"After all, murder is - or should be - an art. Not one of the 'seven lively', perhaps, but an art nevertheless. And, as such, the privilege of committing it should be reserved for those few who are really superior individuals."
John Wayne is my Dad's favourite actor so I saw a lot of his films during my formative years, everything from his dreadful early westerns to excellent works such as the Cavalry trilogy and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. The above clip is a famous one from one movie of John Ford's trilogy: She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, when Wayne's character tells an immature underling not to apologise; it's a sign of weakness. I used to think that this was entirely wrong-headed... of course we should apologise if we've done something we shouldn't, or have wronged someone else. It is not admirable to refuse to admit culpability and express regret when we have erred in some way. I eventually realised, however, that this quote is generally taken out of context, and Nathan Brittles' (Wayne) statement refers specifically to the situation with which he's dealing. The young lieutenant is not apologising because he feels remorse, or even because he believes that he's done something wrong. He's apologising because he thinks Brittles is displeased with him and he wishes to placate his superior officer and avoid getting in trouble. To apologise not because you feel in the wrong, but because you fear possible blow-back for your words or actions is a sign of weakness, and there's nothing admirable about it. I've been thinking a lot about false/forced apologies lately in view of the myriad ones we've been witness to over the last few years. There's a sort of grim, repetitive pageantry to these coerced mea culpas: a person says/writes/tweets something that the wokestapo pretends to be grievously offended- and threatened- by. They then form an online mob, demanding that said person be drummed out of polite society- as if they have any concept of what one looks like- be fired from his job, and generally have his life ruined. The mainstream media, drawn like Kmart shoppers to a blue light special, will then get involved, helpfully delving into that person's online history, private life, and family in a desperate search for further examples of wrong think or speech. They will eventually dig up an instance when, fifteen years previously, he played a game of backgammon with some dude wearing a Dukes of Hazard tee shirt and thus label him a vile racist... if the tee had Daisy Duke on it, a sexist as well. The company he works for will hysterically assume that the fake outrage of the twitter mob is representative of the feelings of the population at large, panic, and release a weak-kneed statement saying that their employee's views do not reflect those of their organisation (no one actually believes that they do) and that they are shocked and horrified by what he has said/written/tweeted. The poor schlub whose inartful words were the cause of all this furor, reeling from the hate-filled backlash, probable doxxing, and the sight of a CNN reporter digging through his trash to see if he's had take out from Chick-fil-A, will issue a desperate apology for what he's said or done in the hope of salvaging what's left of his career and reputation. Looking like he's giving a hostage statement, he will say that he's realised that his words were wrong- and hurtful- and came from a place of privilege. He disavows them, and pledges to not speak, but humbly listen to the voices of marginalised communities. What he doesn't seem to realise is that the type of people who demand coerced admissions of guilt and preformative penitence have no forgiveness or mercy in their hearts; the public apology is merely one more tool with which to humiliate and punish the heretic who dared step away from the agreed-upon narrative. He must be cast out. His words of remorse will be sneered at and dismissed as insincere (to be fair, they probably are) and the baying woke pack will continue their calls for his abasement and cancellation unabated. His spineless employers will eventually cave and fire their employee for his rogue thoughts though this won't save them, either: there will be calls for a boycott both from the cry-bullies and from those disgusted by the company's utter lack of courage or conviction. So in my view, Nathan Brittles was correct: no one should apologise when they believe themselves to be in the right simply because they are intimidated or afraid of the consequences. It is weak, and in the end will make little difference; the howling mob of the perpetually offended will scent that weakness like blood in the water. They will not be satiated by anything less than complete ruination of one's life and livelihood, so one might as well retain one's dignity and self respect by refusing to accede to their demands or pander to their grievance mongering. Never apologise to these creeps. Don't give them the satisfaction of intimidating you into silence or worse, rewarding their thuggish tactics with false contrition. Speak the truth and stand by it.
"Appeasers believe that if you keep on throwing steaks to a tiger, the tiger will become a vegetarian." -Heywood Broun
“All over the world for a hundred years, almost, there have been people reading Dickens. In town and in country, at home and abroad, in winter with the candles lighted and the outside world forgotten; in summer beneath a shadowing tree or in a sheltered corner of the beach; in garret bedrooms, in frontier cabins, in the light of the camp fire and in the long vigil of the sickroom — people reading Dickens.
And everywhere the mind enthralled, absorbed, uplifted; the anxieties of life, the grind of poverty, the loneliness of bereavement, and the longings of exile, forgotten, conjured away, as there arises from the magic page the inner vision of the lanes and fields of England, and on the ear the murmured sounds of London, the tide washing up the Thames, and the fog falling upon Lincoln's Inn.” ― Stephen Leacock, The Pursuit of Knowledge: A Discussion of Freedom and Compulsion in Education
This image is from a scene in the 1915 novel The 39 Steps by Scottish writer John Buchan. It is an early example of the "innocent man on the run" type of adventure story. In it, the protagonist Richard Hannay has recently returned to England after living in Rhodesia for a number of years It is May 1914, war is looming, and Hannay is accosted by a stranger- Scudder- who claims to have proof that anarchists are planning to assassinate the Greek premier on his upcoming trip to London, in order to destabilise Europe. Soon afterwards, the man is murdered in Hannay's flat and Richard finds himself on the run across Britain, pursued both by the murderers/anarchists and the police, who not unnaturally think that Hannay is responsible for the body in his apartment. In the pictured scene, Hannay is attempting to make his way across a Scottish moor when he is spotted by an aeroplane which alerts the ground searchers to his location. Hannay must use all of his ingenuity to avoid arrest and keep ahead of the killers while he works to find evidence of the assassination plot Scudder warned him about, and to clear his own name.
In these chapters the weeks and months which Valancy have left are slipping away in a daze of happiness for her. This newfound joy and contentment manifests itself in Valancy outwardly as well as inwardly. Part of this outward change is, of course, the difference that flattering clothes and a complimentary hairstyle can make... also the benefit of plenty of fresh air and exercise. But this change is also a result of Valancy's altered demeanor; her new life has given her an air of self-confidence and happiness instead of the downtrodden, repressed attitude she used to project. This change is so great that at one point her Uncle Benjamin passes her on the street without even recognising her. And Allan Tierney, painter of beautiful women, wishes to have her sit for him- Valancy, previously considered one of the plainest women in Deerwood. As Barney tells her when she expresses her astonishment, she's remembering how she looked- and acted- "in the days when your soul was not allowed to shine through..." The change in Valancy has been extreme, but Barney has evidently changed as well. A loner for years, he is suddenly a husband sharing his isolated life with a wife whom he bluntly told at the outset of their marriage that he didn't love. He married Valancy as an act of kindness, and was no doubt resolved to make the best of the situation and make Valancy as happy as possible through the remainder of her life. It's obvious however, that the best of the situation is pretty darn good; I discussed in my post about chapters 29-31 how Barney has obviously come to appreciate the benefits of having a wife making a home for him. What's obvious through these chapters is how much he's come to enjoy having Valancy as a companion to share books and conversations- and silences- with. They are practically alone together for months on end during the stormy winter yet never grow bored and weary of each other's company. And Valancy notices that Barney laughs a great deal more than he used to, and that his laugh is now free of the undertone of cynicism that it frequently had previously. Despite these observations, at the back of Valancy's mind lurks a niggling fear that Barney is just making the best of it out of charity. She tells herself that she doesn't need Barney to love her- in fact, it's best that he doesn't or her inevitable death would cause him pain. But she would like to believe that he truly likes her and will miss her as one would a good friend and companion. Her fears on this subject are finally put to rest one night in the late spring as they sit on a broken down fence watching the sunset and Barney tells her that she's such a nice person that he sometimes thinks that he's dreamed her up- she's almost too nice to be real. Perhaps being called "nice" by the man you love isn't what most women would dream of, but it relieves Valancy's greatest dread: not death, but the thought that Barney might secretly be a bit relieved when she's gone. Now she knows for sure that he likes her and will remember her fondly, something that can't be said of anyone else- even her family.
"We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! we may conjecture many things." -John Wesley Powell
“Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.” – Blaise Pascal
"He was about to celebrate the founding of our nation, the nation which had provided such a bounteous life for him and his.”
In honour of our neighbours to the south on their Independence Day, I'm paying homage to Jean Shepherd's tale of a glorious 4th found in his 1966 novel In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. The stories contained in this book are all adapted from ones he told on his radio program, and his one about a memorable July 4th is entitled "Ludlow Kissel and the Dago Bomb That Struck Back." In it, the narrator's childhood neighbour Ludlow Kissel decides to blow the rest of the town's firework displays away- literally- by purchasing the largest firework in existence: the Dago Bomb. Some people swear after the event that it wasn't a firework at all, but rather a mortar shell. "He had disappeared into his house to prepare for his massive statement of patriotism..."
Unfortunately, Kissel is also the town drunk and having an inebriated man lighting a massive incendiary device ends about as well as you might expect... Kissel manages to point the thing at his own house where it explodes his porch into matchsticks and destroys a rose trellis before roaring over the roof and coming to rest under another neighbours car, which is then blown sky-high:
Kissel slowly pulled himself to his knees and made his statement which is even today part of the great legend that is Ludlow Kissel: "My god, what a doozy." Kissel had said it for all of us. As the crowd slowly got to its feet amid the quiet tinkling of glass and the heavy sensual smell of oxidized dynamite they were aware -- to a man -- aware that they had been witness to history.
Oh- FYI, the title of this post is the title of the filmed version of this story from the 1980's, which can be viewed on YouTube. It stars a young Matt Dillon.
The new year brings with it a couple of months of bad storms and Valancy and Barney are often cabin-bound, though they don't mind. Barney spends a number of hours a day in the locked room, but they spend every evening together reading, or talking and laughing- and have an occasional mild spat to keep things interesting. Roaring Abel occasionally comes by with his fiddle for an evening of music, or to spend an evening playing checkers and smoking cigars with Barney. The Stirlings are grateful for the weather because it means that there is less chance of meeting the shameless pair in town. The only one concerned is Cousin Georgiana, who worries anxiously that Valancy, who was always prone to winter colds, may not be warm enough at night in the old cabin on the island. Valancy meanwhile has not had a cold all winter and is snug as a bug at nights in the bed she shares with Barney, from which she can look out a window at the frozen Mistawis, glowing in the moonlight. Late in March, most of the snow has melted away and Barney sets out alone one afternoon to go for a hike deep into the woods. While he's gone a late winter storm blows in, one of the worst of the winter. Night falls and Valancy spends in huddled before the fire, imagining the worst. It is noon the next day when Barney appears out of the trees on the mainland and makes his way across the snow covered ice to the cabin. Valancy's knees give way beneath her and Barney finds her sitting with her face in her hands. She tells him that she thought he was dead and he laughs, pointing out that he survived two years in the Klondike. He tells her that he made his way to an old logging shack and spent the night there, obviously getting more sleep than she had. Valancy tells him that when she saw him emerge from the woods, she felt like she had died and then suddenly been reborn.
With the arrival of spring, Barney and Valancy resume their woodland treks; the blossoming flora often moving Valancy to quote John Foster, much to Barney's exasperation. They also resume their trips into town, much to the dismay of the Stirling clan. On one occasion Valancy, idly shopping while she waits for Barney to finish some errand, passes Uncle Benjamin on the street. He has gone two blocks before he realises that the girl with rosy cheeks and laughing eyes and modern bob was Valancy. She looks so different that he hadn't even recognised her. One day, Valancy is out in the woods gathering mayflowers when she comes upon an elderly man whom she realises must be Allan Tierney, a celebrated American painter who she's heard keeps a cabin on the Mistawis. After passing him, Valancy can't resist shyly glancing back over her shoulder for another look at the famous artist. He looks back and his eyes light up at the sight of Valancy with her arms overflowing with flowers, against a backdrop of sunlit pines. The next day when she returns from another flower gathering excursion, Barney tells her that he's had a visit from Tierney, who wanted permission to paint Valancy. The shock causes her to drop her flowers: "But--but--" stammered Valancy, "Allan Tierney never paints any but--any but--" "Beautiful women," finished Barney. "Conceded. Q. E. D., Mistress Barney Snaith is a beautiful woman." "Nonsense," said Valancy, stooping to retrieve her arbutus. "You know that's nonsense, Barney. I know I'm a heap better-looking than I was a year ago, but I'm not beautiful." "Allan Tierney never makes a mistake," said Barney. "You forget, Moonlight, that there are different kinds of beauty. Your imagination is obsessed by the very obvious type of your cousin Olive. Oh, I've seen her--she's a stunner--but you'd never catch Allan Tierney wanting to paint her. In the horrible but expressive slang phrase, she keeps all her goods in the shop-window. But in your subconscious mind you have a conviction that nobody can be beautiful who doesn't look like Olive. Also, you remember your face as it was in the days when your soul was not allowed to shine through it. Tierney said something about the curve of your cheek as you looked back over your shoulder. You know I've often told you it was distracting. And he's quite batty about your eyes. If I wasn't absolutely sure it was solely professional--he's really a crabbed old bachelor, you know--I'd be jealous." "Well, I don't want to be painted," said Valancy. "I hope you told him that." "I couldn't tell him that. I didn't know what you wanted. But I told him I didn't want my wife painted--hung up in a salon for the mob to stare at. Belonging to another man. For of course I couldn't buy the picture. So even if you had wanted to be painted, Moonlight, your tyrannous husband would not have permitted it. Tierney was a bit squiffy. He isn't used to being turned down like that. His requests are almost like royalty's."
Though Valancy has no desire to be painted, she can't suppress a wish that her cousin Olive could know that Allan Tierney had wanted to do a painting of her.
In May, Valancy and Barney are returning from one of their treks and climb up on an old wooden fence to watch the sunset. As they quietly sit hand in hand watching the sun sink behind the hills, Valancy feels a curious sense of oneness with Barney, who must have a similar thought because he breaks the silence: "You nice little thing," said Barney suddenly. "Oh, you nice little thing! Sometimes I feel you're too nice to be real--that I'm just dreaming you." This statement fills Valancy with happiness because it confirms to her that Barney does indeed like her. She's always been a bit worried in the back of her mind that he's just being kind to her, wanting her to be happy in her last year of life but secretly looking forward to being independent again. His words put this worry to rest, and Valancy thinks that now she can die happy and fulfilled. It also occurs to her that she hasn't had a heart attack in a while- not since a day or two before Barney was caught in the storm at the end of March. She decides that this probably means that her body has stopped fighting her illness and the end is drawing near; the year that Dr Trent had said she probably had left will soon be over. She vows that she will remember Barney throughout eternity, and that he really, truly liked her.