English Literature

Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little

Lady of the Decoration by Frances Little

SAN FRANCISCO, July 30, 1901.

My dearest Mate:

Behold a soldier on the eve of battle! I am writing this in a stuffy little hotel room and I don’t dare stop whistling for a minute. You could cover my courage with a postage stamp. In the morning I sail for the Flowery Kingdom, and if the roses are waiting to strew my path it is more than they have done here for the past few years. When the train pulled out from home and I saw that crowd of loving, tearful faces fading away, I believe that for a few moments I realized the actual bitterness of death! I was leaving everything that was dear to me on earth, and going out into the dark unknown, alone.

Of course it’s for the best, the disagreeable always is. You are responsible, my beloved cousin, and the consequences be on your head. You thought my salvation lay in leaving Kentucky and seeking my fortune in strange lands. Your tender sensibilities shrank from having me exposed to the world as a young widow who is not sorry. So you “shipped me some-wheres East of Suez” and tied me up with a four years’ contract.

But, honor bright, Mate, I don’t believe in your heart you can blame me for not being sorry! I stuck it out to the last,—faced neglect, humiliations, and days and nights of anguish, almost losing my self-respect in my effort to fulfil my duty. But when death suddenly put an end to it all, God alone knows what a relief it was! And how curiously it has all turned out! First my taking the Kindergarten course just to please you, and to keep my mind off things that ought not to have been. Then my sudden release from bondage, and the dreadful manner of it, my awkward position, my dependence,—and in the midst of it all this sudden offer to go to Japan and teach in a Mission school!

Isn’t it ridiculous, Mate? Was there ever anything so absurd as my lot being cast with a band of missionaries? I, who have never missed a Kentucky Derby since I was old enough to know a bay from a sorrel! I guess old Sister Fate doesn’t want me to be a one part star. For eighteen years I played pure comedy, then tragedy for seven, and now I am cast for a character part.

Nobody will ever know what it cost me to come! All of them were so terribly opposed to it, but it seems to me that I have spent my entire life going against the wishes of my family. Yet I would lay down my life for any one of them. How they have stood by me and loved me through all my blind blunders. I’d back my mistakes against anybody else’s in the world!

Then Mate there was Jack. You know how it has always been with Jack. When I was a little girl, on up to the time I was married, after that he never even looked it, but just stood by me and helped me like a brick. If it hadn’t been for you and for him I should have put an end to myself long ago. But now that I am free, Jack has begun right where he left off seven years ago. It is all worse than useless; I am everlastingly through with love and sentiment. Of course we all know that Jack is the salt of the earth, and it nearly kills me to give him pain, but he will get over it, they always do, and I would rather for him to convalesce without me than with me. I made him promise not to write me a line, and he just looked at me in that quiet, quizzical way and said: “All right, but you just remember that I’m waiting, until you are ready to begin life over again with me.”

Why it would be a death blow to all his hopes if he married me! My widow’s mite consists of a wrecked life, a few debts, and a worldly notion that a brilliant young doctor like himself has no right to throw away all his chances in order to establish a small hospital for incurable children. Whenever I think of his giving up that long-cherished dream of studying in Germany, and buying ground for the hospital instead, I just gnash my teeth.

Oh! I know that you think it is grand and noble and that I am horrid to feel as I do. Maybe I am. At any rate you will acknowledge that I have done the right thing for once in coming away. I seem to have been a general blot on the landscape, and with your help I have erased myself. In the meanwhile, I wish to Heaven my heart would ossify!

The sole power that keeps me going now is your belief in me. You have always claimed that I was worth something, in spite of the fact that I have persistently proven that I was not. Don’t you shudder at the risk you are taking? Think of the responsibility of standing for me in a Board of Missions! I’ll stay bottled up as tight as I know how, but suppose the cork should fly?

Poor Mate, the Lord was unkind when he gave me to you for a cousin.

Well it’s done, and by the time you get this I will probably be well on my sea-sick way. I can’t trust myself to send any messages to the family. I don’t even dare send my love to you. I am a soldier lady, and I salute my officer.


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