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The Attentive Correspondent

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The Service is expeditious about forwarding Jim's mail, which is nice because Artie likes to write almost as much as he likes to talk. He can't say anything about the assignment itself, of course, but his accounts of Washington social life could rival Thackeray. As always he knows every bit of gossip about all the leading personalities, and he takes care to keep Jim abreast of the fashions in men's and ladies' clothes.

Not that it's all society news. Artie could go nowhere and see no one and still never be at a loss for words. He's just as voluble on architecture, literature, abstract mathematics, anything that catches his interest. Sometimes he'll just expound on his latest idea for some wild contraption he wants to build for Jim sometime.

The letters are seldom under four pages, even when he says he's just dashing off a line to keep Jim from worrying (as he's sure Jim needn't be reminded people tend to do, when other people don't write oftener); and every page is Artie through and through. He even gets theatrical with the headings, dating letters from locations like Congressional Law Library, Under the Watchful Eyes of "Fame" and Mme. Russell's Unimpeachably Respectable Eating-House, Marble Alley. The salutation is always along the lines of My dear James or My dearest James or James my boy or even My dear, dear James and Jim cracks a smile every time because he can hear that facetious tone just as if the speaker were there beside him. Artie delights, too, in flowery closings—Let me hear from you soon and you will greatly oblige, Yours affectionately, Artemus Gordon; Convey my warmest regards to Henrietta, Arabella and all other inquiring friends, and believe me to be, my dear James, as ever, Yours faithfully, Artemus Gordon. Once he writes Ever thine and crosses it out, apparently finding that a little excessive even for him; then he writes Sincerely and marks that out, as too impersonal; and by that time he's running up against the bottom of the page anyway and he just puts Yrs &c. A.G.

Jim goes with the conventional forms. Dear Artie; Yours, Jim. He can't really talk about work either—which is galling, because his partner ought to have been here to share those stories in the first place—and he doesn't have Artie's knack for eloquent discourse on, well, anything. But Artie wants him to write, so he tries to come up with something to say.

He tells his adventures with dance-hall girls. He tells about the new hotel going up in Cañon City. He tells about that two-headed lizard he saw. He copies down any good new charades or limericks he hears. He clips odd little stories from odd little papers. He dutifully answers Artie's inquiries: yes, he's well; yes, he's watering the plants on schedule; no, he's not running short of smoke bombs.

Jim's always been a poor correspondent. He knows his letters aren't very good, for all that writing them is a painstaking endeavor. It isn't that he's out of his depth intellectually; it isn't that he lacks the skill to compose a precise and well-ordered report. But language is Artie's especial talent, not his. Jim is a man of action. He feels clumsy, restrained to nothing but words. Anyway he can't write down a teasing smile, can't seal up a conspiratorial glance, can't mail off a companionable silence. Jim looks forward to the day when he can go back to letting Artie do most of the talking—because when they're together there's so much more than just what they say to each other.

This most recent letter, the writer must have been badly out of spirits. Jim knows it before he reads a line. It's barely two-and-a-half pages, and the top of the first is desolate in its simplicity: just Washington, and the date, and Jim.

Artie doesn't say, no doubt can't say, just what the matter is. He still doesn't know when he's coming back. That first sentence is as close as he gets to mentioning whatever setback must have arisen. The rest of the letter just goes on about how there's not a single interesting play in town and even if there was they haven't got anybody competent to act it, and the bureaucrats are insufferable and the dinners are unpalatable, and the roads are bad and the streets are crowded and the hotel is drafty and it's rained every day for a week. The closing is shorter than usual: Up to my neck in politics and mud I remain

Jim is no great correspondent, and in his response he falls back once again upon conventional forms. My dear Artie, he writes. Yours of the 25th to hand. I miss you too.