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#0213: Willa Cather to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, [March 1, 1912]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Dear Elsie Sergeant1;

No! You communicated no germ5 to me unless it was the coy germ of selling things; for I have actually sold the Bohemian Girl6. Isn’t that a jolt? On that sodden Monday when you were taking train for Boston7 and when I was lunching with the business manager, he asked me if I had nothing to show for my stay in the country8. When I told him that I had a story too long, to “highbrow”, too remote etc, he said he guessed he’d like to see it that night if I’d send it up by the office boy. The next day I had tea with him at the Brevoort9 and he offered me seven hundred and fifty dollars for it. I laughed him to scorn; he doesn’t know how much a story is worth to his magazine10 half so well as I do, and I told him so. By mo no sort of figuring can such a story possibly be worth more than five hundred to McClures, so we finally agreed on that price. But he said I was a silly, and I promised to take $750 for the next one. Everyone in the office was enthusiastic about the story—in the name of goodness why, I wonder? They will publish it this summer, all in one number, though I shall have to cut it some. But isn’t this too amazing? And how can I ever leave the faithful McClure’s? Mr. Mackenzie11 wrung the plot of the opera singer one12 out of me and went to the office and told it to everyone, and one of the article writers came to Miss Lewis13 and asked her which character she thought more interesting, the mother or the daughter! They say they would like the copy July 1, and I have not even a plan for it as yet, and I know it will be distant and sentimental and terribly hard to write. All this, of course, is because the business office has been getting a good many letters and notices about Alexander14, so they come after the Harp that Once15 with a football tackle. This morning a note comes from Mr. Mackenzie asking for an outline of the unwritten story to advertise in the prospectus! I’ll never be able to write it at all if the advertising man is loosed to snap at my heels. I shall need the imperturbable nerves of Rex Beach16 himself. Really, I’ve got such a case of stage fright about it that I dont see how ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩I can ever put pen to paper. The brazen immodesty of talking having your unwritten plot discussed about the office, anyhow! —— However, despite these disadvantages, if this was the germ you handed on, I’ll keep it thank you, until you do the sanatorium novel and want it back again.

I wonder whether you’ll be reading this scrawl between gargles; I do hope not. But why didn’t you send for me to on Sunday if you were down and out and not doing things? I call that a chill omission. And that Boston train, with a bad throat—! I know all its dismalness: I am really somewhat better and am staying over for the Howells17 dinner18. I keep wishing you could have stayed a little longer, though it was better luck than one usually has to have you here at all. I did get such delight and satisfaction out of seeing you here. As to feeling a drop after you departed–well, one does not so often miss people that one can’t afford a little loneliness. What joyful things we can do the next time we make the same port! I think it will always be easier to catch step again now. My metaphors seem to be a little mixed, but my feelings are quite clear and simple, and its very jolly to care about you so much. Admiration is always a pleasant thing to feel, and I’ve always felt a great deal of that for you, since the first few times I saw you. But you probably know that, without my telling you.

Now I must dress in three square feet of room. I wish the fourth dimension were in practice!

Faithfully alwaysW. S. C.

Am I becoming cleverer, or is your handwriting plainer than of yore?

Miss Elizabeth Sergeant1 4 Hawthorne Road Brookline3 Mass. NEW YORK,N.Y STA A2 MAR 01 1912 2 PM