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November 15, 1941 - Image 3

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1941-11-15

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THE THREE RAVENS
by Gerald Burns

F OR A LONG TIME before it actu-
ally happened, they knew that
the nie, white-haired old lady
was going to die. When they
came into the house they walked silently
on rubber-soled shoes, and going up the
stairs they let their soft, sympathetic
hands roll along the polish of the ban-
nister. When they got to their rooms
they were careful not to slam doors so
that the walls would not tremble and
annoy the poor old soul lying downstairs
in her bed, her white-sheeted with homey
.quilted red. and white blankets bed. If
they met in the hall (at least, the two
of them) they would stop and whisper
to each other sadly, "I guess she's nearly
gone, poor thing. Poor soul."
There was, first of all, the German in-
structor. He had the back room, the
small, squared off space with two win-
dows looking back over the garage. On
the walls of this lovely room there were
pictures which he had clipped from var-
ious art books and magazines; and in
one corner of the room he had his li-
brary, two book cases set next to each
other at an angle to form a sort of cozy
corner. On the desk were his ink wells
(red for the examination papers and
rich blue for hiscasual writing. Purple
for the special stationery), his pens,
rubber bands, pencils and scratch pa-
per. Over the door leading into his
clothes cloet he had hung a fragment
of a large tapestry, beautifully colored
yet dignified with the stains of age.
In the front room, the large room
which extended across the entire width
of the house, was the sophomore who
had moved out of hisfraternity because
of the noise. There is nothing to say
about him except that he was large and
a very nice chap. He read occasionally,
borrowing books from the German in-
structor.
The suite at the side of the house,
comprising one large room with a small
annex called a bedroom, was occupied
by Mr. Webb, the graduate student. He
had two book cases full of books which
he liked to see but which he seldom read.
Neither the German instructor nor the
sophomore liked him. He was, in a pe-
culiar sense, strange and not one to be
trusted.
DURING THE ILLNESS the German
instructor and the sophomore were
unusually careful, of course, not to
write on their typewriters, for the clack-
ing jsr of the keys shook the walls, fra-
gile, and old and dry. Downstairs that
noise would go, down through the side of
the house and into the dark room where
the puffy dry lady lay with her medi-
cines that smelled of real death. The
German instructor was careful now to
have all his examination papers cor-
rected in the afternoon so that his mov-
ing around would stop early and so that
the old lady would get plenty of healthy
sleep, even if she was going to die. You
can't do too much for the sick and aged,
you know. And when he jauntily visited
the German Inn (band every Friday and
Saturday night) he would make a sin-
cere effort to return to his room early,
before she had fallen asleep. But he was
such a tall, lanky sort ofchap that he
would make noise even when he tried to
be quiet. Stumbling on the stairs, knock-
ing against doors, apologizing in his
genuine British accent-pleasant to
hear if you were healthy.
Now the sophomore was overly solici-
tous of the progress of the good woman's
illness. When the doctor came in the
morning and afternoon during that last
week he would stop him and ask in half
a whisper, "How is Mrs. Gauss doing?"
The doctor didn't mind telling him, but
he was careful always to rub one fatty-
pink tipped finger over the bulbousness
of his lower lip (just as they are always
doing in the movies) before he spoke.
This impressed the sophomore, who had
never been nearer to death than this be-

fore in his life. An aunt of his had
died five years ago, but he had seldom
seen her in life. In fact, he wasn't at all
certain for a long time of which aunt
it had been; for he was so young then.
But about this pleasant, white-haired
old woman-well, he was greatly con-
cerned. There was no intimate bond be-
tween them, but the sophomore knew'
that one man's death diminished his
life.
No man, he realized, is a peninsula.
THERE WERE GOOD REASONS for
the dislike which the German in-
structor and the sophomore had for the
graduate student. -He said, without any
nonsense about it, that it meant nothing
to him whether or not the old lady died.
"It will," he admitted grudgingly, "mean

of wet thread on the yellow ivory of his
head, came sometimes to sit beside her
in the room. If she was conscious he
might say, "Mr. Wilde asked about you
today," smiling so that his false teeth
showed up beautifully, slips of spark-
ling porcelain laid in two rows under
his lips. And Mrs. Gauss would smile as
best she could, though she was on the
point of death, "Tell him I am as well
a's the Lord wants me to be." She knew
herself, though that her death was an
impossibility, ridiculous. At anyrate,
the two of them, man and wife for thirty
years, would quietly hold hands, think-
ing of Lord knows what. Maybe of the
life behind them and the bed usmade,
or of the simple chandelier or of the
doctor bills that were coming. When her

maker politely inquired what good quiet
would be to a dying woman, especially
one under the influence of a strong seda-
tive; and the German instructor indig-
nantly went back to his room. That
same evening he wrote, in violent long-
lrand, an essay which he was tempted to
entitle The Inhumanity of Mani tiMau.
Mr. Wilde, the sophomore, a qualified
fraternity man, as first tried to approach
the graduate student on the basis of
good fellowship. He knocked on the
door one of those last nighs and came
into the room with a cigarette held be-
tween his fingers. Mr. Webb recognized
him courteously enough but made no ef-
fort to rise from the chair on which he
was sitting, working in front of his type-
writer..
"Look, Webb," Mr. Wilde said graci-
ously, "I know how you feel about the
whole business, but how about giving the
old gal a break?" He was smiling. "She's
probably going to die, and the least we
can do is to be quiet for a couple of days.
I don't mind the noise myself, of course,
but it makes her nervous."
"That would be unfortunate if it were
true," Mr. Webb said, not lifting his
fingers from the keys, "but I have work
to do."
This angered the fraternity brother,
and he drew his eyebrows up into a look
of extreme seriousness. "Look here now,
fellow," he said brusquely, "you can't
go around always doing what you want-
to do. There are other people in the
world, you know."
"I'm busy," Mr. Webb told him.
The fraternity brother glared viciously
at him and left the room, slamming the'
door so that the old walls shook and
caused Mrs. Gauss downstairs to draw
her own brow up into an expression of
pain. Her.husband, who had been sit-
ting beside her in the yellow light of the
'night lamp, took one of her hands in
his and rubbed the wrist. "You'll ask him
to leave when you get well," he said con-
solingly. Mrs. Gauss smiled.
MRS. GAUSS' HEART beat with
greater and greater difficulty until
the doctor was forced to admit to her
husband that the possibility of a re-
covery was almost nonexistent. He told
this to Mr. Gauss while the two of them
were standing in the living room amid
the confusion of red padded back chairs
and spindle legged tables and artificial
peonies, told him talking over his pink
tipped fingers to the floor, then packed
his bag with all the small things which
he had removed and left.
Mr: Gauss dropped onto a couch and
put his head into his hands. After a
while he began to weep, the saltiness of
tears rolling like a warm sea down over
his parched cheek and onto his lips. He
blew his nose into his handkerchief and
tried to pray, knelt in a fury of passion
on the rug before the couch and turned
his fade toward the ceiling. "Oh, Al-
mighty, Merciful God in Heaven," he
cried to himself. "Do not take her away
from us. She is good and kind. We love
her. Please, God-Please." Then he was
so overcome that his head dropped onto
the cushions of the couch, and he con-
tinued to weep until the nurse, going to,
the kitchen for some water, saw him and
persuaded him to eat a plateful of bacon
and eggs. He wept, though, even into
his food.
Mr. Wilde, to whom the terrible truth
was told the same evening, was pro-
foundly shocked. He bit at his lower
lip and pounded one fist into the other,
rubbing the knuckles with the palm of
his other hand. "I guess we all have to
take it some time," he consoled Mr..
Gauss, touching the unhappy old man
on the arm. "It just happens that way."
Then he left, feeling his feet like leaden
weights.
The German instructor and Mr. Webb
reacted to the news somewhat less in-
(Continued on Page Four)

Illustrted by CLIFF GRAHAM

some temporary inconvenience to me;
but that is all. What else?" Now, there
is no hard and fast answer to such a
question, but the old lady was such -a
sweet thing. She used to bring them all
cookies when she baked-three warm,
raisin centered cookies in a white china
saucer. The German instructor once
asked her for the recipe.
She was dy4ig now all right. Lying
downstairs in her room, in the room
which had kept her body for thirty years,
ever since the house had been built. Her
old face was blue where the shadows
struck, aud her hands, which lay like
withered fruits on the whiteness of the
turned down sheeting, were ridged with
blue, pulpy veins. Sometimes she
moaned and looked with heavy eyes
around the ceiling, stared at the simple
chandelier or turned her head sideways
and tried to read without her glasses the
writing on the sides of the brown medi-
cine bottles. Her husband, a small man
with white-blond hair plastered like lines

pains became so intense than another
drug injection was.necessary, hr. Gauss
would kiss her on the forehead (with
a tiny tear globe clinging'in the corner
of his eye) and leave the room.
ON THE SECOND FLOOR during
those last days a minor crisis de-.
veloped. The German instructor and
the sophomore aligned against the grad-
uate student. There would be a casual
talk between them, of course, for neither
the instructor nor the sophomore had
quite the courage to pass the graduate
student without recognizing him; but it
was intended that he notice the calm
disgust they felt for him. The German
instructor went so far as to knock in-
cautiously on his door one night when
he was typing on the clacking machine
(which sent noise down through the
side of the house into the old woman's
room) to ask him, in a well modulated
voice, to be a bit more quiet for the sake
of Mrs. Gauss, who was dying. The noise

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