Cousin Annie

"Cousin Annie"
 A letter from Annie Fellows Johnston to Mrs. Henry Lawton ("Mrs. Walton")
from Boerne Texas, April 19, 1908.  


Boerne, Kendall Co. Texas   April  19, 1908

Dear Mrs. Lawton -

A rainy Easter Sunday - just one long continual downpour, on the grand scale by which Texas does things.  There was no getting out to church, no doing anything, and even the lily Mary tended so carefully did not quite bloom.  Indeed so carefully has she nursed it that she has won the title squarely of Tennyson's Elaine - "The Lily maid!"

But you letter came, and told us what we have so much wanted to know about yourselves and the babies, and the arrangements Frank was able to make.

I am writing at once for two reasons - one the rainy day that brings a longing for a cozy talk with you, the other because  if you letters not answered at once, it may get snowed under.

Alas and alack, I have been persuaded into post-poning my "rest" one more year, and writing This summer instead of next.  I have begun a  MARY WARE book, which may be called "Mary Ware"; Copy-cat", or simply her name.  It is not fully decided.

So you see my summer's work is all laid out for me, and a good hard summer it will be.  Mamie expects to go back to Pewee in May for part of the summer.  I want her to go farther North and to the coast before she comes back, in order (?) have the radical change of climate that she needs.

John has been better the last few months, and is so interested in his little orchard, this garden and alfalfa field and his varied assortment of live stock.  He is certainly making a brave fight.

I am so glad that your mother is better.  I want to enclose a letter if I can find it for Miss Fanny.  She may recognize the name of the child who claims her as her father's Sunday school teacher years ago.

You ask what will be a help to me this summer?  Why "Cranford" of course!  "Cranford" first last and always, any scrap of news or gossip - but oh dear, how the old order is changing!  My Cranford is so fast slipping away and I can't be there to get used to the girls growing up, and the strangers coming in.  When you become accustomed to such things by inches you don't notice it so much as then your attention is drawn to the ills that have appeared in your absences.

The Carnival begins tomorrow in San Antonio with its Battle of Flowers and parades., and we are thankful we are up in the hills "far from the madding crowd.'

Monday morning --- Was interrupted yesterday, so did not get half through.

it's a work-a-day world this Monday morning - Here goes for the tussle with MARY WARE.  I do not think I could have managed her at all if it had not been for the bright, enthusiastic letters of two of my nieces.  Lara Heilman is at the University of Wisconsin and Margaret Bacon at the Mount Vernon Seminary in Washington.  I wrote to them for school girl experiences and they came to my rescue, nobly.

I wish the "Little Lawtons" could make daily calls at "Penacres".  I never see real sure enough American girls any more. The few girls I know here, so plainly bear the tag "made in Germany" that they don't fit into my plays at all.

Love to Manley and the girls and all the dear people "just over the way", and most of all to your own dear self.

Yours most affectionately,

"Cousin Annie"  


Cranford  is a book written in 1851 by English author Elizabeth Gaskell.  References to the book are made in The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation, published 1905, Chapter 13, Humdrum Days (as well as other places in the Little Colonel books). 

"That reminds me of the game I spoke of, "said Miss Allison. "I invented it when I was about your age. I had just read 'Cranford,' and the story of life in that simple little village seemed so charming to me that I wished with all my heart I could step into the book and be one of the characters, and meet all the people that lived between its covers. Then I heard some one say that there were more interesting happenings and queer characters in Lloydsboro Valley than in Cranford. So I began to look around for them. I pretended that I was the heroine of a book called 'Lloydsboro Valley,' and all that summer I looked upon the people I met as characters in the same story....

...."This is not malicious gossip," explained Mrs. Walton, in an amused undertone, smiling with Lloyd and Katherine at a remark which unintentionally reached their ears. "But in a little community like this, where little happens, and our interests are bound so closely together, the smallest details of our neighbours' affairs necessarily entertain us. It is interesting to know that Mr. Rawles and his great-aunt are not on speaking terms, and it is positively exciting to hear that Mr. Wolf and Mrs. Cayne quarrelled over the leaflets used in Sunday school, and that she told him to his face that he was a hypocrite and no better than an infidel. It doesn't make us love these good people any the less to know that they are human like ourselves, and have their tempers and their spites and feuds. We know their good side, too. Wait till calamity or sickness touches some one of us, and see how kind and sympathetic and tender they all are; every one of them."

"You'll hear more gossip here in one afternoon than at all the Cranford tea-tables put together," said Katherine Marks. "But it is a mild sort, like the kind going on behind us."

Interestingly, Mrs. Lawton also refers to Pewee Valley as Cranford in one of her letters to AFJ dated 1906.  It appeared to be kind of a pet name for Pewee, especially when she was regaling AFJ with the local "Cranfordy" type gossip.

The town of Cranford certainly had some parallels to Pewee Valley at the time the Little Colonel books were written, since it was mainly a summer community of women and children whose husbands worked in town.  This is how the first chapter begins:

"In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women. If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a railroad. In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not at Cranford. What could they do if they were there? The surgeon has his round of thirty miles, and sleeps at Cranford; but every man cannot be a surgeon. For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open; for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and correct knowledge of everybody's affairs in the parish; for keeping their neat maid-servants in admirable order; for kindness (somewhat dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite sufficient. "A man," as one of them observed to me once, "is so in the way in the house!" Although the ladies of Cranford know all each other's proceedings, they are exceedingly indifferent to each other's opinions. Indeed, as each has her own individuality, not to say eccentricity, pretty strongly developed, nothing is so easy as verbal retaliation; but, somehow, good-will reigns among them to a considerable degree. "

The entire book is online here: