THE MARION BALLOU FISK PAPERS
Collection Dates: [1906 -- 1930]
.5 linear ft.
This document includes scans from a collection of materials
held by the
Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1420
Notes and Source Material
Marion Ballou Fisk and the Chautauqua Circuit
Among Marion Ballou Fisk’s effects are pages from notebooks in which she jotted down ideas for lectures; anecdotal material that could be used around the focal point of her illustration; and journal notes of sights, scenes and characters.
Undated poem penned by hand in a note pad:
3. Irish Girl
As I went out one av’nin from Tipperary town
I met a little colleen among the heather brown.
“Oh,” says I, “Perhaps you’re lonely.”
She tossed her pretty curl,
“Well, maybe I prefer it!”
Ach, the dear little girl.
Says I, “Perhaps you’re
Says she, “Perhaps I’m not.”
Says I, “I’ll be your colleen;” Says she “I’ll not be caught.”
“Oh, your eyes are like the ocean,
And your heart is like a pearl!
Says she, “Well, then I’ll keep it,” Ach the dear little girl.
Says I, “I’ve got a cabin and pigs that number
And O, with you Mavourneen, the place would be like heaven.
Her eyes looked up in mine, then my heart was in a whirl.
The little pigs had done it!
Ach, the dear little girl
Undated description penned by hand in a note pad:
A Frontier Home
Low weatherbeaten home – dilapidated washboard leaned against the side of the door, & a ladder outside led to the loft above. A piece of burlap and a dilapidated pair of overall swinging on a loose low hung clothes-line. Four Plymouth rock hens pecked about the cluttered yard, and a yellow dog with her tail between her legs poked shamefacedly among the boxes and boards and rusty machinery standing about.
A woman opened the stained door and came out. She was clad in a faded blue wrapper & nondescript colored apron. For a moment, she paused in the shelter of the house to knot a little black shawl closely primly about her head, and then set out up the hill to a neighboring house. The wind tore at her ferociously & wrapped her clothes so tightly about her scanty limbs that she could hardly walk. A fence post swayed in the wind, held only by a wire from falling. fields bare and brown – a pile of cotton out in the field. Having buffeted her way to the top of the hill she opened the door without knocking – a needless formality in the friendly west. The door closed with a bang in the wind. Presently it opened again and the woman in blue came out with a galvanized iron wash-tug. She swung it easily to her shoulder, forming a windbreak of it, and stepped briskly down the hill and into her own door. From time to time she came forth and filled a bright blue pail with water at the rusty pump and – smiled to himself at the homely drama and imagined he could smell the soapy suds of the washing.
Presently a train whistled by & then his own train pulled laboriously out of the siding.
Undated—and unfinished—story written by hand in a note pad:
The R.R. Engineer’s Story
Yes, you worry about your train runnin’ late, how often do you ever think of the man out in front there?
“Yes, the engineer has a dangerous life. Nerve strain? Well, you just imagine how you’d feel if somebody held a knife to your throat, and told you your time had come and then pulled it away again and said you might have awhile longer, wouldn’t it be a nerve strain on you? Well, that’s just what an engineer’s life is like. As we rush along things flash up as if the very thing to mark you ... and then ... .you know you’re safe, then sometimes awful accidents do happen that didn’t ... get ...: What say? You must excuse me if I don’t hear. I’m deaf in my left ear – most engineers are if you noticed. Why? Because an engineer is always leaning out of his horrid window in his cab, watching ahead and the wind catches him in his left ear. Sameway the engine and his own head protect his right ear.
But as I was saying, I’ve seen some queer and ... awful accidents. I remember one day I saw a
man ahead & I whistled and put on brakes , but I wasn‘t quick enough.
We got him. As quick
as I could I run as we stopped I got down and
This is an undated story written by hand in a note pad in preparation for an illustrated lecture. A version, possibly written in 1912 and in shorter length, may be a first draft while the recollection was fresh and is not transcribed here.:
Among the Sandhills
The Cowboy’s Prayer
Last night I slept in a house of cards. At least, it seemed to me it could be built of nothing stronger, for every sound in the building reached to every remotest corner.
It had had been an unusually warm day for late fall, and all day men had sat in groups about the hotel piazza and smoked & talked in the sunshine. It was like a day stolen from summer’s basket of days & kept for a surprise by the mischievous year. I’ve often thought she must enjoy her little jokes on us children of men.
Several times during the afternoon errands took me out upon the street, and it was a sore trial to pass the gauntlet of those staring eyes. When I came home from my evening’s entertainment, the men had moved into the hotel office, and their number had easily doubled. As I neared the building I could hear them laughing and talking, but the moment I opened the outer door a dead silence fell upon the room. Several took their pipes from their mouths and held them suspended in the air, the smoke curling bluely into the already thick air. Not a man moved, not a man spoke till I was hidden from view by a turn in the stairway, but I could feel the intense stare of twenty pair of eyes.
I know there is no place in all the world where a good woman is so safe
as in the West, but I have never gotten over a sickening sense of fright,
alone, in realizing myself alone among so many all none big,
husky, frankly curious men, and I hurried to my room and locked the door.
Long after I was abed I could hear the voices of the building. Below me in the parlor I could hear the coy voices of the landlord’s daughter, and the sunburned drayman who was evidently her “steady”. In a neighboring room a weary man breathed stertorously.
Somewhere in the house I could hear the persistent buzz of a sewing machine, and thro’ all and above
all, I cold hear the voices and laughter of the men in the office. One voice
stood out clear over all the rest. It was big and booming, and
it I could not help but picture the all the others hushed before it.
Hearing it I could not help but picture its owner big, burly, rough, with
strength to follow the herd, or outlast a blizzard a hot head & a hard
fist to ride far & fast , to deal a quick blow, a rough leader of
his own rough kind.
The very voice frightened me, and mentally I compared it to the roaring of “the bull of Bashan.”
After what seemed a long time I heard him bid the others goodnight. The stairs groaned under his tread and the boards in the hall creaked protestingly as he made his way to his room, just across the hall from mine.
I could hear him moving about his room, mumbling snatches of song under his breath. I stole from my bed & noiselessly tried the fastenings of my door & the one under that opened on the porch. The sound of a voice had made me sick with fear.
Presently he ceased moving about and his song changed to words. And because it was a house of cards I could not help hearing what he said.
“For all the mercies and blessings of the day, we thank ye. An’ now it come night we ask you to watch over us and keep us safe. We thank ye ye’ve kep' us well thro’ the day. Bless my folks wherever they be tonight; an’ bless Uncle William an’ his folks and bless Aunt Mat an’ her folks. An’ bless me. Help me to be pure in heart. Help me to be clean in everything I do. Forgive me when I miss an’ don’t do things right. Help me tomorrow. An’ dear Lord, help keep me pure and keep me clean.”
It was no longer the dominant voice of
a rough an untamed leader of men,
but the voice of a little child, pleading not for strength, but for purity
I closed my eyes
in slept in perfect peace, for fear had given way to
safety a feeling of safety with the prayer, “Lord, keep me clean.”
This is a series of journal entries on sights she saw, penned in her notebook and often in a shorthand abbreviation. This experience may have been used in, or planned for, a lecture at a later date.
Negro Cemetery, Perry, Ga.
Sun., Mch. 30, 1913
Today I walked thro’ the old cemetery. Most of the graves, even modern ones, are covered over by slabs, or bricks, some are fenced, & 2 had little houses built over them, broken & rotted & moss grown now.
In the center of the yard stood an enclosure some 12 ft. square, built of bricks, and once it had been covered with plaster. An iron gate, red with rust was let into the wall. We opened it, and stepped within. Dead leaves were thick under foot. In one corner stood a pine tree, with long festoons of moss swinging in the breeze. Where in the enclosure the body lies, nobody knows, but a man his [was?] there whose one great fear was of death. At last to avoid this last great enemy and cheat him of his prey, he built this fence with his own hand dug his grave then shot himself. His best friend he had charged to bury him there, lock the gate, and throw the key in the river. This was faithfully done, but the years have eaten away the padlock, and now people may enter freely and wonder in what corner lies the body of the man who tried to cheat death.
On the slope of the hillside, and below the fence, is the negro cemetery.
Only two graves that I noticed had headstones, but the decorations were at once laughable and pitiful.
One grave was surrounded by blue bottles, and down the length there were the following decorations: a piece of statuary; a plant, a piece of the same statuary, a plant, a glass & metal inkwell, a plant, a glass dish, then plants and shells alternately, the rest of the way.
Another was surrounded by shells, and had a hand lamp, a shade from another, and a broken dish of bright fired [hard?] glass.
Another was surrounded by 28 brown snuff bottles, and at one end was a big white pitcher, and on that there [was] a jardiniere.
One was surrounded by snuff bottles, 1 beer bottle, 1 whiskey bottle with the label still on it, 2 coca-cola bottles and 1 mustard bottle.
One had a glass lamp and a lid, and one had three lids unbroken & handle side up in simple unaffected dignity for its sole decoration. One had a broken sugar bowl, a pink cup, a lid and 2 bright colored bits of china.
Most of them had parts of hand lamps, pickle bottles are held in high favor, two had achieved the distinction of slop jars. One had a hand lamp, a lamp chimney & a painted globe.
One had the iron frame of a sewing machine for a headstone, and decorations of snuff bottles and a tin oil can. One had two paint trays, and another a broken piece of looking glass. One, a double grave, 9 ft. long, was literally covered with broken bits of bright china and glass.
Perry, Ga., Apr. 1, 1913
Last night I was awakened by music. Three negroes were out in front, with violin, guitar and castanets. The hour was 1:30. Their playing was indifferent, but effective. Their first selection was the classic “I wonder who’s kissing her now,” sung in the plaintive negro voice, then followed other selections unknown to me, closing with “Jesus Savior, Pilot Me.” More instrumental music, a colloquy with the landlord downstairs, then “goodnight, boss,” and the singers passed on.
“Yes, I been a good man all mah life, and I had bar’ls of money. An’ I’m the best musician in the worl’. I b’lieve I’ll get a violin an’ go way down South an’ staht a church.”
--Heard in a
Undated notes for an illustration and the accompanying lecture. Her edited strikethroughs are included. This subject was featured in one of the published programs.
I – Lighthouse on the Shore –
1. Description of the Labrador coast, and the motto of that land is “Every man for himself.”
2. Nathaniel the trader, and his wife from down Boston way.
She used to take Tommy out on a point of rocks & tell him stories – she showed him the beautiful colors in the rocks, the grace of the sea-gulls dip, and the loneliness of the billowing fog, -- that holds no beauty to most folk of the North-east coast.
Then came the day when his father said he must take to the fishing.
Tommy’s 1st voyage with Cap'n Billy and his son John.
“Are ye skeared, Tommy?”
“No, sir, I ain’t really skeard, but I’se just thinkin’ we’ve got a mighty fine harbor, an’ I wish we was there.”
His mother waiting, her shawl blowing in the wind, caught him up in her arms and ran with him to the house for all the world as if he was a little boy and not a sailor almost nine years old.
She chafed his limbs and held him in her lap and fed him his supper.
Then as he leaned his head against her she asked: “Was you scared, Tommy?”
“No, I wasn’t really scared, but I said to Cap’n. Billy, that I wish we was home.”
“You had a safe pilot, Tommy, and your pilot knew the way.” Then suddenly sitting straight and holding him from her at arms length, she said, “Look me in the eyes and Tommy and say after me, ‘I need never be afraid to go anywhere if I have a safe pilot, and my pilot knows the way.’ Say it.” And the boy sleepily repeated, “I need never – be afraid – to go anywhere – if I have a safe pilot, an’ the pilot knows the way.”
Then dropping back half asleep to her breast he murmured, “Sing to me, mother,” and she asked, “What shall I sing, laddie?”
“Oh, you know. My pilot song.” So she sang a new hymn she had learned in her faraway home.”
“Jesus, Savior, Pilot me,
Over life’s tempestuous sea.
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart our compass come from Thee
Jesus Savior, pilot me.”
II Cap’n Tommy
It only seemed a few days after that, that
his mother was taken very, very ill. Nathaniel sent a dog team in frantic
for more than a hundred miles for a doctor, but he poor man was
overburdened where he was, and he did not see why he should take that long
journey in the bitter cold, for just one case, when others, close at hand,
were in as desperate case, and so he would not come. The neighbors did what
they could, but it was little enough. Tommy knew did not understand
it all, but he realized the impending sorrow, and he used to go out on the
rocks where he and his mother had spent so many happy hours, and pray in his
childish way, that God would send relief for his mother’s pain.
And at last it came, and
there came a day when she no longer answered when he spoke to her, or even
tried to smile, and because there were none to tell the little boy that the
hand that dealt made the hurt could also heal, hot resentment sprang
up in his heart and so one day he climbed to the high point of rocks where
he had knelt and prayed, and clenching tight his little hands he said, “I
hate you God. I asked you to spare my mother to me, and you wouldn’t do it.
You took her away. And you’re a great strong God an’ I aint nothin’ but just
a little fella an’ she was all I had. But I won’t never love ye, never, as
long as I live, I won’t.”
So life went on, much as before in the little
sea-coast town. Men sailed out to the fishing and came back again with good
catches. And sometimes
the storms roared along the shores banks,
and beacon fires were built along the shores, and women watched all night
for boats that never came back. And Tommy grew apace, but though there were
some of the gentler ways that he had inherited from his mother, there was
a hardness about him that Old Cap’n Billy disliked to see.
So he said to him one day: “Tommy, there’s somethin’ I want to say
tell to ye, an’ I’ve been wantin’ to tell ye for
a long time. It’s about the Women at the Gate.
“What women are they, Cap’n Billy?”
“Mothers, Tommy, all mothers.”
waitin’ at the gate for, Cap’n Billy?”
“They’re waitin’, just waitin’.
“What they waitin’ for, Cap’n Billy?”
“For the sons they bore, Tommy, that’s what. They’re all mothers, an’ they’re waitin’ at heaven’s gate for the sons they bore, an’ if their sons don’t live so they can enter in, their mother’s fall down like rain.”
“No, if there was a heaven she’d be too busy praisin’ of the lamb to think of me. I hate God and all His works.”
So Tommy grew up, as veritable a heathen as any unclothed savage. Then came the day when he became owner of a boat of his own and
After this, not even Cap’n Billy dared speak to him again, and so he grew to manhood, quick of temper, hard of fist, his big head not unlike his own sea-coast, rough and jagged and as veritable a heathen as any unclothed savage.
In time he came to be the owner of a string of boats of his own, and then he acquired the respected title of “Cap’n Tommy.
—His pity for land folks—
In time, too, he married a drab, colorless
woman of the coast
who She was always tired, and overworked,
and tired, and one day she lay down to rest and never got up again. She left
Cap’n Tommy two children, a daughter and young Tommy, who was a captain
of a real ship when he was twenty-eight.
His warm suit—
“Went down with his ship as a good captain should.”
III The Golden Gate
He sailed that ship for more than 40 years, boy & man. But there was one place on that rough shore of which Cap’n Tommy was absolutely ignorant. High above the village stood a little weather beaten church. Mostly it was unoccupied, but there had been a long string of missionaries who had alighted like birds of passage on that lonely shore, had lingered for a few months, starved out, and flown away again. Each one had tried his hand on Cap’n Tommy, but to no avail. He was both deaf and blind when a missionary was around.
But one day a chap of different mold came along. He preached on Sundays, but during the week he was down among the boats, and off at night on the fishings, as strong & hearty as any of them.
At last he invited himself into Cap’n Tommy’s boat, and because he proved himself an all around good sailor and fishing man, he became a frequent guest, and it must be admitted, a welcome one once Cap’n Tommy was convinced that he didn’t mean to talk religion.
But one day his curiosity got the better of him, and he blurted out, “How comes it that you take such an interest in us rough fisher folk?”
“Why, I don’t know, unless it is because the best friend I ever had was a fisherman.”
“A fisherman! Why I thought you was a landlubber.”
“So I am. Nonetheless, the best friend I ever had was a fisherman. He fished in the Sea of Galilee.”
“The Sea of Galilee? I never heard of it. It ain’t in these parts, I reckon.”
“No, it’s a long way from here.” Then he
told a little about the wonderful friend, and day by day, as Cap’n Tommy’s
interest questions grew, the story was told. It was the first time
he had really heard the life story of Jesus, and at last he gave his
heart in simple faith to the Fish... Man of Galilee who had lived and walked and talked with fisher-men
“Oh the old time religion is good enough
Then Tommy began telling the story himself:
“Why” he sued to say; “It must of been an awful livin’,
takin’ way he had. Why one day they was two men mendin’ their nets, jus’
like I’m doin’ now and He passed by, and he said “Come foller me, an’ I will
make you fishers of men.” Jest like that, an’ they got right up and left
their work an’ followed him. What a lovin’ way he must of hand! An’ he knowed
what was good for men to eat, too. Why one night
when he had been
out fishin’ all night an’ when they came in he had a little fire built on
the shore, an’ he had a nice warm breakfast all ready for ‘em. And what do
you think it was? Why bread an’ fish! Oh he knowed fisher folk.
An’ then there was that night when they’d had a bad night, an’ they
hadn’t caught nothin’ all night. They must of
been awful discouraged. And in the mornin’ he said “Cast your nets on the
other side.” Now, that was a funny thing, for us always throwin’ our nets
on the left side, and ye wouldn’t of blamed ‘em any if they hadn’t minded
him, but ‘twas that takin’ way of his, I guess. Anyway they done it, what
no fisher ever , done, throwed the nets on
the right side of the boat, and ye know they caught as many that they couldn’t
hardly get ‘em ashore.
But there came a time when Cap’n Tommy could
no longer go out to the fishing. He left his own little home, and went to
live with his daughter . For a few months he pottered
around the docks, and then he was too feeble even to do that. People
said that “Cap’n Tommy was failin’ fast.” His mind was going, too, but it
bro’t no pain with it
for in ... he was a little child again, and he
thought his daughter was the mother he had loved and lost so long ago, and
in this she humored him.
One day she came into his room, and found
him sitting in his favorite place overlooking the sea. The setting sun had
painted sea and sky in colors of gold
and cast a and the boats were going out for their night’s
She stood beside him, and said; “It’s a beautiful night, father.”
“Yes, it’s a beautiful night for the fishin’
but a storm an’ I wisht I could go. But a storm may come. Oh, that
was an awful storm, and I bailed an’ bailed, an’ I tho’t o’ our snug harbor,
and I wished we was here.”
“Was you skeered, Tommy?”
“Well, no, I wasn’t really skeered. I didn’t need to be, for I had a safe pilot, an’ my pilot knew the way.” Then resting his head against her; “Sing Mother.”
Oh, you know, my pilot song.
So she sang as his mother had, so long ago.
As a mother stills her child,
Thou canst hush the ocean wild
Boistrous waves obey thy will,
When thou sayst to them, ‘Be Still’
Wondrous Sovereign of the Sea,
Jesus, Savior, Pilot me.”
When she had finished she glanced down with a smile into his quiet face and then with awe, for while she sang, Cap’n Tommy had set forth on his last long voyage, but he was not afraid, for he had a safe pilot, and his pilot knew the way.
“When at last I near the shore,
And the fearful breakers roar
‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest,
Then while leaning on thy breast,
May I hear Thee say to me
Fear not, I will pilot thee.”
Untitled character piece written by hand in a note pad. This may have been written during or shortly after World War I. Note her use of adjectives to describe the picture, much as if she were writing a script to accompany her drawing.
There now, don’t you cry. You’ll get your pretty eyes all red, if you do, and then we won’t look pretty to see papa.”
The words were repeated so often, & there was such a happy little lilt to the voice that I began to look at the woman in the seat ahead of me more closely.
She had got on at a little waystation several miles back, & I noticed at the time what a struggle she had to manage her shabby suit-case and her two babies, for babies they really were. One was about three years old, the other a year younger. All were decked out in gala attire, the children in stiffly starched & much beribboned dressed & bonnets. The mother was dressed in a gown of sleazy black, shapeless & guiltless of grace or style, & trimmed with much coarse black lace. About her neck she wore a broad white-lace collar, fastened down the front with three brooches, & for other ornamentation she wore a watch and chain, & a gold locket on a string of coral beads. She had pretty hair that naturally fell in big ringlets around her face, but each of these was tied about with a tiny bow of blue baby ribbon, a half dozen of them, at least. Above her pretty wild rose face flopped a big black hat, bending protestingly under her ribbon & immense red cotton roses. One could almost hear it groan under its burden. It was the last word in home millinery.
But the little woman was happy in the consciousness that she was well dressed and every few minutes she rose on one pretext or another to shoot a glance at herself in the mirror at the end of the car & complacently patted some of her numerous adornments into place.
After a little while the older child wriggled up on her knees facing me. Her hands were clasped under her chin, such fat little hands that I couldn’t resist touching a child’s little plump hand, so soft and warm – so potent for future good or ill. She curled her pudgy little fingers up into mine & smiled, and I said, “So you’re taking a long ride on the cars, are you?”
This was just what the young mother had been waiting, a chance to talk to somebody,
& her pretty wild rose face was all aglow as she announced with the same
little singing happy note in her voice: “Yes, we’re goin’ to meet Jim. Jim’s
my husband, and has been stationed out in the
Another untitled character piece of a chance encounter, written by hand in a note pad. Her edits are included.
She was a Kentuckian, and she never forgot
it for a moment, no, not for the flicker of an eyelash. The poise of her
head, the glance of the ye, the quiver of the nostrils,
all reminded one of the far famed thoroughbreds of her native state.
bit incongruous she looked, sitting in her solitary state in the dining room
of that frontier hotel. Again she reminded me of a bird he slender little
body perched far forward in her chair her feet barely touching the floor.
a bit nervous she looked too, in the dining room
of that frontier hotel. It was a good hotel, an excellent hotel as Western
hotels go, but as usual there was a cosmopolitan gathering at the evening
meal, a few of the ubiquitous traveling salesmen, a few town people, evidently
clerks to the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, and in a class
quite by himself, tho sociably fraternizing with the others, was the bank
clerk, slick of dress, and sleek of hair. At another table sat another group
of men, who made up another strata of society in the little town, men with
grimy stubby hands, grimy clothing, and worn boots, men from the railroad
yards, the mines, and a few bronze faced stalwart men from the neighboring
Interesting types they were, but my neighbor looked at them askance, almost imperceptibly tilting up her aristocratic nose at this western fraternity.
Suddenly the voices and laughter and clinking
of dishes were interrupted by a piercing yell and in the same instant the
kitchen door burst open, and the waiter his eyes strained wide with fear,
rushed across the dining room and disappeared in the office beyond. Close
at his heels raced the Chinese cook,
a meat cleaver uplifted in his uplifted
hand screaming in an excess of Oriental rage, and beating the air with
a murderous looking meat cleaver. Men sprang from their chairs, and followed
the combatants, and with two bounds the little Kentuckian had taken refuge
at my table, wringing her little birdlike hands, and her breath choking in
her throat, with great dry hissing sobs.
“Oh,” she hiccoughed, “may I come over here with you? This dreadful West! I’m so afraid! I never talk to strangers, but you look as if I could trust you, and I must have somebody. I’m so afraid of everybody.”
I got her to my room, and while I soothed her out of her spell of near hysterics, I tried to tell her what the West really was – a place where the men were as open as the sky, as honest as the horses between their knees; where a man was as valued for his manhood and character, not his manners or his possessions, and where a good woman was the safest of any place in the world. I even quoted the assurance of a cowboy acquaintance of mine, when he was first trying to teach me the spirit of the West:
“Why, you’re more safer on the top of one of these hills, than you’d be with 80 policemen around you in the streets of New York. Because here, there couldn’t anything hurt you but a coyote or a bear, an’ they’d run if you pointed a finger at ‘em.”
It was sometime before I got her calmed down – the running fight, or flight thro’ the dining room had been too much for her nerves, but at last I got her talking about herself. She told me she was in “educational work”, which later developed to be the old trade of canvassing for books. How she came to take up that work was the old familiar tale – the death of the father leaving the family in straightened circumstances, the necessity for work, and the taking up of the book agency as a thoroughly lady-like occupation.
When at last we parted for the night, it was with the understanding that she should accompany me next day to a town thirty miles distant, that she might have the benefit of protection and care.
By morning she was quite her jaunty aristocratic little self once more, and in the same breath with which she asked for her railroad ticket she added, “And two seats in the Pullman, please.” I demurred as the distance was so short, but her distress was so genuine that I gave in.
As we settled ourselves for our hour’s ride she gave me her
of thinking in a few words, thro’ a half apology. “It may seem silly for
me to do this, and truly Pullman fares cost me more than I really like to
spend but it is the only way I feel I can preserve my real Ladyhood.
I do not like to mix with the common people, do you?”
“Why,” I replied, “I love the common people.”
“Oh, how can you!” she exclaimed. “They are – oh – so common, and so smelly!”
“On the other hand, there’s scarce a common person in the world. Probably there isn’t a person on this whole train who hasn’t a romance, a tragedy, or a lyric in their lives, if we could only know. Do you know, if you knew people, real people better, you wouldn’t be so afraid of them.”
She disdainfully shrugged her dainty shoulders and repeated, “I can’t bear them.”
Somewhere today, I suppose, she is picking her proud way, still shunning – and –fearing – her brothers and sisters of common clay, while I have sat down to write out some of the romances and joys and pains that I have seen among them.
Below is a poignant reflection of one such encounter, which she told in the third person. (Her strikethroughs and edits are not transcribed here.):
The Guard of Honor
One of the most interesting of audiences Marion Ballou Fisk ever had wasn’t a real audience at all. They were four boys who came in the hall to see her pack up after the entertainment was over, – four boys of the street, unkempt and neglected. There was Jerry, a rollicking Irish lad, who wore a blue gingham shirt, tho’ the night was bitter cold. Then, there was “the kid,” Jerry’s little brother, and two others, Jerry’s loyal satellites.
All, even “the kid,” helped take down the easels, and as they worked Jerry broke forth; “Say, that was a swell show you put up tonight. The last one who was here didn’t put up no good show at all. He didn’t have no pictures nor singin’ nor nothin’. He just stood up and chewed a rag and chewed a rag.”
“I’m glad you liked it,” smiled Mrs. Fisk. “I didn’t know you were here. I didn’t happen to see you.”
With a knowing smile at his companions Jerry replied, “Oh yes, we was here all right, but not where you could see us. Us fellers here got some boxes ‘at we set up outside the winders after the show’s begun, and [if] its good we stay all thro’. We can see all right and if it’s loud we can hear most of it. We heard you sing, but what was the pictures about it.”
What if the hour was late? Mrs. Fisk sat down on her trunk and while the boys looked over the pictures she had drawn, she told them all the stories that went with them, and many others thrown in for good measure. At the end Jerry breathed an ecstatic sigh. “Wod do ye do with these pictures?” he said. “Why, I give them away. You boys can have these if you want.”
With beaming faces the boys divided them. At the door Mrs. Fisk bade them goodnight, but Jerry protested. “No ma’am, we’re goin’ to see you home to the hotel. We know what’s owin’ to a lady.”
“But you’ll take cold. You haven’t any coat on,” remonstrated Mrs. Fisk.
A chorus of derisive laughter greeted this, and even “the kid” said with brotherly pride, “Oh no, Jerry won’t take cold. Jerry never takes cold.”
So the little cavalcade moved up the street in the starlight, led by the immune Jerry and talking of the stories they had heard that night, of clean living and manhood and patriotism.
Marion Ballou Fisk’s “professional” life as a cartoonist/lecturer began before her future husband Charles went to minister to the people in the Berea Church in Chicago’s inner city. While her Sunday school class had a large number of children whose English was limited, Marion probably used pastels and paper before her marriage in Apr. 26, 1899. As she told Bible stories, she drew pictures to help the children understand when she was saying. Below is her pencilled recollection of this beginning.
Where M.B. Gave Her First C.T.
It had been an unusually prosperous year for “Schmidt’s Place,” so Mr. Schmidt built a fine two story building on his vacant front lot, to house his growing saloon business, and thriftily rented the discarded little building in the rear to the mission folks that were looking for a location on Chicago’s center west side.
A pretty poor location it was, too, and the chairs of the Bible class pupils were apt to break thro’ the rum soaked floor, any day, but the people of the neighborhood were hungry for the messages of that mission, and they came in droves.
And here one day, came Marion Ballou to be teacher in the Primary Department that was to be the attic of the little building was turned over to her, a room 12 x 32 ft, with slanting roof on both sides and side walls only 4 ½ ft high. At first there was lots of room for she began with twelve children, but the fame of the school grew till at last they numbered 216 strong. The word strong is used advisedly for all of them who were old enough ate garlic and onions – and there were only four small windows.
But tho’ the lessons were a delight to the children they were not an undiluted pleasure to the teacher. There they wriggled, – a class of eleven different nationalities, and ranging from babies in long clothes to one old man of over 80 years who never failed to attend when he was able to climb the stairs, many of them speaking little English and some no English at all. Under such circumstances, orders of quiet were [indecipherable word]. Then one day the desperate teacher tho’t of the language that all people understand – pictures. So she bro’t out her crayons and each week worked out her lessons in illustrations. The children were delighted and would sit spellbound as long as the pictures grew. Sometimes, however, the lessons were interrupted for the children of the race that gave John Huss to the world do not accept things without argument. One day she was giving a lesson on the harm of using cigarettes when a youngster who had reached the advanced age of 7 years blurted out, “Taint so! Cigarettes are all right. Why, I’ve used ‘em all my life, an they never hurt me any!”
But that mission experience changed the course of Marion Ballou’s life. Up to that time, she had hoped to perfect herself in painting water lilies on dustpans, and violets in satin bedsheets, and other things that nobody wanted, but thro’ the needy mission children she learned of a larger art and gave herself to the possibilities of chalk, which naturally led to work in conventions, model [?] classes, and then the Chautauqua and Lyceum platform.
Incidentally it may be of interest to know that her work in that mission Sunday school was so satisfactory [The balance of her text is missing.]
A good deal of Mrs. Fisk’s lecture material was fictionalized adaptations of real-life experiences. For example, she was forced to become the “breadwinner” like “Aunt Cordelia” when her husband became ill, and for a period of time their two children were cared for by their grandparents.
“That piece makes me tired,” snapped Aunt Cordelia as she disgustedly threw “The Womans Home Intelligencer” down on the table.
I looked up in alarm. Aunt Cordelia is the outcast of our house. When Jim broke down four years ago, and I went out on the road again on Lyceum work, Aunt Cordelia came to look after him and the children. With her came “The Woman’s Home Intelligencer,” and we had all lived by its precepts ever since. In its pages Aunt Cordelia found the recipes for the delicious things she set upon our table & the patterns for Marjorie’s charming little frocks. She said she couldn’t manage Donald at all if it weren’t for that inspiring page, “The Boy and His Tool Chest.” I must say some of the things [indecipherable; torn page] Aunt Cordelia fashioned [indecipherable] over things . As myself ... half a manifest of bed slippers, ... jackets, silk lining protectors, hot water bag covers, dressing cases, rubber lined aprons, and other articles that Aunt Cordelia had fashioned for me. I should have to pay excess baggage every day of my life if I attempted to carry the things that The Womans Home Intelligencer had recommended as :comforts for the Traveler.”
Never before had I seen Aunt Cordelia take issue with anything her beloved magazine had to say. I am sure she must have seen the surprise in my eyes for she continued:
That piece is called “The Woman’s Danger Age, an’ it goes on to say there isn’t a minute from the cradle to grave when a woman can be really sure of herself. It says woman is a born coquette an’ she never gets so old but that she will shirk if conditions are right. It says of course woman is specially susceptible in her youth, her maturing season, but that many a respectable married woman is often shocked at herself to find herself preening for man’s benefit, and pleased at his admiration. My, if that was true, how comfortable Jim an’ me would be, wouldn’t we, with you off alone on the road an’ unprotected most of the time. A piece like that is a slur on womanhood, that’s what it is!” And with that Aunt Cordelia flung....
The balance of her text is missing. Regarding a woman being “unprotected while alone on the road—referred to above and in the piece below—our family found a derringer in the bottom of Mrs. Fisk’s easel trunk years after her death. It was still loaded with 22 caliber bullets and never had been fired. Her husband had insisted she take it with her while on Chautauqua in order to protect her honor.
This draft of a short story below is also just a portion, whose beginning is missing, but which seems to segue from the passage above about “a woman in danger.” The punchline is wonderful!
....further on I looked up from my magazine impelled unconsciously by some force, & saw him looking intently at me. I looked down quickly, but not so but to see him smile, and lean forward as if to speak to me. I pretended to read industriously for a little while, but mentally I was fighting a great battle. I was sure he would speak to me soon, and how should I receive it? Should I coldly cut him, and continue my settled habit of making no acquaintances, or should I indulge in a pleasant roadway acquaintance. On the one side were my New England upbringing and traditions thereof, on the other the greater freedom of the West, my gnawing loneliness, and – he looked so kind and pleasant, what harm could there be?
I hadn’t got the question settled in my mind when I was startled by a whistle, a very soft little whistle from the seat opposite. Ah, then, I knew what to do, a man who would whistle at a lady, tho’ never as softly, should be annihilated. And I looked up trying to gather all the thunder-clouds of Jove to my brow, but they just vanished before the sunshine of his smile. It could only have been a few seconds I suppose, but it seemed hours that I looked transfixed into his eyes. Then without a word he crossed the aisle and sat down with me.
As I said, I have no excuse really and no explanation for what followed. I seemed caught in a stream that I could not stem and was borne on by the current unable to help myself.
We talked of many things. The loneliness of the West, but that day I saw it with new eyes, for himself a child of the prairie, he loved it, and taught me that there was a beauty in many of the things I had counted cruel. He pointed out how the snowflakes had been cut in their beautiful shapes by fairy scissors, & taught me the song of the wind. We talked of books, and we had read & loved many in common. And then he told me of himself. His name was Gordon Andrews. His father had died two years before, and since then he had lived with his mother, helping her carry on their Iowa farm. But of late his mother’s health had been failing, and he was taking her back to her own people in New York. The way she spoke of his mother was beautiful, and I couldn’t help thinking that a son who was so kind to his mother, would some day make some woman a fine husband.
“Do you know,” he said, “I liked you the minute I saw you come into this car.”
“I saw you looking at me,” I answered weakly.
“Yes, I’ve always thought I would fall in love that way. That all at once, some day, I should see the woman I want to marry, and then I saw you today. I knew you were the one.”
He was leaning forward, so he could look in my face, and I returned his look squarely. The blushes were coming & going furiously in his bronzed cheeks, but there was no light of banter or insincerity in his honest eyes.
“But we don’t know each other,” I managed to quaver. “I don’t know anything about you, except what you have told me, and you don’t know anything at all about me.”
He leaned forward and took my hand, and I let him play with my fingers! The stream had quite gone over my head now, and was carrying me whither it would.
He laughingly brushed all my objections aside.
I don’t need to know any more about you, than I do now. I know I love. And you can have time to find out all about me. I can’t marry now, for I have my mother to take care of first, and if it was a good many years even, I could come and get you. Won’t you do that?”
“But I wouldn’t want to promise that. One or the other of us might see someone else we liked better, and we should forget each other.” It was my last grasp for a timber in the gathering flood.
His strong brown fingers gripped mine tightly. “I shall never forget.” For a few tense seconds he seemed to be solemnly considering the future, then he appeared to shake off the mood, and said with a happier smile, “I’ve never been engaged before.”
“Engaged before!” And so he called it settled!
Then again he fell into more serious thought. “I’ve got enough to take good care of you. My mother and I own two fine farms up here in Iowa and as soon as my mother is better and we can get fixed around I shall come for you. I’ll tell [let] you know I’m coming on the 20th of October. That’s my birthday. I’ll be twenty-five then, and I think that’s a nice age., and a nice month to be married, don’t you?”
I know that right then I ought to have told him that I was married, but as I said at the beginning, I can offer no excuse or explanation of my conduct. It was just one of the strange things a respectable woman will do sometimes, and I only murmured that I did indeed think October was a beautiful month.
My heart was beating fast, but with a perverseness that seems to be a part of us, we stood on the brink of this great crisis in our lives and talked of commonplace things. Just so I have some people standing together, waiting for a train that would bear me away from the other. Their eyes would be pouring out an anguish of questions, answers, love and admonition, but their actual words were trivial things. So we rode that day, our fingers locked, our faces turned now doubtfully, now triumphantly toward the future, and we talked of – baseball!
From time to time the brakeman had entered to call the stations but even when he called “Cedar Rapids” I did not know that my little romance was so near an end. Not indeed till I heard a gentle voice say, “Come Gordon, dear, this is where we change.”
[Mrs. Fisk’s strikethroughs follow.]
I would have known at once
it was his mother, for they both had the same frank eyes, & winning smile. “Oh, Mother,”: he exclaimed,” this lady & I are engaged, and we are
engaged to be married on my twenty-fifth birthday.” I hardly had time to wonder, then she playfully tapped him on the shoulder
and said: “Who’s taking care. “I guess you are the one who needs looking
after.” Then turning to me, she said, “My son is taking me on a trip East,
but he seems to have quite forgotten his filial duties, in his devotion to
a new face.” But Gordon was brave in his answer, and still holding my hand he answered
with a “But mother,” he answered with dignity, “this is the lady I was going
Up to this time I had regarded the whole affair as an hour’s flirtation, but he was evidently in earnest, for he drew himself up proudly, and still holding my hand he said: “But mother, this is the lady I am going to marry. We have it all arranged. I am going to get her on my 25th birthday!”
“Is this true?” She turned her startled eyes to mine.
“Truly, I never meant it to go so far. I really haven’t had much to say about it,” I murmured confusedly.
“Well, we shall know each
“She laid a kindly hand on mine. “I have always said I should love Gordon’s
wife like my own daughter. I think we would understand each other beautifully.”
she smiled “Then he spoke to me.”
She moved down the aisle, but Gordon lingered behind for a moment.
shall write to you the very “Don’t forget that I shall come to you. You
will write to me, won’t you?” I nodded dumbly. He bent and kissed me on the
lips, and then he was gone. All at once a flood broke over me of things it seemed I must know, and
All at once I felt helpless and alone. He had gone out of my life as quickly as he had come, and there were so many things I ought to know, and did not know at all. In a fit of anxiety I threw up my window. I must see him, hear his voice again. I could not let him go without another word. I glanced up and down the platform. He was nowhere in sight. The train was slowly pulling out of the station. Then down the platform I saw his mother standing by a baggage truck, talking to an expressman. This was my last chance and I leaned far out of my window as we neared her.
“Oh, Mrs. Andrews,” I cried. “You know he is coming for me on his twenty-fifth birthday, but he never told me – will it be next year.”
“No, nineteen years yet, he’s only six now.”
She was still waving her hand as the train bore me away.
And so, Gordon
Andrews, if this story comes before your eyes, please know that I’ve never