If you’re new to this blog, and you’d like to find out what this is all about, it’ll probably help you to scroll down to the first post about the Mystery Challenge,in which I’m asking readers to help me find out more about the love letters from 1920’s China.)
Today I’ll be posting the last of Bessie’s letters to Mr Bruce – It would be nice to think that he had followed Bessie’s advice, and had married her friend Margaret, but in my next post I’ll explain why I’m pretty sure this didn’t happen.
I’ve learned quite a lot about Canton and the Shameen district from various websites. The view of Canton comes from this site, and the map of Shameen, from here.
And I’ve ‘borrowed’ the 1920s postcards below from a wonderful postcard site – there are lots more there, if you’d like to see more. The second one below would have been somewhere near to where Bessie had stood and waited, hoping to catch sight of Mr Bruce.
And the steam ship in this photo could have been the same as the one where Bessie’s husband, Jimmy, had discovered that ‘something was going on’ between her and Mr Bruce
Here is the transcript of Bessie’s final letter. I found it very moving, and I’m sure that many people would be able to identify with Bessie, standing outside the building in Shameen, hoping to see the man she loved, one last time.
Bruce dear, it’s quite true that a woman can kill her conscience much deader than a man can kill his. Otherwise I shouldn’t be writing to you today. If one has a dead heart, a dead conscience more or less doesn’t matter.
I’m at the Canton Hospital with the kids. They have just had their tonsils and adenoids removed. Poor little wretches. Jimmy is crying for water which he can’t have. You can’t imagine anyone crying for water can you?
I have been in Shameen twice lately. Monday I was in the playground outside your window for a long time – it was awful. And yesterday I saw Bing to speak to – did he tell you?
I am a dutiful wife now. Forever, I think, except for such a slight deflection from the path as this, and I’ll admit there is a certain amount of self-satisfied pleasure in duty well done. And not only that – trite as the sentiment may seem – it is pleasurable to see another person happy.
I would like to tell you all the details of that Thursday evening and the next morning, but what’s the use. Things could have resulted so differently but they didn’t so there is an end to it. Did Margaret tell you that he mutilated my “family album”, the one we straightened up, remember? Removed forcibly every photograph that contained your physiognomy.
But he overlooked that one of David and you on the top of the boat (Kongmoon), so I at least have one of your ears and a little bit of your gurgly old pipe.Isn’t Margaret a good sport and a dear? I don’t know what on earth I’d do without her.
I do wish that you would convince her that you never liked me at all and that you really set out to marry and save her from her present fate. I mean I wish you could do it. Really I do, dear. Because you’ve got to marry somebody, sometime, and it might as well be a somebody who would furnish you with enough excitement to keep you from being bored to tears.
I am so glad you went to see Margaret while we were in Hong Kong. Because she told me lots that you said, and it helped. And she keeps my love letter for me so that I can read it over now and again. I love it. There’s nobody in the world but you could write such a dear one. But I suppose I must let it go too after a bit – when I’ve learned it all by heart perhaps. Of course I’ll write to you when I get home, nothing could stop me if I thought you wanted me to but it is a desolate thought that I’ll never have another word from you. You spoke of how long it would take us to get over this. I hope you won’t take long – and I hope I never get over it. It’s very unmaidenly, or at least unmatronly, for me to admit all this, I’m sure. When you don’t realise what you’ve missed in life until it’s too late to have it, what matters it how brazen a hussy one becomes.
The six weeks left to me in China are creeping by. I didn’t know days could be so long. Do you believe in the much hackneyed mutual telepathy? Two or three days ago at the tiffin table little Jimmy asked when you were coming again and that night he insisted on including you in his prayers. Well I include you in mine, such as they are. The best love I have – the only one with a thrill in it – is yours. Please keep it until you get a better; that better one is waiting for you somewhere. That sounds like “Mother to her wayward boy”. It isn’t – it’s just because I don’t know what to say or how to say it so I rave on just to be in some sort of communication with you. But I can’t go on forever because my babies are requiring more and more attention.
This is my last letter to you for the present and it’s my good-bye too, and I’m heartsick Bruce dear. I never knew I would care so much. My dear. My dear, why did you come so late?