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#0443: Willa Cather to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, December 3 [1918]

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My Dear Elsie1:

What you write me about yourself simply amazes me! I was in the west at the time the paper5 announced the accident6. They had your name entirely wrong7 at first, and later said you “got off with slight injuries.” Got off somehow conveyed to my mind—well, that you had “got off”—certainly not that you had most woefully got in! F.G.8 didn’t write me about it. I got back to town2 just a few days before the Armistice9 was signed, saw very few people, and did did not hear a word about you. Your letter simply struck me dumb, therefore. I wonder you had to come in for a share of the unjust suffering of this unjust war. Why did that poor foolish woman10 go and pick up something? I thought they the French men always gaily guying the Americans because they pick up souvenirs—I didn’t know they practiced such countrified habits.

My shaved head11 seems a trivial thing to compare to cruelly shattered bones, but when I remember how sort of degraded it made me feel, it makes me groan to think of you—being knocked about in dressing-tents and railways when you were in such pain. The mere shock of the explosion and the suddenness of the way in which you were hurt must have broken up your nerves terribly, and the long “getting well” process is almost the worst of all. Do you know, it seems as if you were fated to have this war get through your skin. I know it had already tortured your mind and heart. ——— The Mauretania12 got in yesterday with five thousand of her sister’s avengers13—the first big launching of troops. But one meets lots of them about now, in theaters and hotels, and oh Elsie they are so jolly and modest and amused at everything—so just all that one could want them to be. They are not conceited as I heard a very clever and very nasty Frenchman say the other night, and they don’t think they won the war. The newspapers put on swag, and the Tammany mayor14 does, but not the soldiers. A funny little marine is coming here for dinner tomorrow night who never wears his Croix de guerre15 except indoors because people look at him so. At the French theatre16 last night a saw a few of “ours” among a lot of nice French soldier soldiers and sailors—but by gracious “ours” were nicer! So different—the French boys were awfully fine fellows—but ours were so wonderfully, so unexpectedly picturesque and they seemed so more alive than anything one had ever seen before! You could see their eyes and teeth flash when the lights were down. Oh, my dear Elsie, the flood of french that has broken loose on Broadway! All the shop girls speak it now when they dine at Mouquin’s17, and one is always hearing “Vive le France”18 and “Je suis amoureuse de cette robe”19 I could give you a hundred joyful phrases from the stenographer world. It’s going to make quite a new Broadway language—like the Norman Conquest20!

I’m glad F.G. sent you “Antonia”21 because I’m so pleased and happy at what you say about it. I didn’t send you one because when I finished it the waters of bitterness simply closed over my head. When I finished the proofs it seemed to me that nothing—simply nothing had got across. When I wrote you I wasn’t on speaking terms with the book, and I was trying to forget it. Now when people like you like it, I feel better about it. You see I liked it at first first, while I was writing it, and then in the proofs it seemed a gray waste of dullness. It came out while I was at home22 and my father23 said it was all so exactly the way he remembered it, that I began to feel encouraged. If it lightened up a few hours in the hospital for you, that is an especially nice association for me to have with it.

It’s cruel how many boys have died in our training camps here24. Before I left Red Cloud we had seven funerals in one week for boys who were were sent home from Camp Dodge, Iowa25. The rumor is that more of our men have died in camp26 at home than have been killed in France27.

I’ve talked over the telephone with Mrs. Boas28, who had not heard of your illness and who will write you at once. She is nice, but somehow so German! I like outright pro-German better than Pacifists, with their wise talk. I suppose you’ve heard all about the high cost of living. The monthly meat rise is a thing to weep over. New York2 was never so gaudy and extravagant. What you say about things abroad is discouraging. Come home as soon as you can and recover from it all—then go back to France and finish your work. Maybe you’ll find that this terrible thing you’ve had to go through will bring good things to you as well as bad—that is bromidic, but so many bromides are true. It’s a queer world we look out upon, isn’t it? With Germany29 howling to be fed first and most! But at any rate, come home and rest. I wish I could send you all sorts of nice things from my very loving and admiring self, and from all the people who love and admire you. You are very rich in friends, you know.

Yours always Willa S. C.
Mlle. Elizabeth Shipley Sergeant1 American Hospital of Paris 44 rue Chanveau Neuilly-sur-Seine3 France NEW YORK, N.Y. STA. O2 DEC 4 1918 1030 AM