- Historic Sites
“Never Leave Me, Never Leave Me”
February 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 2
Their need was mutual. He wanted a companion to look after him; Mis» Tone had to support herself. It was agreed that she should become a permanent member of his household. At last lie was able to say to her: “You must write your mother and tell her you are never coming home.” Hut, of course, she still had to visit Mrs. Tone in New York, and Adams was much fretted during these necessary absences. The following are excerpts from a series of notes he sent up from Washington: I have nothing to say. except that as soon as your mother is tired of you, I wish you would remember the next train. Like Richard, I make no reproaches, mais pourtant je suis seul. Comtesse Soeur , may you make all your family happy—don’t neglect anyone—but by and by sing a Pastourelle for the poor Robin. … Of course without you I am quite helpless, and count the hours till you return. … Everything has stopped running since you went away. … Apparently Mrs. Tones’ orders that I must not be disturbed are likely to end in my burial without clergy. Tant mieux . I don’t really care. … Your letters are my only excitement. … Florence has gone to Florid. Her father is said to be dying. So am I! A lunch yesterday did it. You had better come soon if you want to see me first.
His prediction was humorous. Hc did not die for five more years. Aileen Tone survived him for more than half a century. In her little apartment on East Eighty-third Street in Manhattan, bzfore the mantel over which hung the beloved drawing of Adams by John Kriggs Potter (until it was taken oil by the Adams family to Quincy and placed in a dark room to prevent it from fading), she kept his image fresh. I remember, after the bombing of Hiroshima, her quoting from Adams’ poem to the Virgin of Chartres: “Seize, then, the Atom! rack his joints.” Scholars and biographers of Adams and of Adams’ friends—Harold Dean Cater, Ernest Samuels, Leon Edel, Edward Chalfant—came to listen and to hear the past made vivid.
I had known her from my childhood, as a friend of my parents. She was always a very special presence, a reassurance that beyond the world of immediate experience, of schools and sports and parties, there existed a cool, calm layer of experience, both intellectual and emotional, that was there for the sensitive nostril, for the Oner discrimination. She did not turn away from life in the rough; lier broad and tolerant Catholicism always kept lier from that error. She simply pleaded for equal time for the exquisite, knowing that it did not take power or money or ambition to achieve it, but only a little patience, a little industry. She was a kind of lay priestess, with a wise, worldly side to hsr kindness and understanding. She put me in mind of an eighteenth-century French abbess, one who would know that life lias to be kept constantly fresh, constantly vivid, that one must never neglect one’s mind or one s heart or one’s clothes or one s accent or one’s soul. Ailcen Tone stood for style in the deepest sense. Her God did not disdain elegance. If she was a living reproach to many of the vulgarities in American life, she was also an example of how simply they could be avoided.
In the last year of her life lier thoughts kept turning back to the summer of 1914. She had been with Adams and his niece Elsie in France at the outbreak of war. He had rented the Château de Coubertin just north of Paris, and there they were stuck without automobiles or horses until such time as they could arrange transportation home. Adams finally got hold of a horse that had not yet been fully broken and had it hitched to a carriage for the afternoon drive. His driver had been told by its owner that the creature must not be whipped, yet the first thing the idiot did was to strike it, and the little party was carried away at a gallop across country while Adams shouted with laughter. Somehow, as Miss Tone described that laughter, I had the feeling that it was the only laughter in France, the desperate, frustrated laughter of an old man who had survived to the Armageddon that he had predicted.
One day they explored a medieval tower in the neighborhood, and Miss Tone climbed to the top to see the view. Police arrived and booked the party of three as possible spies. At the station Adams became so indignant at the questions of the magistrate that he could no longer remember anything. Asked for his grandmother’s name, he turned to Miss Tone and shouted: “What the devil was my grandmother’s name?”
They finally went to Dieppe and thence to England, where they occupied Sir Ronald Lindsay’s house in Stapleton in Dorset, walking in the countryside and haunted by the sense of distant battle. Henry James came down from London to spend the night, and he and Adams sat up late talking. Miss Tone, as she thought tactfully, absented herself, but the next morning Adams told her that she should have stayed. He made it very clear that she was never to leave him. The beautiful English fall, the peaceful fields and woods, the old, distinguished, talking men, the death of youth across the Channel—it was the leavetaking of two eras.