Skip to main content

#2135: Willa Cather to Roscoe Cather, June 29, 1938

More about this letter…
Plain view:

Guide to Reading Letter Transcriptions

Some of these features are only visible when "plain text" is off.

Textual Feature Appearance
passage deleted with a strikethrough mark deleted passage
passage deleted by overwritten added letters overwritten passage
passage added above the line passage with added text above
passage added on the line passage with added text inline
passage added in the margin passage with text added in margin
handwritten addition to a typewritten letter typed passage with added handwritten text
missing or unreadable text missing text noted with "[illegible]"
uncertain transcriptions word[?]
notes written by someone other than Willa Cather Note in another's hand
printed letterhead text printed text
text printed on postcards, envelopes, etc. printed text
text of date and place stamps stamped text
passage written by Cather on separate enclosure. written text
My dear Roscoe1:

I can be of little help to you, but I think there are some things which I should confide to you.

1. I am enclosing a letter from Mary Virginia3. Please read marked passage. Neither Edith4 nor I can remember that Douglass5 said anything about a will on that occasion6. The three of us were laughing and talking here together, and it is very possible he may have said something that neither Edith nor I caught. Mary Virginia must have heard him make some such statement – she would not lie, but neither Edith nor I heard it. He might have said some such thing merely as a figure of speech – to illustrate the fact that he was had been really worried. But in quoting a man who can no longer speak for himself, I must state exactly what I remember hearing him say and what I do not remember.

2. Douglass asked me to go down with him to Tiffany's to select a present for Miss Rogers7 – he had already been there himself. He took me to a show case full of bracelets, but they all happened to be extraordinarily ugly. There really was not a very pretty bracelet in the place. I noticed, however, a case full of really beautiful rings – not the awfully expensive kind – prettily blended stones and lovely settings. I said quite innocently, "Why not get a ring?" – I really was not pumping him; I am a poor detective. But he shut one eye and screwed up his face a little and said, "No, no, that's a little too, too pointed." I laughed and said, "Oh, you mean decisive." "That's it," he replied, and I laughed and said, "same old fox", which seemed rather to please him. For the two summers when I saw a good deal of Miss Rogers at the –2–sanitarium8, I honestly saw nothing objectionable about her. She was competent at her job, not stupid, had good manners and was more attractive than Douglass' other girls. (Wait till you see the Edith9 to whom he made a bequest!) Douglass was rushing Miss Rogers pretty hard, and she admired him very much. His lovely way with his mother10 was enough to win any woman's heart. He told me, when he said good-bye to me the spring before Mother died, that he thought he would might marry Miss Rogers, and I told him I could see nothing against it.

Now, six or seven years of courtship is pretty hard on any young woman who has to make her own living. I think she lost her position at Las Encinas because there was "talk", owing to Douglass. When I knew her I certainly believe that she was no "gold digger", but she waslike any other girl who has found the man she wants I should say loves, not "wants"and tries to make him believe she willcan make him happy. In the six or seven years which have elapsed since I first knew her and used to take longtrips with the two of them, she may have deteriorated very much. That constant demand for sympathy and affection-which-gets-nowhere, is very hard on a young woman. Her position now is certainly much worse in every way than when she first knew Douglass. She has lost several positions, has been "talked about", has passed from the twenties into the thirties, which is against her professionally and matrimonially. I hope he was very generous to her during his lifetime, for the bequest in his will seems to me insufficient recognition. During the years when Jessica11 and Elsie12 were giving him lots of perplexity (these seem to be the two personsmost offended), Miss Rogers was giving him the kind of companionship and sympathy he liked. If Douglass was very generous to her, I am glad. She did more than any of us to make him comfortable. I think we ought to look at the matter as human beings. How would you like one of your own daughters13 to be played with like that, always expecting to be married next year? I am enclosing a letter from Elsie which needs no comment. When I knew Miss Rogers, –3–she was a nice, straight girl, and she believed altogether in Douglass' affection – which was undoubtedly real affection.,—though it led nowhere for her.

3. Now there is something I hate to tell you, and yet I feel I ought to. In every letter that Jim14 has written me since he left Kearney15 and joined Douglass, there has been a strong taint of disloyalty – except in the last letter, written after Douglass was dead. At first and for years after, he was always complaining that Douglass had given him a few hundred dollars to throw sand in his eyes and cheat him out of his share of FATHER16'S ESTATE – which he seemed to think very large indeed.! I wrote trying to reassure him, telling him I would give Douglass the management of my ownsavings at any moment. Secondly, all his later letters – there were not many, he wrote about twice a year – were full of complaints of his being held down and made a mere hired man, when he knew as much about the oil business as anybody. He said repeatedly that the oil business required no knowledge, orno intelligence of any kind. It was pure luck, and he intended to play around with the little fellows, the under-dogs who had not had the luck of Douglass and his partners17.

I know, Roscoe, these letters of Jims' from Jim would have great influence with you if I had only saved them, but that little taint of ingratitude and disloyalty was like an ugly smell to me. I would keep the letters for a few days, try to answer them, then tear them up. There are many good qualities about Jim. When I am with him, I always feel a peculiar and special tenderness for him. But he tremendously overrates his own ability, and his is continuously nagged on by a wife18 who is full of petty ambitions, and who has developed a much more venomous nature than ever her old mother19 had. Ethel was patient with Jim for a long time, I know,; but when she turned, she turned not to vinegar but to hydrochloric acid. I am not judging her, but it is up to you, your father's son, to see that these furious and self-seeking women do not attack Miss Rogers –4–tooth and nail and do her more harm than our family has alreadydone her. Father would not have dealt fiercely with her. If she has another will tucked away somewhere, properly executed, as an honorable man you will have to see justice done. I am almost sure she hasn't. Elsie's hypothesis, that she encouraged him to drink these last five or six months, is so absurd. We know now that he knew he had a bad heart and the game might be up any time. One sort of man would lie in bed and read and eat toast. He wasn't that sort. When he had drunk a few cocktails or a bottle of champaygne, that dark shadow withdrew to a distance – did not seem so close, and he could talk to Miss Rogers about his rosy plans for the future and how he meant togo abroad on the Queen Mary. I thinkIt was to get rid of that fear that he has been using himself up for the last year or so.

4. Now Roscoe, usually I keep peoples' secrets, especially when they are secrets I am ashamed to read. But I think you ought to know how vacillating and unappreciative of favors and how weak Jim is – under his queer kind of conceit. I hope you will not try to give either him or Jack20 much authority, but will trust rather to the experience and to thepossible, even probable, integrity of Douglass' partners – whom he trusted so much. Jack is a dear fellow but – no feels noresponsibility, happy-go-lucky. You can't make men over after they are thirty-five. Don't put Jim up against any important men – Roy Oatman21, Russell Amack22, etc., etc.were always his kind. I know Doug's partners are not exactly Harvard men, but they know their business, have proved it. and Jim says there is nothing whatever about the business to know.

This is the last letter I shall write you on this subject. As soon as I am well enough, I will get off to Grand Manan23, where I have no typewriter and nobody who can take dictation from me. But when you talk about "developing" Jim and Jack, I think I ought to ask you to sit down and considerthink awhile. and to –5–And I feel that I ought to give you this important sidelight on Jim; that he is not loyal, and never while Douglass was living did he write a nice letter about him – only fault finding and distrustful ones.

Jim is sweet with his children, poor lad, but I don't believe he is much fonder of them than Douglass was. Doug's face used to glow and his voice was just full of feeling whenever he spoke of those children.

When I knew her Miss Rogers was not looking about for a man—most of the young men at the sanitarium disliked her. She was extremely good at her job, and wanted to make a real career of it. When I went off on a three day trip down to Caliente24 she never said or did anything that made me feel that she was a cheap sort. She was then a frank, fresh, rather intelligent Western girl; I never her saw her throw a soft look at Dou Douglass, or hold his hand in the car, or languish. She behaved like a well brought up girl. I am sorry (Oh this pen!) I am sorry if her life has been spoiled. Deal in this case as Father would have done.

Lovingly Willie

Destroy Elsie's letter after you have read it