Stephen Crane at Brede

For going on four decades, EDITH R. JONES and her husband. a Massachusetts architect, have lived in an old house on the hill overlooking Marblehead Harbor with a view of the world from Cape Ann to Cape Cod. From this vantage point, her thoughts have gone back to that summer of 1899 when, as a Young girl living in England, she was absorbed into the gay household of Stephen Crane and his magnetic wife Cora. Henry James used to cycle over for tea and other guests included Joseph Conrad, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Wells, and Ford Madox Hueffer — and she makes it sound like yesterday.



IN JUNE, 1899, my mother took me to call upon Mr. and Mrs. Crane, who were staying at a hotel in London. I had been away at school in Switzerland and now I was being introduced to a lot of my parents’ and my sister’s friends whom I had not met before. I did not know that Stephen Crane was a famous author. I only knew that he and Cora were family friends. In spite of the small difference between us in age (Stephen was twentyseven and Cora a few years older, and I was nineteen), they at once began to “mother"’ and “father" me. I called them “Mr. Crane" and “Mummy Crane.”They called me “Snubby “ because of my short nose. They were darlings to me from that day until they went out of my life, more than half a century ago, leaving a hole that has never been filled. Who could ever forget Stephen and his whimsicalities, and Cora with her gleaming golden hair, exquisite skin, and humorous mind?

With them at the hotel was their niece, Helen Crane, who was eighteen. Her father, Stephen’s brother, was a judge in some town in New York. Before my mother and I left them that day, the Cranes decided that they wanted to have a party for Henley Regatta and invited me to be there. I think the regatta is held around July 4, and it was then that I next met them. The Cranes and Helen, Karl Harriman, and several others and I all stayed at a little riverside inn. I remember that the old Marquis of Queensberry was also there.

In those days, in England, everyone had plenty of servants. If one were invited by a new acquaintance to a house party, one stayed a long weekend; it by a friend, one might stay two weeks or a month, always knowing that the hostess’s household was not being disrupted by the visit. Happy days — for the guests, if not for the servants. From Henley I went to Yorkshire to stay with my school chum, Florence Bray. I was supposed to pay her a long visit, but after I had been there a couple of days, I received a letter from Cora Crane, saying they were having a party at Brede Place, of the same people who had been at Henley, and that I must come at once. I wrote her my regrets, telling her I had promised to stay with the Brays. Back and forth flew telegrams. I must bring Miss Bray with me. I finally persuaded Florence to accept and off we went for our first sight of Brede. The Henley party was there, also A. E. W. Mason and some others, George Lynch among them. The Cranes called Mr. Lynch “the Wild Irishman.”He was one of the handsomest and most irresponsible people I have ever known. He had been a war correspondent in China during the Boxer Rebellion and had brought home slacks of gorgeous mandarin coals, heavily embroidered silk, lined with sable and ermine.

The party left after a few days, but Florence stayed for two weeks and I stayed until January, 1900. While the crowd was there, we were all invited over to tea with Henry James in his house in Rye. The Cranes and I went frequently after that, and Mr. James would bicycle the seven miles over to Brede at least once a week. One day Mr. James and Stephen were having a discussion about something, and Stephen was getting the better of the argument. Suddenly Mr. James said, “How old are you?" “Twenty-seven,”said Stephen. “Humph,”said Mr. James, “prattling babe!”

In those days, I used to sing a little and Stephen liked it. Whenever Mr. James came to call, I was made to sing for the poor man. Then Cora would say, “Now, let’s have a concert.”I would pick up the five puppies and, with three heads over one arm and two over the other, I would sing and play while five little muzzles rose howling in anguish.

Mr. James and the Cranes would become limp with mirth.

Sometimes, when there was a crowd in the house, there would be a tap on my bedroom door soon after I had gone to sleep. Cora’s voice would say, “Stephen wants some music. Slip into your dressing gown and bring your comb.”We would all troop down to the huge old kitchen, to which we never had access in the daytime because the servants were there. The party might consist of A. E. W. Mason, Joseph Conrad, Mr. and Mrs. H. G. Wells, and others. We would first raid the pantry, and then, with tissue paper over our combs and Stephen conducting with the toasting fork as his baton, we all would sing horribly and happily through the combs. Such foolishness amused those brilliant minds!


BREDE PLACE was a beautiful old manor house which belonged to the Morton Frewens. Mrs. Frewen was Lady Randolph Churchill’s sister and Winston Churchill’s aunt. The Frewens then lived in London and on their estate in Ireland, and I imagine they rented Brede to the Cranes for a very small sum. The house stood in a big park and there was a little brook into which I used to wade with one dog at a time, get him thoroughly wet, and then soap him all over — our one way of keeping them clean. There were Sponge, king of them all, a cross between a thoroughbred retriever and an old English sheep dog, the wisest and best of dogs; Flannel, fox terrier bitch; two Russian poodles, amiable but stupid; and the progeny of them all. Not a cat that I can remember on the place. Two horses in the stables. Stephen loved to ride them and to drive them harnessed to a high English dogcart.

I wish I could remember the history of the house, parts of which dated back, I think, to the thirteenth century. The Cranes always said that the “modern improvements" were made in Elizabethan days. There was no running water — it had to be pumped outdoors and brought in. No gas or electric lights, just lamps and candles. Huge open fireplaces. Many rooms in the house were left unfurnished. Cora had found a lot of lovely old four-poster beds being used as chicken coops in neighboring farmyards and had bought them for a song and had them rubbed down and fitted with mattresses. Cora had been clever in finding other odds and ends for the house. The beautiful big oak-paneled hall, where we lived most of the time, was full of comfortable couches and chairs and pretty tables with lamps and plants and books. The dining room had a long refectory table and rushes on the floor from the meadows by the brook. There was a chapel in the house, but it had long been used as a storeroom. The Cranes stored apples there.

Karl Harriman wrote in the Critic for July, 1900: “The old manor house . . . was built in the 13th century. . . . The chill, damp and draughts of the old house were terrible.” I suppose they were. In Mightier than the Sword, Ford Madox Ford (he was called Ford Madox HuefFer then, I think) described “the ill-fated mansion ... in a damp hollow . . . partly Elizabethan, partly even medieval . . . full of evil influences.” Rubbish! It stood high, looking down over a little valley where flocks of sheep cropped the good grass. And the house radiated with the happiness of the Cranes. When Mr. Hueffer came to Brede, he read some of his poems to us. In one, there was a line about “birds in the treetops,” which he read “birds in the tea traps,” and we three had much difficulty in concealing our giggles.

Stephen’s workroom was an austere place with a not too comfortable chair and a long table in it, bare except for his papers. When he was in the writing mood, we would all stay away from him. But sometimes he would say that he could think better if he had company, and then he would bring his work down to the hall and write while Cora and I sewed. One day he told us that he had had a dream which he thought would make a good story, He dreamed that he was acting on the stage of some theater and in the play he was a prisoner. He had been handcuffed and his ankles were bound together. Suddenly there was a cry of “Fire!” In his dream, all the other actors and the audience ran for the exits and forgot that he was tied up and helpless. That was his dream. He wondered, in writing about it, how long it might take him to inch his way along a corridor to an outside door. So he got Cora and me to tie his hands and his ankles together and then he spent the morning trying, over a given distance, to hop or roll or work along like an inchworm, all in deadly seriousness. I don’t know whether he published the story, but he lived it and wrote it.

Heather, the butler, was pompous and typical, but devoted to the Cranes. When there was a crowd in the house, he would manage between courses to wash and dry the flat silver, for there was not a great amount of it.

Vernall, the cook, was half English, half Swiss. She had been my mother’s cook for about ten years, and Mother had taught her to cook good American dishes. Mr. James loved her doughnuts. I have unfortunately lost a lovely photograph of him, eating Vernall’s doughnuts at the church fair. Vernall’s husband, Chatters, did the outdoor work and the carrying of water. There were a couple of maids. And Pat, the coachman, and his wife lived over the stables. A big establishment, but they could not do with less.

The house was supposed to be haunted and no one from Brede village would work there after dark. I slept in the haunted room, and Stephen insisted that a dog or two should sleep there too. He was afraid someone might try to play practical jokes and scare me. Outside my windows was thick ivy in which white owls roosted, and their hoo-hoo-hoos were eerie if you didn’t know where they came from. The room had three doors, leading to other rooms or halls. When I went up to dress for dinner, I would carefully close each door. A moment later I would look fearsomely over my left shoulder. Door number one would be open. Then, over my right shoulder, door number two open and, a little further to the right, door number three. I always turned slowly and always had the same spooky feeling. But the doors, I knew, were not really bewitched. They all had old slippery wooden latches which had to be pegged to stay shut.

When I was lying in bed at night, I seemed to hear babies crying, or a coach-and-four would come trundling from a distance, the horses’ hoofbeats pounding louder and louder over my head. I loved it, because it was the wind making the rafters creak and groan.


SOMETIMES Cora, Stephen, and I would be alone: sometimes there was one guest, a couple, or a crowd. I have read articles about Stephen’s frantic worry about money, about people who came uninvited and battened upon him, of his writing early and late to make enough to pay for all that was demanded of him. I never heard money mentioned while I was there. I never saw an uninvited guest. The guests who came were invited by Cora at Stephen’s suggestion. I have heard her protest to him that he should have a rest after a houseful over a weekend. But he loved to have people there. We never thought of him as being delicate. He was slight but wiry. People have said of him that he drank too much, smoked too much. That is nonsense. He always had a tumbler of whisky and soda by his side as he wrote, and he sipped it from time to time.

I mixed his drinks for him and I did it the way he wanted, with about two teaspoonfuls of whiskyin a tall glass of soda water. He might have three of these during the day. He always had a cigarette in his fingers, but most of the time it was out. Cora and I used to pick up dozens of cigarette stubs which had obviously been puffed once, then thrown away in disgust when he found they had gone out.

Mr. Frewer was the rector of Brede village. Soon after Florence Bray and I went to Brede Place, a fair was held in the rectory garden. Cora had a booth where she sold knickknacks; Florence played the piano and sang; everyone did what he or she could to help. I told fortunes. This I was chosen to do because I had long dark hair and could be dressed up to look like a gypsy. I sat in a little summerhouse, with a table in front of me. On it were a lot of envelopes filled with sugar and spices which I sold as love potions to the “local yokels,” as Stephen culled them. Henry James insisted upon sitting there with me all afternoon, adding much to my confusion. I knew nothing about telling fortunes and I only hoped I was not raising false hopes in the bosoms of the young couples who came shyly in to consult me. I was shyer than they were.

The first month or so of my visit to Brede, Helen Crane was there too. Helen was sophisticated in some ways, childish in others, and Stephen thought she needed more education. My sister, Mabel Barr, and I had been at Rosemont-Dézaley in Lausanne and loved the school. Stephen wrote Helen’s parents and got their consent to her going to Rosemont. The Cranes decided that Stephen would take Helen to Switzerland, and that Cora and I would accompany them as far as Paris and wait there for his return. I think it must have been the end of August when we four got into the omnibus (used as a rule to meet guests at Rye Station) and were driven by Pat, the coachman, to Folkestone, where we spent the night with the H. G. Wellses. That evening Mrs. Wells and I gave them some music of sorts; then we all played animal grab. I can still hear Stephen roaring like a lion, Cora twittering like a canary, Mr. Wells barking like a dog.

Next morning George Lynch joined us and we crossed to Boulogne. In our compartment on the train to Paris there was a stout middle-aged and very serious Frenchman. He slept most of the time, with his mouth wide open. We had a lunch basket with us, and while we were getting things out of it Mr. Lynch took a bottle of fizzy water, the cork of which was tied on like a champagne cork. From the corner of my eye I saw him aim nonchalantly, so that no one would notice, cut the string, and pop! into the poor Frenchman’s mouth went the cork and a generous supply of soda water. Fury! Rage! But George apologized so charmingly for his “carelessness” that the victim was soon mollified. Not so Stephen. He later gave Mr. Lynch the dressing-down he deserved.

We four stayed at the old Hotel Louis le Grand, and Mr. Lynch went off on his own. The first night we were there, after we had all gone to bed, a note arrived from him saying he was going to fight a duel and he wanted Stephen to come at once and be his second. Stephen thought it was just one of George’s jokes and refused to go. But early next morning the Wild Irishman appeared, arm in arm with a delightful Frenchman, whose other arm was in a sling!

Cora and I were alone in Paris for a couple of days while Stephen took Helen to Lausanne. We saw the sights and window-shopped. Stephen returned and immediately did a lot of writing. One morning a page of his manuscript was missing and there was wild excitement in the hotel while chambermaids came into our rooms and emptied wastepaper baskets all over the place to see if the page had been thrown away by accident. It was not found and Stephen had to rewrite it.

We met various friends in Paris and had a gay time, with lunches, dinners, theaters, cafés-chantants, and sightseeing. We had meant to stay quite a while, but suddenly we all got homesick for Brede and the dogs and decided to go home. All the time we were away, both Cora and Stephen got small pieces of candy from pennv-in-the-slot machines and mailed them home to the dogs.

One morning in October, Stephen came down to breakfast and said, “Edith has never been to Ireland. Let’s go to Ireland.” Bless him! He was writing The O’Ruddy and he wanted some local color and I was a good excuse. So we packed our bags and off we went to London.

That evening there was a big party at the Frewens’, where the Cranes were lionized. Next, morning we went to the station to take the train to the boat for Ireland, but found that we had had an old timetable and that the train had gone. No matter. It was fun to have another day in London. We missed that train three days in succession. It sounds as if we were all morons. But we were just happy, carefree country bumpkins who had lost the habit of catching trains. And each day and evening was full of more parties — lunches, teas, dinners. Everyone wanted to entertain the Cranes. Finally we reached Ireland and went from Cork to Ballydehob to Skibbereen to Skull to Bantry, ending at Glengariff, staying at little country inns. We rode in low-back cars or in little trains which Stephen said leaped from crag to crag, and we made friends with people all along the way. We were to have gone to Killarney, but again we got homesick for Brede and the dogs.


JOSEPH CONRAD came often to Brede, but his wife was not well at that time and I never met her. The Cranes gave the Conrads one of the puppies, named Pizanner because he was black and utterly mongrel in shape, with a leg on each corner, like an oldfashioned square piano. The Conrads renamed him and he was much loved by them. I liked Mr. Conrad the most of any of the Brede guests. He was charming, quiet and courteous. I was shy and inclined to listen rather than to talk. He would discuss books with me as seriously as with his fellow writers.

I wish I knew how to describe the atmosphere of Brede. I have never known two people more deeply in love with one another than were Stephen and Cora. Their sweetness and consideration each for the other were touching and charming. Each was extremely sensitive, each protective. Cora ran the household for Stephen’s comfort and happiness. She followed his every change of mood. If he wanted silence, he had silence. If he wanted company and gaiety, he had them. They were fine people, both of them. They were good. Always they were good. Not only were they “good “to me.

They wore ethically good. They were kind. They wore just.

Stephen had candid gray eyes and tawny hair and mustache, both rather shaggy. He was slender but not delicate-looking. Cora was short. She had great dignity and quiet charm. Her hair was pure gold, her skin exquisite. She was a woman of great distinction.

She used to say, “ I haven’t any more clothes than a rabbit.”At Brede she wore a kind of tunic and skirt, which she made herself. Some were made of cotton, some of wool, some of silk or velvet. She always wore sandals. She had brought home the original pair from Greece and had them copied by the cobbler in the village. She had a suit and blouses and shoes which she wore when she went to town, and a lovely black evening gown. But she certainly never spent money on herself. Stephen usually wore knickers at home and he always forgot to put on his garters. Cora said his stockings were accordion-pleated.

One day Stephen was talking about his Whilomville Stories. He said most of them were founded on stories that Cora had told him of her childhood.

I asked her where she had been born and she told me some place in Massachusetts. I have forgotten the name. Later on, she told me a lot about her childhood and younger days. Her parents had died when she was a tot, and her grandfather had brought her up. He had made money out of some system he had devised for restoring old paintings. He died when she was fifteen and left her his money but did not name a guardian for her. The first thing she did, after his death, was to buy herself a long black velvet dress and a string of pearls! Poor child.

I believe that at one time she was married to a young Englishman of title. Her brushes and mirror and other toilet silver were marked with a coronet and initials. And her old trunks in the attic were marked with coronets. She must have been very young at that time. She and Stephen both told me that they met in Greece during the Greco-Turkish War when Stephen was a war correspondent there and Cora was writing for some American newspaper.

When Mr. Conrad, the H. G. Wellses, A. L. W. Mason, Mr. Pugh, and others were at Brede, we would sit around the huge fireplace in the hall in the evenings and everyone would have to tell stories. I remember one told by Mr. Mason. When he was a lad he went to stay with a classmate whom he had visited before. They arrived late at night when everyone had gone to bed. The young host, showed Mason to the room he had had on other visits, and Mason went to bed and to sleep. He wakened to hear groans and to see a white figure floating between ceiling and floor. Terrified, he pulled the bedclothes over his head and finally went to sleep. In the morning he found that a poor young maid had hanged herself from the tester of his big four-poster bed. She had thought the room was empty.

For a long time my family had been clamoring for me to come home, but the Cranes would say they needed me — they would be all alone (alone! with endless guests) in the country, miles from anywhere. Finally, Christmas was in the offing and I must go home. “No,” said Stephen. “Let’s have a real party. We’ll have all your family here and your friends and our friends. It will be your party. We’ll have a ball and a play.” “What play?” asked Cora and I. “Oh, you two can make up some sort of play and I’ll get a lot of friends to send a scene or a sentence or even a word that you can work into it. Then we can say they wrote it.” That was how The Ghost was born. I think it was Edwin Pugh who contributed “He died of an indignity caught while chasing his hat down the Strand.”

Later, various actor-managers, among them Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, reading in the newspapers the formidable list of “authors,” wrote Stephen asking if we would give the play in one of their London theaters! The play was utter nonsense. Mr. Mason as the Ghost had the only real role. The rest of us sang or danced or did what stunts we could. The cast had a good time but I do not know how much the audience enjoyed it.

Cora and I worked like dogs before the party—sending out invitations, hiring extra servants from London. The play had to be written and typed, each of us typing with two fingers. Music had to be copied and new words written for each song. I painted the scenery: the huge fireplace in the hall was the backdrop. Guest rooms had to be arranged for married couples. Erstwhile big empty rooms fixed up as dormitories, one for men, one for women. An orchestra had to be engaged, cots hired from a local hospital. Cora got the village blacksmith to make dozens of iron brackets, each holding two candles, to hang around the oak-paneled walls of the hall. We made long ropes of holly and greenery and festooned them around the walls. We wrote on cards who-should-take-in-whom to dinner every evening, and put them near each guest’s bed.

The cast came a day before the other guests. After a sketchy rehearsal at home, we gave a trial performance of The Ghost that afternoon in the village sehoolhouse for the school children. When the other guests arrived next day, we numbered about fifty. We had the real performance that night.

Next night was the ball. Then everyone left the following day and we three were alone again. But I had been told that now I must come home.

Cora asked Stephen if he had enjoyed the party and he said yes, every bit of it.

I left them the first week in January, 1900, expecting to see them both soon again. Stephen had been his usual self, not tired or bothered in any way. He seemed as vigorous as ever. Cora and I wrote every few days to one another and all seemed well. Then came a frantic letter saying Stephen had had a hemorrhage and that she was rushing him to the Black Forest. Then, the end.

Cora died just a few years later. I loved them both.

In 1902 I returned to the United States, after having lived most of my life abroad. Almost thirty years later, when my daughter Katherine was fourteen, I took her to England and to Brede. I wondered if anyone would be there. I had lost track of Mrs. Frewen and thought she was probably in Ireland. As we drove through the park to the house, it was obvious that someone was in residence, as everything was well cared for along the drive. I rang the bell at the familiar front door and a pretty maid answered it. I asked her if Mrs. Frewen were there. She said yes and asked us to come in. I said I would rather wait until she asked Mrs. Frewen if she remembered Edith Richie, a friend of the Cranes. She came rushing back, saying, “Please come in, madam. Mrs. Frewen is so anxious to sec you.”

Into the big hall we went. It looked very different from the Cranes’ time. Beautiful furniture, fine pictures. Soon, in came Mrs. Frewen, a little old lady, very changed from earlier days. She hugged us both and told Katherine about the happy times we had had together. She showed us all over the house. Her bedroom was a room that had been empty in our time. In it was a bed that had belonged to Queen Anne. The chapel had been rededicated, and over the altar was a copy of the Descent from the Cross which her daughter, Clare Sheridan, had sculptured for the Kitchener Memorial. House and garden were full of beauty.

I told Mrs. Frewen that I had slept in the haunted room for five months. She said that when they first moved back to Brede, after their house in Ireland had been burned during the Troubles, she had invited her sister, Lady Randolph Churchill, to pay her a visit. She put her in the haunted room. Next morning, Lady Randolph left in a hurry and said she never would enter Brede Place again. But Winston came and slept there and didn’t mind.