Diary of a Nervous Invalid
IM what they call a trained nurse and a strictly professional woman. The only reason Ive got for bringin myself in here is to explain that I come by this diary all right. It was give to me by the one that wrote it, who was an own cousin of mine, though Im free to say she warnt ever very proud of the connection. I guess its all right in the writin way, for she and her family always set up to know all about books. She give it to me when she went off to India and told me to do what I liked with it. I kep it quite a spell before I read it. Then I showed it to Dr. P., the great authority on this sort of cases, and he told me to send it to a magazine, and thats what I done ; and thats all there is of it cept for two or three things I couldnt help puttin in.
SARAH J. PLUNKETT.
June 7, 1886. Another miserable night. Counted the clock hammer out all the small hours. What a heathenish fashion to have clocks strike in the night! I lay actually trembling between the strokes.
An alarm of fire, too, but nobody in our house heard it. Mother and Maria sleep through noises like that and call themselves light sleepers.
But that is nothing ; one does get now and then perfunctory sympathy for such commonplace clatter. It is the things other folks don’t hear — the cracking of furniture, the snapping of basket-ware, the wave-sounds of nothingness, the crepitation of impalpable ether — which make the night infernal.
I was calculating during my sleeplessness, I have been ill ten years to-day. Ten ? Ten, and I am still alive. I shudder to think what I have been through, — the doctors, the nurses, the systems, the cures, and all the fol-de-rol; and the money, too, I have paid out, or mother has paid out for me, and the faith I had in them all. That, perhaps, was just as well: the more fool I was in that respect, the happier for the time being.
It is clear enough now that I can never get well. The physical misery I could bear,— I am used to it; but the insensibility and stupidity of human beings,— can I bear that ? We shall see !
June 13. Worse for a week. A steady downpour. It is bad enough to get along in the sunshine. They say there are climates where it never rains, and if I ever get rich — But my wits are wandering.
Phil came to-day. He has a malign ingenuity for choosing the hour for my nap. Of course I had to see him, or he would have gone away hurt.
It is almost incredible to think, however, that we are actually engaged, — a man with no spontaneous feeling whatever. As he sat staring at me, so ruddy, so round-faced, so well, and hoped I was more comfortable and was getting better,
I had a weak inclination to scream. But I dare say he is just like other men.
June 20. Three fairly good days, when what does Maria do but let Mrs. Prattle loose on me. Maria certainly acts sometimes as if she were out of her head. Mrs. P. stayed an entire hour, and talked every circling instant. Such talk! the veriest gabble. How occupied with themselves these young married women are ! On the whole, if there is one social bore worse than another, they bear off the palm. It’s always the same twaddle ; always about their babies. As if babies were n’t as alike as a litter of puppies, or there could be anything new to say about them ! The idea, too, of coming to see an invalid and never asking a question or saying a word of sympathy ! Positively, during the entire hour of her visit, that intelligent, wellmeaning woman never so much as referred to me. It was so richly humorous that I let her go on. I had to pay for it; a terrible night.
June 23. Mother has heard such wonderful accounts of the massage treatment that she has persuaded me to try it. It sounds well enough, and I am willing to try anything.
Did up my own hair, because Maria had to go out, — with the natural result, a sinking turn. Yet they are always prating, " If you would only exert yourself ! ”
June 30. Dr. Blank sent in his bill. Of course it is a large one. Considering he has done me no good, it is very large. But mother, she acts as if she had n’t a friend left on earth. I know she is n’t rich, and a big bill is n’t pleasant. But I am not to blame for being sick, and I must have treatment. It never seems to occur to her that it’s unfeeling to go about with that woebegone face. I was provoked to-day into telling her roundly she might bless her stars I did n t have a couple of trained nurses, day and night. She asked me what I called Maria and her. I did n’t laugh in her face, because I did n’t want to hurt her feelings. It only goes to show the point of view of well folks.
July 7. The masseuse has been coming every day for a fortnight, — a huge animal, with the indefatigable look of a beast. She mauls and hauls me until I have no breath to protest. I sleep better, for she tires me almost to death, and naturally I sink at once into what they call sleep, but what is really a comatose condition. The whole family exclaims how much better I am, and the like. True, I have been downstairs and I have walked about a little, but it was simply because she had pommeled me until I was too lame to sit still. July 10. To-day I went for a little drive. Such a to-do as they made about it! One would have thought I had demanded a diamond necklace. Maria asked if I did n’t think it would do me more good to walk. I replied, — she knew it perfectly, — “ I can’t walk. I am longing for a breath of fresh air, but if it is so very unreasonable ” —
She broke in at once, " Oh, if you want a drive, of course you must have it !” Then she gave mother such a look. They must think I am stone-blind.
However, I was indignant, and I let them get the carriage. When it drove up to the door, mother came down to go with me. Without thinking I said, “You certainly are not going in that shabby old bonnet and cloak, mother ; because if you are I’d rather stay at home.”
Thereupon Maria spoke up tartly (she has n t the least consideration of my nerves when she’s vexed),"It “s the best she’s got, Agnes ! ”
“Why, by, then,”I asked as calmly as I was able, “ does n’t she get better ones ? ”
Maria laughed in a most unpleasant manner, and mother said, in her long-suffering way, which is almost as trying,
“ Because, my daughter, I cannot afford to ; but if you think I do not look respectable, I will not go.”
By this time I was thoroughly irritated, and reasonably enough. I am sure, so I said, “You certainly do not look what I call respectable.”
That’s how I happened to go driving alone. Shall I ever forget the air with which Maria helped me downstairs into the carriage! I don’t know. There is so much in life to forget !
July 12. Repose! Beatific word! Ah, if there were some spot on earth where it were possible ! Folks in health use that word flippantly ; it is only those who are tired, tired through every fibre, those who feel their membranes ache, — why were we made with membranes? — that know what the word means.
It means — I say it purely in an educational way — to be freed of persons and places, of human noises, of all care of the past or the present, of all thought of existence ; in short, it means heaven, if one could only be sure there would n’t be a lot of tiresome people even there.
July 15. I have given up the massage ; it may do for some folks, it never would for me. I got so I actually dreaded the approach of that great cow of a woman. Mother was disappointed that I did n’t give it what she calls a fair trial. It is so hard constantly to have to explain to her that I am not strong enough for such things.
A whole week since Phil was here. To be sure, he has written and sent flowers. But his letters always harp on the same old string, — “ what we shall do when you get well.” I wonder if he really thinks I can get well under these conditions. About his flowers, I never hint what a trouble they are ; Maria would let them stand in the same water three days, if I did n’t make a fuss. I suppose Phil kept away because the last time he was here I asked him to go. I had to, or die on the spot. Men are so touchy.
July 19. Mother came in to say that Maria had a sore throat and could n’t read to me. They forget that being read to is the only solace I have. I can’t read myself, because I can’t hold the book. Mother looked pale and harassed, but she is constitutionally a Gummidge, so I did n’t ask the matter.
I passed the day staring at a spot on the wall. I thought of the limitations of those that come in touch with me. I thought of the vaunted “ modern spirit” and what it has availed.
Better Heine had never shaken Old German Hodge out of his long sleep, or invaded with his profane foot the realms of Philistia. Better, a thousand times, that the road had been left open to “respectability and its thousand gigs.” What has modernism effected ? Literature given over to realism, art to impressionism, and society to vulgarity ! We must perforce wait for the pool to stir; but I am used to waiting.
July 23. Mother and Maria go to aunt Louisa’s funeral. As she was mother’s only sister, of course mother had to go. But they seemed to think they must both go, so I did n’t make any remark. I have got used to being left alone. Maria put in her head and said reassuringly as she went, “Norah will look out for you.”
Norah did. She came in as soon as they were gone. I made her sit quite across the room and let her talk. ’T is the only way. The moment I stop her tongue she comes straight at me in that wild Irish way to do something which drives me almost into spasms.
“ Och, Miss Agnis, but ye ’re lukin’ betther the day ! Ye ’ll soon be up now, I’m thinkin’. ‘T will be the great day, that same, for yer muther, poor sowl. H’aith an’ she’s very bad these toimes, so she is !”
“ What do you mean, Norah ? ”
“ Did n’t ye see yersel’ how she ’s fallin’ aff ? ’Dade an’ she ’s not the same at all. ’T is only the bones av her is left; an’ to see her stop an’ shut up her two eyes when she ’d be workin’ round ye ‘d think she’d be dead intoirely.”
“ She is simply tired. You don’t know what it is. I get horribly tired myself just hearing folks talk.”
“ Och ’t is not that at all. She puts her hand to her soide that-a-way ye ’d think the loife was lavin’ her; an’ it’s what I’m hopin’ ye ’d soon be gittin’ so she ’d be spared the tile of attindin’ ye.”
“ Me ! She does very little for me, I’m sure.”
“ It’s not a great dale, darlint, but it’s more than she’s able fer, d’ye see? Av ye cud coome down to yer males the way she wuld n’t be havin’ to bring ’em up! In very spoite o’ me she ’ll always be takin’ up the tray hersel’. Och but I kem an her won day sittin’ in the middle av the sthairs, wid the tray in her lap, lukin’s she was ready to faint.”
“ She does n’t do much for me, I tell you. She does up my hair in the morning, — I cannot possibly do that, — she mends my clothes, brings up my meals, and rubs me when I wake up in (the night.”
“That’s what I was thinkin’, darlint. Av ye cud only lave her to slape, it moight be the makin’ av her, poor dear ! ”
“ But I can’t do it, Norah ! When I wake up, somebody must rub me, or I could n’t go to sleep again. She says she cannot afford to get a nurse ” —
“Troth an’ it’s thrue for her, too. She spint so much money an the dochters she did n’t get much left, d’ ye see, an’ ” —
“ There, there, run away back to the kitchen, Norah. It must be time to be getting supper. Mother’s all right. She’s getting old, that’s all. Don’t bother your head about her.”
July 24. Phil came again. I tried to look glad to see him. Candidly, the sight of him begins to irritate me. I don’t know why. Perhaps because he is such an animal and so exasperatingly cheerful. I really cannot bear to have him kiss me, he smells so of tobacco, He knows, too, how I hate it. And when he puts his arm about me it seems as if he would break every bone in my body. I spend the whole time of his visits saying, “ Don’t, Phil ! ” Then his talk, his platitudes and stereotyped terms of endearment,—how I know them all! For the rest, he ignores the fact that I’m ill; treats me as if I were as well as a cook. It really takes me half an hour to simmer down after one of his visits, and hours to recover from the fatigue. To pretend to enjoy his comings, to endure his caresses, — which is worse, to be a hypocrite, or to be truthful and a brute ?
August 3. Mother is sick, — a slight attack of something. I am worried, but not alarmed. It is amusing what a fuss this little ill turn of mother’s has excited in the household, — everything turned topsy-turvy, the doctor sent for at once, — when here I have been seriously sick for ten long years, and nobody displays any concern. A strange world !
August 5. I am left to take care of myself. Have nearly starved. Norah has brought up my meals when she has happened to think of me. I cannot find out that there is anything particular the matter with mother, but she seems to need all of them the whole time to take care of her.
August 8. Mother died last night. How frightful of them not to let me know she was seriously sick ! Poor dear mother! She will be a terrible loss to me. ’T is a great consolation now to think that I was always dutiful and sympathetic and affectionate to her, and that we got on so well together.
August 10. The funeral is over. I’ve wept for days. I’m so exhausted Norah has to feed me. I cannot think. I do not try. Nobody takes any notice of me. I see, as in a dream, Maria going about grim and white as a spectre. I suppose she is tired. She has had all the nursing. She might at least say a word. Poor mother ! you were my only friend. I shall never know comfort again.
August 13. A great change in Maria. I don’t know what it means. She has suddenly taken a turn about, and now cannot do enough for me. I am overcome, and beg her to desist.
August 15. The secret of Maria’s devotion is out. It is conscience. She remembers her former indifference, and is now trying to take mother’s place. She has moved her bed into the next room, and last night I was almost stupefied at having her come in to rub me as mother used to.
August 17. Mrs. Prattle again. She talked endlessly about this new Rest Cure and the wonderful things it does. If there is such a thing as rest on earth, I’m sure it would cure me. Goodness knows I need it. I tire of myself.I tire of everything. I tire of this endless struggle after sweetness and light. There are times, rare times, when I get glimpses of light. Sweetness I shall never know. I grow sour daily. I feel the fermentation striking in. Worse than all, I am forever getting back into the “machinery.”
I feel its buzz and whir all around me. What is to be the end !
August 20. The Rest Cure, it seems, is expensive. I say at once that ends the matter; but Mrs. P. goes and talks to Maria, and, to my amazement, Maria comes and says I must try it, expense or no expense, and so it is decided.
October 3. Home again after nearly two months of the Rest Cure. It was a farce. I feared it. It is founded on stupidity. How expect one to rest when compelled to go to bed, and compelled to stay there! The element of compulsion defeats the cure. Rest means an absence of all constraint or restraint. It means doing what you want to, going where you like, eating what you care for, and choosing your own companions; it does not mean imprisonment. It also means the elimination of the doctor when he’s sure he knows all about you ; in short, when he’s an — But I refrain from an expression more strong than ladylike.
After the first week I got more and more tired, and so ungovernably nervous that I should have died if I had stayed another hour.
October 5. I cannot make out whether Maria was glad to see me or not. She plainly does not approve of my coming home. As nobody has ever approved of anything I have done in life, that does n’t signify. She wears the same grim and white look.
Phil was unaffectedly delighted to see me. Somehow, I find myself forgiving P.’s very glaring faults for these virtues of honesty and loyalty.
October 9. Norah let out to-day that Maria is not at all well, and that she has been taking in work ever since I went away, to help pay my expenses at the Rest Cure. How horrid to be told of this! It destroys all my comfort and pleasure in getting home. What marplots servants are ! Well, suppose Maria has worked. I would willingly work, if I were strong and well. However, it fixes me in one resolution : to try no more of their cures. I would a thousand times rather suffer than to have thrown in my teeth continually these sacrifices other folks are making for me.
October 11. Maria does better than I ever thought she could. She is different from her old self ; she has lost her habit of saying satiric things ; she seems really to have me on her mind. Withal, however, she is cultivating the long-suffering look mother used to have. I try not to call on her too much, but I am miserable these days ; going away from home has put me back.
October 15. To save Maria I let Norah bring up my meals occasionally. It is amusing to hear the creature talk.
“ H’aith an’ I loike to see ye ate, Miss Agnis; it’s yersel’ has the illigint appetoite.”
[Mem. She always ate enough for a farm-hand. S. J. P.]
“ Why, I don’t eat enough to keep a sparrow alive.”
“ H’aith, thin, ye do, darlint, an’ a flock av thim ! Ye ate far and away more than annybody else in the house, or the whole put togither. Miss Maria just touches the bit an’ the sup to kape the loife goin’ in her, an’ I afther brakin’ me heart wid the cookin’.”
October 17. Have been getting worse lately, but say nothing of it to any of them here. Had to get Maria up twice last night.
Phil has been very attentive since I came home. I don’t know why he should seem most tiresome when he is most attentive. At last I have had to ask him to send no more flowers. I am getting to hate them. The other night, too, I had to speak out and say I could n’t have him stay more than ten minutes at a time. He looked hurt; he is always looking hurt.
October 19. Maria had the doctor. I questioned Norah, and found out that he gave her a tonic, and said she was “ run down.”How familiar that old expression, and how it does service ! I have been run down these many years. But I hope Maria is n’t going to be ill.
They talk about a new system ; it is Mrs. Prattle again, and despite my former resolution and all my experience I am going to try it. I have been talked over. It has the merit of being new and original. It sounds reasonable. Its charm is, they give no doses and do not require one to do anything.
October 22. Began on the Christian Science. A sloppy-looking woman came to see me. She asked me to describe my illness. I took her at her word. I went over the subject with particularity.
I talked for an hour. She paid not the slightest heed. I stopped. She asked if that was all. I said it was only the beginning. To my surprise, she asked me to go on. I thought I had done her an injustice. I did go on. I talked for nearly another hour. I chanced to look around. She was fast asleep. I stopped, of course. When she waked up, she asked again if that was all. Naturally I said it was.
“Then, my dear,” she said, getting up, “ you need never speak to me about yourself any more.”
“ You may be sure I shall not,” I said, almost speechless with indignation ; “ and as for you, madam, you need not trouble yourself to call on me again.”
But she did, and in spite of me she persists in coming. I take no notice of her. Sometimes she stares at me in a blear-eyed way, but more often sits in the rocking-chair with her back to me. I have appealed to Maria, but Maria insists that the creature is doing me good, and if I were not so antagonistic would cure me. Antagonistic! Well, well, what matter what they say ?
October 25. Have got rid of the Christian Science sister at last. I told her, if she persisted in visiting me against my will, I should write to the chief of police.
She answered quite without emotion :
You are making a great mistake. If you had not set yourself against me, I should have cured you. But don’t get excited. I shall not come again. It is only a waste of time. I can do you no good. I forgive you, however, and I hope you will get well; but to do that you must get into another frame of mind. You must cultivate a more Christian spirit, and you can if you choose.”
So much for her. Sane persons will agree with my estimate of her, and I refrain from comment. As she and her sort are allowed to run at large, thank God that kind of lunacy is innocuous! It cannot do much harm. Its devotees have got hold of a partial truth, and amplified it into a theory. They say, ignore disease. Logically, they should say, do away with its causes. As well might they say, ignore sin instead of doing away with its cause, temptation. They will do either or both when humanity ceases to be humanity. Poor blind-worms ! their outlook is of linear narrowness; the trouble is, they pick out one fact and ignore the rest. But let them go. They might as well believe in the millennium as in what they do. Perhaps they believe in both. Who cares ?
November 10. Maria down again. She has taken a bad cold. It is very awkward, for the dressmaker was coming tomorrow to make up my winter things ; but I must not think of myself.
November 13. Maria worse. They have got a nurse. How imprudent of her to get such a cold! I have to get along the best I can. Norah brings up my meals, and that is about all. How sickness upsets a family! However, I make no complaint.
November 15. Maria has pneumonia,
I heard by accident, and is seriously ill.
I called in the doctor yesterday and made him confess. He said, with a look at me which I did not at all understand,
“ She had been very much overworked ; she was all run down.”
“ Well ? ”
“ It must not happen again : when she gets up from this — if she does — great consideration must be shown her ; she must not be suffered to do any work.”
It seemed to me it would have been more appropriate if he had told all this to Norah, but I could n’t explain to him.
November 17. Maria died last night.
I am now alone in the world. I am utterly unstrung. I cannot write.
November 22. I have been too low for days to raise my head. Poor Maria !
I could n’t even be present at the — But I cannot talk, I cannot think about it. How strange for a miserable wreck like me to survive them all !
November 25. What am I to do ? I cannot see my way. I am utterly miserable.
November 27. Phil has been every day, of course. Last night was the first time I could talk to him. He was full of sympathy — of his kind. Said he wanted a serious talk with me as soon as I was able. I shall never, it seems, be able for anything again.
November 28. How long can I live in this way ! Norah comes up to assist at my toilet. There is no help for it, though she soaks the bed in soap and water, makes me gritty with tooth-powder, combs my hair into snarls, and reduces me to a state of chronic exasperation.
Then my meals, — save the mark ! — such hunks and messes ! The secret of my former dainty trays is explained, — poor mother and Maria ! Rather poor me ! Shall I ever know intimacy again? Did I ever have any real fellowship with them ? No ; real fellowship, thank the Eternal Father, is impossible between human beings. Fellowship should have been included by the great critic in his famous category with freedom, wealth, bodily vigor, and what not, which he ranges under the name machinery.
December 2. Last night came Phil again. Said he could n’t be put off any longer. I braced myself to listen. He went on in a long rigmarole about my being alone in the world, — helpless, affairs involved, means limited, etc., — I cannot remember ; but the long and the short of it was, my condition was impracticable and not to be thought of.
I did not see what he was driving at, and let him go on. At last it all came out: he actually had the coolness to suggest that we should marry at once.
When I got my breath, I told him flatly he was crazy. He stared at me stupidly. He could not understand me. He is simply a man, and men are born lacking in certain kinds of sense. I then went on to explain. I told him that, aside from the toil and trouble of getting ready, the mere excitement of going through the ceremony would kill me. He began to argue, but I stopped him short. He was deeply offended, and it ended by his going away in a huff.
December 3. Lay awake all night after the scene with Phil. It has quite upset me. I feel a hundred years old. Realizing that such a thing must not happen again, I sat down this morning and wrote him a letter, in which I declared plainly that if everything I said and everything I did was going to result in such a scene our engagement had better be broken ; that it was too much for me, and I could n’t endure it.
December 5. Well, the thing is done ! It may be all right, but I don’t know. I feel light-headed about it. What I said was, I am sure, perfectly reasonable.
Of course I did n’t literally mean — But what good to talk ? It was bound to happen. I am confident he was only awaiting some excuse.
A letter from Phil, very crisp and topping, taking me, as he says, at my word, — I don’t remember now what I said, — and breaking our engagement. I suppose, if I chose to write and explain — But I can never do it.
It’s as plain as day: he was only too glad of the excuse. His eagerness shows it. Any fair-minded person would say my letter was reasonable. He need n’t think I will bear the blame of it, though ; I won ‘t. It was not my fault.
December 6. Returned Phil’s presents,— forgot there were so many,— and wrote him a letter which I think he will find it hard to answer.
December 7. My presents returned without a word. I knew he would have hard work answering that letter, but thought he would at least try. He sees he is in the wrong. He has a very stubborn temper, and, like all folks of that sort, the deeper he is in the wrong the angrier he gets.
December 10. Nothing more from Phil. Our affair, then, has ended. Well, it has lasted a good while. No doubt he thinks he is the one who was kept waiting. Five years. Could I help it? One is not responsible for the acts of God.
I feel so topsy-turvy that I cannot make plans. I cannot think of anything else. Heigho!
December 12. Shall I now have to go through the ordeal of explaining to family friends ? No. I will simply say I have been jilted. ‘T is a short word and easily said ; moreover, it is the truth.
December 20. This affair with Phil has pulled me down terribly. I have tried to look at it calmly and not to care, but somehow it has taken all the little strength left me.
December 21. I am getting so low that I have had to write to cousin Sarah
Jane [Mem. Thats me ; she always took a delight in usin my middle name, but I cant see why it aint jest as good as Geraldine. S. J. P.] to come and nurse me. She is a professional, and I shall have to pay her, of course; but I must have somebody, if I go to the poorhouse. [Mem. I charged her jest the same I did other folks. Her family had money left them years ago, an we had to make our own way ; besides, they never wasted any sentiment on us. S. J. P.]
December 30. So low these past few days I could n’t write. Miss Plunkett arrived. She is as strong as an ox. [Mem. She always spoke as ef my strength was a reproach. S. J. P.J She tosses me about like a baby. What a luxury to have a real nurse !
January 2, 1887. Cousin Sarah Jane has the regular professional manner; her face is as hard and unsympathetic as a grindstone. [Mem. As soon as I see what was the matter I warnt goin to humbug her, an I didnt a mite. S. J. P.] She does n’t say an unnecessary word, and since the first two or three days pays no heed when I talk.
January 5. Sarah Jane, for all her skill and knowledge, is like the rest of them. She does n’t understand my case : has no notion how weak I am ; treats me like a gymnast, drags me up to sit in a chair, forces me downstairs to my meals, though I am on the point of dying with fatigue.
January 8. Sarah Jane gets positively disagreeable. She knows more about me than I do myself. She insists upon my doing things I cannot. When I object, she asks in a billingsgate tone, “ Do you want ever to get well, or do you expect to lie here on your back for the rest of your life ? ”
Pleasant talk to an invalid!
January 12. A terrible row with Sarah Jane. I am shaking all over from it now, and shall not recover for a month. I never heard such a virago, nor did I ever have to lie unprotected and listen to such abuse. [Mem. I only said what was so, and didnt raise my voice once the whole time. S. J. P.]
I can’t remember it all; a little will do for a sample. I recall a few of her choice expressions.
She said there was nothing the matter with me, absolutely nothing,—she had been studying me and found out; that all my organs were sound ; that I ate like a pig; that if I chose I might be well in a fortnight; that if. I would stir about and do a little honest hard work, like other folks, I would sleep, fast enough ; that I was a monster of laziness and selfishness ; that I had spent all mother’s money doctoring and nursing, and ended by killing her and Maria; that I had snubbed and jilted my lover; and that, in fine, I neither thought of nor cared for anything in the round earth but myself.
[Mem. I spoke the simple truth and didnt mince matters. I told her the plain facts about herself which nobody had ever durst to before. S. J. P.]
I have set it all down ; it will be interesting to keep ; it is almost as amusing as it is brutal. Of course I did n’t answer a word, though I felt my face get white and set. Its violence and absurdity kept it from killing me. And so she went.
January 17. For a week I have just breathed. I never before fairly touched bottom. There has always been somebody to stretch out a hand. Norah has done what she could: she has fed me (Heaven knows upon what!), she has rubbed me (her hands are like nutmeg graters), and stayed by me.
It is like awaking from a nightmare. I am confronted with the sternest necessity, and not able to lift hand or voice.
Mother’s old lawyer, Squire Thompson, has called twice, but I could n’t see him. Yesterday I wrote him for a statement of my affairs.
January 18. An answer from Thompson. He tells me what I have ; barely enough to keep soul and body together.
It will buy necessaries, but not a luxury.
I am perfectly willing to give up the former, but the latter it seems I must have. What to do ?
January 19. I have thought hard for twenty-four hours. If I could only work as of old at my embroidery; they say I had a deft touch ; but it is out of the question.
January 21. Mrs. Prattle has been in ; I was almost glad to see her. She told of Cowley, a little town down South with a heavenly climate, which nobody knows of, where one can live upon nothing, and lie in the sun, and rest, and rest, and rest.
It sounds impossible, but I catch at the idea. She notices I have fallen away, and says I must get out of this climate.
January 23. The weather has turned cold. It pinches me. I shiver from morning till night, and turn my back to the window that I may not see the glare of the snow.
January 25. Have decided to go. I cannot afford it, neither can I afford to stay here. For the matter of that, I cannot afford anything. I cannot even afford to die, when I think what Maria’s funeral and tombstone cost.
I take Norah with me for the journey, but shall send her back. I can economize when I get there — perhaps. Sent word to Mrs. Prattle.
January 26. Mrs. Prattle comes. She certainly is good-natured. She offers to help Norah break up, store the furniture, and what not. I accept with thanks.
January 27. Norah met Phil on the street. He stopped her and asked about me. Norah spoke of my going away. He looked grave, but made no comment. Bade her not to tell me she had met him. How queer men are !
Mrs. Prattle and Norah get on famously, but what a noise they make! Mrs. P. came, all dust and perspiration, to say good-night. I had to thank her; all the same, it seems as if I were being turned out of doors.
January 30. It is all done : the house shut, the stuff stored, and we are here at Mrs. Prattle’s for the night.
Norah and I are to start in the morning. Seen close at hand, the journey seems frightful: I doubt if I live through it. Norah knows as much about traveling as a guinea-hen.
February 3. Arrived ; two days and nights on the way. In a state of collapse, but alive.
February 0. At the hotel for a couple of days. Wish I could stay, — good food and good service ; but I am a pauper, and must move on.
February 7. Kept Norah till I got moved ; sent her home to-day ; felt bad at parting with her, but steeled myself.
My quarters are in a tumble-down old mansion, sunny and airy, a porch covered with vines, all surrounded by a ruinous old garden filled with flowers. I have the parlor floor for a song; grand old rooms with blazing wood fires. An old negro woman in the back yard takes care of the rooms and cooks my food. Her name is Yazoo; somehow it suggests a field-hand.
February 8. Yazoo does her possible. Her range is limited. So far as developed, it is coffee, pone, and bacon, three viands which I think of as last resorts. Am visited with qualms as to her kitchen, — qualms promptly put down by prudence.
February 9. Yazoo has a little twolegged shadow, at once a coadjutor and a responsibility,— a pickaninny of ten years, a miracle of rags and dirt. He is growing up in heavenly idleness and freedom. How better than to be washed and taught to read ! I would exchange places with him in a minute. He has not a want. He knows not a care. He is unconscious of his body. He is perfectly happy. He knows not, blissful child, that there is anything better to eat than pone and bacon. And for sleep, — he can sleep like a dog in any streak of sunshine. Such is Little Ike.
February 12. Having let myself go, — flopped, according to the Delsarteans, whose system, owing to some inscrutable providence, I have thus far escaped, — I am more at home.
Little Ike momently grows on me. His mother, as well she may, trusts him to do anything. He is preternaturally clever. He understands all I say, and knows just what I mean, — an accomplishment which, in a long and checkered career, I have never detected in anybody else. He knows every place in town, everybody ; he knows the Northern boarders at the hotel, and their various ailments ; he knows those who give pennies and those who do not; and, in fact, he is in a small way omniscient.
February 13. A broiled bird forbreakfast. High Heaven knows where it came from ! I ate it, and asked no questions.
The secret is out. It was a robin. Little Ike shot it with his parlor gun.
I gulp down a feeling of horror. I reason, why not a robin as well as a quail ? God made them both, while for notes I prefer the quail’s.
February 14. A struggle with Yazoo to keep down the surface dust and get the dirt out of the laundered clothes. All inclination to visit the kitchen dispelled. Blacks of all ages come to the door, offering all sorts of service and things to sell. Having no pennies to scatter, I get the reputation of being a skinflint. Little Ike comes with comforting tales of what they say behind my back.
February 16. Sudden change in weather. Yazoo taken down with dysentery. Neglected to send for the doctor, and so got very bad. I lay in bed for want of a fire. Little Ike came in at midday and lighted it. Boiled me an egg, and gave me crackers and milk. Says he is taking care of his mother.
February 17. Noon again before Little Ike comes. Says his mother is worse. Looks solemn and scared. Give him ten cents and tell him not to forget me. Do the dishes myself.
February 18. Yazoo dead. A fatality pursues everybody connected with me. This is very awkward, and puts me in a dilemma. Send Little Ike (who seems not at all to realize his loss) about the neighborhood to find me another woman. Comes back without success. They all say the house is haunted. Little Ike reassures me by saying the real reason is they all dislike me. I give him money, and he promises to stick by me. He will have to do, though I feel that I may be leaning on a broken reed.
February 20. Yazoo buried, and that tragedy over. Little Ike has not a relative on earth, so they all say. A lie, of course, but nobody is greedy to claim a responsibility, so I let him come to live at the mansion.
February 21. Squire Thompson writes me of the passing of a dividend by the S. & H. R. R. Co. My little income is pared down to almost nothing. For a moment I lose my head. I laugh hysterically, and cry with the Indian officer, or whoever it was, “ Hurrah for the next man that dies ! ”
But let me not be bitter. Let me think of sweetness and light. Let me offer my other cheek.
February 23. Little Ike does wonders. He brought in my breakfast punctually, — coffee and toast, with a spray of jessamine on the tray. Bless his heart! The coffee had a queer taste and the toast looked unaccountably gray, but I smelled the jessamine and gulped them down. I tried not to think that the dishes had a slimy look, as though they had been wiped on the grass. Afterwards taught Little Ike to make my bed and dust the room. He is wonderfully dexterous.
I usually dine at one. My dinner is late. I smell burning fat, and bide my time. At two Little Ike appears, his eyes rounded with a look of deserving, and beads of honest sweat on his sooty little forehead. He has on the tray a boiled potato, some fresh baker’s bread, and a small beautifully browned fish. He has been absent all the morning, and caught it himself.
I am hungry. My eyes shine with gratitude and desire. I say appreciative things to Little Ike. I hint at pennies.
I spread my napkin. I make ready to begin.
Of a sudden I drop my knife and fork. A look of dismay and disappointment crosses my face. I push away the plate. The fish has never been opened!
One thing is clear: I shall have to superintend the cooking myself, at whatever cost. My gorge seems permanently located in my throat.
I creep out to the kitchen. I take a look, and save myself from swooning by a moral effort. Little Ike stares at me in innocent wonder. The Augean stables were nothing to it. I don’t know where to begin. I shut my eyes and think.
After a while I tell Little Ike to take all the furniture out upon the porch; then to get a pail of water, some soap, and a scrubbing-brush. He has never heard of soap or scrubbing-brush. I send him to my toilet-stand for the former, and make an old rag do for the latter.
I sit out in the hall and direct the cleaning of the room. Little Ike makes hard work of it. He tips over the sloppail and tracks about the dirty water. We come in time to the stove. Where it is not black with grease it is red with rust. We necessarily call a halt. I send Little Ike to the town for some stoveblacking, some new tins, and a tea-kettle. It is a mile, I know, but he never walks; he always “ ketches on,” as he calls it. It will be a rest to him.
I creep back to bed, nearly dead from fatigue and starvation.
Little Ike returns. I set him to clean and polish the stove. Could not go out to superintend it. He boils me an egg, and I eat some crackers.
February 24. I get up early and go out to the kitchen. Little Ike is asleep under the table. I rouse him and bid him wash in the basin. He grins at the absurdity.
“ Git all smutty right away ag’in, missy, dat I will sho’.”
I then bid him fill the tea-kettle with fresh water. He goes singing to the well. I lean back in my chair for a minute’s rest. Opening my eyes by chance, I start up with a loud scream, and, forgetful of my own weakness, rush to the stove. Too late ! Little Ike has filled the tea-kettle from the slop-pail.
I upbraid him, and walk back to my chair without support, such a miraculous effect has the air of this place wrought. [“ Air ” ! Granny ! S. J. P.] A month ago I should have had a relapse.
After all, Little Ike was not to blame about the pail. There is no other. I think of the tea I have been drinking.
It’s of no use to upbraid Little Ike about his dirt. He only stares. He really does n’t know what cleanliness is; which sets me to thinking whether, after all, it is n’t a fad.
February 27. After breakfast go out again to the kitchen. Little Ike, with faithful assiduity, is doing the dishes. Panting, I sit down to oversee him. He turns about a smiling and self-satisfied look. His row of young teeth and the whites of his eyes give his face a characteristic negro effect.
Reflecting upon this, my eyes fall upon his work. A feeling of horror overcomes me. Mindless of consequences, I dart forward and seize from his hand a darklooking object, and hold it up before his guiltless eyes. It is a remnant of a flannel undershirt. It is the rag with which he washed the stove, the floor, the sink; in other words, it is the rag-of-all-work. He has no other.
I do not upbraid. I recognize its uselessness. I burn the rag and give some directions.
March 1. Little Ike does n’t come home to get my dinner. I ring, I call, in vain. Knowing that I cannot go without food, I creep out to the kitchen, boil some potatoes, and open a can of tongue. Get back without mishap. It is almost incredible.
Little Ike comes in after dark, covered with mud. He has been with some boys to get arbutus. He brings me a big bunch as an olive-branch. I like arbutus, so I accept it. All the same, I scold him for truancy with what breath I can spare.
March 2. Want stares me in the face ; an ugly vis-à-vis. Whatever comes, I must set to work. But at what ? Write ? No. Friends have thought I could ; they are mistaken. I tried that in the old times. The things I sent to the magazines had stuff in them. They were always sent back. The twaddle they want I cannot do.
Think of my embroidery again. See a tangle of Cherokee roses over a fence. A capital design for a portière.
Get a horse and wagon and go to town. Find materials which will do. Get back in time to superintend dinner. I dare not trust Little Ike. He is faithful in what he knows, but our experiences have been different.
A busy day. This air is amazing. In the old times the effort put forth in these twenty-four hours would have killed me. [Humph! S. J. P.]
March 5. Little Ike is turning out a wretched truant. Absorbed in my work yesterday, I did n’t notice the clock until long past dinner-time. Called and called. Little Ike nowhere to be found. Driven by sheer faintness, had to get my own dinner. Arrived in the kitchen, there was no wood. Compelled to go down the long steps into the yard and actually bring up an armful. Astonished without end at myself. It’s a wonder all the invalids in the country don’t flock here to breathe this elixir. Sit and pant a while. Boil a couple of eggs, make a cup of tea, and get back to my room. Don’t die.
Little Ike comes back long after the hour with a half dozen robins which he has shot. Putting aside all prejudice, I have a couple for supper. They are excellent eating. As I pick the bones of the last one I bethink me to scold him.
I tell him he must never go away again without leave. He nods his head demurely. I know he will.
March 10. Get on with my work. Went twice to the kitchen to-day. To keep my rags and towels clean, find I must wash the dishes myself. ‘T is not such an awful task, after all, thanks always to this stimulating air.
[Hope she gets in enough bout that air; but I guess ther aint no need o my sayin anything. S. J. P.]
March 11. A letter from Mrs. Prattle. Phil has been to see her ; talked much of me. Why does she take the trouble to write this to me ? Her letter puts a notion in my head. She has a large circle of acquaintances, rich and fashionable folks. I am thinking of my embroidery. It is turning out well.
March 20. Am reduced to very short commons. My stock of money almost gone. If it were not for Little Ike’s robins and fish and wild strawberries, to say nothing of his poultry-yard in the garden, I should starve.
Meantime I work day and night; am glad to see my right hand has not forgotten her cunning.
March 26. My work done and packed ; have sent it to Mrs. Prattle. It looked very rich and unique. Wrote her a long letter by this morning’s mail not to take too much trouble ; at the same time let her see that I am starving.
March 28. Feel lost without my work. Was so absorbed that I quite forgot I was ill. Now I must nurse myself a bit.
Little Ike has a sore foot; got a piece of glass in it. He cannot even step upon it. Realize now his usefulness. Am become a galley slave. Bring up my own wood and draw my own water. Which of all my Northern friends would believe I could drag that heavy bucket up the well ?
April 2. Am getting to be quite a cook. Really enjoy my own meals, for I know they are clean.
April 10. Scarcely got Little Ike well when he ran away. Has been gone three days. Have actually been to town twice for supplies. Fortunately the grocery wagon brought me home. Have had to do everything for myself.
Really I am another woman. I look back upon my former self with amazement. And to think of its all being brought about by a change of air !
April 13. Mrs. Prattle has sold my portière. I am saved from despair. Three hundred dollars,— ‘t is none too much for the work, but a fortune to me.
April 15. Little Ike comes back. Such demureness, — as if he had done nothing out of the way. I listen stoically. A planter has offered him twentyfive cents a day during the planting season. I know better; such wages are unheard of. I expose his lies and tell him to go. He weeps; I affect obduracy. After much contrition I take him back.
Really I owe him an eternal debt of gratitude. He will never know it. He threw me on my own resources. Supported by this wonderful atmosphere, they availed. I glory in my independence. I realize that I am cured. Dear Cowley, thy name should be Gilead !
April 20. It gets hot. I take alarm. Everybody is gone from the hotel. I cannot stay much longer. Opportunely comes a letter from Mrs. Prattle, inviting me there on an indefinite visit. She writes in a postscript that Phil has called again. Why does she harp on that old string? Does she think — Managing little woman, I know what she thinks. She is a busybody.
April 25. Go about the house like a well person. Make nothing of the work.
My horizon has widened immensely, barring certain vistas which, well for me, are closed forever. See now the true meaning of “ sweetness and light: ” it is not moral, it is not æsthetic; it is purely physical, it is health.
April 28. It is incredible how I sleep. I can almost hear my blood circulate. Amazing magic of ozone ! But I must get out of it. There is such a thing as staying too long, and the mercury these last days is taking to itself wings. I may lose all I have gained.
April 29. Begin to make plans for going. Write to Mrs. Prattle about Little Ike. He would be of immense service on the journey. Then he has no belongings here.
May 4. Letter from Mrs. Prattle. Says of course bring Little Ike. I take him down to the town for a suit of clothes.
Such an uncouth mite as he is, reduced to respectability! All his grace and charm gone with the rags. He bristles with awkwardness and grandeur. To him, certainly, decency is disfiguring. Luckily he himself is delighted.
May 10. Back again. Came through without accident. How I hated to say good-by to dear Cowley! Fain would I send thither every poor moribund sufferer in the world !
How Mrs. Prattle stared ! She could not believe her eyes to see me walking, but must needs pinch my arms black and blue. She actually started to hear me laugh. Did I not laugh, then, in the old days? Perhaps not. I was a pessimist then.
May 11. It is delightful to get back to the land of thrift and energy. The climate, after all, is not so absolutely had. I feel myself indeed rather braced by it, and really get on capitally.
My first duty, with Mrs. Prattle’s cordial assent, is to get some new toggery.
I can afford it now, as my dividend, I hear, is to be forthcoming this quarter.
May 20. Phil called this evening, as I sat in one of my new dresses. Mrs. Prattle and I were together in the drawing-room. I was telling a story of Southern life, illustrated by energetic gestures. We were both laughing and had not heard the bell. He was shown into the room quite without warning. What now, think you, did Mrs. Prattle ? Terrible woman! she made some frivolous excuse and left us alone.
Positively quite alone. Well, it was a queer scene. I hardly know how to describe it. I don ‘t think I know at all what took place at first.
I must have made evident before this that one of Phil ’s characteristics is downrightness. Here is a specimen : —
“Well, well! It can’t be! You, Agnes ! Talking like this ! Restored to health, to life, to sense ! Talk about there being no more miracles ! ” etc.
But that was nothing to what followed ; masculine sang-froid is past all analysis.
“Well, I have thought of you day and night. I never loved anybody else.” (All this in a most matter-of-fact tone.) “I knew some time yon would come back to your old self ; not of course so perfectly as this, but enough to see your mistake.
I was hasty, I was a fool; but you wrote me that letter— Never mind all that, though! Who cares what has been said and done ? We live in the present, eh, little one ? Let bygones be bygones ! ” May 24. Phil and I are one again.
I shut my eyes to all his old limitations.
Youth and its enthusiasm have come back to me. I chase every agnostic thought from my heart, and feel myself again a woman. Dear Cowley!
May 30. We are to be married at once, and, of all places, going to India, where henceforth Phil’s business is to be.
Little Ike is to stay here under the protecting eye of Mrs. Prattle.
Edwin Lassetter Bynner.