My Secretary by A. A. Milne

When, five years ago, I used to write long letters to Margery, for some reason or other she never wrote back. To save her face I had to answer the letters myself–a tedious business. Still, I must admit that the warmth and geniality of the replies gave me a certain standing with my friends, who had not looked for me to be so popular. After some months, however, pride stepped in. One cannot pour out letter after letter to a lady without any acknowledgment save from oneself. And when even my own acknowledgments began to lose their first warmth–when, for instance, I answered four pages about my new pianola with the curt reminder that I was learning to walk and couldn’t be bothered with music, why, then at last I saw that a correspondence so one-sided would have to come to an end. I wrote a farewell letter and replied to it with tears….

But, bless you, that was nearly five years ago. Each morning now, among the usual pile of notes on my plate from duchesses, publishers, moneylenders, actor-managers and what-not, I find, likely enough, an envelope in Margery’s own handwriting.

Not only is my address printed upon it legibly, but there are also such extra directions to the postman as “England” and “Important” for its more speedy arrival. And inside–well, I give you the last but seven.

“MY DEAR UNCLE I thot you wher coming to see me to night but you didnt why didnt you baby has p t o hurt her knee isnt that a pity I have some new toys isnt that jolly we didnt have our five minutes so will you krite to me and tell me all about p t o your work from your loving little MARGIE.”

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I always think that footnotes to a letter are a mistake, but there are one or two things I should like to explain.

(a) Just as some journalists feel that without the word “economic” a leading article lacks tone, so Margery feels, and I agree with her, that a certain cachet is lent to a letter by a p. t. o. at the bottom of each page.

(b) There are lots of grown-up people who think that “write” is spelt “rite.” Margery knows that this is not so. She knows that there is a silent letter in front of the “r,” which doesn’t do anything, but likes to be there. Obviously, if nobody is going to take any notice of this extra letter, it doesn’t much matter what it is. Margery happened to want to make a “k” just then; at a pinch it could be as silent as a “w.” You will please, therefore, regard the “k” in “Krite” as absolutely noiseless.

(c) Years ago I claimed the privilege to monopolise on the occasional evenings when I was there, Margery’s last ten minutes before she goes back to some heaven of her own each night. This privilege was granted; it being felt, no doubt, that she owed me some compensation for my early secretarial work on her behalf. We used to spend the ten minutes in listening to my telling a fairy story, always the same one. One day the authorities stepped in and announced that in future the ten minutes would be reduced to five. The procedure seemed to me absolutely illegal (and I should like to bring an action against somebody) but it certainly did put the lid on my fairy story, of which I was getting more than a little tired.

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“Tell me about Beauty and the Beast,” said Margery as usual, that evening.

“There’s not time,” I said. “We’ve only five minutes to-night.”

“Oh! Then tell me all the work you’ve done to-day.”

(A little unkind, you’ll agree, but you know what relations are.)

And so now I have to cram the record of my day’s work into five breathless minutes. You will understand what bare justice I can do it in the time.

I am sorry that these footnotes have grown so big; let us leave them and return to the letter. There are many ways of answering such a letter. One might say, “MY DEAR MARGERY,–It was jolly to get a real letter from you at last—-” but the “at last” would seem rather tactless considering what had passed years before. Or one might say, “MY DEAR MARGERY,–Thank you for your jolly letter. I am so sorry about baby’s knee and so glad about your toys. Perhaps if you gave one of the toys to baby, then her knee—-” But I feel sure that Margery would expect me to do better than that.

In the particular case of this last letter but seven I wrote:

“DEAREST MARGERY,–Thank you for your sweet letter. I had a very busy day at the office or I would have come to see you. P.T.O.

[Transcriber’s note: Page break in original.]

–I hope to be down next week and then I will tell you all about my work; but I have a lot more to do now, and so I must say good-bye. Your loving UNCLE.”

There is perhaps nothing in that which demands an immediate answer, but with business-like promptitude Margery replied:

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“MY DEAR UNCLE thank you for your letter I am glad you are coming next week baby is quite well now are you p t o coming on Thursday next week or not say yes if you are I am p t o sorry you are working so hard from your loving MARGIE.”

I said “Yes,” and that I was her loving uncle. It seemed to be then too late for a “P.T.O.,” but I got one in and put on the back, “Love to Baby.” The answer came by return of post:

“MY DEAR UNCLE thank you for your letter come erly on p t o Thursday come at half past nothing baby sends her love and so do p t o I my roking horse has a sirrup broken isnt that a pity say yes or no good-bye from your loving MARGIE.”

Of course I thanked Baby for her love and gave my decision that it was a pity about the rocking-horse. I did it in large capitals, which (as I ought to have said before) is the means of communication between Margery and her friends. For some reason or other I find printing capitals to be more tiring than the ordinary method of writing.

“MY DEAR UNCLE,” wrote Margery–

But we need not go into that. What I want to say is this: I love to get letters, particularly these, but I hate writing them, particularly in capitals. Years ago I used to answer Margery’s letter for her. It is now her turn to answer mine for me.

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