I wonder if there isn't a lot of bunkum in higher education? I never
found that people who were learned in logarithms and other kinds of
poetry were any quicker in washing dishes or darning socks. I've
done a good deal of reading when I could, and I don't want to "admit
impediments" to the love of books, but I've also seen lots of good,
practical folk spoiled by too much fine print. Reading sonnets
always gives me hiccups, too.
I never expected to be an author! But I do think there are some
amusing things about the story of Andrew and myself and how books
broke up our placid life. When John Gutenberg, whose real name (so
the Professor says) was John Gooseflesh, borrowed that money to set
up his printing press he launched a lot of troubles on the world.
Andrew and I were wonderfully happy on the farm until he became an
author. If I could have foreseen all the bother his writings were
to cause us, I would certainly have burnt the first manuscript in
the kitchen stove.
Andrew McGill, the author of those books every one reads, is my
brother. In other words, I am his sister, ten years younger. Years
ago Andrew was a business man, but his health failed and, like so
many people in the story books, he fled to the country, or, as he
called it, to the bosom of Nature. He and I were the only ones left
in an unsuccessful family. I was slowly perishing as a conscientious
governess in the brownstone region of New York. He rescued me from
that and we bought a farm with our combined savings. We became real
farmers, up with the sun and to bed with the same. Andrew wore
overalls and a soft shirt and grew brown and tough. My hands got
red and blue with soapsuds and frost; I never saw a Redfern
advertisement from one year's end to another, and my kitchen was a
battlefield where I set my teeth and learned to love hard work.
Our literature was government agriculture reports, patent medicine
almanacs, seedsmen's booklets, and Sears Roebuck catalogues. We
subscribed to Farm and Fireside and read the serials aloud. Every
now and then, for real excitement, we read something stirring in the
Old Testament--that cheery book Jeremiah, for instance, of which
Andrew was very fond. The farm did actually prosper, after a while;
and Andrew used to hang over the pasture bars at sunset, and tell,
from the way his pipe burned, just what the weather would be the
As I have said, we were tremendously happy until Andrew got the
fatal idea of telling the world how happy we were. I am sorry to
have to admit he had always been rather a bookish man. In his
college days he had edited the students' magazine, and sometimes he
would get discontented with the Farm and Fireside serials and pull
down his bound volumes of the college paper. He would read me some
of his youthful poems and stories and mutter vaguely about writing
something himself some day. I was more concerned with sitting hens
than with sonnets and I'm bound to say I never took these threats
very seriously. I should have been more severe.
Then great-uncle Philip died, and his carload of books came to us.
He had been a college professor, and years ago when Andrew was a
boy Uncle Philip had been very fond of him--had, in fact, put him
through college. We were the only near relatives, and all those
books turned up one fine day. That was the beginning of the end,
if I had only known it. Andrew had the time of his life building
shelves all round our living-room; not content with that he turned
the old hen house into a study for himself, put in a stove, and used
to sit up there evenings after I had gone to bed. The first thing I
knew he called the place Sabine Farm (although it had been known for
years as Bog Hollow) because he thought it a literary thing to do.
He used to take a book along with him when he drove over to Redfield
for supplies; sometimes the wagon would be two hours late coming
home, with old Ben loafing along between the shafts and Andrew lost
in his book.
I didn't think much of all this, but I'm an easy-going woman and
as long as Andrew kept the farm going I had plenty to do on my own
hook. Hot bread and coffee, eggs and preserves for breakfast; soup
and hot meat, vegetables, dumplings, gravy, brown bread and white,
huckleberry pudding, chocolate cake and buttermilk for dinner;
muffins, tea, sausage rolls, blackberries and cream, and doughnuts
for supper--that's the kind of menu I had been preparing three times
a day for years. I hadn't any time to worry about what wasn't my
And then one morning I caught Andrew doing up a big, flat parcel for
the postman. He looked so sheepish I just had to ask what it was.
"I've written a book," said Andrew, and he showed me the title page--
DECAMERON, JONES AND COMPANY
UNION SQUARE, NEW YORK
January 13, 1907.
DEAR MR. McGILL:
We have read with singular pleasure your manuscript "Paradise
Regained." There is no doubt in our minds that so spirited an
account of the joys of sane country living should meet with
popular approval, and, with the exception of a few revisions and
abbreviations, we would be glad to publish the book practically as
it stands. We would like to have it illustrated by Mr. Tortoni, some
of whose work you may have seen, and would be glad to know whether
he may call upon you in order to acquaint himself with the local
colour of your neighbourhood.
We would be glad to pay you a royalty of 10 percent upon the retail
price of the book, and we enclose duplicate contracts for your
signature in case this proves satisfactory to you.
Believe us, etc., etc.,
DECAMERON, JONES & CO.
I have since thought that "Paradise Lost" would have been a better
title for that book. It was published in the autumn of 1907, and
since that time our life has never been the same. By some mischance
the book became the success of the season; it was widely commended
as "a gospel of health and sanity" and Andrew received, in almost
every mail, offers from publishers and magazine editors who wanted
to get hold of his next book. It is almost incredible to what
stratagems publishers will descend to influence an author. Andrew
had written in "Paradise Regained" of the tramps who visit us, how
quaint and appealing some of them are (let me add, how dirty),
and how we never turn away any one who seems worthy. Would you
believe that, in the spring after the book was published, a
disreputable-looking vagabond with a knapsack, who turned up one
day, blarneyed Andrew about his book and stayed overnight, announced
himself at breakfast as a leading New York publisher? He had chosen
this ruse in order to make Andrew's acquaintance.
You can imagine that it didn't take long for Andrew to become
spoiled at this rate! The next year he suddenly disappeared, leaving
only a note on the kitchen table, and tramped all over the state for
six weeks collecting material for a new book. I had all I could do
to keep him from going to New York to talk to editors and people of
that sort. Envelopes of newspaper cuttings used to come to him, and
he would pore over them when he ought to have been ploughing corn.
Luckily the mail man comes along about the middle of the morning
when Andrew is out in the fields, so I used to look over the letters
before he saw them. After the second book ("Happiness and Hayseed"
it was called) was printed, letters from publishers got so thick
that I used to put them all in the stove before Andrew saw
them--except those from the Decameron Jones people, which sometimes
held checks. Literary folk used to turn up now and then to interview
Andrew, but generally I managed to head them off.
But Andrew got to be less and less of a farmer and more and more
of a literary man. He bought a typewriter. He would hang over the
pigpen noting down adjectives for the sunset instead of mending the
weather vane on the barn which took a slew so that the north wind
came from the southwest. He hardly ever looked at the Sears Roebuck
catalogues any more, and after Mr. Decameron came to visit us and
suggested that Andrew write a book of country poems, the man became
And all the time I was counting eggs and turning out three meals a
day, and running the farm when Andrew got a literary fit and would
go off on some vagabond jaunt to collect adventures for a new book.
(I wish you could have seen the state he was in when he came back
from these trips, hoboing it along the roads without any money or a
clean sock to his back. One time he returned with a cough you could
hear the other side of the barn, and I had to nurse him for three
weeks.) When somebody wrote a little booklet about "The Sage of
Redfield" and described me as a "rural Xantippe" and "the domestic
balance-wheel that kept the great writer close to the homely
realities of life" I made up my mind to give Andrew some of his own
medicine. And that's my story.
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