(From Mary Penrose to Barbara Campbell)
Woodridge, May 10.
"Dear Mrs. Evan,
" For the past week I have been delving in the seed bed, and until it was an accomplished fact, that is as far as putting on the top sheet of finely sifted dirt over the seeds sleeping in rows and rounding the edges after the most approved methods of bed-making, praying the while for a speedy awakening, I had neither fingers for pen, ink, and paper, nor the head to properly think out the answer to your May-day invitation.
"So you have heard that we are to take a long vacation this summer, and therefore ask us to join your driving and tramping trip in search of garden and sylvan adventure; in short to become your fellow-strollers in the Forest of Arden, now transported to the Berkshires.
" It was certainly a kind and gracious thought of yours to admit outsiders into the intimacies of such a journey, and on the moment we both cried, 'Yes, we will go!' and then appeared but - that little word of three letters, and yet the condensation of whole volumes, that is so often the stumbling-block to enthusiasm.
"The translation of this particular but will take a quire of paper, much ink, and double postage on my part, and a deal of perusive patience on yours, so to proceed. Like much else that is hearable the report is partly true, insomuch that your father, Dr. Russell, thinks it necessary for Bart to take a real vacation, as he put it, 'An entire change in a place where time is not beaten insistendy at the usual sixty-seconds-a-minute rate, day in and out,' where he shall have no train-catching or appointments either business or social hanging over him. At the same time he must not hibernate physically, but be where he will feel impelled to take plenty of open-air exercise, as a matter of course! For you see, as a lawyer, Bart breathes in a great deal of bad air, and his tongue and pen hand get much more exercise than do his legs, while all the spring he has 'gone back on his vittles that reckless it would break your heart,' as Anastasia, our devoted, if outspoken, Celtic cook puts it.
"The exact location of this desired valley of perfection, the ways and means of reaching it, as well as what shall become of the house and Infant during our absence, have formed a daily dialogue for the past fortnight, or I should say triologue, for Anastasia has decided opinions, and has turned into a brooding raven, informing us constantly of the disasters that have overtaken various residents of the place who have taken vacations, the head of one family having acquired typhoid in the Catskills, a second injured his spine at the seaside by diving in shallow water, while the third was mistaken for a moose in Canada and shot. However, her interest is comforting from the fact that she evidently does not wish to part with us at present.
"It must be considered that if we take a really comfortable trip of a couple of months' duration, and Bart's chief is willing to allow him a three months' absence, as it will be his first real vacation since we were married six years ago, it will devour the entire sum that we have saved for improving the farm and garden.
"You live on the place where you were born, which has developed by degrees like yourselves, yet you probably know that rescuing, not an abandoned farm but the abode of ancient and decayed gentility, even though the house is oak-ribbed Colonial, and making it a tangible home for a commuter, is not a cheap bit of work.
"As to the Infant - to take a human four-and-a-half-year-old travelling, for the best part of a summer, is an imposition upon herself, her parents, and the public at large. To leave her with Bart's mother, whose forte is Scotch crossed with Pennsylvania Dutch discipline, will probably be to find on her return that she has developed a quaking fear of the dark; while, if she goes to my mother, bless her! who has the beautiful and soothing Southern genius for doing the most comfortable thing for the moment, regardless of consequences, the Infant for months after will expect to be sung to sleep, my hand cuddled against her cheek, until I develop laryngitis from continued vocal struggles with 'Ole Uncle Ned,' 'Down in de Cane Brake,' and 'De Possum and de Coon.'
"This mental and verbal struggle was brought to an end yesterday by The Man from Everywhere. Do you remember, that was the title that we gave Ross Blake, the engineer, two summers ago, when you and Evan visited us, because he was continually turning up and always from some new quarter? Just now he has been put in charge of the construction of the reservoir that is to do away with our beloved piece of wild-flower river woods in the valley below Three Brothers Hills.
"As usual he turned up unexpectedly with Bartram Saturday afternoon and 'made camp,' as a matter of course. A most soothing sort of person is this same Man from Everywhere, and a special dispensation to any woman whose husband's best friend he chances to be, as in my case, for a man who is as well satisfied with crackers, cheese, and ale as with your very best company spread, praises the daintiness of your guest chamber, but sleeps equally sound in a hammock swung in the Infant's attic play-room, is not to be met every day in this age of finnickiness. Then again he has the gift of saying the right thing at difficult moments, and meaning it too, and though a born rover, has an almost feminine sympathy for the little dilemmas of housekeeping that are so vital to us and yet are of no moment to the masculine mind. Yes, I do admire him immensely, and only wish I saw an opportunity of marrying him either into the family or the immediate neighbourhood, for though he is nearly forty, he is neither a misanthrope nor a woman hater, but rather seems to have set himself a difficult ideal and had limited opportunities. Once, not long ago, I asked him why he did not marry. 'Because,' he answered, 'I can only marry a perfectly frank woman, and the few of that clan I have met, since there has been anything in my pocket to back my wish, have always been married!' "'I have noticed that too,' said Bart, whom I did not know was listening; 'then there is nothing for us to do but find you a widow!'