Tea Time Essay

In my last post I gave reasons why I believe we should add several stories to the list of Howard’s works. In that discussion I mentioned “From Tea to Tee,” but did not say much about it. That particular story presents a challenge, and warrants a discussion all its own. To wit:

The October 27, 1926 issue of Howard Payne College’s student paper, the Yellow Jacket, contains a short article entitled “Jacket to Have Short Story Writer.” The article states that Robert E. Howard “has consented to furnish the Jacket with stories from time to time.” As promised, that very issue has not one, but two Howard yarns.

The next issue, November 3, has another Howard story; this was under the title “Weekly Short Story.” Despite this information being absent from the article of the week before, this story’s title makes it pretty clear that readers could expect a new story by Howard every week. There is no short story the following week, but the week after that, November 17, has the unsigned “For the Honor of the School.” Anyone paying attention would expect the story’s author to be Bob Howard, even though it is presented without a byline or any other indication of authorship.

Any ambiguity about who wrote what was solved in the December 8, 1926 edition. Besides the editorial staff, the Staff Box on page two was expanded to include feature and special writers, including what column or feature those writers were responsible for. Bob Howard appears on that list, followed by “Short Stories.” Ironically, there are no short stories in that issue. He gets the same billing in the December 16 issue, probably the last issue before the winter break, but again there is no short story.

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That pattern is broken with the first issue of the new year, January 6, 1927, which has two stories, both without a byline; however, Howard gets credit in the Staff Box for “Short Stories,” so like most of the other features in the paper, it doesn’t need a byline; the authors are listed in the Staff Box. There were probably two stories in this issue because none had appeared in the previous issues, thus creating a backlog.

Howard does appear weekly—in the Staff Box at least—from December 8, 1926 to March 10, 1927, though the last story during this run appeared a month before, on February 10th.

A curious thing occurs in the March 17 edition: the Staff Box reverts to its original, abbreviated state with only the editorial staff listed and no writers. Of course there would be a short story in this issue, an unsigned one, “From Tea to Tee.” So, who wrote it? I say Robert E. Howard.

There are any number of reasons for his name not appearing in the issue. In fact, this same thing had already happened back in November. Perhaps the Staff List was shrunk at the last minute because extra space was needed. Perhaps the paste up team didn’t notice that there was no byline. Who knows what happened. The real evidence is this: All of the regular columns appear as usual, with or without bylines, just as the readers have become accustomed. Someone picking up this issue of the Yellow Jacket would have no reason to think anything was different: If there’s a short story, it’s by Bob Howard.

Upon reading the tale, the intuition would be confirmed. It’s a light romance about a guy who would rather play golf than go to tea with his mother. There’s nothing in the story that says it couldn’t be by Howard, and there is plenty to suggest that it is. The humor is more understated than in previous Yellow Jacket offerings, but it fits in with the other stories. In some of his earlier tales from The Tattler, Howard poked fun at the upper classes; here, with names like “Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh,” that tradition continues.

Perhaps it’s coincidence, but according to Post Oaks and Sand Roughs Howard contracted the measles right around this time. Here are the opening lines of “From Tea to Tee”:

If anybody was ever sick, J. Edward Heatherlegh, Jr., was that. He didn’t have the measles, he was too well bred for that, nor did he have the croup, he was too old. He was not sick at the stomach—he was sick of being “towed around like a kid to all this society rot.” Not an afternoon nor an evening for the last three weeks had he had to himself. Mrs. J. Edward Vanderfellow-Heatherlegh, Senior had taken, rather led him to lawn teas, dinners, dinner-dances, theaters, balls and what have you until he was almost tired even of her; if a twenty-one year old man may be allowed to grow tired of his mother.

Yes, Howard was 21 at this time. And, if Lindsey Tyson’s memories were correct, Howard was having a tiff with his folks about this time. They wanted to take him home from Brownwood to avoid his catching the measles during the epidemic; he wanted to stay.

Anyway, all the evidence for the story’s inclusion is circumstantial, but I believe the editorial practices of the Yellow Jacket were consistent enough at this time that if the story were written by someone other than Howard, there would have been a byline proclaiming that it was, in fact, someone else’s work. The story is a bit off, but there are plenty of places where it sounds like Howard. Finally, some of the content eerily reflects some of the things we know about Howard at this time.

Finally, my feeling is that if we are already including “The Reformation: A Dream” in the list of Howard’s works—a story for which we have no byline or mention in the Staff Box—there’s no reason we shouldn’t include “From Tea to Tee” too.