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Chapter VI

The four daughters kept a running communication with each other as well as with their mother and father, and lively letters flew back and forth.

It was some time after Margery's visit to New York to see Agnes, when Teddy handed a letter to her as she came in from outdoor chores. The letter described Agnes leaving the city with Gene O’Neill. She wrote that she and Gene had spent a lot of time talking and being together. For awhile they were both quite cautious, but feeling safer and more sure of each other at this point. Gene had asked Agnes if she would go up with him to Provincetown, Massachusetts. Agnes explained, “It will be quieter for him there and he’ll be able to write without distraction…and so will I!”

Agnes was also excited and elated because two of her stories had been included in Edward O'Brien's Annual Best Short Stories Collection. Then on a pensive note she mentioned she would not be down for a little time and probably wouldn’t get up to see Mother and little Barbara right away, but would keep in touch with everyone at The Old House and at Dawn Hill.

Margery studied the letter. Agnes must have been scared about getting into this relationship…and who knows about Gene O’Neill? Well, it looked as though Mother Cecil would have Cookie for a little longer time.

At Provincetown, Gene and Agnes had settled into a small two-room apartment, and both were writing fervently. Agnes was beginning to know this man a little better. Eugene O’Neill was a complicated, emotional being. Tall, thin and well built, with a deep tan and dark hair, his soft brown, wide-set eyes expressed an unfathomable loneliness. Feeling this, Agnes often had the urge to console him. His smile could sometimes be sad, sometimes sardonic, while at times she would see him laugh quietly, but in a flash darkening again and seeming to brood on some ponderous thought.

Gene was finishing a new play titled Beyond the Horizon, and Agnes was turning out novelettes, which were called “saucy pulps.” Gene had gone on a drinking binge instigated by the death of his close friend, Louis Holliday. Louis had died from an overdose of heroin because the young woman he loved had gone off with another man. Feeling better with the routine in Provincetown at the Cape, Gene was able to taper off his drinking and finally get back to writing.

The political situation disturbed Gene and Agnes as World War I raged in Europe. It was a contrived war and only much later would the country know the truth of it. An extract of a letter from a newspaper, written by a member of the New York Stock Exchange to his customers may explain the desire of the government and the military to take up arms and join the war raging in Europe. (Margery had saved this letter.) The writer says:

Regarding the war as inevitable, Wall Street believes that it would be preferable to this uncertainty about the actual date of commencement. Canada and Japan are at war, and are more prosperous than ever before. The popular view is that stocks would have a quick, clear, sharp reaction immediately upon outbreak of hostilities, and that they would enjoy an old-fashioned bull market such as followed the outbreak of war with Spain in 1898...If the U.S. does not go to war, it is never the less, of good opinion that the preparedness program will compensate in good measure for the loss of the stimulus of actual war.

When the draft was organized Gene wrote to the doctor who had taken care of him at Gaylord Farm Sanatorium in Wallingford, Connecticut. Gene had been cleared of all signs of tuberculosis, which he had suffered earlier, under the care of Dr. David Lyman, and he hoped the doctor would give him an exemption from the service because of his susceptibility to the disease. He could easily become reinfected under the rough conditions of army life, and had at one time been turned down by the Navy for “minor defects.” At this time in his life he felt no sympathy for the war.

Living in an age when strict Victorian codes were usually followed, relatives and friends of the family had a difficult time accepting the fact that Gene and Agnes were living together, unmarried. Some of the family wondered if this wasn't a rather scandalous arrangement for the two young people, and asked how Ted and Cecil explained the situation to the younger sisters. Cecil responded by stating they considered themselves modern and free-thinking parents and were perfectly comfortable with the situation, speaking easily about the relationship.

Cecil was a woman who smoked cigarettes, had modeled in the nude for art classes and considered herself a part of the avant-garde of the times. Later on she and Ted had three daughters who “lived in sin” and two who had children “out-of-wedlock.” Ted's Philadelphia family expected him to be more straight-laced and unforgiving of such a scandalous way of life. Having been a student and follower of the radical, free-thinking Thomas Eakins, Ted turned in that direction and became a free-thinker himself. Eakins had been barred from his position in the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts because of his radical approach to using nude models in his art classes. He set up a new school, The Art Students League of Philadelphia, fitting his own needs with the freedom to use nude models, which he felt important for any students studying the human body.

The four daughters, trying to go with the modern trend, generally accepted new ways of thinking about free love, smoking cigarettes, wearing short skirts and bobbed hair. The world was changing and they were ready to go with it!

Agnes had become a model for her younger sisters, who were fascinated with what little they knew about Gene O'Neill and thought the relationship with Aggie was quite exciting. Each one wanted to move up to New York City and begin such a life for herself, following in the footsteps of their sophisticated sister. Meanwhile, Agnes and Gene were enjoying Provincetown and a stimulating new life with each other.

There were sunny days when Gene and Agnes took long walks on “the outside” or ocean-side of the town. They often walked until they came to the old Coast Guard Station overlooking Peaked Hill Bars. This was a rugged building which had been purchased from the U.S. Government by New York financier Sam Lewisohn who, with the help of Mabel Dodge, the writer, refurbished it to make a livable house and took turns sharing this seaside treasure as a summer escape from the hot city.

Agnes wrote a note to some of her family about “The Station” one day when she and Gene had been walking out there. They had headed out over the dunes to the old coast guard building. She said Gene looked so longingly at the place and told her it was the house they should have. She described it as desolate but very charming, sitting close to the shore as an ideal spot to hide away and write with no interference from the outside world. “Every time we go out there,” she wrote, “we hardly talk going back into town but for now we need to tuck our dreams away and hope that someday we’ll be able to have a place like that.”

In the spring of the year 1918, Margery and Teddy received a telegram dated
April 14.

Married Gene on April 12. Very happy.
Sending same to Ma and Cookie. Tell
Cis and Bobby. Love and hugs, Agnes.

A few days later a letter arrived from Mother Cecil in Cornwall addressed to Teddy and the family in Jersey:

Dear Lovits,

Don’t know how I feel about the marriage. Don’t really know much about Gene O'Neill...but there was no word about taking Cookie, just the usual loving messages. Will Gene be a father to her…or will it go on the way it is now? Barbara seems content, but she asks for her mother when it’s bedtime and when she’s very tired. I don’t know what else to tell her except that her mother is working.

Things are quiet otherwise, and we’re all right. Wish Aggie could get the bill paid for the cows! But I guess she's doing the best she can. Why on earth she ever thought she needed cows, I'll never know. She gets nothing from them, and has to pay someone to milk them. They should be sold soon! Please write to Bobby and Cis. I’m tired and busy.

Love to all, and hugs, Ma

Agnes had purchased the cows as a financial venture, which did not turn out as planned. The farmer had written that he wanted the balance of his money immediately instead of the installments they had agreed on. She didn’t have the entire sum and feeling afraid he would be angry, she was very reluctant to ask Gene for help. The farmer was demanding payment through a collection agency, and after a time, unable to pay any of the amount she owed to the farmer, Agnes lost the farm.

Though constantly keeping in touch with the family, Aggie had not been up to see little Barbara for quite some time. She could not bear to be parted from Gene if she left for a visit to Cornwall and was concerned that he would be distraught, as he wanted her around all the time. It was frustrating to find herself in this position, but she felt driven to do as Gene wished and would not cross these boundaries for anyone, not even her small daughter. Worried it might mean losing Gene, Agnes was in a great deal of distress over the situation. In her heart she wanted to be a mother to Barbara, but Gene had said so often he wanted there to be only the two of them and no one else.

  Chapter VII


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