The Dickinson Feud

Across the lawn, to the west, stood Austin's house, which at the time of my arrival in Amherst was unoccupied except for a caretaker. It was a large building, and the grounds surrounding it seemed ample. Like Emily's home, it was protected from the dust of Main Street by a high hedge. David Todd I met at the first faculty meeting of the year, which occurred the day after I arrived in Amherst. He was a short man, genial and courteous, with a potential beard which gave him a distinguished appearance. On Saturday morning of my first week, as I was walking to breakfast, I met him again, this time in front of the post office.

"By the way, Erskine," he asked, "You play the piano, don't you? Would you care to play some hymns tomorrow night at Mrs. So-and-So's?"

I hesitated, and he explained.

"She's a fine woman, elderly, and invalid. She likes nothing so much as hymns. I go around every Sunday night with four of the students to sing for her. One of the boys plays the piano, but the flu has got him down. Be a good fellow and help us out."

Weakly I said I'd be glad to, but I didn't think much of the invitation, and when I spoke of it at the breakfast table, there was a general laugh, especially from Professor Thompson and Miss Hinsdale. She made no comment, though she was one of the local authorities on all aspects of the feud, but Toggles said that David was up to his usual tricks. The invalid lady had wealth, he wanted a legacy for the astronomical department, and I had been invited to help pull her leg. By the time we had finished breakfast I was disgusted with myself for being an easy mark, and I wrote Professor Todd at once that though I had said I would gladly play, I wished now to withdraw. Later in the day when we met in the village, he crossed the street with a pleasant smile.

"Erskine, you have a remarkably interesting handwriting. Has no one ever called your attention to it? One of the most interesting handwritings I've seen!"

The subject did not come up again between us. The old lady died, there was no legacy, and so far as I know, professor Todd sang no more hymns. But after this introduction to him I paid attention to the criticism his elder colleagues bestowed on him quite freely. Toggles had the gift of moral indignation, but some of the others merely laughed. They seemed to doubt David's ability as an astronomer. A wealthy alumnus would lend him and ocean-going yacht for eclipse expeditions to remote parts

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Transcription and commentary copyright 2000 by
Martha Nell Smith, all rights reserved.
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Last updated on March 10, 2008

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