little walk, when we were near the foot of the slide, we sat down on a mossy rock and ate soft bread and butter and cheese–the bread left over from supper at the Agassiz Basins cabin. Then we had chocolate and small sips of icy cold water. A royal dinner could have tasted no better.

October 4, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

Dartmouth Outing Club
Moosilauke Summit Camp [New Hampshire]
October 4, 1932

Dearest ADR:

I have so much catching up to do that I’m not even going to try! Someday, though, I’ll tell you the things that have been happening—the curious, joyous upheavals my life has undergone, and the gipsy-like ways I’ve been living, and so on.

Right now my object is the transmissal of the enclosed letter to W. F. (which I should be glad to have you read if you care to). It may be that you have no idea whatever of his whereabouts. In that case, merely destroy it, as circumstances are not opportune for writing to him through Helen. If you can get the letter to him in any way, and if he answers it, I want the answer to come through you, as I don’t want just yet to give him the address which I’ll give you at the end of this.

All this sounds terribly complicated and mysterious, doesn’t it? But you see, I’ve jumped many hurdles of late, and want to be cautious. I’ve jumped the whole structure of what life was before: I’ve jumped the job, jumped my love, jumped parental dependence, jumped civilization—made a pretty clean break—and am happier than for years and years. I’ve a new, and I think a better, structure of life, though time alone can tell that!

How are you and yours? I long to know, fear to ask. It has been so long since we’ve been in touch! Write me a word at this address, and then I’ll tell more about everything.

Love as ever,
Barbara

Address mail to:

Mr. Nick Rogers
℅ H. D. Crosse
834 DeGraw Avenue
Newark, N. J.

(not me—this will nevertheless be quite private)

May 4, 1933 – letter to A.D.R.

Barcelona
May 4, 1933

Dearest ADR:

Your good letter came yesterday, and needless to say I’m tickled to hear that you aren’t sitting in the fig-tree, that you are all alive and well, and that the Wolf is house broken (Oh, most admirable phrase!)

I am sitting at a little table on the sidewalk, waiting for a train to France, which leaves in an hour and a half. Beside me sit a knapsack and a small suitcase—our total luggage.

You are absolutely right, my dear, in resenting my not having taken you more into confidence. Try to believe that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to tell you all about it, as that I was all up in the air myself, not sure just what was happening and not knowing where to start or what to say in any event. It is bewildering to completely change one’s life all in a minute. Do forgive me.

In brief, here is the story: I met this “mysterious figure N. Rogers” summer before last, when H. and I were living in that little cabin in Vermont. Then he showed up again that winter in New York, and we became good friends. He helped me through some trying times. We liked mountains—laid plans for getting away together the following summer. It was with him that I took that trip down the Appalachian Trail through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It was all so good that I decided to stick to it. In August I wrote Bingham, giving up my job. This—all this—is a continuation of that adventure.

That is very brief. It doesn’t tell you anything about the delicious little island in the middle of a New Hampshire lake that we camped out on for two weeks in a tiny brown tent. It doesn’t say anything about the things we have been doing in Mallorca (which we just left last night), such as living in a cave out on the coast and swimming in magic blue-green water. And it doesn’t say a word about the mysterious figure himself. Well, that’s difficult. A picture may help a little. I just know that I have never “hit it off” so well with anyone or known a more congenial comrade. We’ve been together day and night for upwards of a year now, and no prospects of splitting up. Sometime we’re going out to explore the great North-West; and we’ll come to see you, if you’ll have us.

It all happened like a shot, you see. I was sorry to do this to E. A., but when crises arise things change. Besides, I think that was drawing to a close; and this was obviously right because it was so damn natural. I believe in nature. We have to  follow the best thing we know—the thing that is at the time best.

Helen writes that she expects to come over, with Sabra, in June. We shall join up with her somewhere, and I shall help her with another book. As for my book, Lost Island, I haven’t ditched it at all. I finished it about a year ago, and I suppose it is now wearily going the rounds of publishers’ desks under Helen’s guidance. I still think it’s a pretty good book. I haven’t written much since—a little short stuff.

But, writing or no writing, I’ve been living pretty hard, which is what I want to do. Last summer, that tremendous succession of mountains down the backbone of New England. Then, the business of sailing from New York. A rather dull winter in Mallorca, when it rained all the time, and we sat around Spanishly in cafés and read. Then, a good walking trip around part of the island, with a borrowed blanket. Living in a cave, making friends with carabineros (the coast guards—good fellows, all of them), eating with them in their huts, warming ourselves at night around their little fires and learning Spanish from them; swimming along great sweeps of beach, exploring Moorish watch towers about a thousand years old, sailing on several exciting cruises on a small sloop owned by an interesting chap. Now we are bound for France and Germany to tramp some more this summer. We are poor as church mice, of course, but progressively browner and happier as time goes on. 

Grenoble, May 7

The train arrived. We took about five different ones before we were through, and eventually landed here, under a line of mountains—sharp white peaks, with blue shadows. I imagine we shall be here about a week, then go on afoot over Switzerland and part of Germany.

That’s about all of it.

Thanks for the news about W. F.—not that there is much one could dignify by the name of news! I do want to look him up again sometime—be it Maine or California. That is another of the thousand-odd things we’ll do when we get back. We shall probably establish ourselves in a shack in the woods somewhere and explore from it. I like Civilization less and less.

Your letter was good to have. Do it again when you feel like it! (The same address holds good—we have no other yet.)

Much love to the “family.” I think they’re grand, all of them!

Love,
Bar

Letter to A.D.R., August 29, 1930

620 Etc
August 29 [1930]

Dear Mate:

Having allowed the dentist to put a gold inlay into a tooth, having written, delivered, and been paid for three synopses, having seen Helen off for New Haven again (thereby making three trips back and forth from here to town in the course of the day, via that devastating subway), and having, alone and in peace at last, partaken of my bowl of soup and crust of bread–having done all this, and being still quite alive, I will now proceed (oh, luxury!) to sit down and quietly, and in leisurely fashion, write a letter to you.

How I have chuckled over your contributions from Pasadena headline English! I would answer in kind, but I scan the papers in vain. New York headlinists don’t seem to have that ingenious knack of balling things up; in fact, for the most part they are altogether too lucid to be interesting. DRIVE CAR DEATH LEAP TIES UP TRAFFIC, is the best I can do, for the time being.

Dash it all, now that I’ve really sat down–after three days of trying to–there doesn’t seem to be anything more to say than there was last time or the time before, and one shouldn’t repeat oneself. School begins again next Tuesday. Thank God I can pay for it–the whole thing. I can also pay my own dentist bills, and buy my own clothes, and my own amusements and necessities. That’s more than I was ever able to do before; and I can tell you, it makes me feel quite uppity when I go sailing into that Fox office on Broadway and receive my weekly pay envelope!

Helen is rather desperate. I don’t know what to do about her, at all, at all. It makes her feel rather badly to think that I have a job and she hasn’t; it struck her hard that her MS didn’t sell with a bang; and as for finances–well, I don’t know where the rent comes from. She is always so secretive about those things, and she’s such a fool, really, when it comes to money and Practical Things. When I say “Fool,” I don’t mean it harshly, you understand. I guess you know what I mean as well as I do, anyway.

She has gone down to New Haven now, to mull over the house, and get it ready for renting. She is kind of wild here, because there’s a steam-derrick half a block away going all day, and making a fearsome racket. My typewriter goes too much for her nerves, too; but I don’t see how that can be helped. I’m hoping she’ll find some quiet in New Haven for a few days now, just as I’m finding peace here alone. When she comes again, Sabra will be with her.

Well, what next? I’m fairly contented, and have a rather pleasant sort of curiosity about the future. It can’t fail to be interesting! I think the masculine farent should be whanged on the head and wake up to find himself shanghaied to sea; and I think the feminine farent should tackle the first job she can light on. He isn’t what you’d call a Man. He isn’t half the man that some of the Dago workmen are down the street. He isn’t halfway the man that Mate Bill is, or Cap’n Colbeth, or Anderson. He should go to work and do some hard physical labor, under someone who can’t be talked back to, and who doesn’t care a damn for all the long words. Nothing could be better for him than to take a trip in the Vigilant, under old Captain Peasley, and first mate Jacobsen. Jove! He’d “yump” around then, all right!

Yes! I have some news for you. I went and saw The Green Pastures. It is the loveliest, and most real, and simple, touching, glorious play I ever knew. Marc Connelly’s negro play, you know. It interprets the negro’s simple belief and religion. Lord God Jehovah is exactly like some kindly old white-haired preacher: he has a little office up in Heaven, and every morning two angels, with dust-covers over their wings, come in and dust it.  The whole story is there from the beginning–Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Moses, the pilgrims on their way to Canaan; and all through it the choir sings negro spirituals, most of them familiar–and you get to the point before long when you just want to lie down and weep.

Speaking of weeping: the steam-derrick which makes such a racket down the street here is doing a job for a company which calls itself The House-Wrecking Company. If that ain’t the limit!…

Yours,
B.

[in pen] I just received a letter from Detroit, enclosing E.’s masterpiece. Oh, I do so hope you’ll all manage to get away together on some gorgeous Exposition before long!

B.

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.

(Exeunt)

—————–

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?

Barbara.