|Hollandia (upper left)|
Mattie E. Treadwell in The Women's Army Corps evokes the harsh living conditions at Hollandia that were endured by WACS (and many others) during the American occupation:
Rain was continual in some seasons, clothing was generally wet from perspiration, and heat prevented more than a few hours of sleep at night....everyone shortly turned yellow from the required atrabine [a drug used in the Pacific Theater to treat malaria]....Men and women alike began to get skin diseases....
|path of the righteous |
baptism of American troops in Hollandia
New Guinea, Sept 5, 1944
In addition to these other topics, however, there is also in Rickie's wartime letters a great deal simply about his desire to come back home to hearth and Hugh, let us say, at Twin Hills Farm, the couple's eighteenth-century farmhouse in the Massachusetts Berkshires.
For a time Hugh served in the Army Medical Corps. "I never even left Fort Dix [New Jersey]," Hugh later recalled of his war service. "They just asked me if I wanted to be in the Medical Corps and handed me a white coat." Yet in 1945 Hugh was receiving Rickie's mail forty miles away from Fort Dix at the Lumberville, Pennsylvania house of his friend Princess Caracciolo (the former Dorothy Adrian of Poughkeepsie, New York, not to be confused with Margaret Clarke of Peoria, Illinois, also a Princess Caracciolo). This is just as well, for Rickie's letters to Hugh might well have raised official eyebrows at Fort Dix. (Incidentally, the Princess appears to have served as a basis for the character Princess Patricia Walonska--nee Cheney--in Q. Patrick's Death for Dear Clara.)
|Hollandia (Jayupura) today, with its harbor, so strategic in World War 2|
Rickie's sentiments about Hugh range from the the mundane--he hungrily looks forward to making pot roasts in the pressure cooker with Hugh again--to the elevated. Sentimentally he twice asks Hugh to be his Valentine on February 14, while typing his lovelorn missive to his man in bed. (He managed to secure a rare typewriter for this one occasion, and he hoped to get proficient enough with it finally to help Hugh with typing their books.)
In yet another letter after praising Hugh in the highest terms for his varying sterling qualities in a manner reminiscent of William Shakespeare in his Sonnets, Rickie strikingly quotes to Hugh from Robert Browning's 1855 poem One Word More, which the great poet dedicated to "E. B. B."--his famed wife Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The poem addresses the expression of one person's deepest, inner love for another--a love so personal and so precious it is hard to give true voice to publicly. (Certainly a feeling a gay man would have appreciated in 1945.)
These lines below Rickie quoted in the letter, either from memory or having drawn them from a copy of Browning he had with him in the jungle:
and praise you.
Out of my own self I dare
to phrase it.
But the best is when I glide
from out them
Cross a step or two of
Come out on the other side,
Silent silver lights and darks
Where I hush and bless myself with silence.
--from One Word More (1855), by Robert Browning, dedicated to Elizabeth Barrett Browning
It's a poignant episode in a poignant letter. Sadly, Rickie and Hugh's personal relationship, then of over a dozen years' standing, would take some hard hits in the late forties, so that their ship of love foundered in the early Fifties.
For Hugh, movie-star-handsome, prodigiously talented and much-adored in his circle, life prospects only ascended ever higher, however, as he continued the Patrick Quentin series of mysteries to acclaim until 1965 and in the Sixties and Seventies achieved the pinnacle of his career success as a distinguished and lucrative writer for film, stage and screen.
Ultimately Hugh won three Tony Awards before the curtain finally was brought down on his life in 1987. The best known of his Tony wins is for his "book" for the hugely successful dark musical Sweeney Todd, which was adapted into a popular film, netting Hugh a place in the no-doubt coveted Johnny Depp Zone.
People have commented on how the Patrick Quentin novels from this period of Rickie and Hugh's impending breakup are darker than the Golden Age norm, in that the marriage of series amateur sleuths Peter and Iris Duluth suffers grave emotional strains and stresses. Peter and Iris don't just wittily banter between cocktails, as was the wont of mystery couples from that era, they fight and get hurt--and there's always a danger that the psychic wounds inflicted by one spouse upon another won't ever heal. I would argue that the troubled fictional relationship of Peter and Iris to some extent reflects the contemporaneously deteriorating real-life relationship of Rickie and Hugh.
|a prematurely aged Rickie Webb (45) and a seemingly eternally youthful Hugh Wheeler (34)|
(photos taken on the same day in 1947)