Original cover and frontispiece to Cash section of Red Clay Reader, Vol. 4, 1967, both pieces by Lee Stewart & Tom Walters; Editor: Charleen Swansea Whisnant; Note of interest: Harriet Doar, a contemporary of Cash at the Charlotte News in the late 30's and a poet who would later become literary editor of the News and then the Charlotte Observer, was on the editorial staff of the Reader. (The Reader was published as a hardcover literary magazine from 1964 to 1970 to provide an absent outlet for creative writing in North Carolina. For a short history of the Reader, visit http://www.unc.edu/lib/mssinv/pub.html, the online Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina.) (Thanks to Paul G. for the original copy of The Red Clay Reader.)
To read about other facts related to the death of W. J. Cash which cast doubt on the suicide premise, read Caso de Homicidio or Felo de Se, also available at this site. For a short, intriguing article by Cash on the ineffectiveness of the Nazi spy network in America and the greater danger posed by Nazi "flirtations" with Mexico, see "Nazi Spies in America" - Charlotte News - January 29, 1939. See also a series of Charlotte News articles on Mexico City, April 18-23, 1941, by syndicated columnist Raymond Clapper.
And as to the policemen's whistles of which Mary makes mention, as did Cash in his unpublished last article, "Report from Mexico", see for higher learning, "Testimony Taken by the Joint Select Committee [of Congress] to Inquire into the Condition of Affairs in the Late Insurrectionary States, Alabama, Volume X," Government Printing Office, Washington, 1872. (Full testimony begins at page 1405 of linked text, to which the reader will have to navigate backwards from the above-linked page 1487.) And further such esoterica in "Volume IX" (see also pages 729, 731, 868, 869, 920, 952, 1005, 1007, 1198, 1232, 1238, 1259, 1266, 1273, 1284, 1292, and 1305); "Mississippi, Vol XI", (see also page 142), and "Volume XII", (see also pages 856, 858, 1156, and 1159-1165, (note that "J.Q.C. Lamar" mentioned in the disturbance at pp. 1160-61 is actually L.Q.C. Lamar, (see Vol. XI, p. 239), a practicing lawyer at the time in Oxford, who would, having originally opposed secession but wound up drafting the Mississippi ordinance of secession in 1861, in 1873 be elected to Congress, in 1877 to the Senate, serve as Grover Cleveland's Secretary of Interior until 1888 when Cleveland appointed him to the United States Supreme Court--one of only two Democrats, (the other being Fuller, C.J., also in 1888), so appointed between 1863 and 1893--where he served until his death in 1893, recognized in the end as a strong proponent of North-South reconciliation--(but query was this so-called reconciliation, as he voted with the unanimous Court on the now well-known (should-be, anyway) McPherson v Blacker States' rights case of 1892, which laid the groundwork for the non-unanimous, better-known Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, (after Lamar, J., deceased), the type of reconciliation birthed in the closing scenes of "Birth of a Nation", that film of films seen at the behest of Cleveland-Taft appointee and Klucker, Edward White, C.J., by all of Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court in the Senate chamber in 1915? well--some film, some unity) [see The Mind of the South, Book II, Chap. II, section 13, p. 182 and Book III, Chap. III, section 10, pp. 375-76, 1941 ed.])); "Florida, Volume XIII"; "Georgia, Volume VI", (see also page 583), and "Volume VII", (see also page 848); "South Carolina, Volume V", (see also pages 1284, 1373, 1374, 1460, 1849, and 1945), "Volume IV" (see also pages 882, 883, and 948), and "Volume III" (see also pages 277, 281, 327, 329, and 385); and "North Carolina, Volume II", (see also page 437); if Cash ever read this testimony, (which almost indubitably he did, see William Garrott Brown, "The Ku Klux Movement", Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 87, Issue 523, Boston, May, 1901, pp. 634-644 and mention of "John Garrott Brown" in Mind, Bk. III, Chap. II, p. 322 and Klan discussion at pp. 335-337), he would have taken special note as it not only related to Cleveland County in 1871 but indicated violence by the Klan against whites who bore family names which later would marry into the Cash and Hamrick families.
Go to Three Other Red Clay Reader Articles by Joseph L. Morrison, et. al
The Suicide of W. J. Cash
by MARY CASH MAURY
(Reprinted from the Red Clay Reader, Vol. 4, 1967)
ON MARCH 3, 1941, we were in Atlanta (the only city where Cash's new book was a strong seller) at an author's luncheon given by the book department of Rich's Department Store. Ralph McGill was there, as he remembered later in his paper (Atlanta Constitution, March, 1948): "I recall having lunch in Atlanta one day with W. J. Cash of Charlotte, who had just published a really fine study of the South, called The Mind of the South. He had spent five or six years of patient research. He too [comparing Cash's suicide with Ross Lockridge's] was tired and wretched, though the critics were all kind. He was off to Mexico City . . . and it was there that, by his own contrivance, he went stumbling into eternity."
The apparent "wretchedness" remembered by Mr.McGill was no more than Cash's normal lack of buoyance in the presence of a gathering of strangers. He was naturally shy at a "party" and usually spoke only when spoken to. Moreover, he had that morning fought through a spasm of violent coughing and choking while Frank Daniel of the Atlanta Journal was interviewing him at the hotel, and was afraid of a recurrence "before all those people." I had to carry to the luncheon in my purse a bottle of Cash's trusted patent cough remedy, Brown Mixture.
Afterward, Margaret Mitchell and her husband, John Marsh, took us to the old Piedmont Driving Club for drinks, and in that more relaxed atmosphere Cash became his natural self again and the talk was fast and funny. Much of it was on the naive Yankee faith in the authenticity of the Southern Legend which Cash had written of with a grin at the beginning of The Mind of the South and which the creator of Gone With the Wind owned to having furthered unwittingly. She had searched for years, she said, through attic trunks and literary basements, and uncovered the existence of exactly one pretentious columned mansion in pre-"War" Georgia; that she had deliberately settled on it for "Tara" as the right sort of showcase for an Irish nouveau. To her glee, the whole reading world and not merely the Yankees in it insisted on accepting it as the archetype of the houses of well-to-do Southern planters before Sherman's March to the Sea. Those two Southern authorities began matching stories of what it was really like in the Old South, and, differently as their books had pictured it, no battles were joined, no issues had to be settled, neither took his stand for Dixieland--and the Scotch was good. It was delightful.
On our return to Charlotte we found that Cash had been granted a Guggenheim Fellowship with a year's allowance of a then princely $2,000. His project, as indicated in his application, was to be a novel dealing with a family managing or owning textile mills, a "cottonmill crowd" like some of his own. It was planned to be the first of a trilogy covering three generations. Since Europe was at war, he decided we should spend the fellowship year in Mexico where the peso would buy a dollar's worth of goods and services and where one dollar would buy five pesos. Cash's parents were frightened at the prospect of his long absence thousands of miles away, but we knew they would be equally distressed if he had selected Oklahoma. I myself was in some doubt about Mexico, but only because I could not foresee finding there much in the way of research materials dealing with the American South. And I did want to see Mexico and see it with Cash, so I kept quiet. Further, I knew that my speaking out would have made no difference. Mexico was what he wanted.
In the midst of the excitement over the Guggenheim (when a friend's father reported authoritatively that The Mind of the South had been "sold to Hollywood") Cash received an innkeeper's brochure from Guadalajara, urging him in a letter of transmittal to work out his project there in the innkeeper's own"writer's paradise." The monthly rate for the cottages was too high for us to do anything but whistle disbelievingly, but we were surprised at the curious aptness of the mailing. His plan for Mexico had not been announced. We made some jokes about an efficient Nazi spy ring
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seeking vengeance for his years of anti-Nazi editorials and Cash certainly took the coincidence as a joke at the time, but he may have filed it away in the back of his mind where it could have awaited its release during his later delusions in Mexico City. When he received an invitation from Dr. Homer Rainey, the president of the University of Texas, to make the commencement address there that June of 1941, it began to seem that Mexico City had been in the cards all along because the fee for the address would almost get us there. Austin was only slightly out of the way, if we went by San Antonio and Laredo.
Our last few days in Charlotte were a whirl of work and pressure--Cash deep in the commencement address, a side trip to Shelby for farewells to the senior Cashes, to Chapel Hill to see my mother and let Cash address a group of young journalists. Then the associate editor of The Charlotte News officially resigned from the paper, we sold our phonograph records, packed our few clothes and some books into my old school trunk, and were off. We took a streamliner daycoach to New Orleans, staying, predictably, at the St. Charles and lunching at Antoine's. It was a simple lunch but Cash could not keep it down. He was really ill in that damp heat and the ceiling fans failed to help. The sidewalk radios were blaring out "Hut sut rawlson on the rillerah, and
Jack and Mary Cash shortly before they left for Mexico.
a brawla brawla soo-it,"  and Cash said, "That's just what I feel like--a brawla brawla soo-it." On the train to Texas he had a curious and violent fit of anger, stamping a newspaper on the floor and biting his hands. It was quickly over, but he could not remember what caused it and I was puzzled and alarmed.
I was also nervous about the commencement address, but Cash was more tired and depressed than nervous. Because he sometimes had a frightening closure of the throat when he would become guttural and hard to understand, I was afraid it might occur on the rostrum. At the University, where Dr. and Mrs. Rainey were charming, Cash, the ex-teacher, was enormously heartened at being once again with faculty people. Then, too, the Driskill Hotel was a Texas pioneer in air conditioning, and the coolness there made Cash feel a little better. On the outdoor platform before about thirteen hundred graduates that second of June,1941, he spoke on "The South in a Changing World." His was the only brown-wren gown on the platform, as he had grinningly told me it would be, because his only degree was the unimpressive bachelor's. I am told he did not stick to his script and adlibbed with less than impressive results. I scarcely followed his meaning, noting only that he spoke clearly throughout. As he talked it was being recorded, and the University later sent me a copy of that recording, to which I listened--just once--and could detect no noticeable departure from the material he had prepared. Many letters commenting on that talk arrived in Mexico too late for Cash ever to see them, and I would never have guessed from them that he had been "less than impressive."
The train trip along the spine of Mexico was long and exhausting, two days and nights, as I recall it. We went to the popular pension of a handsome old widow who dosed us, sent us to bed, and gave us the classic advice to newcomers to that lofty, beautiful, and unhygienic old city (nothing to drink, cook it before you eat it). In a few days she found us a small apartment off the Paseo de la Reforma, close to the hill topped by Chapultepec Palace. It was then a newish neighborhood on the edge of the advancing city, the area of streets named for rivers (ours was the Calle Rio de la Plata). The little apartment was furnished in an impersonal denationalized sort of way, and we thought the furniture and the house--built flush with the street and around a flowered court--had been designed for midgets. The manager was an eighteen-year-old Indian girl with enough English to direct us to the markets and to a maid, tiny
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Sacramento, who lived with her tiny husband and their infinitesimal baby in a lean-to against the back wall of the house.
Right away we made our way to the sidewalk vegetable displays and the meat markets (a chicken-wing store next to a chicken-breast store facing the filet mignon store across the alley) and bought a market basket. We filled it with cheap bright pottery dishes, unknown vegetables and, for about fifteen cents, the filet mignons of Argentine beef. Cash minded not at all that he was openly laughed at for his lack of machismo in carrying his wife's purchases. The mysterious vegetables I dubiously threw into a pot with a few bones, and the brew turned into a delicious Everlasting Soup that was added to but never grew less. Sacramento, whom Cash called the Holy Spirit, taught me to use oil and garlic in cooking frijoles, which we liked so well we even had them for breakfast.
The soup was a boon to me because, in a state of chronic internal upset and dizziness from the altitude, I was having little interest in haute cuisine. Cash was in even worse shape than I with diarrhea and nausea. Sleep came easily but was light and unrefreshing. Our neighborhood, deserted at night, was patrolled by policemen who signaled one another (for reassurance,we thought) by whistling in a minor key eerie little scalp prickling tunes on what sounded like reed pipes. We did climb pantingly up to the Palace under trees that awed us, past old stone gods being eyed by small still people whose lids never blinked, up to the lovely Union-League-Club seat of Maximilian and Carlota. But we did relatively little sight-seeing for lack of energy. Even the excellent beer did not taste right to Cash.
Nor did his work prosper. He could not accommodate his fingers to the small keyboard of the new portable typewriter he had bought in San Antonio. While I was brushing up on Spanish grammar and vocabulary I would hear a peck, another peck, then a jangled chord of pecks as the keys jammed when he speeded up, followed by his howled "goddam"--and I knew he was biting his hands. He was also frustrated by his inability to remember even one word of Spanish. In his European summer of 1927 he had been able to get along passably in French and German, but in that Mexican summer of 1941 nothing seemed to go right. He could not concentrate on his work because of his trouble in adjusting to an alien speech, food, customs,water, air, currency, and to the unshakable diarrhea that sapped his strength. A couple from San Antonio lived upstairs and were invariably kind and helpful. I still have the little guidebook with my penciled notes of their valuable tips, but Cash could absorb none of this information and it worried and frightened him.
THEN CAME THE NIGHT of Monday, June 30. Cash asked me if I could hear those people talking outside. We were sitting in our small foyer-dining room which gave onto the street entrance of the apartment house. We had often heard people talking in the hallway outside, and I assumed he was hearing them now. He did not then show any fear, only seemed to be deliberately and intently eavesdropping. Then he started whispering the substance of their talk: they were Nazis planning to kill one or both of us. I stood as still as I have ever stood, straining to hear, and heard nothing whatever. It was a nightmare moment in which I thought the trouble was with me, not Cash, and not until he began pushing furniture against the locked door did I realize that the "voices" were all in his own mind.
I tried to reason with him. I didn't hear any voices and, if he would think for a moment, he would realize that he didn't either. He was tired when he got to Mexico, I reminded him, and now he was sick and overwrought. Why would anyone want to kill us? He would subside a few minutes, thinking about it, but the voices would resume. Our apartment was on the ground floor front but our windows were high off the street. I pointed out that an intruder would have to climb a visible ladder to come anywhere close to a break-in, but by this time my very ill husband could hear me only intermittently through the "voices." He furtively locked the high windows from the inside, maneuvering so that only his arm would be visible, and then only momentarily, to an assassin in the street outside.
Alarmed as I was, I became really terrified when he located the only possible weapon we had, a sharp carving knife. My own thinking had now become chaotic because he had become totally irrational and I could see no way out of this nightmare. We had no telephone, and I dared not call out for help and have Cash turn that knife on the first person to break through our door. So I tried the new tack of laughing. I called him The Terrible Turk, Wild Bill Hickok, Joan of Arc. I reminded him that he had made that little apartment a fortress so now he could put down the knife and we could eat something and go to bed. I would read to him; what would he like? At last we wearily got ready for the night and Cash picked up his Bible and said, "Read Ecclesiastes, baby." And so I read to him of there being a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to be born and a time
RED CLAY READER 10
to die; a time to kill and a time to heal. He fell asleep listening to the mighty rhythms.
Next morning, July 1, that last day, he was himself again. He remembered the whole appalling thing and he apologized, with the explanation that he had been "sick."He had had too prolonged a bout with tourist sickness, he said, and had been inordinately upset because he had not been able to order his thoughts. He readily agreed that he must see a doctor, and I left him picking at a late breakfast while I went upstairs to ask our San Antonio neighbors to refer us to a physician. I told that nice girl the whole story so she would know the kind of doctor needed--a psychiatrist or the closest thing to one. It was she who told me how extremely thankful I must be that the delusions had left him, that the mental hospitals in Mexico were worse than medieval, that the maltreatment and misery of the patients were incredible. On her telephone I called the doctor she recommended, making an appointment for two that afternoon and recounting the story of Cash's irrationality the night before. When I returned to the apartment Cash was not there. I thought he might have gone out for a walk in an effort to get a new hold on himself, but when he returned a while later I was horrified to see that he was pale and shaking, and that his delusions had returned. He had placed our papers--tourist cards, fellowship credentials, almost all our money--in a safe deposit box in a downtown bank, secure from the Nazis who were trying to kill him. I reminded him that he had already realized he had been "sick" the night before and knew there were no Nazis, but he ignored me. I told him we had an appointment with the American doctor at two o'clock, and at last he reluctantly and fearfully consented to go.
At the doctor's office he vehemently refused treatment of any kind and jerked away from the hypodermic needle like a child. He was obviously badly disturbed again, and I had to talk him into submitting to the injection, which he did unwillingly and suspiciously.I thought surely he was getting the kind of sedation that would keep him quiet until he either "came to" again or until I could make some kind of arrangement for his care, but the injection did not work that way. In addition to everything else, Cash told me as we left the doctor's office that the injection had been a poison. The doctor later identified it--and he seemed embarrassed doing so--as nothing more than one of the B vitamins.
We returned home but did not stay there because the killers were now closing in. We must go to a hotel for greater safety. After I had reconnoitered and reported that no one was lurking outside, he came out and we hurried over the block to the Paseo and caught a taxi headed downtown. I was wearing a red hat so had to crouch down on the floor of the cab because it made too good a target. It seemed to me that in that frantic afternoon we went to dozens of hotels in a frightful series of "escapes." Later, I worked out that it was four, only the last of which I can now name, the Geneve. In our room there Cash no longer thought of defending himself as he had done with the carving knife the night before, but, in a complete reversal and denial of the forty-year span of his life to that day, cowered in terror in a corner. Medieval hospitals or not, I had to get help.
Calling on the Consulate or the Embassy was the last thing I wanted to do because Cash, once normal again, would never recover from the humiliation of official action being taken for him while he was mentally unaccountable for himself. I remembered the Chief at the Associated Press bureau where we had called a few days before, and asked Cash to let me call him. No, I must not telephone because the Nazis would intercept the call. So I had to go out after the AP man as Cash locked himself into our room. When I returned with the good Ben F. Meyer and one of his AP associates, Cash had fled the hotel, alone. By now I had almost lost my own control, and it was with immeasurable relief that I heard Ben Meyer call the police. Since Cash was under the delusion that he was being pursued by Nazi killers, he could be dangerous to anyone he encountered.
The room at the Geneve began to fill. While a police alarm went out about four o'clock, I think, Ben Meyer was working at the telephone on a list of hotels where Cash might have gone. He first called the plush then-new Reforma where Cash had approved the barbershop, but neither the Reforma nor any of the others could confirm his presence there. It was nearly ten o'clock that night when Ben again called the Reforma and was told that Cash had registered. So detectives, uniformed police, some unexplained people, Ben Meyer and I set out for the hotel. My knock on Cash's door got no answer. The hotel manager, standing in the van of what I recall as a horde of silent people, refused to open the door but handed me the key. I entered the room and saw Cash hanging from the open bathroom door. He had been dead for several hours, it was later found. My scream brought the crowd inside, and then official routine took over.
Within five minutes I was telephoning reporter Pete McKnight at The Charlotte News, asking him
RED CLAY READER 11
to tell the story as gently as he could to Cash's parents, whom he knew, and to my mother through a friend. Ben Meyer's wife, blessed and sensible, stayed with me at the police station during the unreal night with the police and Mexican Intelligence, while I tried to answer their questions as courteously as they asked them. At that time Mexico City, like every neutral capital in the world, harbored an overload of authentic Nazi agents; it was on record that Cash thought he was being set on by Nazis, and the authorities took some convincing before they finally concluded that Cash's would-be "killers"were only hallucination. After being questioned all night I was called for at daybreak by a staffer from the U. S.Embassy.
The ambassador was Josephus Daniels of North Carolina, then in his eightieth year and dean of the diplomatic corps. He had been a life-long friend of my great uncle, another beautiful old man like himself. Mrs.Daniels was by birth a Bagley (my own middle name) and we were distantly related. Their son Jonathan was an acquaintance of Cash's and had sponsored his Guggenheim application. So although I had never met either of those wonderfully decorative old people they greeted me as one of their own. I think that courtly old pair who represented the United States of America and took me into their Embassy residence probably saved my own reason. I tried to write them later, went to pieces each time, and finally explained my long silence to the wise old Mrs. Daniels the following December. On that Friday before the Sunday of Pearl Harbor I was in Raleigh to accept the Mayflower Cup for literary excellence that was being awarded posthumously to Cash. There at Mrs. Daniels's own home I confessed that I was afraid of breaking down during the presentation and would prefer letting Cash's father, also in Raleigh, accept the award. She said the beautiful things that needed saying and gave me the courage to go through with the task that, fittingly, I should undertake.
On first meeting the Danielses in Mexico City I was in emotional shock and unable to cry. Mrs. Daniels was concerned, and fretted, "You should have the relief of tears, Mary Bagley." With an understanding far advanced for their generation, they undertook to divert me. They sent me to a Villa-Lobos concert at the Bellas Artes where I had the Ambassador's box in appreciated solitude. They had Patrick, their Spanish-speaking Mexican-Irish chauffeur, drive me around on a private and final sight-seeing tour, and, when I went down to police headquarters for the last official questionings, they cannily sent me in the prestigious official limousine, so inescapably embossed with the great seal of the United States. I think their wisest and most charming gesture was to seat me among the orchestra musicians--in plain view and therefore invisible--at the Embassy reception for the global diplomatic corps and Mexican officialdom on the evening of the Fourth of July.
On the morning of the Fourth the ambassador had telephoned Washington about extricating me from my"stateless" predicament; I could not leave Mexico without my tourist card, and I could not get it from the safe deposit box without having been declared Cash's executrix by a U. S. court. Through Mr. Daniels's maneuvers a document was cooked up to get me across the border, and when one of the Consulate showed it to me we both laughed. With its gaudy rosettes and inordinately fancy script it looked like my idea of a diploma from a barber college. Another problem Mr. Daniels solved was the one of my return trip with Cash's body. He suggested cremation, with the journey home to be made by air. For the first time I remembered that Cash had once remarked sourly that he would prefer cremation to embalming, as the lesser of two evils. So I flew away from Mexico on July 5, carrying an urn in my hands.
The day-to-day uncertainty of my delayed return had kept the funeral arrangements fluid in Shelby, but on Monday, July 7, Cash's funeral was held at the First Baptist Church and his ashes were later buried in Sunset Cemetery. Conducting the service was one of Cash's Hamrick cousins (his mother's family) from Charleston, South Carolina, who must have been suffering considerable embarrassment; he apologized both to God and the congregation for his cousin Wilbur's suicide. He must have read some of Cash's sharp pieces in The American Mercury, because he also apologized for Cash's having maligned so many of our South's great men and institutions, but assured those present that, in spite of it all, Wilbur had in reality been a very good boy. As it went on, my mother, a small strengthless woman, was pinning my right hand to the pew like a professional wrestler. In later years I was able to laugh, knowing how Cash himself would have whooped at it all, but at the time I was mentally outside burning down the church.
THE AGONIZED "Why?" I hardly needed to ask because I knew too well the immediate and
RED CLAY READER 12
inescapable answer: Cash had committed suicide "while of unsound mind." But--why had that brilliant mind become unhinged? --why, when he was at the peak of his days, when the success of his book had given him his first real confidence in himself and his future, when his marriage had turned out to be a thing for pretty startling enthusiasm? --why, during the first period of calm he had known for years, was it that he "--by his own contrivance, went stumbling into eternity"? I thought I knew all these answers too. I regarded him as an accidental and offshoot casualty of a distant war which had never been distant to Cash. From the time the Nazi story first began to unfold, Cash, a historian, had been able to see the whole picture while only bits of its detail were coming to light. Where the usual early reactions had been uneasiness at the situation in Europe, Cash's emotions had been bloodily torn in rage and horror, in fear for the trend of history, and in frustration at his own helplessness in the face of catastrophe no one seemed to be doing anything forceful to prevent. He had been writing savagely anti-Nazi editorials for years, he had been all but affixed to the radio for the news reports that were always bad, always left him biting his hands. It was not until the war actually began that he gained a balance, calmly finished his long-neglected book, took a wife, relaxed, looked about him and found that much of living was really avery fine thing after all. Remembering these things, it seemed to me (in my layman's terms) that all the seemingly forgotten but apparently only submerged pressures had been released by his general malaise during that unsettled month in Mexico, and the result had been an explosion of the mind. Professional analyses have since been made of possible physiological causes of his eventual breakdown and I freely concede that they may be completely accurate,but to me they have no meaning. Until that final month, in the years I had known him he did not seem to be a sick man either to me or to himself.
I only know for certain that he never, in any conscious sense, intended to commit suicide. More than most of us he disliked the thought of death, and I long before had concluded that his extreme distaste concealed an active and vivid fear of it, which I laid to his fundamentalist upbringing, his childhood exposure to finger-shaking sermons on eternal damnation and the searing fires of hell. I do not know what went on in his troubled mind after I left him cringing in fear at the Geneve, except that his mounting frenzy became so intense as to overcome his fear of death. It is all too plain that he became too distraught, too irrational, to be saved by anything so rational as the fear of death. There, to me, is the heart of the matter, and, while it has always been painful and useless, it has always been impossible not to speculate on the directions of his final delusions. Did he see himself in the hands of the Nazis, undergoing the tortures and indignities he had been reading about so long? Did he come to believe that my going out for help was in reality an act of betrayal, that I had become one of "them"? As a final irony, could his death have seemed to him a way to cheat them, to achieve victory over them out of his own defeat? No one will ever know.
In the natural mea culpa that followed, I bitterly regretted both times I had left him during those last twenty-four hours. It was while I was upstairs asking about a doctor that the delusions had returned, and it was while I had left him at the Geneve that he had fled,alone, and taken his life. I thought in anguish that I might have been his only link with reality, and that I had failed him. I asked myself what I could have done that I did not do. While he had that carving knife there had been no room for indecision. That could have been gotten through only in prayer, as it was. But during that feverish flight to the hotels, should I have tried for a halting explanation to the small Spanish-speaking cabdrivers, who most certainly would have lit out? Or to one of the small Spanish speaking traffic policemen as we passed him on the street? To the lobby desk clerks, who would call the hotel managers and almost certainly precipitate some unthinkable scene--Cash flailing at all the warily approaching "Nazis" or else breaking into still another headlong flight while being pursued in reality,with God knew what result? Should I, in any of the hotel rooms, have called the police, the Embassy, anyone, in Cash's presence, saying, "My husband has gone insane and believes some spies are trying to kill him. Please send armed help and a straitjacket." No, I could appeal only to someone he knew and trusted.That would not have been strangers from the Consulate. It meant only the AP men. Possibly my great stupidity lay in not thinking of them sooner.
Through the means of all these questions and many more I examined myself with a cold eye, long ago, and the only conclusion I ever reached was that if I had had any suspicion that Cash might be headed for suicide I might have done something differently. But I am still at a loss as to what that different course might have been.
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1 (Site editor's footnote, not part of original article): "The Hut-Sut Song (A Swedish Serenade)", by Leo Killon, Jack Owens, and Ted McMichael, goes thusly: "The 'Rawlson' is a Swedish town/ The 'Rillerah' is a stream/ The 'brawla' is the boy and girl/ The 'hut-sut' is their dream/ Hut-sut Rawlson on the Rillerah and a brawla-brawla soo-it..." (For those of Missouri origins, an original cut of the song as sung by Freddy Martin and His Orchestra, though not the only version originally released in 1941, is currently available on "Salute to the Vets of WW II", RCA Victor, 1998.) Sometimes, one must part the copse to see the trees--and then look again at the forest.
Go to Three Other Red Clay Reader Articles
Reading "Caso de Homicidio or Felo de Se"
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