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#1523: Willa Cather to Bruce Rogers, January 25, 1941

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ 570 Park My dear Mr. Rogers1:

I am sorry that I could not see you when you were in town2 this week, but I have been in the French Hospital3 for some time being treated for an injury4 to my right hand - a badly sprained thumb and wrist. I will try to answer your questions in order.

1. If it suits your plan better to omit the section marks, I certainly have no right to object. I used them because in this book5 so many of the short chapters are not closely related to the chapter just preceding; and I thought it would be more convenient for the reader if these breaks were indicated by Roman numerals.

2. Certainly, you would be quite in the right to omit the capital O in Moses. I used the capital to recall to myself, and to others, the impressive way in which Negro singers deliver the dark vowels. They sing the words Moses and Jordan quite differently, although the accented vowel is the same.

3. Water mills are a weakness of mine. I wish I were well and could talk to you about them. In the first draft of this story, I wrote an entire chapter on the mill itself. I cut the chapter out, because it unquestionably held up a narrative in which the movement was none too swift.

(a) In Virginia6 the millpond was very often called the milldam. On looking into the 1935 edition of Webster's New International7, under "dam", I find that millpond is the second definition given, so it must be a general usage as well as a local one.

(b) In Virginia (my part of it) they always said, "he went down the garden"; and when the dinner bell rang, the same man came down the garden when he retraced his steps and came to dinner. It was difficult in this book to know how far one should ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩indulge in colloquial speach. I agree with you that this down is misleading, so suppose we say he walked along the millrace? Along is a very common usage for up the road and down the road.

(c) Yes, the milldam on Back Creek certainly was fed by springs. When the mill was built probably a good deal of digging was done to release this underground water into one large pool. Parts of Virginia are actually 'sopping' with springs. From George Washington's8 time until sometime in the 70's or 80's, the whole town of Winchester9 was supplied with water by a single and enclosed spring, called the Town Spring. Of course, many of the town dwellers had pumps and hydrants in their back yards, but the more important citizens had plumbing in their houses.

3. In the matter of the creaking stairs, I simply throw up my hands and ask for clemency. The stairs in that mill house where I used to play did creak, but it may have been some fault in their construction. All the old houses in our neighborhood were had been built of unseasoned wood - often freshly hewn wood - and I took it for granted that in a house built so near the water the timber had never dried thoroughly,; for creak those stairs did, winter and summer.

I think it was more than kind of you, dear Mr. Rogers, to call my attention to these ambiguities in the text. In reading most books made up of early memories, I find that I cannot see the wood for the trees. People are usually fond of their early memories and enjoy recalling them on paper. I was so afraid of being too diffuse that I cut the manuscript very severely. I was not, after all, writing a history of Virginia manners and customs before the war. The chapters and paragraphs which I eventually cut out weighed exactly six pounds. Probably these drastic excisions left the story a little vague in some places.

Very cordially yours WILLA CATHER Willa Cather