Part 1 out of 5
PEOPLE OF THE WHIRLPOOL
FROM THE EXPERIENCE BOOK OF A COMMUTER'S WIFE
BY MABEL OSGOOD WRIGHT
CHAPTER I ON THE ADVANTAGE OF TWINS
CHAPTER II MISS LAVINIA'S LETTERS TO BARBARA
CHAPTER III MARTIN CORTRIGHT'S LETTERS
CHAPTER IV WHEN BARBARA GOES TO TOWN
CHAPTER V FEBRUARY VIOLETS
CHAPTER VI ENTER A MAN
CHAPTER VII SYLVIA LATHAM
CHAPTER VIII THE SWEATING OF THE CORN
CHAPTER IX A WAYSIDE COMEDY
CHAPTER X THE WHIRL BEGINS
CHAPTER XI REARRANGED FAMILIES
CHAPTER XII HIS MOTHER
CHAPTER XIII GOSSIP AND THE BUG HUNTERS
CHAPTER XIV THE OASIS
ON THE ADVANTAGE OF TWINS
_February 2_. Candlemas and mild, gray weather. If the woodchuck stirs
up his banked life-fire and ventures forth, he will not see his shadow,
and must straightway arrange with winter for a rebate in our favour.
To-day, however, it seems like the very dawn of winter, and as if the
cloud brooms were abroad gathering snow from remote and chilly corners
of the sky.
Six years ago I began the planting of my garden, and at the same time my
girlish habit of journal keeping veered into the making of a "Garden
Boke," to be a reversible signal, crying danger in face of forgotten
mistakes, then turning to give back glints of summer sunshine when read
in the attic of winter days and blue Mondays. Now once again I am in the
attic, writing. Not in a garden diary, but in my "Social Experience Boke"
this time, for it is "human warious," and its first volume, already
filled out, is lying in the old desk. Martin Cortright said, one stormy
day last autumn when he was sitting in the corner I have loaned him of my
precious attic retreat, that, owing to the incursion of the Bluff Colony
of New Yorkers, which we had been discussing, I should call this second
volume "People of the Whirlpool," because--ah, but I must wait and hunt
among my papers for his very words as I wrote them down.
My desk needs cleaning out and rearranging, for the dust flies up as I
rummage among the papers and letters that are a blending of past,
present, and future. All my pet pens are rusty, and must be replaced from
the box of stubs, for a stub pen assists one to straightforward, truthful
expression, while a fine point suggests evasion, polite equivocation, or
thin ideas. Even Lavinia Dorman's letters, whose cream-white envelopes,
with a curlicue monogram on the flap, quite cover the litter below, have
been, if possible, more satisfactory since she has adopted a fountain
stub that Evan gave her at Christmas.
There are many other things in the desk now beside the hickory-nut beads
and old papers. Little whiffs of subtle fragrance call me backward
through time faster than thought, and make me pinch myself to be sure
that I am awake, like the little old woman with the cutabout petticoats,
who was sure that if she was herself, her little dog would know her,--but
then he _didn't!_
I am awake and surely myself, yet my old dog is not near to recognize me.
This ring of rough, reddish hair, tied with a cigar ribbon and lying atop
the beads, was Bluff's best tail curl. Dear, happy, brave-hearted Bluff
with the human eyes; after an honourable life of fifteen years he stole
off to the happy hunting grounds of perpetual open season, quail and
rabbit, two years ago at beginning of winter, as quietly as he used to
slip out the back door and away to the fields on the first fall morning
that brings the hunting fever. For a long while not only I, but neither
father nor Evan could speak of him, it hurt so. Yet by a blessed
dispensation a good dog lives on in his race, and may be renewed (I
prefer that word to _replaced_) after a season, in a way in which our
best human friends may not be, so that we do not lack dogs. Lark is
senior now, and Timothy Saunders's sheep dog, The Orphan, is also a
veteran; the foxhounds are in their prime, while Martha Corkle, as we
shall always call her, is raising a promising pair of collie pups.
Beside the curl, and covering mother's diaries, lies a square white
volume, the first part of my "Experience Boke" before mentioned, and upon
it two queer fat little pairs of bronze kid shoes, buttonless and much
worn on the toes, telling a tale of feet that dragged and ankles that
wobbled through inexperience in walking. Ah yes! I'm quite awake and the
same Barbara, though looking over a wider and eye-opening horizon, having
had three rows of candles, ten in a row, around my last birthday cake and
one extra in the middle, which extravagance has constrained the family to
use lopsided, tearful, pink candles ever since.
And the two pairs of feet that first touched good earth so hesitatingly
with those crumpled shoes are now standing firmly in wool-lined rubber
boots topped by brown corduroy trousers, upon the winter slat walk that
leads to the tool house, while their owners, touched by the swish of the
Whirlpool that has recently drawn this peaceful town into its eddies, are
busy trying to turn their patrol wagon, that for a year has led a most
conservative existence as a hay wain and a stage-coach dragged by a
curiously assorted team of dogs and goat, into the semblance of some
weird sort of autocart, by the aid of bits of old garden hose, cast-away
bicycle gearing, a watering-pot, and an oil lantern.
I have wondered for a week past what yeast was working in their brains.
Of course, the seven-year-old Vanderveer boy on the Bluffs had an
electric runabout for a Christmas gift, also a man to run it! Corney
Delaney, as Evan named the majestic gray goat--of firm disposition
blended with a keen sense of humour--that father gave the boys last
spring and who has been their best beloved ever since, has for many days
been left in duress with the calves in the stack-yard, where the all-day
diet of cornstalks is fatally bulging his once straight-fronted figure.
In fact, it is the doings of these two pairs of precious feet, with the
bodies, heads, and arms that belong to them, that have caused the dust to
gather in my desk, and the "Garden Boke," though not the garden, which is
more of a joy than ever, to be suspended and take a different form.
Flesh-and-blood books that write themselves are so compelling and
absorbing that one often wonders at the existence of any other kind, and,
feeling this strongly, yet I turn to paper pages as silent confidants.
Why? Heredity and its understudy, Habit, the two _h_'s that control both
the making of solitary tartlets as well as family pies.
So the last entry in the "Garden Boke" was made a week before the day
recorded in the white book with the cherubs' heads painted on it that
underlies the shoes.
It seems both strange and significant to me now that this book chanced to
be given me by Lavinia Dorman, mother's school friend and bridesmaid, a
spinster of fifty-five, and was really the beginning of the transfer of
her friendship to me, the only woman friendship that I have ever had, and
its quality has that fragrant pungence that comes from sweet herbs, that
of all garden odours are the most lasting.
I suppose that it is one of the strongest human habits to write down the
very things that one is least likely to forget, and _vice-versa;_ for
certainly I shall never forget the date and double record on that first
fair page beneath the illuminated word _Born_,--yet I often steal up here
to peep at it,--and live the intervening five years backward for pure
joy. January 10, 189-, Richard Russell------ and John Evan------.
Every time I read the names anew I wonder what I should have done if
there had been a single name upon the page. I must then have chosen
between naming him for father _or_ Evan--an impossibility; for even if
the names had been combined, whose should I have put first?
No, the twins are in every way an advantage. To Evan, in providing him at
once with a commuted family sufficient for his means; to father, among
other reasons, by giving him the pleasure of saying, to friends who felt
it necessary to visit him in the privacy of his study and be
apologetically sympathetic, "I have observed that the first editions of
very important books are frequently in two volumes," sending them away
wondering what he really meant; to me by saving the rack of argument, the
form of evil I most detest, and to their own chubby selves no less, in
that neither one has been handicapped for a single day by the
disadvantage of being an only child!
It doubtless seems very odd for me to feel this last to be a
disadvantage, being myself an only child, and always a happy one, sharing
with mother all the space in father's big heart. But this is because God
has been very good to me, leaving me safe in the shelter of the home
nest. Suppose it had been otherwise and I had been forced to face the
world, how it would have hurt, for individual love is cruelly precious
sometimes, and an "onliest" cannot in the very nature of things be as
unselfish and adaptable as one of many.
I was selfish even when the twins came. I was so glad that they were
men-children. I could not bear to think of other woman hands ministering
to father and Evan, and I rejoiced in the promise of two more champions.
I often wonder how mother felt when I was born and what she thought.
Was she glad or disappointed? I wish that she had left written words to
guide me, if ever so few,--they would mean so much now; and let me know
if in her day social things surprised and troubled her as for the first
time they now stir me, and therefore belong to all awakening motherhood.
Her diaries were a blending of simple household happenings and garden
lore, nothing more; for when I was five years old and her son came, he
stayed but a few short hours and then stole her away with him.
I wonder if my boys, when they are grown and begin to realize woman, will
care to look into this book of mine, and read in and between the lines of
its jumble of scraps and letters what their mother thought of them, and
how things appeared to her in the days of their babyhood. Perhaps; who
knows? At present, being but five years old, they are centred in whatever
thing the particular day brings forth, and but that they are leashed fast
by an almost prenatal and unconscious affection, they are as unlike in
disposition, temperament, and colouring as they are alike in feature.
Richard is dark, like father and me, very quiet, except in the matter of
affection, in which he is clingingly demonstrative, slow to receive
impressions, but withal tenacious. He clearly inherits father's medical
instinct of preserving life, and the very thought of suffering on the
part of man or beast arouses him to action. When he was only a little
over three years old, I found him carefully mending some windfall robins'
eggs, cracked by their tumble, with bits of rubber sticking-plaster, then
putting them hopefully back into the nest, with an admonition to the
anxious parents to "sit very still and don't stwatch." While last summer
he unfortunately saw a chicken decapitated over at the farm barn, and, in
Martha Corkle's language, "the way he wound a bit o' paper round its poor
neck to stop its bleedin' went straight to my stummick, so it did, Mrs.
Evan;" for be it said here that Martha has fulfilled my wildest
expectations, and whereas, as queen of the kitchen, she was a trifle
unexpected and uncomfortable, as Mrs. Timothy Saunders, now comfortably
settled in the new cottage above the stable at the north corner of the
hayland, she is a veritable guardian angel, ready to swoop down with
strong wings at a moment's notice, in sickness or health, day or night,
and seize the nursery helm.
It is owing to her that I have never been obliged to have a nursemaid
under my feet or tagging after the boys, to the ruin of their
independence. For the first few years Effie, whose fiery locks have not
yet found their affinity, helped me, but now merely sees to buttons,
strings, and darns.
I found out long ago that those who get the best return from their flower
gardens were those who kept no gardeners, and it is the same way with the
child garden; those who are too overbusy, irresponsible, ignorant, or
rich to do without the orthodox nurse, never can know precisely what they
lose. To watch a baby untrammelled with clothes, dimple, glow, and expand
in its bath, is in an intense personal degree like watching, early of a
June morning, the first opening bud of a rose that you have coaxed and
raised from a mere cutting. You hoped and believed that it would be fair
and beautiful, but ah, what a glorious surprise it is!
And so it is at the other end of day, when sleep comes over the garden
and all the flowers that have been basking in sun vigour relax and their
colours are subdued, blended by the brush of darkness, and the night wind
steals new perfumes from them, and wings of all but a few night birds
have ceased to cleave the air. As you walk among the flowers and touch
them, or throw back the casement and look out, you read new meanings
everywhere. In the white cribs in the alcove the same change comes,
bright eyes, hair, cheeks, and lips lie blended in the shadow, the only
sound is the even breath of night, and when you press your lips behind
the ear where a curl curves and neck and garments meet, there comes a
little fragrance born of sweet flesh and new flannel, and the only motion
is that of the half-open hand that seems to recognize and closes about
your fingers as a vine to its trellis, or as a sleeping bird clings to
A gardener or a nurse is equally a door between one and these silent
pleasures, for who would not steal up now and then from a troubled
dream to satisfy with sight and touch that the babes are really there
and all is well?
* * * * *
Richard has a clinging way even in sleep, and his speech, though very
direct for his age, is soft and cooing; he says "mother" in a lingering
tone that might belong to a girl, and there are what are called feminine
traits in him.
Ian (to save confusion, we called him from the first by the pretty Scotch
equivalent of Evan's first name) is of a wholly masculine mould, and like
his father in light hair, gray eyes, and determination. His very speech
is quick and staccato, his tendency is to overcome, to fight rather than
assuage, though he is the champion of everything he loves. From the time
he could form distinct sounds he has called me Barbara, and no amount of
reasoning will make him do otherwise, while the imitation of his father's
pronunciation of the word goes to my heart.
Recently, now that he is fully able to comprehend, Evan took him quietly
on his knee and told him that he must say "mother" and that he was not
respectful to me. He thought a few minutes, as if reasoning with himself,
and then the big gray eyes filled with tears, a very rare occurrence, as
he seemed to feel that he could not yield, and he said, trying very hard
to steady his voice, "Favver, I truly can't, I _think it _muvver_ inside,
but you and I, we must _say it_ Barbara," and I confess that my heart
leaped with joy, and I begged Evan to let the matter end here. To be
called, if it so may be, by one name from the beginning to the end of
life by the only true lovers that can never be rivals, is bliss enough
for any woman.
Equally resolved, but in a thing of minor importance, is Ian about his
headgear. As a baby of three, when he first tasted the liberty of going
out of garden bounds daily into the daisy field beyond the wild walk,
while Richard clung to his protecting baby sunbonnet, Ian spurned head
covering of any kind, and blinked away at the sun through his tangled
curls whenever he had the chance, in primitive directness until his
cheeks glowed like burnished copper; and his present compromise is a
little cap worn visor backward.
When the twins were very young, people were most funny in the way in
which they seemed to think it necessary to feel carefully about to make
sure whether condolence or congratulations were in order. The Severely
Protestant was greatly agitated, as, being himself the possessor of an
overflowing quiverful, his position was difficult. After making sure
which was the right side of the fence, and placing himself on it, he
tugged painfully at his starved red beard, and made an elaborate address
ending in a parallel,--the idea of the complete Bible being in two
volumes, the Old and New Testament, each being so necessary to the other,
and so inseparable, that they were only comparable to twins!
Father and Evan were present at the time,--I dared not look at
either,--and as soon as we were again alone, the room shook with
laughter, until Martha Corkle, who was then in temporary residence,
popped in to be sure that I was not being unduly agitated.
"The Old and New Testament, I wonder which is which?" gasped father,
going upstairs to look at the uninteresting if promising woolly bundles
by light of this startling suggestion.
Now, however, the joke has developed a serious side, as their two
characters, though in no wise precocious, have become distinctive. Ian
represents the Old, primitive and direct, the "sword of the Lord and
Gideon" type, while Richard is the New, the reconciler and peacemaker.
* * * * *
The various congratulations that the twins were boys, from my standpoint
I took as a matter of course, even though I had always heard that boys
gave the most worry and girls were referred to among our friends and
neighbours as the greatest comforts in a home unless they did something
decidedly unusual, fitting into nooks, and often taking up and bearing
burdens the brothers left behind. But when many people who had either
daughters or nieces of their own, and might be said to be in that mystic
ring called "Society," congratulated me pointedly about the boys, I began
to ponder about the matter mother-wise. Then, three years ago the New
York Colony seized upon the broad acres along the Bluffs, and dotted two
miles with the elaborate stone and brick houses they call cottages; not
for permanent summer homes (the very rich, the spenders, have no homes),
but merely hotels in series. These, for the spring and fall between
seasons and week-end parties and golfing, men and girls gay in red and
green coats, replaced the wild flowers in the shorn outlying fields. I
watched these girls, and, beginning to understand, wondered if I had
grown old before my time, or if I were too young to comprehend their
point of view, for, to their strange enlightenment I was practically as
Lavinia Dorman says caustically that I really belong with her in the
middle of the last century, and she, born to what father says was really
the best society and privilege of New York life, like his college chum
Martin Cortright, is now swept quite aside by the swirl.
"Yes, dear child," she insists (how different this use of the word
sounds from when the Lady of the Bluffs uses the universal "my dear"
impartially to mistress and maid, shopgirl and guest), "you not only
belong to the last century, but as far back in it as myself, and I am
fifty-five, full measure.
"The new idea among the richer and consequently more privileged classes
is, that girls are to be fitted not only to go out into the world and
shine in different ways unknown to their grandmothers, but to be
superior to home, which of necessity unfits them for a return trip if the
excursion is unsuccessful.
"What with high ideas, high rents, and higher education, the home myth is
speedily following Santa Claus out of female education, and, argue as one
may, New York is the social pace-maker 'East of the Rockies,' as the free
delivery furniture companies advertise. I congratulate you anew that the
twins are boys!"
I laughed to myself over Miss Lavinia's letter; she is always so
deliciously in earnest and so perturbed over any change in the social
ways of her dearly beloved New York, that I'm wondering how she finds it,
on her return after two years or more abroad (she was becoming agitated
before she left), and whether she will ask me down for another of those
quaint little visits, where she so faithfully tours me through the shops
and a few select teas, when, to wind it up, Evan buys opera box seats so
that she may have the satisfaction of having her hair dressed, wearing
her point lace bertha and aigret, and showing us who is who, and the
remainder who are not. For she is well born, intricately related to the
original weavers of the social cobweb, and knows every one by name and
sight; but has found lately, I judge, that this knowledge unbacked by
money is no longer a social power that carries beyond mixed tea and
charity entertainments. Never mind, Lavinia Dorman is a dear! Ah, if she
would only come out here, and return my many little visits by a long
stay, and act as a key to the riddle the Whirlpool people are to me. But
of course she will not; for she frankly detests the country,--that is,
except Newport and Staten Island,--is wedded even in summer to her trim
back-yard that looks like a picture in a seed catalogue, and, like a
faithful spouse, declines to leave it or Josephus for more than a few
days. Josephus is a large, sleek, black cat, a fence-top sphinx, who sits
all day in summer wearing a silver collar, watching the sparrows and the
neighbourhood's wash with impartial interest, while at night he goes on
excursions of his own to a stable down a crooked street in "Greenwich
Village," where they still keep pigeons. Some day he won't come back!
Yet Martin Cortright, the Bookworm, was a pavement worshipper too, and he
came last fall for over a Sunday to wake father up; for I believe men
sometimes need the society of others of their own age and past, as much
as children need childlife, and Martin stayed a month, and is promising
to return next spring. I wonder if the Sylvia Latham who has been
travelling with Miss Lavinia is any kin of the Lathams who are building
the great colonial home above the Jenks-Smiths. I have never seen any of
the family except Mrs. Latham, a tall, colourless blonde, who reminds one
of a handsome unlit lamp. She seems to be superintending the work by
coming up now and then, and I met her at the butcher's where she was
buying sweetbreads--"a trifle for luncheon." Accusation No. 1, against
the Whirlpoolers: Since their advent sweetbreads have risen from two
pairs for a quarter, and "thank you kindly for taking them off our
hands," to fifty cents to a dollar a "set." We no longer care for
* * * * *
I was therefore amused, but no longer surprised, at the exaggerated way
in which the childless Lady of the Bluffs,--her step-daughter having ten
years back made a foolish foreign marriage,--gave me her views upon the
drawbacks of the daughters of her world, when she made me, on her return
from a European trip, a visit upon the twins' first birthday,--bearing,
with her usually reckless generosity, a pair of costly gold apostle
spoons, as she said, "to cut their teeth on." I admired, but frugally
popped them into the applewood treasure chests that father has had made
for the boys from the "mother tree," that was finally laid low by a
tornado the winter of their birth and is now succeeded by a younger one
of Richard's choice.
"My dear woman," she gasped, turning my face toward the light and
dropping into a chair at the same time, "how well you look; not a bit
upset by the double dose and sitting up nights and all that. But then,
maybe, they sleep and you haven't; for it's always the unexpected and
unusual that happens in your case, as this proves. But then, they are
boys, and that's everything nowadays, the way society's going, especially
to people like you, whose husband's trade, though pretty, is too open and
above-board to be a well-paying one, and yet you're thoroughbreds
underneath." (Poor vulgar soul, she didn't in the least realize how I
might take her stricture any more than she saw my desire to laugh.)
"Of course here and there a girl in society does turn out well and rides
an elephant or a coronet,--of course I mean wears a coronet,--though ten
to one it jams the hairpins into her head, but mostly daughters are
regular hornets,--that is, if you're ambitious and mean to keep in
society. Of course you're not in it, and, being comfortably poor, so to
speak, might be content to see your girls marry their best chance, even
if it wasn't worth much a year, and settle down to babies and minding
their own business; but then they mightn't agree to that, and where would
you and Evan be?
"This nice old house and garden of yours wouldn't hold 'em after they got
through with dolls, and some girls don't even have any doll-days now. It
would be town and travel and change, and you haven't got the price of
that between you all, and to keep this going, too. You'd have to go to
N'York, for a couple of months at least, to a hotel, and what would that
Evan of yours do trailing round to dances? For you're not built for it,
though I did once think you'd be a go in society with that innocent-wise
way, and your nose in the air, when you don't like people, would pass for
family pride. I'd wager soon, in a few years, he'd stop picking
boutonnieres in the garden every morning and sailing down to that 8:15
train as cool as if he owned time, if those boys were girls! Though if
Jenks-Smith gets the Bluff Colony he's planned under way next spring,
there'll soon be some riding and golfing men hereabouts that'll shake
things up a bit,--bridge whist, poker, and perhaps red and black to help
out in the between-seasons." (I little thought then what this colony and
shaking would come to mean.)
"Money or not, it's hard lines with daughters now--work and poor pay for
the mothers mostly. You know that Mrs. Townley that used to visit me? He
was a banker and very rich; died four years ago, and left his wife with
one son, who lived west, and five daughters, four that travelled in pairs
and an odd one,--all well fixed and living in a big house in one of those
swell streets, east of the park, where never less than ten in help are
kept. Well, if you'll believe it, she's living alone with a pet dog and a
companion, except in summer, when the Chicago son and his wife and babies
make her a good visit down at North East, the only home comfort she has.
"All the girls married to foreigners? Not a blessed one. Two were bookish
and called literary, but not enough to break out into anything; they
didn't agree with society (had impossible foreheads that ran nearly back
to their necks, and thin hair); they went to college just to get the name
of it and to kill time, but when they got through they didn't rub along
well at home; called taking an interest in the house beneath them and the
pair that liked society frivolous; so they took a flat (I mean
apartment--a flat is when it's less than a hundred a month and only has
one bathroom), and set up for bachelor girls. The younger pair did
society for a while, and poor Mrs. Townley chaperoned round after them,
as befitted her duty and position, and had gorgeous Worth gowns, all lace
and jets, that I do believe shortened her breath, until one night in a
slippery music-room she walked up the back of a polar bear rug, fell off
his head, and had an awful coast on the floor, that racked her knee so
that she could stay at home without causing remark, which she cheerfully
did. The two youngest girls were pretty, but they were snobs, and carried
their money on their sleeves in such plain sight that they were too
suspicious, and seemed to expect every man that said 'good evening' was
waiting to grab it. So they weren't popular, and started off for Europe
to study art and music. Of course when they came back they had a lot of
lingo about the art atmosphere and all that; home was a misfit and
impossible, so they went to live in a swell studio with two maids and a
Jap butler in costume, and do really give bang-up musicals, with paid
talent of course. I went to one.
"That left Georgie, the odd one, who was the eldest, with poor Mrs.
Townley. By this time the old lady was kind of broken-spirited, and
worried a good deal as to why all her girls left her,--'she'd always
tried to do her duty,'--and all that. This discouraged Georgie; she got
blue and nervous, had indigestion, and, mistaking it for religion,
vamoosed into a high-church retreat. And I call it mighty hard lines for
the old lady."
I thought "too much money," but I didn't say it, for this brutally direct
but well-meaning woman could not imagine such a thing, and she continued:
"Yet Mrs. Townley had a soft snap compared to some, for she was in the
right set at the start, with both feet well up on the ladder, and didn't
have to climb; but Heaven help those with daughters who have thin purses
and have to stretch a long neck and keep it stiff, so, in a crowd at
least, nobody'll notice their feet are dangling and haven't any hold.
"Ah, but this isn't the worst yet; that's the clever 'new daughter' kind
that sticks by her ma, who was herself once a particular housekeeper, and
takes charge of her long before there's any need; regulates her clothes
and her food and her callers, drags her around Europe to rheumatism
doctors, and pushes her into mud baths; jerks her south in winter and
north in summer, for her 'health and amusement,' so she needn't grow
narrow, when all the poor soul needs and asks is to be let stay in her
nice old-fashioned country house, and have the village children in to
make flannel petticoats; entertain the bishop when he comes to confirm,
with a clerical dinner the same as she used to; spoil a lot of
grandchildren, of which there aren't any; and once in a while to be
allowed to go into the pantry between meals, when the butler isn't
looking, and eat something out of the refrigerator with her fingers to
make sure she's got them!
"No, my dear, rather than that, I choose the lap dog and poor relation,
who is generally too dejected to object to anything. Besides, lap dogs
are much better now than in the days when the choice lay only between
sore-eyed white poodles and pugs. Boston bulls are such darlings that for
companions they beat half the people one knows!"
I am doubly glad that the twins are boys! Well, so be it, for women do
often frighten me and I misunderstand them, but men are so easy to
comprehend and love. While now, when Richard and Ian puzzle me, all I
need to do is to point to father and Evan, and say, "Look! ask them, for
they can tell you all you need to know!"
* * * * *
Almost sunset, the boys climbing up stairs, and Effie bringing a letter?
Yes, and from Lavinia Dorman, pages and pages--the dear soul! I must wait
for a light. What is this?--she wishes to see me--will make me a long
visit--in May--if I like--has no longer the conscience to ask me to leave
the twins to come to her--boys of their age need so much care--then
something about Josephus! Yes, Sylvia Latham is the daughter of the new
house on the Bluffs, etc. You blessed twins! here is another advantage I
owe to you--at last a promised visit from Lavinia Dorman!
Ah, as I push my book into the desk the reason for its title turns up
before me, worded in Martin Cortright's precise language:--
"Everything, my dear Barbara, has a precedent in history or the basis of
it. It is well known that the Indian tribes have taken their distinctive
names chiefly from geographical features, and these often in turn control
the pace of the people. The name for the island since called New
Amsterdam and York was Mon-ah-tan-uk, a phrase descriptive of the rushing
waters of Hell Gate that separated them from their Long Island
neighbours, the inhabitants themselves being called by these neighbours
Mon-ah-tans, _anglice_ Manhattans, literally, _People of the Whirlpool_,
a title which, even though the termagant humour of the waters be abated,
it beseems me as aptly fits them at this day."
MISS LAVINIA'S LETTERS TO BARBARA
NEW YORK, "GREENWICH VILLAGE," January 20, 19--.
"So you are glad that I have returned? I wish that I could say so also,
in your hearty tone of conviction. Every day of the two years that I have
been scattering myself about Europe I have wished myself at home in the
house where I was born, and have wandered through the rooms in my dreams;
yet now that I am here, I find that I was mixing the past impossibly with
the present, in a way common to those over fifty. Yes, you see I no
longer pretend, wear unsuitable headgear, and blink obliviously at my age
as I did in those trying later forties. I not only face it squarely, but
exaggerate it, for it is so much more comfortable to have people say
'Fifty-five! Is it possible?'
"By the way, do you know that you and I share a distinction in common? We
are both living in the houses where we were born, for the reason that we
wish to and not because we cannot help ourselves. Since I have been away
it appears that every one I know, of my own age, has made a change of
some sort, and joined the two streams that are flowing steadily upward,
east and west of the Park; while the people who were neither my financial
nor social equals thirty years ago are dividing the year into quarters,
with a house for each. A few months in town, a few of hotel life for
'rest' in the south, then a 'between-season' residence near by, seaside
next, mountains in early autumn, and the 'between-season' again before
the winter cruise through the Whirlpool.
"I like that name that your Martin Cortright gives to New York. Before I
went abroad I should have resented it bitterly, but the two months since
my return have convinced me of its truth, which I have fought against for
many years; for even the most staid of us who, either of choice or
necessity, give the social vortex a wide berth, cannot escape from the
unrest of it, or sight of the wreckage it from time to time gives forth.
It is strange that I have not met this Cortright, or never even knew that
he shared your father's admiration of your mother, though owing to our
school tie we were like sisters. Yet it was like her to regret and hold
sacred any pain she might have caused, no matter how unwillingly. Did his
elder sister marry _a_ Schuyler, though not one of _the_ well-known
branch, and did he as a boy live in one of those houses on the west side
of Lafayette Place that were later turned into an hotel?
"The worst of it all appears to me to be that the increase of wealth in
the upper class is exterminating the home idea, to which I cling, single
woman as I am; and consequently the middle classes, as blind copyists,
also are tending to throw it over.
"The rich, having no particular reason for remaining in any particular
place until they become attached to it, live in half a dozen houses,
which seems to have a deteriorating effect upon their domesticity; just
as the Sultan, with fifty wives that may be dropped or replaced according
to will, cannot prize them as does the husband of only one.
"Your letters are so full of questions and wonderments about ways in your
mother's day, that they set me rambling in the backwoods of the sixties,
when women were sending their lovers to the Civil War, and then bravely
sitting down and rolling their own hearts up with the bandages with which
they busied their fingers. I suppose you are wondering if I lost a lover
in those days, or why I have not married, as I am in no wise opposed to
the institution, but consider it quite necessary to happiness. The truth
is, I never saw but two men whose tastes so harmonized with mine that I
considered them possible as companions, and when I first met them neither
was eligible, one being my own father and the other yours! I shall have
to list your queries, to be answered deliberately, write my letters in
sections, day by day, and send them off packet-wise, like the
correspondence of the time of two-shilling post and hand messengers. To
begin with, I will pick out the three easiest:--
"1. What is it in particular that has so upset me on my home-coming?
"2. Do I think that I could break through my habits sufficiently to make
you a real country visit this spring or early summer, before the
mosquitoes come? (Confessing with your altogether out-of-date frankness
that there are mosquitoes, a word usually dropped from the vocabulary
of commuters and their wives, even though they live in Staten Island or
"3. Is the Sylvia Latham, to whom I have been a friendly chaperon during
my recent travels, related to the Lathams who are building the finest
house on the Bluffs? You have never seen the head of the house, but his
initials are S.J.; he is said to be a power in Wall Street, and the
family consists of a son and daughter, neither of whom has yet appeared,
although the house is quite ready for occupancy.
"(My German teacher has arrived.)"
* * * * *
"1. Why am I upset? For several reasons, some of which have been clouding
the horizon for many years, others crashing up like a thunder-storm.
"I have for a long time past noticed a certain apathy in the social
atmosphere of the little circle that formed my world. I gave up any
pretensions to general New York society after my father's death, which
came at a time when the social centre was splitting into several cliques;
distances increased, New Year's calling ceased, going to the country for
even midwinter holidays came in vogue, and cosmopolitanism finally
overcame the neighbourhood community interest of my girlhood. People
stopped making evening calls uninvited; you no longer knew who lived in
the street or even next house, save by accident; the cosey row of private
dwellings opposite turned to lodging houses and sometimes worse; friends
who had not seen me for a few months seemed surprised to find me living
in the same place. When I began to go about again, one day Cordelia
Martin (she was a Bleecker--your father will remember her) met me in the
street and asked me to come in the next evening informally to dinner and
meet her sister, an army officer's wife, who would be there _en route_
from one post to another, and have an old-time game of whist.
"I went, glad to see old friends, and anticipating a pleasant evening. I
wore a new soft black satin gown slightly V in front, some of my best
lace, and my pearl ornaments; I even wondered if the latter were in good
taste at a family dinner. You know I never dwell much upon attire, but it
is sometimes necessary when it is in a way epoch making.
"A butler had supplanted Cordelia's usual cordial waitress; he presented
a tray for the card that I had not brought and said 'second story front.'
This seemed strange to me, as Cordelia herself had always come to the
stairway to greet me when the door opened.
"The 'second story front' had been done over into a picturesque but
useless boudoir, a wood floor polished like glass was dotted by white fur
islands; the rich velvet carpets, put down a few years before, had in
fact disappeared from the entire house. A maid, anything but cordial,
removed my wrap, looking me and it over very deliberately as she did so.
I wondered if by mistake I had been bidden to a grand function--no, there
were no visible signs of other guests.
"Not a word was spoken, so I made my way down to where the library
living-room had been, not a little curious to see what would come next.
Thick portieres covered the doorway, and by them stood the butler, who
asked my name. Really, for a moment I could not remember it, I was so
startled at this sudden ceremony in the house of a friend, of such long
standing that I had jumped rope on the sidewalk with her, making
occasional trips arm-in-arm around the corner to Taffy John's little shop
for molasses peppermints and 'blubber rubbers.'
"My hesitation seemed to add to the distrust that my appearance had in
some way created. The butler also swept me from head to foot with his
critical stare, and at the same moment I became internally aware that I
had forgotten to remove my arctic over-boots. Never mind, my gown was
long, I would curl up my toes, but return to the dressing-room in full
sight of that man, I whose forbears had outbowled Peter Stuyvesant, and,
I fear, outdrunk him--never! Then the portieres flew apart, and facing
a glare of bilious-hued electric light, I heard the shouted announcement
of 'Miss Doormat' as I stumbled over a tiger rug into the room. I believe
the fellow did it on purpose. However, it was very funny, and my
rubber-soled arctics probably prevented my either coasting straight
across into the open fireplace, or having a nasty fall, while the laugh
that the announcement created on the part of my host, Archie Martin,
saved me from an awkward moment, for from a sort of gilt throne-like
arrangement at one side of the hearth, arrayed in brocaded satin gowns
cut very low and very long, heads crimped to a crisp, and fastened to
meagre shoulders by jewelled collars, the whole topped by a group of
three 'Prince of Wales' feathers, Cordelia and her sister came forward
two steps to greet me.
"Of course, I thought to myself, they are going to a ball later on. I
naturally made no comment, and we went in to dinner. The dining room was
very cold, as extensions usually are, and the ladies presently had white
fur capes brought to cover their exposure, while I, sitting in the
draught from the butler's pantry, was grateful for my arctics. The meal
was more pretentious than edible,--a strange commentary upon many
delightful little four or at most five course affairs I had eaten in the
same room. I soon found that there was no ball in prospect, also that
Cordelia and her sister seemed ill at ease, while Archie had a look of
suppressed mischief on his face, which in spite of warning signals broke
forth as soon as, the coffee being served, the butler left.
"One great comfort about men is that they do not take easily to being
unnatural. Archie and I, having been brought up like brother and sister
from the time we went to a little mixed school over in old Clinton Hall,
were always on cordial terms.
"'Well, Lavvy,' he began, 'I see you're surprised at the change of base
here, and _I'm_ going to let you in on the ground floor, if Cordelia
won't. You see, Janet (she's not in town to-night, by the way) is coming
out next month, and we are getting in training for what her mother thinks
is her duty toward her, or else what they both think is their duty to
society, or something else equally uncomfortable.'
"'Archie!' remonstrated Cordelia, but he good-naturedly ignored her and
continued: 'Now I want Janet to have a jolly winter and marry a good
fellow when the time comes, but as we've got the nicest sort of friends,
educated and all that, who have travelled along with us, as you have,
from the beginning, why should we change our habits and feathers and try
to fly for a different roost?'
"'Archibald,' said Cordelia, in such a tone that she was not to be
gainsaid, 'Lavinia, as a woman of the world, will understand what you
refuse to: that it is very important that our daughter should have the
surroundings that are now customary to the social set with whom she has
been educated, and into which, if she is to be happy, she must marry. If
she is to meet the right people, she must be rightly presented. All her
set wear low gowns at dinner, whether guests are present or not, just as
much as men wear their evening dress at night and their business suits in
the morning. That we have kept up our old-fogy habits so long has nothing
to do with the present question.'
"'Except that I have to strain my purse to bring up everything else to
suit the clothes, as naturally gaslight, a leg of mutton, and two
vegetables do not make a good foreground to bare shoulders and a white
vest! And I'd rather fund the cash as a nest-egg for Jenny.'
"'Archie, you are too absurd!' snapped Cordelia, yet more than half
inclined to laugh; for she used to be the jolliest woman in the world
before the spray of the Whirlpool got into her eyes.
"'As to meeting suitable people to marry, and all that rubbish,' pursued
Archie, relentlessly, 'I was considered fairly eligible in my time, and
did you meet me at any of the dances you went to, or at the Assemblies at
Fourteenth Street Delmonico's that were the swell thing in those days?
No; I pulled you out of an old Broadway stage that had lost a wheel and
keeled over into a pile of snow opposite father's office, when you were
practically standing on your head. You didn't fuss, and I got to know you
better in five minutes than any one could in five years of this rotten
fuss and feathers.'
"'That was purely accidental, and I wish you wouldn't mention it so
often,' said Cordelia, flushing; and so the conversation, at first
playful, gradually working toward a painful dispute, went on, until my
faithful Lucy came to escort me home, without our having our game of
whist, that excuse for intelligent and silent companionship."
* * * * *
"I dwelt on that little dinner episode, my dear Barbara, because in it
you will find an answer to several questions I read between your lines.
Since my return I find that practically all my old friends have flown to
what Archie Martin called 'a different roost,' or else failing, or having
no desire so to do, have left the city altogether, leaving me very
lonely. Not only those with daughters to bring out, but many of my
spinster contemporaries are listed with the buds at balls and dinner
dances, and their gowns and jewels described. Ah, what a fatal memory for
ages one has in regard to schoolmates! Josephine Ponsonby was but one
class behind us, and she is dancing away yet.
"The middle-aged French women who now, as always, hold their own in
public life have better tact, and make the cultivation of some
intellectual quality or political scheme at least the excuse for holding
their salons, and not the mere excuse of rivalry in money spending.
"I find the very vocabulary altered--for _rest_ read _change_, for
_sleep_ read _stimulation_, etc, _ad infin_.
"Born a clergyman's daughter of the old regime, I was always obliged to
be more conservative than was really natural to my temperament; even so,
I find myself at middle life with comfortable means (owing to that bit of
rock and mud of grandma's on the old Bloomingdale road that father
persistently kept through thick and thin), either obliged to compromise
myself, alter my dress and habits, go to luncheons where the prelude is a
cocktail, and the after entertainment to play cards for money, contract
bronchitis by buzzing at afternoon teas, make a vocation of charity,
or--stay by myself,--these being the only forms of amusement left open,
and none offering the intimate form of social intercourse I need.
"I did mission schools and parish visiting pretty thoroughly and
conscientiously during forty years of my life,--on my return an
ecclesiastical, also, as well as a social shock awaited me. St. Jacob's
has been made a free church, and my special department has been given in
charge of two newly adopted Deaconesses, 'both for the betterment of
parish work and reaching of the poor.' So be it, but Heaven help those
who are neither rich nor poor enough to be of consequence and yet are
"The church system is necessarily reduced to mathematics. The rector has
office hours, so have the curates, and they will 'cheerfully come in
response to any call.' It was pleasant to have one's pastor drop in now
and then in a sympathetic sort of way, pleasant to have a chance to ask
his advice without formally sending for him as if you wished to be prayed
over! But everything has grown so big and mechanical that there is not
time. The clergy in many high places are emancipating themselves from the
Bible and preaching politics, history, fiction, local sensation, and what
not, or lauding in print the moral qualities of a drama in which the
friendship between Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot is dwelt on and the
latter adjudged a patriot. I don't like it, and I don't like hurrying to
church that I may secure my seat in the corner of our once family pew,
where as a child I loved to think that the light that shone across my
face from a particular star in one of the stained-glass windows was a
special message to me. It all hurts, and I do not deny that I am bitter.
Those in charge of gathering in new souls should take heed how they
ignore or trample on the old crop!
"So I attend to my household duties, marketing, take my exercise, and
keep up my French and German; but when evening comes, no one rings the
bell except some intoxicated person looking for one of the lodging houses
opposite, and the silence is positively asphyxiating--if they would only
play an accordion in the kitchen I should be grateful. I'm really
thinking of offering the maids a piano and refreshments if they will give
an 'at home' once a week, as the only men in the neighbourhood seem to be
the butchers and grocery clerks and the police. There is an inordinate
banging going on in the rear of the house, and I must break off to see
what it _is_."
* * * * *
"MY DEAR CHILD:--
"Your second question, regarding visiting you the coming season, was
answering itself the other day when I was writing. Life here, except in
winter, is becoming impossible to me. I have lost not only Josephus, but
my back yard! The stable where they keep the pigeons has changed hands.
Yes, you were right,--he did haunt the place, the postman says; and I
suppose they did not understand that he was merely playful, and not
hungry, or who he was, else maybe he was too careless about sitting on
the side fence by the street. I _could_ replace Josephus, but not the
yard,--there are no more back yards to be had; their decadence is
complete. I've closed my eyes for years to the ash heap my neighbour on
the right kept in hers; also to the cast-off teeth that came over from
the 'painless' dentist's on the left.
"When the great tenement flat ran up on the north, where I could, not so
long ago, see the masts of the shipping in the Hudson, I sighed, and
prayed that the tins and bottles that I gathered up each morning might
not single me out when I was tying up my vines in the moonlight of early
"Josephus resented these missiles, however, and his foolish habit of
sitting on the low side fence under the ailantus tree then began. Next, I
was obliged to give up growing roses, because, as you know, they are
fresh-air lovers; and so much air and light was cut off by the high
building that they yielded only leaves and worms. Still I struggled, and
adapted myself to new conditions, and grew more of the stronger summer
"Five days ago I heard a banging and pounding. Only that morning Lucy had
been told that the low, rambling carpenter's shop, that occupied a double
lot along the 'street to the southwest, had been sold, and we anxiously
waited developments. We were spared long suspense; for, on hearing the
noise, and going to the little tea-room extension where I keep my winter
plants, I saw a horde of men rapidly demolishing the shop, under
directions of a superintendent, who was absolutely sitting on top of my
honeysuckle trellis. After swallowing six times,--a trick father once
taught me to cure explosive speech,--I went down and asked him if he
could tell me to what use the lot was to be put. He replied: 'My job is
only to clean it up; but the plans call for a twelve-story
structure,--warehouse, I guess. But you needn't fret; it's to be
"'Fireproof! What do I care?' I cried, gazing around my poor garden--or
rather I must have fairly snorted, for he looked down quickly and took in
the situation at a glance, gave a whistle and added: 'I see, you'll be
planted in; but, marm, that's what's got to happen in a pushing city--it
don't stop even for graveyards, but just plants 'em in.'
"My afternoon sun gone. Not for one minute in the day will its light rest
on my garden, and _finis_ is already written on it, and I see it an arid
mud bank. I wonder if you can realize, you open-air Barbara, with your
garden and fields and all space around you, how a city-bred woman, to
whom crowds are more vital than nature, still loves her back yard. I had
a cockney nature calendar planted in mine, that began with a bunch of
snowdrops, ran through hot poppy days, and ended in a glow of
chrysanthemums, but all the while I worked among these I felt the breath
of civilization about me and the solid pavement under my feet.
"I believe that every woman primarily has concealed in the three rounded
corners of her heart, waiting development, love of home, love of
children, and love of nature, and my nature love has yet only developed
to the size of a back yard.
"Yes, I will come to visit you at Oaklands gladly, though it's a poor
compliment under the circumstances. The mother of twins should be gone
_to_; but tremble! you may never get rid of me, for I may supplant Martha
Corkle, the miraculous, in spoiling the boys."
* * * * *
"One more question to answer and this budget of letters will go to the
post with at least four stamps on it, for since you have yoked me to a
stub pen and begged me not to criss-cross the sheets, my bills for stamps
and stationery have increased.
"Sylvia Latham _is_ the daughter of your Bluff people. Her father's name
is Sylvester Johns Latham, and he is a Wall Street broker and promoter,
with a deal of money, and ability for pulling the wires, but not much
liked socially, I should judge,--that is, outside of a certain
"Mrs. Latham was, at the time of her marriage, a pretty southern girl,
Vivian Carhart, with only a face for a fortune. In a way she is a
beautiful woman now, has quite a social following, a gift for
entertaining, and, I judge, unbounded vanity and ambition.
"Quite recently some apparently valueless western land, belonging to her
people, has developed fabulous ore, and they say that she is now more
opulent than her husband.
"They were pewholders at St. Jacob's for many years, until three
seasons ago, when they moved from a side street near Washington Square
to 'Millionaire Row,' on the east side of the Park. There are two
children, Sylvia, the younger, and a son, Carhart, a fine-looking blond
fellow when I knew him, but who got into some bad scrape the year after
he left college,--a gambling debt, I think, that his father repudiated,
and sent him to try ranch life in the West. There was a good deal of
talk at the time, and it was said that the boy fell into bad company at
his mother's own card table, and that it has caused a chilliness
between Mr. and Mrs. Latham.
"However it may be, Sylvia, who is an unspoiled girl of the frank and
intellectual type, tall, and radiant with warm-hearted health, was kept
much away at boarding-school for three years, and then went to college
for a special two years' course in literature. She had barely returned
home when her mother, hearing that I was going abroad, asked me to take
Sylvia with me, as she was deficient in languages, which would be a
drawback to her social career.
"It seemed a trifle strange to me, as she was then nineteen, an age when
most girls of her class are brought out, and had been away for
practically five years. But I took her gladly, and she has been a most
lovable companion and friend. She called me Aunt, to overcome the formal
Miss, and I wish she were my daughter. I'm only wondering if her high,
unworldly standpoint, absorbed from wise teachers, and the halo that she
has constructed from imagination and desire about her parents during the
years of her separation from them, will not embarrass them a little, now
that she is at home for good.
"By the way, we met in England last spring a young sub-professor, Horace
Bradford, a most unusual young man for nowadays, but of old New England
stock. He was one of Sylvia's literature instructors at Rockcliffe
College, and he joined our party during the month we spent in the
Shakespeare country. It was his first trip, and, I take it, earned by
great self-sacrifice; and his scholarly yet boyish enthusiasm added
hugely to our enjoyment.
"He spoke constantly of his mother. Do you know her? She lives on the old
place, which was a farm of the better class, I take it, his father having
been the local judge, tax collector, and general consulting factotum of
his county. It is at Pine Ridge Centre, which, if I remember rightly, is
not far from your town. I should like you to know him.
"I have only seen Sylvia twice since our return, but she lunches with me
to-morrow. You and she should be fast friends, for she is of your ilk;
and if this happens, I shall not regret the advent of the Whirlpool
Colony in your beloved Oaklands as much as I do now.
"I am really beginning to look forward to my country visit, and am glad
to see that some 'advance season' tops are spinning on the pavement in
front of the house, and a game of marbles is in progress in my front yard
itself, safe from the annoying skirts of passers-by. For you should know,
dear Madam Pan, that marbles and tops are the city's first spring sign.
"By the way, I am sure that Horace Bradford and Sylvia are keeping up a
literary correspondence. They are perfectly suited to each other for any
and every grade of friendship, yet from her family standpoint no one
could be more unwelcome. He has no social backing; his mother is a
religious little country woman, who doubtless says 'riz' and 'reckon,'
and he only has what he can earn by mental effort. But this is neither
here nor there, and I'm sure you and I will have an interesting summer
croon in spite of your qualms and resentment of the moneyed
invasion.--Not another word, Lucy is waiting to take this to the
"P. S.--Josephus has just come back! Lean, and singed by hot ashes, I
judge. I dread the shock to him when he knows about the yard!"
MARTIN CORTRIGHT'S LETTERS TO BARBARA AND DOCTOR RICHARD RUSSELL
"December 10, 19--.
"MY DEAR BARBARA:--
"You have often asked me to write you something of myself, my youth, but
where shall I begin?
"I sometimes think that I must have been born facing backward, and a
fatality has kept me walking in that direction ever since, so wide a
space there seems to be to-day between myself and those whose age shows
them to be my contemporaries.
"My father, being a man of solid position both in commerce and society,
and having a far greater admiration for men of art and letters than would
have been tolerated by his wholly commercial Knickerbocker forbears, I,
his youngest child and only son, grew up to man's estate among the set of
contemporaries that formed his world, men of literary and social parts,
whose like I may safely say, for none will contradict, are unknown to the
rising generation of New Yorkers; for not only have types changed, but
also the circumstances and appreciations under which the development of
those types was possible.
"In my nineteenth year events occurred that altered the entire course of
my life, for not only did the almost fatal accident and illness that laid
me low bar my study of a profession, but it rendered me at the same time,
though I did not then realize it, that most unfortunate of beings, the
semi-dependent son of parents whose overzeal to preserve a boy's life
that is precious, causes them to deprive him of the untrammelled manhood
that alone makes the life worth living.
"I always had a bent for research, a passion for following the history of
my country and city to its fountain heads. I devoured old books,
journals, and the precious documents to which my father had ready access,
that passed from the attic treasure chests of the old houses in decline
to the keeping of the Historical Society. As a lad I besought every gray
head at my father's table to tell me a story, so what more natural, under
the circumstances, than that my father should make me free of his
library, and say: 'I do not expect or desire you to earn your living; I
can provide for you. Here are companions, follow your inclinations, live
your own life, and do not be troubled by outside affairs.' At first I
was too broken in health and disappointed in ambition to rebel, then
inertia became a habit.
"As my health unexpectedly improved and energy moved me to reassert
myself and step out, a soft hand was laid on mine--the hand of my mother,
invalided at my birth, retired at forty from a world where she had shone
by force of beauty and wit--and a gentle voice would say: 'Stay with me,
my son, my baby. Oh, bear with me a little longer. If you only knew the
comfort it is to feel that you are in the house, to hear your voice. You
will pen a history some day that will bring you fame, and you will read
it to me here--we two, all alone in my chamber, before the world hears
it.' So I stayed on. How mother love often blinds the eyes to its own
"That fatal twentieth year, the time of my overthrow, brought me one good
gift, your father's friendship. It was a strange chance, that meeting,
and it was my love of hearing of past events and the questions concerning
them that brought it about. Has your father ever told you of it?
"Likely not, for his life work has been the good physician's, to bring
forth and keep alive, and mine the antiquarian's, dreaming and groping
among ruins for doubtful treasure of fallen walls.
"My mother came of English, not Knickerbocker stock like my father,
though both belong distinctly to New York; and female education being in
a somewhat chaotic state between the old regime and new, her parents,
desirous of having her receive the genteel polish of courtly manners,
music, and dancing, sent her, when about fifteen, to Mrs. Rowson's
school, then located at Hollis Street, Boston. The fame of this school
had travelled far and wide, for not only had the preceptress in her
youth, as Susanna Haswell, been governess to the children of the
beautiful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, one of the most accomplished
women of her day, and profited by her fine taste, but her own high morals
and literary gifts made her tutorship a much sought privilege.
"While there my mother met the little New England girl who was long
afterward to become your grandmother. She had also come to study music,
for which she had a talent. My mother related to me, when I was a little
lad and used to burrow in her carved oak treasure chest and beg for
stories of the articles it contained, many fascinating tales of those two
school years, a pretty colour coming to her cheeks as she told of the
dances learned together, pas-de-deux and minuet, from old 'Doctor'
Shaffer, who was at the time second violin of the Boston Theatre, as
well as authority in the correct methods of bowing and courtesying for
gentlewomen. Your grandmother married first, and the letter telling of it
was stored away with others in the oak chest.
"Some months before the steamboat accident that shattered my nerves, and
preceded the long illness, I was browsing at a bookstall, on my way up
from college homeward, when I came across a copy of Charlotte Temple--one
of the dozen later editions--printed in New York by one R. Hobbs, in
1827, its distinguishing interest lying in a frontispiece depicting
Charlotte's flight from Portsmouth.
"The story had long been a familiar one, and I, in common with others of
many times my age and judgment, had lingered before the slab that bears
her name in the graveyard of old Trinity, and sometimes laid a flower on
it for sympathy's sake, as I have done many times since.
"On my return home I showed the little book to my mother, and as she held
it in her hinds and read a word here and there, she too began to journey
backward to her school days, and asked my father to bring out her
treasure chest, and from it she took her school relics,--a tattered
ribbon watch-guard fastened by a flat gold buckle that Mrs. Rowson had
given her as a reward for good conduct, and a package of letters. She
spent an hour reading these, and old ties strengthened as she read. I can
see her now as she sat bolstered by pillows in her reclining chair, a
writing tray upon her knees, penning a long letter.
"A few months afterward, as I lay in my bed too weak even to stir, your
father stood there, looking across the footboard at me,--the answer to
that letter. Your father, tall and strong of body and brain, a Harvard
graduate drawn to New York to study medicine at the College of Physicians
and Surgeons. His eyes of strengthening manly pity looked into mine and
drew me slowly back to life with them.
"His long absence as surgeon in the Civil War, the settling down as a
country doctor, and even loving the same woman, has not separated us.
Never more than a few months passed but our thoughts met on paper, or our
hands clasped. His solicitude in a large measure restored my health, so
that at sixty-three, physically, I can hold my own with any man of my
age, and to-day I walk my ten miles with less ado than many younger men.
Because of my intense dislike of the modern means of street
transportation, I have kept on walking ever since the time that your
father and I footed it from Washington Park to Van Cortlandt Manor,
through the muskrat marshes whereon the park plaza now stands, up
through the wilds of the future Central Park, McGowan's Pass, and
northwestward across the Harlem to our destination. He will recollect. We
were two days picking our way in going and two days on the return, for we
scorned the 'bus route, and that was only in the later fifties. Never
mind, if we ever do get back to small clothes and silk stockings, Martin
Cortright can show a rounded calf, if he has been esteemed little more
than a crawling bookworm these many years.
"Methinks I hear you yawn and crumple these sheets together in your hand,
saying: 'What ails the man--is he grown doity? I thought he was
contented, even if sluggishly serene.'
"And so he was, as one grown used to numbness, until last summer one
Mistress Barbara visited the man-snail in his shell and exorcised him to
come forth for an outing, to feed among fresh green leaves and breathe
the perfume of flowers and young lives. When lo and behold, on the
snail's return, the shell had grown too small!
* * * * *
(To R. R.)
"December 22, 19--.
"So social change has also cast its shadow across even your country
pathway, dear Hippocrates? I wish it had spared you, but I feared as much
when I heard that your peaceful town had been invaded by an advance guard
of those same People of the Whirlpool who keep the social life of their
own city in a ferment.
"You ask what is the matter, what the cause of the increasing
restlessness that appears on every side, driving the conservative
thinking class of moderate means to seek home shelter beyond city limits,
and drawing the rest into a swirl that, sooner or later, either casts
them forth as wrecks or sucks them wholly down.
"The question is difficult of answer, but there are two things that are
potent causes of the third. Money too quickly earned, or rather won,
causes an unwise expansion, and a fictitious prosperity that has degraded
the life standard. Except in exclusively academic circles, the man is
gauged by his power of financial purchase and control, and the dollar is
his hall mark. He is forced to buy, not win, his way. Of course, if
pedigree and private character correspond in quantity, so much the
better, but their importance is strictly held in abeyance.
"Even in the legendary classic shades of learning, the cold pressure of
the golden thumb crowds down and chills penniless brains. All students do
not have equal _chance_ and equal _rights_. How can they, when the
exclusiveness of many fraternities is not by intellectual gauge or the
capability for comradeship, but the power to pay high dues and spend
lavishly. Of later years, in several conspicuous cases, even the choice
of college officials of high control has been guided rather by their
capacity as financiers than for ripened and inspiring scholarship.
"Then, too, the rack of constant change is detrimental to the finer grade
of civic sentiment. It would seem that the Island's significant Indian
name was wrought into its physical construction like the curse that kept
the Jew of fable a wanderer. Periodically the city is rent and upheaved
in unison with the surrounding changes of tide. Here one does not need to
live out his threescore years and ten to see the city of his youth slip
away from him. Even his Alma Mater packs her trunks and moves about too
rapidly to foster the undying loyal home spirit among her sons--my
college has lived in three houses since my freshman year. How I envy the
sons of Harvard, Yale, and all the rest who can go back, and, feeling at
least a scrap of the old campus turf beneath their feet, close their eyes
and be young again for one brief minute. Is not this the reason why so
many of Columbia's sons, in spite of the magnificent opportunities she
offers, send _their_ sons elsewhere, because they realize the value of
associations they have missed, and recognize the Whirlpool's
"What would be the feelings of an Oxford man, on returning from his life
struggle in India or Australia, to visit his old haunts, if he found, as
a sign of vaunted progress, the Bodleian Library turned into an
"The primal difference between civilized men and the nameless savage is
love of home, and the powerful races are those in whom this instinct is
the strongest. Such fealty is _not_ born in the shifting almost
tent-dwellers of Manhattan.
"It was in the late seventies, the winter before his passing, that one
mild night I walked home from a meeting of the Goethe Club in company
with the poet Bryant. He and my father had been stanch comrades, and many
a time had I studied his Homeric head silhouetted by firelight on our
library wall. As we crossed the Park front going from Fifth Avenue east
to west, he paused, and leaning on his cane gazed skyward, where the
outlines of some buildings, in process of construction on Fifty-ninth
Street, and then considered high, stood out against the sky. "'Poor New
York,' he said, half to himself, half to me, 'created and yet cramped by
force of her watery boundaries, where shall her sons and daughters find
safe dwelling-places? They have covered the ground with their
habitations, and even now they are climbing into the sky.' And he went on
leaving his question unanswered.
* * * * *
"A caller interrupted me yesterday, a most persistent fellow and a
dangerous one to the purse of the tyro collector of Americana, though not
to me. He was a man of some pretence to classic education, and
superficially versed in lore of title, date, and _editio princeps_. He
had half a dozen prints of rarity and value had they not been forgeries,
and a book ... that I had long sought after in its original form, but the
only copy I had seen for many years when put up at auction lacked the
title page and fully half a dozen leaves, besides having some other
defects. Would you believe it, Dick, this copy was that from the auction,
its defects repaired, its missing leaves replaced by careful forgery, and
what is more, I know the vender was aware of the deceit. But he will sell
it to some young moneyed sprig who will not know.
"I was angry, Dick, very angry, and yet all this is a trivial part of
what we have a long time been discussing. The sudden glint of wealth in
certain quarters has changed the aspect of even book collecting, that
once most individual of occupations, and syndicated it.
"Once a book collection was the natural accumulation, more or less
perfect according to purse and opportunity, of one following a certain
line of thought, and bore the stamp of individuality; but as these
bibliophiles of the old regime pass away, the ranks are recruited by men
to whom money is of no account, whose competition forces irrational
prices and creates false values. Methinks I see the finish of the small
collectors like ourselves. Meanwhile, just so much intellectual pleasure
is wrested from the modern scholar of small means who dares not make
beginning. I do not like it, Dick, indeed I do not.
"But we were discussing domesticity, I think, when this wretch rang the
bell. The restlessness I speak of as born of undisciplined bigness, of
moneyed magnitude, is visible everywhere, and more so in the hours of
relaxation than those of business.
"We have acquired the knowledge of many arts in these late years, and we
needed it; but we have lost one that is irreparable--sociality. There is
no longer time to know oneself, how then shall we know our neighbours?
"The verb _to entertain_ has largely driven the verb _to enjoy_ from the
social page. It is not too extreme, I think, to say the home and
playhouse have changed places. Many conservative people that I know turn
to the theatre as the only safe means of relaxation and enjoyment within
their reach, the stress and penalty of criticism in entertaining modern
company being unbearable to them.
"To the bachelor who, like myself, has a modest hearthstone, yet no hand
but his own to stir the fire, the dinner tables of his married friends
and his clubs have been supposed to replace, in a measure at least, the
need of family ties. Once they did this as far as such things may, but
the easy sociality of the family board has almost ceased, and the
average club has so expanded that it savours more of hotel freedom than
"I am not a misanthrope or a woman hater, as you know, yet from what I
gather I fear that, in the upper middle class at least, it is the women
who are responsible for this increased formality that most men naturally
would avoid. Led by personal ambition, or that of young daughters, they
seek to maintain a standard just enough beyond their easy grasp to feel
ill at ease, if not humiliated, to be caught off guard. I remember once
when I was a mere boy hearing my father say in a sorrowing tone to my
eldest sister, who was giving fugitive reasons for not being able to
array herself quickly for some festivity for which the invitation had
been delayed, yet to which she longed to go: 'Wherever woman enters
socially, then complications begin that are wholly of her own making. I
warrant before Eve had finished her fig-leaf petticoat she was bothering
Adam to know if he thought there could be another woman anywhere who had
a garment of rarer leaves than her own.'
"The clubs do somewhat better, being under male management, but those
among them that ranked as so conservative that membership was the hall
mark of intellectual acquirements and stamped a man as either author,
artist, or amateur of letters and the fine arts, have had their doors
pushed open by many of those who wish to wear in public the name of
being without good right, and so the little groups of kindred spirits
have broken away, the authors in one direction, the followers of the
drama to habitations of their own, artists who are too independent to be
overborne by money in another, and thus the splitting spirit increases
until it vanishes in a maze of cliques and coteries. The names may stand
on the lists, the faces are absent, and one must wander through half a
dozen clubs to really meet the aggregation of thinkers and workers of
the grade who gathered in the snug corners of the Century's old club
house in East Fifteenth Street when we were young fellows, and my father
secured us cards for an occasional monthly meeting as the greatest
favour he could do us.
"Come down if you can, take a holiday, or rather night, and go with me to
the January meeting, and we will also stroll among some of our old
haunts. You may perhaps realize, what I cannot altogether explain, the
reason why I feel almost a stranger though at home."
* * * * *
(To DR. R. R.)
"January 10, 19--.
"Could not get away, you conscientious old Medicus, because of the
strange accidents and holiday doings of the Whirlpool Colony at
"Well, well! I read your last with infinite amusement. You are in a fair
way to have enlightenment borne in upon you without leaving your surgery,
or at least travelling farther than your substantial gig will take you.
"Meanwhile I have had what should be a crushing blow to my vanity, and in
analyzing it I've made an important discovery. One night last week I was
sitting quietly in the card room at the Dibdin Club, awaiting my whist
mates (for here at least one may be reasonably sure of finding a group
with bibliographic interests in common, and the pleasures of a
non-commercial game of cards), when I heard a voice, one of a group
outside, belonging to a wholesome, smooth-faced young fellow, with good
tastes and instincts, say:--
"'I don't know what happened to the old boy when he took that unheard-of
vacation of his last fall, or where he went, but one thing's very sure,
since his return Cortright's grown _pudgy_ and he's waked bang up. Wonder
if he's finished that Colonial History, that's to be his monument, he's
been working on all his life, or if he's fallen in love?'
"'If he'd fall in love, he might stand more chance of finishing his
history,' replied a graybeard friend in deep didactic tones; 'he has
material in plenty, but no vital stimulus for focussing his work.'
"I gave an unpremeditated laugh that dwindled to a chuckle, as if it were
produced by a choking process. Two heads appeared a second at the doorway
of the room they had thought empty, and then vanished!
"When I came home I sat a long while before my den fireplace thinking.
They were right in two things, though not in the falling in love--that
was done thirty-five years ago once and for all. I wondered if I had
grown _pudgy_, dreadful word; _stout_ carries a certain dignity, but
pudgy suggests bunchy, wabbling flesh. I've noticed my gloves go on
lingeringly, clinging at the joints, but I read that to mean rheumatism!
"That night I stood before the mirror and studied my face as I unbuttoned
my vest and loosened my shirt band at the neck. Suddenly I experienced
great relief. For several months past I have felt a strange asphyxiation
and a vertigo sensation when wearing formal clothes of any kind, enjoying
complete comfort only in the loose neckcloth and wrapper of my private
hours. I had thought of asking medical advice, but having acquired a
distrust of general physic in my youth, and hoping you might come down, I
put it off.
"Unfasten your own top button, and now prepare to laugh--Martin Cortright
is not threatened with apoplexy or heart failure, he's grown _pudgy_, and
his clothes are all too small! Yet but for that boy's good-tempered
ridicule he might not have discovered it.
"Think of it, Richard! I, whom my mother considered interesting and of
somewhat distinguished mien, owing to my pallor and slim stature! A
pudgy worm belongs to chestnuts, not to books. A pudgy antiquarian is a
thing unheard of since monastic days, when annal making was not deemed
out of place if mingled with the rotund jollity of a Friar Tuck. You
must bear half the blame, for it must be the butter habit that your
Martha Corkle's fresh churned pats inoculated me with, for I always
detested the stuff before.
"Graybeard's stricture, however, struck a deeper chord--'He has material
in plenty for his book, but no vital stimulus.' This, too, is deeply
true, and I have felt it vaguely so for some time, but no more realized
it than I did my pudginess.
"No matter how much material one collects, if the vitalizing spirit is
not there, no matter how realistically the stage may be set if the actors
are mere dummies. The only use of the past is to illuminate and sustain
"Your own home life and work, the honest questions of little Richard and
Ian waken me from a long sleep, I believe, and set me thinking. What is
a man remembered by the longest? Brain work, memorial building, or heart
touching? Do you recollect once meeting old Moore--Clement Clark
Moore--at my father's? He was a profound scholar in Greek and Hebrew
lexicology, and gave what was once his country house and garden in old
Chelsea Village to the theological seminary of his professorship. How
many people remember this, or his scholarship? But before that old
rooftree was laid low, he wrote beneath it, quite offhand, a little
poem, 'The Night Before Christmas,' that blends with childhood's dreams
anew each Christmas Eve--a few short verses holding more vitality than
all his learning.
"If my book ever takes body, my friend, it will be under your roof, where
you and yours can vitalize it. This is no fishing for invitations--we
know each other too frankly well for that. What I wish to do is to come
into your neighbourhood next springtime, without encroaching on your
hospitality, and work some hours every day in the library, or that corner
of her charmed attic that Barbara has shared with me. It is bewitching.
Upon my word, I do not wonder that she sees the world rose-colour as she
looks upon it from that window. I, too, had long reveries there, in which
experience and tradition mixed themselves so cleverly that for the time I
could not tell whether it was my father or myself who had sometimes
proudly escorted the lovely Carroll sisters upon their afternoon
promenade down Broadway, from Prince Street to the Bowling Green, each
leading her pet greyhound by a ribbon leash, or which of us it was that,
in seeking to recapture an escaping hound, was upset by it in the mud, to
the audible delight of some rivals in a 'bus and his own discomfiture,
being rendered thereby unseemly for the beauty's further company."
* * * * *
"January 20, 19--.
"Thank you, dear Richard, for your brotherly letter. I make no
protestations, for I know your invitation would not be given if you felt
my presence would in any way be a drawback or impose care on any member
of your household, and the four little hearts that Barbara drew, with her
own, Evan's, and the boys' initials in them, are seals upon the
"Do not deplore, however, the lack of nearness of my haunts in Astor and
Lenox libraries. Times are changed, and the new order condemns me to sit
here if I read, there if I take out pencil and pad to copy--the red tape
distracts me. The old Historical Society alone remains in comfortable
confusion, and that is soon to move upward half a day's walk.
"But, as it chances, you have collected many of the volumes that are
necessary to me, and I will use them freely, for some day, friend of
mine, my books will be joined to yours, and also feel the touch of little
Richard's and Ian's fingers, and of their sons, also, I hope.
"I declare, I'm growing childishly expectant and impatient for spring,
like Barbara with her packages of flower seeds.
"You ask if I ever remember meeting one Lavinia Dorman. I think I used to
see her with a bevy of girls from Miss Black's school, who used sometimes
to attend lectures at the Historical Society rooms, and had an unlimited
appetite for the chocolate and sandwiches that were served below in the
'tombs' afterward, which appetite I may have helped to appease, for you
know father was always a sort of mine host at those functions.
"The girls must have all been eight or ten years my junior, and you know
how a fellow of twenty-three or four regards giggling schoolgirls--they
seem quite like kittens to him.
"Stop, was she one of the older girls, the special friend of--Barbara's
mother? If so, I remember her face, though she did not walk in the school
procession with the other 'convicts,' as the boys called them; but I was
"I'm sending a small birthday token to the boys--a little printing-press.
Richard showed no small skill in setting the letters of my rubber stamp.
It is some days late, but that will separate it from the glut of the
Christmas market. Ask Evan to notify me if he and Barbara go to town.
WHEN BARBARA GOES TO TOWN
_March_ 4. I like to go to a plain people's play, where the spectators
groan and hiss the villain. It is a wholesome sort of clearing house
where one may be freed from pent-up emotion under cover of other people's
tears and smiles; the smiles triumphing at the end, which always winds up
with a sudden recoil, leaving the nerves in a healthy thrill. I believe
that I can only comprehend the primal emotions and what is called in
intellectual jargon mental dissipation, and the problem play, in its many
phases, appeals to me even less than crude physical dissipation.
We have seen a drama of the people played quite recently, having been to
New York to spend part of a "midwinter" week's vacation, which father
insisted that Evan should take between two rather complex and
eye-straining pieces of work. Speaking by the almanac, it wasn't
midwinter at all, but pre-spring, which, in spite of lengthening _days_,
is the only uncompromisingly disagreeable season in the country--the time
when measles usually invades the village school, the dogs come slinking
in guiltily to the fire, pasted with frozen mud, the boys have snuffle
colds, in spite of father's precautions, and I grow desperate and flout
the jonquils in my window garden, it seems so very long since summer, and
longer yet to real budding spring. We arrived at home last night in the
wildest snowstorm of the season, and this morning Evan, having smoothed
out his mental wrinkles by means of our mild city diversions, is now
filling his lungs and straightening his shoulders by building a wonderful
snow fort for the boys. Presently I shall go down to help them bombard
him in it, and try to persuade them that it will last longer if they do
not squeeze the snowballs too hard, for Evan has prohibited "baking"
The "baking" of snowballs consists of making up quite a batch at once,
then dipping them in water and leaving them out until they are hard as
rocks, and really wicked missiles.
The process, unknown in polite circles here, though practised by the
factory town "muskrats," was taught my babies by the Vanderveer boy
during the Christmas holidays, which, being snowy and bright, drew the
colony to the Bluffs for coasting, skating, etc., giving father such a
river of senseless accidents to wade through that he threatens to absent
himself and take refuge with Martin Cortright in his Irving Place den for
holiday week next year. Father has ridden many a night when the roads
would not admit of wheeling, without thought of complaint, to the
charcoal camp to tend a new mother, a baby, or a woodchopper suddenly
stricken with pneumonia, that is so common a disease among men living as
these do on poor food, in tiny close cabins, and continually getting
checks of perspiration in the variable climate. During the holidays he
was called to the Bluffs in the middle of two consecutive nights, first
to the Vanderveers, and requested to "drug" the second assistant butler,
who was wildly drunk, and being a recent acquisition had been brought to
officiate at the house party without due trial, "so that he wouldn't be
used up the next day," and then to the Ponsonby's, where the family had
evidently not yet gone to bed. Here he found that the patient, a visiting
school friend of one of the daughters, from up the state, and evidently
not used to the whirl of the pool, had skated all day, and, kept going by
unaccustomed stimulants, taken half from ignorance, half from bravado,
had danced the evening through at the club house, and then collapsed. Her
hostess, careless through familiarity with it, had given her a dose of
one of the chloral mixtures "to let her have a good night's sleep"; but
instead it had sent her into hysterics, and she was calling wildly for
her mother to come and take her home. Father returned from both visits
fairly white with rage. Not at the unfortunates themselves, be it said,
but at the cool nonchalance of those who summoned him.
The butler's was a common enough case. That of the young girl moved him
to pity, and then indignation, as he sifted, out the cause of the attack,
in order to treat her intelligently. This questioning Mrs. Ponsonby
resented most emphatically, telling him "to attend to his business and
not treat ladies as if they were criminals." This to a man of father's
professional ability, and one of over sixty years of age in the bargain.
"Madam," said he, "you _are_ a criminal; for to my thinking all
preventable illness, such as this, is a crime. Leave the room, and when I
have soothed this poor child I will go home; and remember, do not send
for me again; it will be useless."
Never a word did he say of the matter at home, though I read part in his
face; but the Ponsonby's housekeeper, a countrywoman of Martha Corkle's,
took the news to her, adding "and the missus stepped lively too, she
did; only, law's sakes, by next mornin' she'd forgot all about it, and,
we being short-handed, wanted me to go down with James and get the Doctor
up to spray her throat for a hoarseness, and I remindin' her what he'd
said, she laughed and answered, 'He had a bear's manners,' but to go tell
him she'd pay him city prices, and she bet that would mend him and them!"
I took good care not to repeat this to father, for he would be wounded.
He is beginning to see that they use him as a sort of ambulance surgeon,
but he does not yet understand the absolute money insolence of these
people to those not of their "set," whom they consider socially or
financially beneath them, and I hope he never may. He is so full of good
will to all men, so pitiful toward weakness and sin, and has kept his
faith in human nature through thirty-five years' practice in a factory
town, hospital wards, charcoal camp, and among the odd characters of the
scattering hillsides, that it would be an undying shame to have it
shattered by the very people that the others regard with hopeless envy.
Shame on you, Barbara, but you are growing bitter. Yes, I know you do
not yourself mind left-handed snubs and remarks about your being
"comfortably poor," but you won't have that splendid old father of yours
put upon and sneezed at, with cigarette sneezes, too. You should realize
that they don't know any better, also that presently they may become
dreadfully bored after the manner of degenerates and move away from the
Bluffs, and then companionable, commuting, or summer resident people will
have a chance to buy their houses.
Shrewd Martha Corkle foresaw the probable outcome the day that the
foundation-stone for the first cottage was laid, even before our
prettiest flower-hedged lane was shorn and torn up to make it into a
macadam road, in order to shorten the time, for motor vehicles, between
the Bluffs and the station by possibly three minutes. Not that the people
were obliged to be on time for early trains, for they are mostly the
reapers of other people's sowing; but to men of a certain calibre, born
for activity, the feeling that, simply for the pleasure of it, they can
wait until the very latest moment and still get there, is an amusement
savouring of both chance and power.
"Yes, Mrs. Evan," said Martha, with as much of a sniff as she felt
compatible with her dignity, "I knows colernies of folks not born to or
loving the soil, but just trying to get something temporary out o' it in
the way o' pleasure, as rabbits, or mayhap bad smelling water for the
rheumatics. (It was the waters Lunnon swells came for down on the old
estate.) To my thinkin' these pleasure colernies is bad things; they
settles as senseless as a swarm of bees, just because their leader's lit
there first; and when they've buzzed themselves out and moved on, like as
not some sillies as has come gapin' too close is bit fatal or poisoned
Well-a-day! Evan says that I take things to heart that belong to the head
alone, while father says that, to his mind, feeling is much more of a
need to-day than logic; so what can I do but still stumble along
according to feeling.
A shout from beneath the window, then a soft snowball on it, the signal
that the fort is finished,--yes, and the old Christmas tree stuck up top
as a standard. Richard has built a queer-looking snow man with red knobs
all over his chest and stomach, while Ian has achieved several most
curious looking things with carrot horns,--whatever are they? Father has
just driven in, and is laughing heartily, and Evan is waving to me.
* * * * *
Calm reigns again. The fort has surrendered, the final charge having been
led by Corney Delaney. We've had hot milk all around, father has retired
to the study to decipher a complicated letter from Aunt Lot, Evan has
taken the boys into the den for a drawing lesson, and the mystery of the
snow man is solved.
We do not intend to have the boys learn any regular lessons before
another fall, but for the last two years I have managed that they
should sit still and be occupied with something every morning, so that
they may learn how to keep quiet without its being a strain,--shelling
peas, cutting papers for jelly pots, stringing popcorn for the hospital
Christmas tree, seeding raisins with a dozen for pay at the end--this
latter is an heroic feat when it is accomplished without drawing the
pay on the instalment plan--and many other little tasks, varied
according to season.
Ian has a quick eye and comprehension, and he is extremely colour
sensitive, but healthily ignorant of book learning, while Richard, how we
do not know, has learned to read in a fashion of his own, not seeming yet
to separate letters or words, but "swallowing the sense in lumps," as
Martha puts it.
Yesterday, before our return, the weather being threatening, and the
boys, keyed for mischief, clamouring and uneasy, very much as birds and
animals are before a storm, father invited them to spend the afternoon
with him in the study, and Martha Corkle, who mounts guard during my
brief holidays, saw that their paws were scrubbed, and then relaxed her
vigilance, joining Evan in the sewing room.
After many three-cornered discussions as to what liberty was to be
allowed the boys in study and den, we decided that when they learned to
respect books in the handling they should be free to browse as they
pleased; the curiosities, rarities, and special professional literature,
being behind glass doors, could easily be protected by lock and key.
Father's theory is that if you want children to love books, no barriers
must be interposed from the beginning, and that being so much with us the
boys will only understand what is suited to their age, and therefore the
harmful will pass them by. I was never shut from the library shelves, or
mysteries made about the plain-spoken literature of other days, in spite
of Aunt Lot's fuming. I did not understand it, so it did not tempt, and
as I look back, I realize that the book of life was spread before me
wisely and gradually, father turning page after page, then passing the
task to Evan, so that I never had a shock or disillusionment.
I wonder if mother had lived if I should think differently, and be more
apprehensive about the boys, womanwise? I think not; for I am a
sun-loving Pagan all through, really born far back in an overlooked
corner of Eden, and I prefer the forceful father influence that teaches
one _to overcome_ rather than the mother cult which is _to bear_, for so
much is cumbrously borne in self-glorified martyrdom by women of their
I know that I am very primitive in my instincts and emotions; so are the
boys, and that keeps us close, or so close, together.
Of course illustrated books are now the chief attraction to them in the
library, and yesterday, when father went there with the boys, he supplied
Ian, as usual, with "The Uncivilized Races of Man," which always opens of
itself at the Mumbo Jumbo picture, and as a great treat for Richard, took
down the three quarto volumes of Audubon's "Quadrupeds," and ranged them
on a low stand with a stool in front of it. Then, being tired after a
hard morning's work, he drew his big leather chair near the, fire, put on
an extra log, and proceeded to--meditate. You will doubtless notice
that when father or husband close their eyes, sitting in comfortable
chairs by the fire, they are always meditating, and never sleeping,
little nosey protestations to the contrary.
Father's meditations must have been long and deep, for when he was
startled from them by the breaking in two of the hickory log, a gory
spectacle met his eyes.
Richard was sitting on the hearth rug, which he had carefully covered
with newspapers; these, as well as his hands and face, were stained a
deep crimson, while with a stout silver fruit-knife he was hacking pieces
from a great pulpy red mass before him.
Checking an exclamation of horror father started forward, to meet
Richard's cheerful, frank gaze and the request, as he dug away
persistently, to "Please wait one minute more, dranpa. I've got the heart
all done, that big floppy piece is lungs, an' I've most made the liver.
Not the good kind that goes wif curly bacon, but a nasty one like what we
Then spying a medical chart with coloured pictures that was propped up
against the wood box, father found the clew, and comprehended that
Richard was giving himself a practical lesson in anatomy by trying to
carve these organs from a huge mangel wurzel beet that he had rolled in
from the root cellar. Did father scold him for mess-making, or laugh at
his attempt that had little shape except in his own baby brain?
No, neither; he carefully closed the door against Martha's possible
entrance, seriously and respectfully put the precious objects on a plate,
to which he gave a place of honour on the mantel shelf, and after
removing as far as possible all traces of beet from face and hands in his
sacred office lavatory, he took Richard with him into the depths of the
great chair and told the happy child his favourite rigmarole, all about
the "three gentlemen of high degree," who do our housework for us. How
the lungs, who are Siamese twins, called to the heart to pump them up
some blood to air, because they were almost out of work, and how the big
lazy liver lay on one side and groaned because he had drunk too much
coffee for breakfast, and had a headache,--until Richard really felt that
he had achieved something. So the first thing this morning he set about
making a snow man, that he might put the beet vitals in their proper
places, nearly convulsing father by their location. Though, as he told
me, they were accurate, compared to the ideas of many trained nurses with
whom he had come in contact.
But where was Ian during the beet carving? Father quite forgot him
until, Richard falling asleep in his arms, he arose to tuck him up on
the sofa. A sound of the slow turning of large pages guided him to the
corner by the bay window where some bookcases, standing back to back,
made a sort of alcove. There was Ian, flat upon his stomach, while
before him the "Wandering Jew" legend, with the Dore pictures, lay open
at the final scene--The Last Judgment--where the Jew, his journey over,
looks up at the angels coming to greet him, while little devils pull
vainly at his tattered boots. It was not the Jew or the angels, however,
that held Ian's attention, and whose outlines he was tracing with his
forefinger, but the devils, one big fellow with cows' horns and wings
drooping like those of a moulting crow, and a bevy of imps with young
horns and curly tails who were pulling a half-buried body toward the
fiery pit by its hair.
Father explained the pictures in brief, and closed the book as quickly as
possible, thinking the boy might be frightened in his dreams by the
demons. But no, Ian was fascinated, not frightened. He would have liked
the pygmies to come and play with him, and he turned to father with a
sigh, saying, "They're bully pullers, dranpop. I guess if they and me
pulled against Corney Delaney we could get him over the line all right,"
one of the boys' favourite pastimes being to play tug-of-war with the
goat, the rope being fastened to its horns, but Corney was always
Neither did Ian forget the imps quickly, as some children do their
impressions, but strove to model them this morning, making round snow
bodies, carrot horns, corncob legs, and funny celery tails; the result
being positively startling and "overmuch like witch brats," as Effie
declared, with bulging eyes.
They unfortunately did not perish with the fort, for Richard doesn't like
them; but are now huddled in a group under the old Christmas tree, where
Lark is barking at them.
* * * * *
I started to record our visit to Lavinia Dorman, but my "human
documents," printed on vellum, came between, and I would not miss a word
they have to say for the "Mechlinia Albertus Magnus," which father says
is the rarest book in the world, though Evan disputes his preference, and
Martin Cortright would doubtless prefer the first edition of Denton's
In past times, when we have visited Miss Lavinia, we have been fairly
meek and decorous guests, following the programme that she planned with
such infinite attention to detail that free will was impossible, and we
often felt like paper dolls.
We had read her lament on the death of sociability and back yards with
many a smile, and a sigh also, for to one born in the pool, every ripple
that stirs it must be of importance, and it is impossible for outsiders
to urge her to step out of the eddies altogether and begin anew, for New
Yorkitis seems to be not only a rarely curable disease to those who have
it, but an hereditary one as well.
As usual, Evan came to the rescue, as we sat in the den the night before
our departure. "Let us turn tables on Miss Lavinia this time and take her
to see our New York," he said, "since we are all quite tired of hers. Do
you remember the time when we went to town to buy the trappings for the
boys' first tree and were detained until Christmas morning by the delay
of a cable I had to wait for? After dinner Christmas Eve we coaxed Miss
Lavinia out with us and bought half a bushel of jolly little toys from
street fakirs to take home, and then boarded an elevated train and rode
about the city until after midnight, in and out the downtown streets and
along the outskirts, to see all the poor people's Christmas trees in the
second stories of tenements, cheap flats, and over little shops. How she
enjoyed it, and said that she never dreamed that tenement people could be
so happy; and she finally waxed so enthusiastic that she gave a silver
half dollar each to four little newsboys crouching over the steam on a
grating in Twenty-third Street, and when they cheered her and a policeman
came along, we told the dear old soul that he evidently thought her a
suspicious character, a counterfeiter at the very least. And she always
spoke afterward with bated breath on the dangers of the streets late at
night, and her narrow escape from arrest. We came to New York unsated and
without responsibilities to push us, and looked from the outside in.
"No, Barbara, you did better than you knew that day six years ago, when
we sat in the Somerset garden, and you persuaded me to become a commuter
and let you plant a garden, promising never to talk about servants, and
you've kept your word. I was dubious then, but now--if you only knew the
tragedies I've seen among men of my means and aims these last few years,
the struggle to be in the swim, or rather the backwater of it. The
disappointment, the debt and despair, the pink teas and blue dinners
given in cramped flats, the good fellows afraid to say no to wives whose
hearts are set on being thought 'in it,' and the wives, haggard and
hollow-eyed because the husbands wish to keep the pace by joining clubs
that are supposedly the hall-marks of the millionnaire. New York is the
best place for doing everything in but three--to be born in, to live in,
and to die in."
"So you wish us to play bachelor girl and man for a few days, and herd
Miss Lavinia about, which I suppose is the pith of these heroics of
yours," I said, rather astonished, for Evan seldom preaches. "I never
knew that you were such an anti-whirlpooler before, and I've at times
felt selfish about keeping you at the old home, though not since the boys
came, it's so healthy for them, bless them. Now I feel quite relieved,"
and I arranged a little crisp curl that will break loose in spite of
persistent wetting, for men always seem to discourage curly hair, father
keeping his shorn like a prize-fighter. This curl softens the rigour of
Evan's horseshoe scowl, and when I fix it gives him a chance to put his
arm around my waist, which is the only satisfactory way of discussing
plans for a pleasure trip.
We arrived in town duly a little before dinner time. It is one of Evan's
comfortable travelling habits, this always arriving at a new place at the
end of day, so as to get the bearings and be adjusted when we awake next
morning. To arrive in the morning, when paying a visit especially, is
reversing the natural order of things; you are absent-minded until lunch,
sleepy all the afternoon, dyspeptic at dinner, when, like as not, some
one you have wholly forgotten or hoped to is asked to meet you. If the
theatre follows, you recuperate, but if it is cards (of which I must have
a prenatal hatred, it is so intense) with the apology, "I thought you
might be tired and prefer a cosey game of whist to going out," you trump
your partner's tricks, lead the short suits and mix clubs and spades with
equal oblivion, and, finally, going to bed, leave a bad impression behind
that causes your hostess to say, strictly to herself, if she is
charitable, "How Barbara has deteriorated; she used to be a good talker,
but then, poor dear, living in the country is _so_ narrowing."
Of course if you merely go away to spend the day it is different; you
generally keep on the move and go home to recover from it. And how men
usually hate staying in other people's houses, no matter how wide they
keep their doors open or how hospitably inclined they may be themselves.
They seem to be self-conscious, and are constrained to alter their
ordinary habits, which makes them miserable and feel as if they had given
up their free will and identity. There are only two places that I ever
dream of taking Evan, and Lavinia Dorman's is one of them.
When we had made ourselves smart for dinner and joined Miss Lavinia by
the fire in her tiny library, we read by her hair that she was evidently
intending to stay at home that evening, for her head has its nodes like
the moon. She has naturally pretty, soft wavy hair, with now and then a
silver streak running through it. I have often seen Lucy when she brushes
it out at night. But because there is a dash of white in the front as if
a powder puff had rested there a moment by accident, it is screwed into a
little knob and covered with skilfully made yet perfectly apparent
frontlets to represent the different styles of hair-dressing affected by
women of abundant locks.
No. 1, worn at breakfast, is the most reasonable. It is quite plain,
slightly waved, and has a few stray hairs carelessly curved where it
joins the forehead. No. 2 is for rainy weather; the curls are fuzzy and
evidently baked in; it requires a durable veil to keep it in
countenance. Evan calls it the "rasher of bacon front." No. 3 is for
calling and all entertainments where the bonnet stays on; it has a baby
bang edge a trifle curled and a substantial cushion atop to hold the hat
pins; while No. 4, the one she wore on our arrival, is an elaborate
evening toupie with a pompadour rolling over on itself and drooping
slightly over one eye while it melts into a butterfly bow and handful of
puffs on the crown that in turn end in a single curl behind.
We had a dainty little dinner, grape fruit, clear soup, smelts, wild
duck, salad, fruit, and coffee, and it was daintily served, for Miss
Lavinia always keeps a good cook and remembers our dislike of the various
forms of hash known as entrees.
The coffee was placed on a low mahogany stand by the library fire, and
Miss Lavinia herself handed Evan a quaint little silver lamp by which to
light his cigar, for she has all the cosmopolitan instincts of a woman
who not only knows the world but had heard her father discuss tobacco,
and really enjoyed the soothing fragrance of a good cigar.
As soon as we were settled and poor singed Josephus had tiptoed in by
the fire, evidently trying to make up for his shabby coat by the
profundity of his purr, Evan set forth his scheme to our hostess. We
were to lodge and breakfast with her, but after that she was to play our
way, and be at our disposal morning, afternoon, and evening, at
luncheon, dinner, and supper, and the game was to be the old-fashioned
one of "follow the leader!"
At first Miss Lavinia hesitated regretfully, it seemed so
inhospitable,--she had thought to take us to several parlour concerts.
Mrs. Vanderdonk, she that was a De Leyster, was going to throw open her
picture gallery for charity, which would give us an opportunity to see
her new house. In fact the undertow of the Whirlpool was still pulling at
her ankles, even though she had freed her head, and it seemed impossible
to her that there could be any New York other than the one she knew.
Finally her almost girlish vitality asserted itself, and bargaining that
we should allow her one evening to have Sylvia Latham to dinner, she
"Then we will begin at once by going to the theatre," said Evan, jumping
up and looking at the clock, which pointed at a few minutes of eight.
"Have you tickets? Isn't this a little sudden?" asked Miss Lavinia with a
little gasp, evidently remembering that her hair was arranged for the
"No, I have no tickets, but Barbara and I always go in this way, and if
we cannot get in at one place we try another, for usually some good seats
are returned from the outside ticket offices a few minutes before the
play begins. The downtown theatres open the earliest, so we can start
near by and work our way upward, if necessary."
To my surprise in five minutes Miss Lavinia was ready, and we sallied
forth, Evan sandwiched between us. As the old Dorman house is in the
northeastern corner of what was far away Greenwich Village,--at the
time-the Bouerie was a blooming orchard, and is meshed in by a curious
jumble of thoroughfares, that must have originally either followed the
tracks of wandering cattle or worthy citizens who had lost their
bearings, for Waverley Place comes to an untimely end in West Eleventh
Street, and Fourth Street collides with Horatio and is headed off by
Thirteenth Street before it has a chance even to catch a glimpse of the
river,--a few steps brought us into Fourteenth Street, where naming
gas-jets announced that the play of "Jim Bludso" might be seen.
"Dear me!" ejaculated Miss Lavinia, "do people still go to this theatre?
The last time I came here it was in the seventies to see Mrs. Rousby as
When we took our seats the play, founded, as the bill informed us,
upon one of the Pike County Ballads, had begun, and Miss Lavinia soon
It is a great deal to be surrounded by an audience all thoroughly in the
mood to be swayed by the emotion of the piece, plain people, perhaps, but
solidly honest. Directly in front sat a young couple; the girl, in a
fresh white silk waist, wore so fat and new a wedding ring upon her
ungloved hand, which the man held in a tight grip, that I surmised that
this trip into stageland was perhaps their humble wedding journey, from
which they would return to "rooms" made ready by jubilant relatives, eat
a wonderful supper, and begin life.
The next couple were not so entirely _en rapport_. The girl, who wore