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   Chapter 4 “But Spare Your Country’s Flag”

The Two Vanrevels By Booth Tarkington Characters: 20721

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:05


If it be true that love is the great incentive to the useless arts, the number of gentlemen who became poets for the sake of Miss Betty Carewe need not be considered extraordinary. Of all that was written of her dancing, Tom Vanrevel's lines, "I Danced with Her beneath the Lights" (which he certainly had not done when he wrote them) were, perhaps, next to Crailey Gray's in merit, though Tom burned his rhymes after reading them to Crailey. Other troubadours were not so modest, and the Rouen Journal found no lack of tuneful offering, that spring, generously print-ing all of it, even at the period when it became epidemic. The public had little difficulty in recognizing the work of Mr. Francis Chenoweth in an anonymous "Sonnet" (of twenty-three lines) which appeared in the issue following Miss Carewe's debut. Mr. Chenoweth wrote that while dancing the mazourka with a Lovely Being, the sweetest feelings of his soul, in a celestial stream, bore him away beyond control, in a seraphic dream; and he untruthfully stated that at the same time he saw her wipe the silent tear, omitting, however, to venture any explanation of the cause of her emotion. Old General Trumble boldly signed his poem in full. It was called "An Ode upon Miss C-'s Waltzing," and it began:

"When Bettina found fair Rouen's shore, And her aged father to us bore Her from the cloister neat, She waltzed upon the ball-room floor, And lightly twirled upon her feet."

Mr. Carewe was rightfully indignant, and refused to acknowledge the General's salutation at their next meeting: Trumble was fifteen years older than he.

As Crailey Gray never danced with Miss Carewe, it is somewhat singular that she should have been the inspiration of his swinging verses in waltz measure, "Heart-strings on a Violin," the sense of which was that when a violin had played for her dancing, the instrument should be shattered as wine-glasses are after a great toast. However, no one, except the author himself, knew that Betty was the subject; for Crailey certainly did not mention it to Miss Bareaud, nor to his best friend, Vanrevel.

It was to some degree a strange comradeship between these two young men; their tastes led them so often in opposite directions. They had rooms to-gether over their offices in the "Madrillon Block" on Main Street, and the lights shone late from their windows every night in the year. Sometimes that would mean only that the two friends were talking, for they never reached a silent intimacy, but, even after several years of companionship, were rarely seen together when not in interested, often eager, conversation, so that people wondered what in the world they still found to say to each other. But many a night the late-shining lamp meant that Tom sat alone, with a brief or a book, or wooed the long hours with his magical guitar. For he never went to bed until the other came home.

And if daylight came without Crailey, Vanrevel would go out, yawning mightily, to look for him; and when there was no finding him, Tom would come back, sleepless, to the day's work. Crailey was called "peculiar" and he explained, with a kind of jovial helplessness, that he was always prepared for the unexpected in himself, nor did such a view detract from his picturesqueness to his own perusal of himself; though it was not only to himself that he was interesting. To the vision of the lookers-on in Rouen, quiet souls who hovered along the walls at merry-makings and cheerfully counted themselves spectators at the play, Crailey Gray held the centre of the stage and was the chief comedian of the place. Wit, poet, and scapegrace, the small society sometimes seemed the mere background set for his performances, spectacles which he, also, enjoyed, and from the best seat in the house; for he was not content as the actor, but must be the Prince in the box as well.

His friendship for Tom Vanrevel was, in a measure, that of the vine for the oak. He was full of levities at Tom's expense, which the other bore with a grin of sympathetic comprehension, or, at long intervals, returned upon Crailey with devastating effect. Vanrevel was the one steadying thing in his life, and, at the same time, the only one of the young men upon whom he did not have an almost mesmeric influence. In good truth, Crailey was the ringleader in all the devilries of the town. Many a youth swore to avoid the roisterer's company for all time, and, within two hours of the vow, found himself, flagon in hand, engaged in a bout that would last the night, with Mr. Gray out-bumpering the hardiest, at the head of the table. And, the next morning, the fevered, scarlet-eyed perjurer might creep shaking to his wretched tasks, only to behold the cause of his folly and headache tripping merrily along the street, smiling, clean-shaven, and fresh as a dew-born primrose, with, perchance, two or three of the prettiest girls in town at his elbow to greet his sallies with approving laughter.

Crailey had been so long in the habit of following every impulse, no matter how mad, that he enjoyed an almost perfect immunity from condemnation, and, whatever his deeds, Rouen had learned to say, with a chuckle, that it was "only Crailey Gray again." But his followers were not so privileged. Thus, when Mr. Gray, who in his libations sometimes developed the humor of an urchin, went to the Pound at three in the morning of New Year's Day, hung sleigh-bells about the necks of the cattle and drove them up and down the streets, himself hideously blowing a bass horn from the back of a big brown steer, those roused from slumber ceased to rage, and accepted the exploit as a rare joke, on learning that it was "only Crailey Gray;" but the unfortunate young Chenoweth was heavily frowned upon and properly upbraided because he had followed in the wake of the bovine procession, mildly attempting to play upon a flageolet.

Crailey never denied a folly nor defended an escapade. The latter was always done for him, because he talked of his "graceless misdoings" (so he was wont, smilingly, to call them) over cups of tea in the afternoons with old ladies, lamenting, in his musical voice, the lack of female relatives to guide him. He was charmingly attentive to the elderly women, not from policy, but because his manner was uncontrollably chivalrous; and, ever a gallant listener, were the speaker young, old, great or humble, he never forgot to catch the last words of a sentence, and seldom suffered for a reply, even when he had drowsed through a question. Moreover, no one ever heard him speak a sullen word, nor saw him wear a brow of depression. The single creed to which he was constant was that of good cheer; he was the very apostle of gayety, preaching it in parlor and bar; and made merry friends with battered tramps and homeless dogs in the streets at night.

Now and then he would spend several days in the offices of Gray & Vanrevel, Attorneys and Counsellors-at-Law, wearing an air of unassailable virtue; though he did not far overstate the case when he said, "Tom does all the work and gives me all the money not to bother him when he's getting up a case."

The working member of the firm got up cases to notable effect, and few lawyers in the State enjoyed having Tom Vanrevel on the other side. There was nothing about him of the floridity prevalent at that time; he withered "oratory" before the court; he was the foe of jury pathos; and, despising noise and the habitual voice-dip at the end of a sentence, was, nevertheless, at times an almost fearfully effective orator. So, by degrees the firm of Gray & Vanrevel, young as it was, and in spite of the idle apprentice, had grown to be the most prosperous in the district. For this eminence Crailey was never accused of assuming the credit. Nor did he ever miss an opportunity of making known how much he owed to his partner. What he owed, in brief, was everything. How well Vanrevel worked was demonstrated every day, but how hard he worked, only Crailey knew. The latter had grown to depend upon him for even his political beliefs, and lightly followed his partner into Abolitionism; though that was to risk unpopularity, bitter hatred, and worse. Fortunately, on certain occasions, Vanrevel had made himself (if not his creed) respected, at least so far that there was no longer danger of mob-violence for an Abolitionist in Rouen. He was a cool-headed young man ordinarily, and possessed of an elusive forcefulness not to be trifled with, though he was a quiet man, and had what they called a "fine manner." And, not in the latter, but in his dress, there was an echo of the Beau, which afforded Mr. Gray a point of attack for sallies of wit; there was a touch of the dandy about Vanrevel; he had a large and versatile wardrobe, and his clothes always fit him not only in line but in color; even women saw how nobly they were fashioned.

These two young men were members of a cheerful band, who feasted, laughed, wrangled over politics, danced, made love, and sang terrible chords on summer evenings, together, as young men will. Will Cummings, editor of the Rouen Journal, was one of these; a tall, sallow man, very thin, very awkward and very gentle. Mr. Cummings proved himself always ready with a loud and friendly laugh for the poorest joke in the world, his countenance shining with such kindness that no one ever had the heart to reproach him with the evils of his journalistic performances, or for the things he broke when he danced. Another was Tappingham Marsh, an exceedingly handsome person, somewhat languid in appearance, dainty in manner with women, offhand with men; almost as reckless as Crailey, and often the latter's companion and assistant in dissipation. Young Francis Chenoweth never failed to follow both into whatever they planned; he was short and pink, and the uptilt of his nose was coherent with the appealing earnest-ness which was habitual with him. Eugene Madrillon was the sixth of these intimates; a dark man, whose Latin eyes and color advertised his French ancestry as plainly as his emotionless mouth and lack of gesture betrayed the mingling of another strain.

All these, and others of the town, were wont to "talk politics" a great deal at the little club on Main Street and all were apt to fall foul of Tom Vanrevel or Crailey Gray before the end of any discuss

ion. For those were the days when they twisted the Lion's tail in vehement and bitter earnest; when the eagle screamed in mixed figures; when few men knew how to talk, and many orated; when party strife was savagely personal; when intolerance was called the "pure fire of patriotism;" when criticism of the existing order of things surely incurred fiery anathema and black invective; and brave was he, indeed, who dared to hint that his country, as a whole and politically, did lack some two or three particular virtues, and that the first step toward obtaining them would be to help it to realize their absence.

This latter point-of-view was that of the firm of Gray & Vanrevel, which was a unit in such matters. Crailey did most of the talking-quite beautifully, too-and both had to stand against odds in many a sour argument, for they were not only Abolitionists, but opposed the attitude of their country in its difficulty with Mexico; and, in common with other men of the time who took their stand, they had to grow accustomed to being called Disloyal Traitors, Foreign Toadies, Malignants, and Traducers of the Flag. Tom had long been used to epithets of this sort, suffering their sting in quiet, and was glad when he could keep Crailey out of worse employment than standing firm for an unpopular belief.

There was one place to which Vanrevel, seeking his friend and partner, when the latter did not come home at night, could not go; this was the Tower Chamber, and it was in that mysterious apartment of the Carewe cupola that Crailey was apt to be deeply occupied when he remained away until daylight. Strange as it appears, Mr. Gray maintained peculiar relations of intimacy with Robert Carewe, in spite of the feud between Carewe and his own best friend. This intimacy, which did not necessarily imply any mutual fondness (though Crailey seemed to dislike nobody), was betokened by a furtive understanding, of a sort, between them. They held brief, earnest conversations on the street, or in corners when they met at other people's houses, always speaking in voices too low to be overheard; and they exercised a mysterious symbolism, somewhat in the manner of fellow members of a secret society: they had been observed to communicate across crowded rooms, by lifted eyebrow, nod of head, or a surreptitious turn of the wrist: so that those who observed them knew that a question had been asked and answered.

It was noticed, also, that there were five other initiates to this masonry: Eugene Madrillon, the elder Chenoweth, General Trumble, Tappingham Marsh, and Jefferson Bareaud. Thus, on the afternoon following Miss Betty's introduction to Rouen's favorite sons and daughters, Mr. Carewe, driving down Main Street, held up one forefinger to Madrillon as he saw the young man turning in at the club. Eugene nodded gravely, and, as he went in, discovering Marsh, the General, and others, listening to Mr. Gray's explanation of his return from the river with no fish, stealthily held up one finger in his turn. Trumble replied with a wink, Tappingham nodded, but Crailey slightly shook his head. Marsh and the General started with surprise, and stared incredulously. That Crailey should shake his head! If the signal had been for a church-meeting they might have understood.

Mr. Gray's conduct was surprising two other people at about the same time: Tom Vanrevel and Fanchon Bareaud; the former by his sudden devotion to the law; the latter by her sudden devotion to herself. In a breath, he became almost a domestic character. No more did he spend his afternoons between the club and the Rouen House bar, nor was his bay mare so often seen stamping down the ground about Mrs. McDougal's hitching-post while McDougal was out on the prairie with his engineering squad. The idle apprentice was at his desk, and in the daytime he displayed an aversion for the streets, which was more than his partner did, for the industrious Tom, undergoing quite as remarkable an alteration of habit, became, all at once, little better than a corner-loafer. His favorite lounging-place was a small drug-store where Carewe Street debouched upon Main; nevertheless, so adhesive is a reputation once fastened, his air of being there upon business deceived everyone except Mr. Gray.

Miss Bareaud was even happier than she was astonished (and she was mightily astonished) to find her betrothed developing a taste for her society alone. Formerly, she had counted upon the gayeties of her home to keep Crailey near her; now, however, he told her tenderly he wished to have her all to himself. This was not like him, but Fanchon did not question; and it was very sweet to her that he began to make it his custom to come in by a side gate and meet her under an apple-tree in the dusk, where they would sit quietly together through the evening, listening to the noise and laughter from the lighted house.

That house was the most hospitable in Rouen. Always cheerfully "full of company," as they said, it was the sort of house where a carpet-dance could be arranged in half an hour; a house with a sideboard like the widow's cruse; the young men always found more. Mrs. Bareaud, a Southerner, loving to persuade the visitor that her home was his, not hers, lived only for her art, which was that of the table. Evil cooks, taking service with her, became virtuous, dealt with nectar and ambrosia, and grew fit to pander to Olympus, learning of their mistress secrets to make the ill-disposed as genial gods ere they departed. Mr. Bareaud at fifty had lived so well that he gave up walking, which did not trouble him; but at sixty he gave up dancing, which did trouble him. His only hope, he declared, was in Crailey Gray's promise to invent for him: a concave partner.

There was a thin, quizzing shank of a son, Jefferson, who lived upon quinine, ague and deviltry; and there were the two daughters, Fanchon and Virginia. The latter was three years older than Fanchon, as dark as Fanchon was fair, though not nearly so pretty: a small, good-natured, romping sprite of a girl, who had handed down the heart and hand of Crailey Gray to her sister with the best grace in the world. For she had been the heroine of one of Mr. Gray's half-dozen or so most serious affairs, and, after a furious rivalry with Mr. Carewe, the victory was generally conceded to Crailey. His triumph had been of about a fort-night's duration when Fanchon returned from St. Mary's; and, with the advent of the younger sister, the elder, who had decided that Crailey was the incomparable she had dreamed of since infancy, was generously allowed to discover that he was not that vision-that she had fallen in love with her own idea of him; whereas Fanchon cared only that he be Crailey Gray, whatever kind of vision that was. And Fanchon discovered that it was a great many kinds.

The transfer was made comfortably, with nice judgment of a respectable interregnum, and to the greater happiness of each of the three young people; no objection ensuing from the easy-going parents, who were devotedly fond of Crailey, while the town laughed and said it was only that absurd Crailey Gray again. He and Virginia were the best of friends, and accepted their new relation with a preposterous lack of embarrassment.

To be in love with Crailey became Fanchon's vocation; she spent all her time at it, and produced a blurred effect upon strangers. The only man with whom she seemed quite alive was Vanrevel: a little because Tom talked of Crailey, and a great deal because she could talk of Crailey to Tom; could tell him freely, as she could tell no one else, how wonderful Crailey was, and explain to him her lover's vagaries on the ground that it was a necessity of geniuses to be unlike the less gifted. Nor was she alone in suspecting Mr. Gray of genius: in the first place, he was so odd; in the second, his poems were "already attracting more than local attention," as the Journal remarked, generously, for Crailey had ceased to present his rhymes to that valuable paper. Ay! Boston, no less, was his mart.

He was rather radical in his literary preferences, and hurt the elder Chenoweth's feelings by laughing heartily at some poems of the late Lord Byron; offended many people by disliking the style of Sir Edward Bulwer, and even refused to admit that James Fenimore Cooper was the greatest novelist that ever lived. But these things were as nothing compared with his unpatriotic defence of Charles Dickens. Many Americans had fallen into a great rage over the vivacious assault upon the United States in "Martin Chuzzlewit;" nevertheless, Crailey still boldly hailed him (as everyone had heretofore agreed) the most dexterous writer of his day and the most notable humorist of any day. Of course the Englishman had not visited and thoroughly studied such a city as Rouen, Crailey confessed, twinklingly; but, after all, wasn't there some truth in "Martin Chuzzlewit?" Mr. Dickens might have been far from a clear understanding of our people; but didn't it argue a pretty ticklish vanity in ourselves that we were so fiercely resentful of satire; and was not this very heat over "Martin Chuzzlewit" a confirmation of one of the points the book had presented against us? General Trumble replied to this suggestion with a personal one to the effect that a man capable of saying a good word for so monstrous a slander, that a man, sir, capable of declaring his native country to be vain or sensitive ought to be horsewhipped, and at this Crailey laughed consumedly.

Trumble retorted with the names of Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr. "And if it comes to a war with these Greasers," he spluttered apoplectically, "and it is coming, mighty soon, we'll find Mr. Gray down in Mexico, throwing mud on the Stars and Stripes and cheering for that one-legged horse-thief, Santa Anna! Anything to seek out something foolish amongst your own people!"

"Don't have to seek far, sometimes, General," murmured Crailey, from the depths of the best chair in the club, whereupon Trumble, not trusting himself to answer, went out to the street.

And yet, before that same evening was over, the General had shed honest tears of admiration and pity for Crailey Gray; and Miss Betty saw her Incroyable again, for that night (the second after the Carewe dance) Rouen beheld the great warehouse tire.

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