Chapter 8, Mrs. Poppy
Betsy is thoroughly enjoying her adventure at the Melborn Hotel, as is her rescuer, Mrs. Poppy, who telephones Mr. Ray for permission so Betsy can stay. “There’s time for a real party,” she tells Betsy and asks if she would like to take the elevator or the stairs. Betsy hesitates although not for my usual reason of a reproachful faux-Fitbit. She has never ridden in an elevator but the grand staircase of the Melborn Hotel is very impressive! “The stairs,” she said. “And the elevator coming down.” They pass a statue of the Winged Victory as they ascend. Headless. Mrs. Poppy explains that it is Greek. Betsy takes it in stride, feeling well prepared by her Greek mythology reading earlier in the day.
At the top of the stairs is the hotel’s two-story dining room, overlooking the river. This is where Deep Valley’s elegant dances with orchestras take place (foreshadowing!). Mrs. Poppy asks a maid for hot chocolate but they continue to her private apartment which has parlor, den, bedroom and bathroom but no kitchen or dining room as the Poppys dine in the hotel dining room or have food delivered. Betsy notices a small rocking chair with a doll in it. When she asks if the doll belonged to Mrs. Poppy as a child, Mrs. Poppy tells Betsy it belonged to her daughter who died. Betsy feels sad but doesn’t know how to respond. Mrs. Poppy explains that is why she enjoys other people’s children and asks Betsy about Tacy and Tib. Betsy guesses from what Mrs. Poppy says that she is lonesome. Mrs. Poppy admits it is hard to make friends, living in a hotel. She gave up her career in musical comedy to marry Mr. Poppy.
Betsy tells Mrs. Poppy her Uncle Keith is an actor and explains that he ran away from home and never came back. They talk about the Mississippi River and the fact that it ebbs and flows to other cities: just as this book takes Betsy from Hill Street to the downtown, there is now a hint that there are even broader horizons - Betsy could even leave Deep Valley! Mrs. Poppy shows Betsy her theatre magazines. They are both disappointed when it is 5 pm and time for Betsy to go meet her father. Mrs. Poppy suggests it would be fun to have a Christmas party with Betsy and her friends. Betsy does enjoy the elevator down and then Mrs. Poppy walks Betsy to the shoe store.
Back on Hill Street, everyone is interested in Betsy’s adventure with Mrs. Poppy (no one asks about the Great Books she read so virtue has to be its own reward). Betsy, reflecting on her afternoon, suggests her mother make a formal call on Mrs. Poppy but Mrs. Ray demurs, saying Mrs. Poppy wouldn’t be interested because she is different from them, rich, a former actress, lives in a hotel. Betsy disagrees but is unable to articulate her feelings and the moment is gone.
Chapter 9, The Pink Stationery
It is now winter in Deep Valley, which is only appealing to me as a reader. I don’t even like waiting for the bus in cold weather, let alone trudging to school in turn of the century outerwear and inadequate boots. But our trio has discovered bobsledding and has begged Julia’s beau Jerry, home for Thanksgiving, and his friend Pin (I never noticed before that Pin appears for the first time in this book) to include them. Mrs. Ray gives permission and the other mothers give in too. What happened to the “I don’t care what the other mothers let their children do . . .” On top of their heads, they wrap scarves called fascinators to keep their hats on and add another layer. This is the opposite of the frivolous little headpieces frequently seen on the Duchess of Cambridge and those of her ilk! It is freezing but beautiful. The descent is blindingly fast and on the third time down the bobsled tips over and Betsy mildly twists her ankle. Jerry is worried Mrs. Ray will be annoyed with him:
“Gosh!” he said. “The next time I ask you to go coasting she’ll tell me to go way back and sit down.” No sirree, Bob! Instead, Mrs. Ray will thank you for some useful slang. Or maybe she will wash your mouth out with soap. See below!
After Julia finishes showing off, Mrs. Ray plays the piano and the dancing begins! I thought the dancing began in HTB and how they managed to do a Virginia Reel in this little house, I cannot imagine. This chapter also shows how much Mr. Ray enjoys people having fun in their home – he and Mrs. Ray are wonderful hosts. I like Mrs. Ray’s tip: offering hot buttered popcorn to get the young people home at a reasonable time! Betsy has to watch the dancing, because of being injured, but Jerry promises her a postcard album when he gets back to Cox. Why his school is producing embossed postcard albums I don’t understand but my nephews’ school sells dog leashes with the school’s Latin motto so there you are.
While Betsy is home from school recuperating she suddenly is inspired to write a new story. A very sad story called Flossie’s Accident. When she reads it to Tacy and Tib, Tib cries real tears! Flossie is in a bobsled accident and loses her head. She has many tragic (headless) adventures before her HEA. Tacy and Tib are very impressed (although Tib interrupts the dramatic reading with some practical questions which Betsy ignores). That is just like Tib and just like Betsy. Then Tacy is just like Tacy:
Tacy jumped to her feet.
“Betsy,” she said excitedly, yet earnestly, “your stories ought to be published. I’ve been thinking that for a long time, although I never mentioned it before.”
Betsy looked at Tacy deeply. It was strange, she thought, that Tacy should say that for she had been thinking the very same thing herself.
“They’re just as good as the stories in the Ladies Home Journal,” said Tacy. “Don’t you think so, Tib?”
“Better,” said Tib.
Everyone should have a best friend like Tacy! Deciding to send it to a publisher, they borrow some of Mary Kelly’s pink stationery and Tib, who has the best printing, copies it neatly and in very tiny writing onto one sheet. While she prints, Betsy and Tacy plan how to spend the $100 they are sure Betsy will earn from the story. They address the envelope to the Ladies Home Journal in Philadelphia and Tib says she will mail it on her way home.
They all sat on the sofa then, while the sky, behind brown tree trunks, took on the tint of mother-of-pearl, matching the tint of the snow. They planned about the silk dresses and hats.
Betsy, Tacy and Tib were twelve years old now, and when they made plans like that they didn’t quite believe them. But they liked to make them anyhow.
Why is Mrs. Ray unwilling to call on Mrs. Poppy? Is it because she is rich? Because she is a former actress? Because she is (presumably) not a Baptist?
Betsy is a talker, as MHL describes in this chapter, but she can’t seem to explain to her mother that Mrs. Poppy is lonely and lost her daughter. Is it a sign that she is growing up that she recognized Mrs. Poppy’s loneliness?
Don’t you wish you were one of Betsy or Julia’s friends to gather for fun at the Ray house?
If you listen to Flossie’s story, it doesn’t seem as if Betsy has fully absorbed the “write what you know” lesson but maybe she knows the answer to this question – what is the most important thing about writing?
Winged Victory – could the statue at the Melborn Hotel be a replica of the Nike of Samothrace, from the Louvre, considered one of the most celebrated works of Hellenistic art? It too is headless!
Leather and Bead Portieres: The Melborn Hotel is decorated elegantly and includes different types of portieres in doorways, used to close off unheated rooms, keep out drafts, and keep heat from a fireplace or stove confined to a room for extra warmth and out of the halls where it is less needed. See the Sears ad for leather drapes.
Remington Cowboys – Just as Gibson drew lovely young women, Frederic Remington (1861-1909) is best known for his art depicting the cowboys, soldiers and Native Americans of the Old West. A native of New York, Remington found inspiration in these subjects from an early age. He worked for the great magazines of the 1880s and 1890s, creating images of soldiers, cowboys and Indians that shaped the world's perception of the American west. He produced over 3,000 signed paintings and drawings. I guess we can assume the Poppys have original art on their walls, not tracings from the newspaper like Tacy!
Anna Held (1870?-1918), a petite woman with an hourglass figure, was America's most popular musical comedy star during the two decades preceding World War I. In the colorful world of New York theater during La Belle Époque, she epitomized everything that was glamorous, sophisticated, and suggestive about turn-of-the-century Broadway. Born in Warsaw, from 1896 to 1910, she starred in hit after hit and quickly replaced Lillian Russell as the darling of the theatrical world. The first wife of legendary producer Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Held was the brains and inspiration behind his Follies and shared his knack for publicity. Their most famous publicity stunt had Held taking baths in tubs full of milk carted in daily from a local dairy.
As previously mentioned, Mrs. Poppy resembled Lillian Russell (1860-1922). MHL seems to be indulging in some body-shaming with all the mentions of Mrs. Poppy’s girth, although her skin is freshly pink and her blue eyes full of smiles. Russell was one of the most famous actresses and stars of operettas in the late 19th and early 20th centuries but her flamboyant personal style also made her famous. She was married four times and was romantically involved with Diamond Jim Brady, a rags to riches businessman, known for his jewel collection and legendary appetite. His biographer says Russell’s eating habits were a perfect match for his.
Editha’s Burglar (1888) was a short story by Frances Hodgson Burnett (better known for The Secret Garden and A Little Princess) In which a little girl wakes up and discovers a burglar in her home. She tries to persuade him to take her possessions rather than stealing things that would upset her ailing mother. Julia was a little old to play Editha but I am sure she was very eloquent.
Julia says the snow vistas during the night bobsledding reminds her of John Greenleaf Whittier’s (1807-92) Snow-bound: A Winter Idyll. This says it all:
A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold . . .
However, in that poem (1866), he reflects that despite the pummeling of the winter winds and snow, he and his family remained secure and comfortable inside their Massachusetts house! Still, I am sure those Quakers knew how to have fun!
Go Way Back and Sit Down by Elmer Bowman (1901) - Warning: some very offensive language! Don’t shoot the messenger!
Julia and Jerry sing a duet after the bobsledding: Tell Me, Pretty Maiden is from Leslie Stuart and Owen Hall's Florodora (1900), the first big musical of the 20th century. This link is clearer but the visuals aren’t as good.
Ladies’ Home Journal began independent publication in 1884 with a sentimental literary diet and a circulation of 20,000. By 1889, it was attracting great writers from Europe and the United States, offering quality fiction and nonfiction articles for women. By the turn of the century, its circulation surpassed all other American publications. Katherine by Anya Seton (which I mentioned hiding under my pillow) was serialized in LHJ in 1959.
The Lord’s Prayer on a Dime: this has always fascinated me and I am surprised I never looked it up before! Here’s one from 1905.