Towards the end of
the Christmas vacation.
Exact date unknown.
Is it snowing where you are? All the world that I see from my tower is draped in white and the flakes are coming down as big as pop-corns. It's late afternoon—the sun is just setting (a cold yellow color) behind some colder violet hills, and I am up in my window seat using the last light to write to you.
Your five gold pieces were a surprise! I'm not used to receiving Christmas presents. You have already given me such lots of things—everything I have, you know--that I don't quite feel that I deserve extras. But I like them just the same. Do you want to know what I bought with my money?
I. A silver watch in a leather case to wear on my wrist and get me to recitations in time.
II. Matthew Arnold's poems.
III. A hot water bottle.
IV. A steamer rug. (My tower is cold.)
V. Five hundred sheets of yellow manuscript paper. (I'm going to commence being an author pretty soon.)
VI. A dictionary of synonyms. (To enlarge the author's vocabulary.)
VII. (I don't much like to confess this last item, but I will.) A pair of silk stockings.
And now, Daddy, never say I don't tell all!
It was a very low motive, if you must know it, that prompted the silk stockings. Julia Pendleton comes into my room to do geometry, and she sits cross-legged on the couch and wears silk stockings every night. But just wait—as soon as she gets back from vacation I shall go in and sit on her couch in my silk stockings. You see, Daddy, the miserable creature that I am but at least I'm honest; and you knew already, from my asylum record, that I wasn't perfect, didn't you?
To recapitulate (that's the way the English instructor begins every other sentence), I am very much obliged for my seven presents. I'm pretending to myself that they came in a box from my family in California. The watch is from father, the rug from mother, the hot water bottle from grandmother who is always worrying for fear I shall catch cold in this climate—and the yellow paper from my little brother Harry. My sister Isabel gave me the silk stockings, and Aunt Susan the Matthew Arnold poems; Uncle Harry ( little Harry is named after him) gave me the dictionary. He wanted to send chocolates, but I insisted on synonyms.
You don't object, do you, to playing the part of a composite family?
And now, shall I tell you about my vacation, or are you only interested in my education as such? I hope you appreciate the delicate shade of meaning in "as such." It is the latest addition to my vocabulary.
The girl from Texas is named Leonora Fenton. (Almost as funny as Jerusha, isn't it?) I like her, but not so much as Sallie McBride; I shall never like any one so much as Sallie—except you. I must always like you the best of all, because you're my whole family rolled into one. Leonora and I and two Sophomores have walked 'cross country every pleasant day and explored the whole neighborhood, dressed in short skirts and knit jackets and caps, and carrying shiny sticks to whack things with. Once we walked into town —four miles—and stopped at a restaurant where the college girls go for dinner. Broiled lobster (35 cents), and for dessert, buckwheat cakes and maple syrup (15 cents). Nourishing and cheap.
It was such a lark! Especially for me, because it was so awfully different from the asylum--I feel like an escaped convict every time I leave the campus. Before I thought, I started to tell the others what an experience I was having. The cat was almost out of the bag when I grabbed it by its tail and pulled it back. It's awfully hard for me not to tell everything I know. I'm a very confiding soul by nature; if I didn't have you to tell things to, I'd burst.
We had a molasses candy pull last Friday evening, given by the house matron of Fergussen to the left-behinds in the other halls. There were twenty-two of us altogether, Freshmen and Sophomores and juniors and Seniors all united in amicable accord. The kitchen is huge, with copper pots and kettles hanging in rows on the stone wall—the littlest casserole among them about the size of a wash boiler. Four hundred girls live in Fergussen. The chef, in a white cap and apron, fetched out twenty-two other white caps and aprons--I can't imagine where he got so many—and we all turned ourselves into cooks.
It was great fun, though I have seen better candy. When it was finally finished, and ourselves and the kitchen and the door-knobs all thoroughly sticky, we organized a procession and still in our caps and aprons, each carrying a big fork or spoon or frying pan, we marched through the empty corridors to the officers' parlor, where half-a-dozen professors and instructors were passing a tranquil evening. We serenaded them with college songs and offered refreshments. They accepted politely but dubiously. We left them sucking chunks of molasses candy, sticky and speechless.
So you see, Daddy, my education progresses!
Don't you really think that I ought to be an artist instead of an author?
Vacation will be over in two days and I shall be glad to see the girls again. My tower is just a trifle lonely; when nine people occupy a house that was built for four hundred, they do rattle around a bit.
Eleven pages—poor Daddy, you must be tired! I meant this to be just a short little thank-you note—but when I get started I seem to have a ready pen.
Goodbye, and thank you for thinking of me—I should be perfectly happy except for one little threatening cloud on the horizon. Examinations come in February.
Yours with love,
PS. Maybe it isn't proper to send love? If it isn't, please excuse. But I must love somebody and there's only you and Mrs. Lippett to choose between, so you see—you'll have to put up with it, Daddy dear, because I can't love her.
On the Eve.
You should see the way this college is studying! We've forgotten we ever had a vacation. Fifty-seven irregular verbs have I introduced to my brain in the past four days—I'm only hoping they'll stay till after examinations.
Some of the girls sell their text-books when they're through with them, but I intend to keep mine. Then after I've graduated I shall have my whole education in a row in the bookcase, and when I need to use any detail, I can turn to it without the slightest hesitation. So much easier and more accurate than trying to keep it in your head.
Julia Pendleton dropped in this evening to pay a social call, and stayed a solid hour. She got started on the subject of family, and I couldn't switch her off. She wanted to know what my mother's maiden name was—did you ever hear such an impertinent question to ask of a person from a foundling asylum? I didn't have the courage to say I didn't know, so I just miserably plumped on the first name I could think of, and that was Montgomery. Then she wanted to know whether I belonged to the Massachusetts Montgomerys or the Virginia Montgomerys.
Her mother was a Rutherford. The family came over in the ark, and were connected by marriage with Henry the VIII. On her father's side they date back further than Adam. On the topmost branches of her family tree there's a superior breed of monkeys with very fine silky hair and extra long tails.
I meant to write you a nice, cheerful, entertaining letter tonight, but I'm too sleepy—and scared. The Freshman's lot is not a happy one.
Yours, about to be examined,
I have some awful, awful, awful news to tell you, but I won't begin with it; I'll try to get you in a good humor first.
Jerusha Abbott has commenced to be an author. A poem entitled, "From my Tower", appears in the February Monthly—on the first page, which is a very great honour for a Freshman. My English instructor stopped me on the way out from chapel last night, and said it was a charming piece of work except for the sixth line, which had too many feet. I will send you a copy in case you care to read it.
Let me see if I can't think of something else pleasant—Oh, yes! I'm learning to skate, and can glide about quite respectably all by myself. Also I've learned how to slide down a rope from the roof of the gymnasium, and I can vault a bar three feet and six inches high—I hope shortly to pull up to four feet.
We had a very inspiring sermon this morning preached by the Bishop of Alabama. His text was: "Judge not that ye be not judged." It was about the necessity of overlooking mistakes in others, and not discouraging people by harsh judgments. I wish you might have heard it.
This is the sunniest, most blinding winter afternoon, with icicles dripping from the fir trees and all the world bending under a weight of snow—except me, and I'm bending under a weight of sorrow.
Now for the news—courage, Judy!—you must tell.
Are you surely in a good humour? I failed in mathematics and Latin prose. I am tutoring in them, and will take another examination next month. I'm sorry if you're disappointed, but otherwise I don't care a bit because I've learned such a lot of things not mentioned in the catalogue. I've read seventeen novels and bushels of poetry—really necessary novels like "Vanity Fair" and "Richard Feverel" and "Alice in Wonderland". Also Emerson's "Essays" and Lockhart's "Life of Scott" and the first volume of Gibbon's "Roman Empire" and half of Benvenuto Cellini's "Life"—wasn't he entertaining? He used to saunter out and casually kill a man before breakfast.
So you see, Daddy, I'm much more intelligent than if I'd just stuck to Latin. Will you forgive me this once if I promise never to fail again?
Yours in sackcloth,