So you will know why I caught my breath & my superstitious heart stood still when I read your closing sentence:
“I have a blessed sense of rest in regard to Livy, as if a few weeks would make a decided change in her condition.”
With worlds of love, dear Sue, … [MTP]. Note: Sue Crane’s letter referred to is not extant.
Sam also wrote to William Dean Howells.
I have not heard from Harriott.
Let me put Stoddard’s matters in your hands & dismiss them from my mind. Jean has pneumonia. This is the doctor’s verdict—reached a few minutes ago, after 4 days of uncertainty. I suspected it was that, from the start. In all that time her temperature has ranged between 102 & 103 2/5. She was taken Monday, & was to have gone to Elmira the next morning for the holidays. Clara explained to her mother why she did not go, & her mother was satisfied & unsuspicious. I did not ask Clara what kind of lie she employed: I knew it was an able one & that was enough. She has been lying for 5 months, & has long ago lost anything like compunctions. To save her mother a dangerous emotion she would stop at no kind of falsehood.
Every day, for 4 days, she has had to tell her mother the particulars of Jean’s day: how many hours she was out doors; whether she was coasting, or skeeing; whether it was at the Pynes’, or at the Dodges’; whether she over-tired herself or not; & did she look rosy & hearty?
And Jean in bed all the time, with a splotched face & fevered eyes, & all of us terrified—her mother the only placid & contented soul in the house. And reverently thankful, without a doubt!
Every day, from the first, Clara has been persecuted & worried & distressed by superstitions born of my Xmas story “Heaven—or hell?” & darkly divining prophecy in it; & for five months I have been persecuted by superstitions born of Cheiro’s prediction of 7 years ago—repeated in London 4 years ago: “In your 68th year you will become—rather suddenly—very rich.” It would be so natural—so remorselessly historical—so like the traps set from men from the beginning of time—for Disaster to sneak along in my tracks for 7 years, disguised as Good Fortune; & then drop his handsome mask & grin at me out of his skinless skull, & insult me with riches when they had lost their value for me.
This family has joked about Cheiro’s prophecy (while carefully keeping it in mind & cherishing it) for 7 years, & so have I—offering it to Mr. Rogers years ago at a heavy discount—but it has troubled me for 5 months now, as it might any old pagan.
Katy wants to stand the night-watch & Marie wants to stand the day-watch, those good girls; but we must get another professional. That will be best.
Clara & I are face to face with a tremendous emergency: Mrs. Clemens was promised a sight of me, by the doctor, a week ago—the promise to take effect as soon as Xmas & its emotions should be well & safely behind us. She is counting the minutes. I have been counting them—I am not, now. She will begin to get impatient, tomorrow or the next day; & not long afterward, suspicious. Then—why then lying would fail! But I can’t go & see her. We never could explain how it was safe for her to see me & not safe for her to see Jean (a less trying emotion.) She would know there was something wrong, & she would go wild. Could we mend that by telling her the truth? Clara is sure that her heart—which is in bad condition—would not be able to stand the strain.
Pious maniacs are in the habit of regarding life as a “boon,” & of trying to be grateful enough for it
[MTHL 2: 757-8].
Note: with Jean down with pnemonia and Livy lurching from one crisis to another, the Clemenses experienced nearly the same plotline as in his story, “Is it Heaven? Or Hell,” where a mother and daughter lay on death’s door in different rooms of the same house, not knowing the truth about each other’s condition. Hill points out that Cheiro the palmist, according to Katy Leary, also prophesied the death of Livy .
At 1:30 p.m. Sam also wrote to Charles J. Langdon.
The check arrived this morning, along with your Xmas greetings, & together they made a fine and rich blend of material & spiritual fortune. Both documents will go to Livy when Clara goes on watch 2 hours hence.
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.