Read CHAPTER XLVI of Old Crow , free online book, by Alice Brown, on

The story ends, as it began, with a letter.  It was written by Raven, in Boston, to Dick, in France, about a year after Tenney gave himself up.  The first half of it had to do with accounts, money paid over by Raven to Dick, requisitions sent in by Dick to Raven, concise statements of what Raven judged it best to do in certain contingencies Dick had asked instructions upon.  Then it continued on a new page, an intimate letter from Raven to the nephew who was administering the Anne Hamilton Fund.  The previous pages would be submitted to the two Frenchmen, who, with Dick, formed the acting board.  These last pages were for Dick alone.

“No, Tenney wasn’t even indicted.  There was the whirlwind of talk you can imagine.  Reminiscent, too!  ‘Don’t you remember?’ from house to house, and whenever two men met in the road or hung over the fence to spit and yarn.  It was amazing, the number of folks who had set him down as ‘queer,’ ‘odd,’ all the country verdicts on the chap that’s got to be accounted for.  Even his religion was brought up against him.  The chief argument there was that he always behaved as if the things he believed were actually so.  He believed in hell and told you you were bound for it.  But I can’t go into that.  They couldn’t, the ones that tried to.  They got all balled up, just as their intellectual betters do when they tackle theology.  All this, of course, began before you went away, and it continued in mounting volume.  If you want New England psychology, you have it there, to the last word.  That curious mixture of condemnation and acceptance!  They believed him capable of doing things unspeakable, and yet there wasn’t a public voice to demand an inquiry as to whether he really had done them.  They cheerfully accepted the worst and believed the best.  And it’s true he had behaved more or less queer for a long time, wouldn’t speak to people when he met them, didn’t seem to know them, and then suddenly breaking out, in the blacksmith’s shop or buying his grain at the store, and asking if they were saved.  The women were the queerest.  They said he set his life by the child.  Why, he couldn’t even bear to go to the funeral of his wife or the child either, and hadn’t they seen him and Tira drivin’ by, time and again, the baby in Tira’s lap, in his little white coat and hood?  I don’t know how many times I heard the evidence of that little white hood.  Even Charlotte caught it and plumped it at me.

“You remember yourself how disgusted the authorities were when he trotted about like a homeless dog and insisted on being arrested for a crime they knew he didn’t commit.  Poor old Tenney! they said, any man might be crazed, losing his wife and child in one week.  They were very gentle with him.  They told him if he hung round talking much longer he’d be late for his planting.  Of course the doctor did set the pace.  He’d told, everywhere he went, how Tira had sent for him at once, and how she had said she had, in that hideous country phrase, ‘overlaid’ the child.  One interesting psychological part of it has persisted to this day:  the effect Tira had on the doctor, his entire belief in her simple statement which she was never asked to swear to. (You remember there was no inquest.) He never, he said, was so sorry for a woman in his life.  He seems to have been so determined to prove her a tragic figure that he wouldn’t for a moment have the disaster lightened by denying her that last misfortune of having done it herself.  Lots of these things I haven’t told you, they’re so grim and, to me now, so wearing.  They’ve got on all our nerves like the devil, and I fancy even the Wake Hill natives are pretty well fed up with ’em.  At first they couldn’t get enough.  When Tenney couldn’t get the law to believe in him so far as to indict him, the embattled farmers took it on themselves to cross-examine him, not because they thought for a minute he was guilty, but because they itched to hear him say so:  drama, don’t you see?  And he never wavered in asserting he did it:  only when they asked him how, he just stared, and once told a particularly smart Alec, he guessed it was a man’s own business how he killed his own child.  And he stayed up in the hut, just as he was doing when you went away, and night after night I had to stay with him.  Stuck to me like a burr and wore me threadbare asking if he was forgiven, and if that didn’t mean he was whiter than snow.  I tell you, Dick, it was all so involved that I believe, although he used the set phrases about the Lord Jesus Christ, he really believed it was I that had forgiven him.  He used to ask me to tell God to do it for my sake; and I remembered Old Crow and how he played up to Billy Jones, and, if you’ll believe it, I did ask God (though not for my sake!), and horrible as it is, grotesque as it is (no, by George, it isn’t grotesque to speak to a man in the only language he can understand! he wanted God and he couldn’t any more reach Him! he had to climb up on another man’s shoulders), well, I told him it was all right.  He was forgiven.  Then he scared me blue by saying he was going round preaching the gospel - his farm is sold, you know, stock gone, everything wiped out - and I told him he’d proved too dangerous to be let loose on the world again.  But he had me there.  He asked if he was forgiven, why wasn’t he whiter than snow?  And he hung to me like my shadow, and asked if he couldn’t keep on living in the hut, till he felt strong enough to preach.  I told him he could, and blest if I didn’t see him and me there together, world without end, like Old Crow and Billy Jones, for nothing was ever going to persuade him to let go of me again.  You’d better laugh, Dick.  Nan and I had to.  We almost cried.  It is funny.  I bet Old Crow laughed.  But Tenney saved me.  He took it into his own hands.  And what do you think did it?  We went down to the house one morning for breakfast, and Charlotte came out to meet us, tying on a clean apron.  It was blue with white spots (I forgot you don’t see any significance in that, but Tenney did) and he stopped short and said:  ’God A’mighty!  I was in hopes I never should set eyes on a woman’s apron again.’

“I went up to have a bath (my staying at the hut was a kind of emergency business, you see) and he disappeared, and Charlotte and Jerry didn’t get on to it that he was really gone, and later on he was seen wading into the water over at Mountain Brook, there by the stepping stones.  The Donnyhills saw him, and at first they thought he knew what he was about, but kept on watching him.  He stooped and dipped himself, and they had an idea it was some kind of a self-conducted baptism.  I believe it was.  Nan often has to remind me that ‘he’s a very religious man.’  But they watched, and presently he went under, and they knew then he was making way with himself, and the Donnyhill boy, that calm young giant, fished him out, Tenney fighting him furiously.  And it began to look to me as if he ought to be under a mild supervision (it wasn’t for nothing you and your mother let fly at me with your psychiatry!  I escaped myself, but I learned the formula).  And now Tenney, agreeing to it like a lamb, is at that little sanitarium Miss Anne Hamilton started ‘up state,’ and very well contented.  Nan goes to see him, and so do I. He is as mild - you can’t think!  Reads his Bible every minute of the day when he isn’t doing the work they give him or converting the staff.

“You’ll say he’s insane.  I don’t know whether he is or not.  I don’t know whether they’ll say so, the psychopathic experts they’ve let loose on him.  I simply think he found the difficulties of his way too much for him and he revolted.  He tried to right the balance of some of the most mysteriously devilish inequalities a poorly equipped chap ever found himself up against (strange forces that struck at him in the dark) and being ignorant and at the same time moved by more volts of energy than even the experts will be able to compute, he took the only path he saw, slam-bang into the thick of the fight.  As to his spouting his Bible like a geyser - well, if he believes in it as the actual word of God, a word addressed to him, why shouldn’t he spout it?  And if it tells him that, after certain formulae of repentance, his sins shall be whiter than snow, why shouldn’t he believe that and say so with the simplicity he does?  All the same, I don’t think he’s exactly the person to wander at large, and I’ve no idea what will happen when his good conduct and general mildness come it over the psychiatrists.  I grin over it sometimes, all by myself, for I remember Old Crow and Billy Jones and I wonder if the logic of inherited events is going to herd Tenney and me together into the hut to live out our destiny together.  But I don’t think so, chiefly because I want to keep my finger in this pie of the French Fund and because it would distress Nan.  Distress you, too, I guess!  And me!

“Now, as to Nan.  You gave it to me straight from the shoulder, and I’ve got to give you one back.  I agree with you.  There’s no hope for you.  She’s enormously fond of you, but it’s not that kind.  And Nan’s old-fashioned enough to insist on that or nothing.  I was so meddlesome as to bring it up with her before you went away.  She put me in my place, told me practically it was nobody’s business but hers - and yours - and that she’d already talked it out with you and that you’re a ‘dear’ and you ‘saw.’  So, old man, as you say, that’s that. Finis. But when, after I’ve butted in, you butt in and accuse me of not ‘seeing,’ so far as I myself am concerned, of holding her off, of being unfair to her, all the rest of it (very intemperate letter, you must own) I’ve got to give you your quietus as Nan gave me mine.  First place, you say, with a cheek that makes my backbone crawl, that Nan ‘loves’ me. (Do you really want to be as Victorian as that, you slang-slinging young modern?  But I know!  You think I mightn’t catch on to your shibboleths and you borrow what you judge to be mine, give me the choice of weapons, as it were.) And you’re a trump, Dick!  Don’t think I don’t know that, and if I poke fun at you it’s to keep from slopping all over you with the Victorian lavishness you’d expect.  What did we ever fight for about your youth and my age?  Or wasn’t it about that, after all?  Was it really about - Nan?

“Well, when it comes to ‘love’, I do love Nan.  There you have it, good old-fashioned direct address.  She is as immediate to me as my own skin and veins.  She always has been.  She began to grow into me when she was little, and she kept on growing.  There are fibers and rootlets of Nan all through me, and the funny part of it is I love to feel them there.  I can’t remember being dominated by anybody without resenting it, wanting to get away - escape! escape! - but I never for an instant have felt that about Nan.  She’s the better part of me.  Good Lord! she’s the only part of me I take any particular pleasure in or that I can conceive of as existing after I join Old Crow. (Not that I’m allowed to take much pleasure in her now.  She sees me when I call, answers when I consult her about the Fund - and she’s been tremendously sympathetic and valuable there - but she seems to feel and, I’ve no doubt, for very good reasons, that we’re better apart.  She has, I believe, a theory about it; but we needn’t go into that.  And I don’t quarrel with it.)

“The queer part of it is that I feel Nan herself couldn’t break the bond between us, couldn’t if she tried.  It’s as deep as nature, as actual as Old Crow.  I can give you a curious proof of it.  I might be almost swamped by somebody - yes, I mean Tira.  I might as well say so as hear you saying it over this letter - somebody that is beauty and mystery and a thousand potencies that take hold on nature itself.  But that doesn’t push Nan away by an inch.  If I’m swamped, Nan’s swamped with me.  If I mourn the beauty and the piteousness withdrawn, Nan mourns, too.  It’s Nan and I against the world.  But it isn’t Nan and I with the world.  The world is against us.  Do you see?  For I’m a year older than when I saw you last.  And though many of the things you felt about the years weren’t true, a lot of ’em were, and they’re a little truer now.  And one of them is that I’ve got to give Nan a fighting chance to mate with youth and - oh, exactly what you’ve got.  I wish you had her - no, I’m damned if I do.  I may not be young enough for jealousy, but I am unregenerate enough.  I probably mean I wish I wished it.  For in spite of my revolt against the earth, I’d like to give Nan the cup, not of earth sorceries but earth loveliness, and let her swig it to the bottom.  And then, if Old Crow’s right and this is only a symbol and we’ve got to live by symbols till we get the real thing, why, then I’m sentimental enough - Victorian! yes, say it, and be hanged! - to want to believe Nan and I shall some time - some time - - Anyhow, I’m not going to ask her to spend her middle years - just think! ’figure to yourself!’ - when Nan’s forty, what will your revered uncle be?

“Now I’ve told you.  This is the whole story, the outline of it.  And why do I tell you instead of merely inviting you to shut up as Nan did me?  Because if you retain in your dear meddlesome head any idea that Nan, as you say, ‘loves’ me, you’re to remember also that Nan is not in any sense an Ariadne on a French clock, her arm over her head, deserted and forlorn.  You are to remember I adore her and, if I thought we could both in a dozen years or so perish by shipwreck or Tenney’s axe (poor Tenney!) I should get down on my knees to her and beg her (can’t you hear our Nan laugh?) to let me marry her. (Probably she wouldn’t, old man - marry me, I mean.  We’re seldom as clever as we think, even you.  So there’s that.) But, in spite of my erratic leanings toward Old Crow-ism and sundry alarming dissatisfactions with the universe, I still retain the common sense to see Nan, at forty, worrying over my advancing arteriosclerosis and the general damned breaking up of my corporeal frame.  Not on your life.  Now - shut up!

“Yes, your mother continues to be dissatisfied over your being there.  She thinks it’s all too desultory, but is consoled at your being mentioned in the same breath with ‘two such distinguished Frenchmen.’  I tell her you can’t stop for a degree, and maybe if you follow out your destiny you’ll get one anyway, and that, if you still want to write books, this will give you something to write about.  But she doesn’t mind so much since she’s gone into politics, hammer and tongs.”

Now this letter reached Richard Powell in the dingy office in Paris, where he happened to be in consultation with his two advisers who were, with an untiring genius of patience and foresight, interpreting to him daily the soul of France.  He went over the first part of the letter with them, article by article, point by point, very proud, under his composure, of their uniform agreement with the admirable Monsieur Raven.  And after their business session was concluded and the two Frenchmen had gone, Dick addressed himself to the last part of the letter, given in these pages.  He bent himself to it with the concentration that turns a young face, even though but for the moment, into a prophetic hint of its far-off middle age.  If he had kept enough of his shy self-consciousness to glance at himself in the glass, he would have been able to smile at the old fear of what the years might do to him.  No heaviness there, such as he remembered in his father’s face:  only trouble, pain, and their mysteriously refining tracery.  But the heaviness was in his heart.  He had to understand the letter absolutely, not only what it said but all it implied.  If it actually meant what he believed it to mean at first reading, it drew a heavy line across his own life.  Nan had drawn the line before, but this broadened it, reenforced it with a band of black absolutely impossible to cross.  And it did mean it, and, having seen that, without a possibility of doubt, he enclosed the letter in an envelope, addressed it to Nan, and leaned back in his chair, never, he believed, to think it over again, never so long as he and Nan lived.  There was no residuum of sentiment in his mind as there was in Raven’s that, after Nan had finished with this life, according to her own ideas, there might be hope of another Nan bloomed out of this one somewhere else and another Dick, risen out of his ashes, to try his luck again.  No, the line across the page was the line across their lives, and, said Dick:  “That’s that.”  But he caught his breath, as he said it, and was glad there was no one by to hear.  Anybody who heard would have said it was a sob.  He was, he concluded, rather fagged with the day.  These confounded Frenchmen, with their wits you couldn’t keep up with, they took it out of you.

This was why Raven, in Wake Hill, on the morning the letter came to Nan in Boston, got a telegram from her, saying:  “Come back.”  He had gone there to stay over a night, after a few hours’ visit with Tenney, who was eagerly glad to see him, and again begging to be confirmed in his condition of spiritual whiteness.  Raven had just got to his house when the message was telephoned up from the station, and its urgency made him horribly anxious.  He had been especially aware of Nan all day.  Little threads of feeling between them had been thrilling to messages he couldn’t quite get, as if they were whispers purposely mysterious, to scare a man.  He was on edge with them.  They quickened the apprehension the message brought upon him overwhelmingly.  She never would have summoned him like that if she hadn’t needed him, not a word by telephone, but his actual presence.  He had Jerry take him back again to the station, and in the late afternoon he walked in on Nan waiting for him in one of the rooms Anne Hamilton had kept faithful to the traditions of bygone Hamiltons, but that now knew her no more.  It was Nan the room knew, Nan in her dull blue dress against the background of pink roses she made for herself and the room, Nan white with the pallor of extreme emotion, bright anxiety in her eyes and a tremor about her mouth.  She went to him at once, not as the schoolgirl had run, the last time she offered her child lips to him, but as if the moment were a strange moment, a dazzling peak of a moment to be approached - how should she know the way to her heart’s desire?

“What is it, dear?” asked Raven, not putting her off, as he had the schoolgirl, but only unspeakably thankful for the bare fact of having found her safe.  “What’s happened?”

“I had to tell you straight off,” said Nan, “or I couldn’t do it at all.  He sent me your letter - Dick.  The one about me.”

Raven was conscious of thinking clearly of two things at once.  He was, in the first place, aware of the live atoms which were the letter, arranging themselves in his mind, telling him what they had told Nan.  He was also absently aware that Nan’s face was so near his eyes it was nothing but a blur of white, and that when he bent to it, the white ran, in a rush, into a blur of pink.

“So Dick sent it to you,” he said.  “Well, God bless him for it.  Kiss me, my Nan.”