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Writings

George Allan England: The Harvard Years

The Divided Letter

by George Allan England

England moved away from any mention of college life with this story and offers, instead, a romance with comic overtones. Published while he was a senior, there exists a small possibility that the story may actually be semi-biographical. What few clues England left about his married life, the first is found in the dedication to his 1903 poetry collection, Underneath the Bough (see the last section of George Allan England: The Harvard Years). This dedication suggests that England and his first wife, Meda Agnes Coffin, had been together for some 10 years when the book was published in 1903—the same year that they were married. It is not too much of a stretch, then, to speculate that England might have asked Agnes for her hand just prior to his senior year and this would explain the story’s sudden divergence from the Harvard-centric works that precede and follow it into matters of the heart.

The story itself is an example of the epistolary style and uses the letters from both parties as important parts of the plot. Research, however, has failed to find any works written prior to “The Divided Letter” in which letters are used in the fashion presented in the story (we are being vague to avoid spoiling the plot). If this is so, then England created an original plot device and it appears that he never used this style in his later writings, although he did revisit the romance genre on numerous occasions.

“The Divided Letter” originally appeared in the October, 1902 issue of The Harvard Illustrated Magazine. This is the first time it has been reprinted since that time.

Bob Gay
September, 2015
Introduction © 2015 by Bob Gay
Editor’s Note: When England wrote “The Divided Letter”, he depended on the static layout of the printed page to display both of the letters so they would be read as he intended. Today, we use such a wide array of devices to read web pages—not to mention those who use screen readers to “view” the web—that, although the layout of the letters can be reproduced in a way that most devices can view them as intended, it can't be guaranteed that all devices, or screen readers, can do so.
After much experimentation, we've come up with a sort of all-in-one solution. For most devices, we have reproduced the first letter as a graphic with England’s layout intact. For those who have devices that do not display graphics, or for users of screen readers, we have included the full text of the letter just below the graphic and have also included the crucial portion of the first letter as a separate section a little further down the page—something we hope users of all devices will find helpful. The important parts of the second letter have also been separated out in similar fashion.

Original title art for The Divided Letter W

HY Jack did it, he could never tell. Certain it is that he loved Edith devotedly, though he had never found sufficient courage to ask the fatal question. Do not hence assume that Jack was timid; on the contrary he was as gallant an admirer of fair woman as old father Adam himself, only, where Edith was concerned he found his courage at fault, and floundered helplessly in the troubled sea of true-love’s hesitation.

Edith was to him the sum and substance of all that ever in man’s eyes made woman good to look upon. She was, in fact, an unusually gracious young woman of twenty or twenty-one, rather too fond, if anything, of having a jolly time, yet fundamentally endowed with all a Boston girl’s sound judgment and intelligence. As for Jack—why, he was what any young man of discretionable years ought to be, with enough money in his pocket to let him live up to his principles, and just too much love in his heart to allow of his telling of it. But above all else, first and ever, he was a tease. Edith, he knew, enjoyed being teased (what woman does not?), and Jack had always tried his best to satisfy her. More than once the careless word and laugh had covered a tremble in his voice, but Edith never knew it; and though she often hoped and wondered, there seemed to be no prospect of anything but jesting with her irresponsible suitor.

Oh Jack. Jack! she sobbed in agony
“Oh Jack. Jack!” she sobbed in agony.

Hence it was that the letter she received one day, after an evening spent with him in repartee, struck her like a lash, and left her flung on her little white bed, spent with weeping.

“Oh Jack. Jack!” she sobbed in agony, “what have I done to merit this?” Dishevelled and uncomforted she lay crying till late afternoon, when kind sleep came at last to bring forgetfulness. So bitter and so violent had been her grief that she had never even seen a postscript to this cruel letter:

Image of Jack's letter
(Open Jack’s Letter || Close Jack’s Letter)
1428 marlborough street.
December 13, 1901.
edith,

The time has come to tell you that you are mistaken. You think
I love you more than all the world; though why. I cannot imagine.
I should have told you long ago that you are quite wrong in assuming that
I cannot live without you, and that there can be no joy for me alone; that
unless we marry I shall be miserable. You are proud, fickle, coquettish.
To make me happy I need a true woman, a woman who shall love me as one
like you, beautiful queen that you are can never love. The farce must end,
We have been playing for a long time (in fact ever since we first met),
at love, a dangerous game which is no longer endurable, more than that,
no longer possible. I must see after all these months of coquetry,
that there is for us, in the future, no hope of being happy together, no
hope of that divine joy which only a mutual understanding and a most
true love can give. Tell me that you pardon this letter, and that
when next we meet you will have for me no rancor in your heart, where
the answer I have so long desired has never yet been found.

Good-bye, until you summon me— which means perhaps good-bye forever.

Yours no longer,
jack treadwell

P. S. Tear this letter in two down the middle, and read the left-hand half!

WHEN Edith wakened, it was dark. She remembered vaguely that something had happened and that she had been crying, but not until she had lighted the gas and caught sight of her woe-begone face in the mirror did the full memory of her sorry plight come back to her. There lay the wretched letter on the rug beside the bed, where it had slipped from her tired hand; she picked it up and looked it over once more, half hoping, with a woman's hope, that there might he some mistake, that she had not read aright. At the end she noted a few words strongly emphasized. What! A post-script? She seized a pair of shining scissors from her dressing-table and slit the letter along its central fold (Open the left hand side of the letter || Close the left hand side of the letter).

EDITH,

The time has come to tell you
I love you more than all the world;
I should have told you long ago that
I cannot live without you, and that
unless we marry I shall be miserable.
To make me happy I need a true woman,
like you, beautiful queen that you are
We have been playing for a long time
at love, a dangerous game which is
no longer possible. I must see
that there is for us, in the future,
hope of that divine joy which only a
true love can give. Tell me that
when next we meet you will have for me
the answer I have so long desired

Good-bye, until you summon me—

Yours
JACK

Then the truth dawned in on her, and with the surge of happiness that rose over her heart there came another and a stronger wave of anger and resentment. There were no tears now in those fine grey eyes, but only the fire of a just wrath. Ah Jack, poor Jack! Beware, for surely something must befall thee when Edith’s eyes throw sparks like that!

JACK began indeed to wonder on the third day, when no word came from the lady of his choice. On the fourth day his wonder became alarm, and on the fifth, being still unsummoned, he took his courage in both hands and called at the house of the maiden in Arlington street. The maiden was not at home. Jack knew perfectly well that she was at home, but pride forbade his either asking questions of the door-boy or even writing an apologetic note to beg an explanation. So he waited, and ten long days dragged past. Jack was beginning to look a trifle pale, and his hand trembled each time he took his mail from the hall-table.

Could it be that that cursed idea had come to him less than a fortnight ago by the calendar?

AND Edith, what was Edith doing all this time? Why, she was living on her nerves, and not enjoying the experience over-much. Was ever a girl so wretched as she? To be by pride forbidden to answer the one question in all the world that interested her—ah, cruel fate, from which no thought of hers could conjure liberation. Illumined by no glimmer of relief or hope she waited all those ten interminable days; but on the afternoon of the eleventh, inspiration flooded her. With cheeks that glowed more warmly than even her daily drive could make them burn, she sought a pen from out the labyrinth of her feminine desk, and passed an hour of composing, erasing, rewriting. Then she sent a letter out to be posted, and made ready for the opera. That night she outshone herself. A score of men wondered who the tall girl was, with the pink checks and the fine grey eyes; Jack, too, if he had seen her, would have wondered, and his wonder might not have been unmingled with alarm.

Next morning he tore open with unsteady hand the following letter. His heart knocked at his ribs; and this, combined with a sinking die-away sensation, is enough to make anyone’s hand tremble.

37 arlington street,
Christmas Day, 1901.
mr. treadwell,

Since you have chosen to judge and to condemn me without even giving me
an opportunity to defend myself; since you have been so unmanly, I now take
the chance of telling you that you are wholly wrong in your conclusions
as to my loving you or caring for you at all. Suppose even the impossible,
and that I do love you as you say you would be loved—I must tell you
that even then I could not hide from myself your grave defects. Think you
now that without you the world has no happiness to offer me, whilst
I still have youth and health and money withal? Conceit indeed, to think
poverty with you would be a joy! . . .

I see that yon add vanity and petty pride to your other enviable qualities.
When you have been sufficiently punished for the misery you have caused me
in showing me how despicable one really is whom I once called a friend,
come see me again, and let us tell each other the truth once for all.
It may be bitter for you to hear, but none the less salutary and instructive.
You have asked me a question in your letter; do you expect me to answer
or even consider this insult from a man like you? How dare you put
such a one in writing? Questions like these cannot be answered so.

Come to me, dear Jack, and then, maybe—well, if you are good,
I will tell you something. But of course, if you will begin this letter over again and
read every other line until you get to this last paragraph you will understand
me a little better, and maybe even guess beforehand what my answer will really be!

Yours, edith.

JACK did read the letter over again, and his heart came up with a bound, far faster than it had gone down. (Open Edith’s letter || Close Edith’s letter).

Since you have chosen to judge and to condemn me without even giving me
the chance of telling you that you are wholly wrong in your conclusions
and that I do love you as you say you would be loved—I must tell you
now that without you the world has no happiness to offer me, whilst
poverty with you would be a joy! . . .

When you have been sufficiently punished for the misery you have caused me
come see me again, and let us tell each other the truth once for all.
You have asked me a question in your letter; do you expect me to answer
such a one in writing? Questions like these cannot be answered so.

Come to me, dear Jack, and then, maybe—well, if you are good,
I will tell you something. But of course, if you will begin this letter over again and
read every other line until you get to this last paragraph you will understand
me a little better, and maybe even guess beforehand what my answer will really be!

Then he seized his hat and started rapidly in the direction of Arlington street. What happened there really does not concern us; but Jack asked me only the other day whether I understood the complex duties of a best-man, and when I questioned him discreetly, told me in strict confidence a secret which I must leave you, gentle reader, to guess at for yourself.

G. A. E.
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