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Daddy-Long-Legs, Page 2

Jean Webster

  I made an awful mistake the first day. Somebody mentioned MauriceMaeterlinck, and I asked if she was a Freshman. That joke has gone allover college. But anyway, I'm just as bright in class as any of theothers--and brighter than some of them!

  Do you care to know how I've furnished my room? It's a symphony inbrown and yellow. The wall was tinted buff, and I've bought yellowdenim curtains and cushions and a mahogany desk (second hand for threedollars) and a rattan chair and a brown rug with an ink spot in themiddle. I stand the chair over the spot.

  The windows are up high; you can't look out from an ordinary seat. ButI unscrewed the looking-glass from the back of the bureau, upholsteredthe top and moved it up against the window. It's just the right heightfor a window seat. You pull out the drawers like steps and walk up.Very comfortable!

  Sallie McBride helped me choose the things at the Senior auction. Shehas lived in a house all her life and knows about furnishing. Youcan't imagine what fun it is to shop and pay with a real five-dollarbill and get some change--when you've never had more than a few centsin your life. I assure you, Daddy dear, I do appreciate that allowance.

  Sallie is the most entertaining person in the world--and Julia RutledgePendleton the least so. It's queer what a mixture the registrar canmake in the matter of room-mates. Sallie thinks everything isfunny--even flunking--and Julia is bored at everything. She nevermakes the slightest effort to be amiable. She believes that if you area Pendleton, that fact alone admits you to heaven without any furtherexamination. Julia and I were born to be enemies.

  And now I suppose you've been waiting very impatiently to hear what Iam learning?

  I. Latin: Second Punic war. Hannibal and his forces pitched camp atLake Trasimenus last night. They prepared an ambuscade for the Romans,and a battle took place at the fourth watch this morning. Romans inretreat.

  II. French: 24 pages of the Three Musketeers and third conjugation,irregular verbs.

  III. Geometry: Finished cylinders; now doing cones.

  IV. English: Studying exposition. My style improves daily inclearness and brevity.

  V. Physiology: Reached the digestive system. Bile and the pancreasnext time. Yours, on the way to being educated,

  Jerusha Abbott

  PS. I hope you never touch alcohol, Daddy? It does dreadful things toyour liver.


  Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

  I've changed my name.

  I'm still 'Jerusha' in the catalogue, but I'm 'Judy' everywhere else.It's really too bad, isn't it, to have to give yourself the only petname you ever had? I didn't quite make up the Judy though. That'swhat Freddy Perkins used to call me before he could talk plainly.

  I wish Mrs. Lippett would use a little more ingenuity about choosingbabies' names. She gets the last names out of the telephonebook--you'll find Abbott on the first page--and she picks the Christiannames up anywhere; she got Jerusha from a tombstone. I've always hatedit; but I rather like Judy. It's such a silly name. It belongs to thekind of girl I'm not--a sweet little blue-eyed thing, petted andspoiled by all the family, who romps her way through life without anycares. Wouldn't it be nice to be like that? Whatever faults I mayhave, no one can ever accuse me of having been spoiled by my family!But it's great fun to pretend I've been. In the future please alwaysaddress me as Judy.

  Do you want to know something? I have three pairs of kid gloves. I'vehad kid mittens before from the Christmas tree, but never real kidgloves with five fingers. I take them out and try them on every littlewhile. It's all I can do not to wear them to classes.

  (Dinner bell. Goodbye.)


  What do you think, Daddy? The English instructor said that my lastpaper shows an unusual amount of originality. She did, truly. Thosewere her words. It doesn't seem possible, does it, considering theeighteen years of training that I've had? The aim of the John GrierHome (as you doubtless know and heartily approve of) is to turn theninety-seven orphans into ninety-seven twins.

  The unusual artistic ability which I exhibit was developed at an earlyage through drawing chalk pictures of Mrs. Lippett on the woodshed door.

  I hope that I don't hurt your feelings when I criticize the home of myyouth? But you have the upper hand, you know, for if I become tooimpertinent, you can always stop payment of your cheques. That isn't avery polite thing to say--but you can't expect me to have any manners;a foundling asylum isn't a young ladies' finishing school.

  You know, Daddy, it isn't the work that is going to be hard in college.It's the play. Half the time I don't know what the girls are talkingabout; their jokes seem to relate to a past that every one but me hasshared. I'm a foreigner in the world and I don't understand thelanguage. It's a miserable feeling. I've had it all my life. At thehigh school the girls would stand in groups and just look at me. I wasqueer and different and everybody knew it. I could FEEL 'John GrierHome' written on my face. And then a few charitable ones would make apoint of coming up and saying something polite. I HATED EVERY ONE OFTHEM--the charitable ones most of all.

  Nobody here knows that I was brought up in an asylum. I told SallieMcBride that my mother and father were dead, and that a kind oldgentleman was sending me to college which is entirely true so far as itgoes. I don't want you to think I am a coward, but I do want to belike the other girls, and that Dreadful Home looming over my childhoodis the one great big difference. If I can turn my back on that andshut out the remembrance, I think, I might be just as desirable as anyother girl. I don't believe there's any real, underneath difference,do you?

  Anyway, Sallie McBride likes me!

  Yours ever, Judy Abbott (Nee Jerusha.)

  Saturday morning

  I've just been reading this letter over and it sounds prettyun-cheerful. But can't you guess that I have a special topic due Mondaymorning and a review in geometry and a very sneezy cold?


  I forgot to post this yesterday, so I will add an indignant postscript.We had a bishop this morning, and WHAT DO YOU THINK HE SAID?

  'The most beneficent promise made us in the Bible is this, "The poor yehave always with you." They were put here in order to keep uscharitable.'

  The poor, please observe, being a sort of useful domestic animal. If Ihadn't grown into such a perfect lady, I should have gone up afterservice and told him what I thought.

  25th October

  Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

  I'm in the basket-ball team and you ought to see the bruise on my leftshoulder. It's blue and mahogany with little streaks of orange. JuliaPendleton tried for the team, but she didn't get in. Hooray!

  You see what a mean disposition I have.

  College gets nicer and nicer. I like the girls and the teachers andthe classes and the campus and the things to eat. We have ice-creamtwice a week and we never have corn-meal mush.

  You only wanted to hear from me once a month, didn't you? And I'vebeen peppering you with letters every few days! But I've been soexcited about all these new adventures that I MUST talk to somebody;and you're the only one I know. Please excuse my exuberance; I'llsettle pretty soon. If my letters bore you, you can always toss theminto the wastebasket. I promise not to write another till the middleof November.

  Yours most loquaciously, Judy Abbott

  15th November

  Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

  Listen to what I've learned to-day.

  The area of the convex surface of the frustum of a regular pyramid ishalf the product of the sum of the perimeters of its bases by thealtitude of either of its

  It doesn't sound true, but it is--I can prove it!

  You've never heard about my clothes, have you, Daddy? Six dresses, allnew and beautiful and bought for me--not handed down from somebodybigger. Perhaps you don't realize what a climax that marks in thecareer of an orphan? You gave them to me, and I am very, very, VERYmuch obliged. It's a fine thing to be educated--but nothing comparedto the dizzying experience of owning six new dresses. Miss Pritchard,who is on the visiting committee, picked them out--not Mrs. Lippett,thank goodness. I have an evening dress, pink mull over silk (I'mperfectly beautiful in that), and a blue church dress, and a dinnerdress of red veiling with Oriental trimming (makes me look like aGipsy), and another of rose-coloured challis, and a grey street suit,and an every-day dress for classes. That wouldn't be an awfully bigwardrobe for Julia Rutledge Pendleton, perhaps, but for JerushaAbbott--Oh, my!

  I suppose you're thinking now what a frivolous, shallow little beastshe is, and what a waste of money to educate a girl?

  But, Daddy, if you'd been dressed in checked ginghams all your life,you'd appreciate how I feel. And when I started to the high school, Ientered upon another period even worse than the checked ginghams.

  The poor box.

  You can't know how I dreaded appearing in school in those miserablepoor-box dresses. I was perfectly sure to be put down in class next tothe girl who first owned my dress, and she would whisper and giggle andpoint it out to the others. The bitterness of wearing your enemies'cast-off clothes eats into your soul. If I wore silk stockings for therest of my life, I don't believe I could obliterate the scar.


  News from the Scene of Action.

  At the fourth watch on Thursday the 13th of November, Hannibal routedthe advance guard of the Romans and led the Carthaginian forces overthe mountains into the plains of Casilinum. A cohort of light armedNumidians engaged the infantry of Quintus Fabius Maximus. Two battlesand light skirmishing. Romans repulsed with heavy losses.

  I have the honour of being, Your special correspondent from the front, J. Abbott

  PS. I know I'm not to expect any letters in return, and I've beenwarned not to bother you with questions, but tell me, Daddy, just thisonce--are you awfully old or just a little old? And are you perfectlybald or just a little bald? It is very difficult thinking about you inthe abstract like a theorem in geometry.

  Given a tall rich man who hates girls, but is very generous to onequite impertinent girl, what does he look like?


  19th December

  Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

  You never answered my question and it was very important.


  I have it planned exactly what you look like--verysatisfactorily--until I reach the top of your head, and then I AMstuck. I can't decide whether you have white hair or black hair orsort of sprinkly grey hair or maybe none at all.

  Here is your portrait:

  But the problem is, shall I add some hair?

  Would you like to know what colour your eyes are? They're grey, andyour eyebrows stick out like a porch roof (beetling, they're called innovels), and your mouth is a straight line with a tendency to turn downat the corners. Oh, you see, I know! You're a snappy old thing with atemper.

  (Chapel bell.)

  9.45 p.m.

  I have a new unbreakable rule: never, never to study at night nomatter how many written reviews are coming in the morning. Instead, Iread just plain books--I have to, you know, because there are eighteenblank years behind me. You wouldn't believe, Daddy, what an abyss ofignorance my mind is; I am just realizing the depths myself. Thethings that most girls with a properly assorted family and a home andfriends and a library know by absorption, I have never heard of. Forexample:

  I never read Mother Goose or David Copperfield or Ivanhoe or Cinderellaor Blue Beard or Robinson Crusoe or Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland ora word of Rudyard Kipling. I didn't know that Henry the Eighth wasmarried more than once or that Shelley was a poet. I didn't know thatpeople used to be monkeys and that the Garden of Eden was a beautifulmyth. I didn't know that R. L. S. stood for Robert Louis Stevenson orthat George Eliot was a lady. I had never seen a picture of the 'MonaLisa' and (it's true but you won't believe it) I had never heard ofSherlock Holmes.

  Now, I know all of these things and a lot of others besides, but youcan see how much I need to catch up. And oh, but it's fun! I lookforward all day to evening, and then I put an 'engaged' on the door andget into my nice red bath robe and furry slippers and pile all thecushions behind me on the couch, and light the brass student lamp at myelbow, and read and read and read one book isn't enough. I have fourgoing at once. Just now, they're Tennyson's poems and Vanity Fair andKipling's Plain Tales and--don't laugh--Little Women. I find that I amthe only girl in college who wasn't brought up on Little Women. Ihaven't told anybody though (that WOULD stamp me as queer). I justquietly went and bought it with $1.12 of my last month's allowance; andthe next time somebody mentions pickled limes, I'll know what she istalking about!

  (Ten o'clock bell. This is a very interrupted letter.)



  I have the honour to report fresh explorations in the field ofgeometry. On Friday last we abandoned our former works inparallelopipeds and proceeded to truncated prisms. We are finding theroad rough and very uphill.


  The Christmas holidays begin next week and the trunks are up. Thecorridors are so filled up that you can hardly get through, andeverybody is so bubbling over with excitement that studying is gettingleft out. I'm going to have a beautiful time in vacation; there'sanother Freshman who lives in Texas staying behind, and we are planningto take long walks and if there's any ice--learn to skate. Then thereis still the whole library to be read--and three empty weeks to do itin!

  Goodbye, Daddy, I hope that you are feeling as happy as I am.

  Yours ever, Judy

  PS. Don't forget to answer my question. If you don't want the troubleof writing, have your secretary telegraph. He can just say:

  Mr. Smith is quite bald,


  Mr. Smith is not bald,


  Mr. Smith has white hair.

  And you can deduct the twenty-five cents out of my allowance.

  Goodbye till January--and a merry Christmas!

  Towards the end of the Christmas vacation. Exact date unknown

  Dear Daddy-Long-Legs,

  Is it snowing where you are? All the world that I see from my tower isdraped in white and the flakes are coming down as big as pop-corns.It's late afternoon--the sun is just setting (a cold yellow colour)behind some colder violet hills, and I am up in my window seat usingthe last light to write to you.

  Your five gold pieces were a surprise! I'm not used to receivingChristmas presents. You have already given me such lots ofthings--everything I have, you know--that I don't quite feel that Ideserve extras. But I like them just the same. Do you want to knowwhat I bought with my money?

  I. A silver watch in a leather case to wear on my wrist and get me torecitations in time.

  II. Matthew Arnold's poems.

  III. A hot water bottle.

  IV. A steamer rug. (My tower is cold.)

  V. Five hundred sheets of yellow manuscript paper. (I'm going
tocommence being an author pretty soon.)

  VI. A dictionary of synonyms. (To enlarge the author's vocabulary.)

  VII. (I don't much like to confess this last item, but I will.) A pairof silk stockings.

  And now, Daddy, never say I don't tell all!

  It was a very low motive, if you must know it, that prompted the silkstockings. Julia Pendleton comes into my room to do geometry, and shesits cross-legged on the couch and wears silk stockings every night.But just wait--as soon as she gets back from vacation I shall go in andsit on her couch in my silk stockings. You see, Daddy, the miserablecreature that I am but at least I'm honest; and you knew already, frommy asylum record, that I wasn't perfect, didn't you?

  To recapitulate (that's the way the English instructor begins everyother sentence), I am very much obliged for my seven presents. I'mpretending to myself that they came in a box from my family inCalifornia. The watch is from father, the rug from mother, the hotwater bottle from grandmother who is always worrying for fear I shallcatch cold in this climate--and the yellow paper from my little brotherHarry. My sister Isabel gave me the silk stockings, and Aunt Susan theMatthew Arnold poems; Uncle Harry (little Harry is named after him)gave me the dictionary. He wanted to send chocolates, but I insistedon synonyms.