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“Never Leave Me, Never Leave Me”
February 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 2
“One evening when some old but not very interesting acquaintances of Uncle Henry’s had proposed themselves for dinner, the conversation was going very slowly. He was obviously bored, and rather thunderously silent, and I tried, in my nervousness, to save the party with small talk. The next morning in the victoria Uncle Henry said gruffly and suddenly: ‘My dear, you were a bore last night.’
“I shall never forget the pain of that moment! To be called a bore, of all things! By Uncle Henry, who could never suffer bores! I was almost blinded by the soreness of it; I was like some desperate hurt creature; I even tried to get out of the carriage. Then Uncle Henry grabbed my wrist and said, very clearly and firmly: ‘Listen to me, and I will tell you why you were a bore, and then you need never be one again. You were a bore last night because you talked about yourself. There! It’s as simple as that! And now we shan’t have to worry about it in the future.’ ”
Miss Tone was not possessed of independent means, and it had been understood from the beginning that she should receive a salary. She was always perfectly sensible and practical about such matters, but to Adams these considerations seemed to place a blot on their high friendship.
“My monthly paycheck was agony to him. He had a habit of keeping money in drawers all over the house, and on the day when my check was due he called me into his study and abruptly pulled open a drawer full of bills. ‘Take it!’ he exclaimed in the tone of one performing an impossibly distasteful duty. ‘Take it all, I beg of you!’ I insisted on taking only what was my due and proceeded to count out the correct amount. ‘This is impossible,’ he cried, and the next week he summoned his nephew Charles Adams from Boston to draw up a deed of trust. By the terms of this trust he gave me an income for my life, regardless of whether or not I should remain in his household. ‘Now you are independent/ he told me with satisfaction. ‘You can leave me tomorrow if you choose.’ But if he offered me a world of liberty with one hand, I was glad that with the other he held me to his side. This may sound possessive on his part, and perhaps it was, but Uncle Henry was old and lonely, and I had come to him of my own free will. He was terribly conscious of the sacrifice that I might be making in choosing the life that I had chosen. ‘When I first suggested that you stay/ he told me ruefully, ‘I thought I had only a few months to live. And now, look what has happened. I go on and on.”
Mrs. Adams had committed suicide in 1885, almost thirty years before Miss Tone joined Adams’ household, but her memory was always present in the very absence of references to her. All Adams’ family maintained a virtual conspiracy of silence on the theory that the subject was agonizing to Adams, that even a passing reference would cause him pain. Yet he and Miss Tone very frequently visited the tomb in Rock Creek Cemetery with the beautiful brooding statue by Saint-Gaudens. She felt that the silence was artificial, and at last she broke it.
“I said to him in the carriage: ‘Uncle Henry, I cannot bear that we never mention Aunt Clover. Won’t you tell me about her?’ He said: ‘My dear child, I should like nothing better.’ We went back to the house, and he spent hours showing me photographs of his wife and pictures of things that they had seen together. When I asked him why he had never spoken of her, he said that he had been made to feel that any reference to her would be painful to his family.”
In the last, long winter of Adams’ life Miss Tone, constantly on duty, almost wore herself out.
“I was so tired that winter. I have never before or since been so tired. Elsie Adams used to say to me, ‘Vous faites pitié.’ She urged me to go away, but I knew that I could not, and I knew that Uncle Henry could not spare me. I can only hope that he did not know how tired I was. I tried so hard to conceal it. No, I do not think that he ever knew.
“But at last I did go away—just for a weekend. I had been asked to stay with Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Fell in Virginia. It was a small house party, and Mrs. Fell made such a point of my coming that I agreed to go. I worried about Uncle Henry every minute. Finally I became so nervous that I called the house in Washington. Elsie Adams answered the telephone and tried to reassure me about Uncle Henry. I told her I was coming straight home. She insisted that it was not necessary, but I came anyway. When I got to the house I hurried upstairs, where I found Uncle Henry sitting with Elizabeth Hoyt, who was reading aloud to him. I went straight over to his side and knelt down by the low chair and put my arms around him. He was a little man, you know, and I could feel his whole body trembling. ‘Never leave me, never leave me,’ he murmured, and I replied, ‘I never will.’ Two days later, when I went into his room in the morning, I found him dead.”