Part 4 out of 5
with the idea of a couple of donkeys and saddles and a little red
cart. Isn't it nice that Gordon's father provided for him so
amply, and that he is such a charitably inclined young man? He
is at present lunching with Percy at the hotel, and, I trust,
imbibing fresh ideas in the field of philanthropy.
Perhaps you think I haven't enjoyed this interruption to the
monotony of institution life! You can say all you please, my
dear Mrs. Pendleton, about how well I am managing your asylum,
but, just the same, it isn't natural for me to be so stationary.
I very frequently need a change. That is why Gordon, with his
bubbling optimism and boyish spirits, is so exhilarating
especially as a contrast to too much doctor.
I must tell you the end of Gordon's visit. His intention had
been to leave at four, but in an evil moment I begged him to stay
over till 9:30, and yesterday afternoon he and Singapore and I
took a long 'cross-country walk, far out of sight of the towers
of this asylum, and stopped at a pretty little roadside inn,
where we had a satisfying supper of ham and eggs and
cabbage. Sing stuffed so disgracefully that he has been languid
The walk and all was fun, and a very grateful change from
this monotonous life I lead. It would have kept me pleasant and
contented for weeks if something most unpleasant hadn't happened
later. We had a beautiful, sunny, carefree afternoon, and I'm
sorry to have had it spoiled. We came back very unromantically
in the trolley car, and reached the J. G. H. before nine, just in
good time for him to run on to the station and catch his train.
So I didn't ask him to come in, but politely wished him a
pleasant journey at the porte-cochere.
A car was standing at the side of the drive, in the shadow of
the house. I recognized it, and thought the doctor was inside
with Mr. Witherspoon. (They frequently spend their evenings
together in the laboratory.) Well, Gordon, at the moment of
parting, was seized with an unfortunate impulse to ask me to
abandon the management of this asylum, and take over the
management of a private house instead.
Did you ever know anything like the man? He had the whole
afternoon and miles of empty meadow in which to discuss the
question, but instead he must choose our door mat!
I don't know just what I did say. I tried to turn it off
lightly and hurry him to his train. But he refused to be turned
off lightly. He braced himself against a post and insisted upon
arguing it out. I knew that he was missing his train, and that
every window in this institution was open. A man never has the
slightest thought of possible overhearers. It is always the
woman who thinks of convention.
Being in a nervous twitter to get rid of him, I suppose I was
pretty abrupt and tactless. He began to get angry, and then by
some unlucky chance his eye fell on that car. He recognized it,
too, and, being in a savage mood, he began making fun of the
doctor. "Old Goggle-eyes" he called him, and "Scatchy," and oh,
the awfullest lot of unmannerly, silly things!
I was assuring him with convincing earnestness that I didn't
care a rap about the doctor, that I thought he was just as funny
and impossible as he could be, when suddenly the doctor rose out
of his car and walked up to us.
I could have evaporated from the earth very comfortably at
Sandy was quite clearly angry, as well he might be, after the
things he'd heard, but he was entirely cold and collected.
Gordon was hot, and bursting with imaginary wrongs. I was aghast
at this perfectly foolish and unnecessary muddle that had
suddenly arisen out of nothing. Sandy apologized to me with
unimpeachable politeness for inadvertently overhearing, and then
turned to Gordon and stiffly invited him to get into his car and
ride to the station.
I begged him not to go. I didn't wish to be the cause of any
silly quarrel between them. But without paying the slightest
attention to me, they climbed into the car, and whirled away,
leaving me placidly standing on the door mat.
I came in and went to bed, and lay awake for hours, expecting
to hear--I don't know what kind of explosion. It is now eleven
o'clock, and the doctor hasn't appeared. I don't know how on
earth I shall meet him when he does. I fancy I shall hide in the
Did you ever know anything as unnecessary and stupid as this
whole situation? I suppose now I've quarreled with Gordon,--and
I positively don't know over what,--and of course my relations
with the doctor are going to be terribly awkward. I said horrid
things about him,--you know the silly way I talk,--things I
didn't mean in the least.
I wish it were yesterday at this time. I would make Gordon
go at four.
Dear Dr. MacRae:
That was a horrid, stupid, silly business last night. But by
this time you must know me well enough to realize that I never
mean the foolish things I say. My tongue has no slightest
connection with my brain; it just runs along by itself. I must
seem to you very ungrateful for all the help you have given me in
this unaccustomed work and for the patience you have
I do appreciate the fact that I could never have run this
asylum by myself without your responsible presence in the
background. And though once in a while, as you yourself must
acknowledge, you have been pretty impatient and bad tempered and
difficult, still I have never held it up against you, and I
really didn't mean any of the ill-mannered things I said last
night. Please forgive me for being rude. I should hate very
much to lose your friendship. And we are friends, are we not? I
like to think so.
I am sure I haven't an idea whether or not the doctor and I have
made up our differences. I sent him a polite note of apology,
which he received in abysmal silence. He didn't come near us
until this afternoon, and he hasn't by the blink of an eyelash
referred to our unfortunate contretemps. We talked exclusively
about an ichthyol salve that will remove eczema from a baby's
scalp; then, Sadie Kate being present, the conversation turned to
cats. It seems that the doctor's Maltese cat has four
kittens, and Sadie Kate will not be silenced until she has seen
them. Before I knew what was happening I found myself making an
engagement to take her to see those miserable kittens at four
o'clock tomorrow afternoon.
Whereupon the doctor, with an indifferently polite bow, took
himself off. And that apparently is the end.
Your Sunday note arrives, and I am delighted to hear that you
have taken the house. It will be beautiful having you for a
neighbor for so long. Our improvements ought to march along,
with you and the president at our elbow. But it does seem as
though, you ought to get out here before August 7. Are you sure
that city air is good for you just now? I have never known so
devoted a wife.
My respects to the president.
Please listen to this!
At four o'clock I took Sadie Kate to the doctor's house to
look at those cats. But Freddy Howland just twenty minutes
before had fallen downstairs, so the doctor was at the Howland
house occupying himself with Freddy's collarbone. He had left
word for us to sit down and wait, that he would be back shortly.
Mrs. McGurk ushered us into the library; and then, not to
leave us alone, came in herself on a pretense of polishing the
brass. I don't know what she thought we'd do! Run off with the
I settled down to an article about the Chinese situation in
the Century, and Sadie Kate roamed about at large examining
everything she found, like a curious little mongoose.
She commenced with his stuffed flamingo and wanted to know
what made it so tall and what made it so red. Did it always eat
frogs, and had it hurt its other foot? She ticks off questions
with the steady persistency of an eight-day clock.
I buried myself in my article and left Mrs. McGurk to deal
with Sadie. Finally, after she had worked half-way around the
room, she came to a portrait of a little girl occupying a leather
frame in the center of the doctor's writing desk--a child with a
queer elf-like beauty, resembling very strangely our little
Allegra. This photograph might have been a portrait of Allegra
grown five years older. I had noticed the picture the night we
took supper with the doctor, and had meant to ask which of his
little patients she was. Happily I didn't!
"Who's that?" said Sadie Kate, pouncing upon it.
"It's the docthor's little gurrl."
"Where is she?"
"Shure, she's far away wit' her gran'ma."
"Where'd he get her?"
"His wife give her to him."
I emerged from my book with electric suddenness.
"His wife!" I cried.
The next instant I was furious with myself for having spoken,
but I was so completely taken off my guard. Mrs. McGurk
straightened up and became volubly conversational at once.
"And didn't he never tell you about his wife? She went
insane six years ago. It got so it weren't safe to keep her in
the house, and he had to put her away. It near killed him. I
never seen a lady more beautiful than her. I guess he didn't so
much as smile for a year. It's funny he never told you nothing,
and you such a friend!"
"Naturally it's not a subject he cares to talk about," said I
dryly, and I asked her what kind of brass polish she used.
Sadie Kate and I went out to the garage and hunted up the
kittens ourselves; and we mercifully got away before the doctor
But will you tell me what this means? Didn't Jervis know he
was married? It's the queerest thing I ever heard. I do think,
as the McGurk suggests, that Sandy might casually have dropped
the information that he had a wife in an insane asylum.
But of course it must be a terrible tragedy and I suppose he
can't bring himself to talk about it. I see now why he's so
morbid over the question of heredity--I dare say he fears for the
little girl. When I think of all the jokes I've made on the
subject, I'm aghast at how I must have hurt him, and angry with
myself and angry with him.
I feel as though I never wanted to see the man again. Mercy!
did you ever know such a muddle as we are getting ourselves into?
P.S. Tom McCoomb has pushed Mamie Prout into the box of mortar
that the masons use. She's parboiled. I've sent for the doctor.
My dear Madam:
I have a shocking scandal to report about the superintendent of
the John Grier Home. Don't let it get into the newspapers,
please. I can picture the spicy details of the investigation
prior to her removal by the "Cruelty."
I was sitting in the sunshine by my open window this morning
reading a sweet book on the Froebel theory of child
culture--never lose your temper, always speak kindly to the
little ones. Though they may appear bad, they are not so in
reality. It is either that they are not feeling well or have
nothing interesting to do. Never punish; simply deflect their
attention. I was entertaining a very loving, uplifted attitude
toward all this young life about me when my attention was
attracted by a group of little boys beneath the window.
"Aw--John--don't hurt it!"
"Let it go!"
"Kill it quick!"
And above their remonstrances rose the agonized squealing of
some animal in pain. I dropped Froebel and, running downstairs,
burst upon them from the side door. They saw me coming, and
scattered right and left, revealing Johnnie Cobden engaged in
torturing a mouse. I will spare you the grisly details. I
called to one of the boys to come and drown the creature quick!
John I seized by the collar; and dragged him squirming and
kicking in at the kitchen door. He is a big, hulking boy of
thirteen, and he fought like a little tiger, holding on to posts
and doorjambs as we passed. Ordinarily I doubt if I could have
handled him, but that one sixteenth Irish that I possess was all
on top, and I was fighting mad. We burst into the kitchen, and I
hastily looked about for a means of chastisement. The pancake
turner was the first utensil that met my eyes. I seized it and
beat that child with all my strength, until I had reduced him to
a cowering, whimpering mendicant for mercy, instead of the
fighting little bully he had been four minutes before.
And then who should suddenly burst into the midst of this
explosion but Dr. MacRae! His face was blank with astonishment.
He strode over and took the pancake turner out of my hand and set
the boy on his feet. Johnnie got behind him and clung! I was so
angry that I really couldn't talk. It was all I could do not to
"Come, we will take him up to the office," was all the doctor
said. And we marched out, Johnnie keeping as far from me as
possible and limping conspicuously. We left him in the outer
office, and went into my library and shut the door.
"What in the world has the child done?" he asked.
At that I simply laid my head down on the table and began to
cry! I was utterly exhausted both emotionally and physically.
It had taken all the strength I possessed to make the pancake
I sobbed out all the bloody details, and he told me not to
think about it; the mouse was dead now. Then he got me some
water to drink, and told me to keep on crying till I was tired;
it would do me good. I am not sure that he didn't pat me on the
head! Anyway, it was his best professional manner. I have
watched him administer the same treatment a dozen times to
hysterical orphans. And this was the first time in a week that
we had spoken beyond the formality of "good morning"!
Well, as soon as I had got to the stage where I could sit up
and laugh, intermittently dabbing my eyes with a wad of
handkerchief, we began a review of Johnnie's case. The boy has a
morbid heredity, and may be slightly defective, says Sandy. We
must deal with the fact as we would with any other disease. Even
normal boys are often cruel. A child's moral sense is
undeveloped at thirteen.
Then he suggested that I bathe my eyes with hot water and
resume my dignity. Which I did. And we had Johnnie in. He
stood--by preference--through the entire interview. The doctor
talked to him, oh, so sensibly and kindly and humanely! John put
up the plea that the mouse was a pest and ought to be killed.
The doctor replied that the welfare of the human race demanded
the sacrifice of many animals for its own good, not for revenge,
but that the sacrifice must be carried out with the least
possible hurt to the animal. He explained about the mouse's
nervous system, and how the poor little creature hadno means
of defense. It was a cowardly thing to hurt it wantonly. He
told John to try to develop imagination enough to look at things
from the other person's point of view, even if the other person
was only a mouse. Then he went to the bookcase and took down my
copy of Burns, and told the boy what a great poet he was, and how
all Scotchmen loved his memory.
"And this is what he wrote about a mouse," said Sandy,
turning to the "Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, timorous beastie," which
he read and explained to the lad as only a Scotchman could.
Johnnie departed penitent, and Sandy redirected his
professional attention to me. He said I was tired and in need of
a change. Why not go to the Adirondacks for a week? He and
Betsy and Mr. Witherspoon would make themselves into a committee
to run the asylum.
You know, that's exactly what I was longing to do! I need a
shifting of ideas and some pine-scented air. My family opened
the camp last week, and think I'm awful not to join them. They
won't understand that when you accept a position like this you
can't casually toss it aside whenever you feel like it. But for
a few days I can easily manage. My asylum is wound up like an
eight-day clock, and will run until a week from next Monday at 4
P.M., when my train will return me. Then I shall be comfortably
settled again before you arrive, and with no errant fancies in my
Meanwhile Master John is in a happily chastened frame of mind
and body. And I rather suspect that Sandy's moralizing had the
more force because it was preceded by my pancake turner! But one
thing I know--Suzanne Estelle is terrified whenever I step into
her kitchen. I casually picked up the potato-masher this morning
while I was commenting upon last night's over-salty soup, and she
ran to cover behind the woodshed door.
Tomorrow at nine I set out on my travels, after preparing the
way with five telegrams. And, oh! you can't imagine how I'm
looking forward to being a gay, carefree young thing again--to
canoeing on the lake and tramping in the woods and dancing at the
clubhouse. I was in a state of delirium all night long at the
prospect. Really, I hadn't realized how mortally tired I had
become of all this asylum scenery.
"What you need," said Sandy to me, "is to get away for a
little and sow some wild oats."
That diagnosis was positively clairvoyant. I can't think of
anything in the world I'd rather do than sow a few wild oats.
I'll come back with fresh energy, ready to welcome you and a busy
P.S. Jimmie and Gordon are both going to be up there. How I
wish you could join us! A husband is very discommoding.
This is to tell you that the mountains are higher than usual, the
woods greener, and the lake bluer.
People seem late about coming up this year. The Harrimans'
camp is the only other one at our end of the lake that is open.
The clubhouse is very scantily supplied with dancing men, but we
have as house guest an obliging young politician who likes to
dance, so I am not discommoded by the general scarcity.
The affairs of the nation and the rearing of orphans are
alike delegated to the background while we paddle about among the
lily pads of this delectable lake. I look forward with
reluctance to 7:56 next Monday morning, when I turn my back on
the mountains. The awful thing about a vacation is that the
moment it begins your happiness is already clouded by its
I hear a voice on the veranda asking if Sallie is to be found
within or without.
Back at the John Grier, reshouldering the burdens of the coming
generation. What should meet my eyes upon entering these grounds
but John Cobden, of pancake turner memory, wearing a badge upon
his sleeve. I turned it to me and read "S. P. C. A." in letters
of gold! The doctor, during my absence, has formed a local
branch of the Cruelty to Animals, and made Johnnie its president.
I hear that yesterday he stopped the workmen on the
foundation for the new farm cottage and scolded them severely for
whipping their horses up the incline! None of all this strikes
any one but me as funny.
There's a lot of news, but with you due in four days, why
bother to write? Just one delicious bit I am saving for the end.
So hold your breath. You are going to receive a thrill on page
4. You should hear Sadie Kate squeal! Jane is cutting her hair.
Instead of wearing it in two tight braids like this-- our
little colleen will in the future look like this--
"Them pigtails got on my nerves," says Jane.
You can see how much more stylish and becoming the present
coiffure is. I think somebody will be wanting to adopt her.
Only Sadie Kate is such an independent, manly little creature;
she is eminently fitted by nature to shift for herself. I must
save adopting parents for the helpless ones.
You should see our new clothes! I can't wait for this
assemblage of rosebuds to burst upon you. And you should have
seen those blue ginghamed eyes brighten when the new frocks were
actually given out--three for each girl, all different
colors, and all perfectly private personal property, with
the owner's indelible name inside the collar. Mrs. Lippett's
lazy system of having each child draw from the wash a promiscuous
dress each week, was an insult to feminine nature.
Sadie Kate is squealing like a baby pig. I must go to see if
Jane has by mistake clipped off an ear.
Jane hasn't. Sadie's excellent ears are still intact. She
is just squealing on principle; the way one does in a dentist's
chair, under the belief that it is going to hurt the next
I really can't think of anything else to write except my
news,--so here it is,--and I hope you'll like it.
I am engaged to be married.
My love to you both.
THE JOHN GRIER HOME,
Betsy and I are just back from a GIRO in our new motor car. It
undoubtedly does add to the pleasure of institution life. The
car of its own accord turned up Long Ridge Road, and stopped
before the gates of Shadywell. The chains were up, and the
shutters battened down, and the place looked closed and gloomy
and rain-soaked. It wore a sort of fall of the House of Usher
air, and didn't in the least resemble the cheerful house that
used to greet me hospitably of an afternoon.
I hate to have our nice summer ended. It seems as though a
section of my life was shut away behind me, and the unknown
future was pressing awfully close. Positively, I'd like to
postpone that wedding another six months, but I'm afraid poor
Gordon would make too dreadful a fuss. Don't think I'm getting
wobbly, for I'm not. It's just that somehow I need more time to
think about it, and March is getting nearer every day. I know
absolutely that I'm doing the most sensible thing. Everybody,
man or woman, is the better for being nicely and appropriately
and cheerfully married. But oh dear! oh dear! I do hate
upheavals, and this is going to be such a world-without-end
upheaval! Sometimes when the day's work is over, and I'm tired,
I haven't the spirit to rise and meet it.
And now especially since you've bought Shadywell, and are
going to be here every summer, I resent having to leave. Next
year, when I'm far away, I'll be consumed with homesickness,
thinking of all the busy, happy times at the John Grier, with you
and Betsy and Percy and our grumbly Scotchman working away
cheerfully without me. How can anything ever make up to a mother
for the loss of 107 children?
I trust that Judy, junior, stood the journey into town
without upsetting her usual poise. I am sending her a bit
giftie, made partly by myself and chiefly by Jane. But two rows,
I must inform you, were done by the doctor. One only gradually
plumbs the depths of Sandy's nature. After a ten-months'
acquaintance with the man, I discover that he knows how to knit,
an accomplishment he picked up in his boyhood from an old
shepherd on the Scotch moors.
He dropped in three days ago and stayed for tea, really in
almost his old friendly mood. But he has since stiffened up
again to the same man of granite we knew all summer. I've given
up trying to make him out. I suppose, however, that any one
might be expected to be a bit down with a wife in an insane
asylum. I wish he'd talk about it once. It's awful having such
a shadow hovering in the background of your thoughts and never
coming out into plain sight.
I know that this letter doesn't contain a word of the kind of
news that you like to hear. But it's that beastly twilight hour
of a damp November day, and I'm in a beastly uncheerful mood.
I'm awfully afraid that I am developing into a temperamental
person, and Heaven knows Gordon can supply all the temperament
that one family needs! I don't know where we'll land if I don't
preserve my sensibly stolid, cheerful nature.
Have you really decided to go South with Jervis? I
appreciate your feeling (to a slight extent) about not wanting to
be separated from a husband; but it does seem sort of hazardous
to me to move so young a daughter to the tropics.
The children are playing blind man's buff in the lower
corridor. I think I'll have a romp with them, and try to be in a
more affable mood before resuming my pen.
P.S. These November nights are pretty cold, and we are getting
ready to move the camps indoors. Our Indians are very pampered
young savages at present, with a double supply of blankets and
hot-water bottles. I shall hate to see the camps go; they have
done a lot for us. Our lads will be as tough as Canadian
trappers when they come in.
Your motherly solicitude is sweet, but I didn't mean what I said.
Of course it's perfectly safe to convey Judy, junior, to the
temperately tropical lands that are washed by the Caribbean.
She'll thrive as long as you don't set her absolutely on top of
the equator. And your bungalow, shaded by palms and fanned
by sea breezes, with an ice machine in the back yard and an
English doctor across the bay, sounds made for the rearing of
My objections were all due to the selfish fact that I and the
John Grier are going to be lonely without you this winter. I
really think it's entrancing to have a husband who engages in
such picturesque pursuits as financing tropical railroads and
developing asphalt lakes and rubber groves and mahogany forests.
I wish that Gordon would take to life in those picturesque
countries; I'd be more thrilled by the romantic possibilities of
the future. Washington seems awfully commonplace compared with
Honduras and Nicaragua and the islands of the Caribbean.
I'll be down to wave good-by.
Judy has gone back to town, and is sailing next week for Jamaica,
where she is to make her headquarters while Jervis cruises about
adjacent waters on these entertaining new ventures of his.
Couldn't you engage in traffic in the South Seas? I think I'd
feel pleasanter about leaving my asylum if you had something
romantic and adventurous to offer instead. And think how
beautiful you'd be in those white linen clothes! I really
believe I might be able to stay in love with a man quite
permanently if he always dressed in white.
You can't imagine how I miss Judy. Her absence leaves a
dreadful hole in my afternoons. Can't you run up for a week
end soon? I think the sight of you would be very cheering, and
I'm feeling awfully down of late. You know, my dear Gordon, I
like you much better when you're right here before my eyes than
when I merely think about you from a distance. I believe you
must have a sort of hypnotic influence. Occasionally, after
you've been away a long time, your spell wears a little thin.
But when I see you, it all comes back. You've been away now a
long, long time; so, please come fast and bewitch me over again!
Do you remember in college, when you and I used to plan our
favorite futures, how we were forever turning our faces
southward? And now to think it has really come true, and you are
there, coasting around those tropical isles! Did you ever have
such a thrill in the whole of your life, barring one or two
connected with Jervis, as when you came up on deck in the early
dawn and found yourself riding at anchor in the harbor of
Kingston, with the water so blue and the palms so green and the
beach so white?
I remember when I first woke in that harbor. I felt like a
heroine of grand opera surrounded by untruly beautiful painted
scenery. Nothing in my four trips to Europe ever thrilled me
like the queer sights and tastes and smells of those three warm
weeks seven years ago. And ever since, I've panted to get back.
When I stop to think about it, I can hardly bring myself to
swallow our unexciting meals; I wish to be dining on curries and
tamales and mangos. Isn't it funny? You'd think I must have a
dash of Creole or Spanish or some warm blood in me
somewhere, but I'm nothing on earth but a chilly mixture of
English and Irish and Scotch. Perhaps that is why I hear the
South calling. "The palm dreams of the pine, and the pine of the
After seeing you off, I turned back to New York with an awful
wander-thirst gnawing at my vitals. I, too, wanted to be
starting off on my travels in a new blue hat and a new blue suit
with a big bunch of violets in my hand. For five minutes I would
cheerfully have said good-by forever to poor dear Gordon in
return for the wide world to wander in. I suppose you are
thinking they are not entirely incompatible--Gordon and the wide
world--but I don't seem able to get your point of view about
husbands. I see marriage as a man must, a good, sensible
workaday institution; but awfully curbing to one's liberty.
Somehow, after you're married forever, life has lost its feeling
of adventure. There aren't any romantic possibilities waiting to
surprise you around each corner.
The disgraceful truth is that one man doesn't seem quite
enough for me. I like the variety of sensation that you get only
from a variety of men. I'm afraid I've spent too flirtatious a
youth, and it isn't easy for me to settle.
I seem to have a very wandering pen. To return: I saw you
off, and took the ferry back to New York with a horribly empty
feeling. After our intimate, gossipy three months together, it
seems a terrible task to tell you my troubles in tones that will
reach to the bottom of the continent. My ferry slid right under
the nose of your steamer, and I could see you and Jervis plainly
leaning on the rail. I waved frantically, but you never blinked
an eyelash. Your gaze was fixed in homesick contemplation upon
the top of the Woolworth Building.
Back in New York, I took myself to a department store to
accomplish a few trifles in the way of shopping. As I was
entering through their revolving doors, who should be revolving
in the other direction but Helen Brooks! We had a terrible
time meeting, as I tried to go back out, and she tried to come
back in; I thought we should revolve eternally. But we finally
got together and shook hands, and she obligingly helped me choose
fifteen dozen pairs of stockings and fifty caps and sweaters and
two hundred union suits, and then we gossiped all the way up to
Fifty-second Street, where we had luncheon at the Women's
I always liked Helen. She's not spectacular, but steady and
dependable. Will you ever forget the way she took hold of that
senior pageant committee and whipped it into shape after Mildred
had made such a mess of it? How would she do here as a successor
to me? I am filled with jealousy at the thought of a successor,
but I suppose I must face it.
"When did you last see Judy Abbott?" was Helen's first
"Fifteen minutes ago," said I. "She has just set sail for
the Spanish main with a husband and daughter and nurse and maid
and valet and dog."
"Has she a nice husband?"
"And does she still like him?"
"Never saw a happier marriage."
It struck me that Helen looked a trifle bleak, and I suddenly
remembered all that gossip that Marty Keene told us last summer;
so I hastily changed the conversation to a perfectly safe subject
But later she told me the whole story herself in as detached
and impersonal a way as though she were discussing the characters
in a book. She has been living alone in the city, hardly seeing
any one, and she seemed low in spirits and glad to talk. Poor
Helen appears to have made an awful mess of her life. I don't
know any one who has covered so much ground in such a short
space of time. Since her graduation she has been married, has
had a baby and lost him, divorced her husband, quarreled with her
family, and come to the city to earn her own living. She is
reading manuscript for a publishing house.
There seems to have been no reason for her divorce from the
ordinary point of view; the marriage just simply didn't work.
They weren't friends. If he had been a woman, she wouldn't have
wasted half an hour talking with him. If she had been a man, he
would have said: "Glad to see you. How are you?" and gone on.
And yet they MARRIED. Isn't it dreadful how blind this sex
business can make people?
She was brought up on the theory that a woman's only
legitimate profession is homemaking. When she finished college,
she was naturally eager to start on her career, and Henry
presented himself. Her family scanned him closely, and found him
perfect in every respect--good family, good morals, good
financial position, good looking. Helen was in love with him.
She had a big wedding and lots of new clothes and dozens of
embroidered towels. Everything looked propitious.
But as they began to get acquainted, they didn't like the
same books or jokes or people or amusements. He was expansive
and social and hilarious, and she wasn't. First they bored, and
then they irritated, each other. Her orderliness made him
impatient, and his disorderliness drove her wild. She would
spend a day getting closets and bureau drawers in order, and in
five minutes he would stir them into chaos. He would leave his
clothes about for her to pick up, and his towels in a messy heap
on the bathroom floor, and he never scrubbed out the tub. And
she, on her side, was awfully unresponsive and irritating,--she
realized it fully,--she got to the point where she wouldn't laugh
at his jokes.
I suppose most old-fashioned, orthodox people would think it
awful to break up a marriage on such innocent grounds. It seemed
so to me at first; but as she went on piling up detail on
detail each trivial in itself, but making a mountainous total, I
agreed with Helen that it was awful to keep it going. It wasn't
really a marriage; it was a mistake.
So one morning at breakfast, when the subject of what they
should do for the summer came up, she said quite casually that
she thought she would go West and get a residence in some State
where you could get a divorce for a respectable cause; and for
the first time in months he agreed with her.
You can imagine the outraged feelings of her Victorian
family. In all the seven generations of their sojourn in America
they have never had anything like this to record in the family
Bible. It all comes from sending her to college and letting her
read such dreadful modern people as Ellen Key and Bernard Shaw.
"If he had only got drunk and dragged me about by the hair,"
Helen wailed, "it would have been legitimate; but because we
didn't actually throw things at each other, no one could see any
reason for a divorce."
The pathetic part of the whole business is that both she and
Henry were admirably fitted to make some one else happy. They
just simply didn't match each other; and when two people don't
match, all the ceremonies in the world can't marry them.
I meant to get this letter off two days ago; and here I am
with volumes written, but nothing mailed.
We've just had one of those miserable deceiving nights--cold
and frosty when you go to bed, and warm and lifeless when you
wake in the dark, smothered under a mountain of blankets. By the
time I had removed my own extra covers and plumped up my pillow
and settled comfortably, I thought of those fourteen bundled-up
babies in the fresh-air nursery. Their so-called night nurse
sleeps like a top the whole night through. (Her name is
next on the list to be expunged.) So I roused myself again, and
made a little blanket removing tour, and by the time I had
finished I was forever awake. It is not often that I pass a NUIT
BLANCHE; but when I do, I settle world problems. Isn't it funny
how much keener your mind is when you are lying awake in the
I began thinking about Helen Brooks, and I planned her whole
life over again. I don't know why her miserable story has taken
such a hold over me. It's a disheartening subject for an engaged
girl to contemplate. I keep saying to myself, what if Gordon and
I, when we really get acquainted, should change our minds about
liking each other? The fear grips my heart and wrings it dry.
But I am marrying him for no reason in the world except
affection. I'm not particularly ambitious. Neither his position
nor his money ever tempted me in the least. And certainly I am
not doing it to find my life work, for in order to marry I am
having to give up the work that I love. I really do love this
work. I go about planning and planning their baby futures,
feeling that I'm constructing the nation. Whatever becomes of me
in after life, I am sure I'll be the more capable for having had
this tremendous experience. And it IS a tremendous experience,
the nearness to humanity that an asylum brings. I am learning so
many new things every day that when each Saturday night comes I
look back on the Sallie of last Saturday night, amazed at her
You know I am developing a funny old characteristic; I am
getting to hate change. I don't like the prospect of having my
life disrupted. I used to love the excitement of volcanoes, but
now a high level plateau is my choice in landscape. I am very
comfortable where I am. My desk and closet and bureau drawers
are organized to suit me; and, oh, I dread unspeakably the
thought of the upheaval that is going to happen to me next year!
Please don't imagine that I don't care for Gordon quite as much
as any man has a right to be cared for. It isn't that I
like him any the less, but I am getting to like orphans the more.
I just met our medical adviser a few minutes ago as he was
emerging from the nursery--Allegra is the only person in the
institution who is favored by his austere social attentions. He
paused in passing to make a polite comment upon the sudden change
in the weather, and to express the hope that I would remember him
to Mrs. Pendleton when I wrote.
This is a miserable letter to send off on its travels, with
scarcely a word of the kind of news that you like to hear. But
our bare little orphan asylum up in the hills must seem awfully
far away from the palms and orange groves and lizards and
tarantulas that you are enjoying.
Have a good time, and don't forget the John Grier Home
Your Jamaica letter is here, and I'm glad to learn that Judy,
Junior, enjoys traveling. Write me every detail about your
house, and send some photographs, so I can see you in it. What
fun it must be to have a boat of your own that chugs about those
entertaining seas! Have you worn all of your eighteen white
dresses yet? And aren't you glad now that I made you wait about
buying a Panama hat till you reached Kingston?
We are running along here very much as usual without anything
exciting to chronicle. You remember little Maybelle Fuller,
don't you--the chorus girl's daughter whom our doctor doesn't
like? We have placed her out. I tried to make the woman take
Hattie Heaphy instead,--the quiet little one who stole the
communion cup,--but no, indeed! Maybelle's eyelashes won the
day. After all, as poor Marie says, the chief thing is to be
pretty. All else in life depends on that.
When I got home last week, after my dash to New York, I made
a brief speech to the children. I told them that I had just been
seeing Aunt Judy off on a big ship, and I am embarrassed to have
to report that the interest--at least on the part of the boys--
immediately abandoned Aunt Judy and centered upon the ship. How
many tons of coal did she burn a day? Was she long enough to
reach from the carriage house to the Indian camp? Were there any
guns aboard, and if a privateer should attack her, could she hold
her own? In case of a mutiny, could the captain shoot down
anybody he chose, and wouldn't he be hanged when he got to shore?
I had ignominiously to call upon Sandy to finish my speech. I
realize that the best-equipped feminine mind in the world
can't cope with the peculiar class of questions that originate in
a thirteen-year boy's brain.
As a result of their seafaring interest, the doctor conceived
the idea of inviting seven of the oldest and most alert lads to
spend the day with him in New York and see with their own eyes an
oceanliner. They rose at five yesterday morning, caught the 7:30
train, and had the most wonderful adventure that has happened in
all their seven lives. They visited one of the big liners (Sandy
knows the Scotch engineer), and were conducted from the bottom of
the hold to the top of the crow's-nest, and then had luncheon on
board. And after luncheon they visited the aquarium and the top
of the Singer Building, and took the subway uptown to spend an
hour with the birds of America in their habitats. Sandy with
great difficulty pried them away from the Natural History Museum
in time to catch the 6:15 train. Dinner in the dining-car. They
inquired with great particularity how much it was costing, and
when they heard that it was the same, no matter how much you ate,
they drew deep breaths and settled quietly and steadily to the
task of not allowing their host to be cheated. The railroad made
nothing on that party, and all the tables around stopped eating
to stare. One traveler asked the doctor if it was a boarding
school he had in charge; so you can see how the manners and
bearing of our lads have picked up. I don't wish to boast, but
no one would ever have asked such a question concerning seven of
Mrs. Lippett's youngsters. "Are they bound for a reformatory?"
would have been the natural question after observing the table
manners of her offspring.
My little band tumbled in toward ten o'clock, excitedly
babbling a mess of statistics about reciprocating compound
engines and watertight bulkheads, devil-fish and sky-scrapers and
birds of paradise. I thought I should never get them to bed.
And, oh, but they had had a glorious day! I do wish I could
manage breaks in the routine oftener. It gives them a new
outlook on life and makes them more like normal children. Wasn't
it really nice of Sandy? But you should have seen that man's
behavior when I tried to thank him. He waved me aside in the
middle of a sentence, and growlingly asked Miss Snaith if she
couldn't economize a little on carbolic acid. The house smelt
like a hospital.
I must tell you that Punch is back with us again, entirely
renovated as to manners. I am looking for a family to adopt him.
I had hoped those two intelligent spinsters would see their way
to keeping him forever, but they want to travel, and they feel
he's too consuming of their liberty. I inclose a sketch in
colored chalk of your steamer, which he has just completed.
There is some doubt as to the direction in which it is going; it
looks as though it might progress backward and end in Brooklyn.
Owing to the loss of my blue pencil, our flag has had to adopt
the Italian colors.
The three figures on the bridge are you and Jervis and the
baby. I am pained to note that you carry your daughter by the
back of her neck, as if she were a kitten. That is not the way
we handle babies in the J. G. H. nursery. Please also note that
the artist has given Jervis his full due in the matter of legs.
When I asked Punch what had become of the captain, he said that
the captain was inside, putting coal on the fire. Punch was
terribly impressed, as well he might be, when he heard that your
steamer burned three hundred wagonloads a day, and he naturally
supposed that all hands had been piped to the stokehole.
That's a bark from Sing. I told him I was writing to you,
and he responded instantly.
We both send love.
THE JOHN GRIER HOME,
You were so terribly gruff last night when I tried to thank you
for giving my boys such a wonderful day that I didn't have a
chance to express half of the appreciation I felt.
What on earth is the matter with you, Sandy? You used to be
a tolerably nice man--in spots, but these last three or four
months you have only been nice to other people, never to me. We
have had from the first a long series of misunderstandings
and foolish contretemps, but after each one we seemed to reach a
solider basis of understanding, until I had thought our
friendship was on a pretty firm foundation, capable of
withstanding any reasonable shock.
And then came that unfortunate evening last June when you
overheard some foolish impolitenesses, which I did not in the
slightest degree mean; and from then on you faded into the
distance. Really, I have felt terribly bad about it, and have
wanted to apologize, but your manner has not been inviting of
confidence. It isn't that I have any excuse or explanation to
offer; I haven't. You know how foolish and silly I am on
occasions, but you will just have to realize that though I'm
flippant and foolish and trivial on top, I am pretty solid
inside; and you've got to forgive the silly part. The Pendletons
knew that long ago, or they wouldn't have sent me up here. I
have tried hard to pull off an honest job, partly because I
wanted to justify their judgment, partly because I was really
interested in giving the poor little kiddies their share of
happiness, but mostly, I actually believe, because I wanted to
show you that your first derogatory opinion of me was ill
founded. Won't you please expunge that unfortunate fifteen
minutes at the porte-cochere last June, and remember instead the
fifteen hours I spent reading the Kallikak Family?
I would like to feel that we're friends again.
THE JOHN GRIER HOME,
Dear Dr. MacRae:
I am in receipt of your calling card with an eleven-word answer
to my letter on the back. I didn't mean to annoy you by my
attentions. What you think and how you behave are really matters
of extreme indifference to me. Be just as impolite as you
PLEASE pepper your letters with stamps, inside and out. I have
thirty collectors in the family. Since you have taken to travel,
every day about post time an eager group gathers at the gate,
waiting to snatch any letters of foreign design, and by the time
the letters reach me they are almost in shreds through the
tenacity of rival snatchers. Tell Jervis to send us some more of
those purple pine trees from Honduras; likewise some green
parrots from Guatemala. I could use a pint of them!
Isn't it wonderful to have got these apathetic little things
so enthusiastic? My children are getting to be almost like real
children. B dormitory started a pillow fight last night of its
own accord; and though it was very wearing to our scant supply of
linen, I stood by and beamed, and even tossed a pillow
Last Saturday those two desirable friends of Percy's spent
the whole afternoon playing with my boys. They brought up three
rifles, and each man took the lead of a camp of Indians, and
passed the afternoon in a bottle shooting contest, with a prize
for the winning camp. They brought the prize with them--an
atrocious head of an Indian painted on leather. Dreadful taste;
but the men thought it lovely, so I admired it with all the ardor
I could assume.
When they had finished, I warmed them up with cookies and hot
chocolate, and I really think the men enjoyed it as much as the
boys; they undoubtedly enjoyed it more than I did. I couldn't
help being in a feminine twitter all the time the firing was
going on for fear somebody would shoot somebody else. But I know
that I can't keep twenty-four Indians tied to my apron strings,
and I never could find in the whole wide world three nicer men to
take an interest in them.
Just think of all that healthy, exuberant volunteer service
going to waste under the asylum's nose! I suppose the
neighborhood is full of plenty more of it, and I am going to make
it my business to dig it out.
What I want most are about eight nice, pretty, sensible young
women to come up here one night a week, and sit before the fire
and tell stories while the chicks pop corn. I do so want to
contrive a little individual petting for my babies. You see,
Judy, I am remembering your own childhood, and am trying hard to
fill in the gaps.
The trustees' meeting last week went beautifully. The new
women are most helpful, and only the nice men came. I am happy
to announce that the Hon. Cy Wykoff is visiting his married
daughter in Scranton. I wish she would invite father to live
with her permanently.
I am in the most childish temper with the doctor, and for no
very definite reason. He keeps along his even, unemotional way
without paying the slightest attention to anything or anybody. I
have swallowed more slights during these last few months than in
the whole of my life before, and I'm developing the most
shockingly revengeful nature. I spend all my spare time planning
situations in which he will be terribly hurt and in need of my
help, and in which 1, with the utmost callousness, will
shrug my shoulders and turn away. I am growing into a person
entirely foreign to the sweet, sunny young thing you used to
Do you realize that I am an authority on the care of
dependent children? Tomorrow I and other authorities visit
officially the Hebrew Sheltering Guardian Society's Orphan Asylum
at Pleasantville. (All that's its name!) It's a terribly
difficult and roundabout journey from this point, involving a
daybreak start and two trains and an automobile. But if I'm to
be an authority, I must live up to the title. I'm keen about
looking over other institutions and gleaning as many ideas as
possible against our own alterations next year. And this
Pleasantville asylum is an architectural model.
I acknowledge now, upon sober reflection, that we were wise
to postpone extensive building operations until next summer. Of
course I was disappointed, because it meant that I won't be the
center of the ripping-up, and I do so love to be the center of
ripping-ups! But, anyway, you'll take my advice, even though I'm
no longer an official head? The two building details we did
accomplish are very promising. Our new laundry grows better and
better; it has removed from us that steamy smell so dear to
asylums. The farmer's cottage will finally be ready for
occupancy next week. All it now lacks is a coat of paint and
But, oh dear! oh dear! another bubble has burst! Mrs
Turnfelt, for all her comfortable figure and sunny smile, hates
to have children messing about. They make her nervous. And as
for Turnfelt himself, though industrious and methodical and an
excellent gardener, still, his mental processes are not quite
what I had hoped for. When he first came, I made him free of the
library. He began at the case nearest the door, which
contains thirty-seven volumes of Pansy's works. Finally,
after he had spent four months on Pansy, I suggested a change,
and sent him home with "Huckleberry Finn." But he brought it
back in a few days, and shook his head. He says that after
reading Pansy, anything else seems tame. I am afraid I shall
have to look about for some one a little more up-and-coming. But
at least, compared with Sterry, Turnfelt is a scholard!
And speaking of Sterry, he paid us a social call a few days
ago, in quite a chastened frame of mind. It seems that the "rich
city feller" whose estate he has been managing no longer needs
his services; and Sterry has graciously consented to return to us
and let the children have gardens if they wish. I kindly, but
convincingly, declined his offer.
I came back from Pleasantville last night with a heart full
of envy. Please, Mr. President, I want some gray stucco
cottages, with Luca della Robbia figures baked into the front.
They have nearly 700 children there, and all sizable youngsters.
Of course that makes a very different problem from my hundred and
seven, ranging from babyhood up. But I borrowed from their
superintendent several very fancy ideas. I'm dividing my chicks
into big and little sisters and brothers, each big one to have a
little one to love and help and fight for. Big sister Sadie Kate
has to see that little sister Gladiola always has her hair neatly
combed and her stockings pulled up and knows her lessons and gets
a touch of petting and her share of candy--very pleasant for
Gladiola, but especially developing for Sadie Kate.
Also I am going to start among our older children a limited
form of self-government such as we had in college. That will
help fit them to go out into the world and govern themselves when
they get there. This shoving children into the world at the
age of sixteen seems terribly merciless. Five of my children are
ready to be shoved, but I can't bring myself to do it. I keep
remembering my own irresponsible silly young self, and wondering
what would have happened to me had I been turned out to work at
the age of sixteen!
I must leave you now to write an interesting letter to my
politician in Washington, and it's hard work. What have I to say
that will interest a politician? I can't do anything any more
but babble about babies, and he wouldn't care if every baby was
swept from the face of the earth. Oh, yes, he would, too! I'm
afraid I'm slandering him. Babies--at least boy babies--grow
If you expect a cheerful letter from me the day, don't read this.
The life of man is a wintry road. Fog, snow, rain, slush,
drizzle, cold--such weather! such weather! And you in dear
Jamaica with the sunshine and the orange blossoms!
We've got whooping cough, and you can hear us whoop when you
get off the train two miles away. We don't know how we got it--
just one of the pleasures of institution life. Cook has left,--
in the night,--what the Scotch call a "moonlight flitting." I
don't know how she got her trunk away, but it's gone. The
kitchen fire went with her. The pipes are frozen. The plumbers
are here, and the kitchen floor is all ripped up. One of our
horses has the spavin. And, to crown all, our cheery,
resourceful Percy is down, down, down in the depths of despair.
We have not been quite certain for three days past whether
we could keep him from suicide. The girl in Detroit,--I knew she
was a heartless little minx,--without so much as going through
the formality of sending back his ring, has gone and married
herself to a man and a couple of automobiles and a yacht. It is
the best thing that could ever have happened to Percy, but it
will be a long, long time before he realizes it.
We have our twenty-four Indians back in the house with us. I
was sorry to have to bring them in, but the shacks were scarcely
planned for winter quarters. I have stowed them away very
comfortably, however, thanks to the spacious iron verandas
surrounding our new fire-escape. It was a happy idea of Jervis's
having them glassed in for sleeping porches. The babies' sun
parlor is a wonderful addition to our nursery. We can fairly see
the little tots bloom under the influence of that extra air and
With the return of the Indians to civilized life, Percy's
occupation was ended, and he was supposed to remove himself to
the hotel. But he didn't want to remove himself. He has got
used to orphans, he says, and he would miss not seeing them
about. I think the truth is that he is feeling so miserable over
his wrecked engagement that he is afraid to be alone. He needs
something to occupy every waking moment out of banking hours.
And goodness knows we're glad enough to keep him! He has been
wonderful with those youngsters, and they need a man's influence.
But what on earth to do with the man? As you discovered last
summer, this spacious chateau does not contain a superabundance
of guest rooms. He has finally fitted himself into the doctor's
laboratory, and the medicines have moved themselves to a closet
down the hall. He and the doctor fixed it up between them, and
if they are willing to be mutually inconvenienced, I have no
fault to find.
Mercy! I've just looked at the calendar, and it's the
eighteenth, with Christmas only a week away. However shall we
finish all our plans in a week? The chicks are making
presents for one another, and something like a thousand
secrets have been whispered in my ear.
Snow last night. The boys have spent the morning in the
woods, gathering evergreens and drawing them home on sleds; and
twenty girls are spending the afternoon in the laundry, winding
wreaths for the windows. I don't know how we are going to do our
washing this week. We were planning to keep the Christmas tree a
secret, but fully fifty children have been boosted up to the
carriage house window to take a peep at it, and I am afraid the
news has spread among the remaining fifty.
At your insistence, we have sedulously fostered the Santa
Claus myth, but it doesn't meet with much credence. "Why didn't
he ever come before?" was Sadie Kate's skeptical question. But
Santa Claus is undoubtedly coming this time. I asked the doctor,
out of politeness, to play the chief role at our Christmas tree;
and being certain ahead of time that he was going to refuse, I
had already engaged Percy as an understudy. But there is no
counting on a Scotchman. Sandy accepted with unprecedented
graciousness, and I had privately to unengage Percy!
Isn't it funny, the way some inconsequential people have of
pouring out whatever happens to be churning about in their minds
at the moment? They seem to have no residue of small talk, and
are never able to dismiss a crisis in order to discuss the
This is apropos of a call I received today. A woman had come
to deliver her sister's child--sister in a sanatorium for
tuberculosis; we to keep the child until the mother is cured,
though I fear, from what I hear, that will never be. But,
anyway, all the arrangements had been made, and the woman
had merely to hand in the little girl and retire. But having a
couple of hours between trains, she intimated a desire to look
about, so I showed her the kindergarten rooms and the little crib
that Lily will occupy, and our yellow dining room, with its
frieze of bunnies, in order that she might report as many
cheerful details as possible to the poor mother. After this, as
she seemed tired, I socially asked her to walk into my parlor and
have a cup of tea. Doctor MacRae, being at hand and in a hungry
mood (a rare state for him; he now condescends to a cup of tea
with the officers of this institution about twice a month), came,
too, and we had a little party.
The woman seemed to feel that the burden of entertainment
rested upon her, and by way of making conversation, she told us
that her husband had fallen in love with the girl who sold
tickets at a moving picture show (a painted, yellow-haired thing
who chewed gum like a cow, was her description of the
enchantress), and he spent all of his money on the girl, and
never came home except when he was drunk. Then he smashed the
furniture something awful. An easel, with her mother's picture
on it, that she had had since before she was married, he had
thrown down just for the pleasure of hearing it crash. And
finally she had just got too tired to live, so she drank a bottle
of swamp root because somebody had told her it was poison if you
took it all at once. But it didn't kill her; it only made her
sick. And he came back, and said he would choke her if she ever
tried that on him again; so she guessed he must still care
something for her. All this quite casually while she stirred her
I tried to think of something to say, but it was a social
exigency that left me dumb. But Sandy rose to the occasion like
a gentleman. He talked to her beautifully and sanely, and sent
her away actually uplifted. Our Sandy, when he tries, can
be exceptionally nice, particularly to people who have no claim
upon him. I suppose it is a matter of professional etiquette--
part of a doctor's business to heal the spirit as well as the
body. Most spirits appear to need it in this world. My caller
has left me needing it. I have been wondering ever since what I
should do if I married a man who deserted me for a chewing gum
girl, and who came home and smashed the bric-a-brac. I suppose,
judging from the theaters this winter, that it is a thing that
might happen to any one, particularly in the best society.
You ought to be thankful you've got Jervis. There is
something awfully certain about a man like him. The longer I
live, the surer I am that character is the only thing that
counts. But how on earth can you ever tell? Men are so good at
talking! Good-by, and a merry Christmas to Jervis and both
P.S. It would be a pleasant attention if you would answer my
letters a little more promptly.
JOHN GRIER HOME,
Sadie Kate has spent the week composing a Christmas letter to
you, and it leaves nothing for me to tell. Oh, we've had a
wonderful time! Besides all the presents and games and fancy
things to eat, we have had hayrides and skating parties and candy
pulls. I don't know whether these pampered little orphans will
ever settle down again into normal children.
Many thanks for my six gifts. I like them all, particularly
the picture of Judy, junior; the tooth adds a pleasant touch
to her smile.
You'll be glad to hear that I've placed out Hattie Heaphy in
a minister's family, and a dear family they are. They never
blinked an eyelash when I told them about the communion cup.
They've given her to themselves for a Christmas present, and she
went off so happily, clinging to her new father's hand!
I won't write more now, because fifty children are writing
thank-you letters, and poor Aunt Judy will be buried beneath her
mail when this week's steamer gets in.
My love to the Pendletons.
P.S. Singapore ends his love to Togo, and is sorry he bit him on
JOHN GRIER HOME,
O DEAR, Gordon, I have been reading the most upsetting book!
I tried to talk some French the other day, and not making out
very well, decided that I had better take my French in hand if I
didn't want to lose it entirely. That Scotch doctor of ours has
mercifully abandoned my scientific education, so I have a little
time at my own disposal. By some unlucky chance I began with
"Numa Roumestan," by Daudet. It is a terribly disturbing book
for a girl to read who is engaged to a politician. Read it,
Gordon dear, and assiduously train your character away from
Numa's. It's the story of a politician who is disquietingly
fascinating (like you). Who is adored by all who know him (like
you). Who has a most persuasive way of talking and makes
wonderful speeches (again like you). He is worshiped by
everybody, and they all say to his wife, "What a happy life you
must lead, knowing so intimately that wonderful man!"
But he wasn't very wonderful when he came home to her--only
when he had an audience and applause. He would drink with every
casual acquaintance, and be gay and bubbling and expansive; and
then return morose and sullen and down. "Joie de rue, douleur de
maison," is the burden of the book.
I read it till twelve last night, and honestly I didn't sleep
for being scared. I know you'll be angry, but really and truly,
Gordon dear, there's just a touch too much truth in it for my
entire amusement. I didn't mean ever to refer again to that
unhappy matter of August 20,--we talked it all out at the time,--
but you know perfectly that you need a bit of watching. And I
don't like the idea. I want to have a feeling of absolute
confidence and stability about the man I marry. I never could
live in a state of anxious waiting for him to come home.
Read "Numa" for yourself, and you'll see the woman's point of
view. I'm not patient or meek or long-suffering in any way, and
I'm a little afraid of what I'm capable of doing if I have the
provocation. My heart has to be in a thing in order to make it
work, and, oh, I do so want our marriage to work!
Please forgive me for writing all this. I don't mean that I
really think you'll be a "joy of the street, and sorrow of the
home." It's just that I didn't sleep last night, and I feel sort
of hollow behind the eyes.
May the year that's coming bring good counsel and happiness
and tranquillity to both of us!
Something terribly sort of queer has happened, and positively I
don't know whether it did happen or whether I dreamed it. I'll
tell you from the beginning, and I think it might be as well if
you burned this letter; it's not quite proper for Jervis's eyes.
You remember my telling you the case of Thomas Kehoe, whom we
placed out last June? He had an alcoholic heredity on both
sides, and as a baby seems to have been fattened on beer instead
of milk. He entered the John Grier at the age of nine, and
twice, according to his record in the Doomsday Book, he managed
to get himself intoxicated, once on beer stolen from some
workmen, and once (and thoroughly) on cooking brandy. You can
see with what misgivings we placed him out. But we warned the
family (hard-working temperate farming people) and hoped for the
Yesterday the family telegraphed that they could keep him no
longer. Would I please meet him on the six o'clock train?
Turnfelt met the six o'clock train. No boy. I sent a night
message telling of his non-arrival and asking for particulars.
I stayed up later than usual last night putting my desk in
order and--sort of making up my mind to face the New Year.
Toward twelve I suddenly realized that the hour was late and that
I was very tired. I had begun getting ready for bed when I was
startled by a banging on the front door. I stuck my head out of
the window and demanded who was there.
"Tommy Kehoe," said a very shaky voice.
I went down and opened the door, and that lad, sixteen years
old, tumbled in, dead drunk. Thank Heaven! Percy
Witherspoon was within call, and not away off in the Indian camp.
I roused him, and together we conveyed Thomas to our guest room,
the only decently isolated spot in the building. Then I
telephoned for the doctor, who, I am afraid, had already had a
long day. He came, and we put in a pretty terrible night. It
developed afterward that the boy had brought along with his
luggage a bottle of liniment belonging to his employer. It was
made half of alcohol and half of witch hazel; and Thomas had
refreshed his journey with this!
He was in such shape that positively I didn't think we'd pull
him through--and I hoped we wouldn't. If I were a physician, I'd
let such cases gently slip away for the good of society; but you
should have seen Sandy work! That terrible lifesaving instinct
of his was aroused, and he fought with every inch of energy he
I made black coffee, and helped all I could, but the details
were pretty messy, and I left the two men to deal with him alone
and went back to my room. But I didn't attempt to go to bed; I
was afraid they might be wanting me again. Toward four o'clock
Sandy came to my library with word that the boy was asleep and
that Percy had moved up a cot and would sleep in his room the
rest of the night. Poor Sandy looked sort of ashen and haggard
and done with life. As I looked at him, I thought about how
desperately he worked to save others, and never saved himself,
and about that dismal home of his, with never a touch of cheer,
and the horrible tragedy in the background of his life. All the
rancor I've been saving up seemed to vanish, and a wave of
sympathy swept over me. I stretched my hand out to him; he
stretched his out to me. And suddenly--I don't know--something
electric happened. In another moment we were in each other's
arms. He loosened my hands, and put me down in the big armchair.
"My God! Sallie, do you think I'm made of iron?" he said and
walked out. I went to sleep in the chair, and when I woke the
sun was shining in my eyes and Jane was standing over me in
This morning at eleven he came back, looked me coldly in the
eye without so much as the flicker of an eyelash, and told me
that Thomas was to have hot milk every two hours and that the
spots in Maggie Peters's throat must be watched.
Here we are back on our old standing, and positively I don't
know but what I dreamed that one minute in the night!
But it would be a piquant situation, wouldn't it, if Sandy
and I should discover that we were falling in love with each
other, he with a perfectly good wife in the insane asylum and I
with an outraged fiance in Washington? I don't know but what the
wisest thing for me to do is to resign at once and take myself
home, where I can placidly settle down to a few months of
embroidering "S McB" on table-cloths, like any other respectable
I repeat very firmly that this letter isn't for Jervis's
consumption. Tear it into little pieces and scatter them in the
You are right to be annoyed. I know I'm not a satisfactory love
letter writer. I have only to glance at the published
correspondence of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning to
realize that the warmth of my style is not up to standard. But
you know already--you have known a long time--that I am not a
very emotional person. I suppose I might write a lot of such
things as: "Every waking moment you are in my thoughts."
"My dear boy, I only live when you are near." But it wouldn't be
absolutely true. You don't fill all my thoughts; 107 orphans do
that. And I really am quite comfortably alive whether you are
here or not. I have to be natural. You surely don't want me to
pretend more desolation than I feel. But I do love to see you,--
you know that perfectly,--and I am disappointed when you can't
come. I fully appreciate all your charming qualities, but, my
dear boy, I CAN'T be sentimental on paper. I am always thinking
about the hotel chambermaid who reads the letters you casually
leave on your bureau. You needn't expostulate that you carry
them next your heart, for I know perfectly well that you don't.
Forgive me for that last letter if it hurt your feelings.
Since I came to this asylum I am extremely touchy on the subject
of drink. You would be, too, if you had seen what I have seen.
Several of my chicks are the sad result of alcoholic parents, and
they are never going to have a fair chance all their lives. You
can't look about a place like this without "aye keeping up a
You are right, I am afraid, about its being a woman's trick
to make a great show of forgiving a man, and then never letting
him hear the end of it. Well, Gordon, I positively don't know
what the word "forgiving" means. It can't include "forgetting,"
for that is a physiological process, and does not result from an
act of the will. We all have a collection of memories that we
would happily lose, but somehow those are just the ones that
insist upon sticking. If "forgiving" means promising never to
speak of a thing again, I can doubtless manage that. But it
isn't always the wisest way to shut an unpleasant memory inside
you. It grows and grows, and runs all through you like a poison.
Oh dear! I really didn't mean to be saying all this. I try
to be the cheerful, carefree (and somewhat light-headed) Sallie
you like best; but I've come in touch with a great deal of
REALNESS during this last year, and I'm afraid I've grown into a
very different person from the girl you fell in love with. I'm
no longer a gay young thing playing with life. I know it pretty
thoroughly now, and that means that I can't be always laughing.
I know this is another beastly uncheerful letter,--as bad as
the last, and maybe worse,--but if you knew what we've just been
through! A boy--sixteen--of unspeakable heredity has nearly
poisoned himself with a disgusting mixture of alcohol and witch
hazel. We have been working three days over him, and are just
sure now that he is going to recuperate sufficiently to do it
again! "It's a gude warld, but they're ill that's in 't."
Please excuse that Scotch--it slipped out. Please excuse
I hope my two cablegrams didn't give you too terrible a shock. I
would have waited to let the first news come by letter, with a
chance for details, but I was so afraid you might hear it in some
indirect way. The whole thing is dreadful enough, but no lives
were lost, and only one serious accident. We can't help
shuddering at the thought of how much worse it might have been,
with over a hundred sleeping children in this firetrap of a
building. That new fire escape was absolutely useless. The wind
was blowing toward it, and the flames simply enveloped it. We
saved them all by the center stairs--but I'll begin at the
beginning, and tell the whole story.
It had rained all day Friday, thanks to a merciful
Providence, and the roofs were thoroughly soaked. Toward
night it began to freeze, and the rain turned to sleet. By ten
o'clock, when I went to bed the wind was blowing a terrible gale
from the northwest, and everything loose about the building was
banging and rattling. About two o'clock I suddenly started wide
awake, with a bright light in my eyes. I jumped out of bed and
ran to the window. The carriage house was a mass of flames, and
a shower of sparks was sweeping over our eastern wing. I ran to
the bathroom and leaned out of the window. I could see that the
roof over the nursery was already blazing in half a dozen
Well, my dear, my heart just simply didn't beat for as much
as a minute. I thought of those seventeen babies up under that
roof, and I couldn't swallow. I finally managed to get my
shaking knees to work again, and I dashed back to the hall,
grabbing my automobile coat as I ran.
I drummed on Betsy's and Miss Matthews' and Miss Snaith's
doors, just as Mr. Witherspoon, who had also been wakened by the
light, came tumbling upstairs three steps at a time, struggling
into an overcoat as he ran.
"Get all the children down to the dining room, babies first,"
I gasped. "I'll turn in the alarm."
He dashed on up to the third floor while I ran to the
telephone--and oh, I thought I'd never get Central! She was
"The John Grier Home is burning! Turn in the fire alarm and
rouse the village. Give me 505," I said.
In one second I had the doctor. Maybe I wasn't glad to hear
his cool, unexcited voice!
"We're on fire!" I cried. "Come quick, and bring all the men
"I'll be there in fifteen minutes. Fill the bathtubs with
water and put in blankets." And he hung up.
I dashed back to the hall. Betsy was ringing our fire bell,
and Percy had already routed out his Indian tribes in dormitories
B and C.
Our first thought was not to stop the fire, but to get the
children to a place of safety. We began in G, and went from crib
to crib, snatching a baby and a blanket, and rushing them to the
door, and handing them out to the Indians, who lugged them
downstairs. Both G and F were full of smoke, and the children so
dead asleep that we couldn't rouse them to a walking state.
Many times during the next hour did I thank Providence--and
Percy Witherspoon--for those vociferous fire drills we have
suffered weekly. The twenty-four oldest boys, under his
direction, never lost their heads for a second. They divided
into four tribes, and sprang to their posts like little soldiers.
Two tribes helped in the work of clearing the dormitories and
keeping the terrified children in order. One tribe worked the
hose from the cupola tank until the firemen came, and the rest
devoted themselves to salvage. They spread sheets on the floor,
dumped the contents of lockers and bureau drawers into them, and
bundled them down the stairs. All of the extra clothes were
saved except those the children had actually been wearing the day
before, and most of the staff's things. But clothes, bedding--
everything belonging to G and F went. The rooms were too full of
smoke to make it safe to enter after we had got out the last
By the time the doctor arrived with Luellen and two neighbors
he had picked up, we were marching the last dormitory down to the
kitchen, the most remote corner from the fire. The poor chicks
were mainly barefooted and wrapped in blankets. We told them to
bring their clothes when we wakened them, but in their fright
they thought only of getting out.
By this time the halls were so full of smoke we could
scarcely breathe. It looked as though the whole building would
go, though the wind was blowing away from my west wing.
Another automobile full of retainers from Knowltop came up
almost immediately, and they all fell to fighting the fire. The
regular fire department didn't come for ten minutes after that.
You see, they have only horses, and we are three miles out, and
the roads pretty bad. It was a dreadful night, cold and sleety,
and such a wind blowing that you could scarcely stand up. The
men climbed out on the roof, and worked in their stocking feet to
keep from slipping off. They beat out the sparks with wet
blankets, and chopped, and squirted that tankful of water, and
behaved like heroes.
The doctor meanwhile took charge of the children. Our
first thought was to get them away to a place of safety, for if
the whole building should go, we couldn't march them out of doors
into that awful wind, with only their night clothes and blankets
for protection. By this time several more automobiles full of
men had come, and we requisitioned the cars.
Knowltop had providentially been opened for the week end in
order to entertain a house party in honor of the old gentleman's
sixty-seventh birthday. He was one of the first to arrive, and
he put his entire place at our disposal. It was the nearest
refuge, and we accepted it instantaneously. We bundled our
twenty littlest tots into cars, and ran them down to the house.
The guests, who were excitedly dressing in order to come to the
fire, received the chicks and tucked them away into their own
beds. This pretty well filled up all the available house room,
but Mr. Reimer (Mr. Knowltop's family name) has just built a big
new stucco barn, with a garage hitched to it, all nicely heated,
and ready for us.
After the babies were disposed of in the house, those helpful
guests got to work and fixed the barn to receive the next older
kiddies. They covered the floor with hay, and spread blankets
and carriage robes over it, and bedded down thirty of the
children in rows like little calves. Miss Matthews and a nurse
went with them, administered hot milk all around, and within half
an hour the tots were sleeping as peacefully as in their little
But meanwhile we at the house were having sensations. The
doctor's first question upon arrival had been:
"You've counted the children? You know they're all here?"
"We've made certain that every dormitory was empty before we
left it," I replied.
You see, they couldn't be counted in that confusion. Twenty
or so of the boys were still in the dormitories, working under
Percy Witherspoon to save clothing and furniture, and the older
girls were sorting over bushels of shoes and trying to fit
them to the little ones, who were running about underfoot and
Well, after we had loaded and despatched about seven car
loads of children, the doctor suddenly called out:
There was a horrified silence. No one had seen her. And
then Miss Snaith stood up and SHRIEKED. Betsy took her by the
shoulders, and shook her into coherence.
It seems that she had thought Allegra was coming down with a
cough, and in order to get her out of the cold, had moved her
crib from the fresh air nursery into the store room--and then
Well, my dear, you know where the store room is! We simply
stared at one another with white faces. By this time the whole
east wing was gutted and the third-floor stairs in flames. There
didn't seem a chance that the child was still alive. The doctor
was the first to move. He snatched up a wet blanket that was
lying in a soppy pile on the floor of the hall and sprang for the
stairs. We yelled to him to come back. It simply looked like
suicide; but he kept on, and disappeared into the smoke. I
dashed outside and shouted to the firemen on the roof. The store
room window was too little for a man to go through, and they
hadn't opened it for fear of creating a draft.
I can't describe what happened in the next agonizing ten
minutes. The third-floor stairs fell in with a crash and a burst
of flame about five seconds after the doctor passed over them.
We had given him up for lost when a shout went up from the crowd
on the lawn, and he appeared for an instant at one of those
dormer windows in the attic, and called for the firemen to put up
a ladder. Then he disappeared, and it seemed to us that they'd
never get that ladder in place; but they finally did, and two men
went up. The opening of the window had created a draft, and they
were almost overpowered by the volume of smoke that burst out at
the top. After an eternity the doctor appeared again with a
white bundle in his arms. He passed it out to the men, and then
he staggered back and dropped out of sight!
I don't know what happened for the next few minutes; I turned
away and shut my eyes. Somehow or other they got him out and
halfway down the ladder, and then they let him slip. You see, he
was unconscious from all the smoke he'd swallowed, and the ladder
was slippery with ice and terribly wobbly. Anyway, when I looked
again he was lying in a heap on the ground, with the crowd all
running, and somebody yelling to give him air. They thought at
first he was dead. But Dr. Metcalf from the village examined
him, and said his leg was broken, and two ribs, and that aside
from that he seemed whole. He was still unconscious when they
put him on two of the baby mattresses that had been thrown out of
the windows and laid him in the wagon that brought the ladders
and started him home.
And the rest of us, left behind, kept right on with the work
as though nothing had happened. The queer thing about a calamity
like this is that there is so much to be done on every side that
you don't have a moment to think, and you don't get any of your
values straightened out until afterward. The doctor, without a
moment's hesitation, had risked his life to save Allegra. It was
the bravest thing I ever saw, and yet the whole business occupied
only fifteen minutes out of that dreadful night. At the time, it
was just an incident.
And he saved Allegra. She came out of that blanket with
rumpled hair and a look of pleased surprise at the new game of
peek-a-boo. She was smiling! The child's escape was little
short of a miracle. The fire had started within three feet of
her wall, but owing to the direction of the wind, it had worked
away from her. If Miss Snaith had believed a little more in
fresh air and had left the window open, the fire would have eaten
back. But fortunately Miss Snaith does not believe in fresh
air, and no such thing happened. If Allegra had gone, I never
should have forgiven myself for not letting the Bretlands take
her, and I know that Sandy wouldn't.
Despite all the loss, I can't be anything but happy when I
think of the two horrible tragedies that have been averted. For
seven minutes, while the doctor was penned in that blazing third
floor, I lived through the agony of believing them both gone, and
I start awake in the night trembling with horror.
But I'll try to tell you the rest. The firemen and the
volunteers--particularly the chauffeur and stablemen from
Knowltop--worked all night in an absolute frenzy. Our newest
negro cook, who is a heroine in her own right, went out and
started the laundry fire and made up a boilerful of coffee. It
was her own idea. The non-combatants served it to the firemen
when they relieved one another for a few minutes' rest, and it
We got the remainder of the children off to various
hospitable houses, except the older boys, who worked all night as
well as any one. It was absolutely inspiring to see the way this
entire township turned out and helped. People who haven't
appeared to know that the asylum existed came in the middle of
the night and put their whole houses at our disposal. They took
the children in, gave them hot baths and hot soup, and tucked
them into bed. And so far as I can make out, not one of my one
hundred and seven chicks is any the worse for hopping about on
drenched floors in their bare feet, not even the whooping cough
It was broad daylight before the fire was sufficiently under
control to let us know just what we had saved. I will report
that my wing is entirely intact, though a little smoky, and the
main corridor is pretty nearly all right up to the center
staircase; after that everything is charred and drenched. The
east wing is a blackened, roofless shell. Your hated Ward F,
dear Judy, is gone forever. I wish that you could obliterate it
from your mind as absolutely as it is obliterated from the
earth. Both in substance and in spirit the old John Grier
is done for.
I must tell you something funny. I never saw so many funny
things in my life as happened through that night. When everybody
there was in extreme negligee, most of the men in pajamas and
ulsters, and all of them without collars, the Hon. Cyrus Wykoff
put in a tardy appearance, arrayed as for an afternoon tea. He
wore a pearl scarf pin and white spats! But he really was
extremely helpful. He put his entire house at our disposal, and
I turned over to him Miss Snaith in a state of hysterics; and her
nerves so fully occupied him that he didn't get in our way the
whole night through.
I can't write any more details now; I've never been so rushed
in the whole of my life. I'll just assure you that there's no
slightest reason for you to cut your trip short. Five trustees
were on the spot early Saturday morning, and we are all working
like mad to get affairs into some semblance of order. Our asylum
at the present moment is scattered over the entire township; but
don't be unduly anxious. We know where all the children are.
None of them is permanently mislaid. I didn't know that perfect
strangers could be so kind. My opinion of the human race has
I haven't seen the doctor. They telegraphed to New York for
a surgeon, who set his leg. The break was pretty bad, and will
take time. They don't think there are any internal injuries,
though he is awfully battered up. As soon as we are allowed to
see him I will send more detailed particulars. I really must
stop if I am to catch tomorrow's steamer.
Good-by. Don't worry. There are a dozen silver linings to
this cloud that I'll write about tomorrow.
Good heavens! here comes an automobile with J. F. Bretland in
THE JOHN GRIER HOME,
Listen to this! J. F. Bretland read about our fire in a New York
paper (I will say that the metropolitan press made the most of
details), and he posted up here in a twitter of anxiety. His
first question as he tumbled across our blackened threshold was,
"Is Allegra safe?"
"Yes," said I.
"Thank God!" he cried, and dropped into a chair. "This is no
place for children," he said severely, "and I have come to take
her home. I want the boys, too," he added hastily before I had a
chance to speak. "My wife and I have talked it over, and we have
decided that since we are going to the trouble of starting a
nursery, we might as well run it for three as for one."
I led him up to my library, where our little family has been
domiciled since the fire, and ten minutes later, when I was
called down to confer with the trustees, I left J. F. Bretland
with his new daughter on his knee and a son leaning against each
arm, the proudest father in the United States.
So, you see, our fire has accomplished one thing: those three
children are settled for life. It is almost worth the loss.
But I don't believe I told you how the fire started. There
are so many things I haven't told you that my arm aches at the
thought of writing them all. Sterry, we have since discovered,
was spending the week end as our guest. After a bibulous evening
passed at "Jack's Place," he returned to our carriage house,
climbed in through a window, lighted a candle, made himself
comfortable, and dropped asleep. He must have forgotten to put
out the candle; anyway, the fire happened, and Sterry just
escaped with his life. He is now in the town hospital, bathed in
sweet oil, and painfully regretting his share in our troubles.
I am pleased to learn that our insurance was pretty adequate,
so the money loss won't be so tremendous, after all. As for
other kinds of loss, there aren't any! Actually, nothing but
gain so far as I can make out, barring, of course, our poor
smashed-up doctor. Everybody has been wonderful; I didn't know
that so much charity and kindness existed in the human race. Did
I ever say anything against trustees? I take it back. Four of
them posted up from New York the morning after the fire, and all
of the local people have been wonderful. Even the Hon. Cy has
been so occupied in remaking the morals of the five orphans
quartered upon him that he hasn't caused any trouble at all.
The fire occurred early Saturday morning, and Sunday the
ministers in all the churches called for volunteers to accept in
their houses one or two children as guests for three weeks, until
the asylum could get its plant into working order again.
It was inspiring to see the response. Every child was
disposed of within half an hour. And consider what that means
for the future: every one of those families is going to take a
personal interest in this asylum from now on. Also, consider
what it means for the children. They are finding out how a real
family lives, and this is the first time that dozens of them have
ever crossed the threshold of a private house.
As for more permanent plans to take us through the winter,
listen to all this. The country club has a caddies' clubhouse
which they don't use in winter and which they have politely put
at our disposal. It joins our land on the back, and we are
fitting it up for fourteen children, with Miss Matthews in
charge. Our dining room and kitchen still being intact,
they will come here for meals and school, returning home at
night all the better for half a mile walk. "The Pavilion on the
Links" we are calling it.
Then that nice motherly Mrs. Wilson, next door to the
doctor's,--she who has been so efficient with our little
Loretta,--has agreed to take in five more at four dollars a week
each. I am leaving with her some of the most promising older
girls who have shown housekeeping instincts, and would like to
learn cooking on a decently small scale. Mrs. Wilson and her
husband are such a wonderful couple, thrifty and industrious and
simple and loving, I think it would do the girls good to observe
them. A training class in wifehood!
I told you about the Knowltop people on the east of us, who
took in forty-seven youngsters the night of the fire, and how
their entire house party turned themselves into emergency
nursemaids? We relieved them of thirty-six the next day, but
they still have eleven. Did I ever call Mr. Knowltop a crusty
old curmudgeon? I take it back. I beg his pardon. He's a sweet