It is 10 a.m., & the post has just brought your good greeting of yesterday. Yesterday at mid-afternoon there was a memorable episode: I was in Livy’s presence 3 minutes & 50 seconds! —(the trained nurse holding the watch in her hand) for the first time in 3½ months.
Livy was radiant! (And Joe, I didn’t spoil it by saying, “you poor unsuspecting thing, Jean is lying low with
pneumonia these 7 days” [ )] ===
End of Chapter I
(A good deal of the rest of the week can be found in my Xmas story (Harper’s) entitled “Was it Heaven? Or Hell?” which is a true story & was written in York Harbor in August or September.)
In that story mother & daughter are ill, & the lying is attended to by a pair of aged aunts—assisted by the doctor, of course, though I suppress his share to make the story short. In this Riverdale home the liars are the doctor, Clara, & Miss Sherry (Livy’s trained nurse). Those are the regulars. I am to see Livy again to-day for 3½ minutes & it is possible that she may say “Who was it you were talking with at breakfast?—I made out a man’s voice.” (And confuse me.) (The man was the doctor; he spends his nights here with Jean, & is not due to visit Livy until noon—he lives 2 or 3 miles away.) She sent Miss Sherry down to ask that question, during breakfast. We three consulted, & sent back word it was a stranger. It will be like Livy to ask me what stranger it was. Therefore I am to go prepared with a stranger calculated to fill the bill.
Yesterday morning the doctor left here at 9 & made his rounds in Yonkers, then came back & paid Livy his usual noon visit; but this morning he had a patient or so within half a mile of here, & to save travel he thought it would be a good idea to go straight up to Livy from the breakfast table; so he sent up to say he had called in passing, & couldn’t he come up & see Livy now? Of course she said yes, & he went up. He ought to have kept his mouth shut; but some devil of injudacity moved him to say—
“Mr. Clemens says you are looking distinctly better than when he last saw you in York.” Livy was back at him instantly:
“Why—have you seen him? How did you come to see him since yesterday afternoon?” Luckily the doctor did not exhibit the joggle she had given him, but said composedly— “I ran across him in the hall a minute ago when I came in.”
So then he had to get Miss Sherry outside & arrange with her to tell me that that was how he came to know my opinion of the patient’s looks. To make doubly sure he hunted me up & told me himself; then called Clara & instructed her; for although her watch is not in the forenoon, she takes Miss Sherry’s place a little while every morning while Miss Sherry goes down & plans Livy’s feed for the day with the cook.
I am to see Livy a moment every afternoon until she has another bad night, & I stand in dread; for with all my practice I realize that in a sudden emergency I am but a poor clumsy liar, whereas a fine alert & capable emergency-liar is the only sort that is worth anything in a sick-chamber.
Now, Joe, just see what reputation can do. All Clara’s life she has told Livy the square truth & now the reward comes: Clara lies to her 3½ hours every day, & Livy tranquilly takes it all at par, whereas even when I tell her truth it isn’t worth a penny without corroboration. Jean put it cleverly during the terrible days in York:
“Clara is the only person who can tell mamma an improbable lie & get it believed.”
Clara makes many a slip, but covers it up instantly with a brilliant impromptu addition which saves the situation. Some of her feats in this kind are astonishing for swiftness & competency of invention.
Clara’s talents are worked plenty hard enough without this new call upon them—Jean. Of course we do not want Jean to know that she is in danger & that the doctor is spending his nights 30 feet from her. Yesterday at sunrise Clara carried an order from him to Jean’s nurse; & being worn & not at her brightest self, she delivered it in Jean’s hearing. At once Jean spoke up:
“What is the doctor doing here—is mamma worse?”
It brought Clara to herself, & she said—
“No. He telephoned this order late last night, & said let it go into effect at 6 or 7 this morning.”
This morning Clara forgot herself again. She was in a long hall that leads past Jean’s room, & called out to Katy about something, “take it to the doctor’s room!”
Then she flew to explain to Jean with an explanatory lie, & was happy to find that Jean was asleep & hadn’t heard. I wish Clara were not so hard driven—so that she could take a pen & put upon paper all the details of one of her afternoons in her mother’s room. Day before yesterday (Monday), for instance. We were all desperately frightened & anxious about Jean (both lungs affected, temperature 1042/5, with high pulse & blazing fever) the whole household moving aimlessly about with absent & vacant faces—& Clara sitting
SLC used mourning border for most letters from Susy’s death on, then from Livy’s death on.