To Bertha from Marie Schubert – (Date is approximate)
(First part missing)
My letters have to be of the installment variety it seems so here comes the second chapter.
You know when I first began with Hecht’s [Note: A large chain of department stores at the time] I was on the official role but the girls were jealous of my many privileges so after much trouble, I was put to punching a time clock. When I came in in the morning, when I went out to lunch, when I returned from lunch, when I went home. I couldn’t leave the building without a pass signed by my ”boss” and countersigned by the superintendent and so forth and so forth. Mr. Cassett got in the habit of sending me home early with a pass signed “business” and his assistant would punch my card for me at six o’clock. I had misgivings all the time that would start something unpleasant eventually but when my boss said, “go home” and I said, “WE are going to be spoken to some day severely I think if I do.” And he said, “Let them try it. Go on home to your kiddie.” What could I do? I went. Then the girls in the time keeper’s booth docked me for a quarter of a day when I went out on a pass signed by Mr. Cassett and marked by him, “business.” When I said, “Mr. Cassett, they have docked me,” he went berserker. I held my breath. He flew into the office of the “Highest One” where a conference was going on. It is next door to the advertising department. He slammed the door as he went in and I heard him simply “hollering” at them. He made a regular speech – said that because I was clever enough to finish my drawings quick by they were stupid enough to dock me – said I was conscientious and breaking my back right at that moment to save them from having to pay almost fifty dollars for inferior outside art work for their “sale” and, in return, they were rewarding me with such low down penny pinching cheap brainless foolishness as penalizing me for being a quick worker. He howled at them that to take a person of such highly specialized training and put her on a time clock basis was FUNNY. And he finished, “Does she punch the time clock? – I leave it to you – or doesn’t she?”
They answered in a chorus, “She does not.”
“Does she go home when she finishes her work?”
So, now, I sail past the time clerks sometimes at three o’clock, take as long as I please for lunch and am altogether an eyesore to the girls who started the whole trouble.
There is a girl in the advertising department who tries to make a “buddy” of me. She is one of these born mischief makers. The time clerk girls use her for a “telephone” to send insulting messages. They know that she will dash up to me with any unpleasant remark they make so it relieved their feelings immensely to tell Miss Mullin that the “whole advertising department act like darned fools” and that “the artist is a stuck up pill” – that they’re “glad they aren’t geniuses if geniuses are such nuts.” It really is very comical for they are so polite to me. The other day, Miss Mullen flew in – all excited – and wanted to know if I had been “spoken to” about violating the dress regulation. As a matter of fact, some time ago when the question arose, I decided to “conform” although Mr. Casset said I need not. I am not out in the shop (you haven’t been told that I now have my own private studio with special electric lights, desk table, cushioned arm chair, file cabinet, materials galore and everything I ask for) and there really isn’t any reason for my dressing in navy blue except that the girls are jealous of my every privilege. However, I decided that I would wear navy blue and bought two navy blue dresses – one with a deep cape collar of navy and roman stripes – the other has a vest of vermillion velour.
You know I detest myself in navy blue anyways and thought I was being very virtuous to put my money in the unbecoming dresses just because I didn’t want to excite envy.
Well – in flew Miss Mullion – demanding if I had been spoken to about violating the dress regulations. I was amazed I said, “But I haven’t. I’ve worn only navy blue.” “But you have some color on it,” she said, “and they called me down for wearing an écru waist [Note: beige] instead of white and said they were going to speak to you.” (That was what she came to find out.) “Did they?” I said, “No.” “What are you going to say to them if they do?” (Just itching to carry back an insult to them from me.) I shrugged my shoulders. “What are you going to say?” I shrugged again and laughed. She said, “Well, they’re just jealous cats.”
I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she went down and told them that I said so. However, it doesn’t annoy me in the least. When my boss heard that I might receive a calling down, he said, “Send ‘em in to me.”
My studio is just as comfortable as it can be made. (I even have a little electric device to heat water and I have hot tea with my lunch when I bring my own lunch as I prefer to do.) It has a north light. I see only the heads of the departments. The chief buyer, the superintendent, the manager and the more intelligent sort.
Everybody is just as pleasant to me as desired and I do love my work. I really do. It’s like playing paper dolls and being presented with fat checks every few days. The brains of the shop really defer to me, which does make such a difference in the atmosphere. It might have been so irksome.
I have been rereading your delightful letter. It did warm my heart so to find it waiting for me after my long hours downtown. It was just sweet of you to sympathize with my struggles and I certainly can sympathize with that horrid strange city feeling. I have been filled with real panic once or twice in times gone by just from that utter loneliness of being in a crowd of strangers.
It made me feel something of a “bluff” to have you praise my courage. Good gracious. I’m not brave and I’m certainly not a bit pious or resigned – I’m just seething with rebellion and all sorts of feelings that I suspect aren’t a bit Christian. I firmly believe that the meek shall inherit the Earth only when everybody else gets through with it. I’m furious with fate for every blow and I just wouldn’t admit that I was beaten if I were pounded to a jelly. I don’t know whether it’s pride or perversity or what but it isn’t courage. I’m sure because there have been more times than I like to think about when I couldn’t see any hope in the future and my heart has been sick.
One evening, I was just stamping along in a perfect fury. It was cold and bleak and I suddenly saw a big red light on the corner. In the chilly gloom, it shone out intensely hot and vivid and it seemed to me that I was so filled with passionate feeling that I ought to shine out just as flaming red and incandescent. It was during Sonny’s brief illness and I’m sure anybody who came anywhere near me should have received violent electric shocks and heard hissing noises and seen shooting sparks. So when anyone praises me, I feel that there is a misunderstanding somewhere for I cannot feel that I am a commendable character – on the contrary – I am very rebellious, weak, and human, and a meek and submissive spirit is not in me.
Dorothy, Catharine, and Elise Somebody have been reuniting Miss Critcher’s studio Sunday mornings. They had a Romanian Jewess who had posed for Henri. She had the bluest black hair, a natural complexion and a mouth the color of pomegranate flesh – that pale delicate pink – vivid but exquisite. They put her against a faded satin (between salmon and vermilion) background. It was stunning.
This week, they have a red haired girl in a yellow smock against silver gray.
I went down to see and came away nearer to the Demon driven state of mind than I would have believed considering the many things for which I have to be thankful. They had asked me to paint too – but Sunday is Ethele’s day off and there are a million little fiddling duties and a button here, a darn there, laundry lists, checks to be written and mailed, my hair to wash, dinner to prepare and twenty two pounds of wiggle tail to tended, lifted and rocked and washed and changed and fed and frolicked with – and so forth – there, too, my paints are in storage so I can’t paint. I can’t. The time is not yet.
So I do not see much of Dorothy and it does feel very lonely sometimes.
Congenial friends are a treasure indeed.
Which reminds me of what you say about men. You perhaps know that Hafiz several thousand years ago sang this – “In all this city, not one girl for me. Oh, girls and girls. But not the one I mean.”
I have often marveled at the number of utterly impossible men in this vale of tears. One feels like exclaiming with Napoleon, “My God how rare men are!”
I find some consolation in the thought that occasionally one finds a congenial spirit once or twice in a lifetime. I have found a girl or a man I felt I could talk to and trust to have the ideas of honor and beauty and life-in-general that I have. Though like you, I have had some very lonely moments in the midst of crowds of people. Hafiz speaks of “the immortal lonely ones.” So, perhaps there is hope for us.
Sunday after Thanksgiving Day
My dear – This is the third chapter – I had planned to use Thanksgiving Day to catch up on all my leftover affairs. Sew the button on Sonny’s shoe, darn the lace on his pillow cover, extend the vest in my new frock so that the silk lining would not shine out when I stooped over, write my sister and tell her what I thought of letting me go two whole weeks in suspense (and I still do not know if it’s a boy or a girl or – what its name???) and so forth and so on. But, as usual, my plans were knocked into a cocked hat.
The night before Thanksgiving, I received a telegram in the middle of the night – scared me horribly. Of course I thought something had gone wrong with my sister or her baby – not hearing a word has worried me. It was my brother Walter Mitchell saying his ship docked at New York instead of Charleston and he would spend Thanksgiving with me. I leaped into my cloths and dashed down to meet him (it was one o’clock) and the disturbance of uncle’s arrival roused Norman _____. So, on the whole, it was a wild night.
Thanksgiving Day, we went to see Lenore _____ in a David Belaco-adaptation of a French comedy in which a divorced-red-haired wife and a gutter snipe chorus girl struggle for the love of a rather nice man – sort of Bernard Shaw effect. I do not like to see women rowing over a man or pursuing him madly or wooing him and luring him and all that and I had my doubts of the kind of matrimonial life the poor chat would lead “ever afterward” with “that little devil” Kiki even if she did really love him wildly. However, she was entertaining even if she did walk out of her clothes and parade around very unconsciously in nothing much made of pink wash satin and she was pretty in a bizarre sort of way and everybody in the audience was wildly in love with her – she received I-didn’t-count-how-many curtain calls and at last, Mr. Belase himself came out and said how proud he was of his little girl.
It was wonderful to see Walter Mitchell again (after two years of traveling.) He is just back from abroad and the things he relates as everyday occurrences are very picturesque to me. All sorts of character studies in his casual descriptions of people. The French Admiral for instance who sucked snails out of their shells and was furious because, by mistake, the waiter presented him with the bill for Walter’s party. The Captain of the ship with whom Walter made a hit by permitting him to instruct Walter on various obvious naval issues. The mate (who holds a Captain’s or Master’s certificate and is only a mate because of the vast unemployment in Marine shipping just now) was always at daggers points with the Captain because the old man insisted on telling him how everything should be done.
The Hawaiians who mutinied and then accused the mate of sleeping on watch when brought before the court when the vessel docked in New York and the fight afterward as they came back to the ship for their belongings.
And so on and so forth – all in a day’s work for Walker but very entertaining to his big sister. The ship sailed for Africa and the Mediterranean cost. Walter was feeling quite virtuous for having renounced such a trip in order to go back to school (he is now a sophomore at Fla. University) and I think I would feel rather heroic myself if I had given up a trip like that to go back to school.
Speaking of traveling – Do you still think of Paris next summer with Dorothy? She talks of it constantly as something to look forward to, to build for, to hope and plan and save for, something worthwhile to do with this money she has earned so tediously. “Elise is going in June with an aunt and might make the trip with them if you are already there” – she says.
Dear me, here it is half past one and my mother-in-law expecting me over there this afternoon. Karl has taken Sonny Boy over this morning. Perhaps Dorothy has told you that one Sunday some time ago my mother-in-law got so irritated with that she told me to go home. I left her house of course – utterly dumbfounded. I didn’t know what I had said to make her so provoked and it seems like the last straw – with all I have to stand, and struggle with to have my husband’s mother unpleasant was just unbearable. I just couldn’t go to those two rooms which I now call home. I knew I would cry my eyes out if I went there feeling as I did and I had a busy days drawing before me Monday and had to save my eyes for that. So, I went to Dorothy’s.
And together we went to see Miss Perrie’s exhibit. Poor soul. She died deeply in debt and the proceeds of the exhibit were to be used to pay her bills.
And I dumped my woes on Dorothy who was very sweet and patient. I still do not know what I said I was sick to begin with and had run a great splinter through the sole of my shoe the day before into my foot which was very sore in consequence and my head was splitting with a headache from my eyes and I was wondering if I had to wear glasses when on Earth I could have my eyes examined without interfering too much with my work. I suppose Mrs. Rathvon thought I was complaining about having to work and casting reflections at Karl. That must be what was the matter. I cannot conceive any other reason why my saying that I ached all over would anger her. I did ache and just said no because it rather obtruded itself upon my mind and I didn’t mean to appear in a martyr’s role in the least. I hadn’t thought of such a thing. She said crossly that it was very amusing to hear a person who was never ill constantly telling how frail she was. I was surprised and I guess my jaw dropped with amazement as she went on to say that if I really felt so bad I’d better go home and that I never had been sick a day in my life and so forth and so on and as I stood there silent, I didn’t know what to say to that you know. She said, “Go on home.” And I turned without a word and went and she said “you’re not going home angry, I hope.” Not in an apologetic way but crossly – so I said, “no.” But I can’t tell you how it made me feel.
Two weeks later, she called up as if nothing had happened and chatted over the phone and – I chatted back – as if nothing had happened. It is very uncomfortable to go there now. I’m afraid some other quite innocent remark will stir her resentment and it is horrid not to be at least on terms of neutrality with one’s mother-in-law, it seemed to me she always tried to be nice to me and this was a shock – in fact, a blow.
I can’t feel that I quite deserved it though I suppose I should have spoken more guardedly. Though Heaven knows if I had felt like complaining of Karl I certainly would not have carried my grievances to his mother. Of course, I may err in my solution of her irritation. But, isn’t it tough to have that happen. I’ll never feel free to say what I think before her. I detest having to review each sentence before uttering it for fear of annoying or hurting over sensitive feelings. It is so lovely to say what one thinks and he assured that the listener knows you well enough to know you wouldn’t say slurry, spiteful, complaining, or sarcastic things, that your heart is in the right place, and you think no evil or malice.
I have been reading in the Literary Digest about Sargent’s paintings in Boston (how lucky you are) and about De Lazlo in the Rotogravure section of the Sunday papers – showing more of his not just “successful” but “triumphant” portraits. The man is a wonder and I don’t care how many Jarbells say he is “flashy” and “tricky” and things like that. I am like Dorothy, inclined to be “De Lazlo dizzio” (as her brother termed it.)
I am looking forward so to the contemporary artists’ exhibit at the Corcoran soon. I hope that the next or at the latest the one after next will have canvases of yours, mine, and Dorothy’s gracing it – it’s time some of us began “arriving.” Began evoluting into a professional. Do think up a picture and I’ll try to and I’ll urge Dorothy and let’s at least submit something and get started submitting and keep on submitting till we weary them or startle them into recognizing us as “contemporary” artists. Please let’s the three of us band together and bolster each other’s courage and see if we can’t surprise ourselves pleasantly by discovering that we are in the stage of “knowing, but knowing not that we know.”
Wouldn’t it be fun!
Bertha – there is so much that I’d like to chatter about but I have to snatch moments for any of my pleasures so that I feel that my letters are very disjointed and even incoherent. Perhaps the time will soon come when I will not be so hurried all the time then I’ll write you a “real” one instead of such patchworks.
With loads of love,