17. Algeria, again

In the summer of 1926  Evelyn and Jack were re-united with Cyril and Jig briefly before all four left Cassis for Cintra (near Lisbon in Portugal) where they spent the winter in a cheap hotel before returning to Algeria.  Evelyn’s letters return to vivid descriptions of the places they travelled through and stayed, and of the people who inhabited these places, including her typically judgmental descriptions of their behaviour and customs.

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To Otto Theis

[Cassis-sur-Mer, France]
June 11 [1926]

Dearest Otto:

My personal news (Strictly confidential, for which again I guess I go against John’s inclination to confess) is as follows:  Cyril took John to a first rate diagnostician in Marseilles yesterday.1  He (MD) coined the word physisthenique to apply to him as opposed to neurasthenic.  Says John’s vital energy is absolutely depleted and must have been so for some time.  My private opinion is that he suspects John of TB that I will not say so to John and heaven grant it is sensation.  Anyway, John is to stay out of doors all day, to write out of doors if he will write, to recline while writing, to go up on the terrace and assume as much nudity in the sun as propriety will allow, and to take two kinds of of injections of something which it would need Cyril to elucidate.  Also to weigh himself daily and to take his temperature morning and evening.  To exercise little.  Blood and urine are still at the laboratory and John goes in tomorrow to get the results.  I’m glad he has been.  All the time he was in Scilly his constant tendancy to extreme exhaustion worried me, especially as we had few pipps and there was no mental explanation (usually sufficient cause).  Cyril thought he might have TB too, but now hopes he hasn’t.  He ate little at Scilly, tho bucked up in London, but here eats less.

He is going to the air force mid July, doctor or no doctor, and it may do him good.  Anyhow he adores the airforce and psychology demands he doesn’t resign from it.  I think one reason he loves it is it is the only out of door life he has led in years and he feels better there.  He’ll be leaving about the 12th and be in London a day or so before going to camp, so he will see you.

Large quantities of the mush that embarrasses you here about to overflow the page so, with our most affectionate and largest love for Louise and yourself, I will quit before the page grows too dewy or syrupy for your perusal.

evelyn

Although it wasn’t diagnosed until later, John had contracted a form of amoebic dysentery during an earlier trip to Africa; this plagued him to greater or lesser degree throughout his life.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Car-sickness, France
August 7, 1926

Very dear Davy:  I was happy to get your letter, even though it did not contain the best of news. .  I think about you both constantly, and it does me so MUCH good even to see your handwriting again and get a direct word that, if things ain’t much better, they ain’t much worse either.

We don’t think we are going to stay in France.  Our reasons are this–first John isn’t well and French food habits and climate don’t agree with him particularly.  Secondly, the fluctuation in the franc has made us lose about half of such money as we have gotten over here, as, by the time I write to America (or even John to England) when we happen to have notice that there is any money due us, by the time it gets here the franc, bought at the exchange of the original date, has again depreciated, the cost of living here has advanced, and the fifty or hundred dollars we started with arrives here, three weeks later, worth just half what it was.  We have managed to get along anyhow, but it is not a cheering experience to people who are being economical, and there is the prospect, if Poincare’s cabinet does not survive the extreme odds against it, that something more drastic and generally disastrous may occur.  The public feeling against English and Americans is very strong throughout France.  There was stone throwing and rioting in Paris (on a small scale) not long ago, a boatload of English tourists attempting a landing in Normandy were met with stones and had to pull out, and even here in Cassis, where there are numerous e.g. English and Americans, last week when the shops had up a sign in the street, Welcome to the Foreigners, some of the people tried to tear it down and were stopped by the police.  So it ain’t too pleasant.  All this feeling has been accumulating since I wrote you.  There are three factions here, Royalist, Communist, and Republican, and even the kids Jigeroo plays with have fights about it.  Very confidentially, but through fairly reliable sources, we have heard that the fall of Poincare’s cabinet is anticipated as the moment to start a rumpus, and we aren’t anxious to be here when it happens, though of course it may be only a tin pot affair that will soon blow over.  But even so.

Consequently, we are considering what are the few cheap places left in the world to live in.  North Africa is the cheapest, but politics here will affect there.  Austria and Italy are the only two places where exchange is cheap and Vienna is very very cold in the winter.  There remains Rome, which is raw but not so bad, and not so hard to get to from here, and would be very little less effort for Lola to reach if she comes over in a Fabro boat which stops at Naples.  From there it is four hours to Rome, but if we go there and Lola comes, we would go to Naples to meet her.

You must not be prejudiced against meeting John by last summer’s experience.  I think he’s a dear, but just judged for himself without regard to me, I think you two would like him.  He’s very reserved and very English, in a nice sense, and, if that helps you to be prepared for the best, as unlike Owen as two people could be.  He and Cyril get on grand. John wants to meet you all, and I wish sometime in the next year or so we could go to America.  But as usual—cash.

Dear Davy, again, my best and most love to you and to her.

Evelyn

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To Louise Morgan

Hotel Europa, Cintra, Portugal
October 15, 1926

Louise, old darling, what’s matter.  It’s been months since we’ve heard from you.  won’t you drop us a line and let us tell you how I got ill—I would—in Spain—our money almost but disappeared—arrived here to find a letter from Brandts in which, without explanation, they said publication of Migrations1 would be spring (when the contract reads fall this year, and of course it is too late for me to kick now) and I got ill again of mild flu precipitated by rage and have been in bed strafing.  And about how despite every known discomfort the landscape of Spain was worth suffering for once, less granite than Africa, but rick and forever looking earth near Fraga, which I think Balston mentioned, the finest tents and plateaus of red, orange, purple, rockless treeless soil I ever saw—the most enormousness.  And again, near Guadaloupe, plush look of clay hills in the finest barren purples, wine pinks, or bright gilt sallowness of trampled what.  How Spain is bigger and stiller, save for magpies, than any country but the desert.  The people all have a pride so envolved it must keep them from progress, for indifference they must feign in all but the passionate ceremonial of dancing or bull fighting and perhaps the feigning has become real—an arrogant torpor, shot with suspicion—their most fiery trait.  They are courteous exceeding, but not warmly, more to exhibit their superiority to the petty, than from any outgoing to a stranger.  I don’t want to go thru equal discomfort again, but glad we did it.

Portugal is in proportion to Spain on the scale of the map—nothing grand, not even Cintra—but a modest lovliness, grandeur in little, with minute crags and wild woods confined in the acreage of the former king’s domain.  His palace, in execrable taste, never the less is a miniaturise of Byronic gloom and dominance, standing on the tip top of a hill above us, and piercing the sky with a fretted tower.  Near it another Saracen ruin.  It is not as cheap as we hoped, dearer than France, but too dear getting here to move away again.  Cintra is smart, for the Portuguez, but the season is ending, the villas look shady and blind with closed shutters, and a pretentious casino displays yawning waiters and other employees staring in perpetual idleness thru a grand entrance up with nobody approaches.  I’ve forgotten all the Portuguez I ever knew.  It was unutterable folly to try this, considering money.

Sintra

My civil war book I really think—hope, anyway—you’ll like.  It’s halted since Cassis but I’m starting again when we get settled.  The starch went out of me with Brandts letter, but is seeping back.  Wish you could come over and work with us.  We have a proposition from this hotel if we can’t find a house.  It is practically closed in the winter and man says he will give us five rooms and board all four of us for a hundred escudos a day, making about one hundred and fifty a month.  Of course there will be extras so we have to think.  And Jig has to have a school.  Still, if we do, think how easy—always have another room rented for you if you’d take the notion.  Food not wonderful but fair—his usual price thirty five escudos a day for a person is a little under two dollars a day, there are boats direct from England, no train fare, and we could meet you.  Don’t you want a change again?  We all work so you’d have to.  The isolation is fine for that.  It’s only when bits of bad luck seem to be the result of being off the business field that I wish we had money to break the isolation oftener—but I spent far more on me alone going to America last year than on all of us crossing Spain.

Guadaloupe.PNG

Mustn’t forget to add an impression of Guadaloupe where we stayed overnight—way up in hills a sudden very white little town houses built low with moorish arches over the street, and, in the early morning, a market conclave of peasants in the doorway of a very old grey and gigantic church attached to an elderly monastary.  The men uniformly in shirts of a sombre piercing blue, tight trousers, velvet braided waistcoats or jackets black sashes, and broad steeple crowned hats like the pilgrim fathers.  The women shawled.  It is a convent popular with fashionably religious Madrid that goes there to repent and retreat, but the obscure geography of its location leaves the peasants as authentically out of date as tho they weren’t perfectly picturesque.  We liked an overnight in Toledo, too—a perfect little medieval background to an El Greco painting.  And the Prado was a wonderful museum.  Madrid is like a raft, city complete up to the minute, yet old fashionedly stylist with many liveries and carriages and gardens and set things to do, it floats on a sea of what, among villages not much more substantial than the mud huts of the Arabs.  There is no colour of the literal sort in the northern Spanish town—the dwellings are of mud brick unplastered, the floors are earth or dirty brick, the people are vigerous with a kind of slovenly energy—but there was no gaiety in dress except in Fraga where, for some reason, alone, the women are as elegant as Velasqueth princesses in wide flowered skirts, tight neat bodices, and vivid demure shawls crossed like kerchiefs.  In Garonna we heard a fine Catalan band and saw the same dancing we encountered in that end of France.  It is Catalonia until Barcelona, but it was only after Zaragossa that we heard pure Castillian, very easy to recognize even when not understood.  Altogether, we feel we were fools, considering Jig needs an overcoat and I can’t get it and some other things, but can’t regret another folly which I hope has only temporary bad results.

Lots and lots of love to both of you—and think about a visit
evelyn

1Migrations was published in 1927.

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To Louise Morgan

Cintra, Portugal
October 26 [1926]

Darling old kid:

Portugal is dear.  We shan’t stay long but are at present too poor to move.  Also busting with things to say to you and my eyes hurt.  Speaking of money troubles I wrote Brandts a stiff letter and got a cable yesterday saying that Bonis were giving me another hundred dollars advance and, forwarding an explanation of their behaviour.  Damn their souls.  However I was glad of the other hundreds.  Things are tight and at least having given me now three fifty they will bring it out.  But curse the delay which means a delay for Ideals too, and that the war book won’t be published until nineteen eighty.

My dear I wish you could drop in.  I’m disappointed for us that you won’t come down.  Are you quite sure you couldn’t at all?  Remember, it is dear compared to France—not dear in the English sense.  The Sitwells would go to the palace hotel.  We are in a small clean place in Cintra that charges thirty five escudos a day in the summer but, because Cintra is deserted in the winter gives us SIX rooms and board for a hundred escudos a day for the four of us.  No dearer than Cornwall.  The man hasn’t four people in his hotel.  We have too much meat to eat, but all quite decent, fair wine, very clean.  Jig is going to the Cintra College and taking Latin and literature in French and the rest in Portuguese which he can’t speak yet.

PS WILL YOU GIVE ME FIVE PENCE.  THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  Tomorrow is Jig’s birthday, I ordered him two annuals from The Amalgamated Press Faringdon House Fleet Street, and they have come and I still owe them five pence and to send off five pence will cost me three escudos.  Can you pay this for me for some future settlement.  Dare I write them that you will?  I’m gonna, please, so let me know if you don’t.  Its very near you so maybe not too stuff.  I haven’t any stamps and don’t know what else to do.  Each letter one favor asked huh.  Scuse, evelyn

PS Annuals sent to Mr Metcalfe—they were paid by cheque from John but it was 5d [5 pence] short.

* * * * *

To David Lawson

Mme Metcalfe
Cintra, Portugal
[late 1926]

Dear ol’ Davy:

 I guess Glad will have told about our reckless attempt to see Spain in a week—for which we had nearly three what with break downs in the borrowed car and getting ill.  It was fun and no fun.  Spain provided a barrenness more gorgeous than any I ever imagined at times—at others sheer depressing monotony.  But there were high spots that top everything in visual experience.  It was autumn, so the rather uninteresting green had appropriately disappeared for a general tawnyness richer and more suitable to such harsh indifferent stretches.  The conservatism of the Spaniards struck me forcibly—I think their ritualistic pleasures—dance and bull fights—are a bit of a Freudian outlet for their violent repression.  Cautious and more so than the English—they make no mystic explanation of this.  They lack subtlety.  The English are so subtle emotionally—so disunited there with their deliberately commonsensical minds.  The French with such subtle machines and no emotional data worth looking for.  The Spaniards, in a birdseyes, tho I am not quite assuming myself an interpreter after one glance, are neither mystical at heart nor subtle of mind—but are primitives with their crudity congealed, and so somewhat concealed, by the formalism of the orient.  Catalonia is non Moorish Spain—and its music, the only escape from a cheap modernity, is barbaric—a voodoo challenge to sex.  Southerly Spaniards really are moors with an underlying thing more naïve and less refinedly brutal than the real north African product—I think.  I am wondering what Waldo’s book is like.  His title is good, only it is a virgin with something old maidish more than maidenly—a brute of an old maid, sensual, and with a skin like leather.  None of that goes does it with my other sense of a landscape as pure in color as snow is white.  Its enormousness was its most constant quality—and Spanish grandiosity is like a simplification by an inadequate mind of grandeur, too untouched for bombast.  Spaniards, en passant, seemed neither nervous like the French, nor emotional like the Italians, nor exalted by moral self mystification like the rest of us.  But sensual—Puritans in temper as I always thought the Arabs were—the constant quality of the puritan being a mental view of sensation which is the product of his inferior but persistent intellectualization of himself.  Well I won’t go on for days and weeks.  Portuguese are nearer slave bred negros than is any other race.  Their racial self respect has been vitiated.  They have the wistfulness of their lack of confidence.  Are gentle, treacherous, and easily influenced to generosity—I think.  But it is not as cheap as we had hoped and we can’t stay all winter,  Lisbon is very old and lovely.  Cintra is only fifty minutes away.  It is an anglicized summer resort abandoned in the winter.  We have rooms in a hotel which is empty so that for nothing he gave us empty bedrooms to work in.  The board is thirty five escudos a day, a small tax and a few extras.  It would come out at about fifty dollars a month. Elsa is in Swiss with her mother who is ill.  Cyril is here for a while,  Cintra is a Byronic relic of the old court of Portugal with fussy palaces and so on but a very charming miniature wildness, sea in the distance, trees, and constant milky fogs in the soft green of dripping evergreens.  There are lots of forests, somewhat artificial but very pretty.  It is chilly but no shakes on New York

Again LOVE.  Please let us know how you all are.  Please.  Cyril’s VERY best love too, evelyn

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To Otto Theis

Mme John Metcalfe1
Cottage Jean, rue de l’Oasis, Kouba, Algeria

January 16 [1927]

Dear Otto, will you believe I was just settling down to write to you and Louise a letter with no requests in it?  But you as only possible court of appeal in present distress is unfortunately suggested by everybody.  it is thus:  We have had a month of much endurance and some pleasure getting here (of which I will write Louise) but the advent of plague in Oran which stopped the boat sailings and sent us around the longest way thru Morocco has played hell in other ways.  Thomas Cook of Lisbon being a Portuguese Thomas Cook did not freight our luggage we now find until two weeks after we left Lisbon.  He also freighted it to Oran via Gibraltar.  So there sits the luggage containing all our reference books, and for me the entire guts historically of the Civil War novel.  I was very distressed by being obliged to leave Lisbon just when I had reached the most ticklish point in the first draft, for tho it is easy to rewrite from the first to polish it is most difficult to retrieve the rhythm of a whole when it is broken just as its momentum is gathering.  Because of Cyril’s show and John’s need to return to England, Algeria ends on April 15th.  I can unpack textbooks in a Paris hotel with Jig, and if Cyril can sell sufficient pictures to pay fair [sic] we are going to NY to consider a school or something for Jig who has had a very unsatisfactory year and is beginning to feel the peculiar isolation of his situation.   Imagine pipp, added to perhaps by the fact that we have with us only the clothes on our backs and no housekeeping linen, and that John lessly [sic] but also needs some of his books on Scilly for his next novel.

Kouba map
Modern map showing the location of Kouba, a suburb of Algiers

Well, I would have cabled you what I am gonna ask but that our check from America was in Paris and we have to wait until it is mailed to Paris and sent back before we collect, and tho we have found an apartment we can’t leave the hotel because we can’t pay our bill until the money comes.  So—I couldn’t cable and can’t send you any money until I have it.  Also I don’t know quite how horrible a thing I am asking of the editor of a magazine who has no time to shop.  Isn’t this like a mystery story with solution in the last chapter?  Bon.  LAST CHAPTER:  I can’t afford to rebuy all my books, nor do I feel I can afford to wait the six to nine weeks Cooks prophecy it may take to get belongings.  I thought it might be possible to replace the two most important ones if you would buy them with bill sent to me so I will return money soon as I get it.  They are Shotwell’s History of the American Civil War, in two volumes. And the second book most needed is one on American Negro Folk music.  I can’t alas remember the title, but it is not very satisfactory anyway, as what I want is the words to various old songs which I only remember in fragments, like Roll Jordan Roll, and Deep River, and Mary and Martha, etc, etc.  I’ll adapt myself to using any songs that happen to be in the book but what I mean to accent is that the reading matter accompanying is nonessential to me.  To look up such a book as this may be impossible, but if it is possible to send the office boy with a note to Foils and perhaps find such a thing at the same time as the history, it sure would be a blessing.  With that help I can write parts and leave out the sections about Lincoln until I have my books on Lincoln—I hope—by the end of February.

Alger is very warm compared to Cintra.  That is to say one wears wool undies and sweaters in the house and is comfortable.  In Cintra one did so and writhed just the same.  France is just a little better than Portugal, but my dream of Algerie as the cheapest place in the world dates back I am afraid, and is no longer appropriate.  Then there are all these here new taxes on foreignors which we may or may not escape.  I think I know how the Russian emigrants feel in America.  It’s a sensation very inhospitable to be taxed hard for living in a place, and the justice of the move doesn’t modify the impression.  Cyril is beastly unwell with a heavy cold he has had up and down since we left Cintra.  It worries me somewhat but I hope it will wear out here.  All of us were ill on our way here and in bed at various places and stages.  I’m glad Louise didn’t come to such a heaven for grippe as Cintra turned out.  The Portuguese are SCUM—SCUUUUUUUUUM.  The country is nice in a spring gardeny way.  I’ll write Louise of our I am afraid futile wish she could be with us to finish some more work.

My humble love.  I feel just like a drunkard that promised mother and then misbehaved again, for I did think I would NOT ask you to buy anything else for me.  From all of us godspeed, happy new year, and our devotions.  evelyn

1It may be that Evelyn felt it necessary to appear married to maintain appearances in a conservative Muslim country.

2Foyle’s Bookshop on the Charing Cross Road in London. Foyle’s was then the world’s biggest bookshop in both size and the number and range of titles stocked.


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To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
January 17 [1927]

Dear Louise:  I wish you were coming to Alger for their narration and lots of other things. I wish you could—sometime.  Especially as, after Cyril’s show, IF he makes enough, it is our intention to go to USA while Jack goes back to England for a bit.  We are losing too many contacts and Jig needs a school or something.  He is very lonesome this winter and not very happy.  In Portugal he did not make a single acquaintance.  I am very much worried about Cyril, who left Portugal with a bronchitis and has it still and just can I think pull himself about, though his grit and pride exceed many admissions of the fact.  Jack is a very very sweet and comprehending thing and I shall always be glad of my misdemeanors that gave me the opportunity of knowing him so well.

Kouba
General view of Kouba c.1910

Tuesday:  Since beginning this Cyril has cajoled the bank into giving him money before it comes from Paris and we have occupied Cottage Jean.  Kouba is about six miles out but has a tram nearby.  Our suite is very swell in that it has a real bath room and johnny, almost an American bath room, tho the hot water heater requires a wood fire under it.  We have two bedrooms a kitchen a sala and sal a manger.  They are the first floor of a country home of one of the legal profession who is now in town.  Nobody but ourselves is in the house.  There is a terrace at our disposal and last night, feeling very tired and gloomy, I retired there to meditate and saw all Alger in very delicate emerald due on the black hills under clouds all startling from an invisible moon.  The ghost light expanded away from town and I could see all the scallops of beaches and surf quite plainly.  It really is a lovely location, but beastly inconvenient as the shops are miles off and nothing, not even milk, delivered, and we have no present prospect of a servant.  It took Jack until a quarter to twelve to do the marketing.  Also it is raining profusely daily, and we miss our belongings which, as I wrote Otto, are somewhere, presumably, between Gibraltar and heaven.

We had a mild month of it, honey.  The mysterious motor car in which we toured Europe I reveal to you privately as a used Renault of seven horse power which Cyril learned to run via Elsa’s brother when in Switzerland.  Such a vehicle has never been known to do even as much as a Ford and was the first manufactured that ever crossed from France to Portugal.  Cyril had it on a triptych which allowed him to keep it in Portugal three months, and before we left Cintra the time limit ended.  Since then feats of bluff have been in order.  First bluffing the officials at Vila Rial not to detain him on an expired license, and then—Well I will narrate in order.  Cooks told us Vila Rial was the best place to cross the border on.  We got there and found a large river and no bridge.  Were ferried over in a specially hired barge which consumed much of our wherewithal.  Cyril was ill with bronchitis and has been for a month.  Yesterday on arriving here he at last went to bed with thermogene iodine hot water bottles and all he has needed and hasn’t cotton.  He is there now and I hope he’ll stay some time.  At Sevilla I acquired the cold and not having his character and being blind with streaming eyes I laid down at once.  Saw Sevilla mostly from the window in the few days there.  It is a very cheery place despite colds, sunny, orange trees on the sidewalks, very new except for the vastly gloomy relic of the cathedral with a chaotic and occasionally impressive architecture and a very large bull ring also presumably dedicated to Christ.  We had intended to get a boat at Gib to Oran and from there to Alger, fairly short and inexpensive. At Sevilla received word that sailing was cancelled because of plague at Oran.  Could only get our money back promptly by applying at Gib.  We needed it so went on, via Jerez and some real sherry.  Andalusia in its extreme south is all sterility, sun, prickly pear corrals and brilliant sea.  Algiceras received our expiring bodies and John came down with tonsillitis.  We went to Gib Xmas Even and found the garrison thinking of merrie England and rum punch.  It was a fit place to nurture Mrs Bloom.  Sad English ladies with blond hair growing grey bought wild narcissus and berries to make things look like home tomorrow.  It must be a queer exile under that overweight of fortification with Spain seeping in.

We had to choose between traversing the north to Port Vendres in snow and an open car and trying Morocco.  No tryptichs issued for war zone.  But we tried it, going to Ceuta on Xmas and eating cold lunch for Jig’s plum pudding.  We landed safely but it took a long chat with commanding colonel or sumpin he was to get a letter to let us thru.  We were put under promise not to travel before nine or after five.  Soldiers looking statuesque and important on all the heights by road.  Bristley blockhouses—pickets in cocked hats and cloaks flapping dramatically in an icy wind.  Mountains all snow.  Tetuan is a motley hubbub of races.  From there to Alcazarquiver over a pontoon at Larache where this week there has been more ado with Rifs.  But once over the border we were in something more civilized than Spain. Good hotel at Kenitra where Jack was sick and we ran out of money and had to wait around until we could see the first of the month near and a wire possible.  Reached Fez New Year’s even and got our money there.  Saw all the French as drunk as the English at Xmas.  Had champagne gratis at the hotel and all got sick on it—it being gratis.  Saw wonderful walls and amethyst and jade gates (mosaics but fine) and an Araby Douglas Fairbanks never dreamed about.  After that Telemeen, en route went up mountains at dusk, motor lamps wouldn’t work, ran into clouds, night fell, couldn’t see where the cats cradle road went.  Had to get out and light matches to find mile stones.  Road leaped over precipices, but we didn’t.  Bumped into Tolemeen walls about eight pm with our nerves in ribbons.  Next day saw Cascades hanging in spun sugar over hundreds of feet of red and orange granite.  (And I forget desert around Guercif, camels again, mountains steely and snow dashed, nearer like a milky night).  Went to Mascarra where Jig was ill.  On to Orleanville which is like a dump yard inside a jail.  Reached Alger a week ago in a sleet storm that cracked the wind shield.  All dead tired, no clothes, no linen for housekeeping, no books for reference, more or less ill yet, and Cyril a good deal.  Conclusion that it was worth while but not for often.  Also that we are a good deal embarrassed for money.  But once having made the fool essay of Portugal we had to get out with the car.  Portugal is farther off than Mars.

My eyes won’t let me go on.  Cooking and house took too much of day.  But do write when you feel like it, if for letters one ever does.  Darlin, but for the hope you would I wouldn’t.  Jack is writing a very fine story—one of his best I think. All of us send our very, very, very much love and if you can deliver a kiss below the navel, please do it to J C.

evelyn

* * * * *

These next letters refer back to the years Cyril and Evelyn spent in Bermuda with the wealthy Garland-Hale family.  Even though Cyril went there to be their estate manager, a friendship developed between the Scotts and the Garland-Hales, who built a cottage (known as “The Scottage”) for their continued occupation:  this was later withdrawn.  In addition, Marie Tudor Garland pledged them an income of $50 a month each for the rest of their lives, to be paid on her behalf by her solicitor, Walter Nelles.

* * * * *

To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
February 8 [1927]

Louise, old darling,  Well, a very heavy blow has just descended upon our solar plexus, and I want to quote to you and Otto, in moderate confidence of course,  the following letter received yesterday from Marie:

“Dear Evelyn:

“This is not an easy letter to write.  Chiefly because in the past you have misunderstood me and quarreled with me.

“I find that it is impossible for me to continue as a patron of the arts!  (Exclamation hers) I have come to the point where I am not only earning my own living, but am earning yours too.  I am telling you this because I think you may wish to earn your own.

“I am finding it increasingly hard since I gave half of what I had to Swinburne to make a living off an income dwindled to almost nothing.  Each year, to meet my obligations to you and to others, I have drawn upon my capital until that has almost disappeared. As I have a sense of humour I suddenly realized that I was trying to earn enough to take care of everyone but myself.

“I am in business, apart from everything else, and I may make good, but at present I am not making enough to go on with my annuities and I have to cut them out.  I wish to reduce yours to half this year and pay nothing next year.  This will give you a chance to look around and provide for yourself.

“I shall ask Walter to send you six hundred dollars this next year.  I think you know without my telling you how sorry I am to have to do this.

Your friend,
Marie T Garland”

Which leaves us where we were five years ago except that Cyril has a chronic pulse of about a hundred and thirty and we are in Africa instead of New York.

Cyril is in Bousaad so I can’t consult him yet.  The joke is that all the checks have gone to him for over three years but I guess she couldn’t forego a direct one at me knowing I was still getting my share.  Of course in winter I was with you I was able to hold off thanks to you and Franks, but Cyril did not use it all for him anyway and it was what he had kept out that he called mine that went on this unfortunately expensive journey from Portugal.  It has taken Jack all year to finish his novel so, tho he is working hard trying to get some short stories off to Peters, he has nothing ahead at present.  Africa is a fine place to spend a small income but a poor one to find a supplement for no income at all.  And even to get to Paris on fifty dollars a month doesn’t look optimistic.  If Migrations sells I may get a little from it next fall.  In the meantime—Well, here we am.  Of course I’ve got to get back to America tho just how ain’t very exact.  I’m going to collect all the good clippings I ever had of my work and try to put it up to somebody or other to give me another hand out for a few years.  Of course Cyril can’t support me as of yore (even not counting his own affairs and the sacrifice of great painting) with a heart at a hundred and thirty all the time and a bronchial tendency getting worse—tho I know him and expect him to be as prodigally inclined re me and Jig as he always was, bless him.  Nor do I see Jack, who is really very inexperienced in jobs and worldly things, very certain to contend successful with USA EVEN, which makes it a sickening thought, at the complete sacrifice of his imminent success.  Poor old Jig hears we are hard up and is a darling wanting to sell stamps and so on.  But I want him to be EDUCATED since obviously he is to receive no inheritance.  So its back where it was when Otto first knew us and Gladys took me to the general electric for a job I didn’t get.  of course if I get no help I’ll have to go to work, which seems sillier now than it did then after having got as the publication of seven books and the acceptance of eight (EVEN tho they ain’t sold miraculously).  I am still choking in the implacable fact—but there it is—and the funny thing is I have expected it in nightmares for four years at least.  And I still feel that it just couldn’t be true that I have to give up writing, and, maybe, from what I guess anyhow, Cyril painting too.  Of course the immediate problem is framing for Sug’s show, and the getting of all of us away from here and to America.  I have written asking Walter to try and get me the six hundred more of a lump instead of fifty per month, but he probably won’t.  We have just enough on hand to carry us thru the rest of time here with economy.  Cyril of course can sell the Renault but it was worth so little to start on it so won’t be no fortune.  Otto was right, they ain’t no quiet life for this crowd.

But something in my gizzard is so mad I don’t feel half as despairing as commonsense tells me I should.

We LOVE YOU TOO, YOU BET.
evelyn

* * * * *

To Marie Tudor Garland

Chez Mme. Kay Boyle
22 Boulevard du France, Monte-Carlo, Monaco1
February 19, 1927

Dear Marie:

I have just received your letter of December 5th which has been forwarded to me.

Of course I am terribly surprised since you said at Bermuda “I have done this so you needn’t ever have to worry again about your actual bread and butter”.  It simply never occurred to me after this that it was a contingent gift, otherwise I should never have come to Europe but should have made other plans.

I am very grateful for what I have received and am sorry to hear that your own resources have diminished.

During these years I have always hoped that some day we might come to a renewed understanding and friendship.

I shall get back to America as soon as I can, and try to make my belated plans for my future.

Again I thank you, and please know that I have always wished you happiness and good and always shall.

Very sincerely, [not signed]

1There is no evidence that Evelyn left Kouba to travel to Monaco at this time and this return address appears to be a way of concealing their whereabouts from Marie. Evelyn and Cyril had been giving Marie the Theis’ London address, and their dealings with her appear to have been via their lawyer, Walter Nelles.

* * * * *


To Louise Morgan

Kouba, Algeria
March 8, 1927

Very dear ginklet:  It was pretty darling of you to get angry and of course nothing could please me more seeing as I was angry myself.  Of course it doesn’t look hopeful.  I’ve never heard you and Otto speak of feeling close to any wealthy cousins, and my pa, who might at least have left me a fiver, has repented his weak access of mobility, and has refused to answer any of the four letters I have written him since July last.

Cyril was up for three days to frame some pictures for a show going on here, and they were wonderful—such an ache of subtleties of a robust—but not “red blooded” kind as braced us up.  Jig and I will stay in Paris till Cyril’s show is over, when it is hoped there will be the sponduliks for everybody’s fare to NY.  Of course Sug is determined to pay it, and I don’t see how to help it, if he finds he can, for it would not help his spirits much to leave Jig and me decaying there.  No fear Marie will change her mind as regards me I think.  I’m not asking her sure, tho even that may seem funny after one has digested so much for so long heartily.  Of course I’m going back to NY with every intention to try and play the “game”, and of course very likely I shall not be at it long before I put my foot in it.  Ever since I was fifteen I’ve been fighting to develop one way, against discouragement, and in consequence I haven’t developed the other.  I’m not clever and never will be.  I don’t either exalt the fact or indulge in humility regarding it.  But it is so hard to keep agile in a worldly minded way and to remain expressive in a quite other way.  And mostly only the few and rare achieve it.  And mostly only the few and rare keep their defense active and acquisitive and their deepest guts intact though mute.

Still, I’m older and less impassioned about the matter than I was when I first came to New York.  All the time I was ill and isolated in Brazil I lived on the plane of trying to write the best that was in me, and on no other.  It was a jump from the almost mystical solitude of Cercadinho to the intrigues of Greenwich Village—particularly as the lack of manners misguided me to imagine them the reflection of leanings toward honesty.  And of course the enemies made then will be the hardest to ignore now, as they won’t ignore me, in the wrong way.

However, for self centeredness I guess that’s enough.  Jack is a fine kid, and everything that any really generous temperament can be when it has absolutely no practical experience of being responsible for any living thing but itself.  I mean he wants to help me, but the only thing commonsense and facts allow is that he help himself as fast as ever he can.  He will have to get a job when he arrives I’m afraid at once, tho there is Bossun1 and the aunts for a couple of weeks.  I’m praying very heartily he can land on something half time so that he can go on.

We have just had Ram a din2 and hope the Arabs are happy.  Mutton went up six francs more a kilo in consequence.  It is beginning to be spring here very flagrantly with white flowers and bees and things and all the roses out tho chilly since the stone floors and fireless rooms are built for twelve above.  Please have Otto write us when the news arrives.  We think about it every day.  I dream of receiving five kids by parcel post, losing them in a tram, and finding them again under a seat in a locker.  Thinking they must be suffocated, I put them out on the ground when all rose and talked.  So I cut the strings and out jumped four dogs and a cat.  The street being full of such animals, I consulted five tintype photos of little girls in aprons and recognized one as a spits, one a greyhound, one a spaniel, one a terrier, and one the cat. Gad bless yawl and your works, internal and on paper.

love from us, evelyn

PS  You know I have in a Bermuda trunk stored alas in Marie’s house for the letter announcing the life gift of that money, and for Jig thereafter.

This is most likely a reference to Bosham (pronounced “Bossum”) in Sussex, where John’s Aunt Mary lived.
Ramadan

* * * * *

 

Some time during the summer of 1927 Evelyn and Jigg returned to the United States.  No existing letters give any reason for her return at this point, and the next post will see her in lodgings in New York City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Bou Saada (2)

The first three months in the Algerian desert have been difficult for the Scott household as they adjusted to a new and completely foreign culture.  Evelyn’s letters reveal her desperation to see her friends as she pleads with them to visit, and the new year, 1924, begins with worries about money and poor health.

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[Bou-Saada, Algeria]
January 3 [1924]

Dear DEAR, your letter just five minutes ago, and I shall answer instanta because it happens to be a moment between laps of writing and I like to talk back as your letters come.  Thank God, the Garland fund seems to be some use.  Merton was saved from the pit of destruction and landscape gardening for the time being, though having to pay two life insurance policies and send monthly money to his kids has made it go almost as fast as yours.  The Jewish woman who cooks for us was in a state today with Pyorrhoea and all her teeth falling out and it gave me the hump about what a lack of money does to you.  We all need the dentist some and I swore by my pet gods that any money we ever have over living had to go to dentists first.  You do too, Lola.

I appreciate your writing that letter when your fingers—or FINGER—had been at it all day.  I’m afflicted with a wart on my best type finger—the one I had before I went away—which is like a hoof and hurts so I can’t use it.  When the weather gets warmer I’m going to have an operation.  It came from typing on that one finger to the exclusion of all others and ought to be photographed to advertise good methods for stenographers.

One thing is disappointing.  I do WISH you could come over here for two or three months.  If not now later when we are back in France and the weather warmer.  You wouldn’t be annoyed with company, Lola dear, for I work six hours every day and Sug and Merton are gone all morning and all afternoon until tea at four thirty.  We never see a soul and it would be practically the same in France.  We live very cheaply and five dollars a week would cover any possible expense for you here, really it would.

Well, I ain’t guv the idea up.  Maybe the woman book will be finished and the library superfluous before we get back.

Did I did you that Sug and I are writing a child’s story together?[1]  It is a commercial effort in a sense as we all have no call of inspiration to kids, but I think you will all rather like it.  It is laid in Algeria and I have put, with Sug’s help at translating data, a lot of native customs etc in it, we have an exciting plot and a fantastic element, all the ingredients which Jigeroo approved. it was read out to him for criticism.  Merton is doing some delightful simple drawings for it.

We all love you and if your liver incites you to blue letters why for gods sake write blue letters.  We want most of all to hear from you.  Bless you and your art, Lola, and may the New Year do more for it what it deserves.  Bless your insides and make them behave as they should.  Bless Davy’s health, jobs, and university sources.

And please God, let Lola come to France sometime.
Most, most affectionately from all of us,  Evelyn.

[1]     In The Endless Sands

 * * * * *

To Otto Theis

[February 1924]

Dear Otto:

Don’t attempt to keep up with me, I answer all your letters five minutes after receipt.

This has been a kind of “old home” week, reviving habits and associations of the past.  Merton has a lame back gotten while day labouring, and his back went wrong, and the illustrations for the kid book, because he has never done such before and didn’t know how to make magazine cover pretty faces, nearly drove him wild.  Then we went over money accounts and I discovered that I had used some of the money Merton was going to send his kids in keeping house here (we run the accounts joint), and that we were in his debt (when he ain’t got a cent) and that we didn’t have enough money to go to Paris as Sug had hoped, and Sug had the worst nervous collapse of a day I’ve seen him have in a year—and—we’re still alive and love each other—but Gosh everybody is tired. We all, even me, behave better than we used to, but then moments of weakness ain’t entirely overcome.

Sug is crazy for you to see some of his pictures and so am I.  I hope you will honestly find in Siren some of the things I do, and golly—I hope—you will even see a faint practical chance.

Bou Saada 4 (2)
Bou Saada: The house of Master Dinet [Alamy stock photo]
Sug has suffered a lot lately from severe pains in his bladder and scared me to death, but he recuperates so whenever he does a good picture that I’ve decided that he has no ills but mental ills.  However their consequence may be as dangerous as any other, and Sug’s longevity depends on whether he can put over something, either books or pictures this year.  He is nearly destroyed by taking money from Marie as well as afraid it will be cut off, and the only justification to his pride for doing it will be putting over this work.  As for his going back to work as he talks of at times, he simply couldn’t.  He wouldn’t last a week.  He is acutely neurotic and his heart is worse and worse.  He continues to exhibit demoniacal energy by spurts, and if he has any luck he may begin to live more calmly, otherwise not.  Merton’s being with us which began for me as a doubtful and perhaps selfish experiment, has been entirely justified I think even for Sug, for Merton is sincerely devoted to Sug and admiring of him and appreciative of his qualities and is a perfect angel at helping to remove from Sug’s shoulders practical burdens concerned with the details of living.

I’m a fiend to make money now.  Kid book first commercial job of my life, and we honestly think it is valuable that way.  Jigeroo loves it.  Merton’s pictures go with the book but he wants a flat price and not a high one, they are seven colored drawings and very good and atmospherey of this place, done from Algy models.  If this kid book goes Sug and I will write one every two years.

Letter as usual all about us, but one important item, wither we get as far north as Brittany or not you and Louise M and kids gotta come.

           LOTS OF LOVE evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

February 24 [1924]

[page 1 missing] We agreed to pay half a gardeners wages to get our winter food supply out of this backyard and all we have had so far has been the violets a bowl of salad and a reddish or two.  And the old gardener, whose wages are two dollars a month, has every day another child die so he wants about two months in advance.  And to show he is worth it he picks me bouquets that are as compact and indestructible as indoor baseballs, and as sedate and defiantly surrounded by prickly foliage as a maiden Victorian with hairpins and frills.  If we could find the Arab secret of subsistence on nothing this place would be ideal for us.

But it isn’t ideal, and we don’t like Arab life a little bit.  It snowed today (Feb 24) though all the fruit trees are in bloom, peaches mostly, and only last week were warm and wonderful little shaggy powder puffs on stems in which blood seemed to run instead of sap, and bees and flies crawled and hummed, and the sky was like a blue rock and there were some little snow-foam of cloud right over the trees and it was like snow in the garden of Paradise.

You will wonder then why we don’t like Arab life.  It is because there is no intensity in it, even of machines, except the depressing intensity of sordid Arab religion?  Even if we can’t be rich I want to see somebody who is.  Never in Bou-Saada have we seen one woman in anything more regal than calico, never one child who wasn’t dirty and out at heels.  Occasionally a man is impressive by the height of his turban and the whiteness of his linen and the gorgeousness of silver embroidery on his velvet jacket.  But you know even he lives in a mud hovel and starves his wife.  We were almost swamped last month by trying on a little meagre charity, but it is another grain of sand in all the sand there is, and I don’t think the people are very unhappy anyway.  They don’t protest or want to.  And this stupid Koran which is going to take them all to heaven and such a dingy heaven anyway.  We think of Romanism as formulated, but that ritual gives much more than this deathly penance of learning parrot wise verse and lines verse and line and droning it morning and night.

Bou Saada 2 (2)
Bou Saada [Delcampe.net]
Today the administration is trying to make a hit with tourists and has arranged a falcon hunt. Lots of stodgy French and English from Alger down and have gone out thirteen kilometres to see the falcons loosed on some poor hares and pigeons.  There is also a dance of the Ouled Nails tonight and if I hadn’t got sick we would have gone. But I think the weather will cook that too as it is in a tent.  You see the Ouled Nails used to be almost like sexual priestesses but now they live in a licensed house of prostitution and are just a lot of mangy bitches as hard as nails and not much more lovely.  A funny thing is that the fact that they are femmes public has not modified certain religious modesties. A Mahomden may sleep with one of the ladies but he may not see her unclothed, nor any women than his wives.

Arabs have this awful puritan license, but it remains puritan for they condemn this world and the flesh and woman as a minister to the flesh.  See a ragged ragged old man, a man of fabulous rags, going by with a ragged dirty woman whose slippers are falling to pieces and held on with string, and she has her face as carefully veiled as if most of her anatomy wasn’t leaking through the rents and wears.  Wish people could see their own conventions in the light of others, but British etc come here, shake their heads, and go back to worship the Virgin Mary and attend balls with ladies nude, so to  speak, on the upper level.

Bou Saada 6 (1)
Bou Saada: Dancing  girls and women [Past-to-Present.com]
Yet Arabs aren’t a bit mystic.  Their God is sensual purely in the sense of external sensational non-subjective.  And their music so crass and terrible, their way of singing like brass—the brass city of Solomon in the story—a brazen external impenetrability.  Only difference from our puritans is that their contempt for this world is perfect and negative and not a living torturing effort at contempt.  And their next world has not such a poetic hell nor such a rapturous and complacent heaven.  Heaven you reach by hard work in reciting Koran and prayers, not passion, just rote.

They are so very mental and so naïve as well—but it is not emotional naivete, and their conventions have the perfection of fixity.  Their shoes which are the only pretty thing the women wear (the few women who wear shoes) of red leather have a touch of green thread a bit of silver embroidery very conventionalized and supplied with a restraint, a mental correctness, which would be westernly impossible to people twice as sophisticate.  The jewelry is fine in only a few cases, but mostly quite crude and heavy, of metalled five franc pieces and really made into jewelry as an easy way to preserve wealth among people who have no banks or closets or drawers or trunks to lock thinks in.  No furniture in their houses, in poor houses nothing at all but a pile of dry grass to sleep in, in rich houses a rug or two and maybe rugs on the wall, a taboret for coffee, brass trays to carry food in, no knives and forks.

Little girls have a nauseating and unpleasant precociousness and a total unintelligence, just a kind of suspicious cunning and no more concentration than rabbits.  They are never, in the country, educated at all, and as most boys learn only the Koran they are as bad.  Last week Merton walked out to a small oasis near here and was accompanied home by the son of the caid who was fifteen and had been married three years, and whom in spite of his distinguished lineage, begged old shoes old clothes penknives anything from Merton.  All children beg.  Even rich people’s children.  It is quite convention for a child to beg.

Our house is opposite the filthy jail and the overnight cell opens on the street twenty feet from my bedroom window.  So funny and so awful the continuous occupants.  First place every morning the French Jew police sergeant goes in to the CELL to pea [sic], there being no toilet in the police station, and comes out arranging his trousers with an entire complacency.  Stink ferocious.  Most Arab men object to being locked up (they are awful thieves and tricksters but have the self-esteem of red Indians, only the women crassly) and they pound and shake the door all night.  Twice recently raids on unlicensed brothels (Tom can tell you of one down on the motor road for he was pursued from there) have filled cells with ladies glittering with tinsel and tinkly with necklaces and bracelets.  When the door is opened I see inside dark shiny unrelated spots as if there were Christmas trees inside.  Then make out a fat woman having a drink of water out of a galvanized scrubbing bucket.  Some of the raided ladies insisted on their respectability and emerged to go to magistrate with their faces fully veiled.

Bou Saada 8
Bou Saada: Native dwelling [Delcampe.net]
Ellen also sent me her address so I imagined you wanted me to write to her, and the mood of response is certainly in me, yet I do make such a mess of new contacts that I feel somehow I ought not to take a risk that might spoil the possibility of a friendship when we meet.  You tell me exactly how you feel, but anyway please let her know that though I should be humanly flattered by a poem to me if it were banal.  I feel a very different and more profound appreciation when the poem is like this to stimulatingly harsh and yet lovely.  You see Lola I suppose if I have an ideal esthetically it is of the combination of the harsh consciousness, harsh because of its definition, emerging from the undefined and carrying with it a kind of intimation of its source that is even more unescapable than the definition.  Her work, to judge from one small specimen is less poignant less matured in consciousness than yours, but it has a good deal of your flavor—only don’t tell her that, for I don’t mean she imitates, only that one reason you like her is natural response and one reason I should undoubtedly like her (IF my judgement is right) is this identity of a quality in her with a quality in you which I consider precious.

CKS Sand Dune
“Sand Dune”: Cyril Kay Scott watercolour  [North Caroline Museum of Art]
Cyril and Merton and me and Jigeroo all love you so very much and so very much want you to be well and to finish the book but not to finish the book until you ARE well.  And our dearest love to Davy, please, and, and, and lots of things I don’t know how to write—

MY EYES FEEL BETTER FOR HAVING WRITTEN THIS
Evelyn.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

March 3, 1924

Dearest Otto;

Gee, you have had a siege from Bou-Saada.  I’ve written Otto about one problem a week, maybe two, for the last month.  And listen, Otto, for Pete’s sake don’t worry about having had to turn the article down.  The reason I haven’t written any since you first asked me last year, is that I knew only too well what would be the result.  You see I can’t write with emotional vividness unless I have an emotional reason for doing it.  When you write a book, you always have a mystic belief that somewhere somebody is going to “understand you”—in other words accept your particular affirmations and denials.  Well, what you write for a journal that has a definite policy you know this wonderful understanding can’t be your object and so you (meaning me) feel cold to start on.  I haven’t any dash at all.  When I try to limit my own explorative function I just diminish my work without being able to make the oratorical bridges in which bunk is scarcely perceptible as bunk in which is the talent of the real journalist.

Bou Saada 2 (1)
Bou Saada [Past-to-Present.com]
What I feel behind your letter and your constant lovely decency to us, is that you are a damn tired man—lots tireder than you admit—and that we do wish vacation times weren’t so far away.  I think what you say about the crowded house is truly a lovely compliment to a finely satisfactory relation, but I don’t care how much you and Louise love each other, London is London and winter and measles and flue are such, and I’m sure you are all in deadly need of a change.  The cottage in Kent will help I know, but you must take that vacation, and damn it we insist, with us.

This seems to have been contradicted by my last letter which I wrote as a climax of a months fret over money.  What we said, or I said, holds good as commonsense, except that it will be probably next to impossible to arrange steamer fares just so, off the bat, so we had as well settle down to leaving in the very late summer or the fall.  In the meantime we are quitting Bou-Saada on the seventh and our address until we get a house will be care Mme Catherine Ramone de l’Homme, Faubourg, Collioure, Pyrenees Orientales, France.

We hope to get a cheap place at Banyuls where there is fine swimming or if not there Arles or Amelie le Bain.  Well let you know at once when we do.

Merton will be in London in May and give us mutual news of each other.  Cyril may get as far as Paris but I am going to stay down south.

Of course as a person I think Cyril has the most titanic personality, the most instinctive profoundness of emotion, the most mental stretch of almost anybody living and it will be to me another proof that utter cynicism is the impossible unattainable answer to life if he does not find any sympathetic channel of expression anywhere.

Of course one of the reasons I was most upset by the news that Seltzer would send me a hundred dollars on March 1st (haven’t gotten it yet, by the way) was the news I had that Escapade was selling.  I’m afraid that the Seltzers are not deliberate crooks but just are in such a hole that I may get nothing at all out of my work.

Now if you and Louise will come to see us we will talk of something beside ourselves.  And we will find a cheap place for you to stay. And I think we will all have a nice time.

Don’t feel my heavy correspondence a burden.  We see nobody at all and it is a relief to talk and I do it on paper but with no idea that a busy man ought to respond in kind.

Now, Otto, I ain’t as dangerous as I seem .  Love to you all.  Jig is in ecstasies over the stamps and will write to you.  I sent an order for the money on the books, thank you just the same for your generosity, and you must tell me what lacked, if anything.

Good luck and blessings, Evelyn

 * * * * *

The next letter in the collection is written from Banyuls in May 1924, after the arrival there of the Scott household. And soon their lives begin to collapse, beginning with Merton being taken to hospital in London, seriously ill.

 

 

 

10. Bou Saada (1)

Last week I posted a small selection of Evelyn’s letters from Collioure, on the Mediterranean coast of France, near the Spanish border.  Cyril was painting the coast and the countryside surrounding the picturesque ancient town and Merton, his New Zealand friend and protégé, was developing his talent as a watercolourist.  This lasted throughout the summer of 1923, until the decision to move to the north coast of Algeria that autumn.

Bou Saada
Image from Google Earth, with Bou Saada marked by a dot in the centre of the image. Even now it is isolated–how much more so it would have been in 1923!

The following letters, full of vivid descriptive language, record a way of life that Evelyn finds  different and sometimes repugnant, but her evident disapproval does not affect the clarity of her language.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

Rue Coumes
Bou-Saada, Algeria
October 11, 1923

Dear Otto:

I haven’t heard from you in ages and I have the PIPP so I won’t write a long letter, but I want you to know our new address which is Rue Coumes, Bou-Saada, Algerie, via Alger.

We couldn’t get another house in Collioure, it turned very cold, and we came the twenty-four hours to Alger.  But Alger was so damp and expensive that we are trying out here, two hundred and fifty kilometres without a railway.  I suppose it is the fatigue of travel but right now I have the worst hump I ever had about a place.  There is nothing but sand and mud houses and dirty Arabs and women without faces and I don’t think it interesting or picturesque or anything is obviously is, but just dismal.  You feel squashed by the inertia of the landscape and the inertia of the people.  All the kids have sore eyes and flies on their faces like they were pastries in a window.  I don’t like it, and more not because I don’t think Cyril does and I know Merton doesn’t and we haven’t enough money to move again inside of six months.  In fact we had to take the only house there was here for six months.  But for Gods sake don’t come to Bou Saada except as a wealthy tourist who is going to motor back in two days.  This is an oasis and there is very little water but not enough to commit suicide in at that.  There are some date palms but they don’t excite you.

Lots and lots of love, Evelyn

PS Marie [Garland] took care to mail the snottiest review of Escapade and to write that she has inquired around it wasn’t selling.  Maybe that’s why I don’t like Bou Saada.

* * * * *

To Otto Theis

October 19, 1923

You are a sweet thing to say what you do about me and writing and things and next to Cyril’s faith in me there’s nobody I want to live up to more than you, and I am certainly trying damned hard right now to do better than I ever have done, lots.  I naturally want Escapade to sell but am scared to trust it will.  You see I would like most awfully to get Sug a new suit, and lend Merton some money (he is in an awful fix and deserves a lot) and (A-las, human weakness again) send mother a little, and pay back one seventeenth of all the incredibly awful debts I owe.  Well there doesn’t seem much immediate chance of that.

I had no mail in three weeks and got it all forwarded today, so I have several letters to answer, but I had to say something to you first.  And I will write again more elaborately when we are really in routine.  I don’t care how many sins of correspondential omissions you are guilty of, I can’t keep from writing to you.

Evelyn

* * * * *

To Lola Ridge

[October 1923]

My dearest dear Lola:

Well, honey.  We are all stuck out here in the middle of nowhere having come in quest of a cheap winter in dry climate.  Merton is in an awfully tight box financially and we are trying to invent some way to help him stick it through the year.  He has to send money to his kids and that makes it a tight pull.  Tom was up at Buzzards Bay but has been returned and that leaves two with Mrs Jenkins so we don’t know whether it will be too much for her or not.

I think after we are settled in a place that is liveable we may be able to do a lot of work here, though as a place to paint it presents, once you abandon the obvious picturesque, the most difficult and subtle problem I ever saw.  The general neutrality of the landscape makes it about as easy as discerning forms in a white sheet.  It is the kind of place that no Anglo Saxon wants to get close to.  It repels with its alien quality the most pronounced of which is dirt.  Just sand wastes, a few low sand hills, and mud houses so low and flat that they are submerged in the general indefiniteness.  Then the people all reduced to a more than conventional uniformity by clothes all white all flowing, or all once white for they are all dirty, the faceless women with their muslin window curtains held up so that only one eye is exposed.  I don’t feel capable of writing immediately about it yet, but I will later.  And so let us know how you are, and have so very much love from all of us, and lots of love to Davy.

Evelyn

Another Note for Lola

Dear Lola, dear.  I wrote you yesterday and feel inclined to add this note.  I went out with Cyril and Merton when they sketched today and some faithful nuisances in the way of Arab kids followed us about half a mile.  When I sat down a little distance from the men said Arab kids began to cluster around me and chant something that went like ah-ou-ou-aaaaa-ouy-a as loud as they could and to throw stones as close to me as they could without hitting me.  Then in French they said if I’d give them a cigarette they’d leave me alone, but I wasn’t going to offer bribes so, though I had anticipated the request for a cigarette and had intended to bestow one, I didn’t.  So the au-ooo-auuu stuff went on until Merton came over to rescue me.  They are little devils alright.

CKS desert wc
Photo of a watercolour by Cyril, presumably of landscape near Bou Saada

Yesterday afternoon we saw the dancing at the baptism again and the most charming little girl in a ragged Mother Hubbard who had unbelievably large eyes bewitchingly biased and painted green underneath.  She was only about eleven and with an unhealthy delicacy, a premature sex consciousness mixed with inevitable gaucherie.  She did the bird movements with her hands exquisitely and gave a dance du ventre which was to me not the mechanical sex it is supposed to be but a kind of saint vitus dance of the guts.  It reminds me of all the stomach aches I ever had.  The courtesy in these affairs is for the audience to supply one hundred franc bills to paste with spit on the forehead and turbans of musicians and dancers.  Then when the show is over the money is returned.  None of the ouled nahils[1] will dance until somebody has put at least two hundred francs in their bonnets.  As we weren’t used to it we watched this weeks board a bit nervously until the show was over, but it came back properly and we had only to buy three bottles of beer for the star performing ladies.

PLEASE WRITE HOW YOU ARE.  Evelyn

[1]     The Ouled Nail are a Berber tribe in the Sahara Atlas mountains with a distinctive dance tradition.  The dancers are heavily made up and their costumes are richly ornate.

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To Lola Ridge

[October 1923]

Beloved dear, too funny that the very morning I wrote to know what had happened to you, I got your letter.

My dear, I wish I had really been able to pass on more of my experience here.  For the first month I was simply paralyzed by strangeness.  I was never anywhere before that every single detail of existence was alien and I couldn’t identify myself with it.  Then we have all been and still are sick.  Sug, Jigeroo, and I were all ill at once and poor Merton got so many responsibilities on him that he had a general nervous blow up and can’t paint, but I feel somehow or other that it isn’t nearly as serious as it appears but only a kind of accumulated general panic from too much worry about practical things.

SCK City Scape
Cyril Kay Scott: “City Scape” [North Carolina Museum of Art]
It is cold here and the desert is twice bare with the falling of the leaves on the few trees of the oasis and the palms all getting papery and dull.  The poor Arabs are dirtier and more miserable looking than ever.  Such pathetic creatures, the women all braceleted and veiled in inappropriate accompaniment to the nakedness of poverty that they can’t conceal.  We live opposite the police station and last night a drunk or a lunatic was shut up there and spent the whole night quavering out something that sounded like ci-ci-moi, in a thick broken voice, pounding and kicking the door, and beginning this curious monotonous song of misery again with an occasional sobbing cry interspersed.  The cell they put him in is on the street and I have seen in the stone floor and no furnishing of any kind, but when I began to think how awful it was I had only to recall the home interiors here that are just a muddy darkness, a hearth, a pot, and a rag in a corner to lie on.  Only the children of marabouts or priests are rich.  There is a big monastery near here which owns many herds and houses etc.  The dream of an earthly heaven is gained at the expense of almost all the necessity which the dream promises to supply.  As for Arab women, the French schoolmistress says that an Arab boy of twelve will beat his own mother, and women have no authority over their own children after the age of two.

Evelyn

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To Lola Ridge

[ Autumn 1923]

Precious Lola:

Having unearthed your address from long hiding, I will enjoy a direct communication.  I sent you two letters already via Gladys[1].

Since you won’t tell me your news, here’s mine.  I have finished the new novel, The Grey Riddle[2] (name out of a quotation from the Boyg scene in Peer Gynt).  It is to the mind of Sug, Merton, and myself, not just better, but INCOMPARABLY better, than anything I ever wrote.  It owes the basis of its technique to Siren and I acknowledge that in the dedication (though as much as I want it to appear the fact Siren, its inspiration, has no publisher is TOO ironical).  The technique is more elaborate and conscious by indubitably evolved from that.  I tried to make the book like an Ibsen play, in that the drama of the present is the unfolding of the past.  But of course, being a novel, the unfolding is in peoples minds, in memories and the like.  I use parenthesis, dash, italics, capitals, and small type as I never found out how to use them before, and have combined all my usual addiction to objective detail subjectively perceived (or so attempted) with a much freer emotional expression than I ever dared out of shadow play.  I do HOPE you like it.  You gotta be godmother and  assist at the accouchement anyway.

It begins in France with France with two people struggling in the vacuum of alien surroundings, goes to New York and evolves their inward struggle in the factual struggle of material circumstance, and the last part, after the woman’s death, is in the man’s mind only.

Then Lola about Sug[3].  Well, the promise of fine things in the Bermuda stuff, has been justified and exceeded a dozen times.  His last work is exquisite, such a perfect harmonization of sensuous full emotional quality with delicate mental perception I ever saw.  I don’t believe any water color except Cezanne has ever been as good.  The only draw back is his very punk health lately.  In fact Bou-Saada has laid us all out with grippe and bronchitis almost continuous.  Merton is doing himself wonderful justice, with very exquisitely realized things, with the most sensitive minute perception which locates emotion in time and space and yet does not remove it from the artist’s subjective.  He is pretty worried about money, but we hope he can stick it out until he has given himself a real chance.

Jigeroo speaks French and goes to an Arab school.  He has been ill but happy otherwise.  So you see despite inwards this time as you said, darling, is a beautiful time.  If money and health permit we will justify it.  Our regret is that you and Davy aren’t here, and oh, again if we COULD get you here.

OM Bou Saada view1 (1)
Owen Merton: Undated desert landscape, possibly Bou Saada [Thomas Merton Society]
The Arabs are dirty and miserable looking, but there is a fine arid landscape of fleshly hills, a huddle of frail walls and of dead dry mud, a hurricane of dark palms against a sky that (when it condescends not to rain) is hard with light.  There is the wonderful sinister importance of the women all in red (all the married women of some tribes wear red) shrouded, holding with their palms fan-wise a screen of draperies across their faces.  They don’t wear veils as in Alger, but are even more concealed.  There are the cupolas of marabout tombs that are somehow more voluptuous than she ever imagined plaster, and float above the flat houses like tight bruised lily buds stained with brown and pink.  There is on market day always some man from the desert who seats himself in the dust of the Place and recites endless songs that have a slight half-moon rhythm which swings back and back on itself, the choruses accompanied by the holly agitation of the tambourine drum which he beats as if encouraging himself.  Then there are pipes always being played somehow, how querulous whistles, equally monotonous.  In the evening the muezzin on the roof of the mosque calls, cries out it seems, to Allah.  Men along street corners, removing their shoes, make that perfect complete gesture of abasement of which we have no counterpart, laying dust upon their foreheads and bending again three times to place their foreheads in the dust.  Then the brazen chanting of the Koran, little boys voices hurrying shrilly, men’s voices calling nasally above them.  On Thursdays we walk by the synagogue and the Jews in the light of many candles are chanting so differently with a soft vague intonation of breathed solemnity.

Bou Saada 4 (1)
Bou Saada: An Arab street [Past-to-Present.com]
However Mohamedism is horrible to a western mind.  Poverty accepted, slavery of women accepted, disease accepted, and death just the tossing of unconfined bodies into the scratched earth where the rain and the dogs go later to dig it up.Later I shall maybe get something out of this beside the picturesque.  Just now it is the sense of alienation which is satisfying, for one can work with it.

WE LOVE YOU AND DAVY.  Please get well. Evelyn

[1]  Gladys Edgerton (later Grant) was a fellow poet and faithful friend of Evelyn’s.  They met in New York shortly after Evelyn’s return to the US.
[2]    Evelyn never published a book under this name:  it is probably The Golden Door, published in 1925 by Thomas Seltzer.
[3]   Evelyn’s pet name for Cyril, short for “Sugar”.

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To Otto Theis

December 31, 1923

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO BOTH OF YOU.

Dear Otto:

Bou-Saada is a microcosm of society presented with a crudeness and simplicity that a child would get.  In looking at Arabs you see why and how people arrived at a respectable ideal, at the feeling that it was better to have some decent hypocrisy about yourself than to be simple and blatant in cruelty as the Arabs are.  They just never need to excuse themselves for doing what other races do under cover, and I find myself anglo-saxon enough to get the hump when I contemplate it.  Natural selection functions here without any Christian modification.  The biggest most brutal males get the best food and the warmest clothes and look like Jesus Christs of healthy stock, gods all mighty in their own minds without any sickness of the imagination to identify them with their inferiors.  They are probably very kind and condescending to the women who are pretty and submissive enough to deserve it, and throw all the best bones to the children that cry the last.  But a great many of the children cry most of the time.  Every evening you can hear all up and down the streets the little girls sent to ask alms of prosperous relatives.  They sit in the doorways sometimes for hours together wailing a stereotyped plea with a monotony and persistence that compliments the nerves of the people indoors who seem to pay no attention to it.  The men wear wool burnouses, but I have yet to see any but the Jewish women who have changed their red calico robes for anything more suitable to the winter climate.  It snowed here last week and barefooted girls without any undies (quite visibly) were running around in it.  Not that the men don’t suffer too in their degree for some of them are the most artistic collections of rags I ever saw, and there are dozens of the nomad variety camping around here in exposed tents with no covering but their skins and no firewood but what they can collect in a place forty kilometres from any woods.  The fact that we live opposite the police station doesn’t add to our cheerful impressions.  It is a French police station and the Arab policemen are too unimaginative to keep up with the New York variety, are really very nice men (honest)—I don’t think Arabs have any lust for creating suffering like the Spaniards do—but the collects of rags and dejection that are hauled in there every day make we want to make sententious remarks about the failure of a civilization being proven by the populousness of the jails, or something.  There’s only one cell (quite as comfortable as an Arab home) and quite unfurnished, and men women and children are all stuffed into the same darkness.  Just what this proximity does to divert them I don’t know, and it may be the kindest method, only sometimes there are crazy men and very crazy drunks who wouldn’t be attractive companions for the ladies even in the dark.

Algerian village by OM
Algerian Village: watercolour by Owen Merton [Thomas Merton Society]
Oh, gee, well anyway this is a roundabout way of saying that one winter in a Muhamadon town is enough for a while.  We want to go to the Grand Kahyble (can’t spell it) April and stay there through May as the scenery is very different from this, mountainous and luxuriant and the Khablye people are not Arabs but Burbers[1] (as maybe you know) and have different customs.  And then June to go back to France.  We’ll have to return to Port Vendre and Collioure to collect maroquette[2] if the poor thing isn’t dead and then we thought we would go to Brittany and stay two or three months.  Merton and Sug then, IF our money is any more than now, want to spend two weeks in Paris.  After that the problem of a warm cheap winter somewhere and we have thought of Corsica, the Belleryic islands,[3] or trying Sicily again, whichever lives up to our ideal of prices and weather, and our last spring of freedom we want to go to London for two weeks before we go home.I wrote the first draft of the kid story[4] and handed it over to Cyril who is helping it out with the addition of a trick dog, helping me to kill a lion the way it should be killed, and translating a whole lot of stuff about Arabic customs to put them in the book correctly.  He has already put in thirty pages of notes so I shall insist on calling it a collaboration whether he wants to or not.  My part of it was the most rapid fire work I ever did, one hundred and seventy four pages in eight days.  But don’t let that prejudice you agin it, for I think it will be a very amusing little book when it is did, and Merton’s illustrations are excellent.  It is one of the many little boy lost stories, but this time the little boy lost collects an Arab girl and is, because of his ignorance of Arabic, tangled up in Arab weddings, Arab mosques, all kinds of Arab customs, walks off with a tame lion, and has two dreams in which camels and desert tribes in rebellion and drums and spahis are all mixed up.  The skeleton isn’t original.  I didn’t have it in me to break ground that way for kids, but I think the detail is for kids very fresh and exciting.  I don’t know what my arrangement with Seltzer is because my contract was left with Walter Nelles in New York, but I want to find out their attitude about Escapade, The Grey Riddle etc, and if I tactfully and businessly can, I should be grateful to use the introduction you could give me to your literary man.  Merton as the illustrator is much in favor of it.  I shall be quite set up if John Lane[5] takes on Escapade as I know he is more punkins than Duckworth, but I haven’t heard anything of it so I won’t hope too much.

In the Endless Sands

Otto, we do wish that your vacations came oftener and that you and Louise Morgan[6] could come here now.  If she isn’t well London weather is the worst that I can think of for her, and this place, though cold, is mostly so sunny, and really cheap when you get here.  It has the best hotel I ever saw in a small town, Hotel Petit Sahara, and when we were there was twenty-five francs apiece a day for all of us, a hundred francs for all, and very good food.  The bus ride from Alger here is hellish but only costs thirty-three francs each first class.  For a brief stay ANYWAY, even if you didn’t love Arabs, it is frightfully interesting—a beautiful oasis as far as palm trees go, wonderful desert and low hills around it, and every detail of native life as strange and picturesque as possible in more than obvious ways.  Oh, I do wish you could come.  If we had beds you could stay with us.  We have lots of room but no beds.

Lots and lots of love from all of us. Evelyn

[1]     Berbers, the nomadic people of the African desert
[2]     Evelyn had always liked animals and had kept a number of them in Brazil.  It appears she was still keeping pets in France, including a parrot, Maroquette.
[3]    Balearic
[4]  In the Endless Sands, written jointly with Cyril and based on Jigg’s account of the nine days he spent in the Algerian desert without being missed by his parents!  Jigg would tell his children about this episode but Evelyn never states that the book is based on Jigg’s disappearance.
[5]   British publisher.  He co-founded The Bodley Head and specialised in controversial works.
[6]   Otto’s wife

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Next week will follow the Scotts and Merton through the remainder of their time in Algeria, ending with Merton’s sudden illness and the dramatic return to Europe.