/ Language: English / Genre:prose_contemporary

East of Eden

John Steinbeck

East of Eden

John Steinbeck


Pascal Covici

Dear Pat,

You came upon me carving some kind of little figure out of wood and you said, “Why don’t you make something for me?”

I asked you what you wanted, and you said, “A box.”

“What for?”

“To put things in.”

“What things?”

“Whatever you have,” you said.

Well, here’s your box. Nearly everything I have is in it, and it is not full. Pain and excitement are in it, and feeling good or bad and evil thoughts and good thoughts—the pleasure of design and some despair and the indescribable joy of creation.

And on top of these are all the gratitude and love I have for you.

And still the box is not full.



I  1

1 1

 1.1 1

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2 2

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3 3

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4 4

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5 5

6 6

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7 7

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8 8

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 8.6 6

9 9

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10 10

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11 11

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II  2

12 12

13 13

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14 14

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15 15

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16 16

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17 17

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18 18

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19 19

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20 20

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21 21

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22 22

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III  3

23 23

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24 24

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25 25

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26 26

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27 27

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28 28

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29 29

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30 30

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31 31

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32 32

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33 33

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IV  4

34 34

35 35

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36 36

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37 37

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38 38

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39 39

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40 40

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41 41

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42 42

43 43

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44 44

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45 45

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V  5

46 46

47 47

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48 48

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49 49

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50 50

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51 51

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52 52

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53 53

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54 54

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55 55

 55.1 1

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 55.3 3

Part I


Chapter 1


1.1 1

The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.

I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother. They were beckoning mountains with a brown grass love. The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding—unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east. Where I ever got such an idea I cannot say, unless it could be that the morning came over the peaks of the Gabilans and the night drifted back from the ridges of the Santa Lucias. It may be that the birth and death of the day had some part in my feeling about the two ranges of mountains.

From both sides of the valley little streams slipped out of the hill canyons and fell into the bed of the Salinas River. In the winter of wet years the streams ran full-freshet, and they swelled the river until sometimes it raged and boiled, bank full, and then it was a destroyer. The river tore the edges of the farm lands and washed whole acres down; it toppled barns and houses into itself, to go floating and bobbing away. It trapped cows and pigs and sheep and drowned them in its muddy brown water and carried them to the sea. Then when the late spring came, the river drew in from its edges and the sand banks appeared. And in the summer the river didn’t run at all above ground. Some pools would be left in the deep swirl places under a high bank. The tules and grasses grew back, and willows straightened up with the flood debris in their upper branches. The Salinas was only a part-time river. The summer sun drove it underground. It was not a fine river at all, but it was the only one we had and so we boasted about it—how dangerous it was in a wet winter and how dry it was in a dry summer. You can boast about anything if it’s all you have. Maybe the less you have, the more you are required to boast.

The floor of the Salinas Valley, between the ranges and below the foothills, is level because this valley used to be the bottom of a hundred-mile inlet from the sea. The river mouth at Moss Landing was centuries ago the entrance to this long inland water. Once, fifty miles down the valley, my father bored a well. The drill came up first with topsoil and then with gravel and then with white sea sand full of shells and even pieces of whalebone. There were twenty feet of sand and then black earth again, and even a piece of redwood, that imperishable wood that does not rot. Before the inland sea the valley must have been a forest. And those things had happened right under our feet. And it seemed to me sometimes at night that I could feel both the sea and the redwood forest before it.

On the wide level acres of the valley the topsoil lay deep and fertile. It required only a rich winter of rain to make it break forth in grass and flowers. The spring flowers in a wet year were unbelievable. The whole valley floor, and the foothills too, would be carpeted with lupins and poppies. Once a woman told me that colored flowers would seem more bright if you added a few white flowers to give the colors definition. Every petal of blue lupin is edged with white, so that a field of lurins is more blue than you can imagine. And mixed with these were splashes of California poppies. These too are of a burning color—not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise a cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies. When their season was over the yellow mustard came up and grew to a great height. When my grandfather came into the valley the mustard was so tall that a man on horseback showed only his head above the yellow flowers. On the uplands the grass would be strewn with buttercups, with hen-and-chickens, with black-centered yellow violets. And a little later in the season there would be red and yellow stands of Indian paintbrush. These were the flowers of the open places exposed to the sun.

Under the live oaks, shaded and dusky, the maidenhair flourished and gave a good smell, and under the mossy banks of the water courses whole clumps of five-fingered ferns and goldy-backs hung down. Then there were harebells, tiny lanterns, cream white and almost sinful looking, and these were so rare and magical that a child, finding one, felt singled out and special all day long.

When June came the grasses headed out and turned brown, and the hills turned a brown which was not brown but a gold and saffron and red—an indescribable color. And from then on until the next rains the earth dried and the streams stopped. Cracks appeared on the level ground. The Salinas River sank under its sand. The wind blew down the valley, picking up dust and straws, and grew stronger and harsher as it went south. It stopped in the evening. It was a rasping nervous wind, and the dust particles cut into a man’s skin and burned his eyes. Men working in the fields wore goggles and tied handkerchiefs around their noses to keep the dirt out.

The valley land was deep and rich, but the foothills wore only a skin of topsoil no deeper than the grass roots; and the farther up the hills you went, the thinner grew the soil, with flints sticking through, until at the brush line it was a kind of dry flinty gravel that reflected the hot sun blindingly.

I have spoken of the rich years when the rainfall was plentiful. But there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley. The water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet and wonderful years when there might be nineteen to twenty-five inches of rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then would come six or seven pretty good years of twelve to sixteen inches of rain. And then the dry years would come, and sometimes there would be only seven or eight inches of rain. The land dried up and the grasses headed out miserably a few inches high and great bare scabby places appeared in the valley. The live oaks got a crusty look and the sagebrush was gray. The land cracked and the springs dried up and the cattle listlessly nibbled dry twigs. Then the farmers and the ranchers would be filled with disgust for the Salinas Valley. The cows would grow thin and sometimes starve to death. People would have to haul water in barrels to their farms just for drinking. Some families would sell out for nearly nothing and move away. And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.

1.2 2

And that was the long Salinas Valley. Its history was like that of the rest of the state. First there were Indians, an inferior breed without energy, inventiveness, or culture, a people that lived on grubs and grasshoppers and shellfish, too lazy to hunt or fish. They ate what they could pick up and planted nothing. They pounded bitter acorns for flour. Even their warfare was a weary pantomime.

Then the hard, dry Spaniards came exploring through, greedy and realistic, and their greed was for gold or God. They collected souls as they collected jewels. They gathered mountains and valleys, rivers and whole horizons, the way a man might now gain title to building lots. These tough, dried-up men moved restlessly up the coast and down. Some of them stayed on grants as large as principalities, given to them by Spanish kings who had not the faintest idea of the gift. These first owners lived in poor feudal settlements, and their cattle ranged freely and multiplied. Periodically the owners killed the cattle for their hides and tallow and left the meat to the vultures and coyotes.

When the Spaniards came they had to give everything they saw a name. This is the first duty of any explorer—a duty and a privilege. You must name a thing before you can note it on your hand-drawn map. Of course they were religious people, and the men who could read and write, who kept the records and drew the maps, were the tough untiring priests who traveled with the soldiers. Thus the first names of places were saints’ names or religious holidays celebrated at stopping places. There are many saints, but they are not inexhaustible, so that we find repetitions in the first namings. We have San Miguel, St. Michael, San Ardo, San Bernardo, San Benito, San Lorenzo, San Carlos, San Francisquito. And then the holidays—Natividad, the Nativity; Nacimiente, the Birth; Soledad, the Solitude. But places were also named from the way the expedition felt at the time: Buena Esperenza, good hope; Buena Vista because the view was beautiful; and Chualar because it was pretty. The descriptive names followed: Paso de los Robles because of the oak trees; Los Laureles for the laurels; Tularcitos because of the reeds in the swamp; and Salinas for the alkali which was white as salt.

Then places were named for animals and birds seen—Gabilanes for the hawks which flew in those mountains; Topo for the mole; Los Gatos for the wild cats. The suggestions sometimes came from the nature of the place itself: Tassajara, a cup and saucer; Laguna Seca, a dry lake; Corral de Tierra for a fence of earth; Paraiso because it was like Heaven.

Then the Americans came—more greedy because there were more of them. They took the lands, remade the laws to make their titles good. And farmholds spread over the land, first in the valleys and then up the foothill slopes, small wooden houses roofed with redwood shakes, corrals of split poles. Wherever a trickle of water came out of the ground a house sprang up and a family began to grow and multiply. Cuttings of red geraniums and rosebushes were planted in the dooryards. Wheel tracks of buckboards replaced the trails, and fields of corn and barley and wheat squared out of the yellow mustard. Every ten miles along the traveled routes a general store and blacksmith shop happened, and these became the nuclei of little towns, Bradley, King City, Greenfield.

The Americans had a greater tendency to name places for people than had the Spanish. After the valleys were settled the names of places refer more to things which happened there, and these to me are the most fascinating of all names because each name suggests a story that has been forgotten. I think of Bolsa Nueva, a new purse; Morocojo, a lame Moor (who was he and how did he get there?); Wild Horse Canyon and Mustang Grade and Shirt Tail Canyon. The names of places carry a charge of the people who named them, reverent or irreverent, descriptive, either poetic or disparaging. You can name anything San Lorenzo, but Shirt Tail Canyon or the Lame Moor is something quite different.

The wind whistled over the settlements in the afternoon, and the farmers began to set out mile-long windbreaks of eucalyptus to keep the plowed topsoil from blowing away. And this is about the way the Salinas Valley was when my grandfather brought his wife and settled in the foothills to the east of King City.

Chapter 2


2.1 1

I must depend on hearsay, on old photographs, on stories told, and on memories which are hazy and mixed with fable in trying to tell you about the Hamiltons. They were not eminent people, and there are few records concerning them except for the usual papers on birth, marriage, land ownership, and death.

Young Samuel Hamilton came from the north of Ireland and so did his wife. He was the son of small farmers, neither rich nor poor, who had lived on one landhold and in one stone house for many hundreds of years. The Hamiltons managed to be remarkably well educated and well read; and, as is so often true in that green country, they were connected and related to very great people and very small people, so that one cousin might be a baronet and another cousin a beggar. And of course they were descended from the ancient kings of Ireland, as every Irishman is.

Why Samuel left the stone house and the green acres of his ancestors I do not know. He was never a political man, so it is not likely a charge of rebellion drove him out, and he was scrupulously honest, which eliminates the police as prime movers. There was a whisper—not even a rumor but rather an unsaid feeling—in my family that it was love drove him out, and not love of the wife he married. But whether it was too successful love or whether he left in pique at unsuccessful love, I do not know. We always preferred to think it was the former. Samuel had good looks and charm and gaiety. It is hard to imagine that any country Irish girl refused him.

He came to the Salinas Valley full-blown and hearty, full of inventions and energy. His eyes were very blue, and when he was tired one of them wandered outward a little. He was a big man but delicate in a way. In the dusty business of ranching he seemed always immaculate. His hands were clever. He was a good blacksmith and carpenter and woodcarver, and he could improvise anything with bits of wood and metal. He was forever inventing a new way of doing an old thing and doing it better and quicker, but he never in his whole life had any talent for making money. Other men who had the talent took Samuel’s tricks and sold them and grew rich, but Samuel barely made wages all his life.

I don’t know what directed his steps toward the Salinas Valley. It was an unlikely place for a man from a green country to come to, but he came about thirty years before the turn of the century and he brought with him his tiny Irish wife, a tight hard little woman humorless as a chicken. She had a dour Presbyterian mind and a code of morals that pinned down and beat the brains out of nearly everything that was pleasant to do.

I do not know where Samuel met her, how he wooed her, married. I think there must have been some other girl printed somewhere in his heart, for he was a man of love and his wife was not a woman to show her feelings. And in spite of this, in all the years from his youth to his death in the Salinas Valley, there was no hint that Samuel ever went to any other woman.

When Samuel and Liza came to the Salinas Valley all the level land was taken, the rich bottoms, the little fertile creases in the hills, the forests, but there was still marginal land to be homesteaded, and in the barren hills, to the east of what is now King City, Samuel Hamilton homesteaded.

He followed the usual practice. He took a quarter-section for himself and a quarter-section for his wife, and since she was pregnant he took a quarter-section for the child. Over the years nine children were born, four boys and five girls, and with each birth another quarter-section was added to the ranch, and that makes eleven quarter-sections, or seventeen hundred and sixty acres.

If the land had been any good the Hamiltons would have been rich people. But the acres were harsh and dry. There were no springs, and the crust of topsoil was so thin that the flinty bones stuck through. Even the sagebrush struggled to exist, and the oaks were dwarfed from lack of moisture. Even in reasonably good years there was so little feed that the cattle kept thin running about looking for enough to eat. From their barren hills the Hamiltons could look down to the west and see the richness of the bottom land and the greenness around the Salinas River.

Samuel built his house with his own hands, and he built a barn and a blacksmith shop. He found quite soon that even if he had ten thousand acres of hill country he could not make a living on the bony soil without water. His clever hands built a well-boring rig, and he bored wells on the lands of luckier men. He invented and built a threshing machine and moved through the bottom farms in harvest time, threshing the grain his own farm would not raise. And in his shop he sharpened plows and mended harrows and welded broken axles and shod horses. Men from all over the district brought him tools to mend and to improve. Besides, they loved to hear Samuel talk of the world and its thinking, of the poetry and philosophy that were going on outside the Salinas Valley. He had a rich deep voice, good both in song and in speech, and while he had no brogue there was a rise and a lilt and a cadence to his talk that made it sound sweet in the ears of the taciturn farmers from the valley bottom. They brought whisky too, and out of sight of the kitchen window and the disapproving eye of Mrs. Hamilton they took hot nips from the bottle and nibbled cuds of green wild anise to cover the whisky breath. It was a bad day when three or four men were not standing around the forge, listening to Samuel’s hammer and his talk. They called him a comical genius and carried his stories carefully home, and they wondered at how the stories spilled out on the way, for they never sounded the same repeated in their own kitchens.

Samuel should have been rich from his well rig and his threshing machine and his shop, but he had no gift for business. His customers, always pressed for money, promised payment after harvest, and then after Christmas, and then after—until at last they forgot it. Samuel had no gift for reminding them. And so the Hamiltons stayed poor.

The children came along as regularly as the years. The few overworked doctors of the county did not often get to the ranches for a birth unless the joy turned nightmare and went on for several days. Samuel Hamilton delivered all his own children and tied the cords neatly, spanked the bottoms and cleaned up the mess. When his youngest was born with some small obstruction and began to turn black, Samuel put his mouth against the baby’s mouth and blew air in and sucked it out until the baby could take over for himself. Samuel’s hands were so good and gentle that neighbors from twenty miles away would call on him to help with a birth. And he was equally good with mare, cow, or woman.

Samuel had a great black book on an available shelf and it had gold letters on the cover—Dr. Gunn’s Family Medicine. Some pages were bent and beat up from use, and others were never opened to the light. To look through Dr. Gunn is to know the Hamiltons’ medical history. These are the used sections—broken bones, cuts, bruises, mumps, measles, backache, scarlet fever, diphtheria, rheumatism, female complaints, hernia, and of course everything to do with pregnancy and the birth of children. The Hamiltons must have been either lucky or moral for the sections on gonorrhea and syphilis were never opened.

Samuel had no equal for soothing hysteria and bringing quiet to a frightened child. It was the sweetness of his tongue and the tenderness of his soul. And just as there was a cleanness about his body, so there was a cleanness in his thinking. Men coming to his blacksmith shop to talk and listen dropped their cursing for a while, not from any kind of restraint but automatically, as though this were not the place for it.

Samuel kept always a foreignness. Perhaps it was in the cadence of his speech, and this had the effect of making men, and women too, tell him things they would not tell to relatives or close friends. His slight strangeness set him apart and made him safe as a repository.

Liza Hamilton was a very different kettle of Irish. Her head was small and round and it held small round convictions. She had a button nose and a hard little set-back chin, a gripping jaw set on its course even though the angels of God argued against it.

Liza was a good plain cook, and her house—it was always her house—was brushed and pummeled and washed. Bearing her children did not hold her back very much—two weeks at the most she had to be careful. She must have had a pelvic arch of whalebone, for she had big children one after the other.

Liza had a finely developed sense of sin. Idleness was a sin, and card playing, which was a kind of idleness to her. She was suspicious of fun whether it involved dancing or singing or even laughter. She felt that people having a good time were wide open to the devil. And this was a shame, for Samuel was a laughing man, but I guess Samuel was wide open to the devil. His wife protected him whenever she could.

She wore her hair always pulled tight back and bunned behind in a hard knot. And since I can’t remember how she dressed, it must have been that she wore clothes that matched herself exactly. She had no spark of humor and only occasionally a blade of cutting wit. She frightened her grandchildren because she had no weakness. She suffered bravely and uncomplainingly through life, convinced that that was the way her God wanted everyone to live. She felt that rewards came later.

2.2 2

When people first came to the West, particularly from the owned and fought-over farmlets of Europe, and saw so much land to be had for the signing of a paper and the building of a foundation, an itching land-greed seemed to come over them. They wanted more and more land—good land if possible, but land anyway. Perhaps they had filaments of memory of feudal Europe where great families became and remained great because they owned things. The early settlers took up land they didn’t need and couldn’t use; they took up worthless land just to own it. And all proportions changed. A man who might have been well-to-do on ten acres in Europe was rat-poor on two thousand in California.

It wasn’t very long until all the land in the barren hills near King City and San Ardo was taken up, and ragged families were scattered through the hills, trying their best to scratch a living from the thin flinty soil. They and the coyotes lived clever, despairing, submarginal lives. They landed with no money, no equipment, no tools, no credit, and particularly with no knowledge of the new country and no technique for using it. I don’t know whether it was a divine stupidity or a great faith that let them do it. Surely such venture is nearly gone from the world. And the families did survive and grow. They had a tool or a weapon that is also nearly gone, or perhaps it is only dormant for a while. It is argued that because they believed thoroughly in a just, moral God they could put their faith there and let the smaller securities take care of themselves. But I think that because they trusted themselves and respected themselves as individuals, because they knew beyond doubt that they were valuable and potentially moral units—because of this they could give God their own courage and dignity and then receive it back. Such things have disappeared perhaps because men do not trust themselves any more, and when that happens there is nothing left except perhaps to find some strong sure man, even though he may be wrong, and to dangle from his coattails.

While many people came to the Salinas Valley penniless, there were others who, having sold out somewhere else, arrived with money to start a new life. These usually bought land, but good land, and built their houses of planed lumber and had carpets and colored-glass diamond panes in their windows. There were numbers of these families and they got the good land of the valley and cleared the yellow mustard away and planted wheat.

Such a man was Adam Trask.

Chapter 3


3.1 1

Adam Trask was born on a farm on the outskirts of a little town which was not far from a big town in Connecticut. He was an only son, and he was born six months after his father was mustered into a Connecticut regiment in 1862. Adam’s mother ran the farm, bore Adam, and still had time to embrace a primitive theosophy. She felt that her husband would surely be killed by the wild and barbarous rebels, and she prepared herself to get in touch with him in what she called the beyond. He came home six weeks after Adam was born. His right leg was off at the knee. He stumped in on a crude wooden leg he himself had carved out of beechwood. And already it was splitting. He had in his pocket and placed on the parlor table the lead bullet they had given him to bite while they cut off his frayed leg.

Adam’s father Cyrus was something of a devil—had always been wild—drove a two-wheeled cart too fast, and managed to make his wooden leg seem jaunty and desirable. He had enjoyed his military career, what there was of it. Being wild by nature, he had liked his brief period of training and the drinking and gambling and whoring that went with it. Then he marched south with a group of replacements, and he enjoyed that too—seeing the country and stealing chickens and chasing rebel girls up into the haystacks. The gray, despairing weariness of protracted maneuvers and combat did not touch him. The first time he saw the enemy was at eight o’clock one spring morning, and at eight-thirty he was hit in the right leg by a heavy slug that mashed and splintered the bones beyond repair. Even then he was lucky, for the rebels retreated and the field surgeons moved up immediately. Cyrus Trask did have his five minutes of horror while they cut the shreds away and sawed the bone off square and burned the open flesh. The toothmarks in the bullet proved that. And there was considerable pain while the wound healed under the unusually septic conditions in the hospitals of that day. But Cyrus had vitality and swagger. While he was carving his beechwood leg and hobbling about on a crutch, he contracted a particularly virulent dose of the clap from a Negro girl who whistled at him from under a pile of lumber and charged him ten cents. When he had his new leg, and painfully knew his condition, he hobbled about for days, looking for the girl. He told his bunkmates what he was going to do when he found her. He planned to cut off her ears and her nose with his pocketknife and get his money back. Carving on his wooden leg, he showed his friends how he would cut her. “When I finish her she’ll be a funny-looking bitch,” he said. “I’ll make her so a drunk Indian won’t take out after her.” His light of love must have sensed his intentions, for he never found her. By the time Cyrus was released from the hospital and the army, his gonorrhea was dried up. When he got home to Connecticut there remained only enough of it for his wife.

Mrs. Trask was a pale, inside-herself woman. No heat of sun ever reddened her cheeks, and no open laughter raised the corners of her mouth. She used religion as a therapy for the ills of the world and of herself, and she changed the religion to fit the ill. When she found that the theosophy she had developed for communication with a dead husband was not necessary, she cast about for some new unhappiness. Her search was quickly rewarded by the infection Cyrus brought home from the war. And as soon as she was aware that a condition existed, she devised a new theology. Her god of communication became a god of vengeance—to her the most satisfactory deity she had devised so far—and, as it turned out, the last. It was quite easy for her to attribute her condition to certain dreams she had experienced while her husband was away. But the disease was not punishment enough for her nocturnal philandering. Her new god was an expert in punishment. He demanded of her a sacrifice. She searched her mind for some proper egotistical humility and almost happily arrived at the sacrifice—herself. It took her two weeks to write her last letter with revisions and corrected spelling. In it she confessed to crimes she could not possibly have committed and admitted faults far beyond her capacity. And then, dressed in a secretly made shroud, she went out on a moonlight night and drowned herself in a pond so shallow that she had to get down on her knees in the mud and hold her head under water. This required great will power. As the warm unconsciousness finally crept over her, she was thinking with some irritation of how her white lawn shroud would have mud down the front when they pulled her out in the morning. And it did.

Cyrus Trask mourned for his wife with a keg of whisky and three old army friends who had dropped in on their way home to Maine. Baby Adam cried a good deal at the beginning of the wake, for the mourners, not knowing about babies, had neglected to feed him. Cyrus soon solved the problem. He dipped a rag in whisky and gave it to the baby to suck, and after three or four dippings young Adam went to sleep. Several times during the mourning period he awakened and complained and got the dipped rag again and went to sleep. The baby was drunk for two days and a half. Whatever may have happened in his developing brain, it proved beneficial to his metabolism: from that two and a half days he gained an iron health. And when at the end of three days his father finally went out and bought a goat, Adam drank the milk greedily, vomited, drank more, and was on his way. His father did not find the reaction alarming, since he was doing the same thing.

Within a month Cyrus Trask’s choice fell on the seventeen-year-old daughter of a neighboring farmer. The courtship was quick and realistic. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about his intentions. They were honorable and reasonable. Her father abetted the courtship. He had two younger daughters, and Alice, the eldest, was seventeen. This was her first proposal.

Cyrus wanted a woman to take care of Adam. He needed someone to keep house and cook, and a servant cost money. He was a vigorous man and needed the body of a woman, and that too cost money—unless you were married to it. Within two weeks Cyrus had wooed, wedded, bedded, and impregnated her. His neighbors did not find his action hasty. It was quite normal in that day for a man to use up three or four wives in a normal lifetime.

Alice Trask had a number of admirable qualities. She was a deep scrubber and a corner-cleaner in the house. She was not very pretty, so there was no need to watch her. Her eyes were pale, her complexion sallow, and her teeth crooked, but she was extremely healthy and never complained during her pregnancy. Whether she liked children or not no one ever knew. She was not asked, and she never said anything unless she was asked. From Cyrus’s point of view this was possibly the greatest of her virtues. She never offered any opinion or statement, and when a man was talking she gave a vague impression of listening while she went about doing the housework.

The youth, inexperience, and taciturnity of Alice Trask all turned out to be assets for Cyrus. While he continued to operate his farm as such farms were operated in the neighborhood, he entered on a new career—that of the old soldier. And that energy which had made him wild now made him thoughtful. No one now outside of the War Department knew the quality and duration of his service. His wooden leg was at once a certificate of proof of his soldiering and a guarantee that he wouldn’t ever have to do it again. Timidly he began to tell Alice about his campaigns, but as his technique grew so did his battles. At the very first he knew he was lying, but it was not long before he was equally sure that every one of his stories was true. Before he had entered the service he had not been much interested in warfare; now he bought every book about war, read every report, subscribed to the New York papers, studied maps. His knowledge of geography had been shaky and his information about the fighting nonexistent; now he became an authority. He knew not only the battles, movements, campaigns, but also the units involved, down to the regiments, their colonels, and where they originated. And from telling he became convinced that he had been there.

All of this was a gradual development, and it took place while Adam was growing to boyhood and his young half-brother behind him. Adam and little Charles would sit silent and respectful while their father explained how every general thought and planned and where they had made their mistakes and what they should have done. And then—he had known it at the time—he had told Grant and McClellan where they were wrong and had begged them to take his analysis of the situation. Invariably they refused his advice and only afterward was he proved right.

There was one thing Cyrus did not do, and perhaps it was clever of him. He never once promoted himself to noncommissioned rank. Private Trask he began, and Private Trask he remained. In the total telling, it made him at once the most mobile and ubiquitous private in the history of warfare. It made it necessary for him to be in as many as four places at once. But perhaps instinctively he did not tell those stories close to each other. Alice and the boys had a complete picture of him: a private soldier, and proud of it, who not only happened to be where every spectacular and important action was taking place but who wandered freely into staff meetings and joined or dissented in the decisions of general officers.

The death of Lincoln caught Cyrus in the pit of the stomach. Always he remembered how he felt when he first heard the news. And he could never mention it or hear of it without quick tears in his eyes. And while he never actually said it, you got the indestructible impression that Private Cyrus Trask was one of Lincoln’s closest, warmest, and most trusted friends. When Mr. Lincoln wanted to know about the army, the real army, not those prancing dummies in gold braid, he turned to Private Trask. How Cyrus managed to make this understood without saying it was a triumph of insinuation. No one could call him a liar. And this was mainly because the lie was in his head, and any truth coming from his mouth carried the color of the lie.

Quite early he began to write letters and then articles about the conduct of the war, and his conclusions were intelligent and convincing. Indeed, Cyrus developed an excellent military mind. His criticisms both of the war as it had been conducted and of the army organization as it persisted were irresistibly penetrating. His articles in various magazines attracted attention. His letters to the War Department, printed simultaneously in the newspapers, began to have a sharp effect in decisions on the army. Perhaps if the Grand Army of the Republic had not assumed political force and direction his voice might not have been heard so clearly in Washington, but the spokesman for a block of nearly a million men was not to be ignored. And such a voice in military matters Cyrus Trask became. It came about that he was consulted in matters of army organization, in officer relationships, in personnel and equipment. His expertness was apparent to everyone who heard him. He had a genius for the military. More than that, he was one of those responsible for the organization of the GAR as a cohesive and potent force in the national life. After several unpaid offices in that organization, he took a paid secretaryship which he kept for the rest of his life. He traveled from one end of the country to the other, attending conventions, meetings, and encampments. So much for his public life.

His private life was also laced through with his new profession. He was a man devoted. His house and farm he organized on a military basis. He demanded and got reports on the conduct of his private economy. It is probable that Alice preferred it this way. She was not a talker. A terse report was easiest for her. She was busy with the growing boys and with keeping the house clean and the clothes washed. Also, she had to conserve her energy, though she did not mention this in any of her reports. Without warning her energy would leave her, and she would have to sit down and wait until it came back. In the night she would be drenched with perspiration. She knew perfectly well that she had what was called consumption, would have known even if she was not reminded by a hard, exhausting cough. And she did not know how long she would live. Some people wasted on for quite a few years. There wasn’t any rule about it. Perhaps she didn’t dare to mention it to her husband. He had devised a method for dealing with sickness which resembled punishment. A stomach ache was treated with a purge so violent that it was a wonder anyone survived it. If she had mentioned her condition, Cyrus might have started a treatment which would have killed her off before her consumption could have done it. Besides, as Cyrus became more military, his wife learned the only technique through which a soldier can survive. She never made herself noticeable, never spoke unless spoken to, performed what was expected and no more, and tried for no promotions. She became a rear rank private. It was much easier that way. Alice retired to the background until she was barely visible at all.

It was the little boys who really caught it. Cyrus had decided that even though the army was not perfect, it was still the only honorable profession for a man. He mourned the fact that he could not be a permanent soldier because of his wooden leg, but he could not imagine any career for his sons except the army. He felt a man should learn soldiering from the ranks, as he had. Then he would know what it was about from experience, not from charts and textbooks. He taught them the manual of arms when they could barely walk. By the time they were in grade school, close-order drill was as natural as breathing and as hateful as hell. He kept them hard with exercises, beating out the rhythm with a stick on his wooden leg. He made them walk for miles, carrying knapsacks loaded with stones to make their shoulders strong. He worked constantly on their marksmanship in the woodlot behind the house.

3.2 2

When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just—his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone. And there is one sure thing about the fall of gods: they do not fall a little; they crash and shatter or sink deeply into green muck. It is a tedious job to build them up again; they never quite shine. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.

Adam found his father out. It wasn’t that his father changed but that some new quality came to Adam. He had always hated the discipline, as every normal animal does, but it was just and true and inevitable as measles, not to be denied or cursed, only to be hated. And then—it was very fast, almost a click in the brain—Adam knew that, for him at least, his father’s methods had no reference to anything in the world but his father. The techniques and training were not designed for the boys at all but only to make Cyrus a great man. And the same click in the brain told Adam that his father was not a great man, that he was, indeed, a very strong-willed and concentrated little man wearing a huge busby. Who knows what causes this—a look in the eye, a lie found out, a moment of hesitation?—then god comes crashing down in a child’s brain.

Young Adam was always an obedient child. Something in him shrank from violence, from contention, from the silent shrieking tensions that can rip at a house. He contributed to the quiet he wished for by offering no violence, no contention, and to do this he had to retire into secretness, since there is some violence in everyone. He covered his life with a veil of vagueness, while behind his quiet eyes a rich full life went on. This did not protect him from assault but it allowed him an immunity.

His half-brother Charles, only a little over a year younger, grew up with his father’s assertiveness. Charles was a natural athlete, with instinctive timing and coordination and the competitor’s will to win over others, which makes for success in the world.

Young Charles won all contests with Adam whether they involved skill, or strength, or quick intelligence, and won them so easily that quite early he lost interest and had to find his competition among other children. Thus it came about that a kind of affection grew up between the two boys, but it was more like an association between brother and sister than between brothers. Charles fought any boy who challenged or slurred Adam and usually won. He protected Adam from his father’s harshness with lies and even with blame-taking. Charles felt for his brother the affection one has for helpless things, for blind puppies and new babies.

Adam looked out of his covered brain—out the long tunnels of his eyes—at the people of his world: His father, a one-legged natural force at first, installed justly to make little boys feel littler and stupid boys aware of their stupidity; and then—after god had crashed—he saw his father as the policeman laid on by birth, the officer who might be circumvented, or fooled, but never challenged. And out of the long tunnels of his eyes Adam saw his half-brother Charles as a bright being of another species, gifted with muscle and bone, speed and alertness, quite on a different plane, to be admired as one admires the sleek lazy danger of a black leopard, not by any chance to be compared with one’s self. And it would no more have occurred to Adam to confide in his brother—to tell him the hunger, the gray dreams, the plans and silent pleasures that lay at the back of the tunneled eyes—than to share his thoughts with a lovely tree or a pheasant in flight. Adam was glad of Charles the way a woman is glad of a fat diamond, and he depended on his brother in the way that same woman depends on the diamond’s glitter and the self-security tied up in its worth; but love, affection, empathy, were beyond conception.

Toward Alice Trask, Adam concealed a feeling that was akin to a warm shame. She was not his mother—that he knew because he had been told many times. Not from things said but from the tone in which other things were said, he knew that he had once had a mother and that she had done some shameful thing, such as forgetting the chickens or missing the target on the range in the woodlot. And as a result of her fault she was not here. Adam thought sometimes that if he could only find out what sin it was she had committed, why, he would sin it too—and not be here.

Alice treated the boys equally, washed them and fed them, and left everything else to their father, who had let it be known clearly and with finality that training the boys physically and mentally was his exclusive province. Even praise and reprimand he would not delegate. Alice never complained, quarreled, laughed, or cried. Her mouth was trained to a line that concealed nothing and offered nothing too. But once when Adam was quite small he wandered silently into the kitchen. Alice did not see him. She was darning socks and she was smiling. Adam retired secretly and walked out of the house and into the woodlot to a sheltered place behind a stump that he knew well. He settled deep between the protecting roots. Adam was as shocked as though he had come upon her naked. He breathed excitedly, high against his throat. For Alice had been naked—she had been smiling. He wondered how she had dared such wantonness. And he ached toward her with a longing that was passionate and hot. He did not know what it was about, but all the long lack of holding, of rocking, of caressing, the hunger for breast and nipple, and the softness of a lap, and the voice-tone of love and compassion, and the sweet feeling of anxiety—all of these were in his passion, and he did not know it because he did not know that such things existed, so how could he miss them?

Of course it occurred to him that he might be wrong, that some misbegotten shadow had fallen across his face and warped his seeing. And so he cast back to the sharp picture in his head and knew that the eyes were smiling too. Twisted light could do one or the other but not both.

He stalked her then, game-wise, as he had the wood-chucks on the knoll when day after day he had lain lifeless as a young stone and watched the old wary chucks bring their children out to sun. He spied on Alice, hidden, and from unsuspected eye-corner, and it was true. Sometimes when she was alone, and knew she was alone, she permitted her mind to play in a garden, and she smiled. And it was wonderful to see how quickly she could drive the smile to earth the way the woodchucks holed their children.

Adam concealed his treasure deep in his tunnels, but he was inclined to pay for his pleasure with something. Alice began to find gifts—in her sewing basket, in her worn-out purse, under her pillow—two cinnamon pinks, a bluebird’s tailfeather, half a stick of green sealing wax, a stolen handkerchief. At first Alice was startled, but then that passed, and when she found some unsuspected present the garden smile flashed and disappeared the way a trout crosses a knife of sunshine in a pool. She asked no questions and made no comment.

Her coughing was very bad at night, so loud and disturbing that Cyrus had at last to put her in another room or he would have got no sleep. But he did visit her very often—hopping on his one bare foot, steadying himself with hand on wall. The boys could hear and feel the jar of his body through the house as he hopped to and from Alice’s bed.

As Adam grew he feared one thing more than any other. He feared the day he would be taken and enlisted in the army. His father never let him forget that such a time would come. He spoke of it often. It was Adam who needed the army to make a man of him. Charles was pretty near a man already. And Charles was a man, and a dangerous man, even at fifteen, and when Adam was sixteen.

3.3 3

The affection between the two boys had grown with the years. It may be that part of Charles’ feeling was contempt, but it was a protective contempt. It happened that one evening the boys were playing peewee, a new game to them, in the dooryard. A small pointed stick was laid on the ground, then struck near one end with a bat. The small stick flew into the air and then was batted as far as possible.

Adam was not good at games. But by some accident of eye and timing he beat his brother at peewee. Four times he drove the peewee farther than Charles did. It was a new experience to him, and a wild flush came over him, so that he did not watch and feel out his brother’s mood as he usually did. The fifth time he drove the peewee it flew humming like a bee far out in the field. He turned happily to face Charles and suddenly he froze deep in his chest. The hatred in Charles’ face frightened him. “I guess it was just an accident,” he said lamely. “I bet I couldn’t do it again.”

Charles set his peewee, struck it, and, as it rose into the air, swung at it and missed. Charles moved slowly toward Adam, his eyes cold and noncommittal. Adam edged away in terror. He did not dare to turn and run for his brother could outrun him. He backed slowly away, his eyes frightened and his throat dry. Charles moved close and struck him in the face with his bat. Adam covered his bleeding nose with his hands, and Charles swung his bat and hit him in the ribs, knocked the wind out of him, swung at his head and knocked him out. And as Adam lay unconscious on the ground Charles kicked him heavily in the stomach and walked away.

After a while Adam became conscious. He breathed shallowly because his chest hurt. He tried to sit up and fell back at the wrench of the torn muscles over his stomach. He saw Alice looking out, and there was something in her face that he had never seen before. He did not know what it was, but it was not soft or weak, and it might be hatred. She saw that he was looking at her, dropped the curtains into place, and disappeared. When Adam finally got up from the ground and moved, bent over, into the kitchen, he found a basin of hot water standing ready for him and a clean towel beside it. He could hear his stepmother coughing in her room.

Charles had one great quality. He was never sorry—ever. He never mentioned the beating, apparently never thought of it again. But Adam made very sure that he didn’t win again—at anything. He had always felt the danger in his brother, but now he understood that he must never win unless he was prepared to kill Charles. Charles was not sorry. He had very simply fulfilled himself.

Charles did not tell his father about the beating, and Adam did not, and surely Alice did not, and yet he seemed to know. In the months that followed he turned a gentleness on Adam. His speech became softer toward him. He did not punish him any more. Almost nightly he lectured him, but not violently. And Adam was more afraid of the gentleness than he had been at the violence, for it seemed to him that he was being trained as a sacrifice, almost as though he was being subjected to kindness before death, the way victims intended to the gods were cuddled and flattered so that they might go happily to the stone and not outrage the gods with unhappiness.

Cyrus explained softly to Adam the nature of a soldier. And though his knowledge came from research rather than experience, he knew and he was accurate. He told his son of the sad dignity that can belong to a soldier, how he is necessary in the light of all the failures of man—the penalty of our frailties. Perhaps Cyrus discovered these things in himself as he told them. It was very different from the flag-waving, shouting bellicosity of his younger days. The humilities are piled on a soldier, so Cyrus said, in order that he may, when the time comes, be not too resentful of the final humility—a meaningless and dirty death. And Cyrus talked to Adam alone and did not permit Charles to listen.

Cyrus took Adam to walk with him one late afternoon, and the black conclusions of all of his study and his thinking came out and flowed with a kind of thick terror over his son. He said, “I’ll have you know that a soldier is the most holy of all humans because he is the most tested—most tested of all. I’ll try to tell you. Look now—in all of history men have been taught that killing of men is an evil thing not to be countenanced. Any man who kills must be destroyed because this is a great sin, maybe the worst sin we know. And then we take a soldier and put murder in his hands and we say to him, ‘Use it well, use it wisely.’ We put no checks on him. Go out and kill as many of a certain kind or classification of your brothers as you can. And we will reward you for it because it is a violation of your early training.”

Adam wet his dry lips and tried to ask and failed and tried again. “Why do they have to do it?” he said. “Why is it?”

Cyrus was deeply moved and he spoke as he had never spoken before. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve studied and maybe learned how things are, but I’m not even close to why they are. And you must not expect to find that people understand what they do. So many things are done instinctively, the way a bee makes honey or a fox dips his paws in a stream to fool dogs. A fox can’t say why he does it, and what bee remembers winter or expects it to come again? When I knew you had to go I thought to leave the future open so you could dig out your own findings, and then it seemed better if I could protect you with the little I know. You’ll go in soon now—you’ve come to the age.”

“I don’t want to,” said Adam quickly.

“You’ll go in soon,” his father went on, not hearing. “And I want to tell you so you won’t be surprised. They’ll first strip off your clothes, but they’ll go deeper than that. They’ll shuck off any little dignity you have—you’ll lose what you think of as your decent right to live and to be let alone to live. They’ll make you live and eat and sleep and shit close to other men. And when they dress you up again you’ll not be able to tell yourself from the others. You can’t even wear a scrap or pin a note on your breast to say, ‘This is me—separate from the rest.’ ”

“I don’t want to do it,” said Adam.

“After a while,” said Cyrus, “you’ll think no thought the others do not think. You’ll know no word the others can’t say. And you’ll do things because the others do them. You’ll feel the danger in any difference whatever—a danger to the whole crowd of like-thinking, like-acting men.”

“What if I don’t?” Adam demanded.

“Yes,” said Cyrus, “sometimes that happens. Once in a while there is a man who won’t do what is demanded of him, and do you know what happens? The whole machine devotes itself coldly to the destruction of his difference. They’ll beat your spirit and your nerves, your body and your mind, with iron rods until the dangerous difference goes out of you. And if you can’t finally give in, they’ll vomit you up and leave you stinking outside—neither part of themselves nor yet free. It’s better to fall in with them. They only do it to protect themselves. A thing so triumphantly illogical, so beautifully senseless as an army can’t allow a question to weaken it. Within itself, if you do not hold it up to other things for comparison and derision, you’ll find slowly, surely, a reason and a logic and a kind of dreadful beauty. A man who can accept it is not a worse man always, and sometimes is a much better man. Pay good heed to me for I have thought long about it. Some men there are who go down the dismal wrack of soldiering, surrender themselves, and become faceless. But these had not much face to start with. And maybe you’re like that. But there are others who go down, submerge in the common slough, and then rise more themselves than they were, because—because they have lost a littleness of vanity and have gained all the gold of the company and the regiment. If you can go down so low, you will be able to rise higher than you can conceive, and you will know a holy joy, a companionship almost like that of a heavenly company of angels. Then you will know the quality of men even if they are inarticulate. But until you have gone way down you can never know this.”

As they walked back toward the house Cyrus turned left and entered the woodlot among the trees, and it was dusk. Suddenly Adam said, “You see that stump there, sir? I used to hide between the roots on the far side. After you punished me I used to hide there, and sometimes I went there just because I felt bad.”

“Let’s go and see the place,” his father said. Adam led him to it, and Cyrus looked down at the nestlike hole between the roots. “I knew about it long ago,” he said. “Once when you were gone a long time I thought you must have such a place, and I found it because I felt the kind of place you would need. See how the earth is tamped and the little grass is torn? And while you sat in there you stripped little pieces of bark to shreds. I knew it was the place when I came upon it.”

Adam was staring at his father in wonder. “You never came here looking for me,” he said.

“No,” Cyrus replied. “I wouldn’t do that. You can drive a human too far. I wouldn’t do that. Always you must leave a man one escape before death. Remember that! I knew, I guess, how hard I was pressing you. I didn’t want to push you over the edge.”

They moved restlessly off through the trees. Cyrus said, “So many things I want to tell you. I’ll forget most of them. I want to tell you that a soldier gives up so much to get something back. From the day of a child’s birth he is taught by every circumstance, by every law and rule and right, to protect his own life. He starts with that great instinct, and everything confirms it. And then he is a soldier and he must learn to violate all of this—he must learn coldly to put himself in the way of losing his own life without going mad. And if you can do that—and, mind you, some can’t—then you will have the greatest gift of all. Look, son,” Cyrus said earnestly, “nearly all men are afraid, and they don’t even know what causes their fear—shadows, perplexities, dangers without names or numbers, fear of a faceless death. But if you can bring yourself to face not shadows but real death, described and recognizable, by bullet or saber, arrow or lance, then you need never be afraid again, at least not the same way you were before. Then you will be a man set apart from other men, safe where other men may cry in terror. This is the great reward. Maybe this is the only reward. Maybe this is the final purity all ringed with filth. It’s nearly dark. I’ll want to talk to you again tomorrow night when both of us have thought about what I’ve told you.”

But Adam said, “Why don’t you talk to my brother? Charles will be going. He’ll be good at it, much better than I am.”

“Charles won’t be going,” Cyrus said. “There’d be no point in it.”

“But he would be a better soldier.”

“Only outside on his skin,” said Cyrus. “Not inside, Charles is not afraid so he could never learn anything about courage. He does not know anything outside himself so he could never gain the things I’ve tried to explain to you. To put him in an army would be to let loose things which in Charles must be chained down, not let loose. I would not dare to let him go.”

Adam complained, “You never punished him, you let him live his life, you praised him, you did not haze him, and now you let him stay out of the army.” He stopped, frightened at what he had said, afraid of the rage or the contempt or the violence his words might let loose.

His father did not reply. He walked on out of the woodlot, and his head hung down so that his chin rested on his chest, and the rise and fall of his hip when his wooden leg struck the ground was monotonous. The wooden leg made a side semicircle to get ahead when its turn came.

It was completely dark by now, and the golden light of the lamps shone out from the open kitchen door. Alice came to the doorway and peered out, looking for them, and then she heard the uneven footsteps approaching and went back to the kitchen.

Cyrus walked to the kitchen stoop before he stopped and raised his head. “Where are you?” he asked.

“Here—right behind you—right here.”

“You asked a question. I guess I’ll have to answer. Maybe it’s good and maybe it’s bad to answer it. You’re not clever. You don’t know what you want. You have no proper fierceness. You let other people walk over you. Sometimes I think you’re a weakling who will never amount to a dog turd. Does that answer your question? I love you better. I always have. This may be a bad thing to tell you, but it’s true. I love you better. Else why would I have given myself the trouble of hurting you? Now shut your mouth and go to your supper. I’ll talk to you tomorrow night. My leg aches.”

3.4 4

There was no talk at supper. The quiet was disturbed only by the slup of soup and gnash of chewing, and his father waved his hand to try to drive the moths away from the chimney of the kerosene lamp. Adam thought his brother watched him secretly. And he caught an eye flash from Alice when he looked up suddenly. After he had finished eating Adam pushed back his chair. “I think I’ll go for a walk,” he said.

Charles stood up. “I’ll go with you.”

Alice and Cyrus watched them go out the door, and then she asked one of her rare questions. She asked nervously, “What did you do?”

“Nothing,” he said.

“Will you make him go?”


“Does he know?”

Cyrus stared bleakly out the open door into the darkness. “Yes, he knows.”

“He won’t like it. It’s not right for him.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Cyrus said, and he repeated loudly, “It doesn’t matter,” and his tone said, “Shut your mouth. This is not your affair.” They were silent a moment, and then he said almost in a tone of apology, “It isn’t as though he were your child.”

Alice did not reply.

The boys walked down the dark rutty road. Ahead they could see a few pinched lights where the village was.

“Want to go in and see if anything’s stirring at the inn?” Charles asked.

“I hadn’t thought of it,” said Adam.

“Then what the hell are you walking out at night for?”

“You didn’t have to come,” said Adam.

Charles moved close to him. “What did he say to you this afternoon? I saw you walking together. What did he say?”

“He just talked about the army—like always.”

“Didn’t look like that to me,” Charles said suspiciously. “I saw him leaning close, talking the way he talks to men—not telling, talking.”

“He was telling,” Adam said patiently, and he had to control his breath, for a little fear had begun to press up against his stomach. He took as deep a gulp of air as he could and held it to push back at the fear.

“What did he tell you?” Charles demanded again.

“About the army and how it is to be a soldier.”

“I don’t believe you,” said Charles. “I think you’re a goddam mealy-mouthed liar. What’re you trying to get away with?”

“Nothing,” said Adam.

Charles said harshly, “Your crazy mother drowned herself. Maybe she took a look at you. That’d do it.”

Adam let out his breath gently, pressing down the dismal fear. He was silent.

Charles cried, “You’re trying to take him away! I don’t know how you’re going about it. What do you think you’re doing?”

“Nothing,” said Adam.

Charles jumped in front of him so that Adam had to stop, his chest almost against his brother’s chest. Adam backed away, but carefully, as one backs away from a snake.

“Look at his birthday!” Charles shouted. “I took six bits and I bought him a knife made in Germany—three blades and a corkscrew, pearl-handled. Where’s that knife? Do you ever see him use it? Did he give it to you? I never even saw him hone it. Have you got that knife in your pocket? What did he do with it? ‘Thanks,’ he said, like that. And that’s the last I heard of a pearl-handled German knife that cost six bits.”

Rage was in his voice, and Adam felt the creeping fear; but he knew also that he had a moment left. Too many times he had seen the destructive machine that chopped down anything standing in its way. Rage came first and then a coldness, a possession; noncommittal eyes and a pleased smile and no voice at all, only a whisper. When that happened murder was on the way, but cool, deft murder, and hands that worked precisely, delicately. Adam swallowed saliva to dampen his dry throat. He could think of nothing to say that would be heard, for once in rage his brother would not listen, would not even hear. He bulked darkly in front of Adam, shorter, wider, thicker, but still not crouched. In the starlight his lips shone with wetness, but there was no smile yet and his voice still raged.

“What did you do on his birthday? You think I didn’t see? Did you spend six bits or even four bits? You brought him a mongrel pup you picked up in the woodlot. You laughed like a fool and said it would make a good bird dog. That dog sleeps in his room. He plays with it while he’s reading. He’s got it all trained. And where’s the knife? ‘Thanks,’ he said, just Thanks.’ ” Charles spoke in a whisper, and his shoulders dropped.

Adam made one desperate jump backward and raised his hands to guard his face. His brother moved precisely, each foot planted firmly. One fist lanced delicately to get the range, and then the bitter-frozen work—a hard blow in the stomach, and Adam’s hands dropped; then four punches to the head. Adam felt the bone and gristle of his nose crunch. He raised his hands again and Charles drove at his heart. And all this time Adam looked at his brother as the condemned look hopelessly and puzzled at the executioner.

Suddenly to his own surprise Adam launched a wild, overhand, harmless swing which had neither force nor direction. Charles ducked in and under it and the helpless arm went around his neck. Adam wrapped his arms around his brother and hung close to him, sobbing. He felt the square fists whipping nausea into his stomach and still he held on. Time was slowed to him. With his body he felt his brother move sideways to force his legs apart. And he felt the knee come up, past his knees, scraping his thighs, until it crashed against his testicles and flashing white pain ripped and echoed through his body. His arms let go. He bent over and vomited, while the cold killing went on.

Adam felt the punches on temples, cheeks, eyes. He felt his lip split and tatter over his teeth, but his skin seemed thickened and dull, as though he were encased in heavy rubber. Dully he wondered why his legs did not buckle, why he did not fall, why unconsciousness did not come to him. The punching continued eternally. He could hear his brother panting with the quick explosive breath of a sledgehammer man, and in the sick starlit dark he could see his brother through the tear-watered blood that flowed from his eyes. He saw the innocent, noncommittal eyes, the small smile on wet lips. And as he saw these things—a flash of light and darkness.

Charles stood over him, gulping air like a run-out dog. And then he turned and walked quickly back, toward the house, kneading his bruised knuckles as he went.

Consciousness came back quick and frightening to Adam. His mind rolled in a painful mist. His body was heavy and thick with hurt. But almost instantly he forgot his hurts. He heard quick footsteps on the road. The instinctive fear and fierceness of a rat came over him. He pushed himself up on his knees and dragged himself off the road to the ditch that kept it drained. There was a foot of water in the ditch, and the tall grass grew up from its sides. Adam crawled quietly into the water, being very careful to make no splash.

The footsteps came close, slowed, moved on a little, came back. From his hiding place Adam could see only a darkness in the dark. And then a sulphur match was struck and burned a tiny blue until the wood caught, lighting his brother’s face grotesquely from below. Charles raised the match and peered around, and Adam could see the hatchet in his right hand.

When the match went out the night was blacker than before. Charles moved slowly on and struck another match, and on and struck another. He searched the road for signs. At last he gave it up. His right hand rose and he threw the hatchet far off into the field. He walked rapidly away toward the pinched lights of the village.

For a long time Adam lay in the cool water. He wondered how his brother felt, wondered whether now that his passion was chilling he would feel panic or sorrow or sick conscience or nothing. These things Adam felt for him. His conscience bridged him to his brother and did his pain for him the way at other times he had done his homework.

Adam crept out of the water and stood up. His hurts were stiffening and the blood was dried in a crust on his face. He thought he would stay outside in the darkness until his father and Alice went to bed. He felt that he could not answer any questions, because he did not know any answers, and trying to find one was harsh to his battered mind. Dizziness edged with blue lights came fringing his forehead, and he knew that he would be fainting soon.

He shuffled slowly up the road with wide-spread legs. At the stoop he paused, looked in. The lamp hanging by its chain from the ceiling cast a yellow circle and lighted Alice and her mending basket on the table in front of her. On the other side his father chewed a wooden pen and dipped it in an open ink bottle and made entries in his black record book.

Alice, glancing up, saw Adam’s bloody face. Her hand rose to her mouth and her fingers hooked over her lower teeth.

Adam dragfooted up one step and then the other and supported himself in the doorway.

Then Cyrus raised his head. He looked with a distant curiosity. The identity of the distortion came to him slowly. He stood up, puzzled and wondering. He stuck the wooden pen in the ink bottle and wiped his fingers on his pants. “Why did he do it?” Cyrus asked softly.

Adam tried to answer, but his mouth was caked and dry. He licked his lips and started them bleeding again. “I don’t know,” he said.

Cyrus stumped over to him and grasped him by the arm so fiercely that he winced and tried to pull away. “Don’t lie to me! Why did he do it? Did you have an argument?”


Cyrus wrenched at him. “Tell me! I want to know. Tell me! You’ll have to tell me. I’ll make you tell me! Goddam it, you’re always protecting him! Don’t you think I know that? Did you think you were fooling me? Now tell me, or by God I’ll keep you standing there all night!”

Adam cast about for an answer. “He doesn’t think you love him.”

Cyrus released the arm and hobbled back to his chair and sat down. He rattled the pen in the ink bottle and looked blindly at his record book. “Alice,” he said, “help Adam to bed. You’ll have to cut his shirt off, I guess. Give him a hand.” He got up again, went to the corner of the room where the coats hung on nails, and, reaching behind the garments, brought out his shotgun, broke it to verify its load, and clumped out of the door.

Alice raised her hand as though she would hold him back with a rope of air. And her rope broke and her face hid her thoughts. “Go in your room,” she said. “I’ll bring some water in a basin.”

Adam lay on the bed, a sheet pulled up to his waist, and Alice patted the cuts with a linen handkerchief dipped in warm water. She was silent for a long time and then she continued Adam’s sentence as though there had never been an interval, “He doesn’t think his father loves him. But you love him—you always have.”

Adam did not answer her.

She went on quietly, “He’s a strange boy. You have to know him—all rough shell, all anger until you know.” She paused to cough, leaned down and coughed, and when the spell was over her cheeks were flushed and she was exhausted. “You have to know him,” she repeated. “For a long time he has given me little presents, pretty things you wouldn’t think he’d even notice. But he doesn’t give them right out. He hides them where he knows I’ll find them. And you can look at him for hours and he won’t ever give the slightest sign he did it. You have to know him.”

She smiled at Adam and he closed his eyes.

Chapter 4


4.1 1

Charles stood at the bar in the village inn and Charles was laughing delightedly at the funny stories the night-stranded drummers were telling. He got out his tobacco sack with its meager jingle of silver and bought the men a drink to keep them talking. He stood and grinned and rubbed his split knuckles. And when the drummers, accepting his drink, raised their glasses and said, “Here’s to you,” Charles was delighted. He ordered another drink for his new friends, and then he joined them for some kind of deviltry in another place.

When Cyrus stumped out into the night he was filled with a kind of despairing anger at Charles. He looked on the road for his son, and he went to the inn to look for him, but Charles was gone. It is probable that if he had found him that night he would have killed him, or tried to. The direction of a big act will warp history, but probably all acts do the same in their degree, down to a stone stepped over in the path or a breath caught at sight of a pretty girl or a fingernail nicked in the garden soil.

Naturally it was not long before Charles was told that his father was looking for him with a shotgun. He hid out for two weeks, and when he finally did return, murder had sunk back to simple anger and he paid his penalty in overwork and a false theatrical humility.

Adam lay four days in bed, so stiff and aching that he could not move without a groan. On the third day his father gave evidence of his power with the military. He did it as a poultice to his own pride and also as a kind of prize for Adam. Into the house, into Adam’s bedroom, came a captain of cavalry and two sergeants in dress uniform of blue. In the dooryard their horses were held by two privates. Lying in his bed, Adam was enlisted in the army as a private in the cavalry. He signed the Articles of War and took the oath while his father and Alice looked on. And his father’s eyes glistened with tears.

After the soldiers had gone his father sat with him a long time. “I’ve put you in the cavalry for a reason,” he said. “Barrack life is not a good life for long. But the cavalry has work to do. I made sure of that. You’ll like going for the Indian country. There’s action coming. I can’t tell you how I know. There’s fighting on the way.”

“Yes, sir,” Adam said.

4.2 2

It has always seemed strange to me that it is usually men like Adam who have to do the soldiering. He did not like fighting to start with, and far from learning to love it, as some men do, he felt an increasing revulsion for violence. Several times his officers looked closely at him for malingering, but no charge was brought. During these five years of soldiering Adam did more detail work than any man in the squadron, but if he killed any enemy it was an accident of ricochet. Being a marksman and sharpshooter, he was peculiarly fitted to miss. By this time the Indian fighting had become like dangerous cattle drives—the tribes were forced into revolt, driven and decimated, and the sad, sullen remnants settled on starvation lands. It was not nice work but, given the pattern of the country’s development, it had to be done.

To Adam who was an instrument, who saw not the future farms but only the torn bellies of fine humans, it was revolting and useless. When he fired his carbine to miss he was committing treason against his unit, and he didn’t care. The emotion of nonviolence was building in him until it became a prejudice like any other thought-stultifying prejudice. To inflict any hurt on anything for any purpose became inimical to him. He became obsessed with this emotion, for such it surely was, until it blotted out any possible thinking in its area. But never was there any hint of cowardice in Adam’s army record. Indeed he was commended three times and then decorated for bravery.

As he revolted more and more from violence, his impulse took the opposite direction. He ventured his life a number of times to bring in wounded men. He volunteered for work in field hospitals even when he was exhausted from his regular duties. He was regarded by his comrades with contemptuous affection and the unspoken fear men have of impulses they do not understand.

Charles wrote to his brother regularly—of the farm and the village, of sick cows and a foaling mare, of the added pasture and the lightning-struck barn, of Alice’s choking death from her consumption and his father’s move to a permanent paid position in the GAR in Washington. As with many people, Charles, who could not talk, wrote with fullness. He set down his loneliness and his perplexities, and he put on paper many things he did not know about himself.

During the time Adam was away he knew his brother better than ever before or afterward. In the exchange of letters there grew a closeness neither of them could have imagined.

Adam kept one letter from his brother, not because he understood it completely but because it seemed to have a covered meaning he could not get at. “Dear Brother Adam,” the letter said, “I take my pen in hand to hope you are in good health”—he always started this way to ease himself gently into the task of writing. “I have not had your answer to my last letter but I presume you have other things to do—ha! ha! The rain came wrong and damned the apple blossoms. There won’t be many to eat next winter but I will save what I can. Tonight I cleaned the house, and it is wet and soapy and maybe not any cleaner. How do you suppose Mother kept it the way she did? It does not look the same. Something settles down on it. I don’t know what, but it will not scrub off. But I have spread the dirt around more evenly anyways. Ha! ha!

“Did Father write you anything about his trip? He’s gone clean out to San Francisco in California for an encampment of the Grand Army. The Secty. of War is going to be there, and Father is to introduce him. But this is not any great shucks to Father. He has met the President three, four times and even been to supper to the White House. I would like to see the White House. Maybe you and me can go together when you come home. Father could put us up for a few days and he would be wanting to see you anyways.

“I think I better look around for a wife. This is a good farm, and even if I’m no bargain there’s girls could do worse than this farm. What do you think? You did not say if you are going to come live home when you get out of the army. I hope so. I miss you.”

The writing stopped there. There was a scratch on the page and a splash of ink, and then it went on in pencil, but the writing was different.

In pencil it said, “Later. Well, right there the pen gave out. One of the points broke off. I’ll have to buy another penpoint in the village—rusted right through.”

The words began to flow more smoothly. “I guess I should wait for a new penpoint and not write with a pencil. Only I was sitting here in the kitchen with the lamp on and I guess I got to thinking and it come on late—after twelve, I guess, but I never looked. Old Black Joe started crowing out in the henhouse. Then Mother’s rocking chair cricked for all the world like she was sitting in it. You know I don’t take truck with that, but it set me minding backward, you know how you do sometimes. I guess I’ll tear this letter up maybe, because what’s the good of writing stuff like this.”

The words began to race now as though they couldn’t get out fast enough. “If I’m to throw it away I’d just as well set it down,” the letter said. “It’s like the whole house was alive and had eyes everywhere, and like there was people behind the door just ready to come in if you looked away. It kind of makes my skin crawl. I want to say—I want to say—I mean, I never understood—well, why our father did it. I mean, why didn’t he like that knife I bought for him on his birthday. Why didn’t he? It was a good knife and he needed a good knife. If he had used it or even honed it, or took it out of his pocket and looked at it—that’s all he had to do. If he’d liked it I wouldn’t have took out after you. I had to take out after you. Seems like to me my mother’s chair is rocking a little. It’s just the light. I don’t take any truck with that. Seems like to me there’s something not finished. Seems like when you half finished a job and can’t think what it was. Something didn’t get done. I shouldn’t be here. I ought to be wandering around the world instead of sitting here on a good farm looking for a wife. There is something wrong, like it didn’t get finished, like it happened too soon and left something out. It’s me should be where you are and you here. I never thought like this before. Maybe because it’s late—it’s later than that. I just looked out and it’s first dawn. I don’t think I fell off to sleep. How could the night go so fast? I can’t go to bed now. I couldn’t sleep anyways.”

The letter was not signed. Maybe Charles forgot he had intended to destroy it and sent it along. But Adam saved it for a time, and whenever he read it again it gave him a chill and he didn’t know why.

Chapter 5


On the ranch the little Hamiltons began to grow up, and every year there was a new one. George was a tall handsome boy, gentle and sweet, who had from the first a kind of courtliness. Even as a little boy he was polite and what they used to call “no trouble.” From his father he inherited the neatness of clothing and body and hair, and he never seemed ill dressed even when he was. George was a sinless boy and grew to be a sinless man. No crime of commission was ever attributed to him, and his crimes of omission were only misdemeanors. In his middle life, at about the time such things were known about, it was discovered that he had pernicious anemia. It is possible that his virtue lived on a lack of energy.

Behind George, Will grew along, dumpy and stolid. Will had little imagination but he had great energy. From childhood on he was a hard worker, if anyone would tell him what to work at, and once told he was indefatigable. He was a conservative, not only in politics but in everything. Ideas he found revolutionary, and he avoided them with suspicion and distaste. Will liked to live so that no one could find fault with him, and to do that he had to live as nearly like other people as possible.

Maybe his father had something to do with Will’s distaste for either change or variation. When Will was a growing boy, his father had not been long enough in the Salinas Valley to be thought of as an “old-timer.” He was in fact a foreigner and an Irishman. At that time the Irish were much disliked in America. They were looked upon with contempt, particularly on the East Coast, but a little of it must have seeped out to the West. And Samuel had not only variability but was a man of ideas and innovations. In small cut-off communities such a man is always regarded with suspicion until he has proved he is no danger to the others. A shining man like Samuel could, and can, cause a lot of trouble. He might, for example, prove too attractive to the wives of men who knew they were dull. Then there were his education and his reading, the books he bought and borrowed, his knowledge of things that could not be eaten or worn or cohabited with, his interest in poetry and his respect for good writing. If Samuel had been a rich man like the Thornes or the Delmars, with their big houses and wide flat lands, he would have had a great library.

The Delmars had a library—nothing but books in it and paneled in oak. Samuel, by borrowing, had read many more of the Delmars’ books than the Delmars had. In that day an educated rich man was acceptable. He might send his sons to college without comment, might wear a vest and white shirt and tie in the daytime of a weekday, might wear gloves and keep his nails clean. And since the lives and practices of rich men were mysterious, who knows what they could use or not use? But a poor man—what need had he for poetry or for painting or for music not fit for singing or dancing? Such things did not help him bring in a crop or keep a scrap of cloth on his children’s backs. And if in spite of this he persisted, maybe he had reasons which would not stand the light of scrutiny.

Take Samuel, for instance. He made drawings of work he intended to do with iron or wood. That was good and understandable, even enviable. But on the edges of the plans he made other drawings, sometimes trees, sometimes faces or animals or bugs, sometimes just figures that you couldn’t make out at all. And these caused men to laugh with embarrassed uneasiness. Then, too, you never knew in advance what Samuel would think or say or do—it might be anything.

The first few years after Samuel came to Salinas Valley there was a vague distrust of him. And perhaps Will as a little boy heard talk in the San Lucas store. Little boys don’t want their fathers to be different from other men. Will might have picked up his conservatism right then. Later, as the other children came along and grew, Samuel belonged to the valley, and it was proud of him in the way a man who owns a peacock is proud. They weren’t afraid of him any more, for he did not seduce their wives or lure them out of sweet mediocrity. The Salinas Valley grew fond of Samuel, but by that time Will was formed.

Certain individuals, not by any means always deserving, are truly beloved of the gods. Things come to them without their effort or planning. Will Hamilton was one of these. And the gifts he received were the ones he could appreciate. As a growing boy Will was lucky. Just as his father could not make money, Will could not help making it. When Will Hamilton raised chickens and his hens began to lay, the price of eggs went up. As a young man, when two of his friends who ran a little store came to the point of despondent bankruptcy, Will was asked to lend them a little money to tide them over the quarter’s bills, and they gave him a one-third interest for a pittance. He was not niggardly. He gave them what they asked for. The store was on its feet within one year, expanding in two, opening branches in three, and its descendants, a great mercantile system, now dominate a large part of the area.

Will also took over a bicycle-and-tool shop for a bad debt. Then a few rich people of the valley bought automobiles, and his mechanic worked on them. Pressure was put on him by a determined poet whose dreams were brass, cast iron, and rubber. This man’s name was Henry Ford, and his plans were ridiculous if not illegal. Will grumblingly accepted the southern half of the valley as his exclusive area, and within fifteen years the valley was two-deep in Fords and Will was a rich man driving a Marmon.

Tom, the third son, was most like his father. He was born in fury and he lived in lightning. Tom came headlong into life. He was a giant in joy and enthusiasms. He didn’t discover the world and its people, he created them. When he read his father’s books, he was the first. He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of giant joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.

Tom was as inventive as his father but he was bolder. He would try things his father would not dare. Also, he had a large concupiscence to put the spurs in his flanks, and this Samuel did not have. Perhaps it was his driving sexual need that made him remain a bachelor. It was a very moral family he was born into. It might be that his dreams and his longing, and his outlets for that matter, made him feel unworthy, drove him sometimes whining into the hills. Tom was a nice mixture of savagery and gentleness. He worked inhumanly, only to lose in effort his crushing impulses.

The Irish do have a despairing quality of gaiety, but they have also a dour and brooding ghost that rides on their shoulders and peers in on their thoughts. Let them laugh too loudly, it sticks a long finger down their throats. They condemn themselves before they are charged, and this makes them defensive always.

When Tom was nine years old he worried because his pretty little sister Mollie had an impediment in her speech. He asked her to open her mouth wide and saw that a membrane under her tongue caused the trouble. “I can fix that,” he said. He led her to a secret place far from the house, whetted his pocketknife on a stone, and cut the offending halter of speech. And then he ran away and was sick.

The Hamilton house grew as the family grew. It was designed to be unfinished, so that lean-tos could jut out as they were needed. The original room and kitchen soon disappeared in a welter of these lean-tos.

Meanwhile Samuel got no richer. He developed a very bad patent habit, a disease many men suffer from. He invented a part of a threshing machine, better, cheaper, and more efficient than any in existence. The patent attorney ate up his little profit for the year. Samuel sent his models to a manufacturer, who promptly rejected the plans and used the method. The next few years were kept lean by the suing, and the drain stopped only when he lost the suit. It was his first sharp experience with the rule that without money you cannot fight money. But he had caught the patent fever, and year after year the money made by threshing and by smithing was drained off in patents. The Hamilton children went barefoot, and their overalls were patched and food was sometimes scarce, to pay for the crisp blueprints with cogs and planes and elevations.

Some men think big and some think little. Samuel and his sons Tom and Joe thought big and George and Will thought little. Joseph was the fourth son—a kind of mooning boy, greatly beloved and protected by the whole family. He early discovered that a smiling helplessness was his best protection from work. His brothers were tough hard workers, all of them. It was easier to do Joe’s work than to make him do it. His mother and father thought him a poet because he wasn’t any good at anything else. And they so impressed him with this that he wrote glib verses to prove it. Joe was physically lazy, and probably mentally lazy too. He daydreamed out his life, and his mother loved him more than the others because she thought he was helpless. Actually he was the least helpless, because he got exactly what he wanted with a minimum of effort. Joe was the darling of the family.

In feudal times an ineptness with sword and spear headed a young man for the church: in the Hamilton family Joe’s inability properly to function at farm and forge headed him for a higher education. He was not sickly or weak but he did not lift very well; he rode horses badly and detested them. The whole family laughed with affection when they thought of Joe trying to learn to plow; his tortuous first furrow wound about like a flatland stream, and his second furrow touched his first only once and then to cross it and wander off.

Gradually he eliminated himself from every farm duty. His mother explained that his mind was in the clouds, as though this were some singular virtue.

When Joe had failed at every job, his father in despair put him to herding sixty sheep. This was the least difficult job of all and the one classically requiring no skill. All he had to do was to stay with the sheep. And Joe lost them—lost sixty sheep and couldn’t find them where they were huddled in the shade in a dry gulch. According to the family story, Samuel called the family together, girls and boys, and made them promise to take care of Joe after he was gone, for if they did not Joe would surely starve.

Interspersed with the Hamilton boys were five girls: Una the oldest, a thoughtful, studious, dark girl; Lizzie—I guess Lizzie must have been the oldest since she was named for her mother—I don’t know much about Lizzie. She early seemed to find a shame for her family. She married young and went away and thereafter was seen only at funerals. Lizzie had a capacity for hatred and bitterness unique among the Hamiltons. She had a son, and when he grew up and married a girl Lizzie didn’t like she did not speak to him for many years.

Then there was Dessie, whose laughter was so constant that everyone near her was glad to be there because it was more fun to be with Dessie than with anyone else.

The next sister was Olive, my mother. And last was Mollie, who was a little beauty with lovely blond hair and violet eyes.

These were the Hamiltons, and it was almost a miracle how Liza, skinny little biddy that she was, produced them year after year and fed them, baked bread, made their clothes, and clothed them with good manners and iron morals too.

It is amazing how Liza stamped her children. She was completely without experience in the world, she was unread and, except for the one long trip from Ireland, untraveled. She had no experience with men save only her husband, and that she looked upon as a tiresome and sometimes painful duty. A good part of her life was taken up with bearing and raising. Her total intellectual association was the Bible, except the talk of Samuel and her children, and to them she did not listen. In that one book she had her history and her poetry, her knowledge of peoples and things, her ethics, her morals, and her salvation. She never studied the Bible or inspected it; she just read it. The many places where it seems to refute itself did not confuse her in the least. And finally she came to a point where she knew it so well that she went right on reading it without listening.

Liza enjoyed universal respect because she was a good woman and raised good children. She could hold up her head anywhere. Her husband and her children and her grandchildren respected her. There was a nail-hard strength in her, a lack of any compromise, a Tightness in the face of all opposing wrongness, which made you hold her in a kind of awe but not in warmth.

Liza hated alcoholic liquors with an iron zeal. Drinking alcohol in any form she regarded as a crime against a properly outraged deity. Not only would she not touch it herself, but she resisted its enjoyment by anyone else. The result naturally was that her husband Samuel and all her children had a good lusty love for a drink.

Once when he was very ill Samuel asked, “Liza, couldn’t I have a glass of whisky to ease me?”

She set her little hard chin. “Would you go to the throne of God with liquor on your breath? You would not!” she said.

Samuel rolled over on his side and went about his illness without ease.

When Liza was about seventy her elimination slowed up and her doctor told her to take a tablespoon of port wine for medicine. She forced down the first spoonful, making a crooked face, but it was not so bad. And from that moment she never drew a completely sober breath. She always took the wine in a tablespoon, it was always medicine, but after a time she was doing over a quart a day and she was a much more relaxed and happy woman.

Samuel and Liza Hamilton got all of their children raised and well toward adulthood before the turn of the century. It was a whole clot of Hamiltons growing up on the ranch to the east of King City. And they were American children and young men and women. Samuel never went back to Ireland and gradually he forgot it entirely. He was a busy man. He had no time for nostalgia. The Salinas Valley was the world. A trip to Salinas sixty miles to the north at the head of the valley was event enough for a year, and the incessant work on the ranch, the care and feeding and clothing of his bountiful family, took most of his time—but not all. His energy was large.

His daughter Una had become a brooding student, tense and dark. He was proud of her wild, exploring mind. Olive was preparing to take county examinations after a stretch in the secondary school in Salinas. Olive was going to be a teacher, an honor like having a priest in the family in Ireland. Joe was to be sent to college because he was no damn good at anything else. Will was well along the way to accidental fortune. Tom bruised himself on the world and licked his cuts. Dessie was studying dressmaking, and Mollie, pretty Mollie, would obviously marry some well-to-do man.

There was no question of inheritance. Although the hill ranch was large it was abysmally poor. Samuel sunk well after well and could not find water on his own land. That would have made the difference. Water would have made them comparatively rich. The one poor pipe of water pumped up from deep near the house was the only source; sometimes it got dangerously low, and twice it went dry. The cattle had to come from the far fringe of the ranch to drink and then go out again to feed.

All in all it was a good firm-grounded family, permanent, and successfully planted in the Salinas Valley, not poorer than many and not richer than many either. It was a well-balanced family with its conservatives and its radicals, its dreamers and its realists. Samuel was well pleased with the fruit of his loins.

Chapter 6


6.1 1

After Adam joined the army and Cyrus moved to Washington, Charles lived alone on the farm. He boasted about getting himself a wife, but he did not go about doing it by the usual process of meeting girls, taking them to dances, testing their virtues or otherwise, and finally slipping feebly into marriage. The truth of it was that Charles was abysmally timid of girls. And, like most shy men, he satisfied his normal needs in the anonymity of the prostitute. There is great safety for a shy man with a whore. Having been paid for, and in advance, she has become a commodity, and a shy man can be gay with her and even brutal to her. Also, there is none of the horror of the possible turndown which shrivels the guts of timid men.

The arrangement was simple and reasonably secret. The owner of the inn kept three rooms on his top floor for transients, which he rented to girls for two-week periods. At the end of two weeks a new set of girls took their place. Mr. Hallam, the innkeeper, had no part in the arrangement. He could almost say with truth that he didn’t know anything about it. He simply collected five times the normal rent for his three rooms. The girls were assigned, procured, moved, disciplined, and robbed by a whoremaster named Edwards, who lived in Boston. His girls moved in a slow circuit among the small towns, never staying anywhere more than two weeks. It was an extremely workable system. A girl was not in town long enough to cause remark either by citizen or town marshal. They stayed pretty much in the rooms and avoided public places. They were forbidden on pain of beating to drink or make noise or to fall in love with anyone. Meals were served in their rooms, and the clients were carefully screened. No drunken man was permitted to go up to them. Every six months each girl was given one month of vacation to get drunk and raise hell. On the job, let a girl be disobedient to the rules, and Mr. Edwards personally stripped her, gagged her, and horsewhipped her within an inch of her life. If she did it again she found herself in jail, charged with vagrancy and public prostitution.

The two-week stands had another advantage. Many of the girls were diseased, and a girl had nearly always gone away by the time her gift had incubated in a client. There was no one for a man to get mad at. Mr. Hallam knew nothing about it, and Mr. Edwards never appeared publicly in his business capacity. He had a very good thing in his circuit.

The girls were all pretty much alike—big, healthy, lazy, and dull. A man could hardly tell there had been a change. Charles Trask made it a habit to go to the inn at least once every two weeks, to creep up to the top floor, do his quick business, and return to the bar to get mildly drunk.

The Trask house had never been gay, but lived in only by Charles it took on a gloomy, rustling decay. The lace curtains were gray, the floors, although swept, grew sticky and dank. The kitchen was lacquered—walls, windows, and ceiling—with grease from the frying pans.

The constant scrubbing by the wives who had lived there and the biannual deep-seated scourging had kept the dirt down. Charles rarely did more than sweep. He gave up sheets on his bed and slept between blankets. What good to clean the house when there was no one to see it? Only on the nights he went to the inn did he wash himself and put on clean clothes.

Charles developed a restlessness that got him out at dawn. He worked the farm mightily because he was lonely. Coming in from his work, he gorged himself on fried food and went to bed and to sleep in the resulting torpor.

His dark face took on the serious expressionlessness of a man who is nearly always alone. He missed his brother more than he missed his mother and father. He remembered quite inaccurately the time before Adam went away as the happy time, and he wanted it to come again.

During the years he was never sick, except of course for the chronic indigestion which was universal, and still is, with men who live alone, cook for themselves, and eat in solitude. For this he took a powerful purge called Father George’s Elixir of Life.

One accident he did have in the third year of his aloneness. He was digging out rocks and sledding them to the stone wall. One large boulder was difficult to move. Charles pried at it with a long iron bar, and the rock bucked and rolled back again and again. Suddenly he lost his temper. The little smile came on his face, and he fought the stone as though it were a man, in silent fury. He drove his bar deep behind it and threw his whole weight back. The bar slipped and its upper end crashed against his forehead. For a few moments he lay unconscious in the field and then he rolled over and staggered, half-blinded, to the house. There was a long torn welt on his forehead from hairline to a point between his eyebrows. For a few weeks his head was bandaged over a draining infection, but that did not worry him. In that day pus was. thought to be benign, a proof that a wound was healing properly. When the wound did heal, it left a long and crinkled scar, and while most scar tissue is lighter than the surrounding skin, Charles’ scar turned dark brown. Perhaps the bar had forced iron rust under the skin and made a kind of tattoo.

The wound had not worried Charles, but the scar did. It looked like a long fingermark laid on his forehead. He inspected it often in the little mirror by the stove. He combed his hair down over his forehead to conceal as much of it as he could. He conceived a shame for his scar; he hated his scar. He became restless when anyone looked at it, and fury rose in him if any question was asked about it. In a letter to his brother he put down his feeling about it.

“It looks,” he wrote, “like somebody marked me like a cow. The damn thing gets darker. By the time you get home it will maybe be black. All I need is one going the other way and I would look like a Papist on Ash Wednesday. I don’t know why it bothers me. I got plenty other scars. It just seems like I was marked. And when I go into town, like to the inn, why, people are always looking at it. I can hear them talking about it when they don’t know I can hear. I don’t know why they’re so damn curious about it. It gets so I don’t feel like going in town at all.”

6.2 2

Adam was discharged in 1885 and started to beat his way home. In appearance he had changed little. There was no military carriage about him. The cavalry didn’t act that way. Indeed some units took pride in a sloppy posture.

Adam felt that he was sleepwalking. It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it. In the morning he awakened on a split second and lay waiting for reveille. His calves missed the hug of leggings and his throat felt naked without its tight collar. He arrived in Chicago, and there, for no reason, rented a furnished room for a week, stayed in it for two days, went to Buffalo,” changed his mind, and moved to Niagara Falls. He didn’t want to go home and he put it off as long as possible. Home was not a pleasant place in his mind. The kind of feelings he had had there were dead in him, and he had a reluctance to bring them to life. He watched the falls by the hour. Their roar stupefied and hypnotized him.

One evening he felt a crippling loneliness for the close men in barracks and tent. His impulse was to rush into a crowd for warmth, any crowd. The first crowded public place he could find was a little bar, thronged and smoky. He sighed with pleasure, almost nestled in the human clot the way a cat nestles into a woodpile. He ordered whisky and drank it and felt warm and good. He did not see or hear. He simply absorbed the contact.

As it grew late and the men began to drift away, he became fearful of the time when he would have to go home. Soon he was alone with the bartender, who was rubbing and rubbing the mahogany of the bar and trying with his eyes and his manner to get Adam to go.

“I’ll have one more,” Adam said.

The bartender set the bottle out. Adam noticed him for the first time. He had a strawberry mark on his forehead.

“I’m a stranger in these parts,” said Adam.

“That’s what we mostly get at the falls,” the bartender said.

“I’ve been in the army. Cavalry.”

“Yeah!” the bartender said.

Adam felt suddenly that he had to impress this man, had to get under his skin some way. “Fighting Indians,” he said. “Had some great times.”

The man did not answer him.

“My brother has a mark on his head.”

The bartender touched the strawberry mark with his fingers. “Birthmark,” he said. “Gets bigger every year. Your brother got one?”

“His came from a cut. He wrote me about it.”

“You notice this one of mine looks like a cat?”

“Sure it does.”

“That’s my nickname, Cat. Had it all my life. They say my old lady must of been scared by a cat when she was having me.”

“I’m on my way home. Been away a long time. Won’t you have a drink?”

“Thanks. Where you staying?”

“Mrs. May’s boarding house.”

“I know her. What they tell is she fills you up with soup so you can’t eat much meat.”

“I guess there are tricks to every trade,” said Adam.

“I guess that’s right. There’s sure plenty in mine.”

“I bet that’s true,” said Adam.

“But the one trick I need I haven’t got. I wisht I knew that one.”

“What is it?”

“How the hell to get you to go home and let me close up.”

Adam stared at him, stared at him and did not speak.

“It’s a joke,” the bartender said uneasily.

“I guess I’ll go home in the morning,” said Adam. “I mean my real home.”

“Good luck,” the bartender said.

Adam walked through the dark town, increasing his speed as though his loneliness sniffed along behind him. The sagging front steps of his boarding house creaked a warning as he climbed them. The hall was gloomed with the dot of yellow light from an oil lamp turned down so low that it jerked expiringly.

The landlady stood in her open doorway and her nose made a shadow to the bottom of her chin. Her cold eyes followed Adam as do the eyes of a front-painted portrait, and she listened with her nose for the whisky that was in him.

“Good night,” said Adam.

She did not answer him.

At the top of the first flight he looked back. Her head was raised, and now her chin made a shadow on her throat and her eyes had no pupils.

His room smelled of dust dampened and dried many times. He picked a match from his block and scratched it on the side of the block. He lighted the shank of candle in the japanned candlestick and regarded the bed—as spineless as a hammock and covered with a dirty patchwork quilt, the cotton batting spilling from the edges.

The porch steps complained again, and Adam knew the woman would be standing in her doorway ready to spray inhospitality on the new arrival.

Adam sat down in a straight chair and put his elbows on his knees and supported his chin in his hands. A roomer down the hall began a patient, continuing cough against the quiet night.

And Adam knew he could not go home. He had heard old soldiers tell of doing what he was going to do.

“I just couldn’t stand it. Didn’t have no place to go. Didn’t know nobody. Wandered around and pretty soon I got in a panic like a kid, and first thing I knowed I’m begging the sergeant to let me back in—like he was doing me a favor.”

Back in Chicago, Adam re-enlisted and asked to be assigned to his old regiment. On the train going west the men of his squadron seemed very dear and desirable.

While he waited to change trains in Kansas City, he heard his name called and a message was shoved into his hand—orders to report to Washington to the office of the Secretary of War. Adam in his five years had absorbed rather than learned never to wonder about an order. To an enlisted man the high far gods in Washington were crazy, and if a soldier wanted to keep his sanity he thought about generals as little as possible.

In due course Adam gave his name to a clerk and went to sit in an anteroom. His father found him there. It took Adam a moment to recognize Cyrus, and much longer to get used to him. Cyrus had become a great man. He dressed like a great man—black broadcloth coat and trousers, wide black hat, overcoat with a velvet collar, ebony cane which he made to seem a sword. And Cyrus conducted himself like a great man. His speech was slow and mellow, measured and unexcited, his gestures were wide, and new teeth gave him a vulpine smile out of all proportion to his emotion.

After Adam had realized that this was his father he was still puzzled. Suddenly he looked down—no wooden leg. The leg was straight, bent at the knee, and the foot was clad in a polished kid congress gaiter. When he moved there was a limp, but not a clumping wooden-legged limp.

Cyrus saw the look. “Mechanical,” he said, “Works on a hinge. Got a spring. Don’t even limp when I set my mind to it. I’ll show it to you when I take it off. Come along with me.”

Adam said, “I’m under orders, sir. I’m to report to Colonel Wells.”

“I know you are. I told Wells to issue the orders. Come along.”

Adam said uneasily, “If you don’t mind, sir, I think I’d better report to Colonel Wells.”

His father reversed himself. “I was testing you,” he said grandly. “I wanted to see whether the army has any discipline these days. Good boy. I knew it would be good for you. You’re a man and a soldier, my boy.”

“I’m under orders, sir,” said Adam. This man was a stranger to him. A faint distaste arose in Adam. Something was not true. And the speed with which doors opened straight to the Colonel, the obsequious respect of that officer, the words, “The Secretary will see you now, sir,” did not remove Adam’s feeling.

“This is my son, a private soldier, Mr. Secretary—just as I was—a private soldier in the United States Army.”

“I was discharged a corporal, sir,” said Adam. He hardly heard the exchange of compliments. He was thinking, This is the Secretary of War. Can’t he see that this isn’t the way my father is? He’s play-acting. What’s happened to him? It’s funny the Secretary can’t see it.

They walked to the small hotel where Cyrus lived, and on the way Cyrus pointed out the sights, the buildings, the spots of history, with the expansiveness of a lecturer. “I live in a hotel,” he said. “I’ve thought of getting a house, but I’m on the move so much it wouldn’t hardly pay. I’m all over the country most of the time.”

The hotel clerk couldn’t see either. He bowed to Cyrus, called him “Senator,” and indicated that he would give Adam a room if he had to throw someone out.

“Send a bottle of whisky to my room, please.”

“I can send some chipped ice if you like.”

“Ice!” said Cyrus. “My son is a soldier.” He rapped his leg with his stick and it gave forth a hollow sound. “I have been a soldier—a private soldier. What do we want ice for?”

Adam was amazed at Cyrus’s accommodations. He had not only a bedroom but a sitting room beside it, and the toilet was in a closet right in the bedroom.

Cyrus sat down in a deep chair and sighed. He pulled up his trouser leg, and Adam saw the contraption of iron and leather and hard wood. Cyrus unlaced the leather sheath that held it on his stump and stood the travesty-on-flesh beside his chair. “It gets to pinching pretty bad,” he said.

With the leg off, his father became himself again, the self Adam remembered. He had experienced the beginning of contempt, but now the childhood fear and respect and animosity came back to him, so that he seemed a little boy testing his father’s immediate mood to escape trouble.

Cyrus made his preparations, drank his whisky, and loosened his collar. He faced Adam. “Well?”


“Why did you re-enlist?”

“I—I don’t know, sir. I just wanted to.”

“You don’t like the army, Adam.”

“No, sir.”

“Why did you go back?”

“I didn’t want to go home.”

Cyrus sighed and rubbed the tips of his fingers on the arms of his chair. “Are you going to stay in the army?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir.”

“I can get you into West Point. I have influence. I can get you discharged so you can enter West Point.”

“I don’t want to go there.”

“Are you defying me?” Cyrus asked quietly.

Adam took a long time to answer, and his mind sought escape before he said, “Yes, sir.”

Cyrus said, “Pour me some whisky, son,” and when he had it he continued, “I wonder if you know how much influence I really have. I can throw the Grand Army at any candidate like a sock. Even the President likes to know what I think about public matters. I can get senators defeated and I can pick appointments like apples. I can make men and I can destroy men. Do you know that?”

Adam knew more than that. He knew that Cyrus was defending himself with threats. “Yes, sir. I’ve heard.”

“I could get you assigned to Washington—assigned to me even—teach you your way about.”

“I’d rather go back to my regiment, sir.” He saw the shadow of loss darken his father’s face.

“Maybe I made a mistake. You’ve learned the dumb resistance of a soldier.” He sighed. “I’ll get you ordered to your regiment. You’ll rot in barracks.”

“Thank you, sir.” After a pause Adam asked, “Why don’t you bring Charles here?”

“Because I—No, Charles is better where he is—better where he is.”

Adam remembered his father’s tone and how he looked. And he had plenty of time to remember, because he did rot in barracks. He remembered that Cyrus was lonely and alone—and knew it.

6.3 3

Charles had looked forward to Adam’s return after five years. He had painted the house and the barn, and as the time approached he had a woman in to clean the house, to clean it to the bone.

She was a clean, mean old woman. She looked at the dust-gray rotting curtains, threw them out, and made new ones. She dug grease out of the stove that had been there since Charles’ mother died. And she leached the walls of a brown shiny nastiness deposited by cooking fat and kerosene lamps. She pickled the floors with lye, soaked the blankets in sal soda, complaining the whole time to herself, “Men—dirty animals. Pigs is clean compared. Rot in their own juice. Don’t see how no woman ever marries them. Stink like measles. Look at oven—pie juice from Methuselah.”

Charles had moved into a shed where his nostrils would not be assailed by the immaculate but painful smells of lye and soda and ammonia and yellow soap. He did, however, get the impression that she didn’t approve of his housekeeping. When finally she grumbled away from the shining house Charles remained in the shed. He wanted to keep the house clean for Adam. In the shed where he slept were the tools of the farm and the tools for their repair and maintenance. Charles found that he could cook his fried and boiled meals more quickly and efficiently on the forge than he could on the kitchen stove. The bellows forced quick flaring heat from the coke. A man didn’t have to wait for a stove to heat up. He wondered why he had never thought of it before.

Charles waited for Adam, and Adam did not come. Perhaps Adam was ashamed to write. It was Cyrus who told Charles in an angry letter about Adam’s reenlistment against his wishes. And Cyrus indicated that, in some future, Charles could visit him in Washington, but he never asked him again.

Charles moved back to the house and lived in a kind of savage filth, taking a satisfaction in overcoming the work of the grumbling woman.

It was over a year before Adam wrote to Charles—a letter of embarrassed newsiness building his courage to say, “I don’t know why I signed again. It was like somebody else doing it. Write soon and tell me how you are.”

Charles did not reply until he had received four anxious letters, and then he replied coolly, “I didn’t hardly expect you anyway,” and he went on with a detailed account of farm and animals.

Time had got in its work. After that Charles wrote right after New Year’s and received a letter from Adam written right after New Year’s. They had grown so apart that there was little mutual reference and no questions.

Charles began to keep one slovenly woman after another. When they got on his nerves he threw them out the way he would sell a pig. He didn’t like them and had no interest in whether or not they liked him. He grew away from the village. His contacts were only with the inn and the postmaster. The village people might denounce his manner of life, but one thing he had which balanced his ugly life even in their eyes. The farm had never been so well run. Charles cleared land, built up his walls, improved his drainage, and added a hundred acres to the farm. More than that, he was planting tobacco, and a long new tobacco barn stood impressively behind the house. For these things he kept the respect of his neighbors. A farmer cannot think too much evil of a good farmer. Charles was spending most of his money and all of his energy on the farm.

Chapter 7


7.1 1

Adam spent his next five years doing the things an army uses to keep its men from going insane—endless polishing of metal and leather, parade and drill and escort, ceremony of bugle and flag, a ballet of business for men who aren’t doing anything. In 1886 the big packinghouse strike broke out in Chicago and Adam’s regiment entrained, but the strike was settled before they were needed. In 1888 the Seminóles, who had never signed a peace treaty, stirred restlessly, and the cavalry entrained again; but the Seminóles retired into their swamps and were quiet, and the dreamlike routine settled on the troops again.

Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the dull eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy—that’s the time that seems long in the memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

Adam’s second five years were up before he knew it. It was late in 1890, and he was discharged with sergeant’s stripes in the Presidio in San Francisco. Letters between Charles and Adam had become great rarities, but Adam wrote his brother just before his discharge, “This time I’m coming home,” and that was the last Charles heard of him for over three years.

Adam waited out the winter, wandering up the river to Sacramento, ranging in the valley of the San Joaquín, and when the spring came Adam had no money. He rolled a blanket and started slowly eastward, sometimes walking and sometimes with groups of men on the rods under slow-moving freight cars. At night he jungled up with wandering men in the camping places on the fringes of towns. He learned to beg, not for money but for food. And before he knew it he was a bindlestiff himself.

Such men are rare now, but in the nineties there were many of them, wandering men, lonely men, who wanted it that way. Some of them ran from responsibilities and some felt driven out of society by injustice. They worked a little, but not for long. They stole a little, but only food and occasionally needed garments from a wash line. They were all kinds of men—literate men and ignorant men, clean men and dirty men—but all of them had restlessness in common. They followed warmth and avoided great heat and great cold. As the spring advanced they tracked it eastward, and the first frost drove them west and south. They were brothers to the coyote which, being wild, lives close to man and his chickenyards: they were near towns but not in them. Associations with other men were for a week or for a day and then they drifted apart.

Around the little fires where communal stew bubbled there was all manner of talk and only the personal was unmentionable. Adam heard of the development of the I.W.W. with its angry angels. He listened to philosophic discussions, to metaphysics, to esthetics, to impersonal experience. His companions for the night might be a murderer, an unfrocked priest or one who had unfrocked himself, a professor forced from his warm berth by a dull faculty, a lone driven man running from memory, a fallen archangel and a devil in training, and each contributed bits of thought to the fire as each contributed carrots and potatoes and onions and meat to the stew. He learned the technique of shaving with broken glass, of judging a house before knocking to ask for a handout. He learned to avoid or get along with hostile police and to evaluate a woman for her warmth of heart.

Adam took pleasure in the new life. When autumn touched the trees he had got as far as Omaha, and without question or reason or thought he hurried west and south, fled through the mountains and arrived with relief in Southern California. He wandered by the sea from the border north as far as San Luis Obispo, and he learned to pilfer the tide pools for abalones and eels and mussels and perch, to dig the sandbars for clams, and to trap a rabbit in the dunes with a noose of fishline. And he lay in the sun-warmed sand, counting the waves.

Spring urged him east again, but more slowly than before. Summer was cool in the mountains, and the mountain people were kind as lonesome people are kind. Adam took a job on a widow’s outfit near Denver and shared her table and her bed humbly until the frost drove him south again. He followed the Rio Grande past Albuquerque and El Paso through the Big Bend, through Laredo to Brownsville. He learned Spanish words for food and pleasure, and he learned that when people are very poor they still have something to give and the impulse to give it. He developed a love for poor people he could not have conceived if he had not been poor himself. And by now he was an expert tramp, using humility as a working principle. He was lean and sun-darkened, and he could withdraw his own personality until he made no Stir of anger or jealousy. His voice had grown soft, and he had merged many accents and dialects into his own speech, so that his speech did not seem foreign anywhere. This was the great safety of the tramp, a protective veil. He rode the trains very infrequently, for there was a growing anger against tramps, based on the angry violence of the I.W.W. and aggravated by the fierce reprisals against them. Adam was picked up for vagrancy. The quick brutality of police and prisoners frightened him and drove him away from the gatherings of tramps. He traveled alone after that and made sure that he was shaven and clean.

When spring came again he started north. He felt that his time of rest and peace was over. He aimed north toward Charles and the weakening memories of his childhood.

Adam moved rapidly across interminable East Texas, through Louisiana and the butt ends of Mississippi and Alabama, and into the flank of Florida. He felt that he had to move quickly. The Negroes were poor enough to be kind, but they could not trust any white man no matter how poor, and the poor white men had a fear of strangers.

Near Tallahassee he was picked up by sheriff’s men, judged vagrant, and put on a road gang. That’s how the roads were built. His sentence was six months. He was released and instantly picked up again for a second six months. And now he learned how men can consider other men as beasts and that the easiest way to get along with such men was to be a beast. A clean face, an open face, an eye raised to meet an eye—these drew attention and attention drawn brought punishment. Adam thought how a man doing an ugly or a brutal thing has hurt himself and must punish someone for the hurt. To be guarded at work by men with shotguns, to be shackled by the ankle at night to a chain, were simple matters of precaution, but the savage whippings for the least stir of will, for the smallest shred of dignity or resistance, these seemed to indicate that guards were afraid of prisoners, and Adam knew from his years in the army that a man afraid is a dangerous animal. And Adam, like anyone in the world, feared what whipping would do to his body and his spirit. He drew a curtain around himself. He removed expression from his face, light from his eyes, and silenced his speech. Later he was not so much astonished that it had happened to him but that he had been able to take it and with a minimum of pain. It was much more horrible afterward than when it was happening. It is a triumph of self-control to see a man whipped until the muscles of his back show white and glistening through the cuts and to give no sign of pity or anger or interest. And Adam learned this.

People are felt rather than seen after the first few moments. During his second sentence on the roads of Florida, Adam reduced his personality to a minus. He caused no stir, put out no vibration, became as nearly invisible as it is possible to be. And when the guards could not feel him, they were not afraid of him. They gave him the jobs of cleaning the camps, of handing out the slops to the prisoners, of filling the water buckets.

Adam waited until three days before his second release. Right after noon that day he filled the water buckets and went back to the little river for more. He filled his buckets with stones and sank them, and then he eased himself into the water and swam a long way downstream, rested and swam farther down. He kept moving in the water until at dusk he found a place under a bank with bushes for cover. He did not get out of the water.

Late in the night he heard the hounds go by, covering both sides of the river. He had rubbed his hair hard with green leaves to cover human odor. He sat in the water with his nose and eyes clear. In the morning the hounds came back, disinterested, and the men were too tired to beat the banks properly. When they were gone Adam dug a piece of water-logged fried sowbelly out of his pocket and ate it.

He had schooled himself against hurry. Most men were caught bolting. It took Adam five days to cross the short distance into Georgia. He took no chances, held back his impatience with an iron control. He was astonished at his ability.

On the edge of Valdosta, Georgia, he lay hidden until long after midnight, and he entered the town like a shadow, crept to the rear of a cheap store, forced a window slowly so that the screws of the lock were pulled from the sun-rotted wood. Then he replaced the lock but left the window open. He had to work by moonlight drifting through dirty windows. He stole a pair of cheap trousers, a white shirt, black shoes, black hat, and an oilskin raincoat, and he tried on each article for fit. He forced himself to make sure nothing looked disturbed before he climbed out the window. He had taken nothing which was not heavily stocked. He had not even looked for the cash drawer. He lowered the window carefully and slipped from shadow to shadow in the moonlight.

He lay hidden during the day and went in search of food at night—turnips, a few ears of corn from a crib, a few windfall apples—nothing that would be missed. He broke the newness of the shoes with rubbed sand and kneaded the raincoat to destroy its newness. It was three days before he got the rain he needed, or in his extreme caution felt he needed.

The rain started late in the afternoon. Adam huddled under his oilskin, waiting for the dark to come, and when it did he walked through the dripping night into the town of Valdosta. His black hat was pulled down over his eyes and his yellow oilskin was strapped tight against his throat. He made his way to the station and peered through a rain-blurred window. The station agent, in green eyeshade and black alpaca worksleeves, leaned through the ticket window, talking to a friend. It was twenty minutes before the friend went away. Adam watched him off the platform. He took a deep breath to calm himself and went inside.

7.2 2

Charles received very few letters. Sometimes he did not inquire at the post office for weeks. In February of 1894 when a thick letter came from a firm of attorneys in Washington the postmaster thought it might be important. He walked out to the Trask farm, found Charles cutting wood, and gave him the letter. And since he had taken so much trouble, he waited around to hear what the letter said.

Charles let him wait. Very slowly he read all five pages, went back and read them again, moving his lips over the words. Then he folded it up and turned toward the house.

The postmaster called after him, “Anything wrong, Mr. Trask?”

“My father is dead,” Charles said, and he walked into the house and closed the door.

“Took it hard,” the postmaster reported in town. “Took it real hard. Quiet man. Don’t talk much.”

In the house Charles lighted the lamp although it was not dark yet. He laid the letter on the table, and he washed his hands before he sat down to read it again.

There hadn’t been anyone to send him a telegram. The attorneys had found his address among his father’s papers. They were sorry—offered their condolences. And they were pretty excited too. When they had made Trask’s will they thought he might have a few hundred dollars to leave his sons. That is what he looked to be worth. When they inspected his bankbooks they found that he had over ninety-three thousand dollars in the bank and ten thousand dollars in good securities. They felt very different about Mr. Trask then. People with that much money were rich. They would never have to worry. It was enough to start a dynasty. The lawyers congratulated Charles and his brother Adam. Under the will, they said, it was to be shared equally. After the money they listed the personal effects left by the deceased: five ceremonial swords presented to Cyrus at various GAR conventions, an olive wood gavel with a gold plate on it, a Masonic watch charm with a diamond set in the dividers, the gold caps from the teeth he had out when he got his plates, watch (silver), gold-headed stick, and so forth.

Charles read the letter twice more and cupped his forehead in his hands. He wondered about Adam. He wanted Adam home.

Charles felt puzzled and dull. He built up the fire and put the frying pan to heat and sliced thick pieces of salt pork into it. Then he went back to stare at the letter. Suddenly he picked it up and put it in the drawer of the kitchen table. He decided not to think of the matter at all for a while.

Of course he thought of little else, but it was a dull circular thinking that came back to the starting point again and again: Where had he gotten it?

When two events have something in common, in their natures or in time or place, we leap happily to the conclusion that they are similar and from this tendency we create magics and store them for retelling. Charles had never before had a letter delivered at the farm in his life. Some weeks later a boy ran out to the farm with a telegram. Charles always connected the letter and the telegram the way we group two deaths and anticipate a third. He hurried to the village railroad station, carrying the telegram in his hand.

“Listen to this,” he said to the operator.

“I already read it.”

“You did?”

“It comes over the wire,” said the operator. “I wrote it down.”

“Oh! Yes, sure. ‘Urgent need you telegraph me one hundred dollars. Coming home. Adam.’ ”

“Came collect,” the operator said. “You owe me sixty cents.”

“Valdosta, Georgia—I never heard of it.”

“Neither’d I, but it’s there.”

“Say, Carlton, how do you go about telegraphing money?”

“Well, you bring me a hundred and two dollars and sixty cents and I send a wire telling the Valdosta operator to pay Adam one hundred dollars. You owe me sixty cents too.”

“I’ll pay—say, how do I know it’s Adam? What’s to stop anybody from collecting it?”

The operator permitted himself a smile of worldliness. “Way we go about it, you give me a question couldn’t nobody else know the answer. So I send both the question and the answer. Operator asks this fella the question, and if he can’t answer he don’t get the money.”

“Say, that’s pretty cute. I better think up a good one.”

“You better get the hundred dollars while Old Breen still got the window open.”

Charles was delighted with the game. He came back with the money in his hand. “I got the question,” he said.

“I hope it ain’t your mother’s middle name. Lot of people don’t remember.”

“No, nothing like that. It’s this. ‘What did you give Father on his birthday just before you went in the army?’ ”

“It’s a good question but it’s long as hell. Can’t you cut it down to ten words?”

“Who’s paying for it? Answer is, ‘A pup.’ ”

“Wouldn’t nobody guess that,” said Carlton. “Well, it’s you paying, not me.”

“Be funny if he forgot,” said Charles. “He wouldn’t ever get home.”

7.3 3

Adam came walking out from the village. His shirt was dirty and the stolen clothes were wrinkled and soiled from having been slept in for a week. Between the house and the barn he stopped and listened for his brother, and in a moment he heard him hammering at something in the big new tobacco barn. “Oh, Charles!” Adam called.

The hammering stopped, and there was silence. Adam felt as though his brother were inspecting him through the cracks in the barn. Then Charles came out quickly and hurried to Adam and shook hands.

“How are you?”

“Fine,” said Adam.

“Good God, you’re thin!”

“I guess I am. And I’m years older too.”

Charles inspected him from head to foot. “You don’t look prosperous.”

“I’m not.”

“Where’s your valise?”

“I haven’t got one.”

“Jesus Christ! Where’ve you been?”

“Mostly wandering around all over.”

“Like a hobo?”

“Like a hobo.”

After all the years and the life that had made creased leather out of Charles’ skin and redness in his dark eyes, Adam knew from remembering that Charles was thinking of two things—the questions and something else.

“Why didn’t you come home?”

“I just got to wandering. Couldn’t stop. It gets into you. That’s a real bad scar you’ve got there.”

“That’s the one I wrote you about. Gets worse all the time. Why didn’t you write? Are you hungry?” Charles’ hands itched into his pockets and out and touched his chin and scratched his head.

“It may go away. I saw a man once—bartender—he had one that looked like a cat. It was a birthmark. His nickname was Cat.”

“Are you hungry?”

“Sure, I guess I am.”

“Plan to stay home now?”

“I—I guess so. Do you want to get to it now?”

“I—I guess so,” Charles echoed him. “Our father is dead.”

“I know.”

“How the hell do you know?”

“Station agent told me. How long ago did he die?”

“ ’Bout a month.”

“What of?”


“Buried here?”

“No. In Washington. I got a letter and newspapers. Carried him on a caisson with a flag over it. The Vice-President was there and the President sent a wreath. All in the papers. Pictures too—I’ll show you. I’ve got it all.”

Adam studied his brother’s face until Charles looked away. “Are you mad at something?” Adam asked.

“What should I be mad at?”

“It just sounded—”

“I’ve got nothing to be mad at. Come on, I’ll get you something to eat.”

“All right. Did he linger long?”

“No. It was galloping pneumonia. Went right out.”

Charles was covering up something. He wanted to tell it but he didn’t know how to go about it. He kept hiding in words. Adam fell silent. It might be a good thing to be quiet and let Charles sniff and circle until he came out with it.

“I don’t take much stock in messages from the beyond,” said Charles. “Still, how can you know? Some people claim they’ve had messages—old Sarah Whitburn. She swore. You just don’t know what to think. You didn’t get a message, did you? Say, what the hell’s bit off your tongue?”

Adam said, “Just thinking.” And he was thinking with amazement, Why, I’m not afraid of my brother! I used to be scared to death of him, and I’m not any more. Wonder why not? Could it be the army? Or the chain gang? Could it be Father’s death? Maybe—but I don’t understand it. With the lack of fear, he knew he could say anything he wanted to, whereas before he had picked over his words to avoid trouble. It was a good feeling he had, almost as though he himself had been dead and resurrected.

They walked into the kitchen he remembered and didn’t remember. It seemed smaller and dingier. Adam said almost gaily, “Charles, I been listening. You want to tell me something and you’re walking around it like a terrier around a bush. You better tell before it bites you.”

Charles’ eyes sparked up with anger. He raised his head. His force was gone. He thought with desolation, I can’t lick him any more. I can’t.

Adam chuckled. “Maybe it’s wrong to feel good when our father’s just died, but you know, Charles, I never felt better in my whole life. I never felt as good. Spill it, Charles. Don’t let it chew on you.”

Charles asked, “Did you love our father?”

“I won’t answer you until I know what you’re getting at.”

“Did you or didn’t you?”

“What’s that got to do with you?”

“Tell me.”

The creative free boldness was all through Adam’s bones and brain. “All right, I’ll tell you. No. I didn’t. Sometimes he scared me. Sometimes—yes, sometimes I admired him, but most of the time I hated him. Now tell me why you want to know.”

Charles was looking down at his hands. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I just can’t get it through my head. He loved you more than anything in the world.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“You don’t have to. He liked everything you brought him. He didn’t like me. He didn’t like anything I gave him. Remember the present I gave him, the pocketknife? I cut and sold a load of wood to get that knife. Well, he didn’t even take it to Washington with him. It’s right in his bureau right now. And you gave him a pup. It didn’t cost you a thing. Well, I’ll show you a picture of that pup. It was at his funeral. A colonel was holding it—it was blind, couldn’t walk. They shot it after the funeral.”

Adam was puzzled at the fierceness of his brother’s tone. “I don’t see,” he said. “I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

“I loved him,” said Charles. And for the first time that Adam could remember, Charles began to cry. He put his head down in his arms and cried.

Adam was about to go to him when a little of the old fear came back. No, he thought, if I touched him he would try to kill me. He went to the open doorway and stood looking out, and he could hear his brother’s sniffling behind him.

It was not a pretty farm near the house—never had been. There was litter about it, an unkemptness, a rundownness, a lack of plan; no flowers, and bits of paper and scraps of wood scattered about on the ground. The house was not pretty either. It was a well-built shanty for shelter and cooking. It was a grim farm and a grim house, unloved and unloving. It was no home, no place to long for or to come back to. Suddenly Adam thought of his stepmother—as unloved as the farm, adequate, clean in her way, but no more wife than the farm was a home.

His brother’s sobbing had stopped. Adam turned. Charles was looking blankly straight ahead. Adam said, “Tell me about Mother.”

“She died. I wrote you.”

“Tell me about her.”

“I told you. She died. It’s so long ago. She wasn’t your mother.”

The smile Adam had once caught on her face flashed up in his mind. Her face was projected in front of him.

Charles’ voice came through the image and exploded it. “Will you tell me one thing—not quick—think before you tell me, and maybe don’t answer unless it’s true, your answer.”

Charles moved his lips to form the question in advance. “Do you think it would be possible for our father to be—dishonest?”

“What do you mean?”

“Isn’t that plain enough? I said it plain. There’s only one meaning to dishonest.”

“I don’t know,” said Adam. “I don’t know. No one ever said it. Look what he got to be. Stayed overnight in the White House. The Vice-President came to his funeral. Does that sound like a dishonest man? Come on, Charles,” he begged, “tell me what you’ve been wanting to tell me from the minute I got here.”

Charles wet his lips. The blood seemed to have gone out of him, and with it energy and all ferocity. His voice became a monotone. “Father made a will. Left everything equal to me and you.”

Adam laughed. “Well, we can always live on the farm. I guess we won’t starve.”

“It’s over a hundred thousand dollars,” the dull voice went on.

“You’re crazy. More like a hundred dollars. Where would he get it?”

“It’s no mistake. His salary with the GAR was a hundred and thirty-five dollars a month. He paid his own room and board. He got five cents a mile and hotel expenses when he traveled.”

“Maybe he had it all the time and we never knew.”

“No, he didn’t have it all the time.”

“Well, why don’t we write to the GAR and ask? Someone there might know.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” said Charles.

“Now look! Don’t go off half-cocked. There’s such a thing as speculation. Lots of men struck it rich. He knew big men. Maybe he got in on a good thing. Think of the men who went to the gold rush in California and came back rich.”

Charles’ face was desolate. His voice dropped so that Adam had to lean close to hear. It was as toneless as a report. “Our father went into the Union Army in June 1862. He had three months’ training here in this state. That makes it September. He marched south. October twelfth he was hit in the leg and sent to the hospital. He came home in January.”

“I don’t see what you’re getting at.”

Charles’ words were thin and sallow. “He was not at Chancellorsville. He was not at Gettysburg or the Wilderness or Richmond or Appomattox.”

“How do you know?”

“His discharge. It came down with his other papers.”

Adam sighed deeply. In his chest, like beating fists, was a surge of joy. He shook his head almost in disbelief.

Charles said, “How did he get away with it? How in hell did he get away with it? Nobody ever questioned it. Did you? Did I? Did my mother? Nobody did. Not even in Washington.”

Adam stood up. “What’s in the house to eat? I’m going to warm up something.”

“I killed a chicken last night. I’ll fry it if you can wait.”

“Anything quick?”

“Some salt pork and plenty of eggs.”

“I’ll have that,” said Adam.

They left the question lying there, walked mentally around it, stepped over it. Their words ignored it but their minds never left it. They wanted to talk about it and could not. Charles fried salt pork, warmed up a skillet of beans, fried eggs.

“I plowed the pasture,” he said. “Put it in rye.”

“How did it do?”

“Just fine, once I got the rocks out.” He touched his forehead. “I got this damn thing trying to pry out a stone.”

“You wrote about that,” Adam said. “Don’t know whether I told you your letters meant a lot to me.”

“You never wrote much what you were doing,” said Charles.

“I guess I didn’t want to think about it. It was pretty bad, most of it.”

“I read about the campaigns in the papers. Did you go on those?”

“Yes. I didn’t want to think about them. Still don’t.”

“Did you kill Injuns?”

“Yes, we killed Injuns.”

“I guess they’re real ornery.”

“I guess so.”

“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t want to.”

They ate their dinner under the kerosene lamp. “We’d get more light if I would only get around to washing that lampshade.”

“I’ll do it,” said Adam. “It’s hard to think of everything.”

“It’s going to be fine having you back. How would you like to go to the inn after supper?”

“Well, we’ll see. Maybe I’d like just to sit awhile.”

“I didn’t write about it in a letter, but they’ve got girls at the inn. I didn’t know but you’d like to go in with me. They change every two weeks. I didn’t know but you’d like to look them over.”


“Yes, they’re upstairs. Makes it pretty handy. And I thought you just coming home—”

“Not tonight. Maybe later. How much do they charge?”

“A dollar. Pretty nice girls mostly.”

“Maybe later,” said Adam. “I’m surprised they let them come in.”

“I was too at first. But they worked out a system.”

“You go often?”

“Every two or three weeks. It’s pretty lonesome here, a man living alone.”

“You wrote once you were thinking of getting married.”

“Well, I was. Guess I didn’t find the right girl.”

All around the main subject the brothers beat. Now and then they would almost step into it, and quickly pull away, back into crops and local gossip and politics and health. They knew they would come back to it sooner or later. Charles was more anxious to strike in deep than Adam was, but then Charles had had the time to think of it, and to Adam it was a new field of thinking and feeling. He would have preferred to put it over until another day, and at the same time he knew his brother would not permit him to.

Once he said openly, “Let’s sleep on that other thing.”

“Sure, if you want to,” said Charles.

Gradually they ran out of escape talk. Every acquaintance was covered and every local event. The talk lagged and the time went on.

“Feel like turning in?” Adam asked.

“In a little while.”

They were silent, and the night moved restlessly about the house, nudging them and urging them.

“I sure would like to’ve seen that funeral,” said Charles.

“Must have been pretty fancy.”

“Would you care to see the clippings from the papers? I’ve got them all in my room.”

“No. Not tonight.”

Charles squared his chair around and put his elbows on the table. “We’ll have to figure it out,” he said nervously. “We can put it off all we want, but we goddam well got to figure what we’re going to do.”

“I know that,” said Adam. “I guess I just wanted some time to think about it.”

“Would that do any good? I’ve had time, lots of time, and I just went in circles. I tried not to think about it, and I still went in circles. You think time is going to help?”

“I guess not. I guess not. What do you want to talk about first? I guess we might as well get into it. We’re not thinking about anything else.”

“There’s the money,” said Charles. “Over a hundred thousand dollars—a fortune.”

“What about the money?”

“Well, where did it come from?”

“How do I know? I told you he might have speculated. Somebody might have put him onto a good thing there in Washington.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I don’t believe anything,” Adam said. “I don’t know, so what can I believe?”

“It’s a lot of money,” said Charles. “It’s a fortune left to us. We can live the rest of our lives on it, or we can buy a hell of a lot of land and make it pay. Maybe you didn’t think about it, but we’re rich. We’re richer than anybody hereabouts.”

Adam laughed. “You say it like it was a jail sentence.”

“Where did it come from?”

“What do you care?” Adam asked. “Maybe we should just settle back and enjoy it.”

“He wasn’t at Gettysburg. He wasn’t at any goddam battle in the whole war. He was hit in a skirmish. Everything he told was lies.”

“What are you getting at?” said Adam.

“I think he stole the money,” Charles said miserably. “You asked me and that’s what I think.”

“Do you know where he stole it?”


“Then why do you think he stole it?”

“He told lies about the war.”


“I mean, if he lied about the war—why, he could steal.”


“He held jobs in the GAR—big jobs. He maybe could have got into the treasury, rigged the books.”

Adam sighed. “Well, if that’s what you think, why don’t you write to them and tell them? Have them go over the books. If it’s true we could give back the money.”

Charles’ face was twisted and the scar on his forehead showed dark. “The Vice-President came to his funeral. The President sent a wreath. There was a line of carriages half a mile long and hundreds of people on foot. And do you know who the pall bearers were?”

“What are you digging at?”

“ ’Spose we found out he’s a thief. Then it would come out how he never was at Gettysburg or anyplace else. Then everybody would know he was a liar too, and his whole life was a goddam lie. Then even if sometimes he did tell the truth, nobody would believe it was the truth.”

Adam sat very still. His eyes were untroubled but he was watchful. “I thought you loved him,” he said calmly. He felt released and free.

“I did. I do. That’s why I hate this—his whole life gone—all gone. And his grave—they might even dig him up and throw him out.” His words were ragged with emotion. “Didn’t you love him at all?” he cried.

“I wasn’t sure until now,” said Adam. “I was all mixed up with how I was supposed to feel. No. I did not love him.”

“Then you don’t care if his life is spoiled and his poor body rooted up and—oh, my God almighty!”

Adam’s brain raced, trying to find words for his feeling. “I don’t have to care.”

“No, you don’t,” Charles said bitterly. “Not if you didn’t love him, you don’t. You can help kick him in the face.”

Adam knew that his brother was no longer dangerous. There was no jealousy to drive him. The whole weight of his father was on him, but it was his father and no one could take his father away from him.

“How will you feel, walking in town, after everyone knows?” Charles demanded. “How will you face anybody?”

“I told you I don’t care. I don’t have to care because I don’t believe it.”

“You don’t believe what?”

“I don’t believe he stole any money. I believe in the war he did just what he said he did and was just where he said he was.”

“But the proof—how about the discharge?”

“You haven’t any proof that he stole. You just made that up because you don’t know where the money came from.”

“His army papers—”

“They could be wrong,” Adam said. “I believe they are wrong. I believe in my father.”

“I don’t see how you can.”

Adam said, “Let me tell you. The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.”

“But you said you did not love our father. How can you have faith in him if you didn’t love him?”

“Maybe that’s the reason,” Adam said slowly, feeling his way. “Maybe if I had loved him I would have been jealous of him. You were. Maybe—maybe love makes you suspicious and doubting. Is it true that when you love a woman you are never sure—never sure of her because you aren’t sure of yourself? I can see it pretty clearly. I can see how you loved him and what it did to you. I did not love him. Maybe he loved me. He tested me and hurt me and punished me and finally he sent me out like a sacrifice, maybe to make up for something. But he did not love you, and so he had faith in you. Maybe—why, maybe it’s a kind of reverse.”

Charles stared at him. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I’m trying to,” said Adam. “It’s a new thought to me. I feel good. I feel better maybe than I have ever felt in my whole life. I’ve got rid of something. Maybe sometime I’ll get what you have, but I haven’t got it now.”

“I don’t understand,” Charles said again.

“Can you see that I don’t think our father was a thief? I don’t believe he was a liar.”

“But the papers—”

“I won’t look at the papers. Papers are no match at all for my faith in my father.”

Charles was breathing heavily. “Then you would take the money?”

“Of course.”

“Even if he stole it?”

“He did not steal it. He couldn’t have stolen it.”

“I don’t understand,” said Charles.

“You don’t? Well, it does seem that maybe this might be the secret of the whole thing. Look, I’ve never mentioned this—do you remember when you beat me up just before I went away?”


“Do you remember later? You came back with a hatchet to kill me.”

“I don’t remember very well. I must have been crazy.”

“I didn’t know then, but I know now—you were fighting for your love.”


“Yes,” said Adam. “We’ll use the money well. Maybe we’ll stay here. Maybe we’ll go away—maybe to California. We’ll have to see what we’ll do. And of course we must set up a monument to our father—a big one.”

“I couldn’t ever go away from here,” said Charles.

“Well, let’s see how it goes, There’s no hurry. We’ll feel it out.”

Chapter 8


8.1 1

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies; some are born with no arms, no legs, some with three arms, some with tails or mouths in odd places. They are accidents and no one’s fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins.

And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Monsters are variations from the accepted normal to a greater or a less degree. As a child may be born without an arm, so one may be born without kindness or the potential of conscience. A man who loses his arms in an accident has a great struggle to adjust himself to the lack, but one born without arms suffers only from people who find him strange. Having never had arms, he cannot miss them. Sometimes when we are little we imagine how it would be to have wings, but there is no reason to suppose it is the same feeling birds have. No, to a monster the norm must seem monstrous, since everyone is normal to himself. To the inner monster it must be even more obscure, since he has no visible thing to compare with others. To a man born without conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous. To a criminal, honesty is foolish. You must not forget that a monster is only a variation, and that to a monster the norm is monstrous.

It is my belief that Cathy Ames was born with the tendencies, or lack of them, which drove and forced her all of her life. Some balance wheel was misweighted, some gear out of ratio. She was not like other people, never was from birth. And just as a cripple may learn to utilize his lack so that he becomes more effective in a limited field than the uncrippled, so did Cathy, using her difference, make a painful and bewildering stir in her world.

There was a time when a girl like Cathy would have been called possessed by the devil. She would have been exorcised to cast out the evil spirit, and if after many trials that did not work, she would have been burned as a witch for the good of the community. The one thing that may not be forgiven a witch is her ability to distress people, to make them restless and uneasy and even envious.

As though nature concealed a trap, Cathy had from the first a face of innocence. Her hair was gold and lovely; wide-set hazel eyes with upper lids that drooped made her look mysteriously sleepy. Her nose was delicate and thin, and her cheekbones high and wide, sweeping down to a small chin so that her face was heart-shaped. Her mouth was well shaped and well lipped but abnormally small—what used to be called a rosebud. Her ears were very little, without lobes, and they pressed so close to her head that even with her hair combed up they made no silhouette. They were thin flaps sealed against her head.

Cathy always had a child’s figure even after she was grown, slender, delicate arms and hands—tiny hands. Her breasts never developed very much. Before her puberty the nipples turned inward. Her mother had to manipulate them out when they became painful in Cathy’s tenth year. Her body was a boy’s body, narrow-hipped, straight-legged, but her ankles were thin and straight without being slender. Her feet were small and round and stubby, with fat insteps almost like little hoofs. She was a pretty child and she became a pretty woman. Her voice was huskily soft, and it could be so sweet as to be irresistible. But there must have been some steel cord in her throat, for Cathy’s voice could cut like a file when she wished.

Even as a child she had some quality that made people look at her, then look away, then look back at her, troubled at something foreign. Something looked out of her eyes, and was never there when one looked again. She moved quietly and talked little, but she could enter no room without causing everyone to turn toward her.

She made people uneasy but not so that they wanted to go away from her. Men and women wanted to inspect her, to be close to her, to try to find what caused the disturbance she distributed so subtly. And since this had always been so, Cathy did not find it strange.

Cathy was different from other children in many ways, but one thing in particular set her apart. Most children abhor difference. They want to look, talk, dress, and act exactly like all of the others. If the style of dress is an absurdity, it is pain and sorrow to a child not to wear that absurdity. If necklaces of pork chops were accepted, it would be a sad child who could not wear pork chops. And this slavishness to the group normally extends into every game, every practice, social or otherwise. It is a protective coloration children utilize for their safety.

Cathy had none of this. She never conformed in dress or conduct. She “wore whatever she wanted to. The result was that quite often other children imitated her.

As she grew older the group, the herd, which is any collection of children, began to sense what adults felt, that there was something foreign about Cathy. After a while only one person at a time associated with her. Groups of boys and girls avoided her as though she carried a nameless danger.

Cathy was a liar, but she did not lie the way most children do. Hers was no daydream lying, when the thing imagined is told and, to make it seem more real, told as real. That is just ordinary deviation from external reality. I think the difference between a lie and a story is that a story utilizes the trappings and appearance of truth for the interest of the listener as well as of the teller. A story has in it neither gain nor loss. But a lie is a device for profit or escape. I suppose if that definition is strictly held to, then a writer of stories is a liar—if he is financially fortunate.

Cathy’s lies were never innocent. Their purpose was to escape punishment, or work, or responsibility, and they were used for profit. Most liars are tripped up either because they forget what they have told or because the lie is suddenly faced with an incontrovertible truth. But Cathy did not forget her lies, and she developed the most effective method of lying. She stayed close enough to the truth so that one could never be sure. She knew two other methods also—either to interlard her lies with truth or to tell a truth as though it were a lie. If one is accused of a lie and it turns out to be the truth, there is a backlog that will last a long time and protect a number of untruths.

Since Cathy was an only child her mother had no close contrast in the family. She thought all children were like her own. And since all parents are worriers she was convinced that all her friends had the same problems.

Cathy’s father was not so sure. He operated a small tannery in a town in Massachusetts, which made a comfortable, careful living if he worked very hard. Mr. Ames came in contact with other children away from his home and he felt that Cathy was not like other children. It was a matter more felt than known. He was uneasy about his daughter but he could not have said why.

Nearly everyone in the world has appetites and impulses, trigger emotions, islands of selfishness, lusts just beneath the surface. And most people either hold such things in check or indulge them secretly. Cathy knew not only these impulses in others but how to use them for her own gain. It is quite possible that she did not believe in any other tendencies in humans, for while she was preternaturally alert in some directions she was completely blind in others.

Cathy learned when she was very young that sexuality with all its attendant yearnings and pains, jealousies and taboos, is the most disturbing impulse humans have. And in that day it was even more disturbing than it is now, because the subject was unmentionable and unmentioned. Everyone concealed that little hell in himself, while publicly pretending it did not exist—and when he was caught up in it he was completely helpless. Cathy learned that by the manipulation and use of this one part of people she could gain and keep power over nearly everyone. It was at once a weapon and a threat. It was irresistible. And since the blind helplessness seems never to have fallen on Cathy, it is probable that she had very little of the impulse herself and indeed felt a contempt for those who did. And when you think of it in one way, she was right.

What freedom men and women could have, were they not constantly tricked and trapped and enslaved and tortured by their sexuality! The only drawback in that freedom is that without it one would not be a human. One would be a monster.

At ten Cathy knew something of the power of the sex impulse and began coldly to experiment with it. She planned everything coldly, foreseeing difficulties and preparing for them.

The sex play of children has always gone on. Everyone, I guess, who is not abnormal has foregathered with little girls in some dim leafy place, in the bottom of a manger, under a willow, in a culvert under a road—or at least has dreamed of doing so. Nearly all parents are faced with the problem sooner or later, and then the child is lucky if the parent remembers his own childhood. In the time of Cathy’s childhood, however, it was harder. The parents, denying it in themselves, were horrified to find it in their children.

8.2 2

On a spring morning when with late-surviving dew the young grass bristled under the sun, when the warmth crept into the ground and pushed the yellow dandelions up, Cathy’s mother finished hanging the washed clothes on the line. The Ameses lived on the edge of town, and behind their house were barn and carriage house, vegetable garden and fenced paddock for two horses.

Mrs. Ames remembered having seen Cathy stroll away toward the barn. She called for her, and when there was no answer she thought she might have been mistaken. She was about to go into the house when she heard a giggle from the carriage house. “Cathy!” she called. There was no answer. An uneasiness came over her. She reached back in her mind for the sound of the giggle. It had not been Cathy’s voice. Cathy was not a giggler.

There is no knowing how or why dread comes on a parent. Of course many times apprehension arises when there is no reason for it at all. And it comes most often to the parents of only children, parents who have indulged in black dreams of loss.

Mrs. Ames stood still, listening. She heard soft secret voices and moved quietly toward the carriage house. The double doors were closed. The murmur of voices came from inside, but she could not make out Cathy’s voice. She made a quick stride and pulled the doors open and the bright sun crashed inside. She froze, mouth open, at what she saw. Cathy lay on the floor, her skirts pulled up. She was naked to the waist, and beside her two boys about fourteen were kneeling. The shock of the sudden light froze them too. Cathy’s eyes were blank with terror. Mrs. Ames knew the boys, knew their parents.

Suddenly one of the boys leaped up, darted past Mrs. Ames, and ran around the corner of the house. The other boy helplessly edged away from the woman and with a cry rushed through the doorway. Mrs. Ames clutched at him, but her fingers slipped from his jacket and he was gone. She could hear his running-footsteps outside.

Mrs. Ames tried to speak and her voice was a croaking whisper. “Get up!”

Cathy stared blankly up at her and made no move. Mrs. Ames saw that Cathy’s wrists were tied with a heavy rope. She screamed and flung herself down and fumbled at the knots. She carried Cathy into the house and put her to bed.

The family doctor, after he had examined Cathy, could find no evidence that she had been mistreated. “You can just thank God you got there in time,” he said over and over to Mrs. Ames.

Cathy did not speak for a long time. Shock, the doctor called it. And when she did come out of the shock Cathy refused to talk. When she was questioned her eyes widened until the whites showed all around the pupils and her breathing stopped and her body grew rigid and her cheeks reddened from holding her breath.

The conference with the parents of the boys was attended by Dr. Williams. Mr. Ames was silent most of the time. He carried the rope which had been around Cathy’s wrists. His eyes were puzzled. There were things he did not understand, but he did not bring them up.

Mrs. Ames settled down to a steady hysteria. She had been there. She had seen. She was the final authority. And out of her hysteria a sadistic devil peered. She wanted blood. There was a kind of pleasure in her demands for punishment. The town, the country, must be protected. She put it on that basis. She had arrived in time, thank God. But maybe the next time she would not; and how would other mothers feel? And Cathy was only ten years old.

Punishments were more savage then than they are now. A man truly believed that the whip was an instrument of virtue. First singly and then together the boys were whipped, whipped-to raw cuts.

Their crime was bad enough, but the lies proved an evil that not even the whip could remove. And their defense was from the beginning ridiculous. Cathy, they said, had started the whole thing, and they had each given her five cents. They had not tied her hands. They said they remembered that she was playing with a rope.

Mrs. Ames said it first and the whole town echoed it. “Do they mean to say she tied her own hands? A ten-year-old child?”

If the boys had owned up to the crime they might have escaped some of the punishment. Their refusal brought a torturing rage not only to their fathers, who did the whipping, but to the whole community. Both boys were sent to a house of correction with the approval of their parents.

“She’s haunted by it,” Mrs. Ames told the neighbors. “If she could only talk about it, maybe she would get better. But when I ask her about it—it’s like it came right back to her and she goes into shock again.”

The Ameses never spoke of it to her again. The subject was closed. Mr. Ames very soon forgot his haunting reservations. He would have felt bad if two boys were in the house of correction for something they did not do.

After Cathy had fully recovered from her shock, boys and girls watched her from a distance and then moved closer, fascinated by her. She had no girl crushes, as is usual at twelve and thirteen. Boys did not want to take the chance of being ragged by their friends for walking home from school with her. But she exercised a powerful effect on both boys and girls. And if any boy could come on her alone, he found himself drawn to her by a force he could neither understand nor overcome.

She was dainty and very sweet and her voice was low. She went for long walks by herself, and it was a rare walk when some boy did not blunder out of a woodlot and come on her by accident. And while whispers went scurrying about, there is no knowing what Cathy did. If anything happened, only vague whispers followed, and this in itself was unusual at an age when there are many secrets and none of them kept long enough to raise a cream.

Cathy developed a little smile, just a hint of a smile. She had a way of looking sideways and down that hinted to a lone boy of secrets he could share.

In her father’s mind another question stirred, and he shoved it down deep and felt dishonest for thinking about it at all. Cathy had remarkable luck in finding things—a gold charm, money, a little silken purse, a silver cross with red stones said to be rubies. She found many things, and when her father advertised in the weekly Courier about the cross no one ever claimed it.

Mr. William Ames, Cathy’s father, was a covered man. He rarely told the thoughts in his mind. He wouldn’t have dared so far to expose himself to the gaze of his neighbors. He kept the little flame of suspicion to himself. It was better if he didn’t know anything, safer, wiser, and much more comfortable. As for Cathy’s mother, she was so bound and twisted in a cocoon of gauzy half-lies, warped truth, suggestions, all planted by Cathy, that she would not have known a true thing if it had come to her.

8.3 3

Cathy grew more lovely all the time. The delicate blooming skin, the golden hair, the wide-set, modest, and yet promising eyes, the little mouth full of sweetness, caught attention and held it. She finished the eight grades of grammar school with such a good record that her parents entered her in the small high school, although in that time it was not usual for a girl to go on with her studies. But Cathy said she wanted to be a teacher, which delighted her mother and father, for this was the one profession of dignity open to a girl of a good but not well-to-do family. Parents took honor from a daughter who was a teacher.

Cathy was fourteen when she entered high school. She had always been precious to her parents, but with her entrance into the rarities of algebra and Latin she climbed into clouds where her parents could not follow. They had lost her. They felt that she was translated to a higher order.

The teacher of Latin was a pale intense young man who had failed in divinity school and yet had enough education to teach the inevitable grammar, Caesar, Cicero. He was a quiet young man who warmed his sense of failure to his bosom. Deep in himself he felt that he had been rejected by God, and for cause.

For a time it was noticed that a flame leaped in James Grew and some force glowed in his eyes. He was never seen with Cathy and no relationship was even suspected.

James Grew became a man. He walked on his toes and sang to himself. He wrote letters so persuasive that the directors of his divinity school looked favorably on readmitting him.

And then the flame went out. His shoulders, held so high and square, folded dejectedly. His eyes grew feverish and his hands twitched. He was seen in church at night, on his knees, moving his lips over prayers. He missed school and sent word that he was ill when it was known that he was walking all alone in the hills beyond the town.

One night, late, he tapped on the door of the Ames house. Mr. Ames complained his way out of bed, lighted a candle, flung an overcoat over his nightgown, and went to the door. It was a wild and crazy-looking James Grew who stood before him, his eyes shining and his body one big shudder.

“I’ve got to see you,” he said hoarsely to Mr. Ames.

“It’s after midnight,” Mr. Ames said sternly.

“I’ve got to see you alone. Put on some clothes and come outside. I’ve got to talk to you.”

“Young man, I think you’re drunk or sick. Go home and get some sleep. It’s after midnight.”

“I can’t wait. I’ve got to talk to you.”

“Come down to the tannery in the morning,” said Mr. Ames, and he closed the door firmly on the reeling caller and stood inside, listening. He heard the wailing voice, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait,” and then the feet dragged slowly down the steps.

Mr. Ames shielded the candlelight away from his eyes with his cupped hand and went back to bed. He thought he saw Cathy’s door close very silently, but perhaps the leaping candlelight had fooled his eyes, for a portiere seemed to move too.

“What in the world?” his wife demanded when he came back to the bedside.

Mr. Ames didn’t know why he answered as he did—perhaps to save discussion. “A drunken man,” he said. “Got the wrong house.”

“I don’t know what the world is coming to,” said Mrs. Ames.

As he lay in the darkness after the light was out he saw the green circle left in his eyes by the candle flame, and in its whirling, pulsing frame he saw the frantic, beseeching eyes of James Grew. He didn’t go back to sleep for a long time.

In the morning a rumor ran through the town, distorted here and there, added to, but by afternoon the story clarified. The sexton had found James Grew stretched on the floor in front of the altar. The whole top of his head was blown off. Beside him lay a shotgun, and beside it the piece of stick with which he had pushed the trigger. Near him on the floor was a candlestick from the altar. One of the three candles was still burning. The other two had not been lighted. And on the floor were two books, the hymnal and the Book of Common Prayer, one on top of the other. The way the sexton figured it, James Grew had propped the gun barrel on the books to bring it in line with his temple. The recoil of the discharge had thrown the shotgun off the books.

A number of people remembered having heard an explosion early in the morning, before daylight. James Grew left no letter. No one could figure why he had done it.

Mr. Ames’ first impulse was to go to the coroner with his story of the midnight call. Then he thought, What good would it do? If I knew anything it would be different. But I don’t know a single thing. He had a sick feeling in his stomach. He told himself over and over that it was not his fault. How could I have helped it? I don’t even know what he wanted. He felt guilty and miserable.

At dinner his wife talked about the suicide and he couldn’t eat. Cathy sat silent, but no more silent than usual. She ate with little dainty nips and wiped her mouth often on her napkin.

Mrs. Ames went over the matter of the body and the gun in detail. “There’s one thing I meant to speak of,” she said. “That drunken man who came to the door last night—could that have been young Grew?”

“No,” he said quickly.

“Are you sure? Could you see him in the dark?”

“I had a candle,” he said sharply. “Didn’t look anything like, had a big beard.”

“No need to snap at me,” she said. “I just wondered.”

Cathy wiped her mouth, and when she laid the napkin on her lap she was smiling.

Mrs. Ames turned to her daughter. “You saw him every day in school, Cathy. Has he seemed sad lately? Did you notice anything that might mean—”

Cathy looked down at her plate and then up. “I thought he was sick,” she said. “Yes, he has looked bad. Everybody was talking in school today. And somebody—I don’t remember who—said that Mr. Grew was in some kind of trouble in Boston. I didn’t hear what kind of trouble. We all liked Mr. Grew.” She wiped her lips delicately.

That was Cathy’s method. Before the next day was out everybody in town knew that James Grew had been in trouble in Boston, and no one could possibly imagine that Cathy had planted the story. Even Mrs. Ames had forgotten where she heard it.

8.4 4

Soon after her sixteenth birthday a change came over Cathy. One morning she did not get up for school. Her mother went into her room and found her in bed, staring at the ceiling. “Hurry, you’ll be late. It’s nearly nine.”

“I’m not going.” There was no emphasis in her voice.

“Are you sick?”


“Then hurry, get up.”

“I’m not going.”

“You must be sick. You’ve never missed a day.”

“I’m not going to school,” Cathy said calmly. “I’m never going to school again.”

Her mother’s mouth fell open. “What do you mean?”

“Not ever,” said Cathy and continued to stare at the ceiling.

“Well, we’ll just see what your father has to say about that! With all our work and expense, and two years before you get your certificate!” Then she came close and said softly, “You aren’t thinking of getting married?”


“What’s that book you’re hiding?”

“Here, I’m not hiding it.”

“Oh! Alice in Wonderland. You’re too big for that.”

Cathy said, “I can get to be so little you can’t even see me.”

“What in the world are you talking about?”

“Nobody can find me.”

Her mother said angrily, “Stop making jokes. I don’t know what you’re thinking of. What does Miss Fancy think she is going to do?”

“I don’t know yet,” said Cathy. “I think I’ll go away.”

“Well, you just lie there, Miss Fancy, and when your father comes home he’ll have a thing or two to say to you.”

Cathy turned her head very slowly and looked at her mother. Her eyes were expressionless and cold. And suddenly Mrs. Ames was afraid of her daughter. She went out quietly and closed the door. In her kitchen she sat down and cupped her hands in her lap and stared out the window at the weathering carriage house.

Her daughter had become a stranger to her. She felt, as most parents do at one time or another, that she was losing control, that the bridle put in her hands for the governing of Cathy was slipping through her fingers. She did not know that she had never had any power over Cathy. She had been used for Cathy’s purposes always. After a while Mrs. Ames put on a bonnet and went to the tannery. She wanted to talk to her husband away from the house.

In the afternoon Cathy rose listlessly from her bed and spent a long time in front of the mirror.

That evening Mr. Ames, hating what he had to do, delivered a lecture to his daughter. He spoke of her duty, her obligation, her natural love for her parents. Toward the end of his speech he was aware that she was not listening to him. This made him angry and he fell into threats. He spoke of the authority God had given him over his child and of how this natural authority had been armed by the state. He had her attention now. She looked him right in the eyes. Her mouth smiled a little, and her eyes did not seem to blink. Finally he had to look away, and this enraged him further. He ordered her to stop her nonsense. Vaguely he threatened her with whipping if she did not obey him.

He ended on a note of weakness. “I want you to promise me that you will go to school in the morning and stop your foolishness.”

Her face was expressionless. The little mouth was straight. “All right,” she said.

Later that night Mr. Ames said to his wife with an assurance he did not feel, “You see, it just needs a little authority. Maybe we’ve been too lax. But she has been a good child. I guess she just forgot who’s boss. A little sternness never hurt anybody.” He wished he were as confident as his words.

In the morning she was gone. Her straw traveling basket was gone and the best of her clothing. Her bed was neatly made. The room was impersonal—nothing to indicate that a girl had grown up in it. There were no pictures, no mementos, none of the normal clutter of growing. Cathy had never played with dolls. The room had no Cathy imprint.

In his way Mr. Ames was an intelligent man. He clapped on his derby hat and walked quickly to the railroad station. The station agent was certain. Cathy had taken the early morning train. She had bought a ticket for Boston. He helped Mr. Ames write a telegram to the Boston police. Mr. Ames bought a round-trip ticket and caught the nine-fifty train to Boston. He was a very good man in a crisis.

That night Mrs. Ames sat in the kitchen with the door closed. She was white and she gripped the table with her hands to control her shaking. The sound, first of the blows and then of the screaming, came clearly to her through the closed doors.

Mr. Ames was not good at whipping because he had never done it. He lashed at Cathy’s legs with the buggy whip, and when she stood quietly staring at him with calm cold eyes he lost his temper. The first blows were tentative and timid, but when she did not cry he slashed at her sides and shoulders. The whip licked and cut. In his rage he missed her several times or got too close so that the whip wrapped around her body.

Cathy learned quickly. She found him out and knew him, and once she had learned she screamed, she writhed, she cried, she begged, and she had the satisfaction of feeling the blows instantly become lighter.

Mr. Ames was frightened at the noise and hurt he was creating. He stopped. Cathy dropped back on the bed, sobbing. And if he had looked, her father would have seen that there were no tears in her eyes, but rather the muscles of her neck were tight and there were lumps just under her temples where the jaw muscles knotted.

He said, “Now, will you ever do that again?”

“No, oh, no! Forgive me,” Cathy said. She turned over on the bed so that her father could not see the coldness in her face.

“See you remember who you are. And don’t forget what I am.”

Cathy’s voice caught. She produced a dry sob. “I won’t forget,” she said.

In the kitchen Mrs. Ames wrestled her hands. Her husband put his fingers on her shoulder.

“I hated to do it,” he said. “I had to. And I think it did her good. She seems like a changed girl to me. Maybe we haven’t bent the twig enough. We’ve spared the rod. Maybe we were wrong.” And he knew that although his wife had insisted on the whipping, although she had forced him to whip Cathy, she hated him for doing it. Despair settled over him.

8.5 5

There seemed no doubt that it was what Cathy needed. As Mr. Ames said, “It kind of opened her up.” She had always been tractable but now she became thoughtful too. In the weeks that followed she helped her mother in the kitchen and offered to help more than was needed. She started to knit an afghan for her mother, a large project that would take months. Mrs. Ames told the neighbors about it. “She has such a fine color sense—rust and yellow. She’s finished three squares already.”

For her father Cathy kept a ready smile. She hung up his hat when he came in and turned his chair properly under the light to make it easy for him to read.

Even in school she was changed. Always she had been a good student, but now she began to make plans for the future. She talked to the principal about examinations for her teaching certificate, perhaps a year early. And the principal looked over her record and thought she might well try it with hope of success. He called on Mr. Ames at the tannery to discuss it.

“She didn’t tell us any of this,” Mr. Ames said proudly.

“Well, maybe I shouldn’t have told you. I hope I haven’t ruined a surprise.”

Mr. and Mrs. Ames felt that they had blundered on some magic which solved all of their problems. They put it down to an unconscious wisdom which comes only to parents. “I never saw such a change in a person in my life,” Mr. Ames said.

“But she was always a good child,” said his wife. “And have you noticed how pretty she’s getting? Why, she’s almost beautiful. Her cheeks have so much color.”

“I don’t think she’ll be teaching school long with her looks,” said Mr. Ames.

It was true that Cathy glowed. The childlike smile was constantly on her lips while she went about her preparations. She had all the time in the world. She cleaned the cellar and stuffed papers all around the edges of the foundation to block the draft. When the kitchen door squeaked she oiled the hinges and then the lock that turned too hard, and while she had the oil can out she oiled the front-door hinges too. She made it her duty to keep the lamps filled and their chimneys clean. She invented a way of dipping the chimneys in a big can of kerosene she had in the basement.

“You’d have to see it to believe it,” her father said. And it wasn’t only at home either. She braved the smell of the tannery to visit her father. She was just past sixteen and of course he thought of her as a baby. He was amazed at her questions about business.

“She’s smarter than some men I could name,” he told his foreman. “She might be running the business someday.”

She was interested not only in the tanning processes but in the business end too. Her father explained the loans, the payments, the billing, and the payroll. He showed her how to open the safe and was pleased that after the first try she remembered the combination.

“The way I look at it is this,” he told his wife. “We’ve all of us got a little of the Old Nick in us. I wouldn’t want a child that didn’t have some gumption. The way I see it, that’s just a kind of energy. If you just check it and keep it in control, why, it will go in the right direction.”

Cathy mended all of her clothes and put her things in order.

One day in May she came home from school and went directly to her knitting needles. Her mother was dressed to go out. “I have to go to the Altar Guild,” she said. “It’s about the cake sale next week. I’m chairman. Your father wondered if you would go by the bank and pick up the money for the payroll and take it to the tannery. I told him about the cake sale so I can’t do it.”

“I’d like to,” said Cathy.

“They’ll have the money ready for you in a bag,” said Mrs. Ames, and she hurried out.

Cathy worked quickly but without hurry. She put on an old apron to cover her clothes. In the basement she found a jelly jar with a top and carried it out to the carriage house where the tools were kept. In the chickenyard she caught a little pullet, took it to the block and chopped its head off, and held the writhing neck over the jelly jar until it was full of blood. Then she carried the quivering pullet to the manure pile and buried it deep. Back in the kitchen she took off the apron and put it in the stove and poked the coals until a flame sprang up on the cloth. She washed her hands and inspected her shoes and stockings and wiped a dark spot from the toe of her right shoe. She looked at her face in the mirror. Her cheeks were bright with color and her eyes shone and her mouth turned up in its small childlike smile. On her way out she hid the jelly jar under the lowest part of the kitchen steps. Her mother had not been gone even ten minutes.

Cathy walked lightly, almost dancingly around the house and into the street. The trees were breaking into leaf and a few early dandelions were in yellow flower on the lawns. Cathy walked gaily toward the center of the town where the bank was. And she was so fresh and pretty that people walking turned and looked after her when she had passed.

8.6 6

The fire broke out at about three o’clock in the morning. It rose, flared, roared, crashed, and crumbled in on itself almost before anyone noticed it. When the volunteers ran up, pulling their hose cart, there was nothing for them to do but wet down the roofs of the neighboring houses to keep them from catching fire.

The Ames house had gone up like a rocket. The volunteers and the ordinary audience fires attract looked around at the lighted faces, trying to see Mr. and Mrs. Ames and their daughter. It came to everyone at once that they were not there. People gazed at the broad ember-bed and saw themselves and their children in there, and hearts rose up and pumped against throats. The volunteers began to dump water on the fire almost as though they might even so late save some corporeal part of the family. The frightened talk ran through the town that the whole Ames family had burned.

By sunrise everyone in town was tight-packed about the smoking black pile. Those in front had to shield their faces against the heat. The volunteers continued to pump water to cool off the charred mess. By noon the coroner was able to throw wet planks down and probe with a crowbar among the sodden heaps of charcoal. Enough remained of Mr. and Mrs. Ames to make sure there were two bodies. Near neighbors pointed out the approximate place where Cathy’s room had been, but although the coroner and any number of helpers worked over the debris with a garden rake they could find no tooth or bone.

The chief of the volunteers meanwhile had found the doorknobs and lock of the kitchen door. He looked at the blackened metal, puzzled, but not quite knowing what puzzled him. He borrowed the coroner’s rake and worked furiously. He went to the place where the front door had been and raked until he found that lock, crooked and half melted. By now he had his own small crowd, who demanded, “What are you looking for, George?” And “What did you find, George?”

Finally the coroner came over to him. “What’s on your mind, George?”

“No keys in the locks,” the chief said uneasily.

“Maybe they fell out.”


“Maybe they melted.”

“The locks didn’t melt.”

“Maybe Bill Ames took them out.”

“On the inside?” He held up his trophies. Both bolts stuck out.

Since the owner’s house was burned and the owner ostensibly burned with it, the employees of the tannery, out of respect, did not go to work. They hung around the burned house, offering to help in any way they could, feeling official and generally getting in the way.

It wasn’t until afternoon that Joel Robinson, the foreman, went down to the tannery. He found the safe open and papers scattered all over the floor. A broken window showed how the thief had entered.

Now the whole complexion changed. So, it was not an accident. Fear took the place of excitement and sorrow, and anger, brother of fear, crept in. The crowd began to spread.

They had not far to go. In the carriage house there was what is called “signs of a struggle”—in this case a broken box, a shattered carriage lamp, scraped marks in the dust, and straw on the floor. The onlookers might not have known these as signs of a struggle had there not been a quantity of blood on the floor.

The constable took control. This was his province. He pushed and herded everyone out of the carriage house. “Want to gum up all the clues?” he shouted at them. “Now you all stay clear outside the door.”

He searched the room, picked up something, and in a corner found something else. He came to the door, holding his discoveries in his hands—a blood-splattered blue hair ribbon and a cross with red stones. “Anybody recognize these here?” he demanded.

In a small town where everyone knows everyone it is almost impossible to believe that one of your acquaintance could murder anyone. For that reason, if the signs are not pretty strong in a particular direction, it must be some dark stranger, some wanderer from the outside world where such things happen. Then the hobo camps are raided and vagrants brought in and hotel registers scrutinized. Every man who is not known is automatically suspected. It was May, remember, and the wandering men had only recently taken to the roads, now that the warming months let them spread their blankets by any water course. And the gypsies were out too—a whole caravan less than five miles away. And what a turning out those poor gypsies got!

The ground for miles around was searched for new-turned earth, and likely pools were dragged for Cathy’s body. “She was so pretty,” everyone said, and they meant that in themselves they could see a reason for carrying Cathy off. At length a bumbling hairy half-wit was brought in for questioning. He was a fine candidate for hanging because not only did he have no alibis, he could not remember what he had done at anytime in his life. His feeble mind sensed that these questioners wanted something of him and, being a friendly creature, he tried to give it to them. When a baited and set question was offered to him, he walked happily into the trap and was glad when the constable looked happy. He tried manfully to please these superior beings. There was something very nice about him. The only trouble with his confession was that he confessed too much in too many directions. Also, he had constantly to be reminded of what he was supposed to have done. He was really pleased when he was indicted by a stern and frightened jury. He felt that at last he amounted to something.

There were, and are, some men who become judges whose love for the law and for its intention of promoting justice has the quality of love for a woman. Such a man presided at the examination before plea—a man so pure and good that he canceled out a lot of wickedness with his life. Without the prompting the culprit was used to, his confession was nonsense. The judge questioned him and found out that although the suspect was trying to follow instructions he simply could not remember what he had done, whom he had killed, how or why. The judge sighed wearily and motioned him out of the courtroom and crooked his fingers at the constable.

“Now look here, Mike,” he said, “you shouldn’t do a thing like that. If that poor fellow had been just a little smarter you might have got him hanged.”

“He said he did it.” The constable’s feelings were hurt because he was a conscientious man.

“He would have admitted climbing the golden stairs and cutting St. Peter’s throat with a bowling ball,” the judge said. “Be more careful, Mike. The law was designed to save, not to destroy.”

In all such local tragedies time works like a damp brush on water color. The sharp edges blur, the ache goes out of it, the colors melt together, and from the many separated lines a solid gray emerges. Within a month it was not so necessary to hang someone, and within two months nearly everybody discovered that there wasn’t any real evidence against anyone. If it had not been for Cathy’s murder, fire and robbery might have been a coincidence. Then it occurred to people that without Cathy’s body you couldn’t prove anything even though you thought she was dead.

Cathy left a scent of sweetness behind her.

Chapter 9


9.1 1

Mr. Edwards carried on his business of whoremaster in an orderly and unemotional way. He maintained his wife and his two well-mannered children in a good house in a good neighborhood in Boston. The children, two boys, were entered on the books at Groton when they were infants.

Mrs. Edwards kept a dustless house and controlled her servants. There were of course many times when Mr. Edwards had to be away from home on business, but he managed to live an amazingly domestic life and to spend more evenings at home than you could imagine. He ran his business with a public accountant’s neatness and accuracy. He was a large and powerful man, running a little to fat in his late forties, and yet in surprisingly good condition for a time when a man wanted to be fat if only to prove he was a success.

He had invented his business—the circuit route through the small towns, the short stay of each girl, the discipline, the percentages. He felt his way along and made few mistakes. He never sent his girls into the cities. He could handle the hungry constables of the villages, but he had respect for the experienced and voracious big city police. His ideal stand was a small town with a mortgaged hotel and no amusements, one where his only competition came from wives and an occasional wayward girl. At this time he had ten units. Before he died at sixty-seven of strangulation on a chicken bone, he had groups of four girls in each of thirty-three small towns in New England. He was better than well fixed—he was rich; and the manner of his death was in itself symbolic of success and well-being.

At the present time the institution of the whorehouse seems to a certain extent to be dying out. Scholars have various reasons to give. Some say that the decay of morality among girls has dealt the whorehouse its deathblow. Others, perhaps more idealistic, maintain that police supervision on an increased scale is driving the houses out of existence. In the late days of the last century and the early part of this one, the whorehouse was an accepted if not openly discussed institution. It was said that its existence protected decent women. An unmarried man could go to one of these houses and evacuate the sexual energy which was making him uneasy and at the same time maintain the popular attitudes about the purity and loveliness of women. It was a mystery, but then there are many mysterious things in our social thinking.

These houses ranged from palaces filled with gold and velvet to the crummiest cribs where the stench would drive a pig away. Every once in a while a story would start about how young girls were stolen and enslaved by the controllers of the industry, and perhaps many of the stories were true. But the great majority of whores drifted into their profession through laziness and stupidity. In the houses they had no responsibility. They were fed and clothed and taken care of until they were too old, and then they were kicked out. This ending was no deterrent. No one who is young is ever going to be old.

Now and then a smart girl came into the profession, but she usually moved up to better things. She got a house of her own or worked successfully at blackmail or married a rich man. There was even a special name for the smart ones. They were grandly called courtesans.

Mr. Edwards had no trouble either in recruiting or in controlling his girls. If a girl was not properly stupid, he threw her out. He did not want very pretty girls either. Some local young man might fall in love with a pretty whore and there would be hell to pay. When any of his girls became pregnant they had the choice of leaving or of being aborted so brutally that a fair proportion died. In spite of this the girls usually chose abortion.

It was not always smooth sailing for Mr. Edwards. He did have his problems. At the time of which I am telling you he had been subjected to a series of misfortunes. A train wreck had killed off two units of four girls each. Another of his units he lost to conversion when a small-town preacher suddenly caught fire and began igniting the townsfolk with his sermons. The swelling congregation had to move out of the church and into the fields. Then, as happens so often, the preacher turned over his hole-card, the sure-fire card. He predicted the date of the end of the world, and the whole county moved bleating in on him. Mr. Edwards went to the town, took the heavy quirt from his suitcase, and whipped the girls unmercifully; instead of seeing the thing his way, the girls begged for more whipping to wipe out their fancied sins. He gave up in disgust, took their clothes, and went back to Boston. The girls achieved a certain prominence when they went naked to the camp meeting to confess and testify. That is how Mr. Edwards happened to be interviewing and recruiting numbers of girls instead of picking one up here and there. He had three units to rebuild from the ground.

I don’t know how Cathy Ames heard about Mr. Edwards. Perhaps a hack driver told her. The word got around when a girl really wanted to know. Mr. Edwards had not had a good morning when she came into his office. The pain in his stomach he ascribed to a halibut chowder his wife had given him for supper the night before. He had been up all night. The chowder had blown both ways and he still felt weak and crampy.

For this reason he did not take in all at once the girl who called herself Catherine Amesbury. She was far too pretty for his business. Her voice was low and throaty, she was slight, almost delicate, and her skin was lovely. In a word she was not Mr. Edwards’ kind of girl at all. If he had not been weak he would have rejected her instantly. But while he did not look at her very closely during the routine questioning, mostly about relatives who might cause trouble, something in Mr. Edwards’ body began to feel her. Mr. Edwards was not a concupiscent man, and besides he never mixed his professional life with his private pleasures. His reaction startled him. He looked up, puzzled, at the girl, and her eyelids dipped sweetly and mysteriously, and there was just a suggestion of a sway on her lightly padded hips. Her little mouth wore a cat smile. Mr. Edwards leaned forward at his desk, breathing heavily. He realized that he wanted this one for his own.

“I can’t understand why a girl like you—” he began, and fell right into the oldest conviction in the world—that the girl you are in love with can’t possibly be anything but true and honest.

“My father is dead,” Catherine said modestly. “Before he died he had let things go to pieces. We didn’t know he had borrowed money on the farm. And I can’t let the bank take it away from my mother. The shock would kill her.” Catherine’s eyes dimmed with tears. “I thought maybe I could make enough to keep up the interest.”

If ever Mr. Edwards had a chance it was now. And indeed a little warning buzz did sound in his brain, but it was not loud enough. About eighty per cent of the girls who came to him needed money to pay off a mortgage. And Mr. Edwards made it an unvarying rule not to believe anything his girls said at any time, beyond what they had for breakfast, and they sometimes lied about that. And here he was, a big, fat, grown-up whoremaster, leaning his stomach against his desk while his cheeks darkened with blood and excited chills ran up his legs and thighs.

Mr. Edwards heard himself saying, “Well now, my dear, let’s talk this over. Maybe we can figure some way for you to get the interest money.” And this to a girl who had simply asked for a job as a whore—or had she?

9.2 2

Mrs. Edwards was persistently if not profoundly religious. She spent a great part of her time with the mechanics of her church, which did not leave her time for either its background or its effects. To her, Mr. Edwards was in the importing business, and even if she had known—which she probably did—what business he was really in, she would not have believed it. And this is another mystery. Her husband had always been to her a coldly thoughtful man who made few and dutiful physical demands on her. If he had never been warm, he had never been cruel either. Her dramas and her emotions had to do with the boys, with the vestry, and with food. She was content with her life and thankful. When her husband’s disposition began to disintegrate, causing him to be restless and snappish, to sit staring and then to rush out of the house in a nervous rage, she ascribed it first to his stomach and then to business reverses. When by accident she came upon him in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet and crying softly to himself, she knew he was a sick man. He tried quickly to cover his red, brimming eyes from her scrutiny. When neither herb teas nor physics cured him she was helpless.

If in all the years Mr. Edwards had heard about anyone like himself he would have laughed. For Mr. Edwards, as cold-blooded a whoremaster as ever lived, had fallen hopelessly, miserably in love with Catherine Amesbury. He rented a sweet little brick house for her and then gave it to her. He bought her every imaginable luxury, overdecorated the house, kept it overwarm. The carpeting was too deep and the walls were crowded with heavy framed pictures.

Mr. Edwards had never experienced such misery. As a matter of business he had learned so much about women that he did not trust one for a second. And since he deeply loved Catherine and love requires trust, he was torn to quivering fragments by his emotion. He had to trust her and at the same time he did not trust her. He tried to buy her loyalty with presents and with money. When he was away from her, he tortured himself with the thought of other men slipping into her house. He hated to leave Boston to check up on his units because this would leave Catherine alone. To a certain extent he began to neglect his business. It was his first experience with this kind of love and it nearly killed him.

One thing Mr. Edwards did not know, and could not know because Catherine would not permit it, was that she was faithful to him in the sense that she did not receive or visit other men. To Catherine, Mr. Edwards was as cold a business proposition as his units were to him. And as he had his techniques, so had she hers. Once she had him, which was very soon, she managed always to seem slightly dissatisfied. She gave him an impression of restlessness, as though she might take flight at any moment. When she knew he was going to visit her, she made it a point to be out and to come in glowing as from some incredible experience. She complained a good deal about the difficulties of avoiding the lecherous looks and touches of men in the street who could not keep away from her. Several times she ran frightened into the house, having barely escaped a man who had followed her. When she would return in the late afternoon and find him waiting for her she would explain, “Why, I was shopping. I have to go shopping, you know.” And she made it sound like a lie.

In their sexual relations she convinced him that the result was not quite satisfactory to her, that if he were a better man he could release a flood of unbelievable reaction in her. Her method was to keep him continually off balance. She saw with satisfaction his nerves begin to go, his hands take to quivering, his loss of weight, and the wild glazed look in his eyes. And when she delicately sensed the near approach of insane, punishing rage, she sat in his lap and soothed him and made him believe for a moment in her innocence. She could convince him.

Catherine wanted money, and she set about getting it as quickly and as easily as she could. When she had successfully reduced him to a pulp, and Catherine knew exactly when the time had come, she began to steal from him. She went through his pockets and took any large bills she found. He didn’t dare accuse her for fear she would go away. The presents of jewelry he gave her disappeared, and although she said she had lost them he knew they had been sold. She padded the grocery bills, added to the prices of clothes. He could not bring himself to stop it. She did not sell the house but she mortgaged it for every penny she could get.

One evening his key did not fit the lock of the front door. She answered his pounding after a long time. Yes, she had changed the locks because she had lost her key. She was afraid, living alone. Anyone could get in. She would get him another key—but she never did. He always had to ring the bell after that, and sometimes it took a long time for her to answer, and at other times his ring was not answered at all. There was no way for him to know whether she was at home or not. Mr. Edwards had her followed—and she did not know how often.

Mr. Edwards was essentially a simple man, but even a simple man has complexities which are dark and twisted. Catherine was clever, but even a clever woman misses some of the strange corridors in a man.

She made only one bad slip, and she had tried to avoid that one. As was proper, Mr. Edwards had stocked the pretty little nest with champagne. Catherine had from the first refused to touch it.

“It makes me sick,” she explained. “I’ve tried it and I can’t drink it.”

“Nonsense,” he said. “Just have one glass. It can’t hurt you.”

“No, thank you. No. I can’t drink it.”

Mr. Edwards thought of her reluctance as a delicate, a ladylike quality. He had never insisted until one evening when it occurred to him that he knew nothing about her. Wine might loosen her tongue. The more he thought of it, the better the idea seemed to him.

“It’s not friendly of you not to have a glass with me.”

“I tell you, it doesn’t agree with me.”


“I tell you I don’t want it.”

“This is silly,” he said. “Do you want me to be angry with you?”


“Then drink a glass.”

“I don’t want it.”

“Drink it.” He held a glass for her, and she retreated from it.

“You don’t know. It’s not good for me.”

“Drink it.”

She took the glass and poured it down and stood still, quivering, seeming to listen. The blood flowed to her cheeks. She poured another glass for herself and another. Her eyes became set and cold. Mr. Edwards felt a fear of her. Something was happening to her which neither she nor he could control.

“I didn’t want to do it. Remember that,” she said calmly.

“Maybe you’d better not have any more.”

She laughed and poured herself another glass. “It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “More won’t make much difference.”

“It’s nice to have a glass or so,” he said uneasily.

She spoke to him softly. “You fat slug,” she said. “What do you know about me? Do you think I can’t read every rotten thought you ever had? Want me to tell you? You wonder where a nice girl like me learned tricks. I’ll tell you. I learned them in cribs—you hear?—cribs. I’ve worked in places you never even heard of—four years. Sailors brought me little tricks from Port Said. I know every nerve in your lousy body and I can use them.”

“Catherine,” he protested, “you don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I could see it. You thought I would talk. Well, I’m talking.”

She advanced slowly toward him, and Mr. Edwards overcame his impulse to edge away. He was afraid of her but he sat still. Directly in front of him she drank the last champagne in her glass, delicately struck the rim on the table, and jammed the ragged edge against his cheek.

And then he did run from the house and he could hear her laughing as he went.

9.3 3

Love to a man like Mr. Edwards is a crippling emotion. It ruined his judgment, canceled his knowledge, weakened him. He told himself that she was hysterical and tried to believe it, and it was made easier for him by Catherine. Her outbreak had terrified her, and for a time she made every effort to restore his sweet picture of her.

A man so painfully in love is capable of self-torture beyond belief. Mr. Edwards wanted with all his heart to believe in her goodness, but he was forced not to, as much by his own particular devil as by her outbreak. Almost instinctively he went about learning the truth and at the same time disbelieved it. He knew, for instance, that she would not put her money in a bank. One of his employees, using a complicated set of mirrors, found out the place in the cellar of the little brick house where she did keep it.

One day a clipping came from the agency he employed. It was an old newspaper account of a fire from a small-town weekly. Mr. Edwards studied it. His chest and stomach turned to molten metal and a redness glowed in his head behind his eyes. There was real fear mixed up in his love, and the precipitate from the mixing of these two is cruelty. He staggered dizzily to his office couch and lay face down, his forehead against the cool black leather. For a time he hung suspended, hardly breathing. Gradually his brain cleared. His mouth tasted salty, and there was a great ache of anger in his shoulders. But he was calm and his mind cut its intention through time like the sharp beam of a searchlight through a dark room. He moved slowly, checking his suitcase just as he always did when he started out to inspect his units—clean shirts and underwear, a nightgown and slippers, and the heavy quirt with the lash curving around the end of the suitcase.

He moved heavily up the little garden in front of the brick house and rang the bell.

Catherine answered it immediately. She had on her coat and hat.

“Oh!” she said. “What a shame! I must go out for a while.”

Mr. Edwards put down his suitcase. “No,” he said.

She studied him. Something was changed. He lumbered past her and went down into the cellar.

“Where are you going?” Her voice was shrill.

He did not reply. In a moment he came up again, carrying a small oak box. He opened his suitcase and put the box inside.

“That’s mine,” she said softly.

“I know.”

“What are you up to?”

“I thought we’d go for a little trip.”

“Where? I can’t go.”

“Little town in Connecticut. I have some business there. You told me once you wanted to work. You’re going to work.”

“I don’t want to now. You can’t make me. Why, I’ll call the police!”

He smiled so horribly that she stepped back from him. His temples were thudding with blood. “Maybe you’d rather go to your home town,” he said. “They had a big fire there several years ago. Do you remember that fire?”

Her eyes probed and searched him, seeking a soft place, but his eyes were flat and hard. “What do you want me to do?” she asked quietly.

“Just come for a little trip with me. You said you wanted to work.”

She could think of only one plan. She must go along with him and wait for a chance. A man couldn’t always watch. It would be dangerous to thwart him now—best go along with it and wait. That always worked. It always had. But his words had given Catherine real fear.

In the small town they got off the train at dusk, walked down its one dark street, and on out into the country. Catherine was wary and watchful. She had no access to his plan. In her purse she had a thin-bladed knife.

Mr. Edwards thought he knew what he intended to do. He meant to whip her and put her in one of the rooms at the inn, whip her and move her to another town, and so on until she was of no use any more. Then he would throw her out. The local constable would see to it that she did not run away. The knife did not bother him. He knew about that.

The first thing he did when they stopped in a private place between a stone wall and a fringe of cedars was to jerk the purse from her hand and throw it over the wall. That took care of the knife. But he didn’t know about himself, because in all his life he had never been in love with a woman. He thought he only meant to punish her. After two slashes the quirt was not enough. He dropped it on the ground and used his fists. His breathing came out in squealing whines.

Catherine did her best not to fall into panic. She tried to duck his threshing fists or at least to make them ineffective, but at last fear overcame her and she tried to run. He leaped at her and brought her down, and by then his fists were not enough. His frantic hand found a stone on the ground and his cold control was burst through with a red roaring wave.

Later he looked down on her beaten face. He listened for her heartbeat and could hear nothing over the thumping of his own. Two complete and separate thoughts ran in his mind. One said, “Have to bury her, have to dig a hole and put her in it.” And the other cried like a child, “I can’t stand it. I couldn’t bear to touch her.” Then the sickness that follows rage overwhelmed him. He ran from the place, leaving his suitcase, leaving the quirt, leaving the oak box of money. He blundered away in the dusk, wondering only where he could hide his sickness for a while.

No question was ever asked of him. After a time of sickness to which his wife ministered tenderly, he went back to his business and never again let the insanity of love come near him. A man who can’t learn from experience is a fool, he said. Always afterward he had a kind of fearful respect for himself. He had never known that the impulse to kill was in him.

That he had not killed Catherine was an accident. Every blow had been intended to crush her. She was a long time unconscious and a long time half-conscious. She realized her arm was broken and that she must find help if she wanted to live. Wanting to live forced her to drag herself along the dark road, looking for help. She turned in at a gate and almost made the steps of the house before she fainted. The roosters were crowing in the chickenhouse and a gray rim of dawn lay on the east.

Chapter 10


10.1 1

When two men live together they usually maintain a kind of shabby neatness out of incipient rage at each other. Two men alone are constantly on the verge of fighting, and they know it. Adam Trask had not been home long before the tensions began to build up. The brothers saw too much of each other and not enough of anyone else.

For a few months they were busy getting Cyrus’s money in order and out at interest. They traveled together to Washington to look at the grave, good stone and on top an iron star with seal and a hole on the top in which to insert the stick for a little flag on Decoration Day. The brothers stood by the grave a long time, then they went away and they didn’t mention Cyrus.

If Cyrus had been dishonest he had done it well. No one asked questions about the money. But the subject was on Charles’ mind.

Back on the farm Adam asked him, “Why don’t you buy some new clothes? You’re a rich man. You act like you’re afraid to spend a penny.”

“I am,” said Charles.


“I might have to give it back.”

“Still harping on that? If there was anything wrong, don’t you think we’d have heard about it by now?”

“I don’t know,” said Charles. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

But that night he brought up the subject again. “There’s one thing bothers me,” he began.

“About the money?”

“Yes, about the money. If you make that much money there’s bound to be a mess.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, papers and account books and bills of sale, notes, figuring—well, we went through Father’s things and there wasn’t none of that.”

“Maybe he burned it up.”

“Maybe he did,” said Charles.

The brothers lived by a routine established by Charles, and he never varied it. Charles awakened on the stroke of four-thirty as surely as though the brass pendulum of the clock had nudged him. He was awake, in fact, a split second before four-thirty. His eyes were open and had blinked once before the high gong struck. For a moment he lay still, looking up into the darkness and scratching his stomach. Then he reached to the table beside his bed and his hand fell exactly on the block of sulphur matches lying there. His fingers pulled a match free and struck it on the side of the block. The sulphur burned its little blue bead before the wood caught. Charles lighted the candle beside his bed. He threw back his blanket and got up. He wore long gray underwear that bagged over his knees and hung loose around his ankles. Yawning, he went to the door, opened it, and called, “Half-past four, Adam. Time to get up. Wake up.”

Adam’s voice was muffled. “Don’t you ever forget?”

“It’s time to get up.” Charles slipped his legs into his pants and hunched them up over his hips. “You don’t have to get up,” he said. “You’re a rich man. You can lay in bed all day.”

“So are you. But we still get up before daylight.”

“You don’t have to get up,” Charles repeated. “But if you’re going to farm, you’d better farm.”

Adam said ruefully, “So we’re going to buy more land so we can do more work.”

“Come off it,” said Charles. “Go back to bed if you want to.”

Adam said, “I bet you couldn’t sleep if you stayed in bed. You know what I bet? I bet you get up because you want to, and then you take credit for it—like taking credit for six fingers.”

Charles went into the kitchen and lighted the lamp. “You can’t lay in bed and run a farm,” he said, and he knocked the ashes through the grate of the stove and tore some paper over the exposed coals and blew until the flames started.

Adam was watching him through the door. “You wouldn’t use a match,” he said.

Charles turned angrily. “You mind your own goddam business. Stop picking at me.”

“All right,” said Adam. “I will. And maybe my business isn’t here.”

“That’s up to you. Any time you want to get out, you go right ahead.”

The quarrel was silly but Adam couldn’t stop it. His voice went on without his willing it, making angry and irritating words. “You’re damn right I’ll go when I want,” he said. “This is my place as much as yours.”

“Then why don’t you do some work on it?”

“Oh, Lord!” Adam said. “What are we fussing about? Let’s not fuss.”

“I don’t want trouble,” said Charles. He scooped lukewarm mush into two bowls and spun them on the table.

The brothers sat down. Charles buttered a slice of bread, gouged out a knifeful of jam, and spread it over the butter. He dug butter for his second slice and left a slop of jam on the butter roll.

“Goddam it, can’t you wipe your knife? Look at that butter!”

Charles laid his knife and the bread on the table and placed his hands palm down on either side. “You better get off the place,” he said.

Adam got up. “I’d rather live in a pigsty,” he said, and he walked out of the house.

10.2 2

It was eight months before Charles saw him again. Charles came in from work and found Adam sloshing water on his hair and face from the kitchen bucket.

“Hello,” said Charles. “How are you?”

“Fine,” said Adam.

“Where’d you go?”


“No place else?”

“No. Just looked at the city.”

The brothers settled back to their old life, but each took precautions against anger. In a way each protected the other and so saved himself. Charles, always the early riser, got breakfast ready before he awakened Adam. And Adam kept the house clean and started a set of books on the farm. In this guarded way they lived for two years before their irritation grew beyond control again.

On a winter evening Adam looked up from his account book. “It’s nice in California,” he said. “It’s nice in the winter. And you can raise anything there.”

“Sure you can raise it. But when you got it, what are you going to do with it?”

“How about wheat? They raise a lot of wheat in California.”

“The rust will get to it,” said Charles.

“What makes you so sure? Look, Charles, things grow so fast in California they say you have to plant and step back quick or you’ll get knocked down.”

Charles said, “Why the hell don’t you go there? I’ll buy you out any time you say.”

Adam was quiet then, but in the morning while he combed his hair and peered in the small mirror he began it again.

“They don’t have any winter in California,” he said. “It’s just like spring all the time.”

“I like the winter,” said Charles.

Adam came toward the stove. “Don’t be cross,” he said.

“Well, stop picking at me. How many eggs?”

“Four,” said Adam.

Charles placed seven eggs on top of the warming oven and built his fire carefully of small pieces of kindling until it burned fiercely. He put the skillet down next to the flame. His sullenness left him as he fried the bacon.

“Adam,” he said, “I don’t know whether you notice it, but it seems like every other word you say is California. Do you really want to go?”

Adam chuckled. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” he said. “I don’t know. It’s like getting up in the morning. I don’t want to get up but I don’t want to stay in bed either.”

“You sure make a fuss about it.” said Charles.

Adam went on, “Every morning in the army that damned bugle would sound. And I swore to God if I ever got out I would sleep till noon every day. And here I get up a half-hour before reveille. Will you tell me, Charles, what in hell we’re working for?”

“You can’t lay in bed and run a farm,” said Charles. He stirred the hissing bacon around with a fork.

“Take a look at it,” Adam said earnestly. “Neither one of us has got a chick or a child, let alone a wife. And the way we’re going it don’t look like we ever will. We don’t have time to look around for a wife. And here we’re figuring to add the Clark place to ours if the price is right. What for?”

“It’s a damn fine piece,” said Charles. “The two of them together would make one of the best farms in this section. Say! You thinking of getting married?”

“No. And that’s what I’m talking about. Come a few years and we’ll have the finest farm in this section. Two lonely old farts working our tails off. Then one of us will die off and the fine farm will belong to one lonely old fart, and then he’ll die off—”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Charles demanded. “Fellow can’t get comfortable. You make me itch. Get it out—what’s on your mind?”

“I’m not having any fun,” said Adam. “Or anyway I’m not having enough. I’m working too hard for what I’m getting, and I don’t have to work at all.”

“Well, why don’t you quit?” Charles shouted at him. “Why don’t you get the hell out? I don’t see any guards holding you. Go down to the South Seas and lay in a hammock if that’s what you want.”

“Don’t be cross,” said Adam quietly. “It’s like getting up. I don’t want to get up and I don’t want to stay down. I don’t want to stay here and I don’t want to go away.”

“You make me itch,” said Charles.

“Think about it, Charles. You like it here?”


“And you want to live here all your life?”


“Jesus, I wish I had it that easy. What do you suppose is the matter with me?”

“I think you’ve got knocker fever. Come in to the inn tonight and get it cured up.”

“Maybe that’s it,” said Adam. “But I never took much satisfaction in a whore.”

“It’s all the same,” Charles said. “You shut your eyes and you can’t tell the difference.”

“Some of the boys in the regiment used to keep a squaw around. I had one for a while.”

Charles turned to him with interest. “Father would turn in his grave if he knew you was squawing around. How was it?”

“Pretty nice. She’d wash my clothes and mend and do a little cooking.”

“I mean the other—how was that?”

“Good. Yes, good. And kind of sweet—kind of soft and sweet. Kind of gentle and soft.”

“You’re lucky she didn’t put a knife in you while you were asleep.”

“She wouldn’t. She was sweet.”

“You’ve got a funny look in your eye. I guess you were kind of gone on that squaw.”

“I guess I was,” said Adam.

“What happened to her?”


“You didn’t get another one?”

Adam’s eyes were pained. “We piled them up like they were logs, over two hundred, arms and legs sticking out. And we piled brush on top and poured coal oil on.”

“I’ve heard they can’t stand smallpox.”

“It kills them,” said Adam. “You’re burning that bacon.”

Charles turned quickly back to the stove. “It’ll just be crisp,” he said, “I like it crisp.” He shoveled the bacon out on a plate and broke the eggs in the hot grease and they jumped and fluttered their edges to brown lace and made clucking sounds.

“There was a schoolteacher,” Charles said. “Prettiest thing you ever saw. Had little tiny feet. Bought all her clothes in New York. Yellow hair, and you never saw such little feet. Sang too, in the choir. Everybody took to going to church. Damn near stampeded getting into church. That was quite a while ago.”

“ ’Bout the time you wrote about thinking of getting married?”

Charles grinned. “I guess so. I guess there wasn’t a young buck in the county didn’t get the marrying fever.”

“What happened to her?”

“Well, you know how it is. The women got kind of restless with her here. They got together. First thing you knew they had her out. I heard she wore silk underwear. Too hoity toity. School board had her out halfway through the term. Feet no longer than that. Showed her ankles too, like it was an accident. Always showing her ankles.”

“Did you get to know her?” Adam asked.

“No. I only went to church. Couldn’t hardly get in. Girl that pretty’s got no right in a little town. Just makes people uneasy. Causes trouble.”

Adam said, “Remember that Samuels girl? She was real pretty. What happened to her?”

“Same thing. Just caused trouble. She went away. I heard she’s living in Philadelphia. Does dressmaking. I heard she gets ten dollars just for making one dress.”

“Maybe we ought to go away from here,” Adam said.

Charles said, “Still thinking of California?”

“I guess so.”

Charles’ temper tore in two. “I want you out of here!” he shouted. “I want you to get off the place. I’ll buy you or sell you or anything. Get out, you son of a bitch—” He stopped. “I guess I don’t mean that last. But goddam it, you make me nervous.”

“I’ll go,” said Adam.

10.3 3

In three months Charles got a colored picture postcard of the bay at Rio, and Adam had written on the back with a splottery pen, “It’s summer here when it’s winter there. Why don’t you come down?”

Six months later there was another card, from Buenos Aires. “Dear Charles—my God this is a big city. They speak French and Spanish both. I’m sending you a book.”

But no book came. Charles looked for it all the following winter and well into the spring. And instead of the book Adam arrived. He was brown and his clothes had a foreign look.

“How are you?” Charles asked.

“Fine. Did you get the book?”


“I wonder what happened to it? It had pictures.”

“Going to stay?”

“I guess so. I’ll tell you about that country.”

“I don’t want to hear about it,” said Charles.

“Christ, you’re mean,” said Adam.

“I can just see it all over again. You’ll stay around a year or so and then you’ll get restless and you’ll make me restless. We’ll get mad at each other and then we’ll get polite to each other—and that’s worse. Then we’ll blow up and you’ll go away again, and then you’ll come back and we’ll do it all over again.”

Adam asked, “Don’t you want me to stay?”

“Hell, yes,” said Charles. “I miss you when you’re not here. But I can see how it’s going to be just the same.”

And it was just that way. For a while they reviewed old times, for a while they recounted the times when they were apart, and finally they relapsed into the long ugly silences, the hours of speechless work, the guarded courtesy, the flashes of anger. There were no boundaries to time so that it seemed endless passing.

On an evening Adam said, “You know, I’m going to be thirty-seven. That’s half a life.”

“Here it comes,” said Charles. “Wasting your life. Look, Adam, could we not have a fight this time?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, if we run true to form we’ll fight for three or four weeks, getting you ready to go away. If you’re getting restless, couldn’t you just go away and save all the trouble?”

Adam laughed and the tension went out of the room. “I’ve got a pretty smart brother.” he said. “Sure, when I get the itch bad enough I’ll go without fighting. Yes, I like that. You’re getting rich, aren’t you, Charles?”

“I’m doing all right. I wouldn’t say rich.”

“You wouldn’t say you bought four buildings and the inn in the village?”

“No, I wouldn’t say it.”

“But you did. Charles, you’ve made this about the prettiest farm anywhere about. Why don’t we build a new house—bathtub and running water and a water closet? We’re not poor people any more. Why, they say you’re nearly the richest man in this section.”

“We don’t need a new house,” Charles said gruffly. “You take your fancy ideas away.”

“It would be nice to go to the toilet without going outside.”

“You take your fancy ideas away.”

Adam was amused. “Maybe I’ll build a pretty little house right over by the woodlot. Say, how would that be? Then we wouldn’t get on each other’s nerves.”

“I don’t want it on the place.”

“The place is half mine.”

“I’ll buy you out.”

“But I don’t have to sell.”

Charles’ eyes blazed. “I’ll burn your goddam house down.”

“I believe you would,” Adam said, suddenly sobered. “I believe you really would. What are you looking like that for?”

Charles said slowly, “I’ve thought about it a lot. And I’ve wanted for you to bring it up. I guess you aren’t ever going to.”

“What do you mean?”

“You remember when you sent me a telegram for a hundred dollars?”

“You bet I do. Saved my life, I guess. Why?”

“You never paid it back.”

“I must have.”

“You didn’t.”

Adam looked down at the old table where Cyrus had sat, knocking on his wooden leg with a stick. And the old oil lamp was hanging over the center of the table, shedding its unstable yellow light from the round Rochester wick.

Adam said slowly, “I’ll pay you in the morning.”

“I gave you plenty of time to offer.”

“Sure you did, Charles. I should have remembered.” He paused, considering, and at last he said, “You don’t know why I needed the money.”

“I never asked.”

“And I never told. Maybe I was ashamed. I was a prisoner, Charles. I broke jail—I escaped.”

Charles’ mouth was open. “What are you talking about?”

“I’m going to tell you. I was a tramp and I got taken up for vagrancy and put on a road gang—leg irons at night. Got out in six months and picked right up again. That’s how they get their roads built. I served three days less than the second six months and then I escaped—got over the Georgia line, robbed a store for clothes, and sent you the telegram.”

“I don’t believe you,” Charles said. “Yes, I do. You don’t tell lies. Of course I believe you. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Maybe I was ashamed. But I’m more ashamed that I didn’t pay you.”

“Oh, forget it,” said Charles. “I don’t know why I mentioned it.”

“Good God, no. I’ll pay you in the morning.”

“I’ll be damned,” said Charles. “My brother a jailbird!”

“You don’t have to look so happy.”

“I don’t know why,” said Charles, “but it makes me kind of proud. My brother a jailbird! Tell me this, Adam—why did you wait till just three days before they let you go to make your break?”

Adam smiled. “Two or three reasons,” he said. “I was afraid if I served out my time, why, they’d pick me up again. And I figured if I waited till the end they wouldn’t expect me to run away.”

“That makes sense,” said Charles. “But you said there was one more reason.”

“I guess the other was the most important,” Adam said, “and it’s the hardest to explain. I figured I owed the state six months. That was the sentence. I didn’t feel right about cheating. I only cheated three days.”

Charles exploded with laughter. “You’re a crazy son of a bitch,” he said with affection. “But you say you robbed a store.”

“I sent the money back with ten per cent interest,” Adam said.

Charles leaned forward. “Tell me about the road gang, Adam.”

“Sure I will, Charles. Sure I will.”

Chapter 11


11.1 1

Charles had more respect for Adam after he knew about the prison. He felt the warmth for his brother you can feel only for one who is not perfect and therefore no target for your hatred. Adam took some advantage of it too. He tempted Charles.

“Did you ever think, Charles, that we’ve got enough money to do anything we want to do?”

“All right, what do we want?”

“We could go to Europe, we could walk around Paris.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“I thought I heard someone on the stoop.”

“Probably a cat.”

“I guess so. Have to kill off some of them pretty soon.”

“Charles, we could go to Egypt and walk around the Sphinx.”

“We could stay right here and make some good use of our money. And we could get the hell out to work and make some use of the day. Those goddam cats!” Charles jumped to the door and yanked it open and said, “Get!” Then he was silent, and Adam saw him staring at the steps. He moved beside him.

A dirty bundle of rags and mud was trying to worm its way up the steps. One skinny hand clawed slowly at the stairs. The other dragged helplessly. There was a caked face with cracked lips and eyes peering out of swollen, blackened lids. The forehead was laid open, oozing blood back into the matted hair.

Adam went down the stairs and kneeled beside the figure. “Give me a hand,” he said. “Come on, let’s get her in. Here—look out for that arm. It looks broken.”

She fainted when they carried her in.

“Put her in my bed,” Adam said. “Now I think you better go for the doctor.”

“Don’t you think we better hitch up and take her in?”

“Move her? No. Are you crazy?”

“Maybe not as crazy as you. Think about it a minute.”

“For God’s sake, think about what?”

“Two men living alone and they’ve got this in their house.”

Adam was shocked. “You don’t mean it.”

“I mean it all right. I think we better take her in. It’ll be all over the county in two hours. How do you know what she is? How’d she get here? What happened to her? Adam, you’re taking an awful chance.”

Adam said coldly, “If you don’t go now, I’ll go and leave you here.”

“I think you’re making a mistake. I’ll go, but I tell you we’ll suffer for it.”

“I’ll do the suffering,” said Adam. “You go.”

After Charles left, Adam went to the kitchen and poured hoi water from the teakettle into a basin. In his bedroom he dampened a handkerchief in the water and loosened the caked blood and dirt on the girl’s face. She reeled up to consciousness and her blue eyes glinted at him. His mind went back—it was this room, this bed. His stepmother was standing over him with a damp cloth in her hand, and he could feel the little running pains as the water cut through. And she had said something over and over. He heard it but he could not remember what it was.

“You’ll be all right,” he said to the girl. “We’re getting a doctor. He’ll be here right off.”

Her lips moved a little.

“Don’t try to talk,” he said. “Don’t try to say anything.” As he worked gently with his cloth a huge warmth crept over him. “You can stay here,” he said. “You can stay here as long as you want. I’ll take care of you.” He squeezed out the cloth and sponged her matted hair and lifted it out of the gashes in her scalp.

He could hear himself talking as he worked, almost as though he were a stranger listening. “There, does that hurt? The poor eyes—I’ll put some brown paper over your eyes. You’ll be all right. That’s a bad one on your forehead. I’m afraid you’ll have a scar there. Could you tell me your name? No, don’t try. There’s lots of time. There’s lots of time. Do you hear that? That’s the doctor’s rig. Wasn’t that quick?” He moved to the kitchen door. “In here, Doc. She’s in here,” he called.

11.2 2

She was very badly hurt. If there had been X-rays in that time the doctor might have found more injuries than he did. As it was he found enough. Her left arm and three ribs were broken and her jaw was cracked. Her skull was cracked too, and the teeth on the left side were missing. Her scalp was ripped and torn and her forehead laid open to the skull. So much the doctor could see and identify. He set her arm, taped her ribs, and sewed up her scalp. With a pipette and an alcohol flame he bent a glass tube to go through the aperture where a tooth was missing so that she could drink and take liquid food without moving her cracked jaw. He gave her a large shot of morphine, left a bottle of opium pills, washed his hands, and put on his coat. His patient was asleep before he left the room.

In the kitchen he sat down at the table and drank the hot coffee Charles put in front of him.

“All right, what happened to her?” he asked.

“How do we know?” Charles said truculently. “We found her on our porch. If you want to see, go look at the marks on the road where she dragged herself.”

“Know who she is?”

“God, no.”

“You go upstairs at