There is an interesting tale to be told concerning Pearl Curran’s best friend Emily Grant Hutchings. Emily and Pearl were very good friends when the Patience Worth saga began to unfold as Pearl and Emily sat at the Ouija Board together on a hot July night in 1913. But that friendship eventually soured when Emily was discharged as amanuensis and transcriber for the Patience Worth sessions by Pearl’s husband, John Curran. This prompted Emily to strike out on her own to contact the spirit world with the help of medium Lola V. Hays and eventually to hook-up with the spirit of Mark Twain who transmitted several short stories to them, including “Up the Furrow to Fortune”, “A Daughter of Mars” and “Jap Herron.”
The following information was gleaned from a 42-page introduction written by Emily Hutchings to “Jap Herron”.
Emily had been invited to attend a small psychical research society meeting in St. Louis Missouri in March 1915 and it was there that she met Mrs. Irwin Hays (Lola Viola) who had the ability to transmit spirit messages by means of a planchette and “lettered board.” Emily coyly admitted that the apparatus was familiar to her and that her name had appeared in connection with a “recently detailed series of psychic experiments.” She acknowledged that, “it is true that I had taken part in another psychic demonstration, but it was in a remote part of the city . . . .” Although Emily played a big role in initiating the contact with Patience Worth in 1913 with Pearl Curran using the planchette and lettered board, apparently, because of lingering hurt feelings, she did not wish to acknowledge her partnership in the Patience Worth dictation in her book. Instead she spent 42 pages detailing her camaraderie with Mark Twain in the production of Jap Herron. She gave little recognition to the more pivotal role of Lola Viola Hays who was the medium through whom the words of Mark Twain were spoken.
Mrs. Hays (Lola Viola Rodenmayer married Irwin Milton Hays in 1885) was gaining a local reputation in St. Louis as someone with the ability to transmit spirit messages by means of a planchette and a lettered board. Emily met Lola by chance at a regular meeting of a small psychical research society in St. Louis. At that initial meeting, Samuel L. Clemens, ‘Lazy Sam’ spelled out, through Lola, a few sentences on the board . Emily’s heart skipped a beat when she heard the name Samuel L. Clemens since she had some interest in his writing and had grown up in Hannibal Missouri the childhood home of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) so, after the meeting she arranged a private meeting with Mrs. Hays hoping to have a personal conversation with Mark Twain.
Again, not mentioning the name of Patience Worth, Emily told Mrs. Hays that “in my former psychic investigation, it had been my habit to pronounce the letters as the pointer of the planchette indicated them.” Mrs. Hays urged her to render the same service when she sat with her, because she (Lola) never permitted herself to look at the board, fearing that her own mind would interfere with the transmission. Apparently, according to Emily, Mark Twain had told Mrs. Hays that he had carried with him much valuable literary material which he yearned to send back (from the spirit world) and that he would transmit stories through her, if she could find just the right person to sit with her at the transmission board. (This person, according to Emily, of course was—Emily!)
“As far as possible, we sat twice a week on Mondays and Fridays,” Emily reported. “We usually worked uninterrupted for two hours with no sound save that of my voice as I pronounced the letters and punctuation marks over which the pointer of the planchette paused in its swift race across the board.” Emily stated that, “Three evenings in succession we had had trouble with the planchette. It had seemed to me that Mrs. Hays was trying to pull it from beneath my fingers. Meanwhile she had mentally accused me of digital heaviness.” Emily said that Mark Twain wanted Lola to be passive and that it is up to the ‘Hannibal girl’ to receive the transmissions.
Although Mrs. Hutchings and Mrs. Hays were seasoned writers; Mrs. Hays having written short stories for one of the large religious publishing houses and Mrs. Hutchings was a well-known writer of articles of interest to women in St. Louis (See ‘That Hannibal Girl’), Emily explained, “Neither Mrs. Hays nor I could have written the fiction that has come across our transmission board. . . . Our literary output is well known, and not even the severest psychological skeptic could assert that it bears any resemblance to the literary style of ‘Jap Herron’ “ (This is in sharp contrast to Pearl Curran who had no writing credits to her name and stated that she never had any desires or inclinations to write anything at all!)
Also in contrast to the writing of Patience Worth, the writing of ‘Mark Twain’ through Emily and Lola required a lot of rewriting, with months of juxtaposing of words, sentences and paragraphs. Mrs. Hays and Emily “discussed the plot at some length.” Emily states that “I know nothing of Mark Twain’s habits; but in all the work we have done for him, the first draft has been rough and vigorous and sweeping changes have been made by him while the work was undergoing revision The story had been virtually rewritten twice although a few of the chapters, as they now stand, are exactly as they were transmitted, not so much as a word having been changed. . . . Sometimes in the course of the revision, we have been interrupted by the jerkily traced words, ‘Try this,’ or ‘We’ll fix that better,’ or ‘I told Emily to take out those repetitions.’ It has happened that he used the same word four times in one paragraph, and in copying I have substituted the obvious synonym.” Twain added that it was “up to Emily” to give this book to the world.
(Perhaps this kind of behavior on the part of Emily is what got her in trouble with John Curran, resulting in John’s decision to not allow Emily to transcribe the Patience Worth dictation.)
“The revision sheets covered a big table,” claimed Emily “and my husband found it very exasperating to make the corrections.” “When next we met, we had no thought of any other work than the revision of the story on which we had been working at frequent intervals for about two months.” According to Emily, Mark Twain stated that, “Emily will know where to fit the revisions in.” “Once when I implored him to tell me where a certain brief but gripping paragraph belonged, he replied, Emily, that is your job. I don’t want the Hannibal girl to fall down on it. . . . the entire responsibility had been on me . . . as Mark Twain had said that he didn’t want to be disappointed in the Hannibal girl.”
And so it continued. Emily seemed to require center stage so she left Pearl Curran and Patience Worth in a huff because John Curran wouldn’t let her rewrite the Patience Worth dictation and then she subjugated Lola V. Hays to allow her to rewrite Mark Twain’s short stories ad libitum.
The following is an example of the writing in “Jap Herron.” The book has been severely criticized as not worthy of the greatness of Mark Twain but I think if nothing else it does capture the flavor and style of Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.” The Clemons family of course didn’t like it and sued to prevent it from being distributed and sold, They were successful and the book was quickly withdrawn from the marketplace.
“Run out and get a box of sardines,” ordered the boss of the Washington press. “I’ve got a nickel. I can’t let you starve. I lived three months on them—look at me!”
Jap surveyed him apprehensively.
“I’d hate to be so thin,” he complained, “and I don’t like sardines nor any fishes. My dad fed us them every day. Allus wanted to taste doughnuts. Can I buy them?”
Ellis Hinton laughed shortly, and spun the nickel across the imposing stone. Jap caught it deftly. An hour later he appeared for work, smiling cheerfully.
“Why the shiner?” queried Ellis, indicating a badly swollen and rapidly discoloring eye.
“Kid called me red-top,” said Jap bluntly.
“Love o’ gracious,” Ellis exclaimed, “what is the shade?”
“It’s red,” quoth Jap, “but it ain’t his business. If I am agoin’ to be a editor, nobody’s goin’ to get familiar with me.”
This was Jap’s philosophy, and in less than a week he had mixed with every youth of fighting age in town.
The office took on metropolitan airs because of the rush of indignant parents who thronged its portals. Ellis pacified some of the mothers, out talked part of the fathers and thrashed the remainder. After he had mussed the outer office with “judge” Bowers, and tipped the case over with the final effort that threw him, Jap said, solemnly surveying the wreck:
“If I had a dad like you, I’d ‘a’ been the President some day.”
Ellis gazed ruefully into the mess of pi, and kicked absently at the hell-box.
“I’ll work all night,” cried Jap eagerly. “I’ll glean it up.”
“We’ll have plenty of time,” said Ellis gloomily. “We have to hit the road, kid. Judge Bowers owns the place. He has promised to set us out before morning.”
But luck came with Jap. It was Friday again, and Bowers’s wife presented him with twins, his mother-in-law arrived, and his uncle inherited a farm. There was only one way for the news to be disseminated, and he came in with his truculent son and helped clean up, so that the Herald could be issued on time. More than that, he made the boys shake hands, and concluded to put Bill to work in the Herald office. After he had puffed noisily out, Ellis looked whimsically at Bill.
“Are you going to board yourself out of what I am able to pay you? he asked.
“Oh, I don’t reckon Pappy cares about that,” the boy said cheerfully. “He just wants to keep me out of mischief, and he said that lookin’ at you was enough to sober a sot.”
Months dragged by. Bill and Jap worked more or less harmoniously. Once a day they fought; but it was fast becoming a mere function, kept up just for form. Ellis was doing better. He had set up housekeeping, since Jap came, in the back room of the little wooden structure that faced the Public Square, and housewives sent them real food once in a while.
Once Ellis feared that Jap was going to quit him for the Golden Shore. It was on the occasion of Myrtilla Botts’s wedding, when she baked the cakes herself, for practice, and her mother thoughtfully sent most of them to the Editor, to insure a big puff for Myrtilla. Ellis was afraid; but Jap, with the enthusiasm and in-experience of youth, took a chance. Bill was laid up with mumps, or the danger would have been lessened. As it was, it took all the doctors in town to keep Jap alive until they could uncurl him and straighten out his appendix, which appeared to be cased in wedding cake. This experience gave Jap an added distaste for the state of matrimony
“My dad allus said to keep away from marryin’,” he moaned. “But how’d I know you’d ketch it from the eatin’s?”
The subscription list grew apace. There was aload of section ties, two bushel of turnips and six pumpkins paid in November, Bill and Jap went hunting once a week, so the larder grew beyond sardines. Jap acquired a hatred of turnips and pumpkins that was inafter years almost a mania. At Christmas, Kelly Jones brought in a barrel of sorghum, “to sweeten ’em,” he guffawed. Jap had grown to manhood before he wholly forgave that pleasantry. It was a hard winter. Everybody said so and when Jap gazed at Ellis across the turnips and sorghum of those weary months, he said he believed it.
“Shame on you,” rebuked Ellis, gulping his turnips with haste. “Think of the wretched people who would be glad to get this food.”
“Do you know any of their addresses?” asked Jap abruptly. “Because I can’t imagine anybody happy on turnips and sorghum. I’d be willin’ to trade my wretched for theirn.”
Kelly said that Jap would be fat as butter if he ate plenty of molasses, and this helped at first; but when the grass came, he begged Ellis to cook it for a change.
When George Thomas came in, one blustery March day, to say that if the turnips were all gone, he would bring in some more, Ellis pied Judge Bowers’s speech on the duties of the Village Fathers to the alleys, when he saw the malignant look that Jap cast upon the cheery farmer.
Once a week Bill and Jap drew straws to determine which one should fare forth in quest of founds, and for the first time in his brief business career, Jap was glad the depressing task had fallen to him. “Pi” was likely to bring on an acute attack of mental indigestion, and the boy had learned to dread Ellis Hinton’s infrequent but illuminating flame of wrath.
The catastrophe had been blotted out, the last stickful of tope had been set and Biill had gone home to supper when Jap, leg-weary and discouraged, wandered into the office. Elllis looked up from the form he was adjusting.
“How did you ever pick out this town?” the boy complained, turning the result of his day’s collection on the table.
Ellis turned from the bit of pine he was whittling, a makeshift depressingly familiar to the country editor. He scanned the meager assortment of coins with anxious eye. Jap’s lower jaw dropped.
“I’ll have to fire you if you have’t got enough to pay for the paper.”
“Got enough for that,” said Jap mournfully, “but not enough for meat.”
“Didn’t Loghman owe for his ad?” Ellis demanded. “Did you ask him for it?”
“Says you owe him more ‘n he’s willin’ for you to owe,” Jap ventured.
“Meat’s not healthy this damp weather,” he suggested. “Cook something light.”
“It’ll be darned light,” said Jap. :”There’s one tater.”
“No bread?” asked Ellis.
“Give that scrap to the cat,” Jap returned. “Doc Hall says she’s done eat all the mice in town and if we don’t feed her she’ll be eating’ off’n the subscribers.”
“Confound Doc Hall,” stormed Ellis. “You take your orders from me. That bread, stewed with potato, would have made a dandy dish.” He shook the form to settle it, and faced Jap.
“How did I come to pick this place?” he said slowly. “Well, Jap, it was the dirtiest deal a boy ever got. I had a little money after my father died. I wanted to invest it in a newspaper, somewhere in the West, where the world was honest and young. I had served my apprenticeship in a dingy, narrow little New England office, and I thought my lifework was cut out for me. I had big dreams, Jap. I saw myself a power in my town. With straw and mud I wanted to build a town of brick and stone. Dreams, dreams, Jap, dreams. Some day you may have the, too.”
He let his lean form slowly down into a chair. Japbraced himself against the table as the narrative continued:
“In Hartford I met Hallam, the man who started the Bloomtown Herald. I heard his flattering version. I inspected his subscription list and studied the columns of his paper, full of ads. I bought. The subs were deadheads, the ads—gratuitous, for my undoing. It was indeed straw and mud, and, lad, it has remained straw and mud.” He leaned his head on his hand for a moment.
“That was the year after you were born, Jap. I was only twenty-one. For a year I was hopeful; then I dragged like a dead dog. OYou will be surprisedwhen I tell you what brought me to life again. I tell you this, boy, so that you will never despise Opportunity, though she may wear blue calico, as mine did.
“It was one dark, cold day. No human face had come inside the office for a week. That was the period of myh life when I learned how human a cat can be. We were starving, the cat and me, with the advantage in favor of the cat. She could eat vermin. I sat by the table, wondering the quickest way to get out of it. Yes, Jap, the first and, God help me, the only time that life was worthless. The door opened and a plump woman dressed in blue calico, a sunbonnet pushed back from her smiling face, entered.”
To jap, who listened with his heart in his throat, it seemed that Ellis was quoting perhaps a page from the memoirs he had written for the benefit of this townsmen. His deep melodious voice fell into the rhythmic cadence of a reader, as he continued:
” ‘Howdy, Mr. Editor,’ she chirped. ‘I’ve been keenin’ for a long time to come in to see you. I think you are aprintin’ the finest paper I ever seen. I brought you a mess of sassage and a passel of bones from the killin’. It’s so cold, they’ll keep a spell. And here’s a dollar for next year’s paper. I don’t want to miss a number. I am areadin’ it over and over. Seems like you are agoin’ to make a real town out of Bloomtown,’ and with a friendly pat on the arm, she was gone.”
Ellis brushed the long hair from his brow, the strange modulation went out of his voice and the fire returned to his brown eyes as he said;
“Jap, I got up from that table and fell on my knees, and right there I determined that starvation nor cold nor any other enemy should rout me. Jap, I am going to make Bloomtown a real town yet. My boy, that blue calico lady was Mrs. Kelly Jones.”