May 4, 1933 – letter to A.D.R.

Barcelona
May 4, 1933

Dearest ADR:

Your good letter came yesterday, and needless to say I’m tickled to hear that you aren’t sitting in the fig-tree, that you are all alive and well, and that the Wolf is house broken (Oh, most admirable phrase!)

I am sitting at a little table on the sidewalk, waiting for a train to France, which leaves in an hour and a half. Beside me sit a knapsack and a small suitcase—our total luggage.

You are absolutely right, my dear, in resenting my not having taken you more into confidence. Try to believe that it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to tell you all about it, as that I was all up in the air myself, not sure just what was happening and not knowing where to start or what to say in any event. It is bewildering to completely change one’s life all in a minute. Do forgive me.

In brief, here is the story: I met this “mysterious figure N. Rogers” summer before last, when H. and I were living in that little cabin in Vermont. Then he showed up again that winter in New York, and we became good friends. He helped me through some trying times. We liked mountains—laid plans for getting away together the following summer. It was with him that I took that trip down the Appalachian Trail through Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. It was all so good that I decided to stick to it. In August I wrote Bingham, giving up my job. This—all this—is a continuation of that adventure.

That is very brief. It doesn’t tell you anything about the delicious little island in the middle of a New Hampshire lake that we camped out on for two weeks in a tiny brown tent. It doesn’t say anything about the things we have been doing in Mallorca (which we just left last night), such as living in a cave out on the coast and swimming in magic blue-green water. And it doesn’t say a word about the mysterious figure himself. Well, that’s difficult. A picture may help a little. I just know that I have never “hit it off” so well with anyone or known a more congenial comrade. We’ve been together day and night for upwards of a year now, and no prospects of splitting up. Sometime we’re going out to explore the great North-West; and we’ll come to see you, if you’ll have us.

It all happened like a shot, you see. I was sorry to do this to E. A., but when crises arise things change. Besides, I think that was drawing to a close; and this was obviously right because it was so damn natural. I believe in nature. We have to  follow the best thing we know—the thing that is at the time best.

Helen writes that she expects to come over, with Sabra, in June. We shall join up with her somewhere, and I shall help her with another book. As for my book, Lost Island, I haven’t ditched it at all. I finished it about a year ago, and I suppose it is now wearily going the rounds of publishers’ desks under Helen’s guidance. I still think it’s a pretty good book. I haven’t written much since—a little short stuff.

But, writing or no writing, I’ve been living pretty hard, which is what I want to do. Last summer, that tremendous succession of mountains down the backbone of New England. Then, the business of sailing from New York. A rather dull winter in Mallorca, when it rained all the time, and we sat around Spanishly in cafés and read. Then, a good walking trip around part of the island, with a borrowed blanket. Living in a cave, making friends with carabineros (the coast guards—good fellows, all of them), eating with them in their huts, warming ourselves at night around their little fires and learning Spanish from them; swimming along great sweeps of beach, exploring Moorish watch towers about a thousand years old, sailing on several exciting cruises on a small sloop owned by an interesting chap. Now we are bound for France and Germany to tramp some more this summer. We are poor as church mice, of course, but progressively browner and happier as time goes on. 

Grenoble, May 7

The train arrived. We took about five different ones before we were through, and eventually landed here, under a line of mountains—sharp white peaks, with blue shadows. I imagine we shall be here about a week, then go on afoot over Switzerland and part of Germany.

That’s about all of it.

Thanks for the news about W. F.—not that there is much one could dignify by the name of news! I do want to look him up again sometime—be it Maine or California. That is another of the thousand-odd things we’ll do when we get back. We shall probably establish ourselves in a shack in the woods somewhere and explore from it. I like Civilization less and less.

Your letter was good to have. Do it again when you feel like it! (The same address holds good—we have no other yet.)

Much love to the “family.” I think they’re grand, all of them!

Love,
Bar

mid-late October, 1932 – letter to A.D.R.

℅ Howard Crosse
834 DeGraw Avenue
Newark, New Jersey
[undated, but ca. mid-late October, 1932]

Dearest ADR:

You wanted to hear from me promptly—right away, return air mail and all that. But, you see, in the rather odd kind of life I’m living right now, such things can’t be done. When your letter was forwarded to me, I was—well, where was I, anyway? Williamstown Mass., I guess—just in from a week’s stretch of Green Mountains. The next day we pulled out, hitch-hiking. I’m in New York now, at the apartment, but only till about tomorrow. Then I light out again.

Now I’m in Brookline, Mass., clearing up a few earthly details before sailing for a little island off the coast of Spain—if you can believe that! No wonder you are puzzled. The reason I didn’t try to go into any sort of detail in my first letter was that I wanted—well, to sort of feel around first, if you see what I mean.

However, before I go any further with this, I want to tell you how tremendously I was pleased with your news, which is at least as exciting as mine, only in a different way. That is, the good heart sings for you. Oh, how I hope nothing will go wrong this time! And then to hear that E. and M. have had no more devastating catastrophes, and that Phoebe is fairly happy, and that you yourself are surviving so well, head above water and all.

I don’t enjoy going into terrific detail about myself, by mail. It seems so rather brazen and cold-blooded. And I’ve been writing fewer letters than ever. But to put it briefly, New York irked me past endurance, and I had an opportunity to quit it all. I thought about it pretty hard for a while, and then decided that in spite of certain complications, “obligations,” and whatnot, I would chase them to the four winds and take my chance. So I did. I and a comrade escaped to the Maine woods (Katahdin, in fact) and then started off tramping south down the footpath that runs intermittently all the way from Maine to Georgia—the Appalachian Trail. It was a tremendous summer. There were mountains and forests, rivers and fields, sunlight and starlight, fir boughs and birds singing. But it was not only a summer. It will go on.

Those are the brief facts—which, of course, are not a satisfactory offering. You see how hopeless it is to give you a good idea of what it’s all about, and why. Besides, it’s all based on such subtle intangible things—except the boat to Spain, which is fairly tangible. I’ve tossed a lot of things to the winds, of course. I mean, I’m gradually getting to be a fairly “shady” character, but it’s worth it. When it isn’t worth it any more, I’ll change it some how. There’s always a way out, if you have courage—there was even a way out of New York!

Sometime my devious paths will lead me to you. I know that. Then there can be a real discussion, and real understanding. Right now i’m living in kind of a golden ethereal mist, and I haven’t typewritten for a long time, either! So I’m handicapped, more or less. Besides, the things I want to say are too new. They are still seething and surging around in my heart, but they haven’t been able yet to take their shape and wings and fly into the sun. It’s all pretty experimental, anyway. This I know—life is better than I thought. It can continue being good, if one only knows how. I’m trying to learn. I am learning, a little.

Helen has both backed me up and condemned me. Of course, it’s hard on her. A very subtle and complex question of ethics is involved—whether ’twere better etc. I’ve found this out—you can’t arrange your life so that everyone is satisfied, including yourself—unless you are a very uninteresting person. And the break had to come. I’m not claiming I’m right (how foolish it is for anyone ever to claim that he’s right about anything!), and God knows I may end up in an awful mess. Still, all I can do is follow the best I know—take the greenest and most verdurous trail that I can see. If it ends in a desert or a swamp, maybe I can go back and try another one. And that makes a cosmic adventure of if all.

We sail within a couple of weeks, probably. This was quite unexpected and out of the blue—we meant to go to Florida for the winter! I think you would like this person who has been constantly with me since the first of July, and intermittently for about a year before that.

Anyway, maybe I’ll drop you a few lines from Majorca or Minorca or somewhere!

With much love, and the best of luck to you.

Yours,
Barbara

[postscript in pencil]

Thanks for transmitting that letter. I’m glad I wrote it, whether he answers or not.

Above address holds good.

Letter to A.D.R., August 29, 1930

620 Etc
August 29 [1930]

Dear Mate:

Having allowed the dentist to put a gold inlay into a tooth, having written, delivered, and been paid for three synopses, having seen Helen off for New Haven again (thereby making three trips back and forth from here to town in the course of the day, via that devastating subway), and having, alone and in peace at last, partaken of my bowl of soup and crust of bread–having done all this, and being still quite alive, I will now proceed (oh, luxury!) to sit down and quietly, and in leisurely fashion, write a letter to you.

How I have chuckled over your contributions from Pasadena headline English! I would answer in kind, but I scan the papers in vain. New York headlinists don’t seem to have that ingenious knack of balling things up; in fact, for the most part they are altogether too lucid to be interesting. DRIVE CAR DEATH LEAP TIES UP TRAFFIC, is the best I can do, for the time being.

Dash it all, now that I’ve really sat down–after three days of trying to–there doesn’t seem to be anything more to say than there was last time or the time before, and one shouldn’t repeat oneself. School begins again next Tuesday. Thank God I can pay for it–the whole thing. I can also pay my own dentist bills, and buy my own clothes, and my own amusements and necessities. That’s more than I was ever able to do before; and I can tell you, it makes me feel quite uppity when I go sailing into that Fox office on Broadway and receive my weekly pay envelope!

Helen is rather desperate. I don’t know what to do about her, at all, at all. It makes her feel rather badly to think that I have a job and she hasn’t; it struck her hard that her MS didn’t sell with a bang; and as for finances–well, I don’t know where the rent comes from. She is always so secretive about those things, and she’s such a fool, really, when it comes to money and Practical Things. When I say “Fool,” I don’t mean it harshly, you understand. I guess you know what I mean as well as I do, anyway.

She has gone down to New Haven now, to mull over the house, and get it ready for renting. She is kind of wild here, because there’s a steam-derrick half a block away going all day, and making a fearsome racket. My typewriter goes too much for her nerves, too; but I don’t see how that can be helped. I’m hoping she’ll find some quiet in New Haven for a few days now, just as I’m finding peace here alone. When she comes again, Sabra will be with her.

Well, what next? I’m fairly contented, and have a rather pleasant sort of curiosity about the future. It can’t fail to be interesting! I think the masculine farent should be whanged on the head and wake up to find himself shanghaied to sea; and I think the feminine farent should tackle the first job she can light on. He isn’t what you’d call a Man. He isn’t half the man that some of the Dago workmen are down the street. He isn’t halfway the man that Mate Bill is, or Cap’n Colbeth, or Anderson. He should go to work and do some hard physical labor, under someone who can’t be talked back to, and who doesn’t care a damn for all the long words. Nothing could be better for him than to take a trip in the Vigilant, under old Captain Peasley, and first mate Jacobsen. Jove! He’d “yump” around then, all right!

Yes! I have some news for you. I went and saw The Green Pastures. It is the loveliest, and most real, and simple, touching, glorious play I ever knew. Marc Connelly’s negro play, you know. It interprets the negro’s simple belief and religion. Lord God Jehovah is exactly like some kindly old white-haired preacher: he has a little office up in Heaven, and every morning two angels, with dust-covers over their wings, come in and dust it.  The whole story is there from the beginning–Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Moses, the pilgrims on their way to Canaan; and all through it the choir sings negro spirituals, most of them familiar–and you get to the point before long when you just want to lie down and weep.

Speaking of weeping: the steam-derrick which makes such a racket down the street here is doing a job for a company which calls itself The House-Wrecking Company. If that ain’t the limit!…

Yours,
B.

[in pen] I just received a letter from Detroit, enclosing E.’s masterpiece. Oh, I do so hope you’ll all manage to get away together on some gorgeous Exposition before long!

B.

March 7, 1928 – Letter to Wilson Follett

176 Armory Street, New Haven, Connecticut
March 7, 1928

Dear Daddy:

I did receive your letter, yesterday afternoon, and I read it (as you may suppose) a good many times before I came to any conclusion or conclusions concerning it. And now that I think that I have, I feel that I must point out two ideas in that letter that seem like ill-concealed weaknesses, and that cannot help but make me suspicious. (1) Because you do not give any clue as to what your answer almost was, and especially because you call attention to the fact that you have given no clue, I am tempted to think that the answer you had in your mind was one that you are now ashamed to reveal. For, had the intended answer been the right one, why all the secrecy about it? (2) Because the question of the divorce was brought up, that seems to me to put all idea of choice out of the picture, and it also seems to betray what was in your mind. For, in the desiring of a divorce from Helen (and I shouldn’t have let her give it to you, anyhow), how is it possible that this answer which “rang clear as a bell” in your mind was the right one?

Then there are others–other points–though those are the chief ones that have anything to do with your letter. For instance, Helen clearly and decidedly eliminated the idea of divorce long before she and Miss Whipple left New Haven. I was in the room at the time, “neque temere incognitam rem pronuntio.” Besides this, Helen was actually not asking you to return to her, but to return to the family. Aren’t we ever again going to cross the ranges of mountains in all weathers, or play about in Sternway, or steer a real windjammer though the seven seas, or take sailing-lessons from Mr. Rasmussen–as we once planned?

Such things do not reconcile themselves. For instance, if you now finally and determinedly drop all that, leave it behind, kick it out of the way, then how am I to believe that they actually and truly meant all to you that they seemed to at the time? And if they did, then how am I to believe that you don’t feel any more the lure of The Maine Woods–the lure of that mountain that we have always had vaguely in our minds? This is the time of year when you are wont to have feverish spells of mountain-lure–why aren’t you having them?

In short, and taking all this into consideration (as I hope you do), the whole wretched affair strikes upon me as being so absolutely nightmarish, insane, unthoughtof, that I can hardly convince myself that I ought to take it seriously. It seems to be like the last thing on earth that a person with any fragment of a brain or of a sense of responsibility would do. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

Then there’s another very important thing. You say Helen needs me, and right you are; but I need you, too. Thus, when you think that out, how am I to manage? She needs me, and I need you; but there aren’t two of me, are there? And I can’t cut myself in two parts, and then set the parts fighting as you and Helen are fighting–can I? Besides, though you say a great deal, both in this letter of yours and at other times, about the destructive and “poisonous” relationship between Helen and yourself, you must remember (for even I can remember that) that it hasn’t been true except during the last year or so; and that, even now, there is hardly anyone in the world who still doesn’t believe that you and Helen are an ideal pair. Why, you are the only one who even entertains that wild though! And, after all this, who is going to consider your thoughts the right ones? And besides, you cannot impress it upon me or anyone else that a relationship with a young girl of twenty is going (I mean, in the long run) to be anything but a worse nightmare than even you think your relationship with Helen is.

Now that I have said my say: there only remains one more thing. I feel that it is my duty to relate to you truthfully and accurately the details of my conversation with Miss Whipple. For I have an idea that she has gone to you, complaining that she has been maltreated in your house and by your daughter; and I have also a feeling that you are going to sympathize with her, and let her tell you what a beast I am, and all that. Well, you know that my memory is fairly sound on detailed conversations; and I here promise and swear that such fragments as I can’t remember I won’t set down at all.

To begin with, Miss Whipple asked Helen to telephone me where I was with Sabra, to tell me that she wanted to talk to me. And so I came. Naturally, we couldn’t launch immediately into that conversation, and so at first there were only a few friendly remarks. And then—

W. You see, Barbara, I think he would be happy and contented with me; and you wouldn’t object to his being happy and contented, would you?

B. You think you can make him happy?

W. I do.

B. Well, but is that a very honourable sort of happiness?

W. I don’t know; you see, I suppose I’m in love with him.

B. Well, then I think you ought to try and get out of love just as quick as ever you can. Besides, can’t you be on friendly, happy terms with him, without taking him away from his family?

W. People in love just don’t do that–that’s all.

B. Then what do you want; what do you expect?

W. I want to marry him.

B. Yes; but I might raise objections to that.

W. You see, your mother told me that if I married him I’d ruin your whole life, smash all your ideals, and all that. Well, I don’t want to do that; you may not believe it, but I don’t. Would it ruin your whole life?

B. I don’t see how I can tell whether it would or not. It might not ruin the whole of it; but don’t you see–it isn’t that–it’s simply the fact that it’s dishonourable and unfair, that’s all. Good heavens, Miss Whipple–don’t you see what you’re doing? Can even you, “in love,” as you say, think that it is fair to take a man away from his family as you’re doing? You can realize that you are not in the right of it, can’t you.

W. Unfortunately, I’m not.

B. Indeed, and I think it’s extremely fortunate that you’re not. Besides, do you want to know what I think? I suppose you don’t, but here it is, anyhow: I think you’ve taken an unfair advantage of him when he was and is in a physically low condition–exhausted with work, powerless to resist your “love,” as you call it. Because I can tell you I am absolutely sure that, if he were in his right mind, he would never think of such a thing–never even listen to it for a minute.

W. (shrugs her shoulders; enter H.) Well, Barbara’s been trying to give me advice.

H. You can’t blame her; she’s only fourteen and she’s having her father taken away from her.

(Here follow scraps of conversation; among them H.’s definite assertion that there will be no divorce.) [Enter Taxi, shortly.]

B. (advancing menacingly upon W.) Besides, I have another thing to say to you, and it’s this: If I were in the painful position you’re in; if I were doing what you are trying your best to do, I wouldn’t stand up there, so extremely unashamed of myself.

W. (mockingly) Thank you; –that’s all I can think of to say.

B. Goodbye, Miss Whipple; I’m going to swear at you behind your back when you’ve gone.

W. Mm-hm;–all right.

(Exeunt)

—————–

Now, there remain only a few general remarks. (a) You told me, over the telephone, Monday afternoon, to “hold my horses; and everything will be all right.” Naturally I believed you (must I begin to train myself not to?) Did you want my horses held so that they (my horses) wouldn’t get in your way–interfere with your plans? I cannot think of any other explanation; especially if this is the “all right” that you promised. (b) I never realized that my whole life has been simply a jumble of two persons “poisonous” to each other. I won’t believe it, that’s all; I won’t. ( c) I can also tell you that in the conversation between Helen and Miss Whipple, there were no dramatics at all, which was very fortunate; all that got out of Helen’s system on Sunday. It was a cool, calm, deliberate conversation–and, as I said before, “non temere rem incognitam pronuntio.” (d) Consider Sabra, among all the other things you have to consider. Can’t you see that she is not possibly able to grow up decently in the midst of this whirlpool? Why, she will have to spend all her time struggling to keep herself from being sucked down into it–and, as yo know, she can’t quite swim yet. And besides, you can see–can you not?–that she can’t in any way get along respectably with only two out of the three of us? It wouldn’t matter which two you picked, she needs the third–she needs us all.

Well, I think that’s all–every detail–every scrap. I depend very much on you; and I trust you to give another heave at the capstan bars, to get the family anchor started toward the surface again. After all, you have the strongest shoulders for heaving of us all! And, really and truly, you don’t want the family anchor to remain forever at the bottom, do you?

Barbara.

Letter to Helen Follett from Andrew Burt, Feb. 8, 1949

Barbara vanished from her apartment at 48 Kent Street, Brookline, Massachusetts on December 7, 1939. No one appears to know what happened to her after that date. Until her death about thirty years later, Barbara’s mother tried to find out what happened. Here’s a reply to her plea to an old seafaring acquaintance of theirs—Andrew Burt—who sailed with them in the Caribbean in 1928-29.

Thank you to Columbia University for the image.