Candace Wheeler.

Yesterdays in a busy life online

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In a Busy Life







Copyright, 1918, by Harper & Brothers

Printed in the United States of America

Published October. 1918



I. "WlNTERGREEN" ............ I

II. IN THE BEGINNING ........... 28


IV. "NESTLEDOWN" ............ i9

V. MY NEW YORK YEARS .......... 134

VI. THE CIVIL WAR PERIOD ......... 154




X. ONTEORA ............... 268

XL MARK TWAIN ............. 324


XIII. ANDERS ZORN ............. 358

XIV. A SEASON IN LONDON .......... 37 1

XV. A SUMMER IN "BROADWAY" ........ 399

XVI. POSTLUDE .............. 416









CONNECTICUT, 1884 " 326









TN writing the story ot one's life the instinct is
* to begin where one stands, at the quiet resting-
place where all the issues of life are finally gathered.

To the present years, which are almost un-
believably good to me, and to the future, I have
given a new setting a winter home in Georgia
where everything I plant grows into beauty with
almost audible joy, where everything I plan falls
into a delightful whole, and where the friendships
I have made are like a new blossoming of life.
All this came to me with an air of whim, quite
unbecoming to my years. I saw its unbecoming-
ness in the faces of my old friends, whose ex-
clamations of surprise sounded in my ears like
remonstrances. They spelled, "At your age!"

i i


At my age it becomes increasingly difficult to
deal with the new position in which one finds one-
self so much behind and so little before; and
certainly, if a certain degree of usefulness and
dignity has been maintained throughout life, one
would like to plan a graceful exit.

We are told that when a bird's wings grow old
and its body too weak for happy migration it
looks for and creeps into some small, inclosed
solitude. There it remains, and no one knows
when its little spark of life goes out into the great
force of animate intelligence, to be finally re-
fashioned and repartitioned and launched, in new
shape, into life again. This final seclusion and
secrecy is a part of the bird-wisdom which air-
dwelling and sky-flights have taught them; and,
since we are learning to fly like birds, perhaps we
shall yet learn to die comfortably, decently, and
confidently, without offense or anguish to our
friends or to the world.

But if I unconsciously planned for seclusion in
my Georgia home, I reckoned without my host;
for during the nine years of my occupation I have
been constantly contriving and building new bed-
rooms and adding to kitchen and dining-room,
until now my retreat houses three generations.
Nevertheless, in spite of its being an individual
venture, planned for myself alone, I was greatly
encouraged and abetted by a friend still in the hey-
day of life, who tempted me with a joint forty


acres of pine and magnolia woods, sweet with
flower growths of various delightsomeness.

' ' Wintergreen " is a great success, and, like all
things of virtue, a constantly increasing one. And
so, just now and here, I am beginning the story
which my children and friends are always urging
me to write the story of my life.

I fancy that every soul of us could write a book
which the world would read, if only we dared to
tell the exact truth about ourselves and our hap-
penings, and so give a perfect reflection of one
human life.

But who of us does dare to do that ? Our ideas
about ourselves, our very standards of good or
evil, inevitably make us hypocrites. The traits
which would be interesting in a life-story, we keep
in shadow, or carefully cover up. I am conscious
of it in every page I write, and I would no more
tell of my own mistakes and tempers than I would
parade them as belonging to my dearest friend,
not half as soon, indeed, for we find various ex-
cuses for relating little accidents of behavior in
our friends. We even pride ourselves, to our-
selves, upon the cleverness of our own conclu-

Every human being is new in some of his per-
sonal idiosyncrasies to every other human being,
and if this difference is brought out with absolute
fidelity it is of interest. If we should say what
we really thought and tell what we really did in


the different befallings of life, we should be con-
sidered original, to say the least.

If I tell a pathetic or laughable or interesting
tale of something I have seen or experienced in
my ninety years of travel along the highways of life
some one is sure to say, "You must write that!"
Or, if it is an intimate story of some well-known
man or woman long since dead, or an absurd
recollection of childhood, or if I recall some of
my experiences in the Old World of meeting
Browning at Lady Jeune's in London, and taking
mental notes of him as he ate and talked, and
thinking that on the surface it was a common-
place personality some one always says: "You
should write that down! You ought to write
your life! You have seen so many interesting
people, and done so many interesting things!"

"But we have all lived," I protest, "and if we
all wrote, why, the world would be full of personal
stories, most of them dull."

"But these modern days are so commonplace,"
some one objects, "and we all see, and know, and
live them. You remember things which are dif-
ferent, and which happened before we were

Truly so, and I do realize that the old times
are different from this present generation and con-
sequently of peculiar interest. I remember that
once when we visited Lowell in Cambridge I
admired a tall mahogany desk in his library, with


closed-in book-shelves above. It was a beautiful
thing, with shining panels in which the experiences
of tree life were to be seen in free-running branches
of crimson lights, sienna darks, and delightful
shadings of mahogany red; at the top it was
finished with urn-shaped finials of shining brass.

"It was my grandfather's," said he. And as
we still exclaimed at its beauty, he comforted us
by saying, "You can all have relics if you live long

So it seems the beauty and value of the old
mahogany desk were in the story of its life, written
all along its veins in color, mellowing with the
years. If the life of a man or woman could be
half so beautiful as that which the tree writes
then it might well be worth preserving.

Now that it is taken for granted that I shall
write this book, I get much and various advice
a? to how it shall be done.

"Tell the truth about everybody!" charges my
delightfully frank and honest and withal successful
woman-of-the-world friend, Mary Hewitt. "Don't
start with the idea of a book write the story of
your life; make it a real human document; tell
just what you think about everybody; tell of all
the great people you have met, and just what you
thought of them; relate their vanities and weak-
nesses, as well as their greatnesses; make the
story real, and it will be interesting!"


Now no one else has said just that to me; they
have taken it for granted that I should tell the
truth, but, of course, in a genteel and consider-
ate way. My friend, however, will not have any
human incidents polished; she wants them in the
rough, and she tempts me with success if I tell
the naked truth.

"But the truth is sometimes disagreeable," I
say. "Moreover, you are not obliged to tell it
all; you can leave it out."

"Not if you want your book to be read. Tell
the truth about everybody and it will take;
everybody will want to read it ; the truth about
people is always interesting."

I wonder if I shall ?

A friend who came in the other day, just after
a visit to a many-millioned owner of one of the
princely plantations hereabout, remarked, pen-
sively :

"It takes a lot of courage to tell the truth to a
man worth eighty millions."

And it may take courage to tell the truth to a
prospective audience of readers ! Who knows? I
shall certainly try to be truthful, but I confess to
a sort of passion for picturesque language and a
somewhat eager desire to impress people. I re-
member hearing one of my cousins, who could
tell an exceedingly good story,' admonishing a
child of mine who had been repeating one of them
with variations.



"Dora Wheeler, when you tell a story of mine,
I advise you to tell it exactly as I do, for I always
make it just as big as it will bear!"

Smiling over this reminiscence, I find myself
comparing the impression made by my amusing
cousin and my truth- telling friend, and I decide
that it is as amusing and far more original to tell
the truth. But it certainly does require courage.
So, for better or for worse, I have begun my
story, and, being here, at Thomasville, in the
south of Georgia, I will tell how the translation
came about, and somewhat postpone the turn-
ing back to those small beginnings of me which
are the proper starting-off places in any well-
ordered autobiography.

The friend of long standing, who was partly
responsible for my Georgia experience, and who,
although much my junior, was tolerant of age in
others, had found this enticing patch of woods.
Thereupon she invited me to join her in building
each of us a winter home and living in it, instead of
drifting from one Southern city to another and
consorting with other ideals than our own.

The building of cottages was a much-beridden
hobby with both of us, for Mrs. Hoyt had inaugu-
rated the "Shinnecock Art Village," and had
planned and adapted numerous small and inex-
pensive houses for the sandy shores and bays of
Long Island at Southampton; while I, for my part,
had founded and helped materialize a dream of


"Onteora in the Catskills!" To each of us, there-
fore, the designing and building of a house of our
own, suitable to the pine woods and the climate,
and fitting our very own selves in every wrinkle
of our individual natures, was mere play. We
were both so enchanted with the thought of
actual possession in these ranks and crowds of
pine-trees stretching up to the blue, and in the
great magnolias with leaves a-glitter in the sun-
rays, that we proceeded at once to measure our
house spaces and distances from one another with-
out waiting for the formality of deeds. We were,
happily, out of reach of masculine remonstrance,
and the mocking-birds and crested cardinals
seemed to advise immediate action ; so day by day
the tall pines began to fall from their sky heights
and let the sunlight into unaccustomed places.

There was trouble in fitting the prospective
houses to the trees, the latter were in such crowds,
and one big and very noble one stood exactly
where my chimney ought to come. When I
shifted the house back the tree crowded the front
door, and if I moved it sideways it butted into
a pair of twins a hundred feet high. Which
should give way, the house or the trees? It was
of no use to take counsel with myself, and then
the trees were so hopelessly in the majority.
There was a trumpet-creeper which had climbed
the shapely gray trunks of the twins, covering
them with closely lapping leaves and never look-


ing down until it reached the top, where it leaned
into the air and spread its scarlet blossoms among
the topmost branches. Of course I spared it,
but the wriggling of that inchoate house was
wonderful !

Of necessity it had to be what in the North
we call a summer cottage, for we could not con-
template anything so serious as a Southern house
in the Southern sense, with great columns at the
front, fourteen-foot ceilings inside, and all the
bravery of the old plantation days, a style evolved
by Sir Christopher Wren, and fitted to the broad
acres of the South as well as to the great estates
of earlier generations of Englishmen.

It was a joy to find lumber and labor cheaper
than in the North; wainscoting at fifteen dollars
a thousand, instead of thirty-five or forty, and
labor at one and two dollars a day instead of from
two to five. This meant just so much larger area
which could be covered in, and we sat under the
pines and watched the quick growth of our sum-
mer-winter houses, delighted with the sympathy
of our black builders. They are so full of it,
this kindly colored race! And the money they
earn, apparently, plays so small a part in their
satisfaction with you. Any one accustomed to the
close bargaining of Northern labor knows how
much of the joy of building is lost in the atmos-
phere of hindrance and demand. One may admire
the independence and what goes under the name


of the self-respect of the Northern laborer, but
the smiling co-operation of the kindly black
makes life much more pleasant to live. It is
true that when some white friend has told you
the usual rate of remuneration for a day's labor,
you are surprised at the end of the week to be
asked twice or three times that amount.

"Oh but, Columbus," you say, "I can't pay
that! I will give you a dollar a day."

"Jes' as you say, miss," he answers. "If it gib
you satisfaction, it '11 satisfy me."

It is all so easy and pleasant. Think of dealing
with a newly arrived Scandinavian in that way!
How quickly he would shoulder his spade and go.
To my mind, these friendly coal-black, chocolate-
or coffee-colored workmen are delightful. Quite
different they are from the too sophisticated
Northern negro. They have a primitive charm.
Their bodies are so unconscious, and follow so
thoughtlessly the idle motions of their minds. I
wonder if it is wicked to wish that they may
never grow to have bodies trained into self-
consciousness, or minds which will ape the fashions
of the white men.

There is but one small difficulty with this de-
lightful Southern creature with his inheritance of
respect for authority; he stands by and sees the
private cars come in, and the automobiles let
loose, and the plantation acres bought up by
thousands, and the old homes swept and garnished



and scraped and varnished until the very heart-
throbs of them can be seen; and, naturally, he
thinks that every one who comes from the North
is literally stuffed with gold. There is, of course,
a certain satisfaction in being considered in this
high-flown connection, and it is painful to dis-
abuse the simple souls ; however, it has to be done,
and the process is unexpectedly easy.

Possibly something of my interest and sympathy
is due to the fact that in far-gone days I grew up
in a mental atmosphere strongly tinctured with
abolitionism and in a house which was one of the
out-of-the-way stations of what was picturesquely
called "the underground railroad." Slave life to
me was then all tragedy, and there was no hint
in it of the affectionate relation between slave
and master which, I now know, often existed. My
child-mind was so dominated by the Puritan
thought of wrong that the sense of it remained
until the experience of years taught me that even
wrong has alleviations, and that servitude in
some form is a condition of life.

But old experiences and abstract questions
have little to do with my enjoyment of the cheer-
ful if somewhat unskilled labor of the black men.
They are so willing to please. It is the quality
which wags in the tail of a dog, asking for and
appreciation of recognition; and beyond that a
capacity for affection unknown to Northern ex-
perience. It was that quality which during the


sorrowful days of the Civil War made them the
friends and protectors of the lives and properties
of the people who owned them, and so furnished
an instance of fidelity unparalleled in history.

We talked of all this, my neighbor and I, as
we sat in the shade of the forest, out of reach of
the falling pines, those noble trees whose roots
had grown far down into soil which was at least
prospectively our own, and whose tops swayed
in our chosen cube of air and under our own patch
of sky.

When we received the deeds of our acres, to
me it was not simply a sheet of legal paper,
for it covered forty acres of close-crowding gray
trunks, with sky glimpses between their feathered
tops, and a broad, thick earth-cover of sweet-
smelling ocher-colored "pine straw" beneath.

So our houses progressed through the warm
Southern winter, and in six weeks we were picnick-
ing in front of our newly built fireplaces, roasting
quail in tin camping-ovens in the blaze of our
own pine-log fires, and going back to our hotel
at night with satisfaction made up of both an-
ticipation and reality. The houses were not half
finished when we camped down in them, having
ordered our mattresses and bedsteads and bureaus
and chairs and dishes and kitchen stoves from that
wonderful Chicago fountain which we call a mail-
order house, and which spouts every variety of
"want supplies." The carpenters knocked to-


gether our tables, but we made our own curtains
and covered innumerable lounge pillows of South-
ern moss, with satisfactory Southern "domestic"
of just the blue of the patches of sky between the
pine branches and, oh, what a joy it all was!
And how happily the "blue domestic" contratesd
with the new pine interiors !

This is the ninth winter since we did these
things, and now there is a broad and long log
studio on the eastern side of my "Wintergreen,"
every log cut from my acres, with honeysuckle
finding its way between the logs and doing its
best to decorate the interior. There is a green
ivy-draped studio for my grandson, Elisha Keith,
built by the men of the Keith family and entirely
without reference to the picturesque. However,
I am training numerous vines into hiding this
artistic deficiency; also the close-crowding pines
and the experimental orange-trees and persimmons
and peach-trees are doing their best to carry out
my wishes. The house is covered on the east with
two great wistarias, and on the north with the
beautiful native Cherokee rose-vines. There is a
four-hundred-foot path along the front leading
down to my dear neighbor's pretty stretch of
bachelor quarters and pergola on the one side of
the house, and pergola and studio on the other.
This long path between us is bordered with a six-
foot bed of lemon lilies, the roots of which came
from flower-populated "Nestledown" on Long


Island. The complaisant roots not only accepted
the transplantation, but the plants blossom twice
a year in April and November instead of once,
as they have been in the habit of doing in June
at "Nestledown."

But why should I attempt to tell all that I have
done, and all that nature has done, to make my
winter oasis beautiful? It is beautiful with all
natural growths of the ground, through all heights
of air ; with roses and azaleas and camellias up to
man-height, and vines reaching the tops of the
tallest pines; with yellow jasmine, and scarlet
trumpet-creeper, and purple gloria, and striped
honeysuckle, and snow-white Cherokee roses
every one a native wild growth, doing its best
to make good its claim to beauty.

Of the nine winters spent here, every one has
vindicated my experiment of making for myself
another home, in a warm and quiet corner of the
dear earth, now that I am old enough to retire
from all creative experiment and can sit down to
ruminate over the sins and mistakes of the years
of my pilgrimage. My folly and temerity were
a seven years' wonder among my friends and
pitifully admiring congratulations were innumer-

Much of the charm of life in the South is due

to the kindly helpfulness of one's neighbors.

They would so much rather do a helpful thing and

say a pleasant one than not. I cannot help feel-



ing that it would be easy and natural for these
soft- voiced, pleasant Southern people to detest
the actors and instruments used by fate in that
almost unimaginably bitter blessing which gave
them the opportunity of building a new and
greater civilization on the ruins of an outgrown
one; but it may take generations of the women
of the South to destroy the consciousness of having
been both wronged and defeated.

But even this second generation cannot evade
their birthright of cordial manner and sweet re-
sponsiveness, in spite of past bitterness. They
are still, notwithstanding changed relations, a
master race living among a tribe of born vassals,
whose occasional realization of the fact of freedom
and its possibility of license requires constant
vigilance. Probably the dominance will continue
for many generations, and perhaps always; and
yet who can tell when the mysterious alchemy of
Time may stir into the quiet animal patience of
the under race some mental or spiritual acid
which will transform them into creatures of to-
day, instead of growths of a torpid past?

When I came to make a garden at "Winter-
green" the name applies only to a condition,
and not to a prevailing plant I found all my
previous experience in garden-making in my
precious hill garden at Onteora quite superfluous.
There I was obliged to earn my joys; here they


jumped to meet me. It seemed only necessary
to think of flowers, and straightway they grew.

But the influence of the Onteora garden fol-
lowed me, for one and another of my new Southern
neighbors alluded .to it as to an old acquaintance ;
and when one of them said she was glad to know
me because she had so much pleasure in reading
Content in a Garden, it dawned upon me that it
was the book, and not the real garden, with which
they were so familiar. It came to me also that I
should like to reread this book, which I had
thought drowned beyond resuscitation in the
five years' flood of garden literature; so when this
last friend reiterated her joy and comfort in it, I
wrote the Houghton Mifflin Company to send me a
copy. I read it all one wakeful night, and breathed
again the odor of my high mountain garden, and
rejoiced again in its beauty. I told some ladies
at luncheon of this little personal experience.

"And how did you like the book?" asked my

"I liked it," said I, frankly, whereat, of course,
every one laughed.

But why not like my own work, I wonder, if it
is the best that is in me and I have not outgrown
it? Perhaps that is the most that can be said of
what we have done in our past that we are
satisfied with it, for we learn to be critical of all
things, as we grow old of our own work as well
as that of others. We have seen so much that


is bad and so much that is good, that we judge
of things by a sort of instinct.

I remember something that Mr. Drake the
long-time art editor of the Century Magazine
said to me when we were a committee of two on
some competitive drawings. As we proceeded
with our sifting, putting out the bad, and then
the tolerable, and by this process of elimination
arriving at the fairly good, and then at the really
good, I said:

"See how we proceed with this thing which
concerns so many people intimately; we never
stop to think about them, or even to compare
their work."

"What is the good of being an expert if you
have to stop and think?" he answered, and it
dawned upon me that that covers the ground of
all expert knowledge. It must be so experienced
as to have become instinctive.

I found one thing in Content in a Garden which
seemed to have a bit of personal prophecy. It
reads :

I sometimes wonder if, instead of this garden fixed like
a jewel on the bosom of Nature, where her lovely raiment
flows in folds of mountain and valley, my garden were upon
a plane of earth where prostrate miles lay in succession over

Online LibraryCandace WheelerYesterdays in a busy life → online text (page 1 of 24)