"AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF AN UNIMPORTANT PERSON"

BY MINNETTE SLAYBACK CARPER

Part II

 

When I was ten years old I went for a visit to Lexington, Missouri, which was

my mother's native town and where her mother still resided and several other

relatives. My Grandmother Waddell was a tall and stately lady, and traces of

beauty lingered in her calm face. She wore black silk dresses for nice occasions,

but it was a matter of embarrassment to her daughters that, as she grew older

she became addicted to very gay house - dresses, - percales with large flowered

patterns of bright colors. It mattered nothing to me that she had been the wife

of the man who helped to start the Pony Express. I was too full of life and ex-

citement to care to sit at her feet and listen to her slow careful recital of pioneer

days. Her people had come from Kentucky where they had in turn come from

Virginia. On the other side they came from the east where Governor Bradford

was the reason for the name handed down to William Bradford Waddell, yet

they were English, and were landed proprietors. She lived out her life of ninety-

four years contentedly enjoying the life of a country town, fond of gardening and

raising chickens, but not working very hard at either, as there were always ser-

vants on the place and she never lacked for money. The daughter she lived

with, my Aunt Juliet, was a sweet woman who was considerate and kind, and

took good care of her. I would say my Grandmother had an easy life. I wish

I had been sensible enough to write down some of the stories she could tell.

In my possession are two letters from that visit, in 1878. One dated

August 23' says:

"My Dear Mama:

You don't know how I miss you. I gave Susie Tevis my doll's silk

poplin that is trimmed with the brown silk and I want to make another when I get

home. She nearly went crazy over it and my princess. She gave me a blue percal

(that is all the better I can spell it) and a box lined with silver paper. But I know

I will miss my brown dress. I am awful anxious already to see you. Aunt Julia

sends her love to you and all. Susie does the same. Give my love to Mabel,

Grace, Katie, Mary and Ellen and Papa. Give a kiss to M., G. and Papa and K.

Goodbye from your girl who wants to see you very much.

Minnette.

P.S. Aunt Laura is going to give me another dress this fall

The last remark was rather significant. In the autumn our

Lexington relatives liked to come to St. Louis to visit us to see the annual Fair

and the Veiled Prophet's Parade. Aunt Laura would always present a gift on

her visit. The Susie Tevis mentioned in my letter was my Cousin, Aunt Juliet's

beautiful young daughter three months younger than I was.

The second letter was to Papa September 30' 1878.

"My Dear Papa

Why don't some of you write to us, we too will be with you

soon. I wrote to Katie a good while back and have not received an answer yet.

And it's a shame that I did not answer you before this. Show Gracie that little

froggie up at the top and Mabel too, and tell them Amet will soon be home. I

have had such a nice time while here. I have gathered some acorns to make

picture frames. They make such pretty ones. Aunt Julia has a great many in

her house and I think they are so pretty.

We received your letter this morning which stated to

come home this week, and had also a check of thirty dollars in it for Sister Susie.

I must stop as my hand gets tired very easy and excuse my writing as I am in a

hurry. Give my love to the two chickens and a kiss for all. From your daughter

Minnette."

This sounds to me like the letter of a warm-hearted and affectionate child

thoughtful of her duty and her people. It denotes just what it was, because with

us the family always came first. We were a loving group. This feeling so influ-

enced my life that I think I should have had more material success if I had sacri-

ficed my devotion.

One strange influence comes back to me. I was fond of the stage, and so

was my father. He would have been a wonderful actor. I really would have liked

to go on the stage; I had all the attributes necessary for it, including the burning

ambition without which no talent is of any use. I was taught to dance by a French-

man, Professor Xaupi, when I was only six years old. He paid particular attention to

us little Slaybacks because my father had been in the army with his son, and was

with him when the boy died, and brought home his dying message. He was of

course devoted to my father. But all the teaching in the world went as a matter

of fact to my flying feet. I danced as a matter of course, and music gave me wings.

Then there was my father's wonderful training in expression as I learned to read.

That was a great opportunity. And there was my instinct for poetry and good

literature, - all part of the equipment for a dramatic career.

But it just occured that across the street from us lived the family of A.J. Fox,

the photographer. In the group were Lily and Della Fox, - the nortorious Della Fox.

She was younger than I was, but she played in our group and went to the Stoddard

School. Another pupil of the Stoddard School, and in my class, was the perennial

beauty, Fanny Ward. She was pretty and in spite of being rather prim and dignified

had that unmistakable air always the qualification of ladies of the dramatic pro-

fession. In short, child that she was she still looked like an actress. I did not come

in contact with her outside of school as she did not live near us. Della and Lilly

Fox, on the other hand were with us a great deal of the time.

At that time it was not considered nice to paint your face or dye your hair.

Only two classes of people did it - actresses and ladies of questionable character.

We were quite shocked when Lily appeared with her auburn hair bleached out

short and curled at that. Lily was really a beauty she had lovely brown eyes.

Della was a small lively youngster and not so very good-looking, but she knew

her way around. It was the day of the Pinafore company that took the country

for awhile. Juvenile companies were formed everywhere and children were

drilled in choruses and performances were given in an amateur way for the

benefit of this and that. Of course we had a company in our part of the city.

I think Lily was Little Buttercup the first time we played it and Della was the

Midshipmite, very cute with her spyglass. I was only in the chorus. The second

time I was not permitted to be in it.

That gave the two Fox girls a decided push, and sooner or later they went

on the stage and Della couldn't take the life. She went from bad to worse and

ended in an inebriate asylum. We watched them from afar. Our childish in-

timacy ceased. We could see them smoking cigarettes at night in the yard with

their numerous suitors, and they kept their hair dyed and painted their faces

and must have had a wonderful time at first. The city eventually gave Della a

benefit concert and she had her voice cultivated went all over the country and

became quite famous, one of the outstanding celebrated comic - opera actresses

of the times. But her progress quieted forever any hope I might have had of

going on the stage.

Candidly, my mother would never have given her consent to my going on

the stage. She was of the Baptist faith and she did not even learn to dance when

she was young. Modest to the last extreme, she was about as opposite to my

father as possible, quiet, retiring and self-effacing. She was a true Victorian,

resembling the queen in appearance, and living as she did in the same period,

she followed the style of the times. She was what is known as a "Stylish stout",

and although a bit overweight she always had a good figure. She wore very

good materials and smart-looking hats, but as the mother of six children she

did not go about very much. She was rather indifferent to it, I think, and would

rather sit with a huge astronomy book in her hands trying to establish the current

position of certain stars than to go to a swell soiree. It was her custom on clear

nights to take her brood of little ones into the front yard and point out the

planets and constellations and tell us their names. To this day - the ninety-ninth

anniversary of her birth - I never see the belt of Orion and the Pleiades that I do

not think of my mother.

She played the piano well and sang alto. She taught me to paint in

water-colors at an early age. She painted in water-colors and on china. She

took lessons in wood-carving and because of her interest in tools provided me

with tools. She was an inveterate reader, and being religious always ended her

day with a chapter in the Bible.

My Grandfather Waddell had owned fifty slaves. North western Missouri

was under the Mason and Dixon line. There were seven house servants, but my

mother was never idle. The clothing for the slaves had to be made, and the young

daughters of the house spent much time sewing. And when Mama married and

had children, she could not buy garments for them as we can today, and she was

at the sewing - machine constantly making the numerous little panties, waists and

aprons we needed. We were always beautifully dressed, and Mama took great

pride in keeping us so. She taught me to sew, and I made a dress for myself at

thirteen. But she did not need to cook, and did not know how till she was fifty

years old, when she took some lessons at the St. Louis Training School. She had

two or three servants till after my father died, and never went in the kitchen till

she had been married twenty-four years.

She was an unusual person; someone different. She had a "snooty" air

that did not at all fit with her gentle and generous nature. She was as yielding

as water but as solid as a rock. But she instilled in us a reverence for religion and

a love of learning and of beautiful and fine things, and gave us a family unity and

loyalty that never died. Her cold attitude was probably a shyness or reserve, and

at times she could be very quiet. I always confided my troubles to her, but she

was a severe judge. I would say to her:

"Forgive me, I am sorry". And she would return:

"You shouldn't do anything you have to apologize for."

As for herself, I never heard her admit a transgression or say that

she was sorry.....She was stubborn and had deep prejudices but she was amiable

and had none of the spitfire fits of temper so difficult to live with. She encouraged

me in my artistic inclinations, but most of all she wanted me to become a writer,

and I think she did not take my gift for portraiture seriously enough. But I must

have been a very difficult child for any mother to guide, I had so many talents. It

was hard to decide what I should do.

My mother's name was Alice Amelia, but Father always called her Allie. She

received the best education Lexington could afford, and then she and Tillie Russell,

her friend, went to St. Louis for a post - graduate course, specializing in Geography

and Astronomy. The two young ladies were sent in care of a friend of Grand-

father's as far as Sedalia in a government ambulance. Grandfather sent merchan-

dise across the plains in wagon trains, hence the ambulance. From Sedalia they

took train to St. Louis where they attended a fashionable boarding school. She

and Papa had become separated and estranged and when she returned to Lexing-

ton had no idea of ever being his sweetheart again. But she was walking down

the street with Sue, her girl friend, and suddenly she saw him walking towards her

on the other side of the street. She almost fainted. But he crossed the street and

spoke to the two girls. They were standing near a deep well in the front yard of

Sue's house. Suddenly my father seized Allie's hand and said:

"Do you want to see my future wife." He led her to the well and made her

lean over and look down at her reflection. Then he said: "When are we going to

be married?"

They first lived in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he had established a practice

and there the first child, Susie was born. Then came the war and my mother went

to live with her parents at Lexington and endure the fortunes of war as best she

could. He was attempting to break through the lines to visit his wife when he was

captured and put in prison. The guard ordered him to carry a bucket and go with

him down to a brook to get some water. Father hit the guard over the head with

the pail and escaped. He took refuge with a friend who dyed Father's red hair

black, and he managed to see Mama and then get back to his regiment.

After the war and all its vicissitudes they decided St. Louis should be

their home, and there brave little Alice Waddell began her life as Mrs. Slayback.

She was a small woman, but had courage and intelligence, to illustrate which

take one anecdote:

A man rang the door-bell and asked to see Mama. He told her my father

had fallen in the Mississippi River and had gotten his clothes wet and wanted an

entire change of clothes to be sent down to him by the man. Mama said, calmly:

"Very well. I'll take them down in my barouche." She sent a messenger to

the livery stable where we kept the horses, but the man who had brought the

message scuttled down the street as fast as he could go. There were very few

telephones in those days, and she could not tell until she drove downtown

(about fifteen minutes drive) that the man was an imposter, and the story was

a lie.

Aside from her sewing she was inclined to be indolent, - only natural,

having been brought up with servants about her always, - and when she was

obliged to perform some service she did not fancy, she always had the funniest

little bored look on her face. When I was sick and she would come to the side

of the bed to give me my medicine I always felt that it was the greatest sort of an

imposition for her to have to wait on me.

Mama and Susie between them started me playing from notes. I played

so much be ear that it was very bad for me. But after they had given me the

rudimentary instruction I was sent to a very good teacher at $10.00 a lesson,

who gave me the proper exercises. But I was always singing to my own accompani-

ment. If I only heard a song once at a concert or comic opera I could come home

and sing it, remembering the words and picking out my own accompaniment. I

must have been something of a pest. I would not keep away from the piano, but

as usual in such cases, I did not like to practise my real exercises and serious music.

I was always in solo work at school, and I can remember at the last commence-

ment exercises at Stoddard School, the feeling of the music in my hand as we

stood up to sing a quartette. I was just fourteen. That summer I took my examina-

tions for Mary Institute. I was conditioned in Arithmetic, and dropped back a

whole class. We did not know enough about the customs of the school to study

during the summer and make it up. Mary Institute was the Girls preparatory school

at Washington University. It was not a Roman Catholic school, but was named in

honor of a young girl who died and whose name was Mary. Katie positively

refused to go there. She said "It was too stuck up."

During the summer my father was appointed a commissioner of sorts to go

to Denver, Colorado to attend a mineral congress or convention. He was the

representative from Missouri. I went for a short visit to Lexington and can only

remember the horrible shivery feeling I had when he had to get up at four o'clock

in the morning to take the train in returning. It was quite dark and we had to

get by lamp-light. I had never done such a thing before!

Papa returned on the Thirteenth of September. He was immediately involved

in a political campaign again. He had been persuaded at one time to run for

congress. He was always a Democrat, and he had many friends, and he felt he

could make a go of it. But he had a malignant enemy in the person of one John M.

Glover, a small, ugly, misshapen, pathetic-looking man. As great a contrast to my

handsome father as one can imagine. John Glover was a lawyer, and he and my

father had been opposed to each other in the courts, and my father was very

successful, seldom lost a case, and Glover just hated him on general principles.

He had a way of rushing into print with scurrilous letters, and trying to stir up

trouble.

Because of his efforts there was a split in the party and a man named

Erastus Wells won the nomination and went to Congress. It had cost my father

eight thousand dollars to go into the contest, and he mortgaged the farm for

that purpose. While the battle was on, my father's oratory drew enormous

crowds to hear him speak. My mother took us to hear him in several places.

One was at Uhrig's Cave, in a large hall. Another was on an open lot surrounded

by a huge mass of people. These memories come to me like dim pictures. A

vivid one is from a time when a delegation of half-grown boys from Kerry Patch

came, carrying torches, and stood in the gutter before the house while I passed

around a liced cake, and someone gave them lemonade.

Now Mr. James O. Broadhead, Father's partner had entered the lists for

congress, and my father took the stump for his partner and uttered his ringing

eloquence in behalf of the Democratic party. And again Johnny Glover began

to show his hatred by writing opprobrious letters which were published in the

Post Dispatch, a paper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. Naturally Pulitzer dictated the

policy of his paper, and although John Cockerill was the editor Pulitzer knew

what was being done. Father had stood a good deal of abuse when they pub-

lished a letter which called him a coward and made fun of his name. Although

Father was noted for his bravery and might have sat and ignored the thing

without adverse criticism, it became beyond his patience when he heard they

were going to repeat the letter on Saturday afternoon. A friend of his, John

Clopton, came to his office and found my father very much excited over the pro-

spect, and offered to go with him to the Post Dispatch office to prevent its

possible repetition. Cockerill was probably a bit nervous and expected my

father to open fire on him at sight. As soon as Father stepped inside the door

of the office Cockerill shot him. He called the name of his friend, Clopton, and

expired.

This was the turning - point in the life of our family but we were not the

only ones affected. The whole city seethed with fury at the cruelty of the murder.

A mob formed down near the Post Dispatch office, but they had no proper leader

or they would have wrecked it. He had been so beloved and admired for his

qualities of soldier, orator, courtly and handsome gentleman, that the city was

stunned at the killing and infuriated at the false testimony produced. The

employees said that it was done in self-defense and that father had a gun. One

was found in his pocket. But it was not his gun. His own pistol, a beautiful

pearl-handled weapon, was at home in his top bureau drawer, where he always

kept it. The gun found in his pocket had been purchased at a pawn-broker's but

the pawn-broker did not know my father. In 1927 a book was published called

the Reporter's Record, which told the truth of the matter. That the pistol found

in my father's pocket was placed there after he was shot, probably while Clopton

had gone for help, and the police knew of it.

People are always saying to me: "Don't be superstitious." But so many

strange things have happened to me that it would be odd if I did not have a

question about things psychic. My father was killed on Friday, the thirteenth

of October, 1882. The number thirteen has tagged me continually. It no longer

disturbs me, but I cannot help noticing it. On the day of his death my mother had

taken her family for a ride and we drove out to North St. Louis to the water tower.

Inside of the tower was a winding stair, and we said we would like to climb up to

the top and view the city. On the way up the dark narrow spiral I heard some-

thing tinkle with a metallic sound, and I said: "Something dropped. It sounded

like metal. We must watch for it."

When we came down into the light again, I found the tinkle was caused by

a tiny pistol bangle on a ring I had received as a prize for swimming. I had referred

to it before. Of course there was no sense in looking for it so we abandoned it

and went home. It was about five o'clock when I lost it. My father was shot at

five o'clock.

The family had been having disturbing dreams, especially my sister Susie

and my father's brother Charles. Charles dreamed he was in a Pullman car. My

father was running down the aisle all covered with blood. But he cried out to

Charles: "It's all right Charlie! It's all right". Susie dreamed she saw herself in a

mirror combing snow-white hair. When we reached home that day a carriage

was waiting in front of the house. Two friends of Papa's had driven up from

town to break the news as gently as possible. But my poor Sister Susie was not

so fortunate. She had been down town with a girl friend, and had walked home,

accompanied by a young gentleman who was noted for being exceedingly witty

and funny. She said she had never laughed more in her life than during that walk

up Olive Street. When she got in front of the house someone rushed at her and

told her the news without any preparation. Poor Susie! She had adored my

father, and when she lost him she lost the chance of happiness.

He looked very handsome as he lay in the coffin in the big parlor. He had

not been sick, and the color seemed still to linger a bit in his cheeks. The people

who had loved him rushed to send flowers, as if they wanted to do something to

express their sadness. The odor was overpowering, as the blossoms piled upon

each other.

He was buried with Masonic honors, music accompanying us we wound

out to the Bellefontaine Cemetery. It was the largest funeral ever given in St. Louis

up to that time. His body was placed in a vault for a while, and on the thirty-first

of October was taken to Lexington, Missouri, and buried by the side of his father.

On that occasion we were furnished a private car for the trip and return. In

those days one went heavily into deep mourning, so we were all swathed in black,

the grown women of the family in veils of crepe.

The most trying part of the funeral was the behavior of Mama's minister,

Reverend W. W. Boyd, the clergyman of the Second Baptist church. When he

found that he was not to be asked to conduct the funeral services he acted in an

astonishing manner. My mother had asked the Episcopalian rector, Dr. Rober of

Holy Communion to conduct the services because he had been the chaplain of

Father's regiment during the war, and he and Father were warm friends. But

W. W. Boyd was forever seeking publicity, so he went down to the jail where the

murderer was awaiting legal processes, and condoled with him and got into the

papers that way. Needless to say my mother never went back to his flock. It was

a sore subject with her, and we transferred our allegiance to the Methodist belief.

Susie and I often went to the Episcopalian church, and when I was married to an

Episcopalian I joined that congregation.

After the funeral was the harrowing process of readjustment which my

mother had to experience. She was the last person in the world to take upon

herself the management of a large family and the control of the necessary money

to run it. Father's partner, Mr. Haeussler, who was quite as heart-broken over the

murder as if he had been a brother, aided Mama in every way he could. The city,

as represented by various organizations and business associations went about

helping us in a methodical way. They had meetings, they gave benefit perfor-

mances, they took up collections and bestowed the money upon us with their

blessing. It was an evidence of the love they had for Father and the faith they had

in his innocence. Twenty-thousand dollars of life insurance was held back for a

while, because of the doubt that Father had gone to the office with a gun. But

eventually that was given to us, so we must have been vindicated. Even the

Washington University let me have my semester tuition free. We had some

fifty thousand dollars, which should have carried us nicely. But my mother was

no financier.

I was not allowed to go to the trial, and of course was not permitted to

have any voice in the matter. But I know it was a very unsatisfactory affair. Mama

had been taken down to the place of the murder to dentify the body. She found

my father in his white shirt - that is without coat and vest. It was a long while

before we found out that the coat had been spirited away because a bullet had

made a hole in THE LEFT SLEEVE. In other words, Father had his left arm raised in

protest against being shot -- and that alone would have proved that he was not

about to shoot, because he used his right hand, always, and would have been

holding up that hand if he were trying to fire a gun. The lawyer employed to

prosecute the case was a man whom my father did not like, and it was always a

mystery to me why he should have been retained. But they thought he would

win the case and persuaded my mother to engage him. He certainly was a

blockhead about the clothes. They were never produced at the trial, being in

the office of the district attorney, and never given to Mama till after the trial

was well over. I have always agonized over that and wondered at justice. And

the hiring of Frank Bowman as the lawyer in the case was a terrible mistake.

As the hirelings of the Post Dispatch swore falsely that Father carried a

gun the inquest gave a verdict of self-defense. The only thing Mama could do,

they told her, was to sue for damages. She sued for fifty thousand dollars damages

and of course did not win anything and had to pay the costs of court. We could

only swallow our bitter medicine and smart under the injustice of having to take

it.

This unnecessary slaughter of a brilliant man cast a gloom over many

lives. He had visited his brother Preston in Denver - Preston having removed to

that city, - and Father had been persuaded it was a good place to live. He was

seriously considering going there. So I have often wondered what would have

been my fate if he had lived. His brother Charles had been so devoted to

Alonzo, that he could not endure remaining in the city of such poignant recol-

lections, he removed with his family to Chicago, and we lost that delightful

association. Our comfortable and charming home was altered to make two

semi-detached houses in the hope it would produce some income from the

renting of one side. And that venture caused nothing but trouble. During the

alteration of the building my little brother, Alonzo the second, fell through the

joists into the cellar, fell on a stone and broke his nose, receiving disfigurement

and internal injury. Eventually Mama had tenants that did not pay their rent

and cause her much worry. She finally sold the whole place at a loss.

One of the strange things in connection with the murder was the fate of

different men connected with the affair. Joseph Pulitzer went blind. John Cockerill

could not remain in St. Louis. He was removed to New York to The World, but

even there he was a marked and haunted man, and had no happiness. His wife

was untrue and deserted him. He finally ended, alone and miserable, in Cairo,

Egypt, where he died. John Glover, who wrote the insulting letters that caused

it all, went wandering in the mountains of Colorado, fell off a cliff to his death.

Ruffner, the man who placed the gun in my father's pocket, fell off a porch roof

and was killed in an insane asylum. The Post Dispatch building became an object

of scorn and derision. They said the stain on the floor could not be washed off.

They said it was haunted by Slayback's ghost. Boys threw stones in the

windows. The publication was carried to a building a block away. The old

building was boarded up and left to the rats who were probably the cause of

the ghostly noises people declared they heard.

And so passed my marvelous father at the untimely age of forty-four.

He lies in an obscure graveyard in Lexington, which is not even kept well, the

tallest shaft in the cemetery of uncut grass and slanting monuments, not far from

his father-in-law, William B. Waddell. While I was growing I missed him dread-

fully, and realized how much I had been cheated. But Susie was the one I have

always grieved for.

She had been brought up in idle luxury, and at that time young women

were not expected to work. They were supposed to annex a husband. Susie had

a great many admirers and should have made a fine marriage. One young man

had called upon her for years. He had never proposed marriage. Finally she

became engaged to another young man, but he drank. He came to the house

drunk, at one time, and fell asleep in his chair. Hour after hour went by while she

sat there silent and motionless, watching over him, till he woke up. She broke the

engagement, but it left her in an unsettled state. In the meantime she was in

mourning, which polite people extended for two years, she had no aim or ambition,

no hobby, no serious plan. She had a really fine singing voice, and had been

trained for a time by an Italian vocal teacher, but she abandoned that culture at

Papa's death and soon forgot the essentials of her instruction. She did not pursue

her piano music further, and relapsed into what we now call "a home girl," and

got what joy she could out of life through her friends. Her best friend at the

time was Miss Clara Wilson, who had been with her on the day our father was

shot. Miss Wilson was clever and amusing and they were always together. Susie

had many young men friends who called in the evening. Telephones were rare

articles at that time. Confectioner stores and drug stores and doctors had them,

but very few were in private use. So it was the custom for a young man to go to

the home of his girl friend and inquire if she was in. If she was they said surprise,

surprise, and sat down to a chat that usually ended about half past ten, because

he was supposed to arrive before nine o'clock.

We had discharged all but one servant, with an extra woman coming in

for laundry work. My mother never knew the routine for washing clothes! She

was forty-three when Father died, and she did not learn to cook till she was about

fifty, when she took lessons at a domestic school. Although my mother was

always an exceedingly modest and retiring person, she must have been possessed

of a deep attractiveness, for after my father's death two men asked her to marry

them. They were both gentlemen of means and had no motive but a regard for

her. When I think of this I have a higher appreciation of her myself.

In the hope of making some worthy memorial to Father's memory, Mama

gathered a number of his poems together and had them published in book form.

It made a very handsome volume, and was much appreciated. She sold some of

them, and also presented a volume to any of his friends whom she knew would

like it. Two thousand books were distributed. He wrote well, and as he was

romantic and eloquent the poems were good. Among the verses was his own

epitaph, strangely appropriate, and afterwards cut into his monument.

Epitaph to be placed on my Tomb.

Let him who looks upon this spot

Remember soon 'twill be his lot,

And judge with gentleness if he

Would ask his Maker's lenity.

He had often been in print in the newspapers, and his patriotic verses,

founded on his war experiences were especially fine. He had written a great

many love poems to my mother, and of course they were sweet, and a great

many small didactic poems like this:

"Fret Not."

"Fret not. The world will somehow wag along,

Until the blunders will be made all right.

The pigmy truth will kill the giant wrong

As David slew Goliath in the fight.

 

"Grieve not - those only mourn who fail to see

The sweet but needful uses of ill-fate;

And way beyond the breakers of the sea

Sail ships of hope, all full of precious freight."

 

But I like best:

"Indian Summer".

The russet, brown October leaves

The frost and sun are tinging o'er,

And safe amid the garnered sheaves

The field mouse hides her winter store.

The spider mounts her gauzy stair,

Her flight on home-made wings she lifts,

And lazy on the languid air

A fleecy cloud at random drifts.

 

"Through azure depths the sunbeams pour

On woodlands crowned with gorgeous dyes,

And town and village raise once more

Their smoky columns toward the skies.

What is it in this autumn scene

That from the past seems asking me

If it was summer that has been?

If it is winter - that must be?

 

"I know not. Yet a voice is gone

Whose tones gave music to the spring:

And dreary months must hope, hope on,

E'er back again that voice 'twill bring.

I know not, yet remember well

The summer warmth and glow and light

That once on such a day befell

A heart now plunged in gloom and night.

I know not! Yet the past has shown

That leaves may wither, snows may fall,

Yet love be faithful to its own,

And hearts be changeless after all".

The volume she gathered together in memory of my father consisted of a

biographical sketch, several speeches and essays and one hundred and seventy

odd poems. It was a well-made book. Its paper is still in good condition fifty-

five years later. It was made by a publisher named James H. Chambers. He be-

came acquainted with mama during the business of printing the book, and fell

in love with her and continued to come to visit her in a social way. Susie always

appeared at those calls, and perhaps had an idea that Mr. Chambers was falling

a victim to her own charms. He was a tall, slender, gray-haired man, a widower

for some time. He had one son, and he also brought the young man to the house.

Their visits continued with some regularity until Mr. Chambers, Senior, found

opportunity to tell Mama that he had fallen in love with her and asked her to marry

him. This made Sister very angry. She may have considered Mr. Chambers an

unworthy successor to Alonzo Slayback, or she may have been disappointed in not

getting a husband herself, I cannot tell. At all events she fairly drove the man from

the house, completely shocking me by her rudeness, and overwhelming Mama,

who submitted to Susie's dietum as if she had nothing to say about it. Perhaps she

did not really care for Mr. Chambers, or perhaps she was afraid of what people

might say - that she had no respect for father's memory.

Poor little woman! So unfitted to cope with the strong wills of six unruly

children, so in need of a man's guiding hand! I can see her yet, trying to wrestle

with percentages and bills. Now and then she went down to Mr. Haeussler's

office and had an administrative lecture which sounded like a rebuke, but which

we understood was only Herman's way of relieving himself about the whole un-

happy state of things.

When the kind citizens of St. Louis had contributed money for father's

family, they had given us enough to bestow two thousand dollars to each child

and to my grandmother Slayback. Mr. Haeussler invested this and attended to

the care of the estate and did not charge for it because he knew that Alonzo

Slayback would have done the same for him. So, occasionally I would have to

go to the office and have a conversation with the crisp and abrupt German about

something I did not in the least understand. My nature was artistic and not

mathematical. And it was so I went through school. I always stood tops for

music, drawing, composition and reading, but although I ultimately went

through algebra, geometry and trigonometry, - they are written down in my

diploma, - I am not bragging of my accomplishments in those studies.

How hard it is to convince children that school should be taken as ser-

iously as a business and a career! I went to school because I was made to go,

studied in a slip-shod manner, got out of home-work till the last minute,

groaned over the studying and did not do one bit more than I had to while I was

undergoing my sojourn at an educational institution; but afterwards, when I

studied something for purposes of learning it how differently I applied myself!

I am really glad I did not have to contend against the distractions of the radio and

the cinema as children of this age must do. There were enough temptations as

it was. I had tickets to two libraries and we had a fine collection of books our-

selves. Except for the writers banned by my mother. I could read what I wished.

In regard to that, I knew quite well where the Bocaccio's Decameron was tucked

in behind a shelf of volumes, but I never attempted to read it till after I was

married. I was forever at the piano, and loved to play my own accompaniment

while I sang, I was quite independent of a score and could sing my songs after

I had once learned them to amuse my friends. I was always in some concert or

play or other entertainment at the church and eventually was connected with a

woman's quartette. In this way I became acquainted with more people all the

time. If they had heard me sing they thought they knew me.

Another way I became acquainted with people was at dancing - school.

At six years old I began to take lessons from a grand old Frenchman who had

really begun life at the court of the French King. Professor Xaupi was tall and

stately, graceful as could be, and of course, with beautiful manners. He had

gray hair and wore a black silk stock about his throat. As he taught he played

the violin for the simpler lessons, but at the Saturday matinee he had a piano

player, and guests and old pupils were invited. It was a delightful occasion,

quite like a party. I met there the children of the elite of the city, and my youth-

ful associations in society were of the best. Mr. Xaupi taught us to have grace

and poise and good manners, but he was growing old, and a smart Jewish

gentleman by the name of Jacob Mahler started another dancing school at the

Pickwick Theater. He did not have as much poise and manner as Professor Xaupi,

but he took the public fancy, and people began to go there, so I occasionally

found myself at the Mahler matinee. Then a club was formed at the home of

Mrs. Steedman and I was asked to belong, and I had to get used to Professor

Mahler's aggressive ways, for he taught the class.

Mrs. Steedman was the sister of Mrs. John Harrison, who lived next door

to us, and Mrs. Steedman lived in the next street, Pine, at the corner of Twenty-

eighth Street. Pine Street was undergoing a drastic change in the methods of its

surfacing. A queer, black lake in Trinidad was found to have a substance that

would make a fine pavement. St. Louis was a pioneer in the field and Pine

Street had been chosen for the experiment. A block at a time the street was

closed off and the queer-smelling black asphaltum was spread and heated and

rolled and ultimately became a hard crust, a smooth road-bed. That was about

eighteen eighty-three. It was a grand skating-rink, and before they opened

the street to the traffic of horses and wagons they allowed the youngsters of

the neighborhood to come there and skate. Of course my sister Katie and I were

there, and also Harrison Steedman, a tall thin lad whom I had known at dancing-

school.

The thing became the rage and the whole town got upon roller-skates.

Harrison Steedman was a true disciple of Professor Xaupi, graceful, well-bred,

nice manners, and he and I began a regular boy and girl crush that lasted for a

long time. We skated together every spare moment, then his mother formed the

dancing class which met at her house and we continued to see a great deal of each

other. He always came for me on the evening the club met and escorted me to his

home with a great deal of formality. But we were the most matter-of fact pair of

sweethearts imaginable. It was a very nice crowd of young people in that club,

and eventually the mothers of the members did not allow Mrs. Steedman to do all

the entertaining, we were invited to other houses and had some delightful parties.

Belonging to that club were young people who remained my friends for

years. The one who was most important in my estimation was a girl named Daisy

Brookmeyer. She had a great influence over my aesthetic tendencies. She rather

envied me the natural gifts I had, and once said that an instructor had told her she

had more taste than talent. That was the first time I had heard such an expression,

and in due time I came to believe that I had more talent than taste. She had a

great deal of style in dress, a cool, aloof manner of conduct and a soft, lady-

like voice that accompanied a condescending smile. In other words she was

a bit "snooty", but she was always very gracious and charming to me and Daisy

Brookmeyer fascinated me more than any young woman I ever met. She con-

stantly tried to help me in my art work, she always sent me flowers when I sang

or when I had a baby, and was always cordial. But she did try to cut me out of

two of my sweethearts. I came to the conclusion that we had something of the

same attraction for the gentlemen, and I would have to be wary where she was

concerned.

At this time entered the young girl who was my confidential friend for

twenty-five years, Georgie Lee Towner. She came to live upon the block,

boarding, accompanied by her mother and sister, at Mrs. Stickney's, on the

corner of Twenty-ninth and Olive. Mrs. Stickney was a New England woman,

in other words, a "yankee", who had been a school-teacher at one time. Mrs.

Stickney had two young daughters, and was exceedingly careful of every move-

ment they made. They were only allowed to play with a selected few children,

they were never allowed to go beyond a certain area, and only permitted out-

side a short time of the day because of their practising. The oldest girl, Fanny,

was at Mary Institute in the class above me, and the younger child was a very

handsome blond, curly haired little genius, who played the violin but who

tragically died at the age of thirteen. After that the older girl began playing

the violin, but she, also, died, after her graduation. We had always looked upon

Mrs. Stickney's premises as sort of sacred, but when the Towners came there

were Aesthetic bonds of friendship in this case, also, for Georgie was a musical

genius at the piano, and was very much interested in painting, and I believe she

would have gone far at that because she had a free bold stroke and splashed

on oil color in a manner that made me shudder. When I was young I shied at

oils because I considered them messy. I did not paint at all in that medium till

I was seventeen, and studied with a teacher one summer while visiting in Lexing-

ton. But Georgie had studied with an emancipated teacher, and was not afraid.

Georgie was two years younger than I was, a fragile creature who had a

physique like an old kid glove, and who considered me a marvelous example of

strength. She taught me a lot about music, and because we did a lot of walking

and played a lot of tennis perhaps I helped her to overcome some of her weak-

ness. At any rate we had the most congenial times together and saw each other

continually without being bored. Her face was not quite regular, her chin a bit

too large and her nose a bit too small, but she had an effect of beauty, perhaps

because of unusually large and limpid brown eyes which she used to great

purpose. She was tallish and very slender, with small hands and feet, and dark

hair. She spent many hours at the piano and played such things as the

Moonlight Sonata and the Pathetique. She was only thirteen or fourteen then.

But she also read a great deal, and had interesting and startling ideas about life

and what we ought to do with our bodies and souls. At times she was very

amusing. She began to read serious authors and ultimately shocked me by not

believing in the orthodox destiny of the spirit. But she had always a marvelous

trust and faith in human nature and was kind and indulgent towards everyone's

shortcomings. Perhaps that was why we were such good companions, for I was

quite the opposite, always filled with a secret suspicion and distrust until I had

proved things reliable. We had become acquainted at the Methodist Church

Sunday School and we both took an interest in the entertainments given at

what they called Sociables. Sooner or later the boys who met me dancing at

parties finally came to the Methodist Sociables to a concert or a play and thus

Georgie also met them. We managed to have good times together, and fulfill

what seemed to be the real mission of my life - just enjoying ourselves.

Later how I resented that system in vogue then, - that a girl should think

amusing herself was the most important thing in life. I could not understand

why my mother had not perceived that I had a real talent for portraiture that

should have been cultivated with great seriousness. It was only rather amusing

that I should draw small faces all over my school books and that I was forever

trying to sketch various members of the family. When the Paris house had been

remodeled and the new walls were left undecorated in the room given to Katie

and me, I painted all sorts of things on the walls vainly trying to express my

feeling for decoration and not exactly knowing what to do. However I had one

salvation.

 

Minnette's Journal

Scott's Time Portal to Old St. Louis

Copyright 2001, Carol Jane Belding, All right reserved.  HTML and graphics edited by Scott Williams. Transcription by Deanna Adams Holm